More Stories from the Mud (And Apiary)

People seemed to enjoy my first set of anecdotes from the mudflats, so here are a few more.

After I finished my undergrad, I stayed on as a research technician for the summer between graduation and the start of my post-graduate degree. It was a lot of fun – I had multiple years of experience, but zero responsibility with project design. In other words, a better paycheck…and a whole lot less work!

Our research lab did a lot of cage work – we’d build them out of bamboo sticks and aquatic netting and then track impacts on diatom and amphipod densities (the primary food sources for sandpipers), and snail movements in control vs treated areas (the netted cage areas prevented plovers and sandpipers from foraging). Setting up semi-permanent cages in the mud required a major team effort. We had to get everything set up during low tide, so it was a race against the clock. Or, more specifically, the gravitational pull of the moon!

One day, we were installing cages about 500 meters offshore. We had huge metal mallets, rebar (also metal), and one very tall lab tech named Colin. It was a warm, overcast and muggy day. At one point another tech looked at me and said, Elisabeth, what’s wrong with your hair?

Apparently, my hair was standing completely on end – like I had my hand on one of those statically charged balls at a science exhibit.

Static electricity can be blamed on winter weather |
Like this…

Problem was, I wasn’t touching a ball!!! Within seconds, we heard the first boom of thunder.

Here we were in the middle of a mudflat that had only recently been uncovered by the ocean. It was flat. Covered in a thin film of salt water (highly conductive). We were the tallest objects for miles around. We were working with metal tools and supplies. And we were 500 meters away from shore. Our supervisor happened to be with us and gave us the all-clear to drop our equipment and run (knowing that if the storm didn’t pass in time, all those tools and supplies would be swept out with the tide).

We managed to find some humour in the situation; as we raced back to shore we were quick to identify that Colin – at least half a foot taller than anyone else – would be the first target in any lightning strike. (Spoiler alert: He survived and went on to become a doctor…but apparently mudflats are pretty dangerous places!)

We had come to the site in two vehicles and one lab tech had taken the second vehicle to another site. So when we arrived back on shore there were 8 of us and one pickup truck. A few people – including me – drew the short straw and had to hunker down in the truck bed.

The storm passed after 30 minutes and we rescued the equipment but it was a real hair-raising experience (sorry, couldn’t resist).

Working on the mudflats was incredible exercise. It was exhausting but in a good way. The natural resistance of mud, along with walking kilometer after kilometer along transects, all while carrying giant backpacks full of samples (heavy mud and/or water) was an excellent cardiovascular workout. Not surprisingly, mud would splatter everywhere and we came back to the lab absolutely filthy.

It was the early 2000s and I was young and didn’t always remember to use sunscreen, especially on my legs. One day we were out for hours and hours and hours and mud had splashed on my legs and dried. When I washed it off that night it looked like I had leprosy. There were giant white spots (in random patterning) ALL over the back of my calves. For the rest of the summer, my legs looked absolutely ridiculous. I wish I still had pictures because I would 100% share them but, alas, I lost most of my photos from this pre-OneDrive era.

That same summer, one of my friends and fellow labmates wanted to research nocturnal feeding habits of sandpipers – low tides happen at night, too! Our team received funding to purchase night-vision goggles. But, for obvious reasons, military-grade night vision equipment is not available at the local hardware store. For some reason, I was the one tasked with calling the supplier (who normally dealt with military contracts) to ask: Um…we’d like to purchase some night vision equipment. Why you ask? Just to look at birds. I promise!

Fun fact, John and I had only been dating a few months when he volunteered to come with us on one of those night shifts. For safety reasons (see above and my mud “quicksand” story from last week) we had to have a set number of crew out at any given time, so he trudged to the mud at 2:30 am (unpaid, I might add) with me. True love!

Speaking of John and mud, I might have told this story before, but it’s one of my favourites from our love story. When we had only just met and were arranging for our first “date”, I asked him to meet me at the lab mid-afternoon. There was a mix-up and I was convinced he had stood me up (he hadn’t). In the end, we rescheduled for that evening. I got there very early and selected a microscope right in front of the window so I would look all sciencey. And so it was by design that I was bent over a microscope looking very intense and studious when he walked by the window. He tells me seeing me like that took his breath away and he said to himself: Don’t screw this up. We’ve now been married almost 14 years but I was looking at…NOTHING. It was all a ruse!

There’s an “Abby” inside me, we just hadn’t met her yet.

I planned to continue avian work for my Masters and, for the first few months, actually put together a project in this area of study. But I ended up switching gears to bees. (Yes, I have heard plenty of “birds and bees” jokes over the years.) Because I didn’t need a large number of hives for my research – and because the beekeeper providing us with hives lived quite a distance from the university – my supervisor offered to store them on his property. Every day John would drive me in my giant beesuit to collect a fresh set of bees. This all happened while I was pregnant with Abby and battling morning sickness. There is a sickly sweet smell around beehives and it made me very nauseous. One warm summer morning it was more than I could handle…and that’s how I came to upchuck my breakfast smoothie all over my supervisor’s rhododendrons.* (*I don’t actually know if they were rhododendrons; I was too busy barfing to worry about my horticultural proficiencies.)

