Friday, March 28, 2008

Merry Belated Christmas to Us!

As I originally mentioned in November, this past Christmas Keith and I decided to exchange fewer gifts, and save our holiday budget for one bigger gift to ourselves as a couple—a gas fireplace in the living room.

Fast forward to the end of March: we have the guy coming tomorrow to install our fabulous new gas logs. I really, really, REALLY hope this works out. We've had so many false starts with this project. First we heard that we could, then we heard our city never lets anyone install ventless gas fireplaces.

Then we determined that yes, indeed, we can install a ventless gas fireplace in our city. But then we started getting prices and quotes. Installation quotes that were more than double what we estimated. The kind of quotes that would push this optional upgrade project over the $1,000 mark. NOT an option at all.

But here we are, at last. With gas logs purchased at a good price from Keith's aunt, and a much more reasonable installation quote. I'm still nervous, though. I won't believe that it's all actually come together until we're done. The logs are installed, the checks are written, the house inspector has signed off, and the whole family is enjoying a roaring fire.

Speaking of a roaring fire, maybe I should go ahead and start planning our next Christmas present for next year. Maybe then it will be ready on time!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

3 Jobs Too Many

Okay, today's going to be a whiney day, so if you don't feel like hearing me complain you might just want to move onto the next blog right now.

I currently have three jobs, of a sort. My full-time office position; a part-time online tutoring position, giving college students feedback and advice on essay writing; and our web design and development small business. Sometimes, this isn't a problem. But lately, it feels like three jobs too many right now.

Over at The Simple Dollar, Trent reviewed a book called Margin. I haven't actually read the book, so I can't speak to whether the book is any good or not. But I did like the review, and I found that the concept resonated a lot with me.

My understanding of the concept is that people function best when they have margin in their lives—space and time that is unaccounted for. This way, when something takes more of your time and effort than you had expected, you have some leeway in which to deal with it. Minor catastrophes and time-sucks can be dealt with.

On the other hand, many people today schedule their lives without any margin at all. (Can you see me raising my hand?) No margin in time, so I'm always racing from one activity to the next. And no margin in mental tasks, so I get worn down because I'm constantly thinking and evaluating and planning something else. When you're living with no margin,
the smallest glitch can cause a ripple effect and suddenly it feels like you've completely lost control.

Take my day yesterday, for example. I was really tired and sniffly, and thought I might be coming down with a cold. I wanted to come home after work and head straight for the couch. Watch a little TV, maybe nap a little, but generally just take it easy during the evening and get to bed early so I could feel rested today.

But at the thought of spending a WHOLE EVENING doing nothing, my brain immediately went into panic mode. Because last night, I was scheduled for three hours of online tutoring. And even if I dropped those hours, I still had web design work to do and other general household tasks. I had to cook and clean and I couldn't put it all off until tonight, because tonight my writing group is coming over. And tomorrow I have tutoring hours again. So taking an evening off just wasn't an option.

Isn't that sad? It really bothers me that I don't have time to get a cold. And now it's more important than ever to take care of myself, since I'm not just taking care of me but the baby as well.

All I can say is, everything is going to change in July, after the baby is born. And I'm doing so much now to try and get ready for that momentous event. So even though I like the concept of margin, and absolutely agree that I need much more of it in my life ... I don't think anything's going to change in the short term. But I'll be keeping margin in mind, and look for ways to add some to my life in the future. In the meantime, I'll just annoy you all with whiney posts about what a tough life I have;) Deal?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Slowly but Surely

Today, I ran for the first time in probably two months. I've always been unmotivated to run during the winter, but I had hoped it would be different this year. I had trained so hard for the half-marathon in November, and I didn't want to lose that level of fitness. Additionally, I thought it would be easier to run during my pregnancy if I kept doing it consistently from the start.

And yet, I was still defeated in my attempts to keep the running streak going. First, I felt ill and tired from Thanksgiving through New Year's, due to the joys of the first trimester. Once I started to feel better and had more energy, the cold and snow were enough to keep me from lacing up my running shoes. My Dad loaned us his treadmill, which has come in handy several times. But in general, I'm not motivated enough to walk the dog outside and then come back home and jump on the treadmill. So I cut out the running and just walked the dog.

Although I haven't achieved my goal of running throughout the winter, I still have hopes for my secondary goal: To finish the Flying Pig 10k race in early May. Notice I just said "finish"; I have no aspirations other than that. I don't care about my time, or how often I have to walk during the race. I'm just hoping to get from the start to the finish in one piece.

I kept telling myself that I had plenty of time to start training for that. I mean, I usually don't start training in the spring until mid-March or so, and it's only .... past that. So I finally bit the bullet and took Beckett for an easy 3-mile jog.

