V Goes to College (Again)

This week is a big one for me, as I re-join the academic world as a full-time undergraduate student yet again. I’m no stranger to the full-time student/full-time employment combo, so it’s not new territory for me. I do remember how much work it is, but I’m ready for this new journey. Finishing my degree is something I’ve always wanted for myself, so here I go!

I dropped out of community college after only one full semester, and ultimately earned my Associate’s degree online while working full-time. It ended up being a good thing for me, because I was able to use my company’s tuition assistance program and graduated debt-free in 2010. Since then, I’ve stopped and started a few times as I worked toward my Bachelor’s degree. I tried University of Phoenix, but didn’t like the group-work format (why on earth an online school requires so much group collaboration is beyond me). After taking some time off I enrolled at Washington State University, only to find that it’s really difficult to be an online-only student at a school that is really designed for full-time students who can attend classes. At most, I was able to manage two classes at a time, and ultimately it just felt like I’d never graduate and I tabled the whole idea.

The idea of finishing my degree never really left my mind. Last year, after being with my current company for a year, I became eligible for their tuition assistance program. It would have probably been a good idea to jump back into school right away, but I was busy planning a wedding and taking classes was NOT in my plans. Now that the wedding is over, I feel like I can handle balancing work and school, and I’m ready to try yet again to finish college.

Since my real goal is to just be DONE already, I decided to enroll at Western Governor’s University. The courses are online, the classes are individual and completing them is based on a competency assessment, and there are no traditional class schedules. I can take as many courses as I’m able to per semester, and each semester’s tuition rate is flat – meaning that the more classes I complete, the less I pay (or my company pays) for school in the long run.

The enrollment process at WGU wasn’t a walk in the park, I admit. When I decided to move forward, I applied online and was accepted, but never heard anything further. I did some research online about next steps, and proactively ordered transcripts from my previous schools to be sent to WGU. I could see online that they’d been received, so when I still hadn’t been contacted I reached out and spoke with an enrollment counselor. Although he was very nice, he wasn’t a lot of help in the subsequent enrollment process; I did a lot of researching online until I figured out what I needed to do.

Financial aid is no picnic, either. In the past, I’ve always had company tuition assistance programs that issued Letters of Credit to the university I was attending, so I never had to pay. This time, the program is tuition reimbursement, so I have to pay upfront and then seek reimbursement after the semester ends and I pass my classes. Not wanting to drain my savings to pay upfront, I decided to apply for student loans, knowing that they will come due six months after I graduate and that I can simply use my tuition reimbursement money to pay them off. While this sounds simple enough, you can’t just apply for loans – you have to apply for financial aid first. I knew this was going to be a waste of time; my husband and I make far too much money for me to qualify for assistance. Still, the rules are the rules, so I filled out my required FAFSA and got my reply that I qualified for $0 assistance, then was finally able to move on and apply for my loans.

Once I got through all the admissions requirements, things got a lot easier. Yay! I was paired up with my Student Mentor, a former student who has successfully completed the program herself and who will check in with me weekly throughout this process. She got me set up with my orientation, and helped me with a road map for what my degree program is going to look like. She gave me a bit of an overview of what I could expect in the next year and a half (hopefully I can be done by then!). I completed the online orientation, and I’m all set to start my first class. Whew!

I really want to finish this time. Wish me luck!

 

My Tips for Great Hair

Ever since chopping off my long locks three years ago, I have become very particular about my hair care. Now that I’m currently in yet another phase of trying to grow out my pixie cut (I’ve made it to bob length twice, only to chop it again after seeing one too many perfect pixie cuts on Pinterest), I’m especially careful to be kind to my hair as I coax it to grow.

Whether you have the shortest of pixies or waist-length strands, there are things you can do to keep your hair looking great….and bad habits that can harm it. Here is my comprehensive list of tips to keep your hair looking amazing.

Do bring photos with you when you get your hair done. Anyone remember that episode of Friends when Monica asks for Demi Moore’s haircut, but Phoebe gives her Dudley Moore’s instead? Don’t let yourself fall victim to a mistake like that; bring photos of the haircut and color you want. Even better, bring photos of both styles you love AND hate…it’ll give your stylist a better idea of what will make you happy (and help them avoid what will make you cry).

