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strong women

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More Baby Prep & Meal Freezing

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Last week was a bit of a debacle because I was without a phone for a brief stint (I dropped it one too many times and went from I'll Just Continue Using My Phone Despite This Giant Crack in the Screen to I Can Literally No Longer Operate My Phone and Must Get it Fixed ASAP within seconds). No phone meant no pictures, which means a delicious vegetarian lasagna was constructed from scratch but there is no photographic evidence to share on the blog. Just know that after our baby arrives, the lasagna waiting for us in our freezer is a cheesy masterpiece stuffed with homemade seitan, mashed sweet potatoes and spinach. Also as you can see in this post, I did have my phone around when I was making a vegetable barley soup. All is not lost.

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For this vegetable barley soup recipe, I turned to The Vegan Pregnancy Cookbook. This book was instrumental to me, especially early in my pregnancy. As I've mentioned before, I couldn't even THINK about dairy or eggs without getting sick during my first trimester. I became a default vegan until I could stomach the ingredients again. My egg and dairy consumption remains significantly less than what it used to be, but I'm now back to eating non-vegan ingredients at least a few times a week. During early pregnancy, though: no way. This book was a godsend.

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Tomorrow I will be 37 weeks pregnant. I can reasonably expect to give birth in 1-5 weeks. Making it this far into pregnancy is surreal because here I am, uncomfortable and cumbersome, foreign in my own body, the most unlike myself I've ever been. On the other side of all of this a tiny person will greet me and become my own. I'm so excited about motherhood because I feel like in some ways it's the most "me" I'll ever be. The love I have for this baby is ready to pour out of me. In the meantime, I sit here uncomfortably waiting.

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Today I read an article about the idea of becoming a mom without becoming a mommy, i.e. entering motherhood without losing a sense of self-identity. In some ways pregnancy feels like a losing of oneself, which I assumed would translate mainly to my body. I've found it's seeped into other facets of my life, too. I've lost interest and drive in certain areas, though I'm not convinced that this is entirely bad. As a writer I've always had a scrappiness that's allowed me to devote myself to projects even when they didn't fully hold my interest. In pregnancy I feel too tired for all of that. I'm too tired to sell myself to editors or to try and write in a way that matches the vision of a company that's not my own. I don't feel like spending my hours doing work I don't love right now. That's a gross and privileged thing to say — let me own that upfront. It's also a true thing to say. Pregnancy is a weird process that brings up a lot of pure and crystalized feelings. I'm too tired for the rest. Am I really losing myself or am I becoming more myself than ever? 

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I love the idea of becoming a mom and not a mommy, of loving and nurturing a human without denying the interests that drove me long before baby came along. I think in particular for women who plan to stay home, the danger of immersive baby and kid culture is real. One minute you're a writer, runner, cupcake baker and book lover. The next you're a mom and housewife whose daily schedule revolves around a tiny human. I'm not saying I'm not excited to care for this tiny human — I am, more than I can even express. I'm saying there's a lot of pressure these days to become a certain kind of mom — the one who packs lunches that look like pieces of art and volunteers to coach all the activities and makes homemade costumes for playtime and hosts weekly playdates that include laboriously prepared appetizers and drinks for the other moms and joins all the Mommy & Me groups and goes from activity to activity and stays up all night gluing pieces from Pinterest-inspired art projects and dresses her kid like a mini fashionista and documents every moment on social media, all while keeping up with the housework and making nutritious yet delicious dinners (and breakfasts, lunches, and snacks) every day. If I become that kind of mother, when will I ever write another book? When will I go for a run? When will I spend time with my husband? When will I sit down with my child and just read and cuddle and be there and not worry about going somewhere or doing the next thing on the list?

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By mentioning any of this, I've already entered the dangerous territory of coming off like I'm judging other mothers. There is nothing wrong with Pinterest-inspired craft projects. There is nothing wrong with volunteering to lead your child's activities. There's nothing wrong with wanting to make your kid's sandwich look like a frog or pirate or ladybug and there's nothing wrong with keeping a clean house. Where things get tricky, I think, is when that pressure seeps in to try and do ALL THE MOM THINGS to the detriment of some or all of the Woman In the World things/ friend things/ spouse things/ independent person things. 

