Monday, April 28, 2014

31 for 31

Happy Monday!

I turned 31 on Friday. Please don't sing "Happy Birthday." The only reason I don't post my birthday on Facebook is because I avoid that song like the plague. I hate it. HATE IT. Have you ever noticed the more people involved in singing it, the more out of tune everyone is? What is that about?

Anyway, as much as I would have loved to do a second year of good deeds to match my age, I was working (saving days off for my honeymoon) and really did not have the budget. However, I did come up with an idea to celebrate my 31 years of age and, um, wisdom.

So, here you go. Thirty-one of my personal tips and tricks I've collected throughout the years.

Purse essentials

1. Baby wipes. Even if a child is no where in sight, they come in handy all the time for me. From spills to going to a BBQ restaurant to department store sample mishaps to the obvious needs that arise when a toddler is in tow.

2. Hair ties. I never have enough. And my habit of taking them off when I go to bed and putting them on the nightstand only hinders me more when I wake up and find the cats have taken them as their personal toy and hidden them. Because of this, I've had to make do with what I have on hand to keep my hair out of my face, as I'll go into more about below.

Believe it or not, I even made the purse more
presentable before taking this photo.
3. Pockets. If I purse doesn't have little pockets, I don't buy it. I need at least some form of organization to my purse, despite its current condition as a jumbled heap of this and that. But at least I know there's a pocket for my concealer and lipstick, tampons, pens, and a special pocket just for my keys so I'm not going through my monstrous bag for five minutes.I even keep diapers and changing supplies in a zippered pocket so they are concealed easily when I'm using my purse for non-Mom things, without fear of having a diaper fall out in public. I've been sporting Martha Stewart's (yes, I groan too) small tote from Staples, which, unfortunately, looks like it's no longer available. I was planning on buying another color with my tax refund, but now it looks like I'll be duct taping this baby when the time comes because I haven't found anything remotely as wonderful.

4. A good wallet. I also have the matching wallet to my purse, which has another little pocket in it. I can carry my cards and my phone in it, as well as a tampon in the small descrete pocket, and since it's a wristlet, sometimes I just grab that and go when I don't need the rest of the bundle.

5. Pouches. I got pencil pouches at the dollar store in different colors and separated items into these categories: First Aid, Snacks and Miscellaneous. Because of this simple trick, I've been able to find my allergy pills as soon as the first sneeze hits or a quick pick-me-up when I'm starting to feel hangry (angry resulting from being hungry) or just a USB charging cable when I realize my battery's low. I also recently got a portable purse charger from Amazon, which are cheap enough and small enough to carry around for quick charging needs. I've also seen them on the discount shopping Apps like Groupon and Living Social. I even use glasses cases I got at the dollar store for my headphones and another one for plastic bags (more on those later).


6. Wipes. As much as I would love to go crunchy and have a paper-free kitchen, I just can't. I've tried. I just hate anything that adds to my already accumulating laundry pile. Plus, I hate seeing fabric, even fabric specifically made for these kinds of jobs, get soiled and stained. Maybe one day, but until that day comes, the disinfecting wipes that come in three-packs have kept my kitchen and bathroom looking good since doing some spring cleaning last week.

7. A hole drilled in the garbage can. I saw it on Pinterest and immediately had the fiancee do it to our garbage can. It's a small hole for air to go through so putting the bag in doesn't create a huge air pocket, and taking it out doesn't involve a crane.

Record: Temples. Filling the psychodelic
retro rock hole I didn't know I had.
8. The fabric shelf drawers from IKEA. Look, I've seen decorators use shelves for a lovely display. And, if I had the room, I would gladly do it. But, I need my shelves to serve their intended purpose: shelving things. So, with the abundance of toys and, ahem, clutter invading my living room, I invested in the fabric shelve drawers that go with our shelving units, similar to these (not sure why the ones I have aren't on the IKEA site). I use them for puzzles, craft supplies and hats and scarves. And I can still maintain an adult-ish appearance.

