Here’s A Thought: Have a Running (Christmas) Gift List

Years ago, when my sisters were attending university in the US, they would get stopped going through the border on their way back to school in January. In addition to extra passengers and a year’s worth of clothing and supplies, they always had a trunk full of gifts for extended family. The border agent would chuckle and make some joke about people getting their gifts a bit late this year. And then my sisters would calmly explain these were actually gifts for next year.

I started Christmas shopping “late” this year. I usually start buying (and wrapping) items over the summer. But this time I’m committed to keeping things as minimal as possible. I want to buy things that are going to be appreciated and used – practical items, fun consumables, experiences, or something to honour special requests.

So far it’s going well. One of the biggest advantages – my digital list of gift ideas.

Hanging his Christmas Eve ornament – more on this fun tradition coming soon.

Last Christmas was one of my favourites. We weren’t sure if my parents were going to be able to join us because of provincial border closures. At the last minute (December 23rd to be exact) we learned they could come! It was an extra special celebration because I thought we would be spending Christmas alone (which would have been fine, but it’s always more fun to share the holidays with loved ones).

One major coup was streamlining meals. Instead of trying to cram all our favourite edible delights into a 3-4 day period around Christmas, we spread out the culinary experiences.

Christmas Day we had a nice breakfast, a simple (but delicious) charcuterie board + potato salad for lunch, and we put meatballs (a family favourite) in the slow cooker for supper. Then we headed off to Peggy’s Cove. It was 18 degrees Celcius – practically bathing suit weather – and it was so much fun to go on a Christmas Day adventure.

We have always done a turkey with all the fixings on Christmas Day, but meatballs were delicious and a lot less work (my Mom prepped them in advance and brought them over frozen)! Instead we cooked a turkey on Boxing Day and invited a widowed friend for an afternoon of food and card games, which was relaxing and delicious and fun.

Anyway…back to the aforementioned gift list. While we were en route to Peggy’s Cove I started writing down a dozen or so gift ideas for Christmas 2021. As in an event exactly 365 days away. Little hints people had dropped (a friend liked my long sundae spoons, Abby was interested in receiving a daytimer) or lingering ideas for items that hadn’t made it under the tree in 2020.

Throughout the year I’ve added to the list. I try to enter items as soon as I think of them and the triggers can come from anywhere at anytime – on the beach, in the middle of the night, during a rain storm (I kid you not, heavy rains just triggered me to go add – “Umbrella” to Levi’s wishlist; he’s been asking for one for months and I never wrote it down). *Update: I finally bought him an umbrella over the weekend, after I drafted this post*

I haven’t purchased all the items on my list* – some are no longer relevant and a few I sourced for birthdays instead – but it was so nice to sit down in November and place a big Amazon order for the Codenames game I realized my daughter wanted back on New Year’s Day, the silicone baking sheets my Mom had admired over Christmas 2020 and those long sundae spoons I’d been eyeing for a friend.

*I have been using the AnyList app for years and absolutely love it – I actually wrote another post about why I have so many running lists. This is the main screen of my account. It’s easy to add items to a list, and you just swipe to delete. At this point I have 17 items remaining on my Christmas list; at one point it was at 35. I think (?) there is a Pro account, but I’ve always just used the free portion and it has been more than sufficient.

I’m excited for people to open their gifts this Christmas. I think I’ve had some good ideas (can’t share yet because a few people getting gifts read this blog so any reveals will have to wait until the New Year).

But even with bits of wrapping paper still scattered on the floor, Christmas tunes pumping through the speakers, and a turkey roasting in the oven – I suspect this December 25th you’ll find me starting my list for Christmas 2022.

Bonus: Check out this podcast episode from Best of Both Worlds that talks about having an active gift list + the benefits of stockpiling a few extras (e.g. for impromptu birthday parties).

Header photo by Superkitina on Unsplash

I Moved My Deodorant…And It Kinda (Slightly) Changed My World

A pebble in my shoe; an eyelash in my eye. I’ve learned that little things, over time, can become big problems.

*[I constantly have rocks in my shoe – it’s a running joke in my family/circle of friends – but if I thought a little grit now and again was bad, I just finished reading 26 Marathons, a memoir by Meb Keflezighi which includes a horrifying story of running the 2011 NYC Marathon with a Breathe Right strip in his shoe – this was an accident, he intended to wear it on his nose – which ripped his foot to shreds and cost him valuable training time over the long term].

But sometimes little changes on little things can have a big (positive) impact.

We have a small en-suite bathroom in our home and ever since we moved in (over four years ago) I have been storing my deodorant in the top drawer of the bathroom vanity.

From Day 1 this has been a nuisance. I prefer to get dressed in our bedroom, so I either have to go get the deodorant before I’m ready to get dressed (annoying)…or apply it after getting dressed (a recipe for a white-streaked wardrobe disaster).

Then, very recently, I realized I could just store my deodorant in the top drawer of my dresser.

Such a small change, but it’s had a big impact. I’ve been doing this for several months now and I still get a thrill every time I open up my drawer and see my deodorant so conveniently nestled in with my socks (which I have never gotten around to folding a la Marie Kondo).

