Friday, July 29, 2011

The closet shuffle: All filed away

Earlier this month I showed off phase one of the two-phase closet switch-a-roo, which involves emptying the contents of the office closet into the guest room closet to make way for baby. After my brief blogging hiatus (excused by the fact that I was in New York and then Buenos Aires....yep, more on that later) I am back to show you what I got done before I started jet-setting.

The main project I had to tackle during the closet shift process was to develop a new filing system. The old accordion filing system had gotten out of hand, and with a baby on the way I figured we could use a little more filing space anyway for our growing family. So when I left off the whole project looked like this. Now the office closet is empty except for one or two lingering small items, and the guest room closet is well fitted. Here's the guest room closet today:
I went through most of its contents in the previous post, so I won't bore you with those details again, but I will say that I went through all my crafting items (does it make me sound lame when I say all my crafting items? Yes, most likely) that I've been using/collecting since my early childhood. I threw out items like the dried up paint from when I was 10 years old and some busted pens that have been lingering since early high school. I separated out items that are great for kids to use for crafts -- googly eyes, pipe cleaners, sequins -- from those items that I use on a semi-regular basis -- craft glue, ribbon, stamps, paper punches...mostly items for making cards -- and stowed the kid-friendly craft items in a plastic bin in the office closet. The other plastic craft bin you can see on the middle shelf of the guest room closet. So, I consolidated, and I planned ahead for toddler years when some kid crafting supplies will be handy, which I realize is all quite far away but at least I know what I've got on hand and it's not taking up much space.

But back to the bigger issue: filing. You may have spied my filing solution at the bottom of the closet. Yup, a plastic two-drawer filing cabinet. I had mentioned how Craigslist would be the best place for the two-drawer wooden filing cabinet I was seeking, and that would have been true if I had been glued to Craigslist every second of every day. The reality, though, is that I was looking to spend $50 or less, I had very specific file cabinet dimensions I was seeking, and every time I found an ideal file cabinet and I'd email the seller, they'd reply that it had just been sold and they needed to take down the ad.

So, after a few weeks of that, I decided while at Target to give the cheap plastic bin a try. I was shocked when I whipped out my mini-measuring tape, which I now keep in my purse-within-a-purse in my bag, and I discovered that this little Target item fit my odd dimensions exactly. And it cost $24. I'll take it. Then I hopped over to Office Depot where I spent $25 for hanging file folders. Then I got cranking with the label maker.
If you have super vision and excellent screen resolution, you might be able to tell that the filing system is divided into Family Files and Receipts and Manuals, which is not too far off from the original system in the accordion folders.

Let's start with the Family Files. I get red folders, Matt gets blue folders, and green folders are designated for those items that we share. Here's what I came up with:

One red and one blue folder for each:
  • Identity -- crucial documents (maybe we'll transfer these to a fire-safe? Anyone do this?)
  • Education -- this was by far the most fun to sort out. Yes, we have our college transcripts, which are at times comforting and at times troubling, but a few years ago my mother gave me a stack of items she'd saved from my childhood, including every single elementary school 4th quarter report card (my teachers like me!) and even my kindergarten entrance form, which indicates that at almost exactly five years old I weighed 38 pounds.
  • Employment --track our raises, or lack thereof. Also keep up with important items for teachers, like having an up-to-date teaching license (details, details).
  • Retirement -- If I keep going, I can retire in 2033 (though this will likely change). Booyah.
  • Medical
  • Dental
  • Pregnancy -- I discovered that with so many doctor's appointments, I already have a lot of paperwork, and I know it will only expand. So I decided to separate out these documents from my regular medical files. Plus it gives me a place to house things like ultrasound pics (or the ultrasound DVD we got last month -- insane!) until I have a baby book or something or other that will house them more permanently. I guess there's only one red folder in this category.
Dogs -- all their medical records, county dog license registrations, obedience school certificates, etc. These guys wound up in a blue folder because that's what I had left, but it might also be fitting after Matt's recent comment that he hopes he can love our future child as much as he loves the dogs.