9. Ottoman with storage. Believe it or not, in this chic $15 Target storage ottoman are diapers and diaper supplies. When I realized we didn't have room for a full-blown changing table, I took to changing my daughter on the couch or on her bed. In three years, I'm pretty good about keeping the diaper contents off the furniture -- a skill I hope every parent has the chance to possess. Once potty-training (ugh) is complete, I will gladly retain that storage for something else and it sadly excites me to daydream about what that would be.

This also doubles as Little Man's favorite perch.
Yes, that is a leaf on my floor I'm too lazy to crop out.

The staging area for many of the photos taken.
10. Chalkboard paint. I got a coffee table from the side of the road years ago, thinking I would repurpose it. After moving, I finally got down to work (three years later) and covered the top with chalkboard paint and put a basket of chalk underneath. It's served as fun for L., an easy way to keep score when we play games and fun places to put messages to one another. Even L.'s room has a wall that has chalkboard paint on the bottom for her to draw on.

11. Tennis balls. One of my ultimate pet peeves about laundry (the list also includes doing it) is waiting for something to dry, like a comforter so I can go to bed, only to discover at the end of the cycle, it's still damp. I've noticed that putting tennis balls helps speed the process a bit by keeping it from mashing together and helping to fluff it while drying. It makes me hate laundry 4 percent less. But I still hate it.

12. Pool noodles. L. is no longer at the age where every single pointy object seems to be at eye height, and I no longer have nightmares about her falling smack dab into tables. We used the easily obtainable bumpers for those things, but I recently saw that pool noodles cut apart could also be used as fun, colorful bumpers. So, when faced with the problem of having people bump their heads when going down our basement stairs, I cut on open and had the fiancee nail it up.

13. Separate blankets. This is a weird one, and when I tell people, I get skeptical looks. But, both my fiancee and I like to maintain our burrito status when we're in bed. We both hog the covers and, with out different schedules, it sucks to have the covers moved when the other is getting into bed or leaving the bed in the morning. So, we each have our own blankets. In the winter, we have one big one that we share that goes over us or we use it as a covering when we have to clean the house for guests, but, in general, we have our two separate bed ecosystems, as we call them. We've also never had an argument. I would like to attribute this to our very compatible personalities, but also our bedding arrangement.

14. Cleaning supplies in the shower. Let's be honest. I'm not going to notice a dirty shower unless I'm in it. So, I have my bottle and brush already in the shower with me so I can spend a few extra minutes while I'm showering cleaning the tub. Plus, it's out of L.'s reach so there's no worry about her finding cleaning chemicals under the sink. FYI - The spray bottle is filled with Dawn dish soap, peroxide, baking soda and water. Best thing I've found to get the grout cleaned.

15. Bins, bins, bins. I was brought up with "A place for everything and everything in its place." That's great when you're an adult and you don't need an abundance of toys at your disposal. But for a toddler (and my sanity), I've found that bins are the be-all-end-all of toy cleanup. Just toss everything in the bins and let the toddler rediscover toys when they decide to empty them all over the floor. We have a shelf she uses for books, but as far as toys go, bins are key!

16. IKEA bags. I almost want to put an exclamation point on this one because they can be used for EVERYTHING! I keep a few in my car to put all my bags of groceries in to carry them into the house (no, I don't bring my own bags, but I'll get to that in a minute); they are the perfect size to lug a load of laundry up and down the stairs; they're great for the beach because they're plastic; I can do a house-sweep by taking one around to all the rooms and pick up toys left here and there; they're good to put wet clothing and shoes in when we're traveling ... the list goes on! Next time you're at IKEA and think you can easily carry your things to the car, just pay the $.59 or whatever for the bag. Trust me, you'll use it.

17. Plastic bags. I never registered for a Diaper Genie, but I wanted one. Instead, I started saving my plastic bags from the store (right now, most of my collection have Target logos all over them ... oops!). I use them for used diapers so the smell doesn't get out, for cleaning out the cat box, for putting leftovers from the fridge in when I realize I'm not going to eat them, etc.