Fun fact: I only got stung a single time in two years of working with honeybees! I was studying operant conditioning and had to secure individual bees into modified pipette tips. Once, I didn’t quite get enough wax in place and the bee managed to wiggle free and straight down into my latex glove where she proceeded to sting me.

Fair enough.

Your turn. Any weird workplace stories? Are you a fan of thunder and lightning storms? Any bizarre tan line stories to report?

Here’s A Thought: It’s Only An Advantage If I Use It

This is it! My final post for NaBloPoMo 2022. I’ve said it before – and I’ll say it again – three cheers for San who organized this event (she tries to downplay her role, but it would not have happened without her!) and three cheers to all the participants who showed up day after day after day after day…

And to those who didn’t participate in the “official” event but have been following along, providing virtual cheerleading, commenting, and being relentlessly supportive? Three cheers to you, too!

I’ve been working primarily from home for over a decade now. I worked from home when I had infants in the house. I worked from home when I had preschoolers in the house. And, of course, like the rest of the world, I worked exclusively from home during the recent/ongoing global pandemic (this time with elementary-school kids in the house).

I’ll be the first to admit that working from home can be a double-edged sword. It is great to be able to switch over the laundry and prep supper over a lunch hour. But it also means that, concurrent with work, I am thinking about laundry and supper prep and can actually DO something about it.

Too often I take a limited view of what I can/can’t do with the level of flexibility my (part-time!) job provides.

I can run errands during regular business hours. I can walk with a friend in the middle of the day. I can do that load of laundry and prep that supper. Sometimes this means I answer work e-mails or wrap up projects in the evening – but that itself represents yet another layer of flexibility!

Here’s the rub: my flexible working schedule is only an advantage if I use it.

All of us can likely identify something we could label as an “advantage”. Maybe your workplace offers a free lunch program so you don’t have to pack a lunch. Maybe you have unlimited PTO and don’t have to scramble for childcare if someone needs to stay home sick. Maybe you work for a company that provides a great discount on hotels or rental vehicles. Maybe you have in-laws nearby that are willing to provide last-minute babysitting.

But these things are only advantages if we use them. And, if you’re anything like me, there might be some untapped treasures waiting for you.

Your turn? Can you think of an area of your life that involves a higher-than-normal level of flexibility? If so, do you feel like you maximize the potential of this situation?

Header photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Casual Friday + When Do I Work? When Do I Write?

And just like that, we’re back to Friday.

It’s another snow day…except there is no snow on the ground. So really, it’s just another day off school for the kids (though I’m promised the snow is coming). Appropriate to today’s post, I have some work emergencies to attend to while juggling snack breaks, video consumption for the kids (my go-to for when I have video meetings – I wasn’t expecting to have the kids home today when I arranged my schedule!), and overseeing inevitable sibling fights.

But we’ve already fit in our outside walk and are tackling Wordle next, so the day won’t be all bad.

There were some tough moments this week, especially globally as headlines switch from talk of COVID numbers to missile strikes. One crisis to another; and once again the world feels like it might just buckle under the heaviness of it all. But there is still joy to be found.

This was another week where I’ve discovered that joy can present itself from the unlikeliest of places. It comes in comments about decanting. It comes from poems posted on the side of the road. It comes from the sunshine streaming through the window as I type these words. It comes from lint rescued from the recesses of our pockets. It comes from solving Wordle with the kids at 9 am on a Monday. It comes from bright pink jackets and taco soup. It comes from noticing – and naming – these (mostly) ordinary things that bring joy or delight.

EATING | Maybe if I admit this in a public space I’ll feel more (positive) pressure to act? I’m channeling my inner Gretchen Rubin and giving myself another big demerit on the eating front. I can only ride the excuse of hormones for so long. I had ice cream four times last week. FOUR TIMES! I can have ice cream occasionally without any problem, but I can’t have it four times. Sigh.

I’ve had a good reset the last few days and I’m hoping the worst is behind me?

  • Tuna filling inside nori. Yum.
  • Homemade pizzas; storebought mini Naan, simple tomato sauce, pepperoni, and cheese (pre-shredded, obviously). They are shockingly delicious and I make these several times a month. I had roasted veggies instead (how I love roasted veggies) since I knew I needed to back off the dairy/gluten for a while.

WATCHING | Two very infuriating documentaries centering around human greed.

Downfall (Netflix) about the Boeing 737 Max planes that crashed (before the entire fleet was grounded). Heartbreaking, avoidable, and left me disgusted at how quickly the almighty dollar can trump the value of human life.

The Tinder Swindler (Netflix) – It was one of those stories where truth is stranger than fiction. It was incredibly depressing to learn that the “swindler” is already a free man and history is repeating itself.

We also started watching The Beatles: Get Back (Disney+) documentary. It’s a slow-burn, but I love behind-the-scenes footage…and it’s the Beatles! After the other documentaries, this was much better for my blood pressure.

Oh, and you know what text you don’t want to receive from your husband a day after watching an entire documentary about faulty Boeing 737 Max 8 and 9 jets.

This text.

Spoiler alert: his flight went off without a hitch and he told me he used to fly on these planes all the time before they were grounded (not sure if that’s supposed to make me feel better?)!

