Friday, 18 March 2016

Minimalist Style

Ever heard of decision fatigue? The idea is that our brain gets completely fried by the end of a day of making one choice after another. Why not prevent that in as many ways as possible?

I've been minimising my life in certain areas recently, and my wardrobe has definitely been part of that. It's been a gradual process. When I was a lot heavier, my clothing criteria were 1. does it fit? and 2. is it cheap?

As you can imagine, my clothing choices were eclectic at best. I often would buy something that I thought was nice, but didn't have anything that went with it so I would never wear it. What a waste!

During my weight loss, I decided to only buy clothes in a specific colour scheme. I was only shopping in charity shops and off eBay (because losing weight is highly expensive) and I didn't want to get bogged down in clothes that didn't match or work with my aesthetic. I chose blues and oranges for my colours and only bought items of those shades (or neutrals like whites, creams and browns - I didn't want to do black or grey).

This was a revelation! Everything I owned matched! I could grab whatever I wanted and it would look pretty nice! I felt good about this choice.

In fact, choosing an outfit was like playing dress up. I started caring about what looked good on my body shape and tried to figure out my personal style. To my surprise, all those swishy skirts and flowing dresses I used to wear weren't working for me anymore. I have been gravitating towards a slightly more formal style (in comparison), albeit relaxed. Do those ideas contradict each other? No idea; as you can see fashion is not my strong point.

After a few months of playing dress up, I got tired of it and choosing what to wear every day started to feel a bit oppressive. Like, what NOW? I liked what I wore yesterday; it was comfortable and looked nice. Now I have to figure out something completely different!

But... do I? Do I have to wear something different every day? Says who? Why can't I wear the same style every day? There aren't any rules against it.

So that's what I've done. I bought a few button-down oxford style blue shirts, and I wear it with jeans (my favourite are straight legged, but I have skinnies and boot cut as well) and flats, or my brown knee-high boots, or white keds. (knock-off) I have a selection of cardigans and jumpers to wear with it (orange or blue, natch) if needed.

I was worried about getting sick of it, but so far I'm LOVING it. I have caught myself having that mental conversation in the morning of - what shall I wear today? And I can stop and say "THIS ONE THING, THAT'S WHAT." What a relief! It's literally a load off my mind.

Will I stick with it? That's the million dollar question. I've been doing this for less than a week, but I'm comfortable saying that this could very well be a lifelong uniform. I feel like I look nice no matter how I style it, and even though I'm a stay at home mother, I like dressing just that little bit more formally rather than slouching around all day. I feel more confident in what I'm wearing, and I don't need to scrutinise myself in the mirror to check if I look okay. I already know!

Monochromatic perhaps, but that's not a bad thing. The queen does it! Not that I am taking my style from a royal's wardrobe, but it's interesting to note that it works for many walks of life.

It's also going to be a lot cheaper in the long run, although buying several tops at once is pricey. I lucked out with these and got them from the clearance section on Amazon. Gotta love a sale.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Making Clothes Smaller: Denim Jacket

I am an amateur seamstress - let me stress that now! - but I get by alright. Over the past few months I have sewn a lot more for myself than I have in the past, due to weight loss. I have made some clothes from scratch, drafting the patterns based on my body measurements or tracing around a top that I already own and like. I have also done a bit of simple alterations in jeans or tops by sewing them smaller or adding a bit of elastic at the back. Sometimes all it takes to make a huge difference in an item of clothing is to reduce it by 1/2 an inch or so.

But some of my clothes were too tricky to alter, or I didn't really like them enough to bother with. One of the saddest losses in my wardrobe was my denim jacket. I loved it! The cut was very feminine without losing the rough-and-tumble feel of a denim jacket and it was stretchy which meant I could raise my hands above my head without cutting off circulation to my arms. It was great! But by now it was ridiculously baggy and it would flap around me sadly, no feminine lines showing at all.

I bought a new jacket on eBay, but buying second hand clothes is hit or miss and for me it was a miss. I liked the style in theory (military-esque), but it was more like a shirt than a jacket and it just isn't robust enough for me to want to wear regularly.

Yesterday, inspiration struck! My too-big jacket was in my donation pile anyway, so why don't I try to alter it and make it smaller? No harm done if it doesn't work out, and if it does, SCORE!