18. Charging station. When the fiancee said he wanted one, I groaned, thinking how excessive a charging station is and how we won't use it. Well, when I found one on clearance at Target, I got it to make him happy. Sure, we had an abundance of wires tripping us up all the time, but I was used to it. Then I set it up and realized it really did streamline all the wires and cables we had going on in our living room. Plus, the tiny drawer at the bottom was perfect for extra wires. (Don't tell him he was right, though. Wouldn't want it to get to his head. If anyone asks, since I bought it, I'm taking the credit for it.)


19. Hiding spots. Whenever I start a new job, I scout out the bathroom for tampon hiding spots. Since pregnancy (thanks, L.!), I no longer have a predictable schedule so my period catches me by surprise almost every month. Oh, I can guess roughly when it'll be, but there's a good chance I'll go to the bathroom unprepared, or I'll bring a tampon only to realize I don't need it. So, I find a hiding spot for it so I know it'll be easily accessible when I need it. Currently, there is a little lip on the metal toilet seat cover holder, which doesn't actually have toilet seat covers in it. When I went to hide my tampon in that, I found someone else's, so I know it's not just me who does this! In the past, I've used a hing that held the stall to the wall or inside a lampshade. I'm pretty sure at the place I worked four years ago, there is still a tampon hidden in the first stall inside the lip of a might covering (you're welcome, former employees).

20. Snack drawer or bin. Some people try not to keep snacks at work, but I find if I let my hunger get out of control, I'll just regret it later when I go nuts filling my face with whatever I can cheaply get. Or, I'll make my way to the snack machine and convince myself I can justify 300 calories of chocolate. So I keep a drawer of snacks at my disposal. Currently, I have two drawers at my desk and I need them for work-related things, so I keep a little fabric bin (more bins!) under my desk for when cravings hit.

21. Water container. Once I realized last summer the reason I was waking up feeling like I had a hangover every single day, despite not drinking, was because I wasn't getting enough water, I had to find a way to make water available to me all the time. I usually carry around a water bottle -- or, a "hydration bottle," as Target labeled it, but there are times I forget it in the car or at home. So I make sure I have my plastic tumbler with a top and straw, which I know is exactly two glasses. I have to fill it more often than my usual bottle, but at least I know I won't have to worry about using the little paper cups that barely hold 4 ounces. The more water containers you have at your disposal, the better.

22. Putting up your hair with a pen. As I've said, hair ties, despite buying them in bulk and putting them everywhere I might need them, tend to disappear on me. (Little Man, I'm looking at you!) So, back in middle school, when I was probably supposed to be paying attention in class, I decided to teach myself to put my hair up with a pen, which I usually keep readily available more often.

  1. Gather your hair in a ponytail.
  2. Twist it tightly into a bun.
  3. Insert the pen straight down through the hair at the side of the bun.
  4. Twist it so it's facing the bun and stick it through.
  5. Grab some hair on the other side of the bun and put it over the pen. To keep the rest in place.
  6. Tuck in any loose ends.
  7. Ta-da! Instant librarian look! (But, I get a lot of compliments and "how did you do that so quickly?" comments that I think in the 2/3rd of my life I've been doing it, I've successfully OWNED the look.)
When I didn't have a pen one day, I was able to do it with a pair of sunglasses, despite the weird looks from other parents on the playground at having sunglasses in the back of my head, but I told them it was for the extra set of eyes parents have back there.

23. A sweater on the back of my chair. Yes, yes, it seems obvious to have that there when the office thermostat is off limits and you never know what to expect, but I've also used it as a mini-alibi for when I might be coming in a few minutes late and had to use the excuse, "No, I was here, didn't you see my sweater?" Hint: If you have a coworker who will put it on your chair, you can hide it somewhere in your desk when you're not late for it to be more convincing.


