Monday, February 29, 2016

The Year of Less: The Completion of My February Purge

Happy Leap Day and greetings from Chicago! I'm here for a couple of days for work, then head to Madison for a couple more days, and return to Minneapolis late on Thursday. It's going to be a whirlwind week but it's good to be traveling again as I enjoy conversing with clients and changing my schedule up!

As I mentioned in January, I spent the month of February focusing on getting rid of things in my house that I no longer need or use. My goal was to get rid of 435 items. When I started the month, I knew there were a lot of things I could get rid of but I ended up getting rid of more than I thought I would, mostly because I had soooo many books to get rid of. The total number of items that have left my house is 550 items! I actually ended up getting rid of a bit more than that as I stopped keeping track after I counted all of the books I would be getting rid of and had exceeded my goal.

I kept a detailed list, with columns totaling what was donated, sent to thred up or thrown away. I also kept track of what area of the house the items came from. The majority of my 550 items were books (272), but here is a breakdown of the rest of what I donated:

- 175 articles of clothing/jewelry/bags/shoes
- 46 items from my kitchen
- 23 office/organizational items
- 18 bathroom items
- 11 decor items
- 5 miscellaneous items

Of those 550 items, 392 were donated, 137 were thrown away, and 21 were sent to thred up.

Phil helped me load up my car with the 392 items I donated. I was shocked that we managed to fit 2 book cases, allll the bags of books, and 2 boxes of household goods/clothing into my little Honda Accord. Phil said it was a real-life game of tetrus. He wins boyfriend of the year for helping me schlep all those items to my card and bringing them to goodwill - and for standing in line at the post office on a Friday night to drop off my thred up bag while I sat in my packed car with a heavy box of donations on my lap.

It was surprisingly easy to get rid of all of these items. I thought I'd have a harder time going through my bookcases, but once I got going it wasn't very hard to determine what to keep and what to get rid of. This post on book riot really reflected how I approached my decision about what to keep or what to get rid of.

Truth be told, there's probably still more things I could get rid of as I didn't even get to the bins under my bed but I'll tackle that at another time over the next couple of months. In the mean time, I feel good about getting rid of a car load of stuff as it will make my next move so much easier!

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Currently: February

Whew, just like that it's the last week of February!  Here's what I'm currently up to these days!

Reading:  It Starts with Food by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig. It explains the science behind the Whole30 program, which I'll be starting in late March.

Loving: watching the bulb garden that Phil got me for Valentine's Day grow! It amazes me how fast it grows. Check out how much it grew in the first week! This is one of the coolest gifts I've ever received!

My bulb garden on Valentine's Day..

One week later, I already had one bloom!
Thinking:  about where Phil and I will go for our next trip. I think we'll be going to San Francisco as he's never been there and I'm always happy to visit that city since there's so much to do and see. Kyria has graciously offered to host us so we'll likely spend a couple of days with her and then a couple of days either in San Francisco or possibly another area close by?  We have lots of options. I'd like this trip to include time in the city with time spent outdoors running or hiking on the trails in the area, and Phil definitely wants to go to a Giants game.  We just need to narrow down a time when Phil, Kyria, and I are all available and then I'll start to pick Kyria's mind for itinerary ideas. She has such a wealth of knowledge about the area!

Frustrated: with how my body has been feeling lately. The random aches and pains that I've had in my left hip, knee and foot have made me take a step back in frequency and intensity of workouts. I just want to feel like my normal self again. My appointment with the physical therapist and chiropractor went well yesterday, though, and I'm cleared to bike, use the elliptical, and go to yoga so at least I can stay active. They are going to work on loosening the muscles in my hip region, which are incredibly tight, and then we'll work on building strength in my hips. They said I should see a difference in 2-3 weeks so hopefully that is the case. I'm not giving up on running the marathon in June but I'm placing a low probability on me being able to run it.

Feeling: really good about the amount of stuff I'm getting rid of this month thanks to my February purge. I went through my books last week and decided to only keep the books I really and truly loved as well as the unread books that I am still excited to read. After going through the 6 bookcases in my condo, I have 272 books to donate! Crazy, right? I should have done this like 3 moves ago but better late than never I suppose!  It will make my next move much, much easier.

250 of the 272 books I will donate to goodwill!
Anticipating:  Nora's visit in March! The weather is so unpredictable at that time of year so I am trying to come up with ideas of things to do indoors in case the weather isn't great. Besides doing some fun local things, I'll also make sure we have downtime to relax and chat!