Do invest in good styling tools and products. It blows my mind when someone spends upwards of $150 on getting their hair cut and colored, only to stop at the dollar store on the way home to buy shampoo. Even though high-end products are more expensive, the good news is that they’re also more concentrated, so you don’t need to use a ton of product every time you style your hair. I recently made the change from traditional shampoo and conditioner to New Wash by Hairstory. It doesn’t contain detergents and is much gentler on my hair, eliminating my need for conditioners, masks, and detanglers.  When my hair is wet, I protect it from heat styling with TGI Bed Head After Party, and I like to finish my style with Ion Styling Solutions Texture Spray Wax to give it a bit of a piece-y look.

Along with using quality product, I upgraded my heat styling tools so that they are easier on my hair when I do need to blow dry/flatiron it. I recently scored the Bio Ionic GoldPro Speed Dryer for 50% off at Ulta, and I like to style my bangs with my LumaBella Dual Touch straightener (I also use this great tool when I curl my pixie cut!).

Don’t lie to your stylist. When your stylist asks you questions about your hair care routine, ESPECIALLY when you’re getting your hair colored, be honest. It’s okay if you’ve only used box dyes up until now; a good stylist isn’t asking you these questions to judge you, they’re asking because different dyes and chemicals will react differently, and they don’t want to inadvertently turn your black hair green. Being upfront about your hair’s history will help you get the look you want, without having to endure any unpleasant hiccups along the way.

Don’t cheat on your stylist. Once you’ve found a stylist you love, who makes your hair dreams come true, don’t ditch them just because of scheduling issues. A good indication that your stylist rocks is that his or her calendar books up quickly. It’s always a good idea to schedule your next appointment as you’re leaving the salon to ensure that you can get in when you need to. Schedule changes definitely happen – I recently had to move a cut/color appointment so that I could attend a family gathering – but be prepared to wait a few weeks with some root grow-out if you do reschedule. Trust me, it’s always worth the wait. Going to a different salon just because your regular stylist can’t see you, like, yesterday, is probably going to end up with you getting a cut you’re not in love with. I would much rather veer into sheepdog territory for a week or two than have my hair butchered.

Do get regular trims. Even though I’m trying to grow my hair out currently, I still get my hair trimmed regularly. Your hair will look much healthier and will hold its shape much better if you go for regular cuts.

 

Back in the Saddle (See What I Did There?)

After a six-month bad-weather induced hiatus, my husband and I dusted off our bikes last Saturday for our first ride of 2017. It felt so good to be biking again. I knew I had missed it, but I didn’t realize just how much until I was back on my bike with the warm breeze in my face.

For our ride, we chose to start in Kenmore at Log Boom Park, and take the Burke-Gilman trail down to Seattle’s University district. We stopped at Agua Verde Cafe for a nice lunch and enjoyed both our burritos and the view of Lake Union. Once we were full of delicious Mexican food, we rode back to the trail and continued on to Ballard, where we treated ourselves to a refreshing beer on the patio at Stoup Brewing. It felt so nice to sit in the warm sun after enduring months of chilly weather!

It was mid-afternoon by then, so after our visit to Stoup we decided it was probably time to head back to the car. We did take one detour along the way, cruising down to Magnuson Park. We had hoped to visit the infamous ‘A Sound Garden’ sculpture. Soundgarden named their band after the sculpture, so we were curious to visit it after Chris Cornell passed away last week. Unfortunately, we found out that there is no weekend access to the sculpture, but we were able to see it from a distance and it was decorated with balloons, flowers, and other items left by fans.

We left the park to bike the last seven miles to our car, and by then I was beyond tired. My legs were totally fatigued and it took some stern conversations with myself in my head to keep me going. I was a little surprised at how much weaker my legs were; I know I haven’t been biking regularly, but I felt like I was in pretty good shape from the Beachbody workouts I’ve been doing in the mornings! Apparently those exercises aren’t helping the leg muscles I need for biking.

After what felt like an eternity, we got back to the park where we’d left the car. In total, our ride on Saturday was 32.8 miles – not bad for a first time out after a long stretch of not riding, but about half of what I’d like to be able to do by the end of summer. Now that the weather’s nicer, I want to spend my weekends on my bike!