It reminds me of a story a friend told me years and years ago. My husband and I were moving between apartments and this friend was helping us unbox and organize the kitchen. As I oriented myself in the space – assigning all our plates and mixing bowls new homes – my friend started telling me a story I’ve never forgotten. An acquaintance of hers had moved into a house and one of the volunteer helpers had offered to unpack the kitchen supplies. It was a thoughtful gesture, with all the right motives, and one that was very much appreciated at the time. But apparently, for years, she was always frustrated by how her cups were located in the wrong spot in relation to the fridge, her plates and bowls were in the wrong cupboard for maximal efficiency when unloading the dishwasher. When she finally thought through how she would have arranged her kitchen, she made the necessary adjustments and flourished in her new environment. But it took years of inefficiency to prompt change.

Identify the problem. Then remember, sometimes a little adjustment can have a disproportionately big impact.

Saturday Bonus <> I Need to Heed My Own Advice – On Adding Buffers

After five years of organizing after-school pickup, I was beyond relieved to jump on the bussing bandwagon last year.

We enjoy walking to school and, pre-COVID, the hassle of after-school pickup (having to arrive 25 minutes early to find a parking spot) was offset by the fact that a large and dedicated group of parents + kids stayed after school to play and chat. This was my favourite way to pass the time between school dismissal and supper.

But then came COVID. We started the 2020 academic year with a wave of new restrictions – including shutting down the playground for an entire hour after school dismissal. Without any impetus to do pickup, I gladly signed our kids up for the afternoon bus.

The registration process went smoothly and I received notice of their very specific drop-off time. And, for over a year, the bus has dutifully arrived at that very specific time – almost without exception.

Then a few weeks ago, because of a mechanical issue, the bus arrived 30 minutes late. The next day it was 10 minutes late. And then, ever since, it has been arriving 3 minutes earlier.

Three minutes is a long time when my walk to the bus stop only takes a little over 3 minutes. If parents aren’t at the bus stop to meet children in Grade 3 and below, they bus those kids back to school and contact parents for in-person pickup. This has never happened to us, but the stress and disruption of that process would not be ideal.

So I make every effort to be on time.

The problem is I have had a very specific schedule for over a year now – I need to leave the house at 2:47 to make it to the bus stop with a few minutes buffer. This no longer works. With the bus arriving 3 minutes earlier, it’s a case of very simple math that I no longer have any buffer. In fact, I’m running late.

After having the same cues for over a year – 2:47 I need to be out the door; 2:48, I need to speed walk; 2:49 I need to run; 2:50 I need to sprint – I’m struggling to accept the reality that all those times are no longer relevant. In fact, now, a 2:47 departure requires a sprint, not a leisurely stroll.

So earlier this week, when I looked at the clock (after yet another afternoon of sprinting in my not-made-for-sprinting footwear) and saw it was 2:45, even though my mind told me I had buffer, I forced myself to get dressed and out the door. I enjoyed a leisurely walk to the bus and arrived early, with the perfect amount of buffer. Time for small talk with the rest of the congregants, but no time to get bored or cold.

Yet another reminder, adding a little bit of buffer can go a long way in making life more pleasant (and convenient – I really don’t want to have to drive back to school to rescue my child)!

Here’s to establishing more buffer…again.

Casual Friday + Maintenance Cleaning

  • It was another one of those up-and-down weeks. Wednesday morning I woke up feeling…blah. Tuesday I was a powerhouse of productivity – we had a great walk to school, I tackled a bunch of lingering administrative tasks, I was proactive on work responsibilities, I started thinking through year-end/corporate taxes (always daunting) and had a call with our accountant, I paid credit cards, I updated business banking, I went to the grocery store, I fit in a solo run…and then I got an e-mail that just deflated me. It’s a work responsibility completely out of my hands and something that has been an ongoing stressor for years now. Every once in a while the problem rears its ugly head and I just felt so…vulnerable. The e-mail tone was one of utter frustration and even though the take home message was: “I know this isn’t your fault,” even though my head knows I’ve put 100% into this project and the issues aren’t my fault, it still feels like my fault. I want everyone to be happy. I want my hard work to translate into everything falling in to place. But this doesn’t always happen and that can feel hard. So yeah…there was that. Currently working through how to process this (it has happened before and I know it will happen again on this particular project) and be okay with people being disappointed and realizing it’s out of my hands. Sigh.
  • Rewinding a bit – Halloween was…great. It was supposed to be raining – with high winds – the whole day. Not exactly the best weather conditions for a homemade cardboard costume held together by hot glue, tape, and some paperclips. About 4:00 pm the rain started slowing and by 5:30, when we headed out trick-or-treating, the sun was out and there was a GIANT rainbow in the sky over our house.
  • This is the first year Abby went off with another family + friends, so it was just our Superman in tow. Both kids declared it to be their favourite Halloween yet. It was mild, everyone was deliriously happy that we could actually go out (we were debating setting up little stations inside our house if the torrential rain continued and handing out candy to the kids), we all got home early enough to get settled for bed at a reasonable time + John and I even squeezed in a Sunday night date.
  • The kids are off today and we don’t have a full week of school again until the end of November. I’m working on getting some childcare in place (outside of the preschool era, we haven’t outsourced any childcare). We’ve always worked from home and managed to fit things around the kids schedules. While this is still doable, I’m questioning if it makes sense to do it. I have a lead on a high-schooler that could come home with them after school one day a week and am excited to get that set up!
  • I survived my first solo-parenting duties in almost 2 years. John returned from Las Vegas on 13 March 2020 and didn’t set foot on a plane again until this week. It has been a huge shift for our family (he travelled about 50% of the time pre-COVID). For almost two years there were no middle-of-the-night taxi trips, no jet lag, no perpetual suitcase in the corner. The kids feel a lot older now (Levi was still in preschool in 2020), and I still have the muscle memory for it. Plus, there were no blizzards or trips to the emergency room or – and this has happened more than once – both issues on the same night. It was fun to pick him up at the airport and see the little trinkets he brought home for the kids (I forgot how much they loved this part; lounge candies, conference swag, hotel toiletries = best gifts ever). And it was just so nice to have him back home again. Moving forward, work travel will be minimal. I’m glad of that – though wish we could have avoided a pandemic to get to this point. I’m also proud we survived one short foray back into a world that was once so (too) familiar.
  • It’s getting colder. I looked ahead in the forecast and see temperatures in the negative digits in the not-so-distant future. BELOW FREEZING?! Ugh. The time changes on Sunday, though, and I’m excited to not be eating breakfast in the dark…
I saw this at a local store and nearly died laughing. I should just wear this around my neck as a perpetual excuse for any bad moods over the next 6 months or so – which is exactly how long winter seems to last in Eastern Canada.
  • Also, early nights mean we have more excuses to cuddle up and watch The Junior Bakeoff together. The kids LOVE this show, and I love this show and it really is just the best way to spend thirty minutes before bedtime. We’re still watching old seasons and everyone is so invested (#TeamEliza).