Watching: Gilmore Girls on nights when I'm on my own and have downtime, and Curb Your Enthusiasm on nights that I am with Phil. Phil is basically a young version of Larry David as they have very similar senses of humor. I didn't think I'd like the show but it's actually pretty funny and I love hearing Phil laugh as much as he does when we watch it.

Sad: that a good friend lost her mom to cancer last week, just 11 months after losing her dad. I can't imagine losing both parents before age 30. It just breaks my heart and makes me wish I could take some of her pain away. I'm also really sad that I'll miss the funeral next week as I will be traveling for work, but Phil keeps reminding me that she'll need more support in the days, weeks, and months after the funeral. 

Working: on gathering recipes in preparation for Whole30. As I mentioned in my reading update, I decided to give Whole30 a try and will start the day after Easter. Amber is doing it too, so it will be great to have another friend doing it with me! If you don't know what Whole30 is, you can read about it here. If you are interested in doing it, you should join Amber and me!

Grateful: that we were able to spend the weekend at my parents' lake home last weekend. We had the best time up there. My mom made us so much delicious food (including the best homemade GF bread and chocolate chip cookies I've ever had!!), we played lots of cards (they loved Hand and Foot!), and we fit in a little ice fishing and caught one walleye which we had with dinner on Saturday night. I am so thankful that my parents live driving distance away!

Listening: to Ben Folds' newest album so I can familiarize myself with his newest songs in preparation for attending his concert with the Minnesota Orchestra on March 5th! I get to go with one of my closest friends and it happens to be her birthday that day! I'm excited that I get to help her celebrate by attending what is sure to be an amazing concert!

Wishing: for an early spring and no more super cold temperatures in our forecast! Spring can be a volatile time in Minnesota but I'm hoping it's a mild, warm spring. The weather has been warmer lately and it drastically impacts my mood!

What are you anticipating, loving, and wishing for these days?

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Try This at Home Tuesday: My Library Life Hack

Happy Tuesday!  I'm back with another "Try This at Home Tuesday" post but I'm shifting my focus away from healthy eating/recipes and instead am sharing a library life hack that has helped me so much. Namely, I'm going to talk about the ability to suspend requests at the library. This hack has come up in conversation with several friends and none of them were aware of this library request feature so I thought I'd share it more broadly in case it helps others!

The suspend option has become a life saver for me because before I knew about it, I'd often have a ridiculous number of books all become available at the same time. Most of the time I'd been on a wait list for said books so I would be so disappointed that I wouldn't be able to get through them all before they were due. I know some people will hold onto books past the deadline and pay the fines but I just can't do that (you know, since I am an upholder and holding onto a book past the deadline would be breaking a rule!).

Luckily, I discovered the suspend function on my library's request system. It seems like the library request system is the same across the U.S. so hopefully my American readers will recognize the screens I'll be sharing.

Here is how it works.  When I request a book, I select the "suspend the request" box. When you select this box, it pulls up a suspend date box but if you leave it blank, it will be suspended indefinitely.

The suspend option is best for books with a long wait because despite the fact that you have suspended your request, you still advance up the queue for the book. As you'll see below, I'm in the #1 position for the suspended requests displayed below.

Then, once I am ready to read the book, I change the request status to "active" and the next time someone checks in a book, it gets transmitted to me!

I have quite the long to-be-read list on (338 books to be exact which is about 5-6 years worth of reading!) but that is sort of the catchall for what I want to read eventually, whereas my request list at the library shows what I want to try to read in the next 6-12 months.

One caveat is that this does not work for eBooks as there isn't a suspend option for those books - at least not yet.  So I pretty much only request eBooks that are immediately available for download because otherwise I won't have control over when they will become available.

So there you have it.  My very best library hack!

Are you a heavy user of the library? Most of the books I read come from the library as it's very rare for me to buy a book these days. I heart the library so much; I can't imagine how I got by in the years before I started to use it!

Friday, February 19, 2016

5 Things Friday

TGIF, everyone!  This was a short week since I had Monday off but I'm still equally glad to see Friday!  Here are 5 things that are on my mind today!

