Life at 3.5: Spring 2016

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The boys are 3 1/2! And man, we are definitely living with three-year-olds. (Though M says, “I’m thirty-five,” because that’s how much he weighs.) There are a lot of tantrums–most of them are about food, and most of them are when the boys are tired and/or hungry. Sometimes they’re both having a tantrum at the same time. Fun!

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Some very common phrases in our house right now include, a whining “I don’t have that much!” which can refer to anything from a pile of magnatiles or a bowl of blueberries. And “You won’t be my best friend anymore!” which is so hilariously threenager that I can’t even take it. Emmett’s also in a phase of responding to any question with “no” and a cheeky grin. Like, “You guys went to the park today?” “No.” “Did you have fun at the play cafe?” “No.” Silly goose. Oh, and if one of them is mad at us, they yell, “Don’t Talk To Me!” Drama galore!

Potty training is going great. They’re both in undies all day with no problem (they FINALLY are doing well with potty at daycare) and are in pullups overnight. We’re dreading the ordeal of night training, so we’re still procrastinating on that.

We made progress on another big-kid update: On Easter Sunday, we randomly changed the cribs to toddler ‘beds.’ It was a rough transition. The first night was actually full of screaming. (Our fault for not preparing them and doing this so randomly.) In the first week, there was some accidental rolling out of bed, there was some purposeful getting out of bed, there were screams, and giggles, and taking forever to get to sleep. Oy, it was so frustrating! However, now that it’s been a couple months, the misbehavior has subsided. There was a fun few days when they were running out of their room giggling after we’d put them to bed. After we shooed them back, we could hear them plotting: M: “Let’s wait till they go away, then we’ll out of bed!” E: “Okay!” (ARGH, twins!) Thankfully, it was only a few nights.

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Relatedly, the boys are no longer napping at home. (They are still napping at daycare, though.) This shouldn’t be a surprise, with the bed change and their age, but it is not a welcome update. We really needed that daytime break on weekends–for work, for our own naps, for trips to the gym or grocery store. And, you know, for sanity and some freaking silence.

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There is good news though: we’ve started doing a 30-40 minute car nap, which makes the evenings much less cranky. Plus they go to bed a little earlier, and sleep more soundly, and sleep in a bit later.  Fewer bedtime shenanigans too. And of course not having to be home for several early afternoon hours really opens up our schedule for events and outings! I really like not having to live according to a nap schedule.

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Mornings have changed a bit too. Once they could get up easily by themselves, they’d just start playing magnatiles together, or reading. But often they’d start arguing, and pitter patter into our room, saying, “He won’t share!” or “I don’t have that much!” For the last couple months now, the routine is that they get out of bed and come in to our room, crawling up on our bed to snuggle. It’s pretty stinking adorable to open my eyes to Emmett’s or Malcolm’s sweet face with a big huge grin. Plus it means we can be lazy and stay in bed longer.

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I’ve been taking the boys to the local library branch every couple weeks. They love picking up piles of random books and piling onto my lap to read them, and then checking them out. And of course they like returning them into the book drop! I’ve been taking snapshots of the haul each time to keep a record. It’s funny how they’ve gotten really attached to some of the books. And some of the books are really odd, like one they loved was Pat-a-Cake Baby…which I swear was written on some kind of drug trip.

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We have a growing (alternately very hip and very unhip) playlist of mostly ‘grown-up’ music that the boys are into right now. Which is great, because it’s all from our own music libraries, so I like the songs. (As opposed to, say, There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Spider, or god forbid, There’s a Hole in My Bucket. WORST SONG EVER.) However, when I inevitably find myself singing along to Chandelier or Blank Space, the boys say, No singing, Mama!

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After their mind was blown by Under Pressure (this was a few months ago now), they made “microphones” out of chalk holders and they like to “sing” into them. Emmett is always “Fred Mercury” and Malcolm is “David Bowie” or just “David.” Nowadays they sing whatever–sometimes gibberish, sometimes one of these songs (this past week it’s been Shake It Off), sometimes a Red Yarn song (he’s a local kid’s musician). Oh, and now they get to play with the real-looking Rock Band microphone too, which they think is amazing. They plug it in to the heating vent in the living room and carry it around the room to sing.

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For a few months, they forgot about their magnatiles, but they are firmly obsessed again. (Which means lots of issues about who has more/not enough.) And they’re really into puzzles right now. We have a few sets (thanks Grandparents!), and they’re able to do them all by themselves now. It’s really cute to hear them parroting things we’ve said about helping them match pieces.

