Cleaning House (Literally & Figuratively)

Happy February. AHHH IT’S FEBRUARY. How is it February?! Okay, so, yeah, the fact that the first month of the year has absolutely FLOWN by is kind of throwing me for a loop. But! I’m actually feeling really good going into this new month — my spirits are high, I’m feeling optimistic, uplifted, and enthusiastic about tackling the next 28 (well, 27 now) days with purpose and passion.

Why am I in such high spirits, you ask? Well, a multitude of reasons, really! The obvious answer is that Penny is just such a joy right now! I mean, not that she isn’t always, duh, but just in particular right now. She’s so engaged and animated, she “talks” all the time, and is so responsive to your interactions with her… 5 months is just such a fun age!

 
We’ve also made some forward strides in our childcare search: we’ve actually found a daycare that I’m really excited about! I was previously leaning more towards a nanny/nannyshare, and I have met with a couple of people that I really liked, but ultimately we decided that enrolling Penny in daycare part-time is a better fit for my work needs, and for our budget.

 
A spot for Penny won’t be available until this summer (not that this was surprising to us — daycares in Northern VA are very competitive. I inquired into one that doesn’t have an opening until January 2019!), so we are still looking at bringing in a part-time nanny to help bridge the gap until then, particularly because my parents will be doing a ton of traveling this spring. I made sure to be upfront about these plans to our top two nanny candidates, and they both said they’d be willing to take the position on a temporary basis. So hopefully we’ll be moving forward with that soon too. Stay tuned!

 
Another big reason I’m feeling so upbeat is because I’ve been doing a lot of physical and mental decluttering lately. In a revelation that likely surprises no one, I own a lot of crap. I mean, you point me in the direction of basically anything with sequins, faux-fur, polka dots, Harry Potter, schnauzers, foxes, or unicorns, and I will want to purchase it. So, as you can imagine, our house was already on the cluttered side before Penny came into the picture… along with the myriad of baby-related paraphernalia that tends to come with procreating, lol. We just have so much stuff, you know?

Enter the KonMari Method. I plan on going into this in more detail later in a separate post (when I’m closer to being done, lol), but the essence of this project is very simple: your belongings and surroundings should spark joy in you. So I’m trying to get rid of all (or at least, most of) the unnecessary things we’ve (okay, okay, I’ve) accrued over the years, and breathe joy, calm, and purpose back into our home.

Hahaha, I feel so pretentious typing that last part of the previous sentence, but the thing is… it really is working! Things are very much still a work-in-progress (I swear, I’m being ruthless in getting rid of stuff, but we still have so much crap!), but I really do feel happy walking through our kitchen and actually seeing clear counterspace. And filling bag after bag with things to toss or items to donate/sell feels very cleansing. (I do wish I’d taken more “before” photos tho.)

 
And so along with the physical act of organizing our home and simplifying my life, I’m being proactive with regard to getting my mental and emotional clutter cleared out as well. I won’t lie to you guys, I hit a pretty rough spot emotionally a few weeks ago. I was feeling extremely overwhelmed about finding time for work, motherhood, my marriage, my pups, my family, my friends, my health, and myself. The lack of control I was feeling quickly had me spiraling out, making me feel like I was never going to be able to achieve the kind of balance I wanted in my life. It was leading to blowups between my husband and me, tension in my other relationships, and a general sense of unhappiness and discontentment.

Something needed to change. And in a total surprise twist that absolutely nobody saw coming </sarcasm>, turns out that thing was me!

Now, I’ve never really been the kind of person who’s super into, like, the power of positivity and having mantras and putting good vibes into the universe and all that kind of stuff. I mean, if I’m honest, I used to think that sort of thing was just a whole lot of hooey. But. I can’t lie. This ish works.

 
It sounds so cheesy, but I’ve been adopting a mentality of daily gratitude, focusing on personal affirmations, and being proactive about creating — and knocking out — daily to-do lists and it’s done WONDERS for me. I feel like I’ve been able to maintain such a positive attitude these days, even as I take on new work projects like large-scale events and promotions, as well as personal projects like KonMari-ing the house. And a huge part of what has helped me achieve this attitude is my Panda Planner.