Before We Disappear

This morning, my husband broke the news to me that Chris Cornell has died. That in itself was upsetting, because Soundgarden was one of those bands I would blast so loud that my ears would ring later when I was a teenager. When I moved to Seattle, I was excited to be living in a place that had produced such epic bands as Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, and Nirvana. The music Chris has made over my lifetime has inspired me, it’s spoken to me deeply, it attached itself to memories of moments in my life. But then I found out that Chris Cornell apparently took his own life, and that makes me even sadder still.

Sometimes I think that this world is too cold and unfriendly for sensitive, creative people. I know there are times where it feels like far too much for me; when I feel like I don’t want the things I’m supposed to want, that I’ve strayed from a clearly marked path off into the seeming chaos of the surrounding forest. Most of the time, I’m okay with that. But there’s another side to it: being this way means that I feel things deeply, and sometimes that’s very overwhelming. Like this morning, when I held back tears because I saw two raccoons along the side of the road that had been hit by cars. I had looked away as quickly as possible so as not to see the details of what had happened to them, but the fact that they had been violently killed made me so sad. It always does. So I can understand how others would feel this way. Would feel like going on for even one more day is an impossible task. I understand.

Five months ago, a dear friend of mine took his own life. This weekend I will be attending a celebration of his life, a life so incredibly worthy of celebrating. We will be remembering yet another creative, beautiful soul who for whatever reason felt that this world was just too much, or that he was not enough, or both. I will never know his motivation, I only know that I will never stop wishing that he could still be here. My feelings and emotions as I remember him mix and intertwine with how I feel about the loss of Chris Cornell. It seems wholly unfair that the people who make this world so much better and brighter are the ones who feel driven to leave it.

This life may be crazy and at times it’s damn hard, but it’s all we’ve got. Both Chris Cornell and my friend made my life so much better for touching it, and when it’s my turn to leave the world I hope I can do so knowing it’s better than it was before I got here.

 

An Open Letter to the People Who Ask Me When We’re Having Kids

An Open Letter to the People Who Ask Me When We’re Having Kids:

Since my wedding last month, you have taken to asking me when my new husband and I plan on adding a baby to our family. You probably don’t notice that this question makes me a little uneasy.

We see each other often – by the coffee maker in the mornings, in meetings, in passing in the hallway. Let’s be honest, we probably see each other more during the week than we see our own families. And so I know you aren’t trying to pry when you ask me about my plans to expand my family. I realize you have good intentions. Believe me, you aren’t the only one asking. I think a personal record is being asked by three separate people during one workday.

To answer your question, children are not in the cards for us. You may want to interject here, to ask me my reasons and to try and overcome them. I do have my reasons, but they are my own, and there’s really no productive reason to go into them here.

The thing is, I wish with every fiber of my being that you would not ask childless women this question, and am requesting that you consider refraining from this line of questioning in the future. I’m not asking this for myself necessarily, but for the women who desperately want children but cannot have them. When you ask me when I’m having kids, it makes me feel uncomfortable. But when you ask a woman who is struggling with infertility when she’s having kids, you’re reminding her of a heartbreaking challenge in her life that hurts her deeply. When you ask her this question, you only see the plastered-on smile. What you don’t see is that she goes to the bathroom and locks herself in a stall. You don’t hear her sobs, because she’s mastered the art of crying silently to herself. You don’t see how much your seemingly innocent question is tearing her apart.

I cannot even begin to describe you some of the crazy situations I’ve been in when someone decided to demand of me when I’m “going to get knocked up” (and yes, it’s been phrased this way…crazy, right?). I’ve been asked in the middle of a staff meeting, by strangers at a bar, by people I met in the pool on my honeymoon. Quite frankly, it’s embarrassing to be asked such a personal question in such a public environment. Please keep this in mind, and do not put women on the spot like this. It makes us feel SO awkward.

I hope you can appreciate that family planning is a personal matter. I can assure you that if a woman does want to discuss it, she will initiate the conversation and tell you all about it! But for a lot of us, we would prefer to have our teeth drilled without Novocain than to be faced with that question, so please respect our privacy and do not ask us. Instead, ask me how my kitties are doing – that’s a question I’m always happy to answer!