Green folders:
  • Banking
  • Taxes -- one folder each for this year's taxes, last year's taxes, and archived taxes. For some reason I hadn't been keeping a separate filing space for this year's taxes, and it was getting more complicated at tax time. This new system allows me to easily file away receipts and those little W2s and mortgage insurance statements when they arrive in the winter. This is one my "Duh" moments.
  • Investments
  • Current credit cards
  • Old credit cards -- After a little snag five years back when we were getting credit reports in preparation for buying our house and I discovered that my name was affiliated with a card I didn't have, I've been keeping paperwork for the credit cards we close so that when the next big purchase comes up I'll have all the evidence easily accessible.
  • Car/home insurance
  • Car titles
  • Car maintenance records

Now, on to the Receipts and Manuals section. This one was easier to arrange, thanks to the work I did a year and a half ago during a tremendous amount of snow. Using the leftover red and blue folders, here's what I came up with:

I arranged these folders based on frequency of use. The categories are as follows:
  • Home services -- All the receipts for home repairs and routine maintenance.
  • Home improvement -- Because some of this we've done ourselves, like the kitchen backsplash, and some of this we've relied on professionals to do the job, this is a mixture of materials receipts, design booklets, building plans and the like. I don't think this is something you hand over to the new home's owners, but it is a nice record of all the work we've done ourselves or had done by others.
  • Kitchen large appliances
  • Kitchen small appliances
  • Appliances -- other -- I've noticed that most appliances are in the kitchen, but there are a few, like the Dyson and the washer and dryer, that needed to fit into a separate category. And thank goodness for that Dyson info we saved, since we were able to cash in on the most fortuitous and generous Craigslist warranty repair in history. Thank you, sweet man!
  • Electronics
  • Furniture and home accessories
  • Clothes -- I only save receipts for big-ticket purchases, but after returning a pair of designer jeans to Nordstrom and getting a full refund I can assure you I will always save my Nordstrom receipts.
  • Outdoor
  • Tools
So the closet switch and new filing system are complete in one fell swoop! But let's chat for a second about safes. Should we have one? (Probably.) Do you have one? Anyone have an inexpensive, small one they'd recommend to save a few precious items in case of a fire or other disaster?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

IKEA desk attempt #1

Yesterday I left off telling you that I was off to IKEA to look for a desk. I had the desk in mind and it even appeared to be in stock, according to IKEA's website, but when we actually showed up at the store we were disappointed to find out the desk is currently out of stock. It was not all for nothing, though, as we walked out with lots of cheap, good-smelling candles, which are always nice to have on hand.

We need a new desk as we prepare for the office to become the nursery. The office currently houses this great condition, nice but too big IKEA desk that I bought back in 2003 straight out of college. IKEA does not appear to even sell this desk anymore (but someone please correct me if I'm wrong! I don't even know what it's called).

This is where the magic happens. And the screen is this blog that I am currently writing -- how meta is that??

This desk is 55" wide and 23.5" deep. We need something of similar depth but only a little more than half the width. Losing that width means I'll be sacrificing the desk's excellent storage capacity, but I already have a plan for getting the desk's contents into the guest room closet. We'll be Craigslisting the desk and the bulky but otherwise perfect chair in hopes of making back a few bucks. (Also, remember how I told you before that I spent zero time decorating the office in anticipation of turning it into the nursery? See what I mean? It's so boring, right?)

Because I'll be taking a decent amount of time off work to stay home with Baby Awesome-rod, I wanted to make sure that we moved the desktop computer to a central location in our home. In my mind, having a baby play area set up in the same area as a small desk seemed like the ideal situation. The best location for this space in our house is the main level, which is where we have the family room, kitchen, eat-in kitchen area and dining room. Technically, we use the eat-in kitchen area (where I hung our European trip photo gallery last summer) as our formal dining room, and we were gifted a very nice table and chairs that currently take up the space of our other dining area. This other dining space is really just wasted potential, and its central location makes it the perfect mini-office/play area.

I'm not sure yet if we'll position the new desk near the bookcase or place it on the right-hand wall, but it could work in either location. We'll be adding to the mix my childhood toy box that's still in great condition and still housed at my parents' house, as well as my childhood mini rocking chair. These three items combined take up approximately the same space as the current table and chairs. We don't want to get rid of the great-quality table and chairs, so we'll take the legs off the table and store everything in either our garage or our crawl space. This dining set would be perfect in a future home.

So, back to the desk. What did I decide on? After much searching, and no luck with Craigslist (most people own really big desks!) I went with the smaller IKEA Leksvik desk in a dark finish. It's 31.75" wide (compared to the 55" width of our current desk) and 20.5" deep (compared to the 23.5" depth of our current desk). We're losing some depth, which is OK, but the width is absolutely perfect. Plus, if the mini-office/play area concept winds up not working out for our lifestyle when Baby Awesome-rod arrives, I have a back-up plan! This desk perfectly fits in a small nook next to our half bath, also on our main level, so all is good with the world.
At $129 the price is right. Now I just have to wait two weeks for the next shipment to make its way to our local IKEA, and then I'll be ready to start moving some furniture.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

I'm not fat, I'm pregnant (and other first pregnancy observations)

The last 15 weeks of being pregnant (well, really 13 weeks of being pregnant, because if you're new to this game, doctors count the two weeks before you conceive as part of your pregnancy...score) has been for me what my sister-in-law Amy aptly referred to as one giant science experiment. I realize this is only the beginning, and I have a long way to go, and as yesterday's eloquent The Bump e-newsletter reminded me I have no concept of the crazy crap that will happen to me in the six weeks or more postpartum; but still, I thought it best to record some early observations.