I want to be sure to acknowledge that the annoying stuff is not the whole picture. Yes, the typical 3-year-old behavior sometimes makes me want to scream with frustration and impatience (like getting ready for bedtime, UGH the worst)…but there are a lot of wonderful things about this age too.

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We’ve been doing some baking together occasionally. On Valentine’s Day we all made pink chocolate chip cookies. They did such a great job at pouring and stirring and scooping…and eating the batter. 🙂 They ADORE ‘smoolies’ [smoothies] and helping me make them–putting things in the blender, pushing the button. The other day we made apple carrot muffins, and they poured all the ingredients in for me and helped stir. DSC_7410_WEB

It surprises me how much they can do. I keep thinking they’re so little and not yet ready for fine-motor manual tasks…but they’re quite agile and capable. We need to remember to allow them to push and explore their physical boundaries.

They still love helping and want to help with everything. (This was true a year ago too–but now they can actually do stuff!). About half the time, of course, that helping comes in the form of a tantrum, like the time I got a spoon out of the drawer to make the oatmeal, and then Emmett started hopping and whiny crying, “I wanted to do it!” Being psychic would be helpful for living with three-year-olds.

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Other cute mis-pronounciations include decker-bocker bus (double-decker bus), hot tog (hot dog), wallermelon (watermelon), and Burger Bill (Burgerville). Oh, and the other day I was talking to them about what they can be when they grow up. Emmett wants to be a cooker (a cook) and Malcolm wants to be a fireman.

We started a sticker chart this spring! Originally it was to help with naptime and bedtime, to convince them to stay in their beds. That basically didn’t happen at all. Oh well. We also gave stickers for things like going potty on their own, bussing their table, brushing their teeth on their own. When they filled a whole row of stickers, they got a reward–an extra episode of tv, or time to play iPad games. It’s pretty much the cutest thing watching them get a sticker and put it on their chart. Sadly, the novelty has since worn off…which I don’t mind too much, actually. If they don’t really care about the stickers but they’re still somewhat motivated or working on those items, then that’s still a win.

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The best part of three-year-olds is that there is lots of laughter and silliness. They still play together all the time, and it’s happy and peaceful at least 85% of the time. (They do fight over toys or how much each of them have.) (And sometimes the silliness isn’t appropriate, like when it’s bedtime.) But they LOVE playing chase with us, just running in circles in the house or in the garage. They love being tickled, and pretending that I’m a monster trying to get them, or any other random silly game I make up. They like directing things too: “I’m the teacher, you’re the kid.” “Say, ‘I’m going to get you!'” “You chase me!”

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And there is so much love and affection. I already mentioned the morning cuddles. When I pick them up from daycare, they literally run over to me ready to tackle me with hugs. It is the best. AND when someone comes back from being gone or away, they will say, “I missed you!” with big happy grins and hugs. Again, the best. They also are still fairly polite, and ask each other to do things, or one will go get/give something to his brother as a favor. They still like to hold hands with us, and they still want to be carried or get a shoulder ride (which is easier than carrying with arms…but hauling a 35-pound preschooler is rough on the shoulders). They still want plenty of hugs and snuggles at bedtime. They’re really so very sweet.

So yeah, overall, this is a really neat age. They understand so much, they can really communicate, they can do lots of things by themselves, and they get excited about so many things. Like seeing an airplane or a MAX train, or eating fresh berries in their morning oatmeal, or coloring pictures for family members. We’re really enjoying these sweet boys right now! ❤ ❤

Easter 2016!

Just as this past Halloween and Christmas felt like the boys’ first ‘real’ holidays, this Easter was the best one yet. They were so excited about the Easter Bunny coming to visit, and doing some egg hunts.

We attended a group Easter egg hunt and brunch at a golf course. They were psyched for the pastries, and then for the hunt. They willingly wore their bunny ears. 🙂 I loved watching them eagerly grab eggs for their baskets! Then we all “played” putt-putt, and watching them push their golf balls around was adorable.

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That evening, we went to visit the Easter bunny at the mall! (The day before a holiday has been a great way to avoid crazy lines at Easter and Christmas for the last couple years.) The boys were SO happy and excited to see and meet and hug the Easter bunny this year! It made me smile with so-precious-it-almost-hurts feeling.

