Thursday, January 31, 2013

My Declaration of Independence

I considered titling this post lots of things. Things like "Medela's Last Stand" and "Ta Ta, Ta-tas."

But I decided that "My Declaration of Independence" was most appropriate because, as of early December, I'm no longer nursing/pumping! Whether you've shared your ta-tas with a babe before or not, let me explain what stopping has meant for me.

First, I feel so, so grateful to have been able to give Moo breast milk for the first year of his life. (Oh, the irony of that nickname with a post like this!) I never set out to nurse for a year, but it worked out that way, and I'm thankful.

That said, it was not easy. From the day he was born, he ate more than I could produce, so we supplemented some with formula for a few days until I figured out that pumping helped me produce enough milk, as long as I pumped often enough. After a bout with mastitis and the insane attempt to nurse, pump, and bottle feed each feeding (read: do not try this at home), I quickly transitioned to pumping exclusively and giving him pumped milk in a bottle.

It's always a little weird to explain because you're not exactly nursing, and you are bottle feeding, but you're not giving your kid formula. There's not really a word like "breast feeding" for those of us who pump-feed.

Anyway, like I said, this worked, and every mama just has to do what works. It had its perks like anyone being able to feed him any time of day or night. But. It also meant that I was pumping 5-6 times a day for a year in order to keep up with him.Which meant that I had to plan my day around the pump schedule and stick to it so my supply would stay up. I'd often have to bring my pump with me and pump in the car, in visitor center bathrooms, in school bathrooms, in fast food bathrooms, in friends' bathrooms. It meant that I hand-washed the heck out of bottles. It meant that in addition to pumping an hour+ a day, I was also giving Moo the bottle (read: lots of TIME). Every moment of my day felt like I was in some part of the feeding process.

I got really good at doing just about anything while pumping. I can't tell you how many books I read while pumping. Or how many texts I sent, nails I painted, meals I ate, shows I watched, emails I sent, papers I graded (yep), or phone calls I made. Life just had to go on.

The best part for me, though, was HAVING to pause 5 or 6 times a day. I don't pause well, so having to was good for me.

But the day I was finished was revolutionary. I suddenly had all this TIME. And I could eat/drink whatever I wanted for the first time in almost two years. My old friend the pump went on the top shelf of the closet after being with me all day every day for a year. I felt like I was playing hooky, but that didn't last long.

People say all the time, "I can't believe you stuck with it for that long, " or "How did you pump exclusively? I can't imagine doing that." Here's the thing: you do what you have to do. It was my normal, so while it was exhausting, it was also just what I did. And it worked. And I'm glad it's over.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Seven hits home.

If you haven't read my last two posts about Jen Hatmaker's book 7: An Experimental Mutiny against Excess, this post won't make much sense to you, so take a moment to read them if you can.

I started typing my takeaways from the book and LO AND BEHOLD I had 7 takeaways without even meaning to. This book must have some sort of seven jinx on it. Anyway, while I have no desire to do the kind of experiment on myself that Jen did (nor would she say I needed to), I have started thinking about parts of my life differently. So, here they are (in no particular order):

I've started recycling more and buying products that require less recycling all around.
I've recycled my whole life, but I'm getting a little more serious about it. Pre-7, I would throw away a yogurt container because I was too lazy to rinse it out, or I would throw away a piece of paper because I was too lazy to walk the extra five steps to the recycling bin. Those days are over. I'm also thinking more about avoiding having so much recycling altogether. For example, I buy yogurt in individually packaged containers, but each of those packages contains a lot more plastic than one large container of yogurt that I could take an extra 30 seconds to spoon into tupperware. When did an extra 30 seconds become such an inconvenience? Sheesh! So far, I'm still buying the individual containers because I can't find the same flavors in the large containers, but I am buying some other items in bulk and divvying them up myself. I'm also trying to use reusable bags when I remember (old habits die hard). I'm not ready to compost or wash my clothes in vinegar or anything, but it's a start.

I've decided not to buy any clothes for myself or my family unless it's a need...for I don't know how long.  I have a closet full of clothes. Clothes that fit. Clothes that work. Clothes that are cute enough. I don't need more. Not like other people do. I must admit, though, that just DAYS after making this decision, I had to return something to Target and found myself wandering around the clothing department, just to see if anything cute was on sale. Knowing I wouldn't buy it, I still tried on three shirts and a pair of pants. Didn't buy them, but wanted to. Now the tough part is figuring out how to help those who need basics like clothes with the money I'm not spending on mine.