I'm not going to tell you what the pregnancy books or websites tell you, because if you really care you can go read them, and I'm not going to chronicle every week of my pregnancy in pain-staking you-probably-don't-care-at-all detail as is the mode on many blogs. I am going to share, though, some non-TMI stuff that I either couldn't find documented in a book or on a website or I only found after way too much 3 a.m. Googling (more on that later).

Observation 1: How are you feeling?
(Most) people love babies (and dogs) and (most) people love them a pregnant woman. Once someone knows you're pregnant, the first thing they want to know is how you're feeling. This is incredibly polite and well-meaning, but let me tell you: I feel fine. I believe my friend Katy, mother of two, put it best when she told me a couple years ago that being pregnant does not mean you suddenly become a delicate flower. Another thing I'll add to the mix: when, for a brief moment in history, I believed what my doctor told me and I thought I might not ever be pregnant, that became my greatest fear in life. So my philosophy remains that being pregnant is a hell of a lot better than not being pregnant, and you will not hear me complaining (much).

Observation 2: Give me gluten or give me death!
You may recall that one tactic I used to up my chances of improving my fertility was going gluten-free. I thought for a split second that I would continue this new Stuff White People Like diet into pregnancy. That stopped at week 6 when relatively serious food aversions set in. For roughly a month I ate no vegetables, no meat (and little protein in general, really healthy, I realize) and almost entirely sustained myself on carbohydrates. Glorious carbs. Cereal! Pumpernickel bagels! Cheese danishes from Wegmans! Potbelly sandwiches (ok, so I got a little protein from some twice-toasted deli meat). And I ate fruit. Lots of it. Even though now my food aversions have mostly gone away, I am still living on fruit. Here's a sampling of the fruit currently available in our home:
Somewhat surprisingly, I lost two pounds while eating my mostly carbs diet. Then by week 11 I had gained back those two pounds. As of yesterday I appear to have gained two pounds over my pre-pregnancy weight (which means I weigh 119 pounds right now, if you really want to know, Mr. Nosy). Of course, because women are the sex made to feel guilty about everything they do in life, BabyCenter would suggest I should have gained at least five pounds by now (and because I've only gained two pounds my baby will not be going to Harvard). I am trying to quiet all those guilt-inducing voices and focus on staying healthy, and thankfully my doctor is not concerned.

Observation 3: Burping like a 12-year-old boy
One of my earliest pregnancy symptoms that emerged during week 4 was burping (and painfully sore boobs, too, of course, but any pregnancy book will tell you that!). No one mentions burping, although it's apparently fairly common. Why do we burp while hosting this alien life form? I have no idea. But it hasn't gone away.

Observation 4: I'm not fat, I'm pregnant (or the phenomenon of small belly in the morning, big belly at night)
During my will-I-ever-get-pregnant phase I consoled myself by silently judging women on the street. I played a game I made up cleverly titled "Fat or Pregnant?" in which I would look at women and try to determine if they are fat or pregnant. Now I am proud to say strangers can play this game with me. Matt and I just spent five days in L.A. visiting my older brother Shawn, his aforementioned wife Amy, and their daughter Quinn (who is two today! Happy birthday Quinn!). Because this trip took place during the 14-to-15 week is-she-fat-or-pregnant? stretch, lots of southern California strangers were looking at me, no doubt thinking, "She is relatively small, but she really needs to do some crunches!" (Southern California is probably the worst place to be during the fat-or-pregnant stage.) Another observation: Because my belly is not 100 percent pronounced to strangers at this moment, it is continuing to participate in this strange phenomenon of being small in the morning when I first wake up and then it builds its slow crescendo during the day, culminating in a bump I can be proud of by bed time. Apparently it gets smaller while I sleep because I'm digesting or something along those lines, but who knows. Here's the obligatory belly shot with evidence that I participated in not one, not two, but THREE hikes while in L.A. (this one was on Catalina Island, and the other two were in Runyon Canyon in Hollywood right down the street from Shawn and Amy's house). Flat stomach no more!

