Sunday, November 25, 2018

1 Watching your houseplants grow.
2 Dancing at shows when everyone knows the song.
3 Walking excitedly to an event you've been looking forward to.
4 Friendships that endure years and long distances.
5 The smell of coffee beans.
6 The rainbows that form on my walls and floors when the sun starts going down.
7 Dark winter evenings with candles flickering.
8 When a cat falls asleep on your lap.
9 Dark chocolate bars.
10 A job and coworkers I genuinely enjoy.
11 Curling up on the couch and reading for hours on end.
12 My loud, funny, and smart family.
13 Having fires in our fireplace.
14 Riding my bike through the low, cool area of the bike trail when it's hot and humid outside.
15 Long text conversations about nothing with your best friend.
16 Sitting around chatting at the table after family dinners.
17 That blissful feeling right after shavasana.
18 Having a kind, supportive, loving partner at home.
19 The mixture of exhaustion, accomplishment and invigoration after a day of hard work outside.
20 Puttering around the house on weekend mornings in pyjamas and slippers.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tackling Goals Before 2019

Sunday, November 18, 2018

It finally hit me the other day that 2018 is practically over already. So much has already happened this year that I feel a bit like I've been left to sit in awe of it all as the dust settles, but I don't want to let the last few weeks slip by me. I want to soak up as much as I can of this crazy year and the holiday season to come, but I also want to make sure I'm putting myself in the best position possible for the start of 2019. So even though the timeline is only a few weeks, I'm taking some time to reflect on what life is like now, what I want to focus on and creating a plan of action for the rest of 2018.

In my life, a lot of my time and energy each week is going toward my everyday routine, when in reality it shouldn't be taking up much time at all seeing as how it's, well, a routine. I feel like time is slipping through my fingers each week as I sit around struggling to pick out workouts for my gym sessions, healthy meals for the week, keep our house from becoming a complete mess and trying to make progress on all the improvement projects we have left at John's house. I want to reclaim all these areas of my life, set up a routine I don't need to think about and can pre-plan as much as possible and then focus on things I actually want to do more of, like reading 8 more books to meet my Goodreads reading goal ( šŸ˜¬) or searching for pieces to finish up my living room redesign.

1. Bring back a cleaning routine...

To tackle my housework, I'm reviving my old cleaning routine. I stuck to it for a long time, but then I started dating John. Just like most things when you first start dating someone, it fell off the radar pretty quickly. Now that we've come back up for air and we're sharing a home, I should be able to squeeze in 15 minutes of cleaning a day pretty easily. Once a week I will take out the trash, vacuum, sweep, clean the bathrooms, dust and clean all the glass and counter surfaces. Dividing those tasks throughout the week means I can accomplish everything with only a few minutes of work a night. I'm adding each task to my weekly bullet journal spread so I can keep myself accountable and make sure I remember to do each task.

2. ... and create a general evening routine

If I want to keep up with the cleaning routine I created, it's just generally easier if I have an all around evening routine. I wrote down everything I want to do on a nightly basis (gym, shower, skin care, read, Duolingo, etc etc etc) and figured out a schedule that gets it all done but still allows some free time. I'm the kind of person that gets really focused on something for awhile until I grow tired of it, so having some room to explore whatever whim I have that night is the only way I can stick to a routine. Must remember: routines are only a means to an end, not the end themselves!

3. Finish home improvement projects

For the mountain of home improvement projects at John's house I created a Trello board to plan everything out. If you're not familiar with Trello, it's a simple productivity tool that lets you create virtual whiteboards that have multiple lists of cards. It's a pretty basic premise but it's flexible enough that you can track things in ways that make sense to you. We added one list with every to-do task we could think of and then made a list for each remaining week of the year. Once I could see the rest of the year all laid out, it was pretty easy to divide all the to-do tasks into the remaining weeks. I like using a digital tool when I'm trying to get a schedule like this laid out because it lets you play around and change things without having to start all over, erase things or constantly be crossing things out. Once we came up with our schedule, I added all the tasks to the monthly views of my bullet journal so that I can easily remember them when I'm planning ahead for the week. Now I know what's getting done when and I'm confident we can complete it all before the end of the year!