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On Easter morning we did a little egg hunt in our yard. My dad came to visit and helped us dye Easter eggs! I baked them in the oven instead of boiling them (I saw this video on Facebook), and they really seemed to like picking out colors for the eggs. I didn’t really let them do much…we only had one dozen, and I figured it would just be a giant mess if they tried to pick up those wire egg holders.

Then we went to a delicious Easter brunch at Edgefield–they ate a ton! Fruit, omelets, waffles, bacon, sausage, rolls, pastries, etc. (Kids four and under eat free at the holiday buffets, fyi.)

When we came home, we did another indoor egg hunt. Once the boys had found and gathered all the eggs, E took them upstairs to their room and proceeded to set up his own egg hunt for the rest of us. He announced, “Ok everyone, come find the eggs!” He’d made piles of eggs around the room, and then he pointed them all out for us. “Here’s some, and there’s some…” Heh.

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Hope you and your family had a fun Easter. 🙂

This Is A Post

I hate it when I get out of the habit of blogging regularly. It seems like then it becomes a Big Deal to post something, like it has to be Important enough to break the radio silence, so to speak.

I’ve got a couple posts percolating (some in my mind, some finally here in WP) so I figured if I break the ice with a stupid non-post post, that will be easier to post something else.

Also here’s a crappy picture of my pretty tulips. I’m really proud of them, actually. Planting these was the very first time I’d ever planted flower bulbs, and I assumed that I’d probably done it wrong and they wouldn’t come up. So the fact that they’ve come up, even at different heights and at different paces, feels like a huge win for me. For a couple years I’ve had the vision of this walkway being lined with flowers, because it’s so perfect for that. And now it’s a reality! Hurray!

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And here’s a nicer picture of whatever fluffy trees are now blooming around Portland. I always think that all spring-flowering trees are cherry trees…but the cherries are long done flowering already (as well as peach–did you know they are pink blossoms too? I didn’t.). Apples and pears are apparently currently blooming, so maybe these are one of those? Who knows. I just know that I like flowering trees.

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What life is like right now {January 2016}

I thought it would be fun to include a full rundown of our current daily life in my 2016 Project Life album. So I’m putting it here too, just for full posterity. M & E are 3 years (+ 2 months), and I know that daily routines will surely be quite different by next January. DSC_6994_WEB

The boys “wake up” at 7:45 – the owl clock turns green telling them they can get up. Usually they’re already awake and they yell out, “IT’S GREEN!” They can climb out of their cribs, but they don’t do it every day, and they don’t do it before we get to their room.

Breakfast is oatmeal (Trader Joe’s quick cook steel-cut oats) with smashed banana and blueberry sauce, sometimes with frozen blueberries on top. Also Cheerios, and sometimes raisins. Sometimes lately there will be a big tantrum if we don’t feed them fast enough, or in the order they prefer. (Usually it’s only one who does this, so that’s a small blessing, I guess?) After they eat, they play with stuff in their pajamas for awhile.

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Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, I usually wake up with them and our nanny comes at 8:30, and on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Daddy wakes up with them and takes them to daycare. On nanny days, there is a long morning outing to somewhere like a musical performance at a kid-friendly café, or OMSI, or a park. Often there’s a parks & rec class (like sports, movement, preschool cooking) in there too, depending on the season.

When they’re at home, lunch is around 1230. There’s applesauce with chia seeds, yogurt (full-fat plain, mixed with homemade mango puree [from frozen store-bought mango pieces]), and then something like a frozen whole-grain waffle with jam, or a quesadilla, or a PBJ, or lately, a scrambled egg muffin.

They go down for nap between 1-130, and wake up between 330-4. Sometimes they stir, and sometimes they call out, “I’M AWAKE!”, and sometimes one will get out of his crib and stand at the top of the stairs until we notice them.

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On nanny days, after our she leaves at 4:30, I usually take them to Swap & Play. (It’s a dedicated play space with three classrooms, open til 6pm seven days a week. It has been a GODSEND since we joined after Halloween!) Twice this month we’ve gone to the local library branch to select & check out books (like big kids!). Sometimes we might also go to the store.