1.  After the super cold stretch we had last week, the weather is warming up and it feels like spring might actually be making it's arrival. March can be a cold and snowy month so I don't want to get my hopes up too much but I did hear birds singing when I woke up yesterday morning which is a good sign! It's going to be 50 degrees today (!!!) and the long range forecast shows temps in the 30-40F range which is great for this time of year.  Fingers crossed that the worst of winter is behind us.

2.  I've been trying to ramp up my running for the last couple of months and it seems like every time I increase my mileage, some random ache or pain surfaces. It happened again this week so I am going to admit defeat and make an appointment at a new sports medicine facility that opened up downtown. They take a collaborative team approach (chiropractors, physical therapists, soft-tissue specialists, sport medicine doctors) to solving issues that patients encounter so I am hoping they can figure out what's going on with me.  The likelihood of me running the marathon in June seems to be declining, though.

3.  This weekend Phil and I are heading up to my parents' lake home for a quick visit. We are heading up tomorrow morning and will come back on Sunday so it will be a short visit. My dad will take us ice fishing (in the cushy very warmed ice house he has), my mom will likely make several delicious meals (there's nothing better than food made by mom!) and we will teach my parents our new favorite 4-person card game called Hand and Foot.  It should be a great little mini getaway for us.

4.  The first 6-7 weeks of the year were pretty quiet for me and I was careful about not over-scheduling myself, but now things really pick up for the next 4 weeks. Between work travel, training for the non-profit I'm going to start volunteering with, and lots of social events, my calendar looks pretty packed!  I've got some really exciting things to look forward to like seeing Ben Folds and The Piano Guys in concert and hosting Nora for a weekend! While she is here we are going to the musical "If/Then" which I'm really excited to see!

5.  I've been off of social media for a little over the week and so far it hasn't been too bad. I do feel a bit disconnected but in general it's been good to take a break from it. And honestly, I'm kind of glad I didn't have to see all the Valentine's Day posts. This may offend some people, and I apologize if it does, but sometimes social media posts feel like a PR campaign. I love Phil very much, but I tell HIM I love him; I'd never post that on his Facebook page. It seems like when you post things like that on Facebook, it's not about telling your partner you love them, it's about telling the world you love your partner...  I understand that people are excited about their relationships and want to shout from the rooftops how happy they are, but sometimes it doesn't seem very genuine when it's shared in such a public way. Granted I am a more private person, especially in regards to my relationship, so I guess I just see things differently and express my love for Phil differently. But to each their own!

What's on your mind today?  Any fun weekend plans ahead for you?

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Long Weekend Recap

Ahhh, 3 day weekends.  How I love thee.  While I really like my job and the industry I work in, I do wish that I worked in an industry that allowed for alternative work schedules, like 4 10-hour days. But alas, that's not possible in the financial services world. But there are lots of other great things about the industry I work in (like getting bank holidays like yesterday off among many other things) so I guess I just have to accept that a flexible work schedule isn't one of them!  Here's how I spent my delightful long weekend!

On Friday night Phil and I met up with my running club training partner and her boyfriend at a sushi happy hour. We kind of had to rush to get there on time but it was nice to be home by around 7 pm as I struggle with late Friday nights!

On Saturday morning I woke up to bitterly cold weather. But since marathon training is starting soon, I forced myself to get up and join the club for my run.

-6F/-22C requires lots of layers.
So how does one dress for a run in -6F weather?  Layers.  Lots and lots of layers. I wore: 2 pairs of socks + toe warmers, running tights, my XC ski pants that block the wind, a base layer shirt, a fleece, a wind breaking jacket, mittens + hand warmers, a gaiter to keep my neck extra warm, a balaclava, and 2 layers of hats.  I actually was fairly comfortable during the run (or as comfortable as you can be in those kind of conditions) but I was very happy when my 7 mile run was done. The biggest thing that bothered me was my frozen eyelashes as they kind of made it harder to see at the end and just felt weird.

Post-run. Note the frozen eyelashes
Saturday afternoon was all about being productive so that I could relax a bit more on Sunday and Monday.  I spent a lot of time in the kitchen listening to podcasts as I prepped my salad of the week (Greek salad), made 2 dozen breakfast mini quiches...

and made a batch of granola.
Homemade granola is SO good!
Then I hung the medal rack that my parents gave me as part of my birthday gift!  I have been wanting one of these for a long time, so I am glad I finally have one!  It was nice to pull my medals out from the bins under my bed. It brought back a lot of memories to go through them all.