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Do I plan on being ridiculously devoted to my child? Am I ready to give away my time and space and energy and love in a way I never have before? Absolutely. I'll be the first to say it: this little person is going to be my world. I will do anything and everything I can to keep this person safe and happy. But I also want to write another book. I want to return to running. I want to read and bake cupcakes and spend time with my husband, family, and friends. I don't want to feel like a housewife (I frankly already feel like a housewife. It's impossible to work from home and not devote a big chunk of time each day to housework. It's there, in front of you, always.) I don't want to feel like MORE of a housewife. I want to feel like a person who has some semblance of balance despite the level of devotion required for this motherhood position. 

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I think that everything I'm saying is important for me, but I think it's important for my child, too. I want my kid to look at me as a complete person. I remember all the Mom and Dad moments from my childhood, but I also remember my mom as a potter and self-employed businesswoman. I remember my dad as a newspaper editor and tennis player. I remember our shared love of Mexican food and family bike rides, of road trips to Colorado and time spent outdoors. My mom made me a lot of clothes and Halloween costumes, but she had both the skill and desire to do so. My dad made a lot of elaborate meals, but he had both the skill and desire to do so. I do not feel that either of them lost themselves to parenting and although I've never asked, I hope they don't feel that way either. (Perhaps if I did ask, I'd learn a few things. Maybe someone wishes all those Saturday afternoons on soccer sidelines were spent in a yoga class instead. Maybe someone wishes another caregiver had been in rotation to give respite from the endless afternoons with us running around. I don't know, although I'm now curious and will make a point of asking soon.) Maybe it's impossible not to lose yourself just a little in the act of parenting, or maybe I'm blowing the entire thing out of proportion. I won't know until I get there.

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I'm going to have a baby soon and I cannot wait. I'm also going to keep writing, though not necessarily for other people. I'm already giving so much of myself to this one person — maybe I'll try and retain a little bit of my writing identity and make something of it in my own way. Financials are always scary but giving myself away to something I don't truly believe in is scarier. I'm going to believe in my own abilities. I'm going to believe in the relationship this sweet baby and I are about to form. I'm going to believe in our ability to navigate and figure out this new world together. I'm going to believe that I'll find my place again while remaining at home with a child. I'm going to believe that all-consuming "mommyhood" and devoted motherhood are not one at the same, and that I can be good at one without losing myself to the other. 

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Hosting a DIY Beauty Party

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As readers of this blog know, I've been into making my own version of household cleaning and beauty products for a long time now. Making my own shower gels, shampoos and soaps helps me to save money and use less environmental resources. More important to me personally, making my own products means I know exactly what ingredients go into them, which helps me to avoid toxic ingredients that are unfortunately common in many store-bought brands. As a pregnant woman, this helps me to feel a lot better about things. When it comes to the foods I eat, the lotions I put on my body, and everything in between, I prefer to avoid long lists of unpronounceable ingredients. When it comes to DIY beauty products, I refuse to make anything that requires more than five ingredients. I also refuse to make anything that calls for a hard-to-find ingredient that requires a trip to a specialty store. DIY to me is all about simplification.

A small proxy of friends and I are part of a Ladies Night group, where we meet once a month for whatever activity that month's host chooses. In the past this has included dinners, Happy Hours, picnics, clothing swaps, croquet and more. A few months ago, some of my friends expressed interested in learning more about the homemade beauty products I make. I was thrilled to host a party showing them how to make their own. 

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Preparing for this party could not have been simpler. I already had many ingredients on hand but also went to the store to stock up on more. I wanted to show my friends how to make a simple shampoo, shower gel, hand soap and face wash (and at the last minute I remembered a two-ingredient recipe for an eye cream, too). The only ingredients I needed to make all these different products were coconut oil, honey, castile soap, almond oil, olive oil, vitamin E oil, and coconut milk. I also had a small bottle of tea tree oil on hand as an optional ingredient. My friends brought their own essential oils, which were also optional. My friends also brought money to cover the expense of buying ingredients, so nobody went broke in the making of this party. 