THRIFTING | I have not been in a regular routine of thrifting lately, but had the chance to stop by my favourite store last week and scored some great finds. When I write more about my wardrobe, I’ll plan to cycle back around to the concept of thrifting because virtually all of the items in my closet are from thrift stores!

In this haul I bought:

  • a robe ($2.70) + cozy leggings ($3.00) for Abby. A ski jacket ($5.25) and snowpants ($4.00) for Levi (these may not fit him for several years but both were in like-new condition and I know he’s always going to need to size-up in snow gear). A very comfy shirt ($3.55) – this is probably my favourite colour for tops and I already own two in this colour, but liked the interesting button detail on the shoulder. A pink puffer coat (the biggest splurge at $7.75).
It looks like I have been partially swallowed a giant bottle of Pepto Bismol, but since I don’t wear many bright colours, it seemed like a fun choice AND it’s very warm. My current puffer doesn’t have a hood so while I would ordinarily choose black or navy, through the wonder of this being the only option at the thrift store, Bubble Gum/Pepto Bismol pink it is!

(OLDER) FRIENDS | Last Friday I was able to visit a friend who is 76; we drained cups of tea and talked and then she made me a delicious lunch (long-time readers might recognize this as being my soup-and-sandwich-oasis; we haven’t seen each other properly since November!). Then, on Tuesday, I met up with a friend (58) for a last-minute lunch at our favourite cafe. Between the two of them, these women experienced a collective 66 years of living before I was even born. I cannot get over how much I appreciate my time with them – they have already lived so much of the life I’m now experiencing (e.g. parenting littles, trying to sort out work-life balance). In addition to being so wise, they’re also just really fun to be around!

*In case this makes it sound like all I do is “lunch” – it was November 2021 since I last had lunch with a friend, so while a very welcome change this week, it is not the norm!

READING | This was a “B” week in the book department.

The Family Firm (Emily Oster) – This was my first book by Emily Oster and I found it…a bit of a snorefest. I appreciate the underlying message but didn’t find the book overly engaging. I read the redshirting section with interest (we’ve already done this and it was absolutely the right decision for our family, but I appreciated her weighing the various pros/cons). It was well written, but it didn’t quite pull me in as I had hoped. My favourite parts were her discussions of decisions related to her own kids. 3 stars

Remodelista – I enjoyed the pictures, but it wasn’t as inspiring as I had hoped. Lots of minimal decor (which I love) but too much talk about decanting (see below) and every other page suggested installing a peg hook. 3 stars

Anne of Windy Poplars (Lucy M. Montgomery) – It pains me to say this, but I had a hard time getting through this book in the Anne series. I love Katherine Brooke, so that part of the book was A+. But, overall, the book felt too scattered and I really, really missed Marilla. 3 stars

Miracles and Other Reasonable Things (Sarah Bessey) – This was okay. I have no idea how this showed up on my holds list. Did someone recommend this to me? Did I happen upon it while browsing new releases inside the library system? 3 stars

Pippi Longstockings (Astrid Lindgren) – I read this over several weeks with the kids. It has some descriptions that show their age (e.g. conversations around maids), but the kids found the book hilarious and I edited some of the content as I read this out loud. 4 stars

As for picture books.

The Bold, Brave Bunny is a family favourite that we checked out once again. The cover gives you a sneak peek at how the illustrations do double duty.

A Gift For Mama and Everybody’s Welcome never fail to inspire us; The Snuggle is Real and T.Veg: The Story of a Carrot-Crunching Dinosaur were the two new-to-us books we enjoyed the most.

Top – A Gift for Mama. We LOVE Alison Jay illustrations. Bottom – Everybody’s Welcome; sweet illustrations and it’s one that has some cutouts that ramp up the interest level.
The Snuggle Is Real – this is a board book and on the younger side of the audience spectrum, but it was sweet.
Mo Willems. I rest my case. Hibernation Station was a gentle, fun rhyming book. Aimed at young audiences, we still enjoyed this enough to read it twice!


