Eco-Friendly Holiday Cards

The holiday season is right around the corner (how is Thanksgiving only a week away?!), and it’s almost time for my refrigerator to be plastered with the cheery smiles and warm wishes of all of my friends’ holiday photo cards. My husband and I don’t send out holiday cards because we are a couple of lazy grinches, but I love getting them from other people.

If you are a card-sending enthusiast, you should check out Paper Culture for creating your holiday cards this year. Paper Culture is an eco-friendly company that not only uses 100% recycled paper in all of their cards and envelopes, but also plants a new tree for every order they receive! Their goal is to plant 1 million new trees, specifically in areas where reforestation is most needed.

With your purchase from Paper Culture, you also have the opportunity to dedicate a tree planting to someone you love. What a nice gift to pass along this holiday season!

When it comes to environmentally friendly and conscious living, it can be hard to know how to incorporate better practices into your daily life, and many times, we need to choose convenience over more sustainable and eco-friendly behaviors. An easy way to contribute to environmental consciousness is to choose companies that are dedicated to maintaining sustainable, eco business practices. Paper Culture is one of those companies.

You can read all about their mission and the Cards To Trees program here, and here.

 

This is not a sponsored post. More Well is in no way affiliated with Paper Culture, I just like their company and their mission.

 

What Now

I keep a pregnancy journal that I try to write in weekly. It is mostly a space for me to track what I am feeling physically and emotionally, but I also sometimes write letters directly to the baby, short notes that I may pass along to my child someday so that he/she can have a view into what I was thinking about all those months when my belly was swelling and I was slowly inching toward the biggest change of my life.

I wrote in it last night as I sat down to watch the early election returns coming in. I wrote that I hoped it would be a historic night. That I had great hope for the future, and a strong desire to bring a child into a world that, while still deeply flawed and desperately in need of more progressive thinking and action, was at least continuing its efforts to move forward, to become a more accepting and thoughtful place that worked to give all people the rights and opportunities that I have been fortunate enough to benefit from, a privilege that will pass down to my kid.

The election did not go the way I had hoped. Not even close. I felt completely stunned, and at moments panicked. I got very little sleep and feel as if I am moving through my day now in a fog, uncertain about where to focus my energy in this moment. Unable to clear my head, or pull myself out of the daze that has enveloped me since around midnight last night.

Donald Trump’s hate speech, his repeated, horrific attacks against immigrants, Muslims, women, people of color, and many more groups keep running through my head on a looped recording. I cannot separate the real and legitimate concerns raised by Americans in this election cycle from the rhetoric of hate and violence that was promoted throughout the past year.

I think about the tiny person growing inside of me and wonder how I would explain these events to my child. I wonder how my friends and clients are explaining this to their own kids. How do I properly apologize to and support the people whose rights and perhaps very lives are at stake in the next four years? How do we look foreign friends in the eye and explain how we let this happen? I don’t tend to be political on this blog or in my working life, but I have built a career in a field that relies on greeting all people with compassion and an open heart, and I feel deeply saddened and in shock today to witness the election of a man who serves only himself, and does so through the degradation and harassment of others. When I think about where we go from here, and how I can begin the work to counter an election outcome that I can barely wrap my head around, my thoughts move to the main force behind most of what I try to do in both my work and my personal life: lead always with kindness.

Let me not allow a cultural acceptance of fear and hatred to stifle my resolve to treat other people with a kind and calm heart. Let me offer and encourage spaces of acceptance and understanding. Let me always remember that while my struggles are valid, they are no greater than the struggles of other people around me, and I am no more deserving of support and uplift than anyone else that moves through my life in ways big and small. Let me show, through my face and my words, and my actions that I wish to serve as a source of help and healing in this life. None of us can move mountains, but we can reach out our hands and pull each other up. We each have the ability to move our world forward, to a better, fairer, more accepting place. But that can only happen if we are not fixated on being the first to the top.

Be kind to yourself and to one another today. Do it every day, and search for ways to turn that kindness into action that will make the world a better, safer place for everyone.