The Panda Planner is a planner, gratitude journal, goal-setter, and habit-encourager all in one. It’s got monthly, weekly, and daily sections, the last of which being where it really shines, IMO. There’s space to reflect on what you’re grateful for and excited about each day, what your daily projects are, list out your schedule and tasks, and a space to reflect on how your day went (and how you can improve the next one) at the bottom.

I know it probably sounds silly, but this one little notebook is has been instrumental in helping me reshape my priorities, focus on the positive, and stay on top of my responsibilities — both work- and Penny-related. I’m only a couple of weeks into using it, but it’s given me the tools to maintain such a great outlook that I actually look forward to filling it out each morning, referencing it throughout the day, and having my little period of reflection each night. And I swear, this isn’t a post sponsored by Panda Planner or anything, I just genuinely love it and feel like it’s helping me cultivate so much happiness and contentment in my life.

The hardest parts for me to get on board with initially were the spaces for a daily focus and affirmation, because it just made the whole thing seem a little too hokey for me. But truth be told, filling out those squares each day has actually been one of the most effective things in helping me figure out my new normal without getting overwhelmed.

For example, I’m a people pleaser and have a really hard time saying no to people — both in terms of my job and in my personal life. So my schedule always ends up packed really tightly, and I get stressed out thinking about all the places I need to go or the people I need to see in a day. And so some of the ideas I’ve been trying to remind myself of lately include:

It’s okay to say no.

You don’t have to (and can’t) please everyone.

Everything is temporary.

One step at a time.

Now is not forever.

And, like I said, it really is working! Whether or not these count as actual “affirmations” or if they’re just really good things to remind myself of, I like that the planner reminds me to go back to it every time I open it up. And as for my daily focus, they’ve thus far been things like gratitude, perspective, professionalism, appreciation, productivity, and serenity.

  
Anyway, I know this might sound silly to some of you (it did to me!), but I just feel like I can’t even properly express how light and uplifted I’ve been feeling lately. Even with a long list of to-dos on my task list everyday, I feel so much better equipped to deal with things these days. And I feel like it’ll just keep getting better and better, as I continue to simplify and declutter my life.

Of course, that being said, Penny could have a bad night where I get like three hours of sleep, and then I could get overwhelmed trying to KonMari the monstrosities that are my desk and bookshelves, and some new crisis might surface at work, and everything could totally fall apart. Who knows? One day at a time, right? 🙂

The Great Part-Time Child Care Search

Happy Friday!

This weather has been playing hot and cold with us here in Northern VA lately — literally! Temps in the high-sixties one day, the low-thirties the next… it’s crazy! January in the DMV has always been really unpredictable though. Sean’s and my wedding anniversary was a few days ago, and it was 66 degrees! For contrast, this was our actual wedding two years ago…

At least the nicer days have given me the chance to get out of the house with Penny, you know, give her some mental stimulation, show her the sights…

Lulz. It seriously never fails: put her in her carseat or stroller and she’s out like a light, and can sleep for hours! Try to get her to nap at home, of course, and she is apparently incapable of sleeping longer than 40 minutes at a time. Go figure.

Speaking of Penny’s sleep, we have, alas, backslid a bit after her incredible week of sleeping through the night, as she has been waking up multiple times at night again, wanting to nurse at night again, etc. It’s not really that terrible, I’m just evidently terrible at dealing with it since we were teased with those five wonderful, wonderful nights, lol.

I think this is just Penny’s way of making sure I don’t take anything for granted when it comes to her. I’ve been finding that with the uncertainly and lack of schedule that comes with a new baby, you really end up glomming onto any glimmer of regularity you can identify. Penny does something two days in a row? It’s a pattern! So imagine how attached I got to the fact that she actually did sleep 11 – 12 hours five nights in a row. That sixth night was… well, yeah.

Anywayyyyy, outside of the continued unpredictability that the nights tend to bring, we are also still trying to get into a good routine when it comes to our days. Things have been going pretty smoothly on Penny’s “Grandparents Days,” when she’s with either my parents or my mother-in-law for most of the day. I’m really grateful to have both Sean’s and my parents close by so they can spend regular quality time with our little Foxlet.