  • Going on a long walk with my friend – Joy – last Saturday where we chatted about minimalism and our conversation included the following statement: “So you have to decide – how much decanting is the right amount of decanting?” The fact that our conversations can go from discussing the content of Caste to parenting conundrums to shoe repair to topics like decanting really does bring me joy. On a related note, I had no idea people decanted their DISHSOAP. I know people do this with hand soap and dry goods like pasta and rice. But DISHSOAP? Where does the decanting stop?
  • At the start of the pandemic, a woman on our normal family walking route started posting original poetry on the sidewalk outside her home every week. It became a beloved tradition to stop and read the poems together. We haven’t been walking this loop lately, so what a thrill to see she is STILL updating her poetry (though it does serve to highlight just how long this pandemic has been dragging on).
  • Looking down to see his legs crossed under the table one day. When he sits up with his back straight as a board with those little crossed legs…it melts my heart.
  • A neighbourhood soccer game. The snow and ice are down to a level where soccer games have resumed (at least temporarily) and the kids are in their element.
  • Tree climbing. There has been a lot of tree climbing in our yard lately. What a cliché childhood activity, and yet it really does transcend time. The sense of independence, of being hidden from view (kind of), and of taking some (calculated) risks. It really offers the whole package for kids.
  • Freshly showered kids in pajamas all snuggly and soft and warm, piled in to bed to read a bedtime story. The days can be long, but the snuggles are the end can be worth it all.
  • Receiving a video from a friend of her toddler saying the word coconut. I have to agree with her description of it being – “unbearably cute.”
  • Skating. In a haze of déjà vu, I took the kids to the afterschool skating program in a neighbouring community. For over two years I did this twice a week all winter with Abby. Levi has been on skates less than a dozen times in his life, where Abby used to go that frequently in a month! It felt so, so weird to be back. The first year I took Abby to this skating program, I pushed Levi around the ice in a stroller! It’s incredible how much has changed in the last few years. Joyfinding: seeing Levi fall down and pop up SO fast with a huge smile, saying: “When you fall down, you just have to get right back up.” And then he scooted off again. Right you are, my boy. Right you are.
  • Also at skating: Abby and I used to create games using the advertisements painted on the boards. She asked me if I remembered playing; I did – this is how we had spent hours of our time while skating – but had no energy to be creative and quickly deferred her veiled request. But then, I thought…if not now, when? So a few minutes later I sidled up by her and asked her to find four advertisements that would make someone think of liquid; a few minutes later the quest was to find five adverts that related, in some way, to the automobile industry; then two that contained a picture of a maple leaf. While the inertia in my brain was real, I’m so, so glad we played this game again. I suspect it won’t happen many more times as she grows up so fast…

family/heritage day

Monday was a holiday. Since I was home solo, there were a lot of hours to fill. Part of me wanted to be spontaneous; to pack up the kids and head out on a long drive or to come up with a fun adventure.

But I didn’t have any ideas and I’m getting rather tired of being outside in winter weather. I had a babysitter scheduled, but that fell through. Despite waking up with the remnants of a headache, I was determined to just let the day flow. And it ended up being great.

Abby came to my rescue, planning a schedule for the whole day. (Though at 7:15 am she was literally throwing her plan in the garbage can because her brother was vehement that he would NOT follow her plan for the day. Sigh.) I convinced her to rescue said schedule from the trash and we ended up following it to the letter up until lunchtime, Levi included…

I’m not going to lie – when 8:00 am found me playing a new-to-me version of hide-and-seek (you write clues + leave arrows on Post-It notes leading the seeker to your location), I was not enthused. But at 8:30 am she had slotted in our daily 1 km outside and that both cleared my head and ticked off a big check beside that to-do for the day.

By 9:00 am we had completed the daily Wordle together + Abby had introduced me to Vertex (pictured below) which, I have to admit, is also addictive.

I swore to myself I would stop posting Wordle answers on the blog (#noonecares), but for the record, the kids are getting really good and we got it every day (but Thursday) in 3 tries! I can’t believe how much we’re enjoying Wordle!

They did some screentime. I made muffins.

We had lunch – grilled cheese and apples (Levi, who is quite picky about apples said: “These are really good apples, Mom.” For some reason this made me happy, as if I could take full credit for the superior quality of these Gala’s).

Levi had a neighbourhood friend come over and they did LEGO and lightsabers and Nerf guns; while they played, Abby and I worked together on her Wreck This Journal. ALERT: if you need a gift idea for a creative kid in the 8-15-year-old range, this has been SUCH a big hit in our household. Some of the prompts we used Monday included: writing something with a pen/pencil in your mouth, standing on the book in dirty shoes, and lots and lots of colouring. We also made a paper cup out of one of the pages (prompted + pattern included) and Abby drank water out of it. We collected lint and other miscellany from our pockets and taped it to a page. We stapled two pages together and covered one page in circles and dots; I gave Abby 3 more fruit stickers to add to her growing (prompted) collection. It’s a very fun, interactive activity book. Highly recommend.

This was the “write something with a pen/pencil in your mouth” page.

I took down the faux evergreen swag. It was time. I have never, ever left up a “Christmas” decoration this long but only in the last week did I feel like I was finally ready to set it aside for the year. With the evenings getting longer, it didn’t feel right to still have something that festive up in the living room. I have no idea how to style the mantel – this doesn’t feel like the right fit, but it will do for now!

The boys switched off and went to the friend’s house and Abby went to visit someone she was last scheduled to see before Christmas…when Omicron put the kibosh on that playdate (and life in general). I enjoyed a few quiet hours at home where I did…mostly nothing. I sat on the couch in my new pink puffer jacket, worked on this post a bit, and enjoyed the peace.

I had soup prepped in the fridge ready for supper; we ate, read some books, and I think I crashed pretty early? Surviving a holiday solo (without having an adult tantrum) always feels like a major coup.

when do I work! When do I write?

How I find time to work (and write) came up in a comment section earlier this week (thanks for the prompt, Jenny) and since it seems to have been a question on other people’s minds, I thought I’d delve into the topic a bit further.

(I also partially address these subjects in: How Do I Do It All? I Don’t, and Neither Does Anyone Else + What Do You Do? A Work Q&A + A Day in the Life (Circa October 2021).

But I’ll rehash the main points below.

when do I work?

