I’ve mentioned before that we live in an historic neighborhood where the houses are packed pretty tightly together. Our house is nestled right up against the next on the right side, but over here on the left there’s a glorious eight feet of space between the wall and the property line. We use the portion towards the street as a driveway but the rest is just wasted space. There’s still quite a bit of gravel reaching all the way to the backyard from previous incarnations of the driveway that I guess stretched further.

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The gate to the backyard has been broken for over a year. It’s propped into place in these photos but the fact that it’s upside down gives it away. Fixing it is on our ongoing to-do list.

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Also on the to-do list: making this space somehow more attractive and functional. We’ve never had a good place to keep our outdoor trashcans and I’m thinking that if we planted a large shrub to shield them from view it would be okay to store them over here.

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If we’re feeling really ambitious we could even put down some concrete stepping stones.

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Maybe a butterfly bush would work well there? From what I understand they’re inexpensive, fast-growing, and not too fussy. As you can see we get a lot of sun over here in the afternoon. We’re never going to spend much time hanging out here since it feels like we’re loitering outside our neighbor’s windows, but seeing as it’s one of the first things I see when I pull into the driveway I’d love to make it a little prettier. I find myself dreaming of so many landscaping possibilities this time of year. I want to buy all the plants! But experience has taught me to wait and mull it over for a little while before spending any money.

We’ve been spending a lot of time outside lately–trips to walk around LSU, to feed the ducks, to the playground, the splash pad, and even our own backyard.

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Jack already has tan lines on his feet from his sandals. He’s always a shade or two darker than me (he gets it from Nick) but he looks like he spent a week at the beach just from playing outside every day.

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We were going to walk over to the splash pad again yesterday, but we decided to just pull out the baby pool from last summer instead. Best decision ever! We stored it under our house for the winter and all it took was a quick spray with the hose to get it ready for use. Jack had a lot of fun and it was so nice being able to slip inside for lunch and a break from the sun then come back out in the afternoon without all the fuss of packing up and leaving. I even got in the pool for a little while. It was surprisingly relaxing!

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I’ve been trying to take it easy because I seem to have injured my ankle somehow. I’m not working today and we’ve got some bad weather coming so I’m anticipating another day spent close to home with maybe some backyard time if the rain holds off. It’s all blue skies now so fingers crossed! I hope y’all each had a fabulous weekend and if you didn’t have the day off yesterday may it at least have been a holiday in your heart.

Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is a constant effort for me. I never had any problems with it as a child, but once I entered adulthood genetics and bad habits caught up with me and I’ve been ten to twenty pounds overweight for the better part of the last decade. The only time I’ve been successfully able to lose weight was when I was slimming down for my wedding. I lost twenty pounds over the course of a year. Totally reasonable, right? The methods I used were quite reasonable as well–no cleansing or fasting or fad dieting. I just did some cardio and kept a food journal. I kept it off for a few years until I got a job that had me spending lots of time on the road, where I resorted to grabbing a burger for lunch most days. Since then I’ve had a really hard time getting back into shape. After Jack was born I got back to my pre-pregnancy weight without any real effort and actually lost a few more pounds thanks to breastfeeding, but I was still overweight and as soon as Jack weaned I was right back to that same number on the scale. I kind of tried off and on over the last year–I got a trial gym membership on Groupon, took Jack on long walks, started hula hooping in my living room, and halfheartedly watched what I ate, but I wasn’t really seeing any changes and after a while I decided to just embrace my body for what it is. I of course immediately started eating ALL THE THINGS and gained ten pounds. I’m currently the heaviest I’ve ever been outside of pregnancy. Sigh.

I often find myself feeling bitter that I can’t eat the same things as Nick. I know that he’s over a foot taller than me and blessed with good genetics and a fast metabolism, but we live together and it seems unfair that he can have milkshakes and candy bars and second helpings and still stay relatively trim. Maybe my stomach has stretched out or maybe I’ve got something wrong with me, but it seems like I’m always hungry. I’ve had bloodwork done and everything looks normal so I don’t know what the deal is.