 
And, of course, those days work out particularly well for me on the work front, since I’m actually able to get all of my work done, lol. I can pop in and out, run out to meetings, make phone calls, and tackle my inbox without incident. On days when it’s just her and me, I have to say it can be very tough to tackle my to-do list. (Even if I don’t have any tasks that involve meeting with or talking to other people.) Which is hard to admit, really, because I absolutely love getting to spend as much time with Penny as I do (I mean, obviously! She’s the best!), and I feel so lucky to be in a job situation where I’ve been able to at least attempt to balance working full-time and being a full-time mommy simultaneously.

Buuuuut, I also can’t deny the obvious, which is that it’s just going to continue getting increasingly more and more difficult to allocate my time and attention to both things as she gets more mobile, more alert, and more interested in the world around her. After all, there’s only so much patience you can expect a 21 week old baby to have! And truly only so much guilt one mama can handle before she’s no longer being a good employee or a good mom, lol.

I mean, it’s like, okay, sure, there’s still plenty of time to get work done sporadically, because the baby’s playing quietly alone or napping or because your husband is home, or whatever. But even though you know you have work to do, you still feel like you should be (and want to be!) paying attention to your baby. (Momguilt.) But then you feel guilty whenever you are playing with or entertaining or just spending precious time with your little one, because you also always feel like you should still be working! You just don’t feel like you can win either way — which is why I finally (much belatedly) came to the realization that we need a little extra help.

SO, all this is to say, I’m finally looking into some part-time childcare options. I know this is probably long overdue, as I do realize most people don’t have the luxury to wait until their baby is almost 5 months old to figure out their childcare needs, lol, but hey, whaddya gonna do? I was naive and overly optimistic about what I could handle, and I thought that because of how flexible my job is and how supportive my family is, that I really could do it all. And while my job IS flexible and my parents and mother-in-law ARE amazing for helping us out as much as they do, I obviously still want to be able to perform well at my job. And even moreso, I would never want Penny’s grandparents to get to the a point where she feels like a burden or obligation. Plus, my parents are set to do quite a bit of traveling this Spring, so that’s just another reason we need to start getting our ducks in a row now.

Anyway, hopefully this doesn’t feel too out of touch. I’m very aware that my life doesn’t reflect the reality of what many working moms have to deal with, (going back to work much sooner than I did, having to enroll their child in full-time daycare, etc.) and I feel very fortunate that I do have the time and freedom to explore part-time options. The ideal would be for Penny to be able to keep her Grandparent Days, and for me to still be able to spend lots of quality time with my favorite little person, but to just get some more stability and support. So we’re on the waitlist for a nearby daycare center that offers partial week enrollment (a rare find in this area!) and I’ve got some nanny interviews set up over the next few days as well. A part-time nanny/nannyshare is what I think we’re leaning towards right now, but I’ll keep you posted on how things go! First step: narrowing down my list of literally fifty questions that I have for these poor, unsuspecting potential nannies, hehhhhh.

‘Til next time!

Crushing Milestones and that Working Mom Life

I gotta tell ya, four months of babyhood is a real roller coaster. Penny has made so many incredible leaps and bounds in her development, but it definitely came at a price. For a few weeks there I was seriously wondering if we’d ever get our happy little baby back! She was inconsolable being held by anyone but me (even Sean!), fussy even when I was holding her, and was back to waking up every two, three hours at night (one terrible night, it was every single hour). And every time she did wake up, she fought going back to sleep so hard (screaming, crying, thrashing) that the only way I could get her to calm down was by nursing her back to sleep every single time.

To say I was exhausted would be seriously understating it. But underneath all that fussiness and sleeplessness, clearly a lot was happening inside her tiny little baby brain! Because as of this past week, she is not only seemingly back to her old happy self, but has been crushing milestone after milestone to boot!

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She can now roll from tummy to back like a pro — hooray! We also officially transitioned her to her crib last week (this development came as a direct result of the aforementioned terrible, waking-every-hour night, lol), and on that very first night she slept for ELEVEN HOURS STRAIGHT.

It’s only been like five nights so far, but except for one sad 2 AM wakeup on night #2, she has slept all night long with almost zero intervention from us! No more night feeding, no rocking — all we’ve done is pop her pacifier back in like, one time each night. She’s been able to get herself back to sleep every other time she’s stirred! The night before last, she slept 8:30 PM to 8:20 AM. Last night, she went in her crib at 8:30, fell asleep a little before 9, and is still snoozing away as I type this. Can you even BELIEVE IT?!

