Thursday, May 26, 2016

Lap-band: Maintenance mode

Today I got my first lap-band fill in what turns out to be two years. I knew it had been awhile since the last one, but I would have guessed one year, not two. OOPSIE.

(Super quick background on the lap-band, since I don't talk about it much: it's a plastic ring that goes around your stomach and has little pouches that are filled with saline through a port, slowly, over time. Filling the pouches increases the tightness of the ring around the stomach, increasing food restriction and making it easier to lose weight. This is done slowly after initial surgery over the course of a few months. In each of my pregnancies I had my lap-band emptied in order to reduce morning sickness and allow for consumption of sufficient nutrients, and then had it filled up again over the course of a few months post-partum. So, I had had it refilled after Annika was born, but then let it go two years without any further fills. In general, even once it's full, it still needs to be topped off every now and then due to fluid shifting and evaporating and the restriction loosening over time.)

Anyway! So, over the last two years I've lost the rest of the baby weight, about 30 pounds, which took me down to my pre-Callum weight, which was about 85 pounds below my pre-surgery weight. So, technically in the seven years since my surgery my weight is down 85 pounds, BUT an added wrinkle of the lap-band is that of course when you reduce your caloric intake by that degree, your metabolism also slows down (see also: this interesting NYT article on that topic), so when the band was emptied for my pregnancies, of course I gained a bunch of weight, and not just pregnancy weight, and ended up gaining 40-50 pounds per pregnancy. FUN TIMES. What that MEANS is that over the past seven years, I have actually LOST something like 175 pounds, BUT I also GAINED 90 pounds during that time, DAMMIT BABIES.

Anyway! Here I am now, and the lovely thing is that I HAVE lost the baby weight, TWICE, PLUS kept off the weight loss that I achieved in the first year post-surgery, before I got pregnant with Callum. So now, here I am, seven years later, finally in maintenance mode. Which doesn't mean weight maintenance mode, as I do want to continue to lose weight, but rather band maintenance mode. With the pregnancies and refilling and so forth over the past seven years, I've been in and out of my surgeon's office quite a lot with various fills and un-fills, and I will also say that it's kind of a mind trip to have your band un-filled for pregnancy because your nutritional needs shift and it turns out that postpartum isn't necessarily the most mentally stable, well rested and relaxing time to focus on your own nutritional needs. Meaning, while of course I'm always aware of my band and the accompanied restrictions (no bread, very few grains in general, no soda/carbonation, eat slowly, etc.), it hasn't really been top of mind for the last few years.

That has actually been GREAT. A huge reason why I wanted the band in the first place was because I wanted my weight to stop being such a THING in my mind all the time. I felt like I spent so much TIME thinking about my weight and my diet, and how much I weighed, and if I was losing weight, how to maintain that, and if I was gaining it back, how to stop it, and what I should and shouldn't eat. That sucked, frankly as much or more than the actual fact of being overweight, you know? Just the mental space devoted to it was so exhausting, and I really didn't want to spend the rest of my life that way. And that was a huge motivator to get the band, and that has been a huge success. Eating is no longer the Thing that it was, and I focus on nutrition and taste and have been able to almost fully remove any moral values from my opinions of food, and that's been so delightfully freeing. The band hasn't taken over my life, and that's been wonderful.

But it also means that I don't always think about how I could be using the band as the best possible tool for weight loss, and sometimes forget that I have it available to me, if that makes sense. So like, the 30 pounds that I've lost since my last fill two years ago were hard-fought, and slow, and I didn't even REALIZE that I could have gone in for another fill that would have made the whole process way easier and simpler. Like, it just did not cross my mind. I did occasionally think, "Oh, I should probably get another fill at some point" but there was always a conflict, a trip or a work meeting or something where I needed to be able to eat pretty normally (the first week or so after a fill, I have to be super cautious about eating) and so I'd figure I'd do it later, and then somehow... yeah, it's been two years.

But here I am now, I'm 85 pounds down from where I was seven years ago and that's a great place to be, and I have no further pregnancy plans and also no infants and can focus on my own stuff a little bit, as needed, and I have a fresh new fill and I feel good, and I hope it does help me lose a few more pounds without quite the Herculean effort that the last 30 pounds have required (the doc today was like, "I can't believe you lost 30 pounds with basically no restriction"), but the nice thing is, I don't feel like I have to have a renewed focus on weight loss or anything like that. More like, now I feel like I have the mental space to fit my band back into my life without it taking over, and I'm glad about that. And trying to feel proud of having lost those last 30 pounds without much help from the band, instead of dumb for letting so much time go by without taking advantage of it. Glass half-full, I guess.