Here's how it worked out....

This is the jacket before alteration. The arms are super baggy, the body of the jacket is too big, and the shoulders droop over my shoulders and down into my arms. The sleeves are too long (although that's not always a bad thing in a coat or jacket) and the neckline is wide.

Midway through alteration. I removed both sleeves, and unpicked the side seams. It was essentially only held together at the shoulders.

I sewed the side seam smaller by about an inch, following the curves of the original seam. I tried to add the sleeve back into the now-smaller arm hole, but hilarity resulted:

Look how puffy that sleeve cap is! And it still droops off my actual shoulder and into my arm. It was not a good look.

I had to take a break and think what to do. How was I going to raise the shoulders of the jacket to actually sit on my shoulders when worn? Should I bring another seam in, or just hack away some fabric?

With slight trepidation, I cut away a bit of the top shoulder of the jacket in order to raise the sleeves. After unpicking more stitches, and re-doing some shoddy sewing a few times, I think I ended up with a good(ish) fit:

Sadly, one sleeve is a bit too puffy at the shoulder. I am not 100% happy with it, and might go back another day to fix that if I can, but for now, it's wearable! It fits closer to my frame, the sleeves aren't so baggy, and I have curves again! If you look closely, I also had to add two bust darts on either side of the jacket, starting at the underarms. They aren't my best darts either, but I was literally sewing by the seat of my pants and making it up as I went along!

Altering a jacket is a tricky process, but I'm glad that I gave it a try. I learned a few techniques and got a bit braver. I may just dig through my too-big clothes donation pile and try to reduce another item of clothing! It was pretty fun.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

One Year

I've had my smart phone for a little over a year now, and occasionally I'll get a google alert showing me a series of photos taken exactly one year ago.

Today, I got an alert with this photo on my phone:

We were in a crumbling old castle in Wales, and my adorable one year old was in a sling. I look happy (if a bit shiny) and it was a gorgeous day. I was even wearing a coordinated outfit with my baby, haha!

It was an awesome trip, but it is hard for me to look at that photo. The first thing my eye is drawn to is the lack of definition in my face and neck, the obvious "largeness" of me.

For a very long time, I pretty much ignored my weight. I knew I was big, but honestly? I have felt "big" for as far back as I can remember. When I was 10, I thought I had big thighs. Sigh. I have wasted a lot of time feeling bad about my looks, needlessly. As I got older and had a few babies, I carried on with my poor eating habits that were easily counteracted in my younger years with exercise. I found it difficult to exercise with 3 under 4, or 4 under 7, or 5 under 11... you get the idea. My weight climbed and climbed, and my personal blinders got narrower and narrower.

I can't really pinpoint an "aha" moment for when I decided to break my sugar addiction (the main cause of my weight gain) and exercise daily. (yoga for the win!) I think it was more like a culmination of several different nudges and promptings that finally gave me the oomph necessary to start day 1.

This is what I looked like earlier today:

Still a bit shiny, hanging out in my kitchen on a gloomy English morning. I am now hovering a little below my pre-kids weight; five children and 13 years ago! I can finally wear my wedding rings again, and I feel wonderful. I've kicked my sugar addiction to the curb at long last; I finally have a normal relationship with food and don't let hunger control me. Like, I can actually fast for 24 hours at church and not feel like I'm going to die! This is a breakthrough, let me tell you.

So there is no doubt I feel happy about my decision to change my eating habits. Not only am I healthier, but I can also fit into normal sized clothes! Hahah, living the dream. But, and there is a but, I do feel kind of strange about it all. My mental picture of myself hasn't quite caught up with the reflection in the mirror, but I'm nearly there. I spent so many years ignoring how I looked (in the hopes it would change on its own or something), that I know feel slightly crazy and obsessed with choosing outfits and the wobbly bits still hanging around on my body. I am far more critical of my looks now than I was 3 sizes ago! Mental! (though not to any extremes, I hope)

I'm trying to be gentle with myself. From what I've read online of other people's experiences, losing so much weight can be crazy making, a bit. My weight crept up slowly over the years, with five pregnancies in between, so I've always felt a little bit disconnected from my appearance, like I had little control over what my body was doing. Now I am doing yoga and meditating every day, I am far more grounded into myself than ever before. I feel comfortable in my skin - whoda thunk?! I recently completed a 40-days-in-a-row yoga kriya that focussed almost exclusively on my core; after completing that the other day I started a new kriya that requires the use of all sorts of muscles! I have a new challenge to complete. :) But what made me happy was when I realised how strong I already am - I felt my core muscles working and knew without any doubt that I wouldn't have been able to complete those exercises as easily a few months ago.