Three hours working on this blog
post and not one bit of yoga was
done in these yoga pants.
24. Two words: Yoga. Pants. Sometimes, I get home from work and want a bath, but I can never get myself to sit down long enough to enjoy one. There's always something to do, even if it's simply finding a way to procrastinate something else. ("Oh! My Keurig cups need organizing right this second! Laundry will have to wait!") I have to say, the next best thing to being able to slip into a relaxing bath would be being able to slip into a nice pair of yoga pants. Preferably clean, but, hey, they're black. Who knows what stains have accumulated on these bad boys.

25. Multivitamins. Sure, some people will say you don't need one if you're eating right. Well, I can guarantee you, I am not getting my daily recommended dose of most vitamins in my diet, especially on busy days. On non-busy days, I probably get my recommended amount of vitamins, nutrients, sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, saturated fats, gummy bears, sprinkles, cheese, more cheese, etc. Actually, I probably get enough of all of those things for two people. But, on most days, I try to remember to take my vitamins. I still take prenatal ones. Ever since the jolt of energy they gave me in that first trimester, I haven't been able to give them up.  And I really do notice a difference if I stop taking them for a few days. So, it's just easier to continue with them. I take a few more supplements here and there as needed, like my current obsession with magnesium, but, for the most part, I stick with my non-fancy, non-expensive bottle of prenatals.

26. Looking more awake. What says "No, I didn't wake up late -- this is how I want to look!" better than a face that doesn't droop and sag? I learned this trick on QVC years ago when they were pushing some book on natural techniques you can do to make your face look younger without surgery. 
  1. Take your first two fingers and put them right under the end of your eyebrow.
  2. Push up and hold for 10-15 seconds.
  3. Repeat on the other side. Or you could have done both at once, if you felt so inclined. But I like seeing the difference.
That's it. Probably not worth the numbering I was convinced I would need for these in-depth instructions, but I'll keep them. Sometimes it just gives my face a little freshening. I can't seem to find the product or book QVC was pushing in the '90s when I learned this trick, but I do like the instant effect (which of course fades within 30 minutes and I end up doing it again), but it's a nice trick to keep in your pocket for first impressions so people don't see the perma-scowl associated with being a mom to a toddler.

Note: I took pictures, but, let me tell you, they were scary. I have a nice zit on my chin (it's not fair that, at 31, I have wrinkles beginning to form AND acne that hasn't gone away since I was 13!) and I realized as I was demonstrating that my eyebrows are unevenly shaped so they just looked bizarre. You're just going to have to try it for yourself.

One of the best books
to combine Myers-Briggs with
parenting styles.
27. Know yourself. I don't just mean know your phone number and address and preference of white or red wine. I mean, take some time to see what makes you tick. Before I got into Myers-Briggs, I was convinced the quizzes I had taken and answered all B's to in Seventeen magazine in middle school gave me everything I needed to know about being a middle-of-the-road kind of girl. I didn't realize I was actually an introvert who gained my strength and energy when I took time to be by myself; or why I felt drained instantly when I had to make small talk; or why I couldn't just get to the point instead of following what, in my head, are ridiculous social norms of skirting issues so I wouldn't seem too blunt or insensitive. INTJ much? Once I started reading into it and assessing myself, it was actually easier for me to interact with others of different personality types who I would have normally dismissed because they just didn't "get" me, including my ISFJ daughter, who I have trouble remembering how emotional she is. (I categorize her as ISFJ, but as a toddler, of course she's more Sensing than iNtuitive and Feeling than she is Thinking, so it's still tough to pinpoint her personality exactly.)