Friday, March 11, 2016

My first caucus

On Super Tuesday, 1.5 weeks ago, I attended my first-ever caucus. We moved to Colorado in 2009, one year after the last Democratic presidential primary. Colorado does closed caucuses (only registered members of the party can participate) and in non-presidential election years, I've always received a paper ballot in the mail for the primary, so this was my first-ever opportunity to participate.

A side note about caucuses and voting in general: I actually don't love the caucus concept as a political process, because I find the barrier to entry to be prohibitively high. It takes a lot longer than voting, first of all, and while you CAN bring kids with you, it did not appear to be a very pleasant experience to do so, which means that single parents or couples who both want to vote would need to either wrangle their kids in a hot, crowded, boring, slow-moving caucus for a couple hours or pay for childcare or... you know, not attend. Also, because everyone has to show up at once, the parking situation is completely insane. And, the whole speeches for candidates, everyone band together on various sides of the room and try to convince the uncommitted people to come to their side thing is just... I don't know, it seems like there's a lot of room for blurring lines, is all. The argument I keep hearing in favor of caucuses is that it means only the people who truly care and are involved in the political process make the decisions, which sounds nice until you think about it more and it starts to sound more like an argument to keep affluent white people in charge.

On the plus side, when we AREN'T having caucuses, Colorado does vote by mail, which is AMAZING... the ballot shows up a few weeks before the election, you fill it out, you put a stamp on it, you send it back, you're done. No waiting in line, no having to get time off work to go vote, no having to find a polling place. It's GREAT.

Anyway, back to my caucus experience. I personally did not suffer from the childcare issues I mentioned above, because Torsten is not a U.S. citizen and can't vote, so he stayed home with the kids while I attended the caucus. The caucus was held at a high school near enough to our house that I could walk there, thank goodness, because as aforementioned, holy traffic and parking issues, my goodness. The walk over felt sort of pleasantly neighborly--I encountered a neighbor waiting for another neighbor to walk over, and they invited me to join them, which I did, and then we gave directions to someone else who was trying to find the school, and everyone was sort of cheerful and chatty and it was lovely. (Also, there was only a Democratic caucus that day, so it wasn't like there were Sanders and Trump fans glaring at each other or anything.)

The caucus started at 7 and the precinct captain who canvassed our neighborhood told us to plan to arrive between 6:30 and 6:45. We walked in at about 6:40 and the place was PACKED. It was absolute chaos, standing room only, and totally nuts. The high school was the polling place for about 10 different precincts, and each precinct had its own sign-in table in the main hallway with a sign on the wall with the precinct number, but the hall was SO full and crowded that it was impossible to see the signs. There was also a huge line of people who didn't know their precinct number and were waiting to look it up, but thankfully our precinct captain had handed out little cards with our precinct number on them, so we were spared that hell. It took probably about 15 minutes of elbows-out neck-craning to figure out where our precinct check-in was, and then there was actually no line for it so we were able to sign in and head into the cafeteria very quickly. The worst part, though, was this woman in a wheelchair who needed to use the restroom, and it turned out that the restrooms were on the very far end of the hallway on the other side of the massive crowd, and there was just no possible way that she was going to be able to shove through all the people, so she had to just not use the restroom.

The crowd in the hallway to check in

Anyway, we got in the cafeteria, which was equally full of people and also very, very hot, and managed to find a place near a door that someone had propped open, so that helped. I was assuming that the voting itself would take place in the cafeteria, but that turned out not to be the case. A little bit after 7 they got started, even though tons of people were still checking in out in the hallway. Whoever was in charge, and I still don't know who that was, led the Pledge of Allegiance, and then two people split the duties of reading all the caucus rules out loud. Even though they had a microphone, the room was so loud and crowded that the people at the back couldn't hear at all, and kept yelling in annoyance for them to speak up. However, it turns out that you don't really need to hear what's being said at this time? It seemed very procedural. They were legit reading all the articles of the caucus law, including the actual article numbers like 4.a.1 or whatever, down to the full mailing address of where to send any protests to, and I get that they need to do that, but I personally didn't feel the need to actually be able to decipher what they were saying. Next time, I think, I will come by 7, check in, and then hang out in the hallway until the first part is done and it's time to break down by precinct.

A corner of the crowd in the cafeteria

Anyway, so, they read all the rules and then people had an opportunity to make speeches in favor of candidates, which a bunch of people did--not for presidential candidates but for the local stuff that was also happening that night (state senator, district attorney, and university regent). It was interesting to hear the speeches but I had no real idea who to vote for in those races, and the speeches didn't help with that because of course they just all made everyone sound great, but they were only a minute long apiece and didn't get very into the weeds.