Maintenance Cleaning

My decreased posting schedule means discussions on cleaning have taken a bit of a back-seat and lack the continuity I had first imagined, but I thought I’d wrap things up with a brief chat about maintenance work.

To me, cleaning is distinct from clutter-clearing, which is really the part of the process where I enjoy cleaning. I’ve gone over most of our family habits around dealing with excess clutter and I’ve written about chores, generally, and how we portion up various household tasks. I’ve discussed kid’s clutter, and who does what (and when) to keep our clothing laundered.

But if your household is anything like mine, beyond the clutter and the deep-cleaning, there is always regular maintenance work that needs doing…

do you have a cleaning schedule?

Every two weeks we have someone come and deep-clean (floors + bathrooms, mostly). I only dust every two weeks, but the other cleaning I try to stay on top of in the interim.

I don’t have a schedule for keeping the floors clean; I tend to tackle these frequently, dust-busting/sweeping every day or two. Once a week or so I will task one of the kids with doing this while I clean up the kitchen after supper. We have a long-handled hand vacuum and this works well for them to maneuver in the nooks and crannies (especially under the kitchen cabinets and around the dining room table, the biggest sources of crumbs/dirt). My husband tackles this, too, and is almost fully responsible for floors in the basement.

I try to clean the bathroom sinks + toilets exactly a week after the cleaner has come and I’ll switch out the handtowels at this point as well. I don’t touch the mirrors or bathtubs! This keeps the bathrooms presentable (though I don’t use the kid’s bathroom very often, so will warn impromptu guests I’m not sure of its current state).

what products do you use?

I use a mix of products. I went through a stint of using vinegar and water, but have to admit…I just don’t love the smell. I’ve tried masking it with essential oils, but it just smelled like lemony vinegar.

My favourite is Method all-purpose sprays, especially the Grapefruit scent. It makes spraying down the counters a pleasure.

I remember reading The Power of Habit years ago and never forgot the example Charles Duhigg gives of Febreeze and how they marketed the product in such a way that spritzing a room gave users a satisfying reward. As someone who studied operant conditioning in honeybees, and loves the “Altoid” clip from the Office, I’m not above admitting this works on me, too. While I often just wash things with hot soap and water, using a good smelling spray does make it that much more enjoyable!

what do the kids do?

I’ve already discussed the main responsibilities we give the kids (a few different times), but they are also expected to participate in the maintenance work as required.

I have them clean up their rooms periodically through the week, and will often send them on random errands of the housecleaning variety. Emptying garbage cans, straightening shoes in the entryway, picking up toothbrushes scattered around the bathroom (or kitchen – sigh) sink and putting them back in the toothbrush holder.

do you have daily chores?

No. I remember my sister sweeping her floors every day. I try to do laundry every two days, run the dishwasher when it’s full, and sweep when I notice enough accumulation of dirt and other things the kids may have tracked in that it’s obvious and annoying to me. I almost always tackle all the dishes by the end of the day (loading the dishwasher + handwashing anything that can’t go through the dishwasher). I wipe down the stove every day or two when I’m cleaning the kitchen. But nothing (aside from making my bed, which isn’t exactly “cleaning”) that I do every day.

My husband is great about getting the table well cleaned; our son loves honey on toast and so there are always little sticky drips dotted around his places at the table. It really needs to be deep-cleaned every day or two.

While I wish things stayed clean longer, by staying on top of things (mostly), it has just become part of our wind-down ritual at the end of the day. Putting things back in their place, leaving mostly clean surfaces for the morning – when it will all get undone again, because that’s life.

