Progress Report on “Dreading Winter (Slightly) Less”

I can find it hard to conjure up positive sentiments this time of year.

I am not a fan of snow. I am not a fan of ice. I am not a fan of winter activities. I am not a fan of the cold. I am not a fan of all the layers required to do simple activities like walking to the mailbox.

But, we chose to live in Eastern Canada and that means we have to endure get to experience all four seasons.

This winter I was determined to dread it all (slightly) less. I wrote about my intentions for making the season feel more joyful and full of warmth, literally and proverbially. It’s only the middle of January – and I don’t want to jinx things – but so far this winter has been so much better than last year (and most other winters in recent memory).

what’s working

I’ve gone ahead and implemented almost all the ideas I proposed in my Ways To Dread Winter (Slightly) Less post. Key highlights:

Photo flashback to Levi’s birthday (aka: “The worst birthday party ever!”)
  • Lighting candles. I don’t have to remember to do this because Levi begs to light the tapers on our dining room table each night at suppertime (and occasionally at breakfast too). Candles provide such a cheery glow and I genuinely look forward to dimming the lights and enjoying my meal by this flickering light source. And years after receiving them, I still adore our Danish candlesticks – gifted by my brother and his wife who live in Denmark, the birthplace of hygge.
  • Keeping our house warmer. We improved the insulation in our house dramatically this year and replaced almost a dozen windows/doors that were old and drafty. Also, we’ve adopted a new approach for our heat pump (leaving it at a constant, higher temperature instead of lowering it dramatically overnight and then having to turn on the oil furnace to get the house warm in the morning) that is working so well. Oil consumption has plummeted and we’re a lot warmer. It makes a huge difference for my mental state when I wake up warm…and stay warm.
  • I continue to use Magic Bags/the office space heater as needed. I don’t try to power through the cold. When I feel it settling into my bones, I leap into action.
  • Good clothing choices. I wear heated socks. Thanks to a well-timed Christmas gift, I now own a heated vest (thanks for the recommendation, NGS). And even if I’m just walking around the block to check the mail – and even if the sun’s shining – I always put on my snow pants. Out of all the cold-weather gear I own, these are my favourite item. They’re Columbia brand and extremely warm, but also very “flexible.” Most snow pants feel stiff and don’t sit properly on my hips, but these fit like a dream. We’ll walk the kids to school and I’ll come home and launch right into my workday without taking off my snowpants. They’re that comfortable!!
  • Leaving finger gloves in the car. We don’t have a heated steering wheel and having something that keeps the chill off my hands is important. I wear heavy-duty leather gloves when I’m exercising outside, but I can’t drive with all that bulk, so finger gloves are a must. Leaving them in the car means there is always a set to pull on when I need them most.
Alas, the gifts are gone but the kids are still rocking their new jammies and the mantle still looks decidedly festive.
  • Keeping some festive/wintery décor. The artificial tree in our basement is still decorated and twinkling away. I have never left it up this late into the new year, and now I’m debating getting a few heart-themed items at the DollarStore and converting it into a Valentine’s tree? It’s so nice to see that little burst of festive cheer when I walk downstairs (and because we never use it functionally at Christmas, it doesn’t feel “stale” to me). Our mantle swag is still twinkling away and I’ve left a few seasonally neutral items up on our hutch. There’s a wreath on our front door. I’m thinking mid-February I’ll officially dismantle these last vestiges of Christmas?
  • Regular visits with my parents. I’ve tried to be especially intentional about carving out time to see them several times each week. They weren’t able to relocate for the winter during COVID lockdowns, so it’s so nice to have them temporarily nearby and I’m making the most of their proximity (and tracking all our time together as part of a 2023 goal)!
  • Comfort food. This weekend I made up a batch of those Chocolate Chip Spice Cookies that have made their way around the interwebs. This was my third batch since Suzanne linked to the recipe back in November and they are officially a family favourite (one person said, and I quote: “I could eat like a hundred of these.”). Suzanne called it “The Perfect Fall Cookie” – I’m here to tell you, it’s the perfect winter cookie, too (and, I suspect, the perfect spring and summer cookie). The house smelled delicious and, wow, they taste amazing warm from the oven. We’ve had curries and soups and I’ve been drinking Holiday Chai Tea (bring on the Jamaican rum flavouring!) every morning. Yum.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the weather so far has been spectacular. We’ve had a few cold days (the lowest around -12 C) but, for the most part, things have been hovering just above zero. Warm temperatures make it easier to keep – and stay – warm in and out of doors.