So anyway, when I lost weight before my wedding one of the activities I took up was running. I kind of hated it but it worked. And actually the only school sport I have ever participated in was track. I dropped out before the first meet when I realized that practice was four days a week. That was too much running for me, apparently. I reluctantly decided to try running again for the sole reason that it’s more time-efficient than walking. I settled on using this run/walk training plan from Runner’s World. When I ran before I had to carefully map my routes and keep an eye on the time, but predictably there’s an app for that these days. I programmed the training plan into the RunKeeper app on my iPhone and use it to track my intervals, pace, and distance. Pop Fitness Radio runs in the background on Pandora, and Jack comes along in a jogging stroller that I borrowed from a friend. I’m in the second week of training and am averaging a 16 min/mile pace (that’s with three minutes of running and three minutes of walking, plus a walking warm up and cool down). Nick can practically power walk as fast as I can run. Seriously, he walks with the stroller and I run on my intervals and he has no problem keeping up with me. I’m not sure whether that’s funny or not.

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I also got a pedometer. The first one I bought (from Target) was total crap but this one from Amazon** is great. I wear it every day with the goal of getting to 12,000 steps per day. Even on the days that I don’t run this is achievable because my new job allows me to be very active. It’s in a hospital and I have lots of opportunities to take the stairs–as many as five flights up and five flights down, plus lots of short trips between my office on one floor and patient rooms on the next. I totally looked like this the first time I climbed all the way to the sixth floor:

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I’ve been repeating it like a mantra that my goal is not to lose weight because I know that if I make weight loss my goal and don’t see results quickly I’ll get frustrated and give up. Instead my goals are specific to fitness–to take 12k steps per day and to be able to run thirty minutes without stopping, I have lost a few pounds already but I’m not making a big deal of it, especially since my weight has been so up and down over the last two years.

**Amazon affiliate link. If you make a purchase after following that link I will receive a small portion of the proceeds at no additional cost to you.

I’m going to go ahead and get the cliches out of the way first: 1) if you haven’t seen the movie yet, read the book first, and 2) the book is better.

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This is not a beach read or relaxing piece of chick lit by any stretch of the imagination, but if you are into history (I’m not) or issues surrounding race, particularly in the South (I am), then you will absolutely enjoy it. I read a lot of stuff like this when I was in college and am surprised I’d never heard of this one before the movie came out. And maybe it’s because I just get more out of books than movies in general or maybe it’s because there is such a level of detail in this particular book that it could not possibly be entirely contained by a film, but the book was much more vivid. When Nick and I were watching the movie together at home I found myself explaining to him the full story behind many things that were not portrayed in depth. And even though he is not the kind of person who would normally be drawn to this topic he was still talking about it the next day.

If you’re not familiar with it, here’s an overview. It’s the true story of Solomon Northup, who was born a free black man in Saratoga Springs, New York in 1808. He was a man of many skills, including agriculture, carpentry, and violin. In 1841, his wife took the children out of town with her temporarily while she took a job running the kitchen at a coffee house. When Solomon was approached by two men who said they’d heard of his talent as a musician and wondered whether he’d travel with them for a few weeks to perform on a tour, he figured he’d make some good money and be back in time to welcome his family home. Their shows were sparse, but he was truly enjoying the trip with his white traveling companions and they were paying him quite well, so when they asked whether he’d be willing to continue traveling with them to D.C. he agreed. They obtained paperwork confirming his freedom before leaving New York City. On their first night in D.C. they went out to dinner and enjoyed several drinks. That night Solomon became ill and woke up to find himself bound in chains with his papers missing. The rest of the book tells the story of his experience being shipped to New Orleans, sold into slavery, and living for twelve years near Holmesville, Louisiana, less than two hours from where I live and about ten minutes from where my grandfather was born. There are some truly horrific scenes and it would be easy to feel overcome with anger that these things not only happened, but save for the kidnapping were perfectly legal. Have you ever heard this quote from Mr. Rogers?

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

I have always been white, have always lived in the south, and have always cared about racial equality and acceptance. When I read books like this I have a lot of rather unpleasant feelings. But while reading this story in particular I found it really rewarding to look for the helpers. There were indeed several people who helped Solomon Northup along the way, including the circumstances that led to his liberation. When viewed from that perspective elements of the story are actually rather refreshing: there’s hope for goodness in humanity after all. I found Solomon to be a reasoned and likable narrator who tried to see the good in people wherever possible. I only wish that I knew more about his life after slavery. I know that he returned to his family and that he later published the story of his experience, but additional details are scarce. Did he have difficulty settling back into his old life? The impressive resilience with which he endured the horrors of slavery leads me to believe that he probably did alright back home, but trauma changes people sometimes. The date and circumstances of his death are unknown–did he live to see the end of the Civil War? I’d like to imagine he did.