The Capsule Wardrobe for Moms

I come from a fashionable family. My dad loves to shop and dress others. So does my sister. My mom has an eye for matching clothes. Even my brother tolerates shopping outings with the end result of a good looking set of matching outfits.

I, on the other hand, am happiest when I’m comfortable. When I find an article of clothing that feels good, I buy it in every color and rotate through them. I, famously, have this Express Portofino shirt in 8 colors and patterns (both long-sleeves and no-sleeves) and wear it with 3 colors of these Uniqlo pants.

Woman wearing Express Portofino shirt, smiling
My uniform

It’s my favorite work uniform, and takes some decision-making stress away from my day. See other uniform advocates, like Steve Jobs, Barack Obama, and Elizabeth Holmes here. And when I’m in shape, my uniform looks good and feels good. More on that in a moment…

Besides being an ongoing joke in my family, I don’t think much about my clothes. That is, until I didn’t fit into them anymore.

Maternity clothes were wonderful and continued to be so long after it’s generally acceptable to continue wearing them. When B reached 6 months and I was still walking around in parachute pants (which I highly recommend for maternity wear), I realized something had to change. This is where the capsule wardrobe for moms comes into play.

It’s depressing to look at all those clothes that don’t fit, even if you don’t care all that much about them. So, here’s what worked to lift my spirits AND make me feel and look good in my clothes again:

  1. I started by paring down my wardrobe. I removed all the clothes that were too small and put them in a duffel bag in the basement, alongside the clothes that were out of season. These were mostly those that didn’t fit around my expanded belly, butt, and bust.
  2. I identified which items were really outdated (as in, I probably wore them in high school) and donated them.
  3. I also determined which items were too small, but I could not live without. Those, I did some very selective shopping for, in a larger size. Bras were vital to this list!
  4. I crowd-sourced my pregnancy pals for a new uniform that I could rock while I worked on losing weight. Enter the baggy sweater and legging outfit!
  5. And, very importantly, my husband rescued some of the clothes from the donate pile that ended up serving as motivation. I worried over my Express Portofino shirts, so he ended up hiding them, along with a beloved hiking shirt and my stretch goal pair of jeans (come on, we all have these…) in the back of one of his drawers.

I’m proud to report that as of a few weeks ago, I’m back to my Express Portofino shirts + Uniqlo pants uniform AND I wore that hiking shirt again a few days ago. It only took about a year, 3 months of half-marathon training, and 5 months of food tracking, to fit back into them. That hiking shirt was originally purchased for our Peru trip. Oh how far we’ve come since then…

Without my temporary capsule wardrobe, I would have had to think about how different my body was ALL THE TIME. This gave me the chance to love my baby-bearing body, look good in some clothes, while also working toward a goal.

Learn more about capsule wardrobes here:

How did you address your wardrobe during the months (years?!) post-pardum?

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To earbud or not to earbud? That is the question.

To be honest, for me, it is not a question. I never run with earbuds. But so many do! Here are my thoughts, and I’m curious what you think, too.

Why I actively avoid wearing earbuds while running

Safety

This is probably not my primary reason, but maybe it should be! How do those of you with earbuds hear approaching cars, trains, bikers, other runners, etc.? I like to know what’s coming and prefer to continue my streak of never being hit by a car. There are plenty of articles that focus on why it’s safer to listen to your surroundings while running than closing off your hearing with music or a podcast.

high school female in white and blue marching band attire, standing on a podium in front of a field, with an audience in the stands in the background, cheerleaders sitting on a bench in the foreground
Drum major of the marching band

Keeping the beat

This is cheesy, but listening to music is an interactive activity for me. Maybe blame my stint in high school marching band, but I must keep the beat, when I hear one. When I first tried running, I downloaded several workout tracks that maintained specific bpm (beats per minute) throughout. And let me tell you – there is perhaps no greater pleasure than running to the beat of a continuous pump up song. However, every time I encountered a hill or got tired or just wanted to vary my pace a bit, the music threw me off. That frustrated me, and made me feel slow or incapable of keeping up. So, no more music while running for me!

What did they say?