 

Pixie Cut FAQ

If you follow me on Instagram, you already know that I cut my hair from a chin-length bob to a short pixie cut at the beginning of the year. With my wedding coming up, I wanted to have cute, fun hair, and I truly love rocking a pixie.

I’ve been alternating between pixie and bob cuts for the last few years, and I think it’s safe to say that long hair is NOT for me and I will not be sporting Rapunzel-esque locks anytime soon. Short hair is so stylish and flattering, and I love having a hairstyle I can play around and have fun with! Since my hair grows out quickly (I generally have to get trims every 4-6 weeks), I never feel limited from trying a new cut or color. If I don’t like it, my hair will grow out!

Since I’ve gotten a ton of questions about my hair since getting it cut, I thought it would be fun to write a FAQ post to answer them all in one spot. Please feel free to comment and add more questions, I’ll answer them in a future post!

-What’s your favorite part of having short hair?
Wearing my hair short makes me feel stylish and beautiful! It’s definitely a confidence-booster.

-Who cuts your hair?
Andrea at Ombu Salon in Edmonds. She is the BEST and I adore her!

-How often do you get your hair cut?
Generally, every 4-6 weeks I’ll need a trim. My look can literally go from stylish to furry practically overnight!

-How often do you wash your hair?
Every 2-3 days, depending on my workout schedule (I always have to wash it on cardio days, because I get crazy sweaty!)

-What are your favorite styling products?
I absolutely adore Ion Dry Texture Spray Wax, Oribe Superfine Hair Spray,  and Bed Head After Party (this protects my hair from heat styling)

-How do you style your hair?
It’s ever-evolving; currently, after washing my hair I run a very small amount of Bed Head After Party cream through my ends and spray the longer pieces of my hair with texturizing wax spray. I comb my hair forward while blow drying, since that’s the way I want the style to go. My bangs tend to get a little bit of a wave in them, so I’ll smooth them with a flatiron. Then I hairspray and go! On non-wash days, I freshen up my roots with a bit of dry shampoo and smooth any strange kinks or waves with my flatiron.

-Is your hair thick or fine?
It’s pretty fine

-How do you describe your cut to your stylist?
I don’t rely on descriptions, I take her LOTS of pictures so I know we’re on the same page! My current cut is Jennifer Lawrence inspired.

This is the photo I showed my stylist of the cut I wanted

-Do you get bored with styling your hair the same way every day?
No way! It’s such a myth that short hair isn’t fun or versatile. I can style my hair lots of different ways and use fun hair accessories. Last weekend I had an appointment to practice my wedding-day hairstyle, and it was as gorgeous as any style we could have created with longer hair!

A few leftover curls after my bridal hair practice appointment

-Are there any downsides to a pixie cut?
Bad hair days are one…there are days when my hair is just not in the mood to do anything I want it to, and I definitely can’t just throw it in a ponytail! On those days, I usually end up pinning back my bangs with cute clips or just wearing a hat.

People’s comments can be a downside, too, although I really don’t care what other people think of my looks. The response I got after cutting my hair was overwhelmingly positive, but one coworker did make me cringe. She saw me in the hallway at the office and said, “You cut your hair!…Oh well, you can wear extensions for your wedding.” It makes me crazy that women still identify long hair with looking pretty! I would much rather rock my cute short cut on my wedding day than wear a head full of fake hair!

-What would you say to someone who is thinking about getting a pixie cut? 
Do it! Short hair really does look good on anyone; just find a stylist who is comfortable with the style you like and who will spend time with you discussing what you like and what you don’t, so they can give you a cut that looks great on you. Remember, hair does grow back, so take the plunge and give it a try!

Health and Fitness 2017

It’s January, and we all know what that means….the gym parking lot is beyond packed, our Instagram feeds are full of healthy living quotes and sweaty post-workout selfies, and the blogs we read are full of New Year’s Resolutions and promises to make 2017 the best year ever.

I dearly love a fresh start and have been known to start off a new year with an assortment of well-meaning resolutions for myself. This year is a little different, though: I don’t have a gym membership anymore, and my only diet-related resolution  is that I’ll never go on another diet for the rest of my life. But I do want to get back into a regular fitness routine, as I miss feeling strong and in shape. It’s not about weight loss for me anymore, it’s about keeping myself as healthy as possible so I can do as much as possible.