Saturday Bonus <> October Edition

I’ve really missed posting 5x/week. I’m seeing all sorts of bloggers post about their intentions to publish every day in November (NaBloPoMo, which is a take on the infamous NaNoWriMo).

As much as I’d like to jump on the same bandwagon, it’s not going to happen.

Something has to give in this busy season, and even 5x/week doesn’t feel doable let alone 7.

And, since I love order and schedules, posting when I “feel” like it doesn’t really suit me. So I’ve eased back to 3x/week. I started the year with a goal of getting to 52 blog posts and this will be #112. But when John bundled up the kids and decided to take them out for the morning, I really just wanted to sit down and write.

So I did. I am an adult after all.

Some things from today, inspired by San’s post (and layout!).

SLEEPING | Another rough night with a random child wake-up at 2:30. I got back to sleep from 5:30-7:30ish, which definitely made me feel worse upon waking but should help me power through the day. I did catch up on my Bible reading (I was 2 days behind) at 4 am, so all was not lost. Thursday night I was out at an event and could not stop yawning (though, wearing a mask, I hope it wasn’t too obvious). Sadly, my stint of insomnia/child disruptions shows no sign of relenting.

EATING | It’s date night. Cue the jazz hands. One meal last weekend included fresh scallops, bacon, and mushrooms with homemade sauce on a bed of noodles. Can’t wait to see what hubby dreams up this week. While everyone was away I used up the rest of the apples to create one of my favourite desserts. I could eat crisp topping by the bowlful. It’s currently sitting in the fridge and I can’t wait to pop this in the oven and have the smells of fall permeate the house. Apple and cinnamon (with a nice dose of sugar) for the win.

MAKING | Other than Halloween costumes? LEGO. And these muffins on repeat (I’m sure I’ve made this recipe several hundred times now).

#1 Dad LEGO creation we made last week.

READING | Not much. Anne of Green Gables with the kids. Grateful Kae suggested a few to add to my reading list and I’ve already ordered one of those from my library. Lots of picture books (because I’m going to be checking those out until the kids are 30 years old because they are my happy place). I do have a copy of Russ Harris’ The Illustrated Happiness Trap on my bedside table because I got so much out of the full-length version, but I’ve not made much headway yet.

Freshly re-stocked library haul of picture books. No matter how hard I try, I always walk out with WAY more books than intended.

ENJOYING | I love to laugh and this National Post article is the funniest thing I’ve read in a long time.

EXERCISE | September I ran every day! In October I’ve run twice (including today). It’s been a weird few months with exercise. Now that the kids are back in school we’re walking ~4km every weekday, and I try to fit in at least one long (>6 km) walk with a friend each week. But in terms of running, it feels far from a habit. In keeping with Laura Vanderkam’s belief that doing anything 3x per week makes it a habit, in November I’m going to aim to run 3x/week. Every day doesn’t feel doable, but I DO want running to be a habit. I’m not convinced I’ll make it, but today was a start.

I was planning to run down the hill and along a nice flat path to meet the family. At the bottom of the big hill I realized I was only 98% certain I had turned off the stove burner. So my longer, downhill/flat run, became a very short, mostly uphill run. And yes, the element was off.

HALLOWEEN | Those massive pumpkins have been transformed into an October snowman! I had no hand in this project whatsoever and it exceeded my expectations. Gold stars to the kids + John. I do wish the exterior renos had happened before Halloween so Mr. Frosty didn’t have to hang out in front of the 2/3 dismantled house facade, but he’s a cheery addition to the chaos.

Also, because it’s supposed to be rainy AND windy tomorrow night, we got the kids geared up in their costumes when it was bright and sunny and beautiful (everything one could hope for in a fall day) to get nice outdoor photos. Abby’s costume will be ruined in seconds if the downpour materializes!

In that lovely afternoon weather, we spent a fun 30 minutes decorating a neighbours driveway with Halloween-themed chalk messages and pictures. I was quite proud of my freehand pumpkin…

CHRISTMAS | After reading one too many articles about how delayed things were going to be this year, I hopped on the Christmas gift bandwagon. My Vistaprint order arrived earlier this week with our holiday cards and calendars, and I’ve put in a few orders from Amazon. The rest I’ll piece together locally. Today involved wrapping. It’s a nuisance to get set up, so I try to do this in relatively large batches. It feels good to know I have some things already wrapped and it gave me a better sense of what I had managed to stockpile during the year (I often start buying gifts 12 months out…and can forget what I’ve already nabbed on sale).

Everything in my stash is wrapped and stowed away in the guest-room closet.

While John was out with the kids he tackled buying items for the Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes. We’ve been packing these for a decade now, and we have each kid pack a box for a similarly aged child. Levi was content to let Abby and I do the organizing, and it’s always so much fun!

PLANNING | November is going to be…intense. The kids only have a single full week of school. There are some trips for work. There are renos (have mercy). Levi has a birthday. My paper calendar looks pretty empty right now, but my digital calendar is filling up fast. Still trying to keep things minimal for the holidays and enjoying white space where I can find it. Definitely going to have to remind myself to make things easy when I can. Can anyone say cereal for supper?

I really set up shop this morning in the dining room. Bible Study, coffee, laptop, and daytimer. I’m set.