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On daycare days, I pick them up between 530/545. They always run and hug me and it’s the best thing ever. Usually one of them has to go potty (because they’re still reluctant to go as often as they need to at daycare), so I take them to the school bathroom. We drive home and listen to “songs” – all last year it was kid songs from the two children’s CDs, but this month it’s been ‘regular’ music. They are obsessed right now with Under Pressure (Freddie Mercury & David Bowie) and Blank Space from Taylor Swift. They also like Shake it Off, Ex’s and Oh’s, some Lion King songs, some Frozen songs (they have not seen either actual movie), and a couple other random pop-y songs.

Dinner is around 630. We rotate a number of “main dishes” like mac & cheese, crockpot chili, mini pizzas from Trader Joe’s. Side/second dishes include things like pumpkin soup, a sandwich, microwave meatballs, some pirate’s booty or veggie snacks, plus a homemade veggie pouch. Sometimes they remember to ask for dessert—chocolate cat cookies, or something special that we’ve made like banana “ice cream” or, the other day, a mini chocolate cake.

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About three times a week we do bath after dinner, which is about 30 minutes of playing/splashing/shrieking, then protesting when it’s time to wash up. We wash their hair once a week or so. After that, they sit on the baby couch and watch TV. For all of 2015, it was sometimes an episode of Elmo, then Daniel Tiger overtook that, and then in December, they fell in love with Super Why.

Other nights, they just play. Blocks, beads (loose plastic beads–they are a big thing right now), books, running/chasing, groceries, puzzles, coloring with stamps or crayons, random toys they re-discover. (God, we have SO many toys in our house. It’s ridiculous.)

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We try to get upstairs for bed around 820. We turn on the noise machine and projector, and Mister Turtle who projects the blue and green stars. We talk about our day, maybe sing a song (we used to do it every night consistently, but have been inconsistent lately), give cuddles, and say goodnight. Often there will be requests for more hugs after we’ve gone downstairs.

Weekend days are very similar. We try to do morning outings, but sometimes it’s hard to get them out the door. We’ll go to the Vancouver Library, or Costco, or a play cafe, or if it’s nice enough, we’ll go outside. (Only happened twice so far this month…but considering it’s January, that’s pretty awesome.)

And that’s our life right now!

That Hair

This is me at three months old. I was born with a full head of hair and it never fell out. I’ve had lots of dark hair ever since.

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My hair has been medium or long since I was a kid, and it has always been thick and prone to tangling.

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It was long all through high school and into college, when I tried a layered cut that was chin-length. Ever since then, I’ve gotten my hair cut once a year (like a responsible adult) and done a cycle of grow-it-out, chop-it-off.    DSC_2328_WEB DSC_2363_WEB

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I got it cut fairly short a couple times while I was in New York. Sometimes I liked it and sometimes I didn’t. Mostly because I didn’t/couldn’t style it, so it didn’t look nice enough or something.

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So early last summer, I went in for my yearly haircut. It was getting long-ish, and I had decided that instead of chopping it off and tossing it, why not let it do some good? I didn’t want it anymore, but it could still go to someone who would want it. It was decided: I was officially going to donate my hair! After that I’ve actually gotten trims every three months, like you’re supposed to. (It really helps my hair feel healthy great, who knew!)

My original plan was to do the Big Chop in the spring. But then that didn’t happen…and I told myself I would do it after I got home from NYC in June. But I kept putting it off.

In the past week or so, my one hair clip that held my hair…wasn’t holding my hair anymore. There was too much hair. I couldn’t do anything with it and it was always in my way. Then, on Monday, my hair clip broke.

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I decided that was my sign to finally do it! Get this hair gone!

One thing that I’d planned to do before the  big haircut was one last photo shoot featuring my hair. I wanted to have a couple nice shots to look back on. You may have seen one of those on Facebook. 🙂

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Later that day, I did it. I got ALL MY HAIR CUT OFF.

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The donation was thirteen inches of hair! The initial cut was about at my chin but the final cut is mid-jaw-length. I didn’t want more flatness or weird roundness with this length, so I asked for more layers to give it more body. And…there is plenty of body. Sort of mushroom-shaped. DSC_9739_WEBThe day after the haircut I had to go get some hairstyling products (because I don’t want to look like a mushroom), so I’ve been sort of experimenting. I’m not very good at styling, and I’m also lazy…so the spray-in/leave-in stuff is right up my alley. I’m sure I could blow dry it and make it look at sleek and pretty…but I don’t know how to do that.

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I’m still not sure about the whole thing–the style/length, I mean. I’m glad that all the hair is gone and I hope it will go to good use!

TL; DR: BIG HAIRCUT AAAHH!