4. Refocus at the gym

When I show up to the gym without a plan, I tend to pick an easier workout since I immediately face the consequences. I want to up my game and challenge myself more, so I really need to pre-plan my workouts so I don't take the easy way out. I'm arming myself with both Bikini Body Guides from Kayla Itsines which I've done several times before, workouts from Zanna van Dijk's Instagram posts and YouTube videos, some weight circuits from Jamie Eason Middleton's Live Fit program and yoga from Yoga With Adriene. I've picked out four gym workouts for each week and added some yoga for the weekends, so now I have no excuses when I show up at the gym. Now just give me a high energy playlist and I should be back to hitting it hard.

5. Eat more whole foods

After essentially re-learning how to cook earlier this year when we went vegetarian / almost vegan, I finally feel like we've got a good mix of go-to recipes and we're not floundering in the kitchen. Since we have a good foundation now, I want to pay more attention to the kinds of foods we're eating and how much of it. I found a nice little vegan food pyramid to aspire to from Plant Proof and I'm going to try to hit those targets every day. This means I'm finally going to have to stop finding excuses not to eat salad before I gorge myself on all those delicious carbs...

Period Talk: Plastic Free Periods & Switching to a Menstrual Cup

Sunday, November 11, 2018
Welp, we're just gonna dive right into this one today. Let's have a chat about periods and menstrual cups.

I, like a lot of women, have used pads and tampons for every period since I got mine at age twelve. Pads and tampons were what my mom used, what her mom used, what my sister and all my friends used and what I was taught about in Girl Scouts and school health class. They were easily accessible, simple use and they worked pretty well. In short, I never knew any other options. The only strong opinions I formed about pads and tampons in the last 18 years of menstruating were that I hated those big mattress-sized pads, that paying extra for plastic applicators instead of cardboard was totally not worth it for me and that Target's Up & Up house brand tampons were weirdly way too long for my apparently tiny cervix. Not a lot to write home about really.
When I got to college I met a few people who said they used a Diva cup, but I never really knew anything about it, how to use it or why you even would. It wasn't until earlier this year that I found my motivation to look into menstrual cups more -- the environment. And boy did I learn a lot. I learned that a single pad can have up to 4 plastic bags worth of plastic. I learned, or rather just took the time to think about the fact that each tampon produces 4 different pieces of waste. I learned that for every 100 meters of shoreline, the Marine Conservation Society found on average 20 female sanitary items. I even branched out from environmental issues to read some about the pink tax and period poverty and how tampons suck everything up, including the fluids your body naturally produces and wants to have around! The information overload convinced me it was time to do something differently.

I decided I was going to try out a menstrual cup. I did some research about fit, firmness, price and company (fantastic chart here) and settled on the Lena Sensitive Cup in size small. It's made in California from 100% medical-grade silicon and comes with a cute patterned cotton carrying case. I bought mine on Amazon for $24.90 with Prime shipping.

The only care this cup really needs is a good 5 minute boil before and after your period and to be kept in the breathable pouch that's included when you're not using it. When you're on your period you just want to make sure it stays clean (a quick rinse in water when you're emptying the cup) and that the four tiny holes at the top of the cup are not obstructed by any period fluid. It's pretty simple and it's all laid out in the included instructions and on Lena's site.

So how the heck do you use these big giant squishy things?? It was definitely pretty intimidated at first, but it's turned out to be pretty easy after a little practice -- just like using tampons for the first time. Generally speaking you just want to fold the cup down in some way, push it up into your vagina so it's completely inside you and then release the fold so it pops open and seals to the sides of your vaginal wall. You then check that's it's completely unfolded by running your finger around the cup once it's inserted. I also like to try to turn it from the base to make sure it doesn't budge before I consider it good to go.

The biggest trick is finding a way to insert the cup that works for you. There are tons of different folds that the community have come up with and it definitely takes some trial and error to find your perfect fold. I started with a c-fold and I just didn't like how wide it was and I wasn't having a lot of luck getting it to unfold completely. I watched a lot of YouTube videos (just search "menstrual cup") about different folds and finally ended up trying a punchdown fold which I've stuck with ever since. You can see how it looks in my last three photos. This fold plus wetting the the rim of the cup with a little water has made insertion a breeze for me.