I’m not hard of hearing. Ask my mom, the audiologist. However, I may have selective hearing. Ask my husband…

And it drives me bonkers when I can’t hear a portion of what’s being said, especially when I’m expected to respond. For that reason, listening to podcasts or talking on the phone while I run are strictly off limits. They don’t keep me entertained and they bother me more than help me run.

Why I actually love keeping my ears open while running

Reflection

As working parents, when do you take time to think? Maybe on the toilet, while showering (briefly), laying in bed before precious sleep time…

I take my running time as a chance to consider how I’m doing, what’s going well, what I could improve. Or I think forward by planing some creative activity or charting out how to accomplish a life goal or even considering how to respond to an email. These days, I occasionally outline a post for this blog, too! When else would I have time to think?

I also (maybe strangely), often count while I run. Every fourth step on my left foot (thank you again, marching band), to achieve something like a meditative state. It’s so peaceful!

Me time

I’m an introvert. With a family, friends, and a full-time job, there is little time to recharge on my own. Running provides that opportunity without mental distraction. It’s sometimes the only time to myself I get in an entire day!

Spontaneity

While running, I often seek out new places to explore (see my post on Routes), and to do that, I need to concentrate in order to find my way afterwards. I also frequently run into (no pun intended) neighbors, friends, and acquaintances in our small town of a city. I enjoy the ability to take a detour or pause for a chat without needing to deal with headphones, cords, and devices.

Do you run with headphones or earbuds? Why? Why not? How do you entertain yourself while running?

Running Routes and Tracking

I don’t know about you, but it kills me to get in my car in order to run. Maybe that’s why I’ve always valued living close to running and biking trails. And when my total run is 4-5 miles, it better not take me 3 miles to get to the pretty park for running, or else I’ll never get there.

I tend to map out routes on MapMyRun in advance, and send the route to my phone, so I can track it in action. I don’t necessarily race against myself, but I am terrible with directions, so having a map in front of me is vital in order to end up where I intend to. Some of my favorite runs, though, and the best way to distract myself, are unplanned. If I don’t know the distance I’ve run so far or how fast I’ve been going, then I’m more likely to push through.

Either way, my favorite running routes include beautiful scenery, shade, a bike or running trail devoid of stop lights, not too many hills, and a bit of exploration or variation. From my house across one of Portland’s many bridges, and back is a 3-mile loop. It’s a perfect evening run because it’s not too crowded, includes minimal road crossings, and the Willamette River is a constantly changing and gorgeous thing to observe.

yellow grass in Tom McCall Park with toddler running ahead of woman pushing double running stroller, Hawthorne Bridge in the background
Walking with the running stroller in Tom McCall Park with the Hawthorne Bridge in the background

For every run and every long double stroller walk, I use MapMyRun on my phone to track my pace, time, and distance. It also syncs with MyFitnessPal, which means I can track how calories burned through my runs affect calories ingested through my meals. I keep my apps on private mode and don’t connect to friends through the app. I prefer my accountability structures to be in-person or more meaningful than through only an app.

Several of my friends use Strava, which allows competitions, racing, and tracking while you run. I can see how that would be valuable features for some!

How do you map out your routes, track your progress, share your successes?

Half Marathon Training for Mom

The whole reason (or one of them) I started this blog was to continue holding myself accountable for my own half marathon training, and share the tricks I’ve learned in order to make this possible as a mom. We’ve discussed my four strategies as well as how I came to be a running, working mom.

So, how is this half marathon training going in real life? Let’s check on the plan first.

I’m a list-maker, an excel geek, a planner. So, of course I developed a 16-week half marathon training planner for me and my neighbor. At the onset, this seemed like the ideal way for us to reach our intended number of runs and distances each week. Having run the plan by a physical therapist, we confirmed that this (in addition to an initial month of running up to 3 miles and/or long quick walks of up to 5 miles, 1-2 times per week) this is reasonable and healthy for recent moms in training.

In practice, we’ve been using it to stay on top of our long-distance mileage, though the details have gotten a little fuzzy along the way. We’ve also been better about running the distances prescribed when we do them together, rather than when we attempt them on our own.