Observation 5: Insomnia
Let me just say that everyone told me pregnancy would make me so exhausted that I would sleep all the time, and the opposite has proved true: I have more energy than I've ever had in my life. I realize this could and probably will easily dissipate, but so far I have been having trouble sleeping, waking up at 3 a.m. after going to bed at 11 p.m. and then STAYING AWAKE (hence the 3 a.m. Googling). Close friends have received a good number of 4:30 a.m. emails from me catching up on news or planning the social calendar because I couldn't find anything else to do. I also did some 4 a.m. closet reorganizing for good measure. Most days I'm not even taking naps.

But now it's time to take my little bump to IKEA for some mid-week desk shopping. I'll share the results soon!

Friday, July 8, 2011

A greener sponge

I know a bunch of you are probably grossed out by the idea of sponges, thinking they're yucky because they get dirty and smelly. This is true, which is why I was pleased to discover these...

They're the four-pack of the Quickie Green Cleaning Microfiber Kitchen Sponges. I bought these about six months ago, and so far they have lived up to their promise of being durable even after quite a few rounds in the washing machine. They're not made for scrubbing pots. Instead I use them for wiping down the kitchen counter tops, and when I'm cleaning our bathrooms one usually travels with me to each bathroom sink and counter top in the house. At $4.99 for the four pack at the grocery store, this has been a worthwhile investment.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The closet shuffle, take 1

Doesn't it seem like every home-owning-young-couple-about-to-have-a-baby converts their office into the nursery? Add us to the list. Our office is the smallest of the three bedrooms in our house, but it has the second-biggest closet (right behind the master bedroom closet), which means plenty of storage, so we (crossing fingers) shouldn't need too much more storage than the to-be-refinished dresser we bought over the weekend.

While I made no serious effort to decorate (or even paint) the office in the past four and a half years, knowing (and then eventually hoping) it would one day be the nursery, our office closet has been fully utilized the whole time we've lived here. As some preliminary nursery preparation, I took advantage of some of my travel-free and work-free time this week to start shuffling the items from the office closet to the smaller guestroom closet. Here's our starting point:

Bigger office closet (soon-to-be nursery closet):

Smaller guestroom closet:

The office closet housed photo albums, files, over-flow books that don't fit into our two bookcases, craft supplies, a container of gift wrap, a container of gift bags, my wedding dress, some sentimental items and a few miscellaneous items. The guestroom closet housed some dog supplies, some busted pillows the dogs have semi-destroyed over the years (that I may or not ever learn how to fix), board games, Matt's guitar, and two containers of my school files that I organized last summer and that temporarily are hanging out in there this summer until September. 

I needed to find a way to get the contents of the office closet mostly contained within the smaller guestroom closet. This involved first sifting through all the contents of the office closet, which was kind of fun seeing as a lot of the items in there contain a lot of memories. I love finding old letters from long-time friends writing about their then-boyfriends now-husbands, or the funniest find so far: a postcard Matt sent me in 2001 when he was studying aboard in Spain, approximately two years before we started dating. Turns out I had a lot of loose letters and cards like that in several containers throughout the closet, so I consolidated and filed them in my special container for all-time-favorite cards.

Once virtually everything was consolidated and quite a few items were thrown out, it was time to start moving. The container of gift bags and the box containing my wedding dress fit nicely under the queen bed in the guestroom, and I figure our future guests won't be needing under-the-bed storage, so I stowed those items away to free up some space in the guestroom closet. I also found a couple items that make more sense housed in the garage, such as sporting goods, and a couple household items, such as tealight and votive candles, that make make more sense housed in the linen closet with other similar home equipment. Other than that, though, I needed to get everything else into the guestroom closet.

Although this is still a work in progress, here's the end result after about six hours of work spread over the course of two days:

Current office closet:

This photo emphasizes the improperly installed shelf on the left-hand side that we'll be fixing soon. I couldn't move everything quite yet as I still figure out some storage solutions for the closet shuffle, so here's what remains:

We've started to outgrow the accordion-file system I started to develop when we got married and then added to a year and a half ago. So, I'm currently on the lookout for an affordable two-drawer file cabinet (preferably made of wood) that could be housed at the bottom of the guestroom closet. Craigslist might be the best source for this, not surprisingly.

Also still hanging out in the office closet are these random items. I know I can easily fit most of this inside the guestroom closet, but I think it makes sense to get the file system squared away before attempting any further reorganizing. If you look closely, you'll notice that one of the items on the middle shelf is my Cabbage Patch Kids kindergarten backpack, which is the holding pen for my childhood keychain collection. Sentimental and unnecessary, right? Hmmmm...

Doc gives his seal of approval to the added floor space inside the office closet, a perfect dog hang out. (Note: This is Doc's happy face.) 