After that, I did my taxes, which is a chore that I really, really enjoy doing. I'm such a finance dork.  :)

On Saturday night, I went to church  and then met up with Phil at another couple's house for a game night/birthday celebration for me. They had picked up some delicious gluten free cupcakes which was a fun surprise!  We had a really fun night together and got to try a new game called Dixit, which is kind of like Apple to Apples but the cards have pictures instead of words. It was really fun!

On Sunday morning I went to yoga and got some things done around my house. I made these banana oatmeal muffins. They are fairly healthy and will make a good evening treat when I am craving something a little bit sweet.

On Sunday afternoon, after doing some prep work for the meal I was making for Phil for Valentine's Day, I headed back over to his place. Our Valentine's Day was very low key - we just stayed in and soaked up time with Oscar. She had been at his mom's for 2 weeks so we definitely missed her (but now his mom REALLY misses her!).

Oscar hopes your Valentine's Day was purrrrr-fect!
On Sunday night, I made this India Spiced Stew with Chicken and Potatoes, which Alli had recommended. It simmers for about 3 hours on the stove, but it's worth the wait! It was warm, savory, and delicious, so it was the perfect meal for a cold, snowy night! We ate dinner on the couch while watching the movie Recount on Amazon Prime.

On Monday morning, I woke up to much milder temperatures so I headed out for a run. It was 18F which felt amazing after my -6F run on Saturday!  I ran 5.5 miles along a creek and a lake in south Minneapolis. There was a section along the creek that had a bunch of ice sculptures along the path which were neat to see and a fun distraction!

On Monday afternoon, I picked up my nephews and we went to Dave and Buster's for a couple of hours. I hadn't seen them since Christmas so it was fun to get some time with them. I think this is our first aunt date outing that hasn't included a trip to a bookstore but it was fun to switch it up and do something different.

The rest of Monday was very relaxing and low key. I read, went to an awesome yoga class that was taught by my favorite instructor, and watched an episode of Gilmore Girls (I'm almost half ways through season 4). It was nice to end my productive weekend on a relaxing note!

What did you do this weekend?

Monday, February 15, 2016

My February Purge: Half-point Check-in

Greetings and happy Tuesday! As of today I am half-way through my February purge in terms of days. I've gotten rid of a total of 120 things as of yesterday. Of those 120 items, 65 were thrown away, 38 were put in a goodwill donation box, and 17 will go to thredUp at the end of the month.

I've done plenty of purging in the past, especially leading up to the moves I've made, but this purge is different than others as I've been more critical of what I own and why I own it. For example, I've packed and moved my collection of coffee mugs numerous times without giving thought to whether I needed all 16 of them. When the February purge rolled around, though, I thought about whether I truly needed 16 coffee mugs when I am the only coffee-drinker in the house (Phil doesn't and will never drink coffee). The answer was no. So I kept the 8 mugs that match my dishes plus 2 gifted coffee mugs that I love, and brought 1 other gifted mug to work to replace the worn out mug I've been using for the last several years.

Aside from mugs, I've gotten rid of a range of things such as expired spices, saute pans that I no longer use, clothes, jewelry, and shoes. I've tried to go through my house room by room and I usually choose the items I want to get rid of and put those items in a pile versus deciding which items to get rid of each day. Right now I am working on my bedroom closet. I feel like I will be in there for many days as I have a big stack of clothes to get rid of as well as a box of jewelry and shoes.

While I still have 315 items to get rid of over the next 14 days, I'm feeling confident that I'll be able to make it through to the end of the month because I know that there are many books I am going to be getting rid of. While I got rid of a lot of books last January, the truth of the matter is that my bookcases don't really reflect my current reading interests, so many of them will be donated so someone else can read them. At the end of the challenge, I will own far fewer books, but they will be books that I truly love.

I haven't been good about taking before and after photos, but I did take one of the area where I hang my necklaces.

It feels good to see multiple spaces in my house look like my necklace rack - less cluttered and reflective of what I use and need!

Friday, February 12, 2016

Shouldless Days: February / Mexication Highlights

Happy Friday, everyone!  It's an especially happy Friday for me as I have a long weekend ahead of me since my company gives us Presidents' Day off. This post will combine my "shouldless" days for February with a recap of my vacation to Mexico! Phil and I left for Mexico last Friday for a 4 night/5 day getaway. Our getaway happened to fall over my birthday although we didn't exactly intentionally plan it that way - it just ended up being the best time for us to get away from work. That said, it sure was wonderful to celebrate my birthday in Mexico!