First, I DO NOT WORK FULL-TIME. I’m not going to get into all the particulars again, but I work between 10-40 hours/week. That’s a big range! I am slated for 27 hours of work/week at a local university divided between two distinct roles + the highly variable work I put in as co-founder of a small business (where my role and responsibilities vary significantly based on current projects and time of year). But I can end up working as little as 10 hours/week. And while that is not ‘nothing,’ I suspect many of my readers consistently work full-time…

So when do I work?

My working hours are flexible. While I do have set deadlines and meetings, in general, I can work at 2 am or 10 pm if I so please. I do not have to clock in or out, and this has been my working reality for over a decade now. For the most part, I have full autonomy over when I set work obligations. And, when I don’t (i.e. an external meeting), things are still remarkably flexible. For example, on Wednesday I had to be on a conference call with a major international company but the last 10 minutes of the call overlapped with me getting my kids off the bus (the same day we went skating). I had warned the chair about the timing issue ahead of time (turns out we finished the meeting 30 minutes early anyway – jazz hands – so it was moot) and simply asked for notes from anything covered without me. I suspect the flexibility I have is atypical.

I work at my own pace with deliverables, not hours, in mind. I have jobs I need to accomplish and when those are done…I’m done (I am salaried for a set number of hours/week, so I get paid the same regardless of whether I go over or under; in October, for example, I had several weeks in a row of going well over my allotted hours). When establishing contracts, my supervisors estimated what they thought it would require in terms of working hours but regularly reiterate there is zero pressure to fill all those hours if I can meet my working objectives in less time.

I work efficiently. Because I know the more productive and efficient I am at getting through work tasks, the more flex time I have, I’m motivated to stay on top of things. I sketch out work reminders in my planner weeks in advance allowing me to stay on top of deadlines and so things don’t sneak up on me. An ounce of planning saves…a lot of time. I circulate agendas before meetings so we can stay on task and to ensure 30-minute meetings don’t morph into an unproductive, scattered hour. I make note of action items while I’m in meetings and draw large highlighted boxes around them so I know exactly what I have to tackle when I get off the call. I honestly believe I could fill every single hour every single week, but I wouldn’t be getting any more done…I’d just be slashing my productivity.

I let work accumulate. Over the last few months I’ve gotten better and better at not responding to emails the instant they arrive. Typically, letting things filter in from various sources saves me a lot of time in the end (questions are often answered over the course of e-mail threads and letting that naturally work out and then reading all the back-and-forth in a single sitting can save a lot of time. I try to work in batches, triaging things as they come in; when enough work has accumulated I dive back into it.

The university where I work is currently on strike. One of my roles involves organizing academic support for students which is not relevant right now as students are not in class. My other position, within the research department, has continued on as per normal.

Another note: while I do not “work-work” full-time (as I refer to paid work), we have essentially no childcare (I just started hiring 2 hours of babysitting every two weeks). Beyond that, and because my children are currently only enrolled in 1 hour of extracurriculars a week…I am a full-time SAHM when they are home (snow days, holidays, weekends, after-school).

In summary: my work certainly doesn’t fit a conventional career mold, but it has worked for our family and has given me the flexibility to start writing over the last year…

when/how do I write?

I posted my first blog post on April 24, 2021 and have published 194 posts since that date.

Full disclosure, my biggest insecurity with writing is how much I write. I’ll start thinking to myself: “These posts are too long.” Or “I should stop posting 5 times a week – that’s too much. People will get tired of my voice.” Or “My posts explore too many existential themes. Lighten up!

It can actually be hard to click publish on much of what I write because it feels “longer than what Laura Vanderkam would write” or “more melancholic than Gretchen Rubin” (these are self-criticisms, not something people have actually said, by the way; and I’m using these two authors as examples because they’ve really influenced my thought process).

But I’m telling myself that, ultimately, I’m writing for an audience of 1. I want to show up the way I do because that’s my style. My writing doesn’t have to strike a chord with everyone (though, if you’re reading this post, you’ve likely gotten used to the fact I write long posts, show up 5x/week, and talk about existential themes). I write for myself – to work through what’s going on in my own brain – and I write because it’s fun. It has to be a pure bonus when something I say strikes a chord with others.

I have wanted to write for so long, it feels like since giving myself permission to provide space for this creative outlet, I have a lot I want to say! This isn’t surprising to me: I have a decade of very long, detailed family updates under my belt and my favourite part of doing research was getting to write my theses and submit articles for publication. I genuinely love to write. I don’t want to knit or play piano or enter poker tournaments – I want to write!

I’m sure people wonder when I find the time or why I post so much. (That’s okay! Very legit questions! I’m not offended!)

In terms of my writing, it does take a lot of time, but maybe less than people expect? I’m a fast writer. I mentioned this in the comment section the other day, but I tend to write drafts very quickly and then let them sit for a while and come back to “polish” them off once I’ve had a chance to digest the material.

I am currently spending 5-20 hours a week on writing. That’s a lot, and another big range! I’m expecting this will slow down as the novelty wears off (maybe?).

So how do I find these 5-20 hours in a week? I covered many of these points in the How Do I Do It All? I Don’t, and Neither Does Anyone Else post but it mostly relates to what I’m not doing.