Life is good.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Fashion sense, or nonsense?

I have found it hard to care about fashion over the years. I was not confident enough to dress above a certain level of "niceness" (whatever that is) because I didn't feel I deserved it, or I didn't feel pretty enough, or I was too big.

The irony is, I would have felt pretty and worthwhile and happier in my appearance had I made more of an effort. It's taken me a few months of really working hard at appreciating my body's capabilities through yoga, meditation, healthy eating, and purposeful prayer to really get the idea that how I feel on the inside affects how I look on the outside; consequently, how I look on the outside affects how I feel on the inside. The two can't be separated.

So here I am, in the slightly awkward position of wanting to wear nicer clothes and dress up a bit more, but I almost literally have nothing to wear.

Until I reach a stable weight, which is who knows when because I'm kind of doing this without any measuring, weighing or firm idea of what my end point should be. I can't really use sizing as a guide, because I have clothes in all manner of sizes that fit me. One of my favourite shops seems to have suddenly succumbed to vanity sizing (Next - anyone else noticed this?), so I can't reasonably extrapolate what would fit me in other stores.

I am mostly planning to ride it out over winter and see where things shake out in the spring. Layers can save me from needing to own very much variety, so a couple of sweaters/jumpers over t-shirts should be okay.

In the meantime, I have dusted off my Pinterest account for window shopping purposes, and watched a few old episodes of Trinny and Susannah. I came across a fabulous idea on some other blogs about creating a new wardrobe themed around a simple colourscheme. The colour wheel is a great help with this plan. Basically, choose two colours that are opposite each other on the wheel, and base your clothing choices on those two colours. They will naturally match, and you can expand your mix-and-match options exponentially. Obviously, not everything in your drawers need to be those two colours; there can be a wide variety of shades of each colour and you need a few neutrals thrown in.

My plan is to have tans, camels, whites and creams as my neutral shades, with all manner of blues and oranges as my main colours. For many years, I loved purple, but recently I've gravitated towards blues. I am a warm spring, and wouldn't you know it, blues and oranges are on the list. All right!

I'm actually getting really excited about fashion now. Before, I would just randomly choose clothes based upon if I liked them at that moment or if they fit a basic set of criteria - fits without flashing, comfortable, and easy to wash. That gave me a wide variety of clothes, or sometimes all of the same style, but very few items mixed and matched, so it actually limited what I could wear each day. This plan seems to make so much sense - I can throw on whatever (is clean..ahem) and have a high probability of looking put together and NICE. Amazing!

This is my Pinterest board, in case you are interested. I will be buying my clothes a little at a time, because replacing everything at once is insanely expensive. I'll still be hitting the charity shops for sure!

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Losing it

So I've lost a bit of weight recently - no idea how much, since I point blank refuse to weigh myself - and have needed to buy some new clothes.

Lucky for me, I've hit upon a few charity shops (think Goodwill type places) that had sales on and I've bought new items for £2 each! So far I've purchased 2 trousers, 2 tops and a skirt for a grand total of 10 pounds. Not bad at all.

I've only dropped a size (ish, it's hard to say, considering one top is two sizes smaller than normal and I don't think I'm out of proportion all that much!!), but it's enough for me to notice and a few other people, as well.

I haven't joined a gym or subscribed to a specific weight loss regime, as such. I stopped eating sugar and all processed foods, and ate mung bean soup for 40 days as my main meal, along with all the fresh fruits and veg and hummus and nuts and a bit of cheese that I could stuff in me. Turns out it is really difficult to overeat when everything you put in your mouth is real, whole foods.