Prior to our trip, we did not plan anything. That was intentional as we both wanted and needed a relaxing and low key trip. Both of our vacations last fall were so much fun, but they were also pretty busy so we wanted our next trip to be all about relaxation! And our trip to Mexico was ALL about relaxing as it was a string of "shouldless" days!  There's not a whole lot to report about the vacation as we pretty much vacillated between laying on the beach and swimming in the ocean, eating in the resort restaurants, and relaxing/sleeping in our room, but here are some of the highlights from our getaway!

- Getting to spend 5 days with Phil.  We have busy schedules so we don't get to see each other every day which made me appreciate spending 5 full days with him!

- Walking on the beach and swimming in the ocean. We visited the Riviera Maya area of Mexico which is just south of Cancun. I've been to several beaches in North America but this was hands down the most beautiful one I've seen. The water was a gorgeous green/blue, the sand was white and the water was clear. It was perfection.

- ALL the books.  I read 3 books (2 a.m. at the Cat's Pajamas, Orhan's Inheritance, and The Art Forger) over the span of our 5 day vacation. I read a lot at home but it's rare for me to read in long, uninterrupted stretches. I thoroughly enjoyed being able to do that on this trip!

- No alarm clock.  Enough said, right?

- Snorkeling on a reef close to our resort. On our last full day at the resort, we did an afternoon excursion to a reef that was a 10 minute boat ride away from our resort. We saw so many cool fish and it was so relaxing to float around and observe the fish in their habitat.

- Unplugging. We didn't think we would have WIFI in our room but it turned out we did. However, I stayed disconnected as much as possible as my work email comes into the same ap as my gmail so it's very hard to check one without looking at the other. I rarely took my phone with me anywhere except for days when I wanted to get some ocean pics.

On the plane ride home, I asked Phil:  "So, where are we going next?" What can I say, traveling is my jam.

What was the last vacation you went on?

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Abstaining from Social Media during Lent

Greetings and Happy Wednesday! I'm back from what was an awesome vacation in Mexico!  It went way too fast, as I knew it would!  I was ready to get back to normal eating habits but I was very sad to leave the sand, sun, and surf! I'll share more about my trip later this week or next week when I get caught up on life.

Today is Ash Wednesday, which is the first day of the Lenten season for Christians. As a Catholic, I've always given something up for Lent, from alcohol to sweets to soda to TV.  It feels weird to say this, but I kind of enjoy the season of Lent because it forces me to work on saying no to myself which results in personal growth. I know that some of the things I have given up over time are petty but it's still a good exercise to say no to small things over the course of 6 weeks.

This year I have decided to give up social media for Lent - namely, Facebook and Instagram. While I enjoy keeping up with what others are doing, I also recognize that these platforms are a HUGE time suck for me as I spend waaaaaaay too much time on these aps, especially on my phone. Plus, as I mentioned in my 7 lessons in 35 years post, comparison is something I try to avoid and Facebook and Instagram makes this harder as you are constantly seeing the highlights of others' lives.

Last night I deactivated my profiles on both sites and I deleted both aps off my phone.  It's been a long time since I've taken a break from social media so I am looking forward to seeing how I feel at the end of Lent.

I do plan to continue to blog and read blogs over the next 6 weeks as I personally don't consider blogging to be a form of social media. I am sure some may consider this 'cheating' but blogging has such a positive influence on my life and it allows me to stay connected with far away friends so I am going to keep writing in this space.

Do you observe the Lenten season? If so, are you giving anything up this year?

Friday, February 5, 2016

7 Lessons in 35 Years

Tomorrow, I turn 35. It's a little bit hard for me to wrap my mind around that. While I know that 35 is certainly not old, it's older than I feel. Admittedly, some of my disbelief about turning 35 has to do with the fact that I haven't had some of the life experiences (namely, marriage and babies) that most of my peers have, at least in this region of the country. I know that the comparison game does me absolutely no good so rather than focusing on the things that are absent from my life at age 35, I am choosing to reflect on the many amazing experiences I've had over the last 35 years. Experiences like travel, professional accomplishments, marathons, etc.

In addition to the wonderful experiences I've had over the last 35 years, I've also learned a lot of valuable life lessons.  There are many I could list out but I thought I'd limit myself to 7 - one for every 5 years of my life.