You can see just about how good I am at following a scheduled running calendar with the “Record” tab. (Hint hint – not particularly good.) You’ll also notice all the long walks I take with the double stroller, considering that my cross-training. Sometimes I run a few blocks with it (particularly if A says he has to go potty…), but usually when I’m pushing the million+ pounds of stroller/kids/supplies, I’m walking.

double stroller in the bottom left corner, view of the Burnside Bridge and the Willamette River to the right.
Walking around the Portland bridges with the double stroller

You’ll also see how I’ve had trouble sticking to the long-run part of the calendar. These tend to be scheduled on weekends which means I need to employ my partnership strategy. And with all the travel and weather challenges of the summer, I have not been great about following through. Hoping to do 8 miles this weekend, but we’ll see!

Any tips to keep me motivated for those long runs? Scheduling suggestions? What keeps you going?

Parenting Support Systems

Becoming a parent is a terrifying, isolating giant unknown for most people. Sure, it’s also miraculous and exciting. And moms are so conditioned to talk about how wonderful our babies are. But we rarely discuss how difficult this new life is and how to handle it.

This TED Talk describes the way that moms are born the same moment their baby is. Before that moment, we’re women. After that moment, we’re moms. And we’re never the exact same person again.

So, how do we go about life as this new person? Who can we rely on to remind us of our goals, encourage us to revisit those goals realistically as a mom, and hold us accountable to the new version of our life plan?

Partnership

The first place to look is your partner. Our partners are the first and primary resource. They’re also the ones living this life, right there with us. They’re also waking up in the middle of the night, entertaining well-meaning visitors, and wiping meconium off of everything.

That said, when are you supposed to talk through these big feelings? Showering, using the bathroom, and sleeping tend to take priority in those early days! Also, your partner isn’t simultaneously recovering from a major medical procedure or encountering dramatic hormonal changes… So, where else should we look for support?

Hospital Classes

Most hospitals and birthing facilities offer classes before and after baby is born. We took a class on birth and another one on parenting a newborn. Picture several couples – each including one with a giant belly – moving around the room, attempting different birthing positions. There were also graphic videos, lots of breathing exercises, and some not-so-realistic-looking baby dolls.

While these are incredibly useful for specific purposes, they focus heavily on baby and not so much on us parents.

Other Moms

This is the most valuable support system for new parents – other parents, new or otherwise! And first on that list – our own parents! Though both of our sets of parents live more than 2,000 miles away, we received so much care and support both from afar and from their early visits when each of our kids were born. And by extension, their siblings and other relatives living nearby were willing to jump up and help. Our kids are the first grandkids on both sides, so our siblings are excited and young aunts and uncles and A & B are becoming the spoiled grandchildren our parents dote upon!

Richard and my mom (Nonni) with A and B, sitting on the floor, reading a book
Parenting support in the form of my mom visiting

My mom and others of her generation really encouraged me to find a mom’s group nearby so I could spend time with other new moms. However, we were in a transitory apartment, hospital 30 minutes away, and knew very few other local moms. What I learned – community can be formed in many ways, and it doesn’t have to be in person anymore!

So, when A was on the way, I had three other friends who were pregnant with their second kids. They had all kinds of advice that google wouldn’t have touched. We started a text chain and shared all the gory details and questions with each other.

When B was on the way, another friend started a weekly email group. With 6 other ladies across the country, due within a few weeks of each other, we took turns asking a reflective question, and then sharing our answers with each other each week of our pregnancies. The first of that group delivered her baby in July, just 5 weeks before B was born, and we all felt the joy and pain (maybe not quite as much) that she did!

That group turned into a Whatsapp group, and we continue to message each other fairly regularly as we hit newborn, infant, and now almost toddler milestones and challenges. We share videos and pictures. And if we were ever to have a reunion (um, yes please!), it would be like we were all old friends, though none of us knew all of the rest of us beforehand.

After B was born, I joined a breastfeeding support group, which was my attempt at a local group of moms. It was priceless for the commiseration, the instant friendships, and the practical advice from the doulas, breasfeeding specialists, and other moms who attended. If you’re in the Portland area, I highly recommend Zenana for its post-pardum services and groups.

Four ladies with strollers and infants in front of a coffee shop
Breastfeeding group on the move!

Finally, once I hit the 6-week mark, I joined Fit4mom, an exercise group designed for moms. I participated in Stroller Strides 2-3 times per week and B slowly but surely learned to enjoy/sleep in his stroller while I worked my nearly petrified legs and arms. Paying in advance was the accountability I needed in order to continue to show up, and the community with the other moms added value as well! Mostly stay-at-home moms, the group inspired me through their skill handling kiddos while also being a human!!