  • I don’t use social media (I imagine many people could easily spend 5 hours – or more – on social media each the week; I put in precisely 0 minutes).
  • I exercise about 8 hours/week, but at least 7 of those hours are spent exercising with someone. Walking the kids to school with John, going on walks with friends. I know many people that exercise for several hours a day – solo. For me, exercise is a big part of my social life.
  • Our kids do not have structured schedules outside of school hours (a combination of pandemic life + our family mode of operation). This will change some over the summer, but they are currently each in just a single hour of extracurriculars each week + we attend church on Sunday morning. And both of those locations are within 5 minutes of our home. No hockey tournaments 100 miles away. No weekend swim meets. No debating or chess club. They come home from school and we do stuff (friends, adventures, screens, homework etc.). And sometimes I sit at the table and write while they climb trees or play soccer with their friends.
  • Aside from date-nights, I don’t watch TV. I watched maybe 6 hours total of Olympic coverage. I don’t follow any shows other than my annual binge of the latest season of The Great British Baking Show. When my husband is away for work I watch exactly 0 minutes of shows/movies.

In terms of my writing process, I write when I can. I don’t sit down for 3 hours on a Wednesday afternoon and write. I don’t write every morning at 9 am. I might fit in 20 minutes after I wake up, and another 20 minutes before I hop into a work meeting, another 20 minutes over lunch, and then 30 minutes after the kids are in bed while I wait for John to finish his evening calls.

I try to carve out several hours (hopefully strung together) to write on Saturday and/or Sunday. The rest is all sporadic, fitting it in when I can.

And that’s the story! Hope this gives readers a better idea of how and when I write. And thanks for joining me in this space <3

Header photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

Happy weekending everyone. Next week is an exciting one around these parts (stay tuned) and I’m really looking forward to next Friday. Until then, I’m sure there will be many unexpected sources of delight – whether that’s the lint in our pockets or the joyful luxury of pre-shredded cheese.

Me? Doing a Planner Review? Here Goes…

I’ve been a “planner” for a long time now. From keeping lists of lists (really – sad, but true) to homemade binders, wall calendars and, eventually, daytimers, I feel a compulsion to lay things out in black-and-white (or blue-and-white; I can respect a good blue pen when it comes around). I have used an admittedly hodge-podge system over the years; what – and how – I plan ebbs and flows by life season and I don’t actively pursue new organizational methods.

In short, I won’t be starting a planning podcast anytime soon.

I’ve also jumped around with my planners; the first one to which I formed any real attachment was a free daytimer handed out to all incoming students by my university student union when I was a freshman. I dutifully poured over syllabi, writing down deadlines and textbook lists and planning out my (very pitiful) social life.

Some years, especially when the kids were young and I was essentially just focused on keeping them alive, I didn’t use a daytimer at all and a shared family calendar was enough. But as the kids have gotten older and my work and home managerial responsibilities have increased, I use a planner. Daily.

Sadly, my planner doesn’t “do” life for me. If I have an over-full planner, chances are I’m going to have an over-full life. This topic is highly relevant right now as I’m looking for ways to overhaul some responsibilities and grasp ahold of those weeks I have left (out of my very fragile 4,000) and enjoy life and the people in it that make it joyful (and maybe even choose to fail at some things along the way)?

So, while planners are a great tool, they are no replacement for balancing life. To paraphrase the words of Gretchen Rubin (talking about technology): I want my planner to be a great servant, not my master.

With this in mind, let’s explore how I plan!

The last few years I have…are you ready for this?…used planners from the DollarStore.

My planner for 2021 cost $1.25…and I loved it. In fact I was elated to see it show up on the shelves for 2022 and I gladly forked over $1.25 and walked out with plans to keep moving forward with my DollarStore system.

It’s a month-view daytimer. I loved the notes section on the side and the extra pages at the back for long-range planning; I augmented each day with a separate to-do list that I would keep next to the book (something I still do with my current system using the Sprouted planner).

And then I saw Sarah Hart-Unger had discussed the Sprouted daytimer in Episode 68 of her podcast Best Laid Plans. I rarely comment on planner posts because…well, I was contented with my $1.25 planner. (And if you’re contented with a $1.25 planner, you probably aren’t the type to comment on planning posts.)

But I mentioned how it looked like a great planner for my needs. Within 24 hours I had an e-mail in my inbox asking if I’d like her copy of the Sprouted Planner. [In the comment thread, I referenced my $4 planner, but when I went to buy it this year, it was $1.25, so I’m sure it was $1.25 the year before, too.]

Um, yes, please.

Getting this parcel from Sarah before Christmas was so fun (and Abby’s first comment when she dug it out of the mail was: “WOW, she is very neat!”

I had a rough time around Christmas and just couldn’t get my head into planning for…anything. 2021 was a hard year and I was tired and knew we were facing more restrictions and likely another bout of online learning (turns out I was right).

But a few days before we rang in the New Year, I found enough enthusiasm to get started, and haven’t looked back. I absolutely LOVE my Sprouted planner and fully intend to purchase one next year.

I have no experience doing reviews of any sort; this was gifted to me by Sarah (who isn’t affiliated with Sprouted…but I believe this planner was gifted to her). So don’t expect any crazy picture-perfect influencer spreads. It is not neat and colour-coded; that’s not how I roll. I also don’t have a specific system I’m trying to recommend because I just do what works for me and it’s a bit scattered.