1.  You do you.  This is a lesson that I've really come to learn in my 30's. The beauty of getting older, at least for me, is that you come to accept yourself for who you are and you stop apologizing for that. "You do you" means being unapologetic about who you are, what your priorities are, and how you choose to spend your time.  It's finding what works for you in terms of relationships, friendships, career choices, fitness, and other aspects of your life. I'm continuously trying to put this lesson into practice and I'm certainly not doing that perfectly, but I've made progress over the past several years.

2.  You are not your career. Even though, "What do you do for a living?" is often the first question a person asks when they first meet you, it does not need to be the number one thing that defines who you are. Granted, there is nothing wrong with working hard to advance your career and finding new ways to challenge yourself at work but it does become problematic when you are connecting those advances and successes to your worth as a human being. I started to realize I was falling prey to that line of thinking and over the past 1-2 years, I have worked to limit the extent to which my career defines who I am.

3.  Money spent on travel is money well spent. I have never regretted the money I have spent on travel and doubt I ever will. Traveling has opened my mind to new cultures and ways of living but it also makes me thankful for the life I have built back home. 

4.  ... But saving is important, too.  The counterpoint to spending money on travel is that it's also important to save.  I learned this lesson the hard way in 2013 when my job was relocated to Charlotte. The severance package was small and I did not have enough savings to feel comfortable with taking the risk of being out of work for awhile, so I felt "forced" to make that move. Since then I have really focused on saving so that I will never be in that kind of position again.

5.  You are responsible for your own happiness. I spent a good chunk of my 20's thinking I'd be happy when I had a different/better job, or when I was in a relationship, or when I was at my "happy" weight, or after I ran a marathon, and so on, and so forth. In my late 20's and early 30's, I learned that all those externalities shouldn't determine whether you are happy. I have made steps to create a life that makes it easier to be happy, like moving to an urban setting, but happiness truly has to come from within. I think this is an important lesson to learn before entering a committed relationship, because if you can't be happy on your own, being in a relationship is not going to fix that - at least not for the long-term in my opinion. While my relationship makes me happier, Phil is not responsible for making me happy - that's my job.

6.  Building your "tribe" is essential.  I've been through a lot of change over the last several years which has taught me that it's so important to have a wide range of friends with similar values to support you through the ups and downs of life. I've also learned that this tribe of people may change over the years in ways I wouldn't have imagined and that is OK as people grow and change, and grow closer or grow apart.

7.  Comparison is the thief of joy. Thanks to social media, we are so much more aware of what others are doing and, in general, I don't think this has a positive impact on our level of happiness. I try to remind myself that it's not fair to compare the reel of my life, which includes the good and bad moments, to the highlights of life that others are sharing on Facebook and Instagram. I have to remind myself of this very often as it's a conscious choice to not play the comparison game.

In closing, while I'm a bit weirded out by my age, I'm very excited to celebrate this birthday as I get to spend it on the beaches of Riviera Maya in Mexico with my love.  We'll be mostly disconnected from social media and such as we opted to not have wifi in our room so that we could really disconnect from the outside world on this trip. But I'm sure I'll find time to stop into the lobby to read my birthday emails and Facebook posts at the end of the day. I'm excited to spend the day soaking up some vitamin D, relaxing, reading, and doing whatever else strikes us as fun that day!

What are some of the best lessons you have learned in life thus far?

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Podcasts, Books, Miles and Looks of January

Oh January.  I greeted you with such excitement and you kind of let me down.  I was happy to see you go.  But I have high expectations for February as it includes my birthday, a trip to Mexico, and a visit to my parents' lake home!


Modern Love Podcast, Episode 2.   I've been a long-time reader of the New York Time's weekly "Modern Love" essays, so I was thrilled when I learned that they were starting a podcast! They have a professional actor read an essay and then at the end of the podcast they interview the author of the essay. There are only 3 so far and they are about 25 minutes so you could easily catch up if you haven't started listening. My favorite of the three was episode 2 which is entitled, "Just One Last Swirl Around the Bowl." On the surface, it's about the death of a family's goldfish, but it's really about grief, mortality, and dealing with the loss of loved ones.


My reading was low in December but it bounced back big time in January, mostly due to the fact that I was not able to be as active as I normally am and I planned waaaaaay less which was glorious!  I read 9 books this month and my favorite was Kitchens of the Great Midwest, which I highly recommend! The starred ones counted towards the Read Harder Challenge.