Unsure where to start, I checked the group fitness class schedules at gyms near my office and my house, but nothing really lined up with my work hours. If a workout isn’t convenient for me, I know I won’t stay committed to it. I’ve tried working out at home in the evenings before, but was never consistent….many times I’d have a long day, or would have plans in the evening, and it was easy to justify skipping my workout. Ultimately, I decided to push back my start time at work by half an hour, so that I could wake up at the same time I normally do, but get my exercise in before I started my workday. There are no excuses not to get up and work out. I never have plans at 5am. And so, I committed to myself that I would work out first thing in the morning, five days a week.

The next question I had to answer for myself was, what workouts will I follow? Bill and I have the Core Secrets videos led by Gunnar Peterson, and we have Hour of Power. Those would be a good start, but I know that doing the same workouts over and over again will not only leave me feeling bored, but will challenge my body less over time. So when my friend Alisha posted on her Instragram account that Beachbody was now offering unlimited on-demand access for only $99 for a year,  I decided that the price was too good to pass up and jumped at the opportunity.

For my first series of workouts, I decided to try 21-Day Fix. It fit with the time I had in the mornings – each workout is 30 minutes, and the idea is to rotate through the different videos for a full 21 days. Remember when I had initially committed to myself to work out five days a week? I decided that, at least for these 21 days, that I was going to work out every single day.

So, you’re probably wondering how it’s been going so far. I’m on day 10 of 21, and I haven’t missed a workout! These workouts are HARD; they definitely make the most of my 30 minutes! My biggest motivator so far has been that Bill decided to work out with me, even though he hates waking up early!

I admit, I’m actually starting to enjoy this morning ritual, and it sets me up to feel more energetic and committed to making healthy food choices all day long. By the time I jump in the shower at 5:45am, I’ve already accomplished something for myself, which is a great way to start the day!

It’s Election Day and We’re All Right

Well, it’s finally here, kids…election day.

If you’re like me, the days leading up to this one were filled with anxiety. This is the fourth time I’ve voted in a presidential election – I’ve voted every single time I’ve been old enough to – and it’s the first time that I felt more dread than hope for the outcome. It’s a stark contrast to the pride and excitement I felt voting during the previous two elections.

Today is an absolutely gorgeous day in the Northwest. It’s sunny and over 70 degrees out, the kind of late fall day that is more rare around here than a unicorn. November in Seattle is typically gray, drizzly, and a little depressing. I basked in the beautiful weather today. I took walks with friends to soak up the sunshine. I listened to this song because I knew it would make my Northwest-loving soul happy. Truly, today is the kind of day that is far too nice for anything unpleasant to happen.

And so, I choose to believe that although it is election day, it is also far too nice a day for bad things to happen. I am choosing to believe that when the rain returns tomorrow, so will the calm contentment that I always feel when the drizzle returns to us after the sunshine, and that the anxiety I’ve felt this year will be gone for good. While 2016 has been a good year, it’s been filled with some very difficult things too, and I am so ready to move on to the lovely fresh start of 2017 (you know how I love a new beginning!). I am hopeful that the end of this election season will bring about relief from the anxiety we’ve all been feeling over it.  Because I know I’m not the only one who is just ready to take whatever happens and move forward.

Good Choices on a Tough Day

I don’t say things like this too often on my blog, but yesterday was rough. I’m usually pretty good at shaking off a difficult day at the office, but after I left work last night it took phone calls to both Bill and my mom and an hour of Zumba to get me out of the negative head-space I left in. When I went to bed, I still felt very anxious about the day’s events, and even this morning I had a hard time motivating myself to get ready and come into work (it doesn’t help that it’s the time of year when it’s still dark outside as I’m driving into the office, making me feel like the day really hasn’t begun yet and I ought to be snuggled warm and cozy in my bed).

mondays

Luckily, once I actually got to work the day has been a huge improvement over my bad Monday. I came in early so that I could get a jump start on the day’s work and have been pretty productive. Last night I made plans to go to a hot yoga class with a friend after work, which I think will be a huge help with any lingering anxiety. And I’m beyond proud of myself for getting through a hard day without turning to junk food. Instead, I talked about my feelings, exercised, and made plans with a friend to follow up with more self-care. I know that it was just one day, but I feel good about the choices I made. Hopefully I won’t have any more super-stressful days for awhile, but if I do, I feel more confident that I will be able to handle them in healthy ways.