After about half an hour, they read out the classroom numbers that each precinct was assigned to, and we all went off to find our rooms. My precinct was in a science lab and we all sat in those little chairs with desks attached to them. There were about 60 people there and our precinct captain for Hillary was there, but there was no precinct captain for Bernie, which evidently there was supposed to be, because the Hillary precinct captain only had the paperwork for Hillary, so while a Bernie supporter volunteered to be the precinct captain, it took some time to hunt down someone at the caucus who had the appropriate paperwork.

So, the precinct captain had us split up in a straw poll, Hillary supporters on the left side of the room, Bernie supporters on the right, and uncommitted at the back. It was about a 2:1 split Hillary:Bernie, with two people going to the back to say they were uncommitted, which opened the opportunity for people to make little speeches in favor of their candidates to try to sway the uncommitted people. A few people did that for each side, actually pretty interesting and quite civil, and then the uncommitted people asked how Bernie was going to fund his proposed policies, nobody could give a satisfactory answer, and they both went over to the Hillary side. (I actually suspect that they were Hillary supporters the whole time and were trying to make a point). Then we did a final vote, and the captains for each candidate counted, and a second person counted behind them to confirm, and then they filled out all the paperwork and our precinct awarded two county delegates for Hillary and one for Bernie. Then we selected who actually wanted to BE those delegates, including alternate delegates, and attend the county convention (which is evidently scheduled for the Saturday night right before Easter? Which is also spring break for Denver public schools? Which seems like a puzzling choice, but whatever). Only a few people volunteered, so everyone who volunteered was selected. The whole presidential piece took about half an hour, maybe a little longer, and our precinct captain commented that it had been very efficient and we had made record time.

At this point things started to go off the rails. The presidential vote was done and the paperwork filed, and that all went smoothly, but we were still supposed to deal with the state and local questions, but there wasn't really anyone running the show. The Hillary precinct captain who had been managing things thus far had only been trained on the presidential piece, and the Bernie precinct captain had only just become precinct captain half an hour prior and wasn't trained at all. The Hillary precinct captain sort of took over and did her best, but it was very confusing, and I never fully figured out the rights of it. Basically, there were candidates for each of the three positions that people had made speeches about in the cafeteria earlier, but apparently we were supposed to just pick one set of local delegates who would vote for all three positions? But also, most people weren't very familiar with the candidates for each position and didn't have strong opinions, and somehow it seemed that we were supposed to vote for district attorney candidates as a proxy for selecting delegates, and the state senator and university regent positions did not get voted on, even though the delegates would be voting for those people too? Which was puzzling, especially because of the three positions, the only one I had any opinion on at all was state senator, but we did not take a vote on state senator. And it wasn't like people were running as a bloc, where if you picked a certain DA candidate you were also voting for a particular senator and regent candidate, so basically it was just all really confusing. Finally, a couple people who were aware of the races gave speeches in favor of various DA candidates, which were a little more useful than the ones in the cafeteria because they talked about some of the actual issues and stances like who had taken a stance against the death penalty and promised not to pursue it, etc., and we all voted, and then somehow we picked some delegates and I guess those people are just going to go to the county convention and vote for whoever they want for state senator and university regent? I'm still confused about this.

After that, which took about another half an hour, the precinct captain said she was pretty sure that we were done and could go (though really, you can leave a caucus at any time, you're not required to stay or anything, but you only get to vote for things you're actually present for, so you can't, like, show up, sign in, tell someone your preferred presidential candidate, and leave again before the vote if you want your vote actually counted), but she went off to check with the people running the caucus to be sure, and while she was gone one of the people who was originally uncommitted raised his hand to propose a resolution eliminating superdelegates, and then someone else was like, this isn't the place for that, and then they started having a (civil) argument about whether it was or not, and apparently it is? In that you can raise a resolution for anything at all at a caucus and try to get it passed, and the idea is that that's how regular people get involved in the political process? Which is all good and well, but frankly I'm guessing that a random dude wearing a cowboy hat at a high school in Denver isn't going to be the impetus for eliminating superdelegates, and it was hot and I was feeling maxed out, so I left, along with the two neighbors I had walked in with, and we all walked home together. I got home at about 8:45, so altogether, including walking time, I was gone for a little over two hours.