With that caveat out of the way, let’s dive in:

Front cover + storage

I love the aesthetic of the book. It’s hardcover and is exceptionally well made. The paper is thick enough to prevent bleedthrough (though I just use basic ballpoints, so I’m not sure about anyone using Sharpie pens or other more elaborate writing utensils).

The ring binding works like a charm and never catches (major pet peeve of mine). It’s big, but not bulky. I have no problem slipping this into my laptop bag when I escape to a cafe to work. But, most of the time, it simply moves between my bedside dresser, the dining room table, and my desk.

It’s classy looking and very “me” in terms of the design. I think Sprouted offers other cover options, but suspect this is the one I would have chosen anyway!

On the inside cover there is a pocket. This is SO handy. Last year, in that $1.25 planner, I taped an envelope inside the front cover to store assorted papers, receipts, and stickers. These items fell out constantly and this much sturdier alternative is a significant improvement.

In fact, if anyone from Sprouted happens to be reading this – I love the pocket so much I really wish there was a back pocket, too! Hint, hint…

I’ve stopped recording “tough” days via stickers [I did this last year in my daytimer, mostly to track hormonal issues – a sticker was a nice way to say…”This day sucked, but at least I have a pretty sticker to show for it!“] but have been putting stickers on special days – family birthdays, anniversaries, major holidays. I also keep a running list of blog post ideas. I spy one that says “Planner overview.”

Prompts + Long-Range PLanning pages

Okay, I’ll admit when I saw all these high-level planning pages I did a bit of an eye-roll. But they are genius.

Heather (the creator of Sprouted) has put a lot of thought in to these layouts, offering some great perspective about the various areas of our life we likely all want to prioritize. Here is the “People” layout where I’ve listed my overarching goal to “Be Kind” and then ideas like:

  • More solo walks; even just around the neighbourhood.
  • More coffee dates with friends.
  • More low-key dessert/coffee invites; less pressure to do meals.
  • Spend more time at bedtime with kids – even 5 minutes would be a great place to start.

There are also pages devoted to “Things” – which offers high-level planning by month, a page devoted to hopes for the year ahead, and a set of blank pages where I’ve set up my “Ta-Da” list for 2022.

Of course, I was thrilled to see this “Year List” page and wasted no time in creating a hard copy of my Goals for 2022 list.

weekly spreads

A quick word about my system. While I rely HEAVILY on my planner, I also almost always have a running list that contains overlap if I have an especially hectic day. On those days, I will typically list everything on one of my beloved scratch-paper pads that I mentioned yesterday. I keep these handy (i.e. with my planner) as I move throughout the day. For example, off to the right-hand side I can see “L2,” “larvae counts” “3 mo.” and “environmental impact” which were prompts for questions I ended up needing to ask over the course of the “SBW” [Spruce Budworm; how’s that for a fun topic] call from 1:00-2:00 pm. So I may scribble on the pad during meetings and add/subtract to-dos as the day goes by based on new scheduling developments.

I also have some work responsibilities I never list; checking e-mails and even some regularly scheduled big action items are so ingrained at this point, I don’t take the time to write them down and monitor their execution. My planner is predominantly to help me stay on top of tasks that are time-sensitive or I’m likely to forget.

I had some specific names/information recorded in the weekly spread (and on the scratch-pad), hence all the chicken scratches. (I was going to use a whiteout pen, but got lazy).

Here is a completed week. I LOVE the amount of flexibility in these layouts.

  • I use the top “free” space to record my joyfinding exercises.
  • I write down a meal plan as I go through the week in the space just below the date
  • Anything with specific timing I highlight in yellow (this is mostly calls/video meetings as I still rarely have in-person meetings)
  • The other side of the spread I use to list general to-dos for the week. These can migrate over and end up getting listed under a specific day but, more often than not, I simply tackle these when I’m able since they are not time-sensitive (things like: draft my monthly family update email, send a reminder email about progress reports, schedule some meetings for early February, sign and return forms related to corporate taxes, mail our confetti notes, and take the kids sledding – I guess the sledding one would be time-sensitive if it rained). I review this list throughout the week and if anything hasn’t been taken care of by Sunday evening, I move it forward to the following week.
  • I have been tracking my daily outside walks, phone pick-ups, total screen time, and the Psalm we’ve read for the day. For pick-ups, I’m actually subtracting the number of times I use my phone as a camera. To me taking pictures is hugely important and I don’t want to come down hard on myself for excessive pick-ups if it’s done for photography. But still…I sure do handle my phone a lot (and last week was worse. A lot worse.). Sigh.

Above is a picture of last week’s spread first thing Monday morning. This week was significantly less busy (John was out of town, so I was very purposeful to book as light a week as possible), but even still it filled up quickly once things got started!

You can see I only have one meal listed (Monday). I sketch out meal ideas over the weekend, but don’t have a strict meal plan and just fill things in based on what ingredients I have/the time I have available for prep.

monthly spreads

My monthly spread for January just had too much specific information, so I’m showing you June so you can get a sense of the layout.