So here's the current state of the guestroom closet:

On closer inspection, you'll see this shelf of mostly Stephanie and Matt memorabilia...

...our stack of board games. We love Taboo! (and I am horrible at Trivial Pursuit)...

...a stack of books temporarily arranged vertically that represents my recent past, present, and future...
...and a consolidated and better-organized gift wrap container that also houses some empty poster tubes (and some occupied poster tubes that include, you know, my bachelor and Master's degrees, and the day's greatest find, my New Kids on the Block poster I bought in 1st grade. Congratulations to me for Hangin' Tough all these years.)

It's nice to have made a serious dent in this closet shuffle project at this time when I don't have much else going on. Although I originally wouldn't have planned it this way, it kind of works out perfectly that I'm spending my summer in my second trimester, when I have the time and the energy to get some preparations done.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

New storage, first nursery purchase

Today's post is a bit of a mash-up because our lives are a bit of a mash-up these days...We took advantage of the holiday weekend and did a lot of Craigslisting (more on that in a bit).

We had cleaned out our backyard storage shed while the electricians were working on our master bathroom last week. Cleaning out the shed partially involved properly disposing of 12 gallon cans of latex paint, some fertilizer and engine oil left behind by the house's previous owners. So we investigated our county's household hazardous waste policies and came across this information. Somewhat surprisingly, according to the site, latex paint can be thrown in the regular trash, but I felt weird about kicking buckets and buckets of paint to the curb, so we loaded the items in the trunk of my little Protege and took it to the dump. (The timing also worked out, seeing as they accept household hazardous waste drop offs Thursday through Sunday only.)

Say adios to shed clutter!

There were a number of other still-usable items in our shed that we no longer needed (and a couple in our garage that we needed to clean out in order to make way in the garage for needed shed items). So we posted the following on Craigslist by Saturday afternoon and all were off our hands by Sunday afternoon:
  • Push lawnmower -- sold for $30 (Matt uses a GrassHog, currently housed in our garage, to cut our limited backyard grass)
  • Recycling bin -- free. Once we started our recycling can experiment successfully we no longer needed the open-air container.
  • Two brass fixtures -- free. One used to hang in our entryway, one used to be on our back porch.
  • Bag of gravel -- free
  • 41" by 57" mirror -- free. This actually came from our master bathroom and had been hanging out in our garage for the last week.

We also had a space heater and some gardening pots we weren't going to use, so Saturday morning while someone else in our neighborhood was having a yard sale Matt took the items to the curb with a sign marked "Free" figuring someone might want to pick them up, and sure enough within minutes they were gone. Genius strategy! I love getting rid of stuff we no longer need; it is so liberating.

With items Craigslisted or given away, we had only a few items we needed to fit into our garage, namely some gardening supplies (mulch, topsoil, grass seed, shovels, gloves), the aforementioned GrassHog, a plastic wheelbarrow and a giant blue tarp. After rearranging a little, we got the tarp and wheelbarrow into our pre-existing garage storage space, the GrassHog can easily rest in the corner with the rake and ladder, and we just needed something for our gardening supplies.

We clearly do not need that shed! Everything leftover from the shed has easily fit in our garage.

I searched online and found several ideal and affordable options for storing gardening supplies at Target, and while I was prepared to order an outdoor storage bin online I was pleased to discover the one I was looking for (this Suncast 50-gallon deck box) was actually in stock at our local store for $60. After taking the five minutes needed to assemble it (no tools required!) it perfectly lived up to our estimations of space and storage ability. So it's currently hanging out in another corner of our garage, though Matt would like to move it to our patio once it's installed. I don't have a strong opinion one way or the other.

You might notice in the above wide-angle garage shot that there's one other large item in our garage. That's right, on the left-hand side you may have spotted our first baby purchase. We'll be getting three big-ticket items for the nursery: a crib (obviously), a chair of some kind (exact type TBD), and a dresser that can double as a changing table. We (let's be honest...I) decided to start with the dresser/changing table. I knew I didn't want an actual changing table because of its limited functionality as the child grows. And, I don't care about things being all matchy-matchy in the nursery (and I don't have an absolute vision of what the nursery will look like either). So I thought the dresser would be the place to start. But what should I look for in a dresser that will double as a changing table?

I had a couple requirements:
  • Safety -- obviously, it should be well built.
  • Made out of real wood -- I figured a real wooden dresser could be more stable and therefore safer than one made of a lighter material, and I also hoped it could last for more than a few years.
  • Affordability -- whether I bought a new or used dresser, I didn't want to exceed $200.