The mung bean soup thing is over (it was a way to kick my sugar addiction to the kerb and help me reset my taste-buds), so now I'm eating the same meals as my family now and I'm kind of wondering how things will go from here. I ate bread today (dun dun duuuun), which was the first time I've eaten any bread products for over a month. I love bread! It was a whole wheat pita bread stuffed with veggies and cheese so very filling and not at all triggering the way white toast slathered in butter and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar would be (yikes, I could eat at least 4 slices of that stuff).

I have spent years trying to convince myself that being overweight wasn't a big deal - haha - and that my self worth wasn't down to my size. The thing is, I do believe in health at every size. I do NOT believe that someone's body size is a good way to judge their health level or their worth as a human being (such a crummy thing to do). But I don't like being too big for normal shop sizes or struggle to fit in those far to tiny airplane seats. It just sucks all around, really.

I've been doing yoga daily in addition to changing my eating habits, which has been wonderful. I have watched my body get stronger over time and have marvelled at its abilities. So cool! Yoga is amazing.

I'm assuming my weight will continue to go down, although probably slower if I continue to eat cheese at the rate I've done today! I do love a bit of vintage mature cheddar, nom nom. But anyway, I expect I will lose more weight before I even out. I would be happy at a size or two lower than I am now, but that goal is rather hazy, since sizing is whack. What I really need is to be able to wear my wedding rings again. :) That would be fantastic, since my fingers swelled up with my first pregnancy and never seemed to get smaller again! Several weeks ago I couldn't even get it over my knuckle and now it can slip beyond the knuckle but I haven't pushed it all the way on lest it gets stuck and my finger turns purple!

So I guess I'm writing this for the accountability aspect? I have always steered clear of dieting conversations because I found them excruciatingly boring - people going on and on about the amount of calories in this packet of crisps vs that packet of crisps when you should really not eat them in the first place, eh? My view points are not what you would call conventional or popular when dieting comes up, "Just stop eating sugar and processed foods!!" yields a resounding chorus of crickets.

But whatever. I feel great, which is the main thing I guess. I'm free of my food addictions and it's really liberating to feel like everything I'm eating is benefiting my body in one way or another.

Everyone likes a before and after picture, eh? The pictures were taken about 4 weeks apart. I would have worn the same top (I'm wearing the same shorts, or at least the same brand and size) but I can't find it. It's too big now anyway.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

19 months old and out of nappies!

Ever heard of Elimination Communication / EC / Infant Pottying? I first heard about it 12 years ago and thought it was kind of mental. How does that even work? Magic or something?

Babies are pretty smart, it turns out. I never bothered to try EC with my older children, but by the time my four year old was seven or eight months old, I made a few friends who successfully practised it with their babies so I picked their brains. I attempted a modified version of EC with my then-toddler and by 22 months old, she was in undies. Huzzah! She wasn't dry at night for another year +, but I was cool with that.

When I had my fifth baby, I really wanted to start from birth. The little dear had some feeding problems we needed to overcome and I didn't have the headspace for it, so we didn't actually start until she was 3 months old.

So... how does this work, exactly? My baby was showing some signs of straining to poo one day, so I held her over a potty and hey presto. No stinky nappy. At first, I would focus on holding her over the potty or toilet when she woke from naps. Eventually, I noticed that when she was breastfeeding, she would pop off and on the breast and couldn't settle down to feed, so I held her over a potty. BAM. Pretty soon, I noticed that she would tense her body up in a certain way, or wiggle around a bit when she needed to "go". She sometimes would cry and get frustrated if I didn't help her to a potty quickly enough.

Basically, she trained me. But that's okay! I liked not having dirty nappies to change, and less laundry to wash. (we use cloth)

Much to my dismay, once she started solids and crawling in earnest, the idea of using the potty was totally uncool. She completely refused every effort for me to hold her over a receptacle, even when it was obvious she needed to go.

Okay then! I left her to it. Back to nappies full time, but I kept up with the "communication" aspect of Elimination Communication. I pointed out when she was doing a poo or wee, and when she got older, she would point to herself and repeat after me.

Fifty or sixty years ago, most children were potty trained by 18 months. When my daughter reached a similar age, I started noticing her morning nappies were bone dry. As an experiment, I started leaving the nappy off her in the morning, and one day when I was in a different room, I walked by the potty to see it was full! The little munchkin had taken herself to the potty with zero assistance, and we've had plenty of success since then.