I know there are long, dark, cold days ahead but it is a major morale boost to be this far into the winter with a smile on my face and nary a goosebump. And I still have some tricks up my sleeve! We were recently gifted a puzzle (300 pieces and a very doable picture – no huge expanses of blue sky!); I have two TV series I want to binge with the kids; I have several exciting books waiting in the wings.

In terms of my mission to dread winter slightly less, I call it a resounding success.

Your turn. How has winter been in your neck of the woods? Do you find it harder to temperature regulate for the heat or cold? What’s your best go-to solution to offset cold or dreary winter weather?

Top Five/Bottom Five: Household Chores Edition

I had a lot of fun writing my Christmas-themed Top Five/Bottom Five posts. And, based on the comments section, some of you have very strong feelings about Christmas music, food, and movies.

Once again, I’m borrowing the idea from Mix and Match Mama; this round is all about household chores.

I had to think long and hard to come up with five household chores I like. Coming up with five I dislike was a piece of cake…

MY Top FIVE chores

  • Organizing/decluttering. I know this is a broad description, but I’m going to label it as a single “chore”. I like putting things back into order; fluffing pillows, smoothing down blankets, putting unused items into a donation bag for the thrift store. I enjoy straightening shoes in the entryway, stacking books on my bedside table, and just generally tidying our living spaces. In the right context, decluttering doesn’t feel like a chore to me at all and I view it as a form of enjoyable self-care!
  • Wiping down counters/the kitchen table. While I typically just use hot, soapy water, I’m a big fan of Method sprays (they smell so good!); if I need a quick mood boost, I spray the counters with my favourite scent – pink grapefruit – and scrub away happily.
  • Mopping. No one is more shocked than me to see MOPPING on my favourites list. I used to hate mopping. Like, Hate with a capital “H”. We temporarily hired someone to help with cleaning a few years ago and the main chore I wanted to outsource was our floors. Now, Eufy does the vacuuming for us, and our Vildea spin mop (comparable to the O-Cedar EasyWring in the US, I think?) does an incredible job in the mopping department.
  • Washing dishes. I enjoy hand-washing dishes, especially if I’m playing music on the kitchen speaker or listening to a podcast.
  • Paperwork/schedule management. I love writing cheques. I don’t mind filling out forms for school events (permission slips, activity registrations). And I enjoy sitting down with the calendar and fitting things in like a Tetris game.

MY Bottom FIVE chores

  • Laundry. I don’t mind gathering dirty clothes, adding some detergent to the washer, and starting a cycle. But everything after that point I hate. Moving items to the dryer (and separating out things like wool socks that need to be air-dried)? Hate it. Pulling clothes out of the dryer? Cleaning out the lint tray? Lugging a full basket of clean clothes upstairs. Ugh, ugh, ugh. Sorting, folding, and hanging clothes? Detest it all. And don’t get me started on matching socks. I’ve tried to convert it into a fun game. The only problem – it’s not a game and it’s not fun. I’ve tried a dozen different options for getting laundry completed more efficiently or more enjoyably but, at the end of the day, this is a job I just really, really dislike. I do think the best solution for me is to do laundry frequently so it doesn’t accumulate. I’d be remiss if I didn’t touch on ironing, which fits under this general category, but tops my least-favourite list. If someone said: You can either unclog a toilet or iron this dress shirt? Hand me the plunger. I’ve gotten to the point where I only touch an iron once or twice a year and even that stretches me to my max. It is incomprehensible to me that some people enjoy ironing!
  • Cleaning mirrors. Half the time they look worse than before I started and there are always streaks or little flecks of dust or paper towel/rag lint.
  • Putting away dry dishes. While I enjoy washing dishes (we air dry), I loathe unloading the dish drainer. Abby is responsible for emptying the dishwasher, but I often help her out. In that context, putting away cutlery is my least favourite, but cups and mugs are also a big nuisance since little divots at the top often retain puddles of water (that end up on the floor as we’re unloading items).
  • Cleaning the bathtub. I should start by saying “bathrooms” in general don’t rank very high on my chore list. But the bathtub is my least favourite. It takes so much effort to scrub and I have short arms and, apparently, not enough muscle power.
  • Putting away groceries. I don’t mind making a list or shopping, but I hate unloading things when we get home. To be fair, John often spearheads this; he likes an organized fridge and does a great job of maximizing space (which is important because we only have an apartment-sized fridge). Unpacking items and shuttling them around to different places in the house feels like such a hassle – fresh fruit goes on a bowl on the counter, lots of things need to go in the fridge, and various items go in our two “pantry” spaces; then there is the small standalone freezer downstairs and longer-term storage on shelves in our basement (extra toilet paper, paper towel, canned goods). I love to eat, but sheesh there is a lot of work that goes on behind-the-scenes to get food on the table.