I was actually surprised by how well it went. After not running for two months, it came back to me pretty quickly. Now that I'm starting to get bigger, I was afraid that it would feel awkward. But it just felt like it was me, running. Granted, running slowly and taking several walk breaks. But running none-the-less.

Here's the new plan: To run 3 days a week from now until the race. I'll start with 3-mile runs, and then add length to my weekend run so I eventually achieve 6 or maybe even 7 miles. If I can make it through a 6-mile run on my own, I should be able to do the race. We'll see how it goes!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Into My 30s with a Whimper

Okay, I think this is the last birthday-related post, and then it will be out of my system. I think.

I'm not really a big birthday person. I can't remember the last time I've had a party bigger than just immediate family to celebrate my birthday. It's nice that the people closest to me remember, but I don't feel the need to let everyone at work know it's My Special Day, or gather a large crowd to celebrate my existence on earth.

Yet I'm feeling an obligation for my 30th birthday to do something more. It started the other week, when my sister was telling me about some of her friend's 30th birthday parties—big events where everyone took a limo from one bar to the next and crashed at a hotel for the night. Or even going out of town for an entire weekend, all in honor of one's third decade.

That seems excessive to me. But it did make me wonder—should I do something to celebrate? Something that's at least a little out of the ordinary? Because it does seem like an important birthday, especially considering it will be my last one pre-motherhood. (Um, yeah. Just typing that freaks me out.)

Probably what it comes down to is: I don't really want to spend the time and effort on thinking about and planning the perfect birthday rite of passage. So Keith and I will have a nice dinner out, we'll have a low-key celebration with family, and I will quietly slip into life as a 30-something.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

A Simple Birthday Gift

Here's the other side of yesterday's conundrum: If I'm not asking for charity donations in lieu of a gift, then what do I ask for as a birthday present? I'm not saying I'm against gifts. I like receiving thoughtful gifts that are meaningful to both myself and the giver. It doesn't have to be the Perfect Present. It can just be something where the person said, "Hey, I saw this and it reminded me of you. I hope you like it."

The only problem with this strategy is that many gift-givers, I'm sure, would find it frustrating. Not everyone enjoys coming up with gift ideas. Or there's people I don't see every day that might not always have the best sense of what I am currently interested in / need / use. I understand that certain personalities find choosing a gift to be more of a trial than enjoyable, or have a million things to do and really just need a little help with ideas. So me suggesting, "Oh, just pick up something meaningful!" would be the equivalent of poking the potential giver in the eye with a sharp stick.

On the other hand, I am trying somewhat to de-clutter my life. I don't want a lot of new STUFF that needs to find a home in my house. But how can one get gifts without getting stuff?

This leads me to the conclusion that I should ask for gift cards—specifically, gift cards for services. Like maybe a pedicure; I've never had one, but now that my baby bump is growing daily and it's a monumental effort to reach my toes for more than 2 seconds, I think it could be a welcome option. Or for a haircut—my parents gave me a gift card for a haircut at Christmas and I loved it. Or can I even ask someone to take me out for drinks/snacks? Can I suggest that spending time with them be part of the gift? I don't want to be overly demanding, but if I'm close enough to someone that they'd consider getting me a birthday gift, they're probably someone that I'd like to sit and talk with.

What do you think as a gift giver and receiver? What is acceptable practice? Conversely, what are your pet peeves?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Outsourcing Charity

My birthday is coming up in early April, and I've had some family members asking what I might like as a gift to celebrate the start of my third decade. So far, I've had a hard time coming up with ideas.

Books, CDs, and clothes are always good options. But is there anything else? It's times like this that make me realize how good I really have it. I can't really think of any material items that I need. Nothing significant that I've been yearning for, but unable or unwilling to spend the money on myself.

The one thing I thought of is asking people to donate money to the charities that I always mean to support financially .... and then don't. But I think outsourcing my charity contributions sorta misses the whole point. So the facts that 1) I don't need anything, and 2) I haven't made any significant contributions to charity in the past year both point to the conclusion that I need to make this more of a priority in my life.

On the other hand, to be fair, it's not that I've been spending tons of money on myself to the neglect of charities. Since January, I don't know if I've bought one CD or book. I have bought clothes, but that's because I needed an entire new maternity wardrobe. So where is all this money going to instead of charity?!? Maybe a big donation should be the birthday present I give myself, to start my 30s off right as a responsible, caring citizen.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Nesting Instinct

Like most pregnant women, I've heard all about the nesting instinct. Supposedly, at some point in your pregnancy you feel this overwhelming urge to prepare your home for the baby. You are driven to clean and organize obsessively. No matter if your house was already clean and organized—this is not a rational response.