Four Little Words That Will Help You Stay Sane

People love to offer their opinions and advice. That’s basically what this entire blog is. My unsolicited opinions offered up as advice that you can take if it suits you. Advice can be good and useful. Other people’s opinions are often helpful, and are generally offered with an intention of kindness and support. That doesn’t keep unsolicited advice from becoming a bit tedious after a while, though. I have found that pregnancy certainly triggers an onslaught of outsider opinions and shared stories, but it’s not the only life change that is met by a wave of sometimes useful, but more often completely worthless, words of wisdom. A  career decision, a big move, college or high school graduation, wedding planning, a home or car purchase, pretty much anything having to do finances in any way: all of these trigger a need in people to share their own experiences and offer some guidance for how you should manage these events. Again, people are ultimately just trying to be helpful, but with so many conflicting opinions, and occasional anxiety-producing horror stories, it’s easy to feel completely overwhelmed by the persistent buzz of other people’s helpful chatter.

I have received an awful lot of advice and opinions since becoming pregnant. Things I should do. Things I shouldn’t do. Comments about my appearance. Probing questions about my pregnancy and birth-related decisions. Overly detailed stories about people’s own experiences without any prompting or questioning on my part. It would be very easy to feel frustrated and exhausted by this deluge of information and ideas, but I have discovered a handy little trick for responding to comments and opinions that I not only don’t find helpful, but that are even hurtful at times.

“You may be right.”

These four little words allow you to close the door on conversations that do not serve your needs. It’s a perfectly polite way to acknowledge someone’s opinion (which again, is usually offered with the best intentions), without having to engage with it in a way that would feel harmful or overwhelming to you. Allow me to offer a few examples from my own experience over the past few months.

Someone: Wow, you’re so big already. No way you make it to your due date.

Me: You may be right.

I don’t need to justify or explain my size and appearance to anyone, and I don’t need to entertain notions of early labor and any anxiety that may accompany that kind of thinking. I have acknowledged the comment without having to engage with it any further, allowing the conversation to move on to other topics if I choose to direct it that way.

Someone: I think women who go in expecting an unmedicated birth are just setting themselves up for disappointment. 

Me: You may be right.

People really want to know how you are planning to labor and the motivations behind those choices, and it seems that almost everybody, whether they’ve given birth or not, has very strong opinions on the best way to do it. These opinions are worthless and they should not be offered unless you specifically ask for someone’s advice or birth experience. I find it’s better to just acknowledge other people’s opinions on this topic and to not offer your opinion in return.

“You may be right” has become a bubble that sits between me and everyone else, and allows the advice and comments that I’m not interested in hearing to bounce off and away from me. It’s been remarkably helpful in keeping me centered and emotionally well throughout my pregnancy so far.

Next time you find yourself in a situation where you’re inundated with unsolicited opinions, or contradictory advice, try creating a You May Be Right bubble as a way to cut through the noise and focus only on the comments that help you feel stronger and supported in your own decision making.

 

 

 

Gentle Workouts For The First Trimester, And Beyond

As I mentioned previously, during my first trimester I felt consistently worn down, and to the point of total exhaustion on most days. It was important to me to keep up with regular exercise, in part because I find it stabilizes my mood, and sticking to my regular routine felt like a worthwhile goal. The combination of heat and exhaustion kept me from running at all during those first few months, though, and in general I found that if I did anything too vigorous, I felt dizzy and lightheaded. So instead I tried to stick to doing short, gentle workouts most days of the week, and focused mostly on videos that I could do at home, in the comfort of my air conditioned living room, though I did find that easy walks along shady paths with the dog were a nice alternative when I needed to get out of the house.

I did a lot of easy prenatal yoga videos, and mixed in a few gentle strength or cardio workouts that were designed with prenatal modifications in mind. Because I had been working out regularly at a much greater intensity before getting pregnant, these videos were a big step down in terms of energy output. If you are feeling good, and are used to higher intensity workouts and your doctor gives you the okay to exercise, there’s really no reason why you can’t keep working out at or close to the same level as you were before pregnancy as long as it feels okay to do so. But if you didn’t workout regularly before getting pregnant, or you find that you simply cannot keep up with the level of intensity that you preferred before pregnancy, then these videos may be a good starting point, or a helpful way to step back without having to stop working out entirely.