As far as supplies, we only needed a few things there too: measuring cups, measuring spoons, a can opener for the coconut milk, and something to stir with. Halfway through the process I also brought out a funnel for anyone who needed it. My friends all brought their own containers to fill. (P.S. I had a lightbulb moment when one of my friends brought a plastic water bottle. Genius! There's no need to buy fancy bottles or containers if you don't want to. Instead of recycling that water bottle, repurpose it yourself by filling it with shower gel or soap.)

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Often when we get together, my friends and I throw together potluck-style meals. Last night was no exception. I wanted to make a casserole-style dish that could feed a large group and didn't contain any dairy since one of my friends is lactose-intolerant. I found this Vegan Spinach & Artichoke Pasta Bake recipe online and I LOVE it. It has all the delicious creaminess of dairy without containing any actual dairy. (Cashews are a miracle ingredient.) My friends, meanwhile, brought delicious bread, crackers, dips, fruit, veggies, wine and macarons. We ate everything out on the patio and talked for hours after making our DIY goodies. It ended up being a fun and sweet night.

All of the recipes I used for the products we made can be found here: A Day in the DIY Life

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How to Start a Self-Love Revolution

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As I've mentioned many times in the past, I'm a big fan and follower of Fit Girls Guide, an online fitness community that promotes clean eating and self-love. For each monthly challenge with Fit Girls Guide, there is a new mantra. This month's is I Am The Revolution. I love this phrase because it encourages us to look inward for our own inspiration instead of seeking it elsewhere. 

At the same time, I know a lot of people are confused about where exactly to start when it comes to starting a revolution. Telling someone to "just love yourself" is not enough to get them going on a journey of acceptance and self-compassion. What does that actually mean and how does one practice it daily? 

I thought I would share a few concrete ways I started a self-love revolution for myself. This is a process that began four or five years ago and continues daily. I know this kind of revolution can seem daunting at first, but I think you'll see from the examples I'm providing that it can be a lot simpler than you might first realize.

1. STOP READING WOMEN'S MAGAZINES

This one pains me as a writer. When I was younger, I aspired to write for these types of publications. Also I don't want to miss out on the incredible writing I know lives in the pages of these magazines. (For the latter I have a solution: read the articles online.)

A lot of quality content can be found in women's magazines and I don't want to underscore this fact, but I also want to point out that the barrage of images — both from the magazine's photoshoots and the included advertising — are not healthy for even the healthiest woman out there. Flip through the pages of a women's magazine and the message you will find over and over again is that you are not enough. You're not thin enough or your hair isn't shiny enough or your fashion budget isn't big enough or your skin isn't clear enough or your body isn't toned enough or your nails aren't bright enough and so on and so on.

These magazines exist to sell  products. Magazines want you to believe that the pop singer with the flawless skin didn't get that way through airbrushing; she got that way because she uses X brand of makeup. That model's hair isn't the result of three hours with a hair professional; it's because she uses Y hair product. We would all be a little prettier and happier if we just bought this outfit or that eye cream or this self-tanner. 

Remove yourself from the cycle of comparison by just saying no to women's magazines. I used to read them religiously (probably at least five different magazines a month) and it's amazing what happened when I stopped several years ago. I no longer felt like I HAD to go get my hands on a certain beauty product because I was no longer aware of that beauty product's existence. I no longer looked at pictures of celebrities or models and compared them to the way I looked in my own life. Eventually, when I did pick up a magazine again, I was struck by the skewed ratio of quality content versus selling. I decided to become a person who didn't want to be sold anything. I decided to accept myself the way I already was, without X miracle beauty product or must-have outfit. Once I ditched the constant exposure to beautiful airbrushed models, I felt a lot less pressure to look a certain way and a lot more comfortable just being myself. 

2. EAT FOODS THAT MAKE YOU FEEL GOOD

I know I'm getting into tricky territory with this one. On the one hand, I hate the way that food is moralized and we're made to believe there's such a thing as good versus bad when it comes to the way we eat. This society puts way too much pressure on everyone, specifically women, to look a certain way and be a certain size and we're often sold the message that the only way to be happy is to not be overweight. I don't buy any of that. I think people should eat what they want to eat, wear what makes them comfortable, and live their lives the way they want to live their lives.