Altogether, I would say the experience was equal parts fascinating and tedious, but I know that Colorado has tossed around the idea of replacing our caucuses with regular primaries (and I believe, though I'm not sure, that the reason they didn't do that this year was something to do with scheduling--the caucus could be earlier in the year than a primary would be allowed to be--and they wanted to maintain their national relevance, so they kept it). But I have to say, I do really hope that they move to a regular primary system in the future, because it is both easier and more accessible for all voters. Still, I'm glad I had a chance to attend a caucus at least once, if only for the experience.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Callum is FIVE

Yesterday Callum turned five. FIVE. Five, which sounds like such a big kid age (and hey, BabyCenter agrees with me... those weekly emails that I've been getting since before Callum was born and that I never bothered unsubscribing to changed, on his birthday, from "My Preschooler This Week" to "My Big Kid This Week"). The age of kindergarten. It's a whole new world up in here.

At five, Callum is spectacular. He is, as much can be expected at this age, incredibly kind and thoughtful. He always wants to help--he loves to hold doors for people, and when Annika can't do something, he's the first to race over to assist. We talk a lot about how we do things in our family, and he is internalizing and repeating it, and as a result we hear a lot about how we are kind and helpful in this family, and we don't say mean things in this family, etc. He offers to share desserts with not just Annika but also Torsten and myself. He's an incredible big brother, and loves Annika so much. We are constantly blown away by how well they play together, and how much he cares about her and thinks about her.

He's incredibly imaginative. He makes up all sorts of games and dialogues that take my breath away with their creativity and complexity. He can happily play independently for hours, crawling around on the floor with his cars and superheroes, acting out scenarios and interactions. He is testing some limits right now, and comes up with explanations and excuses for his behavior that make us hard-pressed not to laugh (for example, he tells us that Superman or Peter Parker are in his head controlling his voice and that it wasn't HIM that was defiant or said the unkind thing, it was just that Peter Parker made him). He still loves Lightning McQueen, but recently has become very into superheroes (particularly Avengers) and Ninja Turtles, too. He loves Legos, particularly the trains.

He LOVES preschool. He adores his 15 classmates, knows them all well, and talks about them frequently. He has a best friend at school, the same one all year, and watching them interact is almost like watching brothers--they know each other so well and they press each other's buttons and argue and then figure it out and move on. He is enthusiastic about everything he does, and even if he doesn't do it with finesse, he always does it wholeheartedly.

He has made some strides with his eating this year, but remains quite picky. However, he will now happily eat hamburgers, hot dogs, and deli meat, and can be convinced sometimes to take bites of chicken and fish, which is a huge step in the right direction after being a de facto vegetarian for about three and a half years. He still prefers carbs and beige food to all else, and would drink as much milk as we would allow. He remains on the bigger side of his age group, but nothing like the incredible off the charts numbers of his infancy. He is very active. He loves to run around, and told me that his favorite activities in gym class are sprints and log rolls, in that order.

He's just at the point where he's starting to try to write words and figure out letter sounds. He knows all his letters and the sounds they make, and he can figure out the first letter and often the second letter of almost any word. He can write his full name. He constantly wants to know how to spell things, and is getting pretty good at making reasonable guesses when we ask him what he thinks (for example, he wrote "bot" for "boat" and "flor" for "flower"). He seems to have a strong number sense, and can count basically indefinitely, and read five-digit numbers.

He remains a sensitive kiddo, with a strong desire to be sure he's good at something before he tries it. He is concerned about other people and worries about how they feel. He is experimenting with defiance, and while that's not so fun for any of us, we can see that it makes him feel sort of scared and out of control when he tries it. He has a goofy sense of humor and loves jokes, especially if they involve farting or anything else toilet-related. He is still snuggly, and loves to curl up with us to chat during his bedtime routine each night. He is deeply caring and affectionate, and surprisingly observant about what other people do and like and want.

He is a pure delight. Happy birthday to our big boy.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Winter 2.0: New and improved!

Last winter was tough. Annika had just turned one. Callum was turning four, and four has been, for us, the most challenging age so far. Torsten was working long hours at his (then new-ish) job. I was also working full time and balancing the primary parenting role as we figured out a new work-life balance with our jobs. I don't get seasonal moodiness or SAD or anything, and I actually like Colorado winters, but two little kids cooped up indoors was hard to manage, especially when one was so little and not really independent. As a result, 2015 was the first year where I had a really strong reaction to the onset of summer, after never caring much about the seasons before (I mean, I LIKE seasons, and I enjoy them changing, but the seasons never had such a direct impact on my daily life before).

But yeah, winter was hard. Finishing work and trying to cook a decent dinner for the family without any childcare, while Torsten was still at work, with a four-year-old in a challenging phase and a clingy one-year-old who wasn't yet super independent and needed a fair bit of supervision was just... draining. (As illustrated here.) There was a lot of painful multi-tasking, and dealing with whining and protesting and demands while either letting the dinner boil over or forcing the kids to wait, and there were a lot of messes and a lot of loud indoor horseplay and just... it was wearing.