Once I got into my second trimester, I found I had the energy to run again (though MUCH slower than before), and can make it through a higher intensity workout, or a strengthening workout with heavier weights, without feeling lightheaded. No matter how you feel, or what kind of workout you are doing, remember to stay well hydrated, and cut out any moves or positions that cause pain or discomfort (lunges really bother my round ligament, so I don’t do those anymore). If you are used to being really active, it can be hard at first to wrap your head around the idea of slowing down or significantly modifying your workout routine. But when your body is changing as much as it does during pregnancy, in both visible and invisible ways, it’s more important than ever to respect how your body feels on any given day, and give yourself rest and make any adjustments that are needed to keep your pregnant self feeling happy, healthy, and as pain free as possible.

If you’re looking for some gentler workouts to either incorporate into your existing pregnancy fitness routine, or are new to exercise and looking for a way to ease in, I highly recommend the videos below. They kept me going during the first trimester, and I still use a few of them on days when I have less time or energy available for a longer, more intense workout.

 

These first two are around 10 minutes long. I usually did them as a series.

 

 

I continue to do this one on days when my lower back is feeling especially strained.

 

 

I often did this one in the mornings when I was really struggling to get going, but knew I had a long day ahead of me:

 

 

 

I still do this workout at least once a week, but have increased the amount of weight I’m using now that I’m not as tired. Once my belly really starts weighing me down, I’ll likely cut back on the added weight:

 

 

I didn’t find these videos until I was into my second trimester, but they are good if you want something that is a little higher intensity, but still offers some pregnancy modifications. I usually do these as a series and just adjust my intensity/effort depending on how I’m feeling that day:

 

Chickpea Waldorf Salad Recipe

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Last Saturday we visited Larriland Farm to pick apples and pumpkins, and we came away with about 13 lbs of apples. Over the next few weeks, I’ll share a few of the recipes we’ll be using to make our way through our stockpile. First up is this Chickpea Waldorf Salad from The Kitchn.

I love that this used plain yogurt instead of mayonnaise (I used Greek yogurt because that’s all I had), and the addition of red pepper flakes added some good spice to balance out the sweetness of the apples and grapes. I only had green grapes, so I used those in place of red, and I threw in a little more apple than the recipe calls for, because I have a lot of apples that I need to use!

This recipe made a really generous portion. I ate some for lunch and then my husband and I split the rest as a side with dinner. I didn’t serve it over spinach or other greens, just on it’s own. For lunch, I ate it with a little bit of toasted pita bread, and at dinner, we paired it with some rice pilaf and grilled chicken. It’s pretty simple and quick to make and was really tasty.

Enjoy!

First Trimester Insights

I am currently in my 22nd week of my first pregnancy. So far it has been a fairly easy and joyful experience. I certainly don’t have much room for complaint. But now that I am safely and securely in the middle of my second trimester, I thought I would share a few first trimester insights. If you are newly pregnant, or planning to get pregnant, I hope this post will bring you some comfort and a little guidance as you transition to life as a person with another person growing inside of you.

It is important to note that this post is based on my own pregnancy experience and what I write here may not be true for every pregnant woman. Every pregnancy is different, with distinct aches, pains, anxieties and desires. No one can tell you exactly what your pregnancy will be like. It can be a really fun shared experience when you are pregnant alongside your friends, but it is also a wholly unique experience and you shouldn’t waste any emotional energy on comparing yourself to other pregnant women. We are snowflakes, ladies. From a distance we all look like the same round-bellied waddling baby-growers, but viewed up close, we couldn’t be more different for a group of people who are all going through the same physical process.

Congratulations to any and all pregnant readers of this post, and best wishes to anyone out there who is trying to get pregnant.


You may instantly regret your decision or feel completely terrified, and that’s okay.