KEEPING IT REAL | And just to pan out on the serene scene above…here is the rest of the table this morning. Treat bags (two friends who will be away over Halloween brought loaded goodie bags for the kids – including homemade cookies which make a cameo in this shot)…as if they weren’t going to get enough on Sunday night! There is also the: audiobook phone, a random glass of water from breakfast, John’s hat, Abby’s nutrition label (to glue on to her KD costume), a random mini dish from pumpkin seeds, an extra pad of scratch paper, salt and pepper, and my Yeti which is mysteriously missing its lid. Thankfully, these items DO all have a place, so it’s mess not clutter.

Casual Friday + Deep-Dive Into Laundry

  • John and Abby picked out our family pumpkins last weekend. Somehow she managed to talk him in to getting what were surely the three biggest pumpkins in the field. For real. They filled the entire trunk. The idea is to make a snowman out of pumpkins. We shall see how that goes. I’ve gladly delegated the whole task and am sure whatever they come up with will be fun and…memorable.
  • We also spent a not insignificant portion of the weekend working on Abby’s costume. Normally we do hand-me-downs or thrift store finds. This year she was determined to make her own costume and very quickly settled on creating a life-sized box of Kraft Dinner. Mac n’ Cheese is her favourite meal, especially when it’s made from scratch by Grammie. But the boxed version works too and it’s a favourite special treat on a weekend Date Night. This project involved glue (of the hot and stick variety, so bonus points?), paint, toilet paper rolls, a box, bristol board, and lots of tape. It ticked all the homemade crafting boxes. It was a lot of fun (I had been dreading the process) and she’s so happy with the end result. Levi will be going as Superman and his costume took approximately 30 seconds to select from a rack.
  • If there wasn’t already enough reasons to love fall AND our morning walks to school…John snapped this picture of the leaves on a trail we take to get home after dropping off the kids. October at its finest. Hard to beat the scenery on our commute!
  • I talked last Friday about the ups and downs that cycle through a week. Sometimes even within a day. Last Saturday was up and then way, way down. Sunday was all up. Monday was great. Wednesday was tough. I’m just writing this here so I can read back and realize the roller-coaster is real. It’s also normal and, for the most part, unavoidable.
  • Last weekend had some real highlights. Our quaint little town hosts Devour – a food and film festival. Some of our closest friends (who live just far enough away we don’t see them as often as we’d like) bought tickets for the Chowderfest. For $20 you got 5 samples of chowder and then you voted, via an app, for your favourite with a winner crowned by the end of the night. After their feast, they walked up to our house and we spent the remainder of the evening getting caught up. It’s always fun to sit and chat with other adults and feel…like an adult! They’re also a bit older – with kids having recently flown the coop – so it gives us a glimpse of the future when attending things like a Chowderfest won’t involve copious time and money related to arranging childcare!
  • Abby hosted her first in-home sleepover the same night. We made homemade pizzas on Naan bread and served homemade chocolate sauce (with coconut oil, so it hardens on contact with cold) to go over ice cream. The girls kindly let Levi hang out and watch a movie with them. The sleepover was a huge success complete with a movie, stuffed animals, snacks (of course) and a breakfast of fluffy stacked pancakes with maple syrup, peanut butter, nutella, chocolate chips and – because there clearly wasn’t enough sugar involved – a dusting of icing sugar (all masterfully prepared by John). Not quite on par with our family Whole30? I do think all that sugar and lack of sleep definitely helped derail parts of Saturday. Win some, lose some. And Sunday was great.

Laundry Deep-Dive

Okay, okay. Maybe “deep-dive” is overselling things a bit.

I’m no laundry guru – I don’t actually separate my whites from my darks (clearly a satisficer in this category). But I do try to stay on top of laundry and minimize the time it takes. Because, quite honestly, laundry isn’t one of my favourite things to spend time on. I’ve heard that some people actually enjoy ironing. I’m sure they’re lovely people…but wow.

To me, laundry is a necessary evil. It doesn’t taste good, like food, which helps offset the time invested in grocery shopping and cooking. Much of the time laundry doesn’t even make an aesthetic difference. My sheets don’t look dirty when they need to be laundered.

Yet, since I spend several hours a week doing various tasks related to laundry, it’s not an insignificant chore.

I’ve tweaked my approach to laundry various times over the years. When Abby was younger, I’d aim to do 2 loads/week (both on Saturday).

Now, with two much larger children in tow, I do one load almost every day.

Last year I did most loads in the evening, now I aim for the morning.

Last year I would dump all the clean, dry clothes on my bed and sort things there. Now I handle everything in the laundry room.

Different seasons have called for different approaches and here’s what’s working for us now.

When do you do laundry?

My preferred time is morning. I like turning the washing machine on before breakfast and then I’ll move things to the dryer when I know I’ll be home for the whole cycle (I don’t like leaving the house with the dryer going + I like to handle clothes fresh from the dryer to prevent wrinkles because above all else I loathe ironing).

Sometimes I’ll leave the washed clothes sitting for several hours in the washing machine, but the whole process of getting clean, dry laundry is usually completed by lunchtime.

where do you store dirty laundry?

We have a single laundry basket at the end of our hallway that everyone dumps into. When it’s full, it’s time for laundry.