And then summer came, and it was lovely, and I really actively enjoyed the outdoors and sunlight components of it, and then when it started getting cold again I thought, shit. Here it comes, another winter of being cooped up inside and stretched too thin and dealing with restless, whiny kids. It was the first time that I've really dreaded winter, flashing back to what it was like the previous year.

But! Newsflash: A two- and five-year-old are very different from a one- and four-year-old. VERY different. And this winter, I mean of course it's not over yet but in mid-January and multiple large snowstorms in I'd say we're solidly entrenched in the middle of it, but it has been TOTALLY different, and SO MUCH BETTER.

Two-year-old Annika isn't attached like a barnacle to her mother's leg! (Almost) five-year-old Callum isn't nearly as whiny and combative! Two- and five-year-old Annika and Callum play together independently, and don't require constant supervision! Two- and five-year-old Annika and Callum are learning how to clean up their own messes (albeit usually with some prompting), so turning around after being absorbed in cooking dinner to discover allllll their toys on the floor no longer creates quite the same heart-sinking feeling of doom that it did last year! Two- and five-year-old Annika and Callum can talk to each other, and make up games, and truly interact and enjoy each other! Two-year-old Annika adores five-year-old Callum like nothing else, and will do anything to keep up with him! Five-year-old Callum is a sweet and careful big brother who wants to help two-year-old Annika with everything!

YOU GUYS IT IS SO GREAT. I mean, it isn't perfect. They argue over toys and Annika sometimes hits (though only Callum, not her classmates at school) when she's frustrated (example from the other day: Annika hit Callum. I asked her to apologize and she did. Callum said "it's NOT okay." Annika yelled, "YES IT IS OKAY" and hit him again in a rage over his lack of acceptance of her apology. Aaaaand scene). Callum is a little less tolerant of Annika's shenanigans than he used to be, and will sometimes retaliate. It's not all sun-dappled fields of sibling adoration over here.

But it's so GREAT, still. Generally our philosophy is to let them sort their stuff out on their own as much as possible, and if we do have to step in, to redirect them back toward each other to figure it out together as much as possible, and you know, I wouldn't have even thought that would really be possible with a just-turned-two-year-old, but at least with Annika, it totally is, and it's amazing to watch how well they can usually navigate their little hills and valleys themselves. And now I finish work and I cook dinner mostly in peace. And the kids can reach the toys themselves and don't have to constantly ask for help, and I can trust that they aren't going to grievously injure themselves or destroy the house. And the horseplay is still there, but they both love it and nobody has broken a bone or needed a stitch yet (KNOCK ON WOOD) so it doesn't have the same fraught, chaotic feeling to it that it did last year. They are still LOUD and I wouldn't exactly love to try to get WORK done where I have to read and focus and be creative while they're around, amusing themselves, but something like cooking? Or straightening up? Or other household stuff? I can TOTALLY do that. There are no more barnacles in this house, and it's such a good thing.

I guess in some ways it's poignant... I mean, Annika moved into a big girl room this summer and we converted our former nursery back into Torsten's office and that was very much the end of an era, and there are no more baby toys and containment devices and no more bottles or cribs and a lot fewer cuddles, frankly, unless someone's sick, and you know what? Those things were delightful, they were, I truly enjoyed the baby phase (though I don't think Torsten would say the same about himself), but where we are now is even better, so I don't feel wistful for what's gone. I just love how much simpler and easier and RIGHT things are now, and the fact that they will continue to get even more so (like, say, when whatever weird sleep regression that Annika is currently undergoing ends, PLEASE LET THAT BE TONIGHT). It just feels... like this is why we did this, this is where we are, with the four-person family we wanted, and the associated dynamics we were hoping for.

We are so lucky. And I can enjoy winter again.

Monday, December 28, 2015

A year of personal growth

(Previous years: 20142013201220112010200920082007 

1. What did you do in 2015 that you’d never done before?
Traveled internationally with two children. Biked in a race. Sent a child to public schoolCommissioned a painting. Took two kids on a beach vacation (pretty sure that trip single-handedly ensured the success of the sunscreen industry this year). Hosted my French host family at our home. Flew by myself with two kids. Visited Isla Mujeres. Started a five-year diary, and wrote in it every day.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
Last year I said that I wanted "to do some more organizing (nursery and basement closets: I'm looking at you), blog about something real from time to time, get the kids' college funds in order, and take more photos with our real camera." I did get the nursery and basement closets organized, as well as Torsten's whole office, which was our catch-all room, so that's a yes. I did return to blogging, which has been great, though it's petered out a bit toward the end of the year. The college funds remain an ongoing thing to resolve. The camera photos... eh. Some, but not enough. So, two out of four. Next year I think we may buy a smaller "real" camera that isn't quite so unwieldy and will be easier to carry around with us and grab to shoot with, so hopefully the photo thing will improve, and I want to keep blogging at least as much as I blogged from May through October of this year. We are going to try to potty train Annika. And I want to work with Torsten to find a balance that works for us now that we've hit a routine... the kids are getting older, there are no more babies in the house, we have school and daycare more or less figured out, work is reasonably stable... so now is the time to figure out some stuff about how our family life works best and how we can establish a division of labor and routine that make us both feel supported and not overwhelmed.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Jonna, as well as two of my college friends, Jill and Jen.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