To be fair, what I'm describing as a nappy free 19 month old is really not even close to a fully toilet trained four year old. She can't pull down pants on her own, so I have to help her with clothes (she's normally half naked at home to facilitate quick dashes to the potty). She doesn't really tell me in advance when she needs to go, so I still rely on cues to help her focus on the potty. She's mostly happy to stop what she's doing to go potty, but not always. I have to make a little game of it.

She has accidents most days, but it really is all about my attitude towards them. I don't coerce her or shame her if there's a puddle, and in actual fact she is more upset about messes than I am ("eeeewwww!" I hear her cry - sends me running!). To be fair, we have no carpeting downstairs where we spend most of our time, so that helps with a relaxed approach!

Still. She is in underwear when we go out, and it hasn't been a big deal. Hopefully I'm not jinxing anything, but I think she'll be much more independent in a few months when she turns 2, and until that time comes, I'm here to help.

EC is more of a long haul process than those "train in 3 days" programmes, but so is weaning and independence in general. Nobody expects a six month old to be cutting their own steak dinner from the beginning - there are stages to independent eating, sleeping, walking, playing, and toileting. I am very happy (and surprised, to be honest) at our progress and quite proud of this little girl of mine.

Feel free to ask any questions about EC in the comments. I'm happy to help where I can!

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

It's not about the icecream

Being a parent is crazy hard work. A lot of the time, I am planning ahead - dinner, dishes, laundry, sweep this and tidy that, take him there, her here, rush rush rush, collapse on the sofa, wake up with a jerk, collect people from school, start it all again tomorrow.

There are moments of clarity, when through my haze of here and now, I see my children for who they are and I understand the way they see the world. Not through my eyes, the eyes of an adult who has a myriad of responsibilities with a list so long it doesn't fit in her head before coming out the other side.

A few days ago, we came home from church and gave the children ice cream. My seven year old started sobbing  because the type of ice cream she wanted was all gone. She had to make do with an ice cream sandwich, not a cone.

But she wasn't upset over the ice cream, not really. Earlier that day, she had been complimented by several adults about her behaviour. She is a rule-follower, a people pleaser. She smooths the rough patches of social interaction and wants life to be enjoyable for everyone around her, even at the cost of her own comfort. This is hard work. So when she and I were lavished with these compliments, I had a feeling that she was probably worn out from her efforts that afternoon.

She wasn't really able to cope with disappointment at that moment. The missing cone was just too much. But it was more than that - the ice cream cone represented not only what she couldn't have, but that someone else got to it first. Other people enjoyed the ice cream cones without her, they ate them before she could. It wasn't fair! Here she was, trying so hard to be "good", and what did she get for her efforts? A lousy ice cream sandwich!

I think we can all recognise this feeling. We still have a good life, there isn't any major disaster or tragedy to speak of, but the ice cream sandwich just isn't what we wanted. It isn't the same as a cone. It's okay to feel disappointment or even sorrow over what we're missing.

This little girl was in tears, and instead of me losing sight of what was important to her, and focusing on what was important to me (dinner prep, baby care, sitting down for once!) I looked into her eyes and talked her through it. I made time to connect with her and helped her name her feelings.

And wouldn't you know it - she calmed down and was her happy, bubbly self for the rest of the day.

I often have to remind myself that I have two choices when my children are upset. I can take the time to connect with them, to hear their words and work through their feelings, or I can railroad over them and demand silence or "good" behaviour. Either way takes time before the child calms down. But with the first choice, I will have strengthened our relationship and topped up their emotional bank account. The second choice depletes their stores and slightly fractures our relationship. It's just not worth it.

That's not to say that I am perfect at this parenting gig. In all honesty, the mere fact that this incident sticks out in my mind so much is probably proof that I don't use this method often enough. I have six children living in this house and my brain is fizzing while I rock in the corner on some days. But I think I get it right pretty frequently. We went to the park yesterday afternoon instead of staying at home, which meant no time for me to make dinner. We had fish and chips instead. Would it have been healthier for me to make a meal? Yes! But it was worth it to spend time with the children outdoors and just "be" together. I don't regret it for a moment.