Something I had to research was changing table size. How high should it be? How wide is a changing table pad? I found this useful post from one of the blogs I read, Ohdeedoh, and discovered that a changing table is approximately 36" high and that a changing table pad is 17" wide. The user comments at the bottom of the post were also helpful. It sounded like a lot of parents like the IKEA Hemnes 3-drawer chest, which is a cute option at $200 and meets the general dimension specifications, but it is not all made of wood. We had just been in World Market where I spotted this Dark Mahogany Chase 3-drawer dresser for $300, and then someone on Craigslist was selling it for $200. But as I kept scrolling through Craiglists postings I started to find a few dressers that were the right size that would work as changing tables if given a little TLC. So I settled on this $40 3-drawer wooden dresser.
I see lots of potential in this well-built piece of furniture. So we'll add "refinish changing table" to our summer bucket list. We haven't tried to tackle anything like this before, but the good news is that we have time on our side and this post from Young House Love to get us started (although their project and ours are not exactly identical in terms of the dresser materials we're trying to refinish). Do you have any additional advice for novice furniture refinishers?

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Master bath mini-remodel: Complete!

As we move through our boring-adult summer bucket list, it's time to share our first accomplishments. The master bathroom mini-remodel falls into the category of "complicated tasks real professionals will be doing for us." We are glad we went this route. There was no way we could have run the wires for the two new light fixtures, learned to patch drywall, or installed a recessed light. Money well spent!

You may recall that our master bathroom updating involved two main lighting fixes. The first and most obvious is the installation of two new light fixtures above the vanity. We went from this old look to this more modern look:

The light fixtures are from the Quoizel Empire Silver Demetri Collection with one light, which matches the four-light Quoizel Demetri fixture we installed in our hallway bathroom last summer. Each fixture has a 100-watt lightbulb in it. At first I was worried the room would be too dark as we went from one six-light fixture to two single-light fixtures, but these 100-watt CFL lights are really powerful and the two give off just as much light as the six previous bulbs.

The mirrors are from Home Goods, which we snagged a couple months ago for $30 each. They have dark brown frames, which is really ideal because we were debating between black and brown frames and ultimately settled on brown.

The professional electricians installed the fixtures, which had to be somewhat intensely rewired, and they patched the drywall holes left behind by both the old fixture and the old giant mirror. They also primed the area where the old fixture and mirror stood, so all we had to do was paint and hang the mirrors. Painting was the easy part. As I was reminded of last September while I was hanging our dining room wall photo gallery, I really hate hanging things. Measuring, spacing and leveling require such precision that it drives me insane, and try as I might I cannot hang something without making at least one needless hole in the wall. I measure and remeasure and still wind up getting something wrong. But it got fixed, and visitors to our home will be none the wiser about the little mistake I made along the way.

Lighting fix number two involved installing a new recessed light directly above the otherwise dark shower space. We did not do any work for this little project, and I am pleased to have paid someone else to make the shower I use daily about three times as bright as it was before.

I don't know how well the pictures reveal the transformation, I am pleased to be able to see in there now.

While we were at it, we asked our electrician if he could take a look at our downstairs toilet, and he obliged. At least the first time he looked at it he took approximately five seconds and "fixed" it. I went to check it a few minutes later to see if it would flush, and it would not, so we felt a little less pathetic than we did initially. Then he told us a part had gone bad, so Matt went out and bought a replacement kit for $25 at Home Depot and then had the electrician install that, simply because we've installed a couple kits unsuccessfully in that toilet in the past four and a half years. After 30 minutes he got it working, and we hope (knock on wood) this one is the keeper.

While we had electricians in our house for two days, we got some other work crossed off our summer bucket list, and I'll share that with you in my next post!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Delaying Awesome-rod's arrival

I ended yesterday's post with an allusion to gloom and doom because, well, frankly, on the path of procreation I entered the Pits of Despair. This post will be depressing with glimmers of hope, so brace yourself (and if this baby talk doesn't interest you, come back tomorrow for some regular old home improvement/organization posting!).

You can have it all planned out and be a responsible couple focusing their financial, social, mental, emotional and physical energies into preparing for a baby, and Mother Nature can throw a giant roadblock in your way. You quickly discover that everything is not like they tell you in middle school sex ed (or, like my favorite line from Mean Girls, "Don't have sex, because you will get pregnant and die").