Slow and Steady

Like a lot of people, I had Monday off from work. Isn’t it funny how short weeks can somehow feel like the longest weeks ever? Maybe it’s just because we’re cramming five days worth of work into four days, but for whatever the reason I always feel like these four-day weeks have a tendency to just drag on.

Although this week feels like it will never end, I’m still amazed at how quickly the year is flying by. Kids are going back to school this week, and Halloween decorations are already out in the stores. While I adore the holiday season, I am not ready yet! I need more time!

I realized as I thought about how quickly the year has gone that it’s been awhile since I wrote anything about weight loss or my renewed desire to be healthier. Truthfully, there’s not a lot to report: I only lasted about a week and a half on the meal plan that my friend so enthusiastically designed for me last May. Even though she did her best to make it something fairly simple and easy to follow, it didn’t take long at all for me to feel restricted. When I cheated and had a hot dog at a baseball game, she scolded me for my weakness, and I felt like a total failure. I rather passionately declared that I quit, and swore to myself that I was not going on ANY meal plan again.

Over the summer, I pretty much entered into a screw-it mentality when it came to food and just ate whatever I wanted. Naturally, this approach had the opposite of my desired effect, and I gained a few more pounds. To be honest, I was just so sick of worrying about food and weight that I really didn’t care…that is, until my clothes started getting tight and brought my free-for-all eating to a screeching halt.

A friend of mine recently started marketing the M3 Body System from Modere, encouraging friends to take the M3 Pledge. What that means, is that you take a 90-day pledge to use the three products every day, and pick three lifestyle changes to commit to. It seemed fairly simple to me, so I agreed to give it a go. I chose to commit to avoiding fried foods, walking 7500 steps per day, and drinking 60oz of water per day. The steps and water I was already doing rather habitually anyway (I am one of those people who genuinely loves plain old water, especially when it’s cold!).

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Pause for a picture of my face

On Modere’s website and on the Facebook group my friend added me to, there are raving testimonials that THIS is the program that was clicking with people. For me….eh.  I completed my first month on the M3 last week and was down four pounds, which I was happy about for sure, but the results were nowhere near what I expected. In August I returned to my beloved Zumba class on Monday nights, and I started keeping a food diary again, so those things may have had more to do with the weight I did lose than the M3 products did. In all fairness, there were days when I didn’t get in my 7500 steps, and I haven’t been very faithful about taking the Sync before dinner because I have a hard time squeezing it in between my evening workout and my dinner. I did try taking it after dinner, as some recommended, but I consistently noticed that I would weigh more in the mornings when I did that. I have enough product to finish out September, and I may order the Flourish and Slim products by themselves going forward, but will not be purchasing the whole system again since the Sync is mostly going to waste.

Even though a four-pound weight loss seems minimal at best, it actually made a big difference in how I feel and how my clothes fit (I did break down and buy a couple of pairs of jeans on Poshmark in a size up from what I had been wearing previously). Truthfully, all that matters to me is looking and feeling good in my clothes, no matter the size on the tag.

Right now, I’m happy with my Monday night Zumba classes, and Bill and I are trying to get in as many weekend bike rides as we can before the weather gets really rainy. I love long rides, and would like to go over 50 miles before I put my bike away for the winter (so far, my longest ride has been 45 miles). I do feel better when I exercise regularly and so I’m trying to get a decent workout four times a week. My eating habits are far from perfect, but I’m finding that keeping a food diary is helping me to be much more mindful of what I’ve eaten all day.

So, small progress. I’m trying to be content with the slow but consistent weight loss I’ve been achieving since the beginning of August, reminding myself that I cannot undo three years of bad habits and lose three years worth of weight gain overnight. I am trying to remain motivated while staying kind to myself. For September, I am going to try to keep to a consistent workout schedule and keep tracking my food, which seems to work really well for me.

So, that’s where I’m at…I’ll try to remember and post another update in October. Everything in moderation, including weight-focused blog posts, amiright?