5. What countries did you visit?

Mexico and Germany. I also took both kids to Maryland and Pennsylvania as a surprise for my mom's 60th birthday, went to Albuquerque for PJs at TJ's, went to Boston and Chicago for girls' weekends, attended a wedding (with bonus Susie and Miranda time) in the Bay Area, and went to DC for work.

6. What would you like to have in 2016 that you lacked in 2015?
A skincare routine that consistently keeps my skin in good condition. A bit more balance in our home life.

7. What moments from 2015 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
Watching Callum transition to a new and very different preschool, and seeing how he has thrived and built friendships there. Seeing Annika develop into this incredible little PERSON with opinions and verbal skills and a sense of humor and, yes, curly hair. Spending time with Torsten in Mexico and having some really important state of the union conversations about our future goals for our family. Going on a family trip to the North Sea with great trepidation, only to discover that it's completely amazing and we want to go back as often as we can. Surprising my mom with a visit to Hershey with all her grandkids for her birthday, and spending a week in Pennsylvania during an incredible cold snap. Getting to a deeper plane of friendship with my closest friends, and seeing how we all collectively love and support each other through all kinds of shit.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
I spoke up for myself, on a couple different fronts, and got the results I wanted. I have learned that I tend to be a problem-solver not just for myself but for everyone around me, and a person who always wants to accommodate other people, and sometimes that means I don't do what I need for myself, and that is something I've been working on, and I think it's actually starting to take.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Not always stepping back and seeing the broader perspective. Failing to understand underlying reasons for things, and reacting with frustration and snippiness as a result.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Nothing major.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
A FitBit. The aforementioned commissioned painting (a watercolor of the cottage in Maine that we always stay at). Skincare products. Earrings (after I finally got my messed-up left ear piercing fixed). A rowing machine.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
Torsten's, like every year. He has watched me go through my own little set of epiphanies and adjustments, and they haven't always been easy on him, and he hasn't always known how to handle them, but he has been right there, in it with me, wanting to help, wanting to know what he can do, and trying really hard to support me. And all while dealing with his own stuff--a challenging job, his own figuring out of work-life balance, his fitness.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
People who are incapable of friendship on a deep level, but pretend otherwise and thus make a mockery of what it means to truly love and support and trust your friends.

14. Where did most of your money go?
Same answer for the fifth straight year: our mortgage and childcare.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Our family. I am loving this phase and feeling really good about how our lives will look as a family of four moving forward. The prospect of years of all of us together laying out in front of us makes me feel really happy.

16. What song will always remind you of 2015?

Bad Blood by Taylor Swift

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:

a) happier or sadder?
b) thinner or fatter?
c) richer or poorer?
a) Happier
b) Thinner - all baby weight is finally gone
c) About the same - maybe a little richer in the boring ways like retirement accounts and home equity

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Sleeping. Working out.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Waiting for problems to get fixed without me contributing.

20. How did you spend Christmas?
My parents came to visit (they're still here, actually). We had a very nice, l0w-key Christmas with happy kids, lovely gifts for everyone, and a delicious dinner in our pajamas. Both kids are completely in love with their grandparents, and we've been enjoying a really nice, pleasant visit.

21. Did you fall in love in 2015?


22. What was your favorite TV program?

House of Cards. Cheers. Veep.

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

24. What was the best book you read?

I read a lot of books this year, which I'm pleased about, AND I tracked them all, so I was able to look at my list to pick a favorite, and I think it was I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson.

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Like pretty much every year: I'm not sure I made any.

26. What did you want and get?
A happy family. Work-life balance for myself. A really lovely Christmas present from Torsten (and another from a dear friend).

27. What did you want and not get?

A magic bullet. A foolproof eyebrow shape.

28. What was your favorite film of this year?

I think we only saw one movie in the theater this year, Inside Out, which I liked, though it was by far not my favorite Pixar movie.