Gratitude by Oliver Sacks* - 4 stars
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt - 4 stars
A Pig in Provence by Georgeann Brennan* - 3 stars
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline - 4 stars
Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal - 4 stars **favorite**
The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck by Sarah Knight - 3 stars
Blindness by Jose Saramago* - 3 stars
Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life by Joshua Fields Millburn - 2 stars
The Known World by Edward P. Jones* - 2 stars


Oh boy, January was not a great month for working out due to my health issues. I really wanted to work on building my long runs but that was sidelined thanks to my RA. My total mileage for the month was 47 miles but I managed to go to yoga 12 times and did 5 other strength training workouts. Here's hoping that February is a much better month. I'm starting to question whether I will be able to train for and run this marathon given the state of my health these days... time will tell I guess.


I guess January was the month for red as both of the looks I am sharing feature the color red! 

My first outfit features a red wool skirt that I got from J. Crew Factory during their black Friday sale which I paired with a Banana Republic button down. A girl at work had the same skirt and after I complimented her on it, she sent me the link and told me it was 50% off and said I should get it, even though that means we might be twins at work some days. I also bought it in a bright blue color.  

The second outfit features a pair of red cords that I bought at a Cabi party I attended in the fall. I paired it with a warm sweater I bought when I bought the skirt above as it was also 50% off. I wore this outfit on a double date in January when it was like -30 degrees outside with the windchill so I was all about being warm and having as little skin showing as possible!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Rheumatoid Awareness Day

For most of the world, when they think of February 2nd, they think of Ground Hog's Day. But for me, today is Rheumatoid Awareness Day. When I was diagnosed with this disease, I knew next to nothing about it and I did not know anyone in my age group that had been diagnosed with the disease, so it is my hope that by sharing my experience with RA, I will raise some awareness and help others achieve an early diagnosis, which is the key to effective treatment of this chronic disease.

Since I've only had this disease for 2.5 years, I'm still learning how to talk about the disease with authority, but one area I can speak with confidence about is the diagnosis process. When I started to deal with the symptoms of RA in May of 2013, I consulted Dr. Google (like many of us do) and early on I saw that I had some of the symptoms of RA. However, the information I found online indicated that it typically affects women after age 40. I was 32 at the time and thought, "this couldn't be happening to me - I'm too young."  So I pushed aside the chance of an RA diagnosis. 

Then when I was home in August of 2013, I was in so much pain that my dad had to carry my suitcase upstairs for me because I could not grasp the handle. And my mom saw me cringing as I walked down the stairs in the morning due to the pain in my feet.  And my sister-in-law's ears pricked up when I commented about how the swelling in my hand had mysteriously moved from one hand to the other. My mom and sister-in-law both expressed concerns that I was exhibiting RA symptoms and strongly encouraged me to go back to the doctor again and demand that they get to the bottom of what was causing my pain and swelling. 

So when I got back to Charlotte, I made yet another appointment with my primary care physician and told her that something did not seem right. I had seen her several times over the course of the summer but she had diagnosed my pain and swelling as tendinitis. Ultimately, I was diagnosed with RA after my blood work was reviewed and I was physically evaluated by a Rheumatologist.

It's not a coincidence that Rheuamtoid Awareness Day falls on Groundhog's day. As the founder of the Rheumatoid Patient Foundation says: "(You can) compare disease onset to the moment the groundhog comes out of his hole to look for his shadow. It's impossible to predict how aggressive the disease will be or whether treatments will be effective. The six weeks that the groundhog forecasts correspond to the short window of opportunity for people with rheumatoid disease to get early diagnosis and treatment, which has been shown to be a crucial component of positive outcome."

While I hope that none of my readers are impacted by this disease, my hope is that by sharing my symptoms and experience with this disease, it will raise the awareness and help someone else get diagnosed during that short window of opportunity so that they, too, can effectively manage their disease as I have been able to.

To learn more about RA and read others Rheumatoid Awareness Day (RAD) post, check out the carnival of RAD carnival on RA Warrior's site.