I have to get my engagement and wedding band inspected every 6 months for insurance, so that is already listed but other than that (and a heart sticker on Father’s Day), June looks deliciously open (sounds like something Anne of Green Gables would say)! I’m not using the month-view that often, but it’s very handy for long-range planning.

Each month ends with a full spread of prompts. I’m really, really excited about these.

And there is a yearly review at the end of the book.

I think this is a great feature. The questions are insightful and relevant (they do vary slightly month-to-month) and I don’t think I’m going to feel pressured to answer everything (or give long, detailed answers), but I appreciate not having to think through big questions to ask of myself. Having the prompts in place seems like one responsibility off my shoulders. Now when the planner can start doing laundry and taking the kids to the dentist, then we’ll really be getting somewhere…

extra pages

At the back of the book there are about 30 extra, lined pages. At first I wasn’t sure how to fill them, but I’m starting to come up with ideas…

I’ve decided to track things related to mood and overall health (i.e. if I was tired, details of my downright terrible period – sigh). I don’t enjoy doing this; it feels tedious and another thing to remember but since I’ve gone back on hormonal treatments + iron, I really want to be as specific and thorough as I can be to monitor symptoms/results. I also used a little code of up and down arrows to signify how I felt overall (mood/energy/headaches).

I’m reading a Psalm with the kids at the breakfast table most days and have written down some favourite verses as we go along.

favourite features:

Honestly, I like just about everything in this planner (not paid or perked in any way!). I thought I would feel obligated to fill in every high-level planning page, but I don’t.

I really, really, really love the month tabs. It makes for easy navigation. I do use a small paperclip to hold together weeks of the month that are completed so it’s even faster to locate the current weekly spread.

I appreciate all the extra pages and the overall sense of flexibility with how to use the layouts.

If I had to come up with any critique, I feel like I’d prefer to have a bit more space for daily to-do’s (lines) and less “free” space in the weekly spreads. That said, I can see many people wanting it exactly as shown here. I like the structure but feel like I have more space than I need on the right-hand side of the layout. If I was designing the planner, I think (?) I’d do M-F on the left, S+S on the top right and cut down on the size of free-form space on the second page (but not remove them entirely as I sure do love those boxes and currently use the header/footer ones for the “Joyfinding” and “Grateful” lists that I maintain each week).

There you have it my first – and probably only – planner review!

Are you a planner person – or do you prefer wall/digital calendars?

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.

Casual Friday + A Work Update

  • My father-in-law is visiting. It’s the first time we’ve seen him since October 2019 due to the all-too-familiar travel restrictions of COVID. We’re looking forward to Thanksgiving (the Canadian variety; second Monday in October), sharing good food and just spending time together. It’s a long time to go between visits and the kids have grown so much – Levi hadn’t even started school the last time we were together!
  • Abby started cross-country this week. Because of COVID they have a reduced running schedule (only 3 meets and their practices happen during school hours). It’s fun, though, and I’m proud of her hard work. It also makes me wish we’d kept running with her over the summer…
  • We took family photos last weekend. One of my close friends, Joy, takes them for us most years. She’s a saint. A cheerful, happy, saint. To say we dread Family Picture Day is an understatement. Our last photo session (in 2019) ended in tears (after Joy, the saint, left). I purposefully lowered the bar this year. We went 2 minutes from home, picked outfits out the day-of by shopping our closets, and took fewer pictures/poses than any other years. But still. It’s family pictures. This year was definitely easier – yet another activity that improves as the kids get older. As per usual I have my eyes closed in at least 50% of the shots (it must be a family condition because one of my sisters and my father suffer from the same affliction), and the kids were constantly squirming – as kids do. But we got a reasonable number of winning shots. I’ll do a bigger post in a few weeks about how and why we do family photos. But for now I’m heaving a huge sigh of relief that they’re over.

At the very end, we were getting some last-minute pictures of just the kiddos and I asked Levi to smile ONE last time. He said “Sure, but then can you please take one of a silly face.” Absolutely, bud. After an hour of smiling, he earned it – I happen to love the silly-face outtake very much.


So, I have a new job. It all happened so quickly and I’m still in processing mode, but it felt like too good of an opportunity to turn down.

One of my former research supervisors reached out to me a little over a week ago – out of the blue – asking me to join his team of researchers and industry collaborators. My role will be as project manager. It feels nice to dip my toe back into the research waters while staying clear of any fume hoods and pipette’s myself. It was also a fun exercise in polishing up my CV (wow, I have gotten to do some pretty cool stuff) and reconnecting with references (wow, I have gotten to work with some pretty incredible people).

While exciting, and likely a great career move, it’s a bit overwhelming. Although part-time for now, I already have my hand firmly fixed in other roles with our small business + some other project management. And then there is the fact we, at this point, have no childcare aside from school. That may have to change, but we’ll test the waters for the first few weeks and see how it goes. The kids are used to being flexible after a decade of having work-from-home, entrepreneurial parents, but I have my eye on a few high-schoolers that could fill some afternoon gaps.

So, yeah. In a little over a week, I was pitched and then accepted a job I didn’t apply for – exciting, daunting, and just another new adventure. Hopefully I’m not biting off more than I can chew, but perhaps I’ll just have to tackle the chewing part later?