I haven't been up late at nights scrubbing the bathroom tile or anything like that. And I'm still really bad about letting dishes pile up in the kitchen sink. But I have been obsessively watching reality shows where other people clean and organize their homes, Clean House and Clean Sweep in particular.

Does this still count as the nesting instinct? Nesting instinct for couch potatoes?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

An Unequal Partnership

This past weekend, it snowed. From Friday afternoon through Saturday evening. It was one of the rare occasions where the forecasted snowstorm actually turned out to be worse than expected.

Luckily, we weren't traveling anywhere. We canceled most of our social plans and holed up for most of the weekend. Finally, Sunday afternoon, we had to dig out in preparation for going to work on Monday morning. The only problem: Keith also had to run 20 miles on Sunday morning.

Trooper that he is, he actually ran 20 miles on the treadmill my dad loaned us. He would much rather be running outside, but that just wasn't going to happen. So he ran and ran and ran in the basement, and I suited up and headed outside to shovel.

I've actually had a hard time admitting to anyone that I shoveled snow. I'm expecting to get a reaction like I had a bottle of wine or ate sushi. Of course, being the careful person I am I had already checked with the doctor who told me I could indeed shovel snow, as long as it wasn't too heavy.

In this case, that meant it took me about 6 shovelfuls to get to the bottom of the snowpile on the driveway. But even though I was slow, it was important to me that I do what I could because Keith was already going to be running for more than 3 hours. Then, to come outside and shovel heavy snow for the same amount of time? That's just insane.

And 3 hours is about what it took to clear the driveway. We each worked for about an hour and a half, although I think Keith still got more accomplished in his time than I did in mine. I worked for a while, then came inside to take a break, get a snack ..... I went back outside and worked for another hour, but couldn't go any longer than that. I came back inside, collapsed on the loveseat, and took a half-hour nap.

It made me realize that, from now through July, our partnership is going to become more and more unequal. I'm used to doing everything together. We shovel snow or wash dishes or clean the house side-by-side. I think the equality of our relationship is one of its best features, and something that will help get us through difficult times.

But, right now, equality just isn't going to happen. Keith can't grow a baby. And I can't run for 3 hours or shovel two feet of snow from the driveway. It's hard for me to accept this inequality, even temporarily. It also makes me wonder how our partnership will change once the baby arrives, and our lives are turned upside down. Will we still be able to work side-by-side? Even if we're working equally, but in different places, I would miss the camaraderie of actually working together.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Everyone Loves (To Judge) A Pregnant Woman

I think that, over the past two weeks, my body appearance has changed more than it did the entire 5 months that I've already been pregnant. All of a sudden, I definitely look pregnant. I've made the switch to maternity pants at all times (unless I'm wearing pajamas pants). I've started unconsciously holding or rubbing my belly at various times.

There's good things about "showing." I've decided that my large midsection makes my legs look like toothpicks! And there's no more concern that I just look a little chubby. And people offer to carry things for me or run errands, so I stay off my feet.

However, I'm also now getting exposed to the fact that everyone is an expert on pregnancy. Anyone my age or older (and most of my co-workers are older) have either done it themselves, or have a wife/sister/friend that has given birth. So they all know EXACTLY what I should and should not be doing. How much weight I should be gaining, what foods I shouldn't be eating (because it's never "should" for that category!), whether I should run while pregnant. And no one hesitates to give their opinions.

Within 24 hours, I had one co-worker look at me and tell me I was going to be HUGE by the summer. Upon hearing that I was already 5 months along, another co-worker shook his head and told me I'd better start gaining weight. Keep in mind that the former person has given birth to one child; the latter wife's first pregnancy (of 3) was twins.

Then, the other morning, I was at the vending machines, getting a pop. It wasn't my proudest moment, I'll admit. As I've mentioned many times before, I'm always trying to give up pop. Sometimes more successfully than others. But at this particular moment, I was heading into a meeting that would conceivably last two hours or more, and in which I wouldn't say one word. I needed some caffeine and sugar to get me through.

An older female co-worker walked by and asked how "the new mommy" was doing this morning. I laughed and replied I was just getting a little caffeine for my morning meeting. WRONG ANSWER.

"You shouldn't be drinking caffeine!" She gasped. "It's bad for the baby."

No matter that this advice is years out of date. According to an article at WebMD (just one of many with this conclusion), moderate caffeine intake throughout pregnancy is fine. Early on, Keith and I checked on what would be considered a moderate level of caffeine. It turns out that I would have to drink 10 cans of pop a day to reach the caffeine intake limit. So I think I'm okay.