Monday, February 1, 2016

What's Saving My Life Right Now

Kathleen of Kapacino recently shared a post of what she's loving lately, which turned me onto a new book-themed podcast (bringing the total number of book podcasts I listen to to 6!) called What Should I Read Next. I love the host's voice and the thoughtfulness of her recommendations so much that I decided to poke around her blog for a bit. I stumbled across this post where she talks about a practice of keeping a list of things that are saving her life right now. Here is an except from her post in case you don't want to read the whole post:

"Most of us know what’s killing us, and can articulate it, if asked. Some of us are overwhelmed with hurry and worry; some of us face crushing poverty; some feel paralyzed, unable to move.

But few of us stop to note what’s giving us life. (Yet) it’s too good a question to not revisit every once in a while: what are the things—big or small—that are saving us?"

Admittedly, January was a challenging month for me. Between a cold turning into a sinus infection and my RA flare - which impacted me both mentally and physically - I faltered a bit in the first month of the year.  I was so excited for the start of a new year as it brings so much promise for new experiences and the pursuit of new goals, but January felt like it lacked forward progress and instead the RA flare was a crushing reality check that I have a crappy disease.

I want to leave behind those icky feelings that emerged in January and start fresh this month, so when I saw that Anne encouraged her readers to share "what's saving their life right now" on February 1st, I decided it was the perfect time for me to play along!  Before I share my list, I want to emphasize that my life is great.  Yes, January was tough for me, but I realize that my blessings FAR outweigh the challenges in my life. I'm still the happy person I normally am - January just put a bit of a ding in my armor.

Here's a list of some of the things saving my life right now.

Phil and Miss Oscar.  Of course my list has to start with Phil and Oscar.  Spending time with them is the best part of every week. I feel a sense of peace and calmness when I am at Phil's house, and Oscar provides lots of laughs and entertainment. We fawn over her the way new parents fawn over a new child, I think.  She definitely prefers Phil to me - big time - since he is the giver of treats, feeds her, and cleans the litter box, but that makes me appreciate the times she snuggles up to me even more.

Supportive family and friends.  What would I do without my family and friends?  While I don't see them as often as I would like, I completely feel their love and support. My mom and little sister have done an especially good job of checking in on me as they are both nurses (my mom doesn't work as a nurse but she'll forever be my personal nurse!) so they have a good understanding of the challenges and symptoms of RA.

Reading.  Where would I be without my love of books? As George R.R. Martin so aptly said, "A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only once." I'm so thankful for the escape that reading provides. There's nothing quite like cozying up on the couch with a good book.

Yoga.  I never really thought I'd become a lover of yoga as I thought I might be too impatient of a person to enjoy it. But I've been practicing regularly since November and it has been so great for me. It's still a challenging workout (because, for instance, ALL the planks!) but it's also very calming and soothing for me.  Best of all, though, is getting to practice yoga in a heated room - which I especially appreciate during this time of year.

Knitting.  Every winter, I rediscover my love for knitting.  I have a problem with feeling guilty when I watch TV, and I also have trouble staying awake when watching movies or other shows with Phil during the weekend, but knitting solves both problems as it allows me to feel like I am being productive while watching TV and it keeps me from falling asleep!  Plus the rhythm of my clicking needles is very soothing.

Coffee.  I heart coffee.  So much.  I love it even more when I sharing it with a friend. One of my closest friends lives close to Phil so I've been trying to stop by with coffee or meet her at a coffee shop on my way to/from Phil's lately and those catch up sessions are the best.

Going to Mexico.  We leave for Mexico on Friday and knowing that I have this vacation to look forward to has been a life saver lately!  I can't wait to spend 5 days relaxing on the beach with my favorite person.

Gluten free cheerios.  Random, I know, but sometimes little things in life can really be life savers. While I love cooking, sometime I just want to eat a bowl of cereal for dinner. I'm so glad General Mills figured out how to make GF cheerios as that is one of my favorite kinds of cereal! 

Mild winter weather and longer hours of daylight.   The temperatures have been around 30F lately which feels glorious after the cold spell we had in January. I've been able to wear my light fall jacket to work instead of my heavy down one. The days are also getting longer which means it's not dark when I walk to and from work anymore.

Repetitive prayer.  While my sleep has greatly improved, I still struggle to fall asleep at times and repeating prayers over and over (Our Fathers and Hail Marys) seems to help as I often times fall asleep in the middle of saying prayers.

All of you.  Yes, you, the people reading my blog.  I love reading your comments and I'm so grateful that my blog has allowed me to connect with so many like-minded and wonderful people across the globe!

What's saving your life these days?