I want to continue giving stuff away and organizing regularly, traveling light so I'm not weighed down by stuff, stuff, stuff. But I also want to give away with a purpose when I can. Instead of just giving to Salvation Army (which is fine), I want to consider if there's a person or ministry or group that may need or want that very item. We keep a box in the basement of give away stuff along with a piece of paper for an ongoing itemized list, and so far, that's worked for corralling the excess.

Whenever possible, I'm using tupperware instead of Ziploc bags and plates instead of paper towels. One day I'll get to cloth napkins, but I'm just not there yet. Since I run my dishwasher every day anyway, using tupperware is really a no-brainer. And putting something on a plate instead of a paper towel might take an extra two seconds, so really, there's no contest. 

I like the concept of the 7 pauses to pray, but don't think it's for me. However, I'd like to do something like it--maybe 3 pauses a day (as many alarms as my old school phone can set) to pray. I really need to think through how this will work practically so that I actually do it, but I think it'll anchor my mind and heart throughout the day and keep me focused on what matters.

Media. I need less of it. I'm not really a media junky, but I want it more than I think. I almost never watch TV and when I do, it's on hulu where I can fast forward to the exciting parts and watch it on my own time. But I check Facebook too much and read too many blogs and check my email a ridiculous number of times a day. The other night, I unplugged for an hour and was amazed by how much I accomplished (read a chapter of a book and had a long, quality conversation with an old friend). Afterward, I was going to "quickly" check email and blog and voila! 30 minutes passed before I knew what hit me. Jen suggests blocking off an hour a day to returning emails and checking social networking sites rather than checking in multiple times a day. I'd like to try that.

I'm trying to buy local whenever I can. In the book, Jen voices her (and my) frustration over the "buy local" thing: if you want to buy local, you're often spending an insane amount on a handful of almonds. If you buy cheap, you're usually not getting organic or local, and if you buy organic, you're usually not getting cheap and not necessarily getting local. No easy answers there. But one way I've found to buy a little more locally is to order a veggie box from Freshfully each week. Super easy. You order online. $25 for a box that feeds 2-4 people. They ship to a nearby location for free, and you pick it up on Fridays (just have to order by Wed. afternoon). They also include recipes for how to cook with, say, radishes, which is good for people like me. I get my first box this week, so I'll let you know how it goes!

The biggest challenge for me is figuring out how much excess I have so I know what and how to give away more. For example, I can't easily calculate how much I saved by NOT purchasing something. And I feel like if I save money on shopping then I'll probably spend a little more by buying local food, so it'll all come out in the wash. But no use getting caught up on exact details. My heart's in the right place, and my habits are starting to follow, so I trust that God will lead me to give when and how and however much I'm supposed to. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

Jen Hatmaker's book 7: An Experimental Mutiny against Excess

If you didn't read my last post, go ahead and read it. I'll wait. 

No seriously. It will just take a minute. Go on already.

Okay. So, here's the gist of the book: For seven months, Jen decided to focus on seven areas of her life (one per month) that had become too important to her, and she vowed to reduce and simplify that area for the month. She did this in the spirit of a fast--saying no to something in order to create space for God to speak, denying herself something so that she could give somewhere else, living simply to give generously. Her seven areas were: food, clothes, shopping, waste, possessions, media, and stress. This is one of those books where reading the introduction is a MUST. I had so many objections and questions for her even before I started the book: "Are you suggesting that we should all go to these extremes?" "What's the point here? Do you do this just so you could write a book?" "What happens when these months are up?" "Won't this just turn into legalism?" Jen anticipates those questions and answers them winsomely in the intro, so don't miss that. I'll give you the gist of each chapter and then do a follow-up post on what that meant for me:

The goal: eat only 7 foods in any combination. (She did research to make sure she was getting adequate nutrition and also allowed herself salt and pepper for seasoning.)

The goal: wear only 7 items of clothing in any combination (including shoes and jewelry but omitting undergarments).

The goal: shop at only 7 places (including food and gas).

The goal: start 7 habits for a greener life.

The goal: give 7 things away every day.

The goal: give up 7 forms of media (unless necessary for work).

The goal: pause 7 times a day for focused prayer; observe the Sabbath once a week.

A few general things I love about the book:
  • She did her experiment in community, with 7 (imagine that) of her best friends.
  • She messed up each month and broke her own rules for herself, which makes her human. I like that. I need that.
  • Most importantly, the book really pushed me to not just simplify, but simplify with a purpose. I often miss the second half of fasting. I'll give up, but only so I can store up, instead of giving something up so I can give away more. It's not just about living simply; it's about what you do with the excess time, money, space, and energy you create when you simplify. 

You're in my head, Jen Hatmaker.