I did not get pregnant on a whim. I have been married for the better part of a decade and am in my thirties. My husband and I had countless conversations over the course of several years about if and when we wanted to start a family. The timing of when we started trying to conceive was chosen with very specific scheduling concerns in mind. This was very much a planned pregnancy. And yet, when I got that positive test result, I immediately thought, “oh god, what have we done.” I later learned from talking with several friends that this is a fairly common experience. No matter how planned, or desperately desired a pregnancy is, it’s pretty natural to have an oh crap moment.

I think it took me until about week 17 to be fully on board with being pregnant. To go from not pregnant to pregnant feels like such a sudden, momentous shift that you shouldn’t be surprised if you find your head spinning for a while. Even if you were beyond ready to have a baby, it’s hard not to fixate on all the ways your life will change, the big and little things you’ll be missing out on, all the stuff you don’t know and need to prepare for, and all the stuff you don’t know for which there is no preparation and you just have to wait for it, live it, and hope you make the right choices.

Allow yourself some space and time to feel frightened, rattled, or even disappointed. It’s okay to grieve the part of your self and your life that will be lost through pregnancy and childrearing. It’s okay to be scared about what the future brings and whether or not you’ll be able to welcome all those changes with an open heart and mind.

I wanted to be overwhelmed with happiness and excitement at being pregnant, but I found that my emotions were much more mixed. I was excited, but anxious, confused and a little bit sad at moments. I really could have beaten myself up for feeling this way (I am very good at beating myself up for having less than perfect emotional reactions), but I decided early on that because I had never been pregnant before, I couldn’t possibly know what kind of reaction was the “right” reaction for that moment. I needed to let myself feel whatever emotions came up, and just accept that, like the rest of me, those feelings would likely change a lot throughout the course of my pregnancy. Flexibility and a nonjudgemental approach are positive parenting qualities, so you might as well start practicing them now on yourself.

It can be helpful to tell a few trusted friends early on.

How and when you decide to tell people that you are pregnant is a very personal decision. Some people like to get the word out right away, and others choose to wait until the end of the first trimester, or even longer to start spreading the news. You have to do what feels right for you. I had originally planned to tell my sister a couple of days after getting a positive test, but ended up waiting several weeks before letting her know. The moment just didn’t feel right before that. We ending up telling most of our close friends and family sometime between week 7 and 12, but that’s mostly because I found that trying to hide it or keeping it secret felt too stressful, and I just said the hell with it and let people know what was up, especially if we saw them in person.

Week 7 is a pretty early reveal for most people, but I actually told a few people even before that. Because I was feeling such a wide and confusing range of emotions, I found it really comforting to tell a couple of friends who had either recently been pregnant, or were currently pregnant. The first trimester can feel very isolating, and kind of lonely. You probably don’t feel your best, you may be worried that your pregnancy will end before it even has a chance to really get started, and your mind is racing trying to figure out what you’re supposed to do next, what things you should be avoiding, and if you’re making the right decisions. It helped me to have a couple people I could turn to and say, “what did you do about x, y, z; when do I need to decide about the following things; is this a normal feeling or something I should call the doctor about?”

I found it calmed my nerves to have people I could turn to who had recently been in my situation and could advise, celebrate, and commiserate about what I was going through.

Everyone will tell you what you should or shouldn’t do.

Pregnancy is a global experience. I don’t mean that women all over the world get pregnant (though, of course, they do), but that you’ll likely find that everyone you encounter will feel like they have a role to play in your pregnancy (this includes strangers that stand behind you in line at the grocery store). This happens a lot more once you are further along and visibly pregnant, but just know that once you start telling people that you are with child, everyone will have a story to tell you and advice to offer. In a lot of ways this is very sweet, and it’s nice to hear other people’s stories and, you know, some advice is good advice and I’m thankful to hear it. But for the most part, this gets tedious really fast and you need to quickly perfect your polite smile and nod, because you are in for a long 40 weeks of hearing about what other people think you should do while pregnant.