My first "running" injury and, boy, am I proud!
28. Think of it as movement, not exercise. I never liked to exercise. I never found the appeal. Sweat is annoying. Soreness just sucks the life out of me. Running out of breath was not fun. But once I heard someone suggest thinking of it as movement instead of exercise, I realized I could do it daily. As long as I was moving, I could get some physical activity into every day. Last year around this time, I was 30 pounds heavier. I thought about dieting again, but I had already lost so much baby weight and I was going through a divorce, I let myself take a break. When the summer hit and talk of engagement was happening, I decided to get back on the wagon. I used the MyFitnessPal App on my phone to track my food, but I also started just getting more active. I started doing yoga again, which helped with stress. When it got warmer and I was taking L. to the park almost every day I had her, I "invented" Parkercise. And, after stalling for the holidays, I joined the gym and I got back on track again. Then I upped my game even more and got a Fitbit. Now I'm pre-pregnancy weight, minus some more and I'm still going. All of my clothes fit. ALL OF THEM. EVEN THE SKINNY JEANS. I can finally run a mile! (OK, OK, it's on the treadmill. But, it's still a mile I couldn't have run before!) Even though losing weight is 80 percent diet and only 20 percent exercise, er, I mean "movement," I find that if I do one of those things, the other one usually happens on its own. I'm not going to ruin all the chocolate I said no to by laying on the couch all day, and I'm not going to stuff my face after going to the gym.

29. Have a good support network. I know some of these are pretty obvious, but I have always been one of those people who didn't want to "bother" other people when I needed help. I still do it at work, as the new person, and then I end up making mistakes, all because I don't want to bother people with question after question. But, when it comes to being a parent, you need at least one person in your life who knows what you're going through and who will listen to be supportive without judgment. I'm lucky to have a few of those people. Last night, in fact, I took a bottle of wine to my friend's house and we talked about how we question pretty much every single thing we do as parents and wonder if we're screwing our kids up for life. We, of course, know this isn't true, but it was nice to have someone else who worries about the same thing so we could both heave a sigh of relief and say, "Oh, thank goodness, it's not just me!"  You don't need a reason like a play date or some oh-so-interesting-and-learning-intense activity to use as an excuse to talk to another mom about things like how we used to watch marathons of shows like "Law & Order: SVU" and now we're afraid to turn on the TV for fear of seeing even fictional portrayals of situations we would never want our kids to go through. It's amazing what can come from just a text of, "Hey, are you busy tonight? Can we hang out? I'll bring wine!"

Not sure why The Art of Simple podcast doesn't
have a logo right now. But these are my top 4 faves.
30. Keep learning. If you can't take a class, read a book. If you can't read a book, watch a documentary. If you can't watch a documentary, listen to a podcast. Those first few months of motherhood, I'll admit my brain turned to absolute mush. There was something huge going on in the world and I couldn't get my head around it. And I was a journalism major and I felt awful for not being able to follow the news anymore. Finally, I started reading more when I was stuck blessed to be breastfeeding for hours a day. I felt my brain coming back. Then I got into podcasts, including ones like Good Job Brain, Stuff You Missed in History Class, Stuff Mom Never Told You and The Art of Simple Podcast. And the fog was gone. (Once L. was sleeping through the night, that helped too.) If nothing else, being able to talk about something else other than the consistency of L.'s diaper contents and how great fiber is or how terrible Calliou is was rewarding, in and of itself.

31. Go guiltless. Oh, sure, I'm having little pangs from my birthday weekend of forgoing counting calories and the scale, but in general, I've tried so hard for the past year to stop guilt in its tracks so it doesn't build up and act like a poison. Sometimes, I deserve me-time. Sometimes, I can say, "no" when I don't want to do something. Sometimes, people aren't going to like what I say or do or act. I'm not here to please everyone. I'd love to be able to give everybody what they want. It's human nature, I think. But if you base your life around that, you'll have no time for yourself or to make you happy. When that little pimple of an emotion comes along, it's best to just ignore it, instead of letting it control your life. (I'm obsessed with this thing on my chin today! Why, combination skin, oh, why must you taunt me!?)
Yes, in fact, I am rejoicing in L. taking a nap after
a day of tantrums! And I don't feel guilty!