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

Torsten gave me my gifts (a gorgeous watch and earrings) in the morning before work, then we took a lunch break together and grabbed Chipotle and birthday cake. After work, Torsten and I went out on our own for dinner at my favorite restaurant. I turned 31.

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

I've said this for the last couple of years, but I really mean it: truly, nothing. Not to say that it was a perfect year or that everything in my life is ideal, but it was deeply satisfying even in the hard parts, because I am winding up the year feeling like a team and a family, and knowing that we're all on the same side, and happy about our lives together. The satisfaction of that feeling papers over a lot of cracks.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2015?

Pants that fit correctly. Colored jeans when possible. Venturing into the world of booties and earrings. 

32. What kept you sane?
Same as last year: My little family. My group of best friends.

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
I'm bad at this.

34. What political issue stirred you the most?
Like last year: Pretty much all of them. The refugee crisis is a big one at the moment, of course, though I find it depressing that it even qualifies as a political issue.

35. Who did you miss?
I'm slightly tweaking my answer from the past six years: Most of my friends and family, since many of them live far away (this previously said pretty much all of them lived far away, but by now I have several very dear local friends who are lovely and sanity-saving, so I'm amending a smidge).

36. Who was the best new person you met?
Well, I didn't meet them this year, but there are two moms of classmates at Callum's old school who I've known for a couple years now but who have truly become close friends this year, and I love them both and am so grateful to have them. 

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2015.
There are people who seem like fun and who can be enjoyable to spend time with, but not all of them are people who truly care about you and love you and will see you through any shit. Sometimes the people in the latter group mess up, and that's OK, because they will still be there after they mess up, trying to fix it. And, as always, follow your instincts. Sometimes there's a reason someone hasn't moved from the first category to the second. Sometimes people will say things that don't make sense, and that's when you need to look closer, because that's when you can discern who is really your person and who isn't.

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.
As last year: I don't think there is one. There pretty much never is.

Happy New Year, everybody!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Heart rate

I've now had my lap-band for 6.5 years, during which time I've lost 85 pounds, interspersed with two pregnancies and two sets of lost baby weight (so total pounds lost is actually WELL over 85, but alas, the baby weight doesn't count in the total). During that time I've also developed a lot of opinions about attitudes and language and self-image related to weight loss and concepts of health and fitness. At some point I will try to articulate all that stuff in a blog post. At this particular moment I will say that, counter-intuitive as it sounds, having the band has actually enabled me to care LESS about my weight, not just because it's lower and therefore a less pressing concern but because it's done wonders for my mental state.

That's really a topic for another post, but I started with it because it's a segue into the very specific niche thing I want to talk about recently, which is my obsession with heart rate as a measure of fitness. The reason this relates is that it used to be that I worked out to lose weight. And that was extremely frustrating, because I actually haven't noticed a major correlation, at least in myself, between frequency and intensity of workouts and rate of weight loss. For me, diet is the much more influential component of weight loss. So, if I'm working out to lose weight and I don't see an impact, I lose my motivation very quickly, and before I know it, weeks have gone by and I haven't worked out. Not good.

But! For a long time now, I've been able to separate working out and weight loss in my head, and it has been a huge mental bonus for me. I work out because it's good for me. It improves my fitness level, it's good for my heart, it makes me feel better physically and mentally. It's just a good thing, even if it doesn't result in any weight loss.

(This isn't to say that I am perfect about working out... various shifts in our lifestyle like babies, job changes, childcare changes, etc. have had their impact over the years and so how often I work out really depends on where we are currently, but recently I've been able to get back into it more and that's been great--though I know there will be more periods of less frequent working out in the future.)

Anyway! The point is, in lieu of weight loss as my benchmark of effectiveness, I look to heart rate. I always wear a heart rate belt when I work out, so I can see my real-time heart rate on the machine and adjust the intensity of my workout to keep it in my target zone (120s-130s, typically). Awhile back, Torsten got me a watch that communicated with my heart rate belt so that I could see my heart rate while doing exercise not on a gym machine, primarily bike riding.

I LOVE being able to track my heart rate. First of all, it's data, and I'm sort of obsessed with data, so it suits my personality. But second, I find it incredibly motivating, because I see tangible improvements and I see them very quickly. I have to work SO MUCH HARDER now to get my heart rate into the target zone. When I first started working out, my heart rate shot into the target zone basically immediately. I recall, years ago, plodding along on the adaptive motion trainer (my gym machine of choice) with the resistance and incline on the lowest setting, having to force myself to basically walk interspersed with bursts of short jogging to keep my heart rate from flying into the 160s. Now, I usually do interval training with the incline on 3 out of 5 and the resistance ranging from 13 to 19 out of 20, and I still have to push pretty hard to get my heart rate into the 130s. It's such a huge difference. And! When I go without working out for a few weeks, I can see that my heart rate goes up faster, but! The flip side is that just a couple of workouts and I can already see it improving.