If things get taken off downstairs in the laundry room (which connects to our downstairs bathroom/shower), sometimes we’ll leave a small pile of clothes on the floor or put items directly into the washing machine. But, for the most part, everything – clothes, towels, sheets, dishcloths – all go in one spot.

I know someone that has laundry baskets for every bedroom; she does separate loads for each child’s items, towels, sheets, even kitchen paraphernalia! It feels like more work to me but to each their own.

How do you separate clothes?

I don’t. I wash almost everything on the cold water setting. Especially dirty items or things we’re washing during an illness (hello, flu season), I’ll do on the hot setting. I buy detergent that works for cold water and, so far, no one has complained about the cleanliness of their clothes. We don’t necessarily have the highest of standards…

It’s less expensive, colours don’t run and, since I dry most things in a dryer, they’re being exposed to heat!

Who puts away the clean Clothes?

This has changed a lot. For the last few years I had been putting away almost everything. Ugh. But in the last 6 months I’ve gladly started sharing the responsibility.

When I sorted clothes in the master bedroom, things HAD to be put away before bedtime, or we’d have nowhere to sleep. Now I sort laundry as soon as it comes out of the dryer. I shake things out so they’re not wrinkled and lay them flat in piles according to person.

Since the items are out of the way and wrinkle-free, there is a lot more flexibility in when they get put away (I usually get the kids to put away their clothes by the end of the day so stacks don’t accumulate and, since two stacks end up on the top of my deep freeze, when I need a bag of frozen peas, those clothes have got to go).

The kids are responsible for going downstairs and carting their pile back upstairs. I put socks together, but beyond that, they’re on their own.

I put away my clothes, general items like towels and dishcloths, and leave John’s clean clothes at the bottom of our bed.

These have been the biggest (and best) shifts in laundry: storing clean items out of the way (where I don’t see them + they don’t get wrinkled or dumped in a pile onto the floor which is about the most maddening experience to behold as a mother who has spent an hour doing laundry) AND passing the buck to every member in the family has been liberating.

what about big items like sheets and towels?

I’m terrible about staying on schedule with washing sheets. I feel like the kids spill or do something to their sheets every 2-3 weeks and I’m content with that washing cycle, but I definitely go longer than I should between washing my own sheets.

When I do wash sheets, I do a separate load (king-sized sheets are…large). Towels we just add to the laundry basket as we use them, and since I do a load whenever that basket is full, towels usually just get washed with other items. These also get washed in cold water, but are dried on high heat.

What about a clothesline?

To my shame, I’ve largely stopped using my clothesline. I was good about using it for a few years…but it’s a lot more work. Carting things outside, hanging them out, bringing them back in, and then dealing with the invariable soap scum on dark items. I’ll airdry big things like sheets (plus they smell so good), but just about everything else is currently going into the dryer. And I’m not letting myself feel any guilt about this.

(The clothesline gets LOTS of use for drying beach towels and bathing suits in the summer).

While I wouldn’t say I enjoy laundry, it’s not that bad. Staying on top of it by doing frequent, smaller loads, using the dryer, and making use of the child labour available in my home have all been important tweaks to help me from getting buried under an avalanche of superhero-themed underwear and pajamas.

And, for now at least, I haven’t discovered a way to keep active, outdoor-loving kids clean. And that’s fine. Run free. Get dirty. Every load is worth it.

Chores: Outsourcing, What the Kids Do, and other General Q&A

I really enjoyed my weekly series on food a few months back (which even got a shout-out from one of my favourite bloggers – Sarah Hart-Unger). I’ve tackled travel on a budget and spent a week talking about clutter. This time I thought I’d delve into the never-ending world of household chores, kicking things off with a short Q&A.

What Do You outsource?

Really the only thing we consistently outsource is house cleaning. For the last 18 months (as COVID regulations have allowed) we have hired someone to deep clean the house. Every two weeks someone comes to do the floors, blitz the bathrooms and, every so often, dust the fan blades. If we include the basement floors and bathroom, we budget for 3 hours, but typically 2 hours is long enough to do the main floor.

I spend about an hour prepping beforehand. I do all the dusting, we pull things up off the floor (chairs, garbage cans, random detritus in kid bedrooms). This feels slightly like hiring a dog and barking myself, but I don’t really mind this prep work.

Having extra support with the cleaning maintenance has been wonderful. Admittedly, after about 24 hours, the floors already show the wear and tear of life, and the bathroom mirrors are speckled with toothpaste. But I know it’s been clean, and nothing gets grimy. It’s mostly superficial dirt!

The last two summers we’ve largely outsourced lawn care; we’re still in the middle of exterior renovations and we have a lot of landscaping work to be done. It’s not an easy lawn to mow right now and between vacations and an arm injury and lack of time (we’d rather be adventuring), we had someone come 2x/month to mow as well. This winter I think we’ll look to have the same person come with their snowplow and clear the driveway after really big storms. In the grand scheme of things, it’s very reasonably priced and since we save in so many areas, these are places that we can choose to “splurge” and give ourselves the gift of time.

What do the kids do?

We don’t have a set chore routine; there are no charts, no stickers, and no specific schedule of when certain things get done. I mostly have to remind the kids to do their various jobs, but they tend to comply without too much complaining (yes, there is definitely some). I’ve talked a bit about this topic before in terms of kids clutter and how they help keep things under control.