I have noticed this mostly in people telling you what you can and can’t eat, especially as caffeine and alcohol are concerned. I have run out of fingers for counting the number of times someone has said to me (or more often about me, to the group), “well Claire can’t have a drink,” when discussing general evening plans, or what everyone would like to drink to accompany their dinner. My dirty little secret is that I’ve had an occasional drink throughout my pregnancy, pretty much exclusively in the second trimester. For the most part, I’ve only done so around male friends, who either don’t know much about the big bad faux pas of pregnancy behavior, or just don’t care. I read up a lot on the topic, did my due diligence in terms of research, and made the decision that a small glass of wine once or twice a month is something I am comfortable with. Now whenever someone mentions how I’m not allowed to have anything to drink, I just smile and nod and make a mental note not to have my monthly glass of red when I am around them.

You will get so many opinions and so much advice that eventually it all turns into white noise. My recommendation is to pick 2-3 people whose advice you trust and go to them with questions, and just let everyone else become background buzz. There are so many “rules” to pregnancy, and very little consensus on which ones are the most important to follow. It’s impossible to do everything exactly right, because you have to live your life and that means that sometimes you need to pick up a quick meal on the go and are not consuming enough fresh produce for the day. Or you need to lift something a little heavier than is preferred from time to time, or you have a long day, or a restless night of sleep and you need a caffeine boost to make it through. You have to decide for yourself which rules matter most to you and which ones you don’t think are as important, or are simply not realistic for your life. Everyone has an opinion on how you should behave when pregnant, but the only opinion that really matters is your own. Feeling anxious and stressed out about every little choice you make is not any better for your health than avoiding all caffeine, never having a sip of alcohol, or cutting out certain foods entirely because of a small risk of food borne illness.

If you don’t know where to start when making these decisions, talking to your doctor is a good first step, but most docs will give you advice that carries the absolute smallest amount of risk or liability for them (which is to mostly avoid all things that could be considered slightly dangerous during pregnancy, or have never been tested and the risk is therefore unknown). I recommend checking out Emily Oster’s book Expecting Better: Why The Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom Is Wrong–and What You Really Need to Know. I found it to be extremely useful in helping me feel more empowered to make my own decisions and cut out the excess noise of everyone’s advice.

Take it easy on yourself.

I went into my first trimester thinking I was going to continue full steam ahead with my fitness and exercise plan. My hope was that I could use those first few months to get into really great shape for the six months to come when my growing belly would inevitably slow me down. This did not turn out to be the case even a little bit.

I was lucky in that I didn’t feel too sick during my first trimester. I had some mild nausea that I could mostly manage by eating something small every couple of hours (string cheese, kiwis, and dried fruit and nuts worked pretty well for me), or munching on a piece of candied ginger whenever I started to feel especially queasy. I did suffer from pretty extreme fatigue, though. I blame this in part on being newly pregnant in ridiculous hot and humid weather, so that pregnancy fatigued combined with miserable Baltimore summer fatigue. Either way, I was ready to drop into a deep sleep within about two hours of waking up each morning, and by the end of the day, it took every ounce of will and resilience to keep myself standing upright, which was not so great given that my job is physical and requires a lot of time on my feet.

My dreams for a supercharged first trimester were dashed pretty quickly. I did find that sticking with some amount of exercise kept me slightly more energized and helped me fight my nausea a bit, but I only managed about 20-30 minutes each day and none of it was especially rigorous. (In a future post I will share some of the online videos that I found useful for first trimester workouts on the days when I was feeling my worst.)

Most women experience some degree of illness and/or fatigue during the first trimester. It’s okay to take it easy and give yourself some extra rest and respite. Whether that means cutting back on the intensity of workouts, trying to reduce your work hours, making space to accommodate a midday nap, or going to bed much earlier than you ever have before, you need to do what feels right for your body in those first few months. It takes a lot to grow a baby and a placenta. Your body is working overtime, and dealing with significant changes in blood volume and oxygen needs. You may find that you get dizzy or feel out of breath more easily. Be gentle with yourself. While some women continue to struggle into their second trimester, I found that my energy returned by week 13 and I felt much more capable of doing longer and higher intensity workouts, and could make it through my standard workday without worrying that I’d fall asleep in the middle of massaging someone.