Bad Jeans

I hate jeans shopping. I would say I hate it with the fire of a thousand suns, but I don’t even have that energy for that; jeans shopping just saps my energy and my will. It’s just so defeating and seemingly pointless, because nothing ever feels right or fits right.

This helpful and hilarious post/series made me think that maaaaaybe it is possible to find well-fitting, flattering jeans. But then I remember that jeans are basically impossible. I suppose more effort would make a difference, but that would take so long and be so very frustrating. Not to mention the cost. Sigh.

And then throwing in a post-partum body to the already-maddening mix….ugh.

Here are the past four years of jeans, in illustrated vignettes:

September 2011:

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Check out these jeans. I got them at Costco, without even trying them on. Calvin Klein. Twenty-five bucks. Why not, right? They fit PERFECTLY. No gappy-gap above the butt, not too tight, pretty flattering if I do say so myself. MAGIC. I hadn’t been able to find new jeans in several *years*! I love you, Calvin!

The following week, we went to Costco again and of course I figured I should strike while the jeans iron is hot, so to speak, and get another pair of nice jeans that fit and flatter. I picked out a slightly different color and design, with flaps on the back pocket. Got home–and they fit totally differently. Gappy-gap up top, too tight in the thighs, didn’t flatter my bum. Bad job.

I went back to Costco and see if they still had the good style there for an exchange–nope. I went online and ordered what seemed to be the same style…nope, I couldn’t even get them up to my hips. I tried again from a different online store, and again no luck.

I can only come to the conclusion that these are my very own Magic Jeans, never to be replicated.

October 2012, 7 months pregnant:

After months of hiking up the Old Navy maternity jeans that kept drooping and falling down, I bit the bullet and spent a little more on Motherhood Maternity panel jeans. They fit really well and most importantly, stayed up. (Apparently this is the only photo where you can actually see them.)

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February 2013, three months post-partum:

I had a pair of jeans I got at Target sometime in early January, which are a size 12. I wasn’t jazzed about that number, but I was glad to have real (non-maternity) jeans that fit. Two weeks later they were loose. By now they’d gotten so big I could pull them off without unbuttoning them. So I was all excited to see what size I could be now.

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I’ve never had Gap jeans, but don’t people say they love them? So while I was at the mall I decided to stop in and check them out. First of all, most of their stuff was some kind of skinny jean. STOP THE SKINNY JEAN MADNESS ALREADY. Ahem. Anyway, I tried to find some ‘normal’ish styles. I picked up some 8s and they didn’t even fit over my thighs. The 10s were too tight and the 12s were a little too big. There was the gappy thing in back, but the hips were still kind of snug, and my butt didn’t look good, and the front was weird.

GAH.

I also checked out Marshalls and that was even worse.

March 2013:

Went back to Target finally, and got a new pair of jeans THAT FIT!! It felt amazing to put on pants that aren’t loose, baggy and falling down! These were a size 10.

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May 2013:

I got another new, size 8 pair in May, from Target. Felt great!

Summer 2013:

I gathered up and washed batches of my pre-pregnancy clothes to see if I’d be able to fit in any of them. My old magic jeans were in there. Our not-awesome babysitter put them in the dryer. They shrunk–got tighter and shorter, and though I could technically I could zip them, they cut right across the squishiest part of my abdomen. Obviously that’s not my ideal look. Goodbye forever, magic jeans. Nice knowing you.

March 2014:

My one pair of jeans ripped!

April 2014:

I went to Target, figuring that since my last few pairs from there have fit nicely and didn’t cost a bundle, I would easily find a new pair. Well, wouldn’t you know it, their sizing changed sometime between last spring and this spring, so no dice. I tried on a few and nothing fit right at all.

So for two weeks I was without any jeans at all. I finally went to Ross and found some that seemed to fit. They were almost loose, but when I tried the next size down, I couldn’t get them past my thighs.

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I also bought some fun new dresses in hopes of jazzing up my wardrobe and occasionally looking like a grown-up.

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The jeans did get a little looser and start to be annoying. So a few weeks later, another mama friend and I went jeans shopping, to have some fun and support. We went to a few places in the mall–Gap, Express, a short walk into Nordstrom. Nobody had just JEANS. Plain, regular jeans. Everything was skinny jeans, leggings, cropped jeans, and then more skinny jeans. It was maddening.