Once you've inserted your cup you don't need to change it for 12 hours. I was thoroughly convinced by tampons that you actually bleed quite a bit during your period so I really did not believe that the cup could hold a full 12 hours of period blood but with my average flow I have only ever gotten it about halfway full. I was also worried about spotting, as they warn it can take a few attempts to get insertion down pat where it completely seals, but I haven't had any issues at all. The only thing I've noticed is that when I'm wearing my cup I take a lot longer to pee. There isn't any sensation or feeling like I have to go more often, I just definitely don't want to leave it until I'm bursting for a pee because it'll take a lot longer to get that sweet relief.

Removing the menstrual cup is quite easy as well. I just locate the stem of the cup (which I have left at it's original length) inside me, the pinch the base of the cup and start to pull down. If pinching the base doesn't break the seal, I just run my finger around the sides of the cup and press inward. I haven't had any issues keeping the period blood in the cup with I'm removing it. I always insert and remove mine while seated on the toilet so even if a little were to fall out it would be completely fine. Here's another nice trick -- put a couple squares of toilet paper in the bowl first so that when you dump out the blood it doesn't spread or splash. After I dump the cup I just rinse it out in my sink (I have only ever changed my cup at home or work where we have sinks next to the toilets), then fill it up with water, place my hand over the top and turn it upside down to squeeze the water out of the holes at the top. And yes you're going to have to get used to your own period blood. It's really not gross, I assure you.

I am very happy I made the switch from tampons to a menstrual cup. There was a bit of a learning curve the first month or two, but I have been using it for 4 periods now and I feel like I've really got into the groove of things. I love not having to buy tampons every month or having a trashcan full of used tampons to deal with. I can't feel it when I'm wearing it and I don't have to worry at all about leaks like I did with tampons and their blasted strings. I won't be going back. The only time I do not wear my menstrual cup is at night. I didn't really like wearing tampons at night either, so I'm not sure this is really the fault of my menstrual cup. For nights I've been using up my pantyliners, but once those are gone I plan on looking into all the different period underwear or reusable organic cotton pads. I'll be sure to share my experiences with those later!

Resources & References:

Best Vegan Chili Ever

Sunday, November 4, 2018

One of the things I pride myself on is my ability to make an amazing chili. It's pretty much an essential skill when autumn hits in the Midwest, especially when someone volunteers to make a pan of cinnamon rolls to go with. It's a thing [link], I promise, and it's totally great. When I stopped eating meat I was worried my chili recipe, adapted a long time ago from this one here, wouldn't translate well into veggie-only land, but in fact it's just as delicious, so it's time to share the magic!

Best Ever Vegan Chili
Serves 8
Cooking time: 20-45 min

2 tablespoons oil
1 white or yellow onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
4-6 cloves garlic, minced
2 jalapeƱo peppers, minced
3 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano 
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
28 oz can fire roasted diced tomatoes 
15 oz can tomato sauce
2 15oz cans of chili beans in chili sauce (do not drain)
2 15oz cans of kidney beans, drained
about 1/2 a bag of frozen sweet corn

For serving (optional):
Diced avocados
Red or green onion, diced
Chips or tostadas 
Cinnamon rolls!

1. Heat oil in a pot over medium heat. Once hot, add the onion, green pepper, garlic and jalapeƱo and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft (about 4 or 5 minutes). 
2. Add the chili powder, cumin, oregano, salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper to the vegetable mixture and stir to coat.
3. Add the diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, chili beans and their sauce, and kidney beans. Bring the the chili to a simmer and let cook at least until completely heated through. The chili tastes great right off the bat, but if you let it simmer about 30 minutes the flavors will have more time to meld together. Tastes almost even better the next day!
4. Add the frozen corn to the chili. Let it simmer until it warms through, about 4-5 minutes.
5. Serve with diced avocado, red or green onions, corn or flour chips/tostadas and/or a side of cinnamon rolls.