So you see? MIRACLES ARE REAL, PEOPLE! I mean, I know that things can — and probably will — change, and so I’m definitely not relying on this being our new normal just yet, but I’m certainly going to relish it while I can! And if rolling + sleeping through the night both weren’t enough, Penny has also started being able to sit up on her own!

She can only maintain it for a maximum of, like, 90 seconds before toppling over, and only if she’s not too tired (but also not too distracted and looking all over the place, lol), but I’m still so proud of our little chunk nugget! She’s growing up so faaaaasst.

 
And like I said, she definitely seems to be much more generally content, and more like her old self as well. I guess that’s what almost 12 hours of sleep every night will do! The real test to see if she’s truly over this hump, however, will be how she acts at Grampy & PoPo Daycare (aka my parents’ house) today while I’m in the office. Last week when she was there, she barely ate anything the entire time, and my dad had to walk her around the house in her stroller for an hour just to get her to take a nap. -_- (Have I mentioned lately how much I love my parents?)

I still work from home the majority of the time and usually have my parents or my mother-in-law come over and watch Penny while I work. However, Yelp recently opened up a DC office, and so once a week I load the kids — human and dog — into the car, drop them off with my parents, and head into the city for the day.

There are many reasons that I love working for Yelp, but having an office here is giving me all sorts of new reasons to love this company (that go beyond even the cereal bar in the office kitchen!) It’s probably not too surprising, what with Yelp being a young tech company and all, but I’ve found they are really progressive and supportive of new & nursing moms. They have nice “mother’s rooms” in all of their offices for pumping, and this office is no exception!

It’s not done yet, but there’s a comfy chair with a built-in desk/ledge, a mini-fridge, and a sink (plus some super cute wallpaper.) And once the mother’s room is fully set up, there will actually be a permanent, hospital-grade pump inside the room at all times. Each pumping mama will have their own set of parts (flanges and bottles, etc.) to go along with it, which means no more dragging my pump back and forth. Amazing!

Alas, the office is still being finished out, and the mother’s room won’t be complete until later this year. So until then, I still get the full #workingmom experience of lugging my pump along. Fortunately for me, however, I have two excellent options to help make that process so much easier!

Aeroflow recently reached out to ask if I was interested in testing out two different pumping products — The Motif Duo, a super lightweight, portable, battery-powered breast pump, and the Ju-Ju-Be Be Supplied pumping bag. (Aeroflow did send me these products to try for free, but they didn’t sponsor this post or anything, so these are my own honest opinions.)

I originally ordered the Spectra S2 breastpump through Aeroflow while I was pregnant, and had a great experience going through them (they have a simple form on their site and contact your insurance for you — super easy!). I really do love my Spectra, as it’s quiet, powerful, and user-friendly. However, my one regret is that I didn’t get the battery-powered version (my insurance fully covered the S2, but I would’ve had to pay extra to upgrade to the S1) as I find it very limiting to be stuck in one spot while pumping.

So when Aeroflow asked if I was interested in trying out the Motif Duo, I was super jazzed. And I became even more excited upon opening the box and seeing how truly tiny this thing is! It literally fits in the palm of my hand — and in the back pocket of my jeans!

It’s got a rechargeable battery built right in, and is a double-electric pump so you have the option to pump one or both breasts (it’s set up for one in the photos above.) It’s a little bit louder than the Spectra once it gets going, but it operates similarly: there are two modes, one for stimulating your let-down, and one for milk expression. It’s crazy convenient that I can get up, walk around, and do whatever I need to do while pumping — the first time I tried it out, I was able to go and pick up Penny after she woke up from her nap, while still actively pumping! It’s also great for pumping one side while Penny nurses on the other — since it doesn’t need to be plugged in, I can easily move it around to avoid her wiggly legs. However, I will say that I haven’t found it to be quite as efficient or powerful as my Spectra — I have to pump for longer and at a much higher power level to get the same amount of milk.

So although the Motif is super convenient — both while at home, and to toss into my diaper bag and take with me wherever — sometimes I still want to pull out the big dog. Especially when I’m at the office and want my pumping session to be as quick but efficient as possible. Which is why I’m also really glad that Aeroflow gave me the chance to try out the Be Supplied breastpump bag as well!