How did you find support after becoming a mom? What were your most valuable resources? Leave notes in the comments!

Becoming a Parent

There were several years in my youth when I would tell anyone who asked that I did not plan to have kids. These were the days of dedication to my future studies and career. Plus, I didn’t enjoy babysitting, so why have kids, right?

Sometime between the end of college and getting married five years later, Richard and I had all of those healthy pre-marriage conversations and came to the mutual conclusion that the life we wanted together included children.

Then in May 2015, he and I took one of our best vacations together – two weeks in Peru. We went on an adventure trek along the Incan trail to Machu Picchu, stayed in a boat house on the Amazon, and explored Lima. It was also two years into our marriage, and when we decided to pull out the stops (literally and figuratively) and start trying to have kids!

Pecapeca on the Amazon River
Pecapeca (named for the motor sounds) on the Amazon

I distinctly remember swaying in the million degree heat and humidity in a flimsy boat on the Amazon and thinking, well, here we go! We also swam in the Amazon River that night. Fun fact – piranhas only live close to the shore, so if you plan to swim in the Amazon, aim for right in the middle!

Swimming in the Amazon while the sun sets
Swimming in the Amazon at Sunset

Over the next six months, we started. Until then, I had no idea how hard, how specific, how miraculous it is to become pregnant. There really is a tiny window every month when it’s even possible! Don’t tell teenagers, but it’s a lot less likely to happen by accident than I was made to believe.

Many couples have it much harder than we did. I’m endlessly amazed by the intense & excruciating effort some women have to put in to have children. And I’m in awe of those who persevere to adopt when all else fails. That said, my first was one of the nearly 20 percent of pregnancies that end in a miscarriage. While we mourned our loss and discussed all of our contingency plans, we started trying again.

I could write for days about the stigma around miscarriage, about those few weeks each month when women don’t drink because we’re not sure if we’re pregnant yet, about all the peeing on sticks, about the isolation and shame and disappointment every time another month passes without the dreaded but hoped-for symptoms, about the white lies about being exhausted and nauseated… but we’ll save that for another day.

Suffice it to say that in about March of 2016, we were overjoyed that our first child was on his way. By sometime that summer, we were convinced he would be around to stay, and by November, our lives changed forever!

What did your journey to parenthood look like?

Baby A, swaddled in a hospital blanket, holding mama's hand
Baby A

As a side note, I’ll add that during pregnancy, my doctors recommended a similar amount of exercise to whatever I was doing before I became pregnant. Well, in the couple of months before I became pregnant, I had a terrible flu, which meant virtually no exercise. So I spent the next 10+ months NOT exercising nearly at all. I’ll go into running while pregnant in another post, but for now, you can rest assured that I pretty much didn’t.

Joining the working world

What was your first job? How did you get it? What was your first full-time job? How did your life change at that point?

Though my mom stayed home with us kids when I was little, I always expected to work myself. I assume that came from some set of values my parents instilled in me from an early age.

She eventually did go back for her PhD and started an awesome second career, right about when I started mine. She did that with a drive and conviction of what she wanted to learn that impressed me. Similarly, my dad found his specialty in children’s clothing and stuck with it through several company changes over the years. Ever since my family renovated our house when my sister was in fifth grade, she knew she wanted to be an architect. She went through a 5-year BA/MA program and is an architect today! And my brother’s interest in research and science has been singular and continuous from the beginning.

My career path has been just as fervent, though in every possible direction. I remember moments of panic before writing college essays, in which I had to decide whether I would pursue Spanish interpretation, musical theory, or genetic counseling. Even now, I often get ridiculously excited about career pathways that I’m wildly unqualified for. HR Director of a massive corporation? Sign me up! Talent sourcing for diverse tech candidates? I’m in! Human Rights Commissioner of the UN? That’s perfect for me!

So, where did it all start? My dad likes to say I could play tennis before I could walk. Maybe it was his enthusiasm that led to my first job as a children’s tennis instructor. I was a child myself! I tossed balls to kids who could not even see over the net, and they swung wildly with their too-big rackets, sometimes smacking the balls into the net or each other (or me!) and sometimes missing entirely. Those few hours a day led to my first full summer job as assistant for my coach’s tennis club. That meant hours upon hours picking up balls, instructing kids’ camps, and dodging wayward lobs.