But anyway, all of this is irrelevant because she's not up on the latest advice. She just remembers that caffeine was considered verboten back in the day. I tried to tell her that I could drink nearly a case a day and still be fine, but she just glowered at me.

So maybe finally looking pregnant is a wash? I mean, it's great because we're that much closer to the baby's arrival. But yet it's incredibly scary for the same reason. My legs look skinny and my mid-section doesn't look like the result of too many donuts. But I also get unsolicited advice that also occasionally completely inaccurate.

Right now this has only happened with people I know. I just smile and nod and know that they mean well. But once it starts happening with complete strangers in the grocery store who feel the need to tell me how to live my life, I'm not sure that I can be so serene.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Clothes Recycling

For years, I've wondered what to do about clothes you don't wear anymore, that are too worn out to give to charity. We already have two drawers full of rags from old shirts, bathrobes, etc. The kitten has a lovely pillow made from an old work shirt with the sleeves cut off (not that she lays on it, but I can't be held responsible for the way a cat thinks).

And once again, it's time to clean out our closets. Normally we don't buy a lot of clothes, but since I'm purchasing a whole new maternity wardrobe, space has gotten tight and hangers in high demand. So the other night I went online, looking for something different from "make shirts into rags or a dog bed."

At first, I struck out. Then, on the faircompanies* community boards, I found a surprising answer:
While the smaller thrift stores don't usually take worn-out clothing, larger charities like Goodwill and Salvation Army do.

I spoke with Mauricio Hernandez, the Sr VP of Retail Sales for Goodwill NYC and Northern NJ, and he informed me that they will take any used clothing, no matter how worn. Basically, whatever they can't sell in their stores they will sell to salvage dealers who recycle the fibers for rags or insulation material and the wool for rugmaking. What they can't recycle they sell overseas.

To find locations in your area go to the websites for Goodwill and Salvation Army. Both have store locators.
I found it interesting—and reassuring—that we can continue to do what we've already done, in giving clothes to Goodwill. But now I'll be aware that I don't have to weed out the clothes that are unsuitable for resale. Now the final hurdle is actually finding the time to sort through the closet and actually take the old clothes to the drop-off point. In other words, completion of this task could still be a few weeks away;)

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

On the Radar

First, I have to apologize. My new position at work has put a serious dent in the reliability of my blogging lately. But I remain optimistic that I'll get a handle on my new responsibilities and everything will settle down soon. That's what I tell myself anyway .... sorry I've been MIA lately! I'll work on it.

Sometimes, familiar work-related idioms can get really old. I had a friend whose boss constantly referred to what she had "on her plate" and asked whether she had too much on her plate, or if she could rearrange things on her plate to ensure all deadlines were met. Strangely, work always made her very hungry.

Lately, I've been thinking about things that are "on the radar." Mostly because I can't seem to get things off my radar and onto Keith's radar. I can never shut my brain off, and stop it from thinking of new tasks that need to be completed, or old ones that should be followed up. I picture an air traffic controller constantly in a frenzy, staring at a screen crowded with all sizes of planes, and often all in a state of near-collision. Precision and constant correction is key.

On the other hand, I imagine that Keith's air controller is much more laid back. When things get hectic he is, of course, able to competently handle the job. But things don't get hectic very often. Sometimes planes appear on the screen, only to disappear a brief while later. This would be when I remind him to do something, and he forgets again 5 minutes after my nagging.

I don't want it to sound like I'm complaining about Keith. My main point here is that I don't like the fact that EVERYTHING is on my radar. I really wish I could handle things differently. I wish I could keep it to a manageable level of commitments, but that never seems to happen. I would love to have an air traffic controller that could stop for a coffee break, or maybe even take a day off every once in a while. I don't think mine's taken any time off since I was in high school.

I guess really I'm saying it's both of our problems. How do I get things off my radar, and how can he get things to stay on his? We talk about splitting up chores, and he willingly takes some on ... and then doesn't remember. So even though he offers to take care of things, sometimes I still can't let it go because I don't actually believe that he'll remember.

Just the other night, I decided to try a trick I read in an organizing newsletter. It's not exactly revolutionary, but maybe simple is best. On the white board in our study, I wrote two side-by-side lists of tasks—one for Keith and one for me. At least now we have it in writing who is responsible for what, and there's a reminder constantly on display.

Will this be enough to make my radar screen a little less congested? Or will it just be one more thing for me to remember to update? Because I think my air traffic controller is going to just up and quit if I don't do something to get this under control.