Dear Jen Hatmaker,

Thanks to your book, 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, (and thanks to my wonderful friend, Ashley, who recommended it), I'm feeling some serious conviction. Not the dripping-with-guilt, I-will-beat-your-knuckles-with-a-ruler-if-you-don't kind of conviction. Real conviction. A desire to change. New thoughts. New habits. New, new, all things new.

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So, here's the thing. Usually, I'm a snob when it comes to Christian living books. Most of them have quality content but terrible, I-want-to-gouge-my-eyes-out writing style. They throw around Christian lingo, sound trite, and are just plain cheesy. I quit buying them years ago, opting instead to borrow because they all ended up flying across the room. I couldn't get to the message because of the way the message was communicated. Yuck. But I've found a few authors who break that mold--Lauren Winner, Henri Nouwen, C.S. Lewis, Tim Keller, and yes you, Jen Hatmaker.

I like your writing, Jen. It's informal and punchy, sarcastic, honest, funny, and intentional. While a few short paragraphs of the book wandered into cheesy Christian book territory, it was hardly anything, and I think you earned the right to those paragraphs after all the other quality writing you did everywhere else in the book.

I hadn't even heard of you before reading your book, but now you're such a household name that my husband has started asking, "WWHD?" (What Would Hatmaker Do?) Thought you'd get a kick out of that. Because of you, my conviction is turning into action without me even trying too hard. You're in my head, lady. And I like it.

(Stay tuned: my next post will be about the book itself and possibly what I'm taking from it...might be two segments.)

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Good morning, Jillian Michaels

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I hated my husband at 5:00 a.m. yesterday. After months of hemming and hawing about whether or not to rejoin the gym that we quit a year ago when we realized we were paying them money for us to sit on our butts at home, Phil came up with the brilliant suggestion to do the Jillian Michaels 20-minute Shred workout video three mornings a week BEFORE WORK.

For most people, "before work" could be anytime before 8 or 9 a.m. But my husband leaves for work at 6 a.m. at the latest, so, yes, that little "before work" clause translates to five o'clock in the freaking morning. But it's 20 minutes. And it's three days a week. And I'll have the workout done before the day even starts. And I'll get back in shape. And I don't have to look remotely "cute." And I'll have accountability right next to me in our warm bed. And I probably won't even sweat because it's so cold in our house in the mornings. And why the heck not? It's a lot cheaper than rejoining the gym. (Why not just rejoin the gym, you ask? I'm blaming Jen Hatmaker, but that's my next blog post, so stay tuned. )

So, at 5:00 a.m. yesterday, the alarm went off and my excuses took off: "I slept terribly last night and had to get up once with Moo. I really need my sleep so I can have energy today." "It's sooooo warm in bed." "We can just do it tomorrow." "Cough. Cough. I think I'm sick." But then I remembered something a running friend once told me. She runs every day, regardless of excuse (unless she's so sick she has to stay in bed). She runs in the rain, the snow, the cold, the heat, on vacation, on holidays, and when she's busy, because if any of those conditions become an excuse, she'll quit running altogether. So, I decided that if I didn't get my butt out of bed today, I probably never would.

So we did it. And it wasn't terrible. By 5:36, I didn't hate Phil anymore. I may or my not be walking with a a limp today, but it wasn't terrible. Day one down. Bring it, Jillian.

Perplexed, but not driven to despair

New Year's Day marked an ending for me this year, not a beginning. After only four months of being diagnosed with stage four bile duct cancer, my dear friend of eight years passed away on January 1st. She left behind her two daughters, whom I've tutored/babysat/mentored since they were in middle school (now both in college).

So the last week and a half has been a flurry of emotions, activity, waiting, weeping, and carrying on with the regular business of life. I've sat in waiting rooms, kissed a cold brow, helped write a eulogy (my hardest writing assignment yet), edited an obituary, and helped the girls get settled into their new semester. Those are the last things I've wanted to do. And the only things I've wanted to do. Being allowed into someone's grief is so intimate and humbling and worthwhile, but it's exhausting. Add to that my own grief of losing such a dear woman and my world has been flipped around, brought into perspective, made no sense at all, and been fully anchored to Jesus all at the same time.

I don't know why God allows suffering, but I do know that He didn't omit Himself from it. He didn't spare His own Son from suffering on our behalf, and that knowledge brings me great comfort and awe in spite of being confused and hurt. I can't stop thinking of these these verses:

"We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despairpersecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed....So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal" (2 Corinthians 4:8-9, 16-18).

Like my previous post alluded to, I don't know what God is doing through all of this, but I trust that He's up to 10, 000 things I can't see. Heaven will be glorious for so many reasons. Come quickly, Lord Jesus!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013