I share this information today not to be TMI but to raise awareness of the fact that not everyone gets pregnant in the first month of trying, and that lots of people struggle silently with infertility. Seeing my friends and family around me getting pregnant in the first month or two made me think everyone must be that way, even though based on my reading and common sense I knew better. Dealing with this chapter in my life has been the worst thing I've been through to date, which I guess on one hand signifies that I've lived a rather fortunate life, but on the other hand reveals the lack of knowledge, lack of resources, and lack of tact lots of people possess when it comes to all things related to fertility. I hope that by sharing (the edited version of) what I've been through it can help others who are suffering silently. I know that in just the last week I've helped no less than four women who, it turns out, were either suffering themselves or have friends going through a similar struggle.

My own struggle with infertility began long before I received a diagnosis. When we started trying to conceive and we had no positive pregnancy test to show for it, I started to suspect something was wrong. I started reading up on causes of infertility and came across articles, blogs and message boards about a condition known as PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome). The more I read, the more I suspected this could be my condition. PCOS is the leading cause of female infertility, with an estimated 1 in 10 women suffering from this syndrome. Its most common symptoms include non-cancerous cysts on the ovaries, whacked-out hormones, and irregular periods. To be officially diagnosed a woman must have two out of the three criteria. It also carries with it a variety of other markers, none of which apply to all women, but some of which apply to many, such as weight control issues (nearly 75 percent of women with PCOS are overweight or obese) and insulin resistance.

After many months of trying, I called my doctor's office and spoke with the nurse, who reassured me that I'm "young" and that I need to "relax" because these things take time. She treated me like I'm a moron and disregarded the specific information I shared about myself and my experiences. So I emailed my doctor, who gave me a slightly better response, something along the lines of, "Keep track of things and be in touch in a few months." After a few more months I got back in touch with my doctor, who this time seemed actually concerned and brought me in rather quickly for testing. The test results were in a week later, and I could see the results online. I read up on what my results meant, and by that point I knew my fate: I officially had PCOS. When my doctor called me a day later and told me the news, even though I was mentally prepared it still stung to hear her say the term "PCOS" out loud, but it stung way more to hear her tell me that my chances of conceiving a child on my own were slim to none. She asked me what I wanted to do next: I could do nothing or I could start infertility treatment. I said I needed to process all this.

Instead of processing I went and I cried. A lot. At home, at work, in the car, in the middle of the night. I had a pity party. I ran a stop sign in my neighborhood and got pulled over by a cop for the first time in my life. In these Pits of Despair moments I obviously looked like a pathetic creature because the cop let me go rather quickly (after checking my perfect driving record) with a comment that I need to promise to take care of myself.

Then I decided it was time to take action. I asked my doctor what kind of lifestyle adjustments I could make to naturally control my PCOS. She said that because I do not fit with the majority of PCOS women who need to lose weight, there was nothing I could do except run more tests, take fertility drugs, and if that didn't work start IVF. So I made an appointment to have more tests and start drugs.

In the meantime I researched our library's offerings of fertility books. Turns out there are a lot of books about IVF and adoption, but only three books in the system about PCOS. One book was about dealing with obesity and PCOS, one wasn't available, and one was titled A Patient's Guide to PCOS: Understanding and Reversing Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. So I checked it out and read it in a couple hours. Then I read The Fertility Diet, PCOS and Your Fertility, Taking Charge of Your Fertility, Making Babies, and The G-Free Diet. I realized I wished I had spent winter break of 2008 reading about fertility rather than pregnancy.

As I did my research I realized that there is a link between PCOS and insulin resistance for virtually every woman diagnosed with the condition, even thin women like me with no detectable glucose intolerance nor insulin resistance in my blood work. One way to combat insulin resistance is through diet and exercise, more specifically a closely regulated gluten-free diet. So I contacted my doctor again and presented her with questions about the information I found. She again assured me that nothing I did in terms of diet or exercise would help me conceive.

Then I met a friend of a friend who learned to completely control her PCOS through a really strict diet that involves gluten-free eating, among many other things. I met with her one evening where she laid out for me (in Gold-Star-Award-Winning-Literally-Organized-Fashion) a packet of information she compiled about her experiences, her daily diet, and resources she's found over the years. I left our multi-hour meeting armed with knowledge (and, among many new book recommendations, one that particularly caught my attention called Nourishing Traditions). I also cancelled my first infertility appointment with my doctor the next day, telling the snotty nurse that I wasn't ready to be labeled infertile. I started 2011 with a new attitude (and a new bag).

So I plunged headfirst into a world of major lifestyle adjustments. I had never been on a specific diet before, and I had never had a reason to exercise every single day, but grappling with an infertility diagnosis and being determined to fix it certainly lit a fire under me.