This bag is great — it is really nice to have a bag made specifically for carrying a breast pump! I was previously just dumping all of my pump stuff into an extra diaper bag that I had, but needed to remove everything from the bag in order to get things set up. The Be Supplied is great because it has a totally separate pocket for your pump that zips open from the side, which means you can access the pump without having to remove it from the bag! There’s room to keep the power adapter inside this compartment as well, so you literally just have to pull out the wall plug and you’re good to go!

It also has additional exterior and interior pockets to keep your bottles/bags, flanges, tubing, and everything. There’s also a “mommy pocket” on the front, where you can keep your keys, wallet, etc, if you wanted to use this as your only bag. Alas, I still need to bring a separate bag when I go into the office, as the Be Supplied isn’t big enough for my laptop, but it’s still way more lightweight and compact than the other bag I was hauling around. Plus, it’s machine-washable which is a HUGE plus given the extreme likelihood of milk getting in or on it somewhere, and the print happens to perfectly match my Ju-Ju-Be BFF diaper bag!

Aaaanyway, that’s enough pumping talk for now, promise. I know how thrilling this topic must be for the majority of you, lol.  Honestly, going into the office once a week and having to do the pumping thing really just makes me even more aware of how lucky I am for my work situation! Pumping ’round the clock is definitely time consuming, and I am so grateful to have the flexibility to continue nursing Penny much of the time when I am working from home.

I shall leave you with this one final, non-baby-related milestone of my own: I’m down 9 pounds! Huzzah! 🙂

‘Til next time!

Winter is Here!

It’s official, winter is definitely here! It’s been pretty mild weather-wise up in the DC area until this past weekend, when we (and most of the Southeast) got our first snow of the season — and Penny got her first snow EVER!

I took Penny outside briefly to show off the white stuff to her, and she showed that she truly is my snow-lovin’ daughter by sticking out her tongue the entire time. I like to think she was trying to catch snowflakes. 🙂

After all, snow is a big part of our family history — Sean and I got married in a blizzard! So she definitely comes by it honestly. I love snow!

 
Alas, it’s already all melted away. Maybe it’ll snow again in time for Christmas? I’ll hold out hope!

In other news, I’m soaking up my last couple of days of maternity leave with my little dumpling — I officially start back at Yelp on Wednesday. To get myself back in the work mentality, Penny, Sean & I crashed the last Yelp Northern VA Elite Event of the year (prior to going out on leave, I planned an event for each month I’d be out, and my awesome coworkers executed for me.)

 
Penny was the star of the show, and seeing so many members of the Yelp Elite Squad as well as a bunch of my Yelp coworkers definitely helped get me excited to go back! It’s still slightly bittersweet, since I won’t be able to dedicate 100% of my time to my happy little nugget, but I fully recognize how seriously lucky I am to have a job where I both work from home and have a lot of flexibility, as well as a super supportive family that is helping to take care of Penny.

Plus, with me going back right before the holidays, I’m hoping that things will be a little bit slower so that I have time to dig through my inbox, get caught up, and ramp up at a nice pace just in time to kick off the new year right!

We’re definitely already deep in the holiday spirit in these parts. I was already a serious Christmas lover, but the fact that Penny is here this year makes everything even more special!

 
My sister, brother-in-law, and their kiddos are coming up to do Christmas here this year, so we’re starting to get my parents’ house nice and festive. Sean and I went over the other day to help set up the Christmas tree, which really makes things feel official! We didn’t get a tree for our own house (well, we have a super tiny tabletop one) because honestly I don’t even know where we’d put it with all the new baby crap we have, hahaha. So I’m going to be counting on getting all of my holiday cheer from the ‘rents house this year, hehe.

 
We’ll be decorating it later this week while we also celebrate my brother’s birthday… and after which we’ll be going to see The Last Jedi and I’m SOSOSOSOSO excited. My parents have been on retainer to babysit during this movie since I found out I was pregnant, lolololol.

Here’s to winter and the holidays and the absolute best time of the year! I think that tonight will call for cocoa and Christmas movies — I’ve already watched The Holiday twice (my fave!), and have been whittling away at Netflix’s catalogue of Hallmark/Lifetime/ABC Family made-for-TV holiday films, but I’ve got an itch to take in my first (of many) annual viewing of Elf! Gotta introduce Penny to Buddy the Elf!