My one recommendation would be that if you have access to a swimming pool during your pregnancy, use it. I swam laps a couple of times a week during the first trimester and I definitely felt my best when I was in the water.

It’s important to celebrate.

I’m not super into baby clothes or the little stuff that most people find so adorable about tiny humans (should I be having a baby?), so I didn’t feel the need to run out and buy up a bunch of cute onesies during my first trimester. But if you do feel that need, go for it. Fill your house with baby books, or go out and purchase some nice maternity clothes even if you don’t need them yet. Do something that makes you feel like you are recognizing and celebrating this momentous occasion in your life. Other people might not know that you are pregnant yet, but you do and you have right to celebrate and make a big deal out of it. My husband and I went out for dinner to celebrate very early after finding out, and it was really nice to be out at one of our favorite restaurants that we had been to countless times, but to feel like this time it was different. Pregnancy can feel scary and overwhelming, but it can also be really great and it deserves to be celebrated in whatever way feels right for you.

Five Simple Pleasures

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I spent the better part of the past week on vacation, enjoying some beautiful hikes and wonderful fall weather in the Finger Lakes with my husband and our dog. It was an easy-going, restful trip that didn’t require that we be anywhere at any specific time. We got up each morning when we wanted to, and leisurely went out about our days.

Whenever a vacation ends, though I am always happy to be back home in my own bed, with my cat who becomes temporarily, adorably lovey after several days of loneliness, I find that I feel a little down for a day a two. There’s something about getting back into the flow of my regular daily life that takes a bit of extra adjustment. My mood will usually drop a bit, and I feel extra tired and lazy. The daily grind feels extra grinding whenever I return from a few days of unscheduled, uninterrupted free time.

When this happens, I try to remind myself of a few things that are really specific and special to my daily life, small pleasures that only occur when I am back at home and going about my regular routine. Here are five simple pleasures that are helping me break through my post-vacation blues this week.

  • There’s a group of cats that live in a house along my walking route between my home and my office. They are always hanging out on the sidewalk when I walk by, and I love how consistent and predictable their behavior is. There’s a large orange tabby with no tail who plops himself down right in the middle of the sidewalk and stares straight at me as I approach, letting me know that he has no intention of moving. There’s an orange and white striped tabby who is very friendly and he’ll approach me and roll onto his back, tempting me to pet his belly. There’s a calico who sits on the edge of the sidewalk and always waits to the very last second to turn and suddenly sprint away. It’s like she’s challenging herself to be brave, but then loses her nerve and has to run for cover. After more than a year of walking past these cats on a nearly daily basis, I feel like I know them and I’m always happy to see them out there on the sidewalk like a bunch of furry, friendly neighbors.
  • My husband wakes up much earlier than I do and will often walk the dog in the morning, or at least let him out into the yard. And yet, every morning when I wake up, the dog is back on my bedroom floor, sleeping at the foot of my bed and waiting for me to start my day. I love that he always comes back upstairs to get me each morning so that we can always begin the day together.
  • The weather is starting to change and it’s getting dark much earlier now. While I don’t love the early nightfall, I find that I really enjoy how much the day changes from the time when I first enter my studio, to when I leave after my final session. After a summer where the nights stayed much too warm for comfort and the air remained heavy and sticky for 24 hours straight, I love stepping back outside at the end of the day and there’s a chill in the air and I can already see stars in the sky. It helps to cap off my day and shift me quickly out of a work mindset.
  • Trying out new restaurants while on vacation is always fun, but I much prefer cooking at home, and fall is my favorite season to cook. I am looking forward to making lots of soup, and other warm, hearty meals that are delicious and don’t require that I put on actual pants and leave the house to enjoy them.
  • While watching the colors change in upstate New York was beautiful, and I’m certainly looking forward to more fall colors popping up here in the weeks to come, my flower garden is still going strong and I know there’s a limited time remaining before it gets cold enough at night that all the blooms will wilt. I need to soak up every last second of my glorious dahlias before the time comes for me to begin prepping the garden for winter.