Levi (~7 years old):

  • is responsible for general tidying in his room. I’ll get him to clean up LEGO every few weeks (but it’s downstairs and there is almost always a current project going, so I don’t care too much).
  • collects the garbage cans. Every week (usually Thursday, since garbage day is Friday), he brings all the garbage cans out to the kitchen. I handle combining/disposing of the garbage, but he is responsible for taking the cans back to their respective rooms when I’m done.
  • helps clean off the table; sometimes we’ll have him do everything, sometimes just his own dishes.
  • now puts away his laundry. It is sorted and left in a neat pile in the laundry room but he is responsible for getting it and putting it away. Once a week or so I “straighten” up his drawers, because things tend to get shoved into spots that are already full or hung very precariously on hangers in his closet, but it’s done and I don’t have to do it!

Abby (~10.5 years old):

  • is responsible for the dishwasher. This is her biggest job. Every 1-2 days she has to empty clean dishes (for the most part, an adult loads items into the dishwasher). She doesn’t love this job, and I always let her know when it’s done (i.e. she doesn’t take it upon herself to check if it needs doing). I don’t run it until it’s relatively full, and I think it would be ideal if she could count on a set schedule – say every day when she got home from school – but it’s not and I just let her know when it needs doing.
  • also puts away her own laundry. More neatly than Levi, but as she should at nearly 11!
  • also helps clear the table.

How do you balance chores with work and fun?

There is always something to be done. Sometimes things just need to be left undone, and I’m trying to come to peace with that (I’m having mixed success on that front).

A few things that help:

  1. Have less stuff. Cluttered spaces are generally harder to keep clean. Messy worktops are harder to dust; it takes a lot longer to vacuum a bedroom floor littered in toys.
  2. As much as possible, keep messes localized. I’ll spot vacuum (with our dust buster) around the table every day or so. Then this mess doesn’t get tracked through the whole house, requiring more intensive cleaning everywhere.
  3. Outsource. See above. If it will fit into the budget, consider getting someone to help out with staying on top of house cleaning, laundry, meal prep, stacking wood or yardwork.

While chores can feel…like a chore…I also find them satisfying. They’re part of the rhythm of life and while it can be frustrating to launder the same sets of clothes and wash the same dishes and empty the same garbage cans, there is an element of productivity and satisfaction. I don’t grow my own vegetables or sew my own clothes; some of the working subsistence practices from previous generations don’t apply to me. But I can still find comfort and a sense of accomplishment from staying on top of the daily – admittedly mundane – chores of organizing a household.

Also, I think chores can also be a cue for gratitude. James Clear talks about changing “I have to” sentences into “I get to” sentences. Instead of “I have to do laundry…again” we can recast this into the realization “I get to do laundry again” which might trigger a swell of thanks that we have clothing, or easy access to water in which to wash our clothes, or gratitude for a modern washing machine without a washboard or handwringer in sight; “I have to cook supper” can become “I get to cook supper” which means there is enough food in the fridge to feed the family or feelings of gratitude that you have someone with whom to share meals.

4. And, like I said in my very first blog post: let’s not let the perfect get in the way of the good, or the done! A 15-second wipe-down of the bathroom counter with a baby wipe can be almost as good as a 5 minute deep dive with cleaners and special equipment.

I’m A Memory Keeper: Photobooks + How I Organize My Pictures.

Earlier this summer I took some time to identify things I value. It took a while to get the proverbial ball rolling but, once I did, the list kept growing. I accepted the fact that I value time alone, calm, and order. I value date nights and having 1-on-1 time with my kids. I value home aesthetics, cultural experiences, and connecting with seniors.

I also value my role as our family memory keeper and a huge component of that involves photos and photobooks.

My Dad was the resident photographer in my house growing up; he was constantly gathering us for awkwardly posed shots, especially if we had extended family visiting. The resulting photos are objectively dreadful – awkward photographs of everyone standing on the front porch, inside a museum lobby, or by our fireplace bedecked with Christmas stockings. Several people always have their eyes closed. Candid photos were not in his repertoire. But one of my favourite things to do as a kid was flip through our family photo albums. Page after page filled with memories; most fun but a few sad (rest in peace, Thumper).

As a teenager I went through a stint of scrapbooking with my older sister, but that didn’t last long (too much clutter for my liking). For years my photos mostly hung out in a digital purgatory; accessible, but not without effort and excessive screen time.

And then, when our oldest was born, I discovered photobooks.

Why Photobooks?

I love the ritual of sitting down and flipping through an album. Accessing photos digitally is fine, but I prefer when the viewing experience involves tactile senses. Because of the sheer number of photos we take each year (and would want in hard-copy), it’s prohibitive to develop them all as prints.

Enter photobooks. I often end up getting well over 1,000 pictures crammed into each book. I keep my layouts simple and use very little text. It’s a place for the photos to shine and tell the story of our life that year.

What publisher do You use?

Judging by the width of the binding, you can tell each year I just keep adding more and more pictures. I have books going all the way back to 2011, so I’ve officially hit the decade mark.

For the last 5 years I’ve been using Blurb. When MyPublisher (my original go-to) was absorbed by Shutterfly, I tried out a lot of different programs. I ended up settling on Blurb because it had desktop software that would allow me to build the book offline, dragging and dropping pictures from my desktop.