Around the same time, my sister and I branched into catering by starting our own business – Sister Act II, inspired by the classic Whoopi Goldberg film. We had dressed up in button down whites and black pants with red aprons and helped serve food and clean up my parents’ Christmas party one year. One of their friends asked if we could do her party the next week. We made business cards and from then on, we worked a few parties a month for several years, making more money than we would have babysitting!

As you might imagine, neither of those turned into my full-time adult career. Since then, I worked in international development at a think tank in Washington DC (my first job out of college, which I committed to over the phone without a second thought and before they even told me the salary), in partnerships for an Au Pair agency, in workforce development and training at local branch of a national nonprofit serving underprivileged youth, and now at a community college developing partnerships for STEM education. Each time, I was thrilled to dive into work!

Working, first job out of college

“Where’s the through-line?” You might ask. “Why do you work?”

Well, primarily, the through-line is that I find purpose in helping others. Specifically, I get excited when I can support organizations to improve their impact, particularly when working toward a cause I believe in. And I’ve had a chance to do that in each of those settings.

And I work partially for money – who doesn’t? I work because I crave feeling fulfilled, and work in the social impact sector is how I accomplish that feeling (selfish, I know!). I also feel a sense of duty to my gender, to show that women can be productive contributors to society. And finally, (and this is hard to admit) I work because I don’t think I have the creativity or self-discipline to be a stay-at-home mom and stay sane at the same time. I have a ton of respect for stay-at-home moms & also wouldn’t be able to do it myself.

Why do you work?

My first runs

Who or what inspired you to run for the first time?

Growing up, I hated the required mile run in gym class. It was my least favorite gym activity. For exercise in high school, I did Tae Kwon Do, played tennis, and was in the marching band (not a sport, but definitely a work-out!). In college, I tried out yoga, pilates, and rowing classes.

Most of these exercises involved special equipment, instructors, or at least a partner to play with me. And while I wouldn’t have been considered thin, I was never quite overweight enough to need to diet or exercise heavily in order to stay in shape. So nothing really stuck.

It wasn’t until I gained the DC 15 and met my now husband that I began running. After college, I moved to Washington DC for a think tank job that paid pennies. I survived on happy hour beers and fried appetizers and a lot of long working hours. Similar to the freshman 15, or the study abroad 15, I gained weight with this new routine.

At around the same time, I started dating my now husband. He’s one of those people who runs 3-4 times every week because he likes it. He has done so since middle school. He gets antsy and grumpy if he hasn’t run for the past 1-2 days!

So I tried it. I tried running from my apartment through Rock Creek Park. I remember mapping it out (check out MapMyRun – it’s the best running app I’ve found) and realizing it would take me about a mile to even get to the park, not to mention run through the park, and then back. In the stifling humidity, I remember being demoralized by my inability to just run 3 miles after never having run that distance EVER in my past.

Grumpy and feeling like running must not be for me, I tried a few more times, particularly running around the National Mall, which is absolutely stunningly beautiful. And it still didn’t quite appeal to me.

After two years in Washington DC, I moved to Monterey, CA, where I identified one of the strategies that continues to keep me running today – accountability. In one of my first classes, I met Liz, who quickly became a close friend. She mentioned wanting to start running regularly, and I said, why not!

We started with short distances and a slower pace than I thought could even be considered running. It didn’t hurt that our running routes looked like this, the weather was perfect every day, and we could run at 9am and still make it to class on time… and slowly but surely, we worked up to running 3-5 miles about twice a week. Our friend Allie joined us, and soon we had an accountable running group. It was thanks to these ladies that I built up to my first 10k!

We did the Big Sur River Run, and not only was it beautiful, but I did it surrounded by friends! That was 10 years ago, and the rest is history!

Big Sur River Run

At that point, I wasn’t even a mom yet. My life hadn’t turned upside down and become dedicated to the parenting of two little boys. AND I was in school, not working a full-time schedule. But even at that time, one of my four strategies was already vital to my running success: accountability.

How did you get started running? Who or what inspired you?