It is so SATISFYING, is what I'm saying. You can SEE your heart getting healthier and your body getting fitter as a result of your efforts! IT is SO MUCH MORE GRATIFYING than measuring results based on weight loss.

And now! I've been using a combination of iPhone apps (primarily MyFitnessPal for nutrition tracking and Pacer and MapMyRide for steps/activity tracking) as my fitness tools. Torsten tried out a FitBit a few years back and didn't love it, primarily because at the time it was wildly inaccurate, so he returned it, and since then neither of us has really thought about getting one. However, Torsten noticed recently that there's a new FitBit out, the Charge HR, that tracks... you guessed it! Heart rate! So, good man that he is, he got me one (AND it's purple).

I've only had it for a day, so I'll report back, but so far I LOVE it. It's so cool! And it's really accurate! And it has a great iPhone app, or an online dashboard if you want to be a Luddite using a regular computer. It tracks your heart rate and it can tell whether it's resting or active, and buckets those things separately so you can track them differently. It tracks the steps you take in a day and how many flights of stairs you climb and how far you travel and how many active minutes. It also tracks your sleep, which is so so cool, and it lets you track exercise, start a food plan, monitor calories, and track water consumption, too. So basically, it's everything that I've been managing across multiple apps, all rolled into one and conveniently synced with the FitBit itself.

I am so, so pleased. And also, I think I may now have a new obsession... now that I don't have to wear a heart rate belt to see my heart rate, and I have essentially continuous monitoring via wrist, I can start focusing on changes in my resting heart rate over time. Fitness, ahoy!

Sorry, I'm a geek. But seriously. It's purple, it streamlines activities that I was already doing, AND it tells me my heart rate ALL THE TIME. It was MADE for me. I am so happy.

Monday, November 2, 2015


Our chunky, squashy newborn with the rubber band wrists is no longer. These is no baby in this household anymore. Because this baby girl is TWO:

At two, Annika is a wonder. She runs everywhere. She loves horses and dogs and dolls and fire trucks and Legos. She sings and dances frequently. She loves to watch football, and gets very angry and yells "MORE BRONCOS!" whenever a commercial comes on. She is obsessed with her brother and wants to do everything he does. She is very physical and loves to jump and horse around. If she falls down and hurts herself, you can usually avert the meltdown by saying, "Can you say..." and her face will light up and she will shout, "BOINK!" She is so, so happy, nearly all of the time.

She talks up a storm. She says four-word sentences, has her "me/I" and "you" pronouns down (alas), uses subjects and verbs correctly, and has just in the last day or two started figuring out to invert subject and verb to ask a question (this morning she asked me, "Can you help me?"). She has very firm opinions on every topic (also this morning, when I went in her room I said "happy birthday!" and she said "NO HAPPY BIRTHDAY"--but changed her tune after opening a couple gifts). If you ask her if she's a muffin, she will loudly say, "No, I a NUT NUT BEAR." She sang "happy birthday" to herself all the way to preschool today.

She is a creature of habit, and likes her routine, but is getting better and better at rolling with the punches. We have learned that she needs to be informed about things in advance so that she has time to process--not just that bedtime or whatever is in a few minutes, but also what is going to happen over the course of the day, especially anything out of the ordinary. Armed with that information, though, she can handle everything, but is definitely a verbal processor, as we will hear her talking about any upcoming plans or changes in routine pretty much nonstop.

Her hair is definitely curly. Her eye color is still undetermined... they are not as blue as they once were, and seem to be turning to green or gray or maybe hazel? She remains near the top of the charts for size. She always wants to pick out her own clothes and her own bowl and spoon, and put the top on her milk cup herself. She loves to be a helper and she's surprisingly efficient at cleaning up. She has a little conscience, and knows when she's doing something wrong (yesterday I found her holding an iPad and when I walked in, she jumped guiltily, put it down, and said, "No iPad. Callum's iPad"). She also has a little sense of humor, and laughs hysterically after she tells her toddler jokes, or after anyone else has a bodily function of any kind. She says "bless you!" when people sneeze or cough or hiccup. She is sensitive, and if she gets scolded her giant eyes will well up with tears and her face will fall and she will run sobbing into my arms for a hug. If she is playing roughly and you ask her to give gentle touches, she will softly stroke the person's hair before immediately returning to her roughhousing. She loves to give hugs and kisses, and will request them frequently and then lay her little curly head on your shoulder and snuggle in.

She is a pure delight. Happy birthday to our big girl.