Here's what I did in a nutshell:

  • Fertility Friend daily charting -- If you want to conceive naturally but you're having difficulties, it's worth considering charting your basal body temperature (your temperature when you wake up each morning before you get out of bed). This is what you'll learn about in intense detail if you read Taking Charge of Your Fertility and you'll understand how temperature corresponds to the different stages of your cycle. Honestly, it does give you back a small feeling of control in an otherwise soul-crushing experience. For it to work, though, you have to temp at the same time each day. I would wake up at virtually the same time on the weekends as during the weekdays. I think my body was so stressed about conceiving that I had an internal clock that would jolt me awake at the same ridiculously early time of 5:15 Monday through Sunday. A word to the wise: DO NOT sign up for Fertility Friend VIP, which costs money and makes you insane. I only experienced FF VIP when I had it during a free trial period. Looking at its pregnancy symptoms analyzer will make you insane, constantly thinking, "This is the month!!!" only to face horrible disappointment soon after.
  • Daily exercise -- at least 30 minutes of aerobics (in the form of Just Dance 2, of course), sometimes more, plus 45 minutes to one hour of strength training 2-3 times per week (in the form of Core Fusion Body Sculpt)
  • Gluten-free diet with an emphasis on limited processed foods, lots of protein, plenty of fresh veggies and fruit and minimal sugar
  • Green tea a few times a week
  • Pomegranate juice a few times a week
  • Whole-dairy products, such as organic whole milk
  • No caffeine
  • Extremely limited alcohol (like maybe one drink a month)
  • Herbal supplements: vitex, red raspberry leaf (capsules, not tea)
  • Vitamins: prenantal vitamin, B6, B12, D, E, cod liver oil, evening primrose oil (before ovulation)/flaxseed oil (after ovulation)
Here's what my daily diet looked like (note, I am not a big eater, and I actually lost a little weight while doing this, which was an unintended consequence seeing as I am healthy weight for my height):

  • scrambled eggs made with whole-fat milk and cheddar cheese (eggs are supposed to be one of the best foods for fertility, which seems fitting I suppose)
  • fruit (usually blueberries or another "super food")
  • hot chocolate w/ whole-fat milk OR orange juice OR both :)
Mid-morning snack: banana or granola bar

  • Greek yogurt (good for protein, especially)
  • fruit (apple, orange, berries, melon, etc.)
  • string cheese
  • almonds and walnuts
  • carrots, sometimes with hummus
This was the tricky part....I don't eat a ton of gluten to begin with, but we had to eliminate pasta (that we tend to make with our basil sauce) and pizza, two weeknight staples, so we had to try new stuff....Here are some example meals:
I had to get in the habit of making breakfast, since before I would eat cereal, and I had to work with Matt to come up with healthy meat-centered meals we could both enjoy (and Matt is lactose intolerant, so that also meant gluten-free and lactose-free dinners....which can be challenging).

By the end of April I had my positive pregnancy test, so after about four months of following this plan I completely changed my PCOS symptoms and conceived naturally. And I never went back to my doctor who told me it was highly unlikely that I would conceive on my own. Instead, once I got pregnant I found a really proactive doctor very close to my house, and she's done an incredible job treating me as an individual (and talking to me on my level) and even bringing me in for extra appointments and blood work.

Through this ordeal I've learned:
1) Everyone is struggling with something.
2) It's impossible for me to cope with bad situations without relying on my closest friends for support, so thank you to you few special ladies who comprise my inner circle and helped keep me sane through all this.
3) Most people, myself included, know nothing about fertility, and many doctors are quick to rush to a one-size-fits-all treatment plan without addressing the root causes of an individual's fertility struggles.
4) You have to advocate for yourself.
5) You should NEVER ask ANYONE when they are planning to have children, because maybe they don't want kids, or maybe they've been struggling for months or years to conceive (or maybe they're already pregnant and smiling inside at the little secret within). And you definitely shouldn't complain if you've been trying to get pregnant for only a month or two and it hasn't worked yet. Someone might want to punch you in the face.

I am now somewhat of an advocate in my small way for PCOS awareness, and perhaps over time I will find more ways to become a more organized advocate. For now, though, I'll say that if you're interested in talking to me more, be in touch (if I know you in real life) or leave me your email address (if I don't know you personally). Just as I received help along the way, I hope I can serve as help along the way for others.

(Oh, and if you're like one of the people who thinks I am not teaching journalism anymore because I'm pregnant, sorry to break it to you but having a baby and not teaching journalism have nothing to do with each other. Everything I said before is true. I was done with teaching the class, baby or no baby [and when I decided to stop teaching it I had no idea if I would ever have a baby], and I wanted my afternoons back.) 

UPDATE: Here is another strong woman's account of her struggle with PCOS. I am thrilled that we both made it to the other side and have due dates almost a month apart!