We also stopped by Nordstrom Rack and they had a very small selection of jeans, too. It was disappointing because I’d heard they were a good place to find good jeans. I did try on–DUN DUN DUN–skinny jeans. Against my better judgment and principles. And I…didn’t hate them. My friend said they looked good and encouraged me to get them.

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They stayed in their bag for more than a week. My little sister came to visit and she said that I should keep and wear them. 🙂 So I did. I do like that they’re stretchy. But I don’t love the tight lower legs–I don’t like fabric clinging to my upper ankles. It just seems unnatural or something.

June 2014:

I was visiting New York and stopped in at the Gap Outlet on Fulton Street. (I know, right? Gentrification is for real.) I found a pair of jeans that mostly fit–they cut into my squishy tummy, but they were non-skinny jeans, and they were mid-rise too!–for only $17. Later that summer I dropped like two pounds and these jeans fit pretty nicely. (And when they cut into my tummy, I can keep a shirt or sweater over the muffin top. :D)

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July 2014

I went on a mission to find shorts. Like, shorts for grown-up ladies–not teeny tiny teenagers, and not wise old dowagers, just, like, regular freaking shorts that you don’t need a Brazilian to wear. These apparently do not exist.

I went to the local Ross and tried on all the shorts-related things I could find in my size (which has gone back up to 10).

These were shorter than I wanted but at least they weren’t super tight, so they seemed okay.

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I was surprised but I thought these skinny jean capris were really cute! I wore them all summer and fall, and they actually got a bit baggy. I felt cute whenever I wore them, though.

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October 2014, nearly TWO YEARS post-partum:

I visited the Ann Taylor Loft at the local outlets and TA-DA found jeans that FIT! They were the Curvy style, size 8 (hello vanity sizing), but I was really excited. Jeans that fit!!!

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So for the last few months, I’ve finally had three different pairs of jeans that fit! It only took months and months, multiple stores, and endless irritation. Lessons learned: I still hate clothes shopping; boot-cut jeans are still the best kind; next time I need jeans I’ll start at Ann Taylor/Loft. (Someday I want to try on Lucky or Seven jeans!) Also, NEVER TAKE GOOD JEANS FOR GRANTED.

My Productivity Essentials

Kabbage.com wrote a great list about ways to be more productive.  It made me think about the ways I try to focus my attention and be more productive. These are all things I will need to use intelligently this year to be successful at home and at work.

I’m a lifelong procrastinator, and the Internet is a constant distraction. However, overall I’d say I do a fairly good job of accomplishing tasks, though naturally some take longer than they might need to. Here are a few things that I do to help keep me on track. Technically they’re sort of related to the same concept: Writing stuff down.

1. PAPER LIST

I make lists. Lists everywhere. I have the worst memory in the world, so if I don’t write it down, it disappears into the mist of my fogged-up brain. Over the last couple years, one of my mottos has become, “If it’s not on a list, it doesn’t exist.”

The main ‘tool’ I use lately is just a legal pad. I tend to make lists in two columns: a column on the left for personal to do items, and a column on the right for business tasks. Often these lists get very long and out of hand, for two reasons. One is that once I start writing things down, I think of other things that need to be done. Two is that I keep using the same list until I’ve crossed most of the things off. I love seeing the sea of cross-outs: a visual reminder of some good task-doing! Then I re-write the list on a fresh, clean page (and inevitably add to it. Lists never ever stop growing!).

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A subset of this is the whiteboard in our kitchen. It’s the household to-do list, sort of. There’s a spot for grocery lists (with columns for different stores), and there’s an area with that week’s happenings. Each day has a little space for any household events (recurring or unique), so that we always know what’s coming. Again, if things aren’t on those two lists/spaces, they don’t exist in my brain.

And check out this new book I just read about: Listful Thinking: Using Lists to Be More Productive, Successful and Less StressedRight up my alley! Hurray for lists! She has a blog that looks great too.

2. PAPER PLANNER

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For my day job, I use this Staples planner. A colleague of mine introduced me to this planner years ago; it was her favorite and she swore by it. We actually went together to a local Staples so I could pick one up myself, and I now swear by it too. It’s a Staples brand planner that has a monthly calendar page, and then for every one-week spread, the page on the left has a space for each day to jot down tasks and things, and then the page on the right is just empty lines for notes. This is AWESOME. I love it because all the notes for each week get taken right there. I don’t need to put notes other places, and I don’t need to worry about running out of space on a daily square. For example, during a team call, if there is a new project starting and I have some tasks, I take notes about all of that on that right-side page. Then later I can distill smaller tasks and write those on the daily spaces to the left.