That being said, there is no denying the fact that for me, eating healthy foods makes me feel one way and eating unhealthy foods makes me feel another. Processed foods exacerbate my fatigue. Fresh foods and veggies combined with lean proteins and whole grains give me energy. Does this mean I never consume chips or cupcakes or other so-called "bad" foods? No! It means that balance is always my goal and I strive for a diet that relies mostly on healthy foods and minimally on less healthy ones. To me this has nothing to do with wanting to look a certain way. It has nothing to do with self-punishment. It has everything to do with checking in and realizing that I simply cannot finish off a plate of greasy nachos and feel great afterward. I feel weighed down, lethargic and listless — which is fine if those greasy nachos are an occasional indulgence and those post-nacho symptoms are an occasional side effect. When junk food starts taking over my life, though, it has a huge impact on the way I feel both physically and emotionally. I am far more prone to get an upset stomach or head after polishing off a cookie than I am after eating an apple. 

On the other hand, when I feed myself food that fuels me with the nutrients and vitamins and minerals my body needs, I operate better. My thoughts feel clearer. My energy is bigger. I feel more equipped to take on life challenges that arise daily. So while I don't turn down a piece of birthday cake and don't recommend that you do either, I also make a conscious attempt to fill my life with leafy greens and quinoa and tofu and almonds and garden-fresh veggies and berries. I do this because my physical and mental health depends on it. I simply can't love myself as much when I don't even have the energy to move. 

3. CULTIVATE YOUR OWN STYLE

There are a lot of style rules out there dictating that this type of body needs to wear this type of swimsuit and that type of body should avoid that cut of dress and if you weigh X, cover yourself up and if you weigh Y, go about your days half-naked. To me it's all nonsense. When it comes to putting clothes on your body, I think it all boils down to wearing what you like, what makes you comfortable, and what makes you happy. Period.

If you're 250 pounds and want to wear short shorts, don't let anyone stop you. If you wouldn't be caught dead in a dress even at a friend's wedding, own it. If you want to wear a bikini but are worried what others will think, screw what everyone thinks and wear it with pride. If you want to wear nothing but sweats and T-shirts, go for it. If you get dressed to the nines every day and wake up extra early to do your hair and makeup because that's what makes you happy, do that. Wear what you like. Wear what makes you comfortable. Wear what makes you happy. Follow trends if you think that's fun. Avoid them if you don't. Wear jeans. Wear skirts. Wear the skimpiest swimsuit imaginable. Wear a conservative pantsuit. Show your cleavage. Cover your cleavage. Wear something tight. Wear something loose. Wear something that elicits compliments. Wear something that nobody else likes. It doesn't matter as long as you like it, you are comfortable, and you are happy.  

4. TREAT YOURSELF THE WAY YOU'D TREAT A CHILD

This one is huge because women have a tendency to say horrible things to themselves. Every time you look into the mirror and tell yourself how fat and hideous you are, turn around and picture yourself saying those exact same words to a small child. Nobody — child or adult — deserves to be treated with hatred. Nobody includes YOU. You do not deserve to be treated with hatred. If you would forgive a child for accidentally breaking a plate, forgive yourself for eating an unhealthy meal that left you feeling depleted. If you can forgive a child for saying something inappropriate, forgive yourself for whatever missteps you made today. You can skip your workout and still be a wonderful person. You can weigh more than what society tells you you're supposed to weigh and still be a wonderful person. You can try on an outfit you don't like and refuse to tell yourself you have a gross body, opting instead to realize that all outfits fit all people in all different ways and this one just didn't quite work out. Hug the child in your life, hug yourself, and move on. 

Several years ago I read this piece by Sarah Koppelkam and it became the Bible for how I treat myself and others. Now that I am pregnant, I've been thinking about this concept anew. This is a short piece of writing and I encourage everyone to read it from start to finish. If you want a revolution of self-love and body acceptance, this is the way to get there. Use this as a guide for talking to your daughters and sons. Use this as a guide for talking to yourself. Memorize the words. Tattoo them on your body. Live them. There's your revolution. 

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