Once the book is complete, I simply upload the whole thing at once. There are great previewing features offline to help me identify layout issues, spelling mistakes, etcetera.

Blurb’s paper quality isn’t as good as some other companies (there is obvious shadowing/bleedthrough on thinner paper weights), but the reasonable prices (low per-page pricing + lots of great sales) and ability to print large books (I make books of 200+ pages) make it a great option for my needs.

How do You organize YOUR pictures?

The first step to creating a photobook…is managing your photos. There are a lot of different ways to approach this, but the following system works well for me.

  1. During each calendar month I regularly go through the photos on my phone. I’ll do this when I’m waiting in line or need to unwind for a few minutes. I’ll edit them – remove duplicates, boost the colour, straighten crooked images – before I move the best ones over to their permanent folder which leads me to #2…
  2. At the end of every month I move all my photos from that month off my iPhone and into folders in OneDrive (once they’re backed up to the cloud, I delete them off my phone).
  3. I have four master folders within each calendar year (Jan – Mar; Apr – Jun; Jul – Sept; Oct – Dec). Within each of those quarterly folders, I have a series of subfolders. For example, Oct – Dec would include folders like: Thanksgiving, Halloween, Christmas (which would likely have further subfolders like Christmas Tree, Christmas Eve, Decorations), Levi’s Birthday, Outside Play, Friends, School, Sledding. I have a lot of nested folders. Because of the sheer number of photos we take, I find it much easier to organize photos this way. Also, if I put all of the pictures in one cateogorized place (say pictures of the kids with their friends), it’s easier to identify the best shots to highlight in the photobook. Within a photobook I often do themed pages – say a spread of an outdoor activity like sledding or skating – and will regularly have photos from various dates on a single page.
  4. I try to sift through the categorized pictures several times before the end of the year, slowly whittling it down to my absolute favourites. It makes the next step – creating a photobook – so much more efficient.

what’s your process for creating a photobook?

Tip #1. It helps to have well-organized pictures! See above, or find a system of your own that works for you.

  • I go through the year chronologically and tackle one folder/subfolder at a time. I came up with some of my own templates within Bookwright – the software from Blurb – and just drag and drop photos.

Tip #2. Have a highlights page. Some people hand-write their captions and others include long descriptors to accompany each spread. You do you. But I find having a “Highlights” page is a great way to summarize the major events from the year, leaving the pictures free to speak for themselves. I like to put a few fun pictures on this page to signify special memories.

I have a Highlights page at the beginning of each photobook. I’ll write about how we celebrated birthdays, trips we took as a family, career milestones, and other little tidbits I don’t want to forget.
  • I really like interspersing portrait shots of the kids with detail shots of our surroundings. So a picture of the kids fishing AND a picture of their tackle box. This obviously requires capturing certain types of photos, but I do think it makes a more striking photobook. This is very much personal preference, though!
One page (of many) from Grand Lake 2020. This is all I do for captions, so the pages that follow from Grand Lake won’t have any text at all…

Tip #3. Consider using auto-fill features. If you’re not particularly fussed about having things “just so,” there are some great auto-fill modes for most photobook companies where you can dump in photos and they’ll arrange them chronologically or by theme. I’ve never used these features, but know others do with great success.

this sounds like a lot of work!

It is. The way I do things, it generally takes about 30-40 hours (!!) to complete a book. This doesn’t include the many hours spent taking, editing, and organizing photos. 40 hours is a lot of time to dedicate to a single project. But it’s a labour of love and I genuinely enjoy the process (most of the time; even for me it can start feeling tedious after a while).

It can also be significantly faster! Some of the auto-fill features could help you create a book in under an hour. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the done. Most companies now allow you to hire a designer to help you create the books; some even provide subscription monthly books. (I’d hate having that many separate books, but a friend of mine did exactly that. She was living in New Zealand with her newborn and made monthly photobooks and had them shipped to both sets of grandparents who were living back in Canada).

Grand Lake 2019 – the year of drone shots and visiting cousins…

How much does this all cost?

Photobooks can be pricy, but to me they are worth every penny.

I usually pay for a hardcover photo-wrap cover. It’s a few steps above the basic softcover option, but there are other premium features available. You can buy matching protective sleeves, get the book bound in linen or other fabrics and more. There are different gauges of paper, each with their own price point (which can impact the final cost significantly). You can get lay-flat pages (beautiful but expensive and almost always severely limits page count), gloss vs. matte, and various other upgrades and tweaks.

I like to highlight favourite pictures, so don’t necessarily maximize the space on pages. I like uncluttered aesthetics and am happy to pay more for extra pages to get the desired effect.

With Blurb I typically opt for one of their more expensive paper options (still some bleedthrough, but better than the basic paper), but always wait for a sale. Sometimes I’ll sit on a completed book for over a month. I have never had to order a book with less than 30% off; I’ve even managed to combine promotions and get a percentage off + free shipping.

Last year my book, with a discount and including shipping, was $115 CAD. Not bad for a custom photobook with 1,000+ pictures. I’d pay double that without hesitation.

I’m deeply nostalgic. I love photos and I love my crew. Put it all together and what have you got – a permanent position for me as head memory-keeper, with photobooks being one of my greatest allies.