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The only bad news is that I haven’t seen any other planner that does this, and it’s getting harder to find. This past year I could only find it in hardback, but this fall I found an academic-year version that was in softcover. I like the softcover because you can fold it and sit with it on your lap comfortably. You can order it online but you may need to hunt in your local Staples stores to see if it’s there.

3. NICE PENS

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I also have certain pens I like to use. I love these purple gel ballpoints (Pentel EnerGel 0.7mm) and I use them (and sometimes a blue version) exclusively for my to-do lists. They write smoothly and the lines are thick and pretty. Plus writing with pens like this feels a little more fancy and intentional than with a regular blue Bic, you know?

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I am also a little obsessed with pens from MUJI. They come in lots of happy colors, and in different tip sizes. I use these pens for writing in my paper calendar.

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There’s a store in the Jetblue Terminal at JFK, and I’ve totally had my husband buy me some pens when he’s traveling through there. When I went to NYC last summer, I made a point of going to the Sixth Avenue MUJI to buy a few more pens for myself. And next time I go I’m going to buy a whole bunch more. 🙂

4. CALENDAR

Of course I do use Google Calendar to keep track of everything electronically, but again, if it’s not right in front of my face, I won’t remember it. So I print out a paper calendar
to keep on my desk. (I don’t have the space for one of those huge desk calendars; otherwise I’d use one of those. I also don’t want to lug around a regular dayplanner, since I’ve got enough binders and crap on my desk as it is.) It’s actually a page from photographer planner that I have, but it’s just a general set of empty boxes. [A few years ago I made one like this myself in Word; it would be super easy to make one yourself.]

In this calendar, I write down all my photography-related events (meetings & sessions), days when my husband or I will be out of town, and any other scheduled event that either I will go to, like my book club, or that the whole family will attend, like a twins club party. I keep them in a plastic page protector so they stay clean, and then I can move it around with me if I need to. I have a month on each side of the protector, because there’s always things scheduled in the future! I also keep the previous months in there too, behind the current ones, just in case I want to go back and check something.

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PS, did you notice the title of that calendar page? HELLO WHAT? Two thousand twelve?!! Sigh.

5. TIMER

The Pomodoro Technique is something I’ve heard about around the internets and kept meaning to check out…but only did recently. It’s basically a time management tool to focus on specific tasks and improve disciple to get shit done. There’s an online Tomato Timer that you can use if you don’t have a kitchen timer or don’t want to involve your smart phone.

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I always have a zillion things on my to-do lists…sometimes I power through them all Bam! Bam! Bam! Check! Check! Check! and other times those items languish. Even if it’s not a tough thing to do, sometimes I just drag my feet for whatever reason. So last week I decided to finally tackle a couple of those tasks already. I started the Tomato Timer and got one item COMPLETED! I also intentionally focused on that one task instead of getting distracted by the two dozen open tabs in my browser, or checking on Facebook, or refreshing my email. I set the “short break” timer, and then when it buzzed, I started the task timer again and completed ANOTHER task! That one I finished with about 40 seconds to spare, and since I felt like I was on a roll, I went and did at least one other thing I’d been meaning to do. And I was still focused on each task as I worked on it. It really helped me see that things *don’t* take that long, and buckling down to just freaking DO THEM already feels a million times better than seeing them on my list, waiting and waiting for me. So I hope to take advantage of this concept a lot more this year, to help me be more efficient and disciplined with my time.

6. PRIORITIES

The last thing I try to keep in mind is that it’s important to use judgment about priorities. Of all the things on my list, some of them are related to hobbies or fun stuff, and when I get into a time crunch, I know that I can ignore that stuff. When work gets busy, I know that it’s perfectly fine to let personal/hobby stuff fall by the wayside. I *want* to do All the Things, and I’m usually more excited about the Want-To-Do’s, but I know that the Need-To-Do’s come first. (I got behind on this blog and Project Life and some other stuff because I was working on actual work stuff most of the time. And I don’t like having those other tasks sitting on the list, but I know that it’s also not a big deal.)  Sometimes I go through my list and put a star or circle around the priority tasks for that day, as an additional prompt and visual reminder that it’s GO TIME.

What are your best productivity tips and tools? Have you used one of the timers or other time-management apps?