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Happy Monday, folks!

‘Tis a great Monday indeed, since it’s the very last Monday before… CHRISTMAS!!!!!!1!!!11!!!!!!!!!!1!!

If you’re thinking, “Gretchen, ease up on the exclamation points and formatting, it’s just a holiday…” then you obviously don’t know me at all. Christmas is my FAVORITE holiday, my favorite time of year, my favorite everything. I’m totally that girl when it comes to Christmas. And this year, my whole fam is heading down to Atlanta to ring in Christmas morn at my sister Jen’s house.

It actually feels like the Christmas festivities have kind of already started, though, because even though we’re all going to her house for Christmas in just a few days, my sister and my nieces were actually up here this past weekend!

 
This may be the most wonderful time of the year, but it is also certainly the busiest! This past week has held my work holiday celebration, my brother’s birthday, a photoshoot, and a baby shower — as well as plenty of time spent with the best kiddos in the world, of course. 🙂

Wednesday night, I went out to dinner with my coworkers to celebrate 2016 and the upcoming holidays. We don’t have an actual office here in the DC area (I work from home), but I’m luckier than a lot of other remote Yelp employees in that there are actually quite a few of us in the same area! This gives us the luxury of getting me out from behind my computer screen every once in a while to love on each other in person (and gives me an excuse to get dolled up, too!)

 
I know I probably humblebrag about my job far too much already, but I just have the best coworkers. We went to this new-ish restaurant in DC called Mythology that I loooooved, and ate, drank, and chatted the night away. I don’t go into the city all that often, but this place already has me thinking about my next trip, it was so good! The deets are all on–you guessed it–Yelp, so take a gander if you’re interested:

Read Gretchen F.‘s review of Mythology on Yelp

Thursday was my brother’s birthday, and was also the day that Jenny and the girls came into town. We had a family dinner at my parents’ house, and then went to see Rogue One on opening night (no spoilers, but it was awesome.)

 
Saturday morning was spent twiddling my thumbs waiting for the insane ice that had taken over the Metro Area to melt. It was insanely icy that morning — I almost fell flat on my butt just stepping out my front door, and there were literally dozens and dozens of terrible traffic accidents throughout the morning (including a THIRTY CAR PILEUP on the beltway. :()

Luckily (and weirdly), it warmed up and the ice was all but melted by noon, so I still got to fill the majority of the day with fun stuff… and even had a special guest star that some of you may recognize:

Anne! My brother and sister-in-law were shooting some photos for Anne’s business, so I played the role of makeup artist for the day. I can’t wait to see the finished shots!

 
Getting to test out my makeup skills is always fun for me, especially as my interest in makeup artistry has continued to grow. I’ve been getting more experimental with my own makeup lately (perhaps I’ve been getting bolder as a side effect of chopping off my hair, hehe), and, much to Sean’s chagrin, have been investing in a broader range and breadth of products.

Maybe one day I’ll get confident enough to start a side hustle beautifying folks, but for now, it’s enough to showcase my extreme vanity all over Instagram. And here, too, I guess. 😉

Finally, my weekend capped off with my beautiful friend Lara’s baby shower! This was the main reason Jen was back in town, as she was co-hosting it, and it just worked out really well that it was around the same time as Ben’s birthday.

Lara is a big Crossfit nut, so the shower was actually Crossfit themed! I helped Jen out by trying to replicate some of the things that she found on Pinterest. Some were a big win (the barbell diaper cake!), some were passable (the kettle bell cake balls), and some were a huge, time-wasting fail (WHY ARE SUGAR COOKIES SO HARD TO DECORATE?!?!). Regardless, I had a ton of fun prepping with Jen and, of course, loving on Lara and her soon-to-be baby girl!

So, that just about catches us up! Jen and the girls head back to Atlanta today with my parents, and the rest of us will be following suit later this week. So the next few days are sure be super busy as I try to wrap up work stuff, personal stuff, and try to keep my raging Christmas spirit in check ’til I make it to the ATL! And if I don’t make it back for another post before the end of the week, we wish you the happiest of holidays and merriest of Christmases!