And there you have it – my top/bottom five selections in the category of household chores.

Your turn. What would your top five/bottom five chores be? What’s your favourite cleaning tool or hack? Tell me – how can I dread laundry (slightly) less?

Header photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Ways To Dread Winter (Slightly) Less

I’ve never watched a single episode of Game of Thrones. But guess what, I still know that Winter is coming.

Years ago an extended family member was late in finalizing some items for a birthday. Despite the fact it wasn’t even my birthday, I was still a bit huffy about the whole situation. In my mind, there was no excuse. Birthdays are a set date – after it’s over one year, you have exactly 364 days to prepare for the next one.

But I’m no better. I know winter is coming – as it did in 2022 and will again in 2024 – and yet it always seems to catch me with my proverbial pants down.

And I need my pants – warm and fleece-lined, please and thank you – belted snugly and tucked into reliable winter boots if I’m going to come through the next few months with a smile on my face.

So when I was out for a walk (on an unseasonably warm November day), I voice memoed a list to myself titled: Ways to Dread Winter (Slightly) Less. Here’s what I came up with…

to offset the cold

So much of my discomfort over the winter months comes from being too cold. An ounce of prevention is worth ten pounds of cure because once I’m cold it is virtually impossible for me to warm up without an extremely hot shower.

  • Turn up the heat. The extra insulation we added to our house during renovations should help a lot, but I also need to turn up the heat. I won’t win any medals for being cold all the time. We limit energy outputs in many other ways, and I should just turn up the thermostat and not always think in dollar signs.
  • Invest in good winter boots. I still haven’t pulled the trigger on any of your suggestions…
  • Start the car sooner. I always leave this until the last minute. I know idling is not good for the environment, but for both my sanity and safety reasons (without a garage the windows can be frosted and cloudy)…I need to start the car with more buffer before having to leave the house.
  • Heat up Magic Bags constantly.
  • Use the space heater in the office. It really does help so much!
  • Wear heated socks and buy a second set. One of the reasons I didn’t wear heated socks every day is because I would ration them to offset the need to recharge the batteries…
  • Shower twice if I need to. This is a surefire way to get me warm.
  • Use the blow dryer on my body. I so rarely use this trick, but it works very well. If I close the door to our tiny ensuite bathroom and blow hot air all over my (clothed) body this is a great way to relieve bone-chilling cold.

to offset a mental slump

The winter is dark and cold and, well, it can feel long and exhausting and sad. So I plan to:

  • Make an effort to visit my parents every week at their rental house (bonus points if this visit involves a warm beverage).
  • Make more desserts. I really fell out of the routine of baking, but the warmth of the oven and the comfort of a sweet treat at the end of the day is a real mood boost.
  • Make the house as cozy as possible. Light candles, turn on lamps, simmer orange peels with cinnamon sticks on the stove. Basically, I need to channel all the Danish hygge wisdom I’ve picked up from my sister-in-law.
  • Take each day at a time. Yes, the winter is long, but each day is bearable. I don’t need to worry about the next snowstorm if it’s sunny outside today.
  • Have a plan for school snow days. These are inevitable! I should come up with a loose default schedule that includes work (clean rooms?), play (a round of our favourite game, a set time for movies) and movement (shoveling or a walk around the block).
  • Come up with a list of shows/movies to watch over the winter. As an added bonus, I might categorize: whole family, me with the kids, me with John, and solo. All screen time should involve Magic Bags, a robe, and a very fluffy blanket.
  • Save some great books for the winter months.
  • Try to get away somewhere warm. This has only happened once and it was incredible – I’d love to repeat this experience in 2023.

Your turn. Give me all your best suggestions of how I can dread winter (slightly) less. Once Christmas is over, I tend to hit a major slump in terms of energy and enthusiasm for doing anything other than hibernating (and complaining about the cold). I want to do better this year – help me out!!

Header photo by Alex Padurariu on Unsplash

It’s A Lovely Idea, But I Don’t Even Own A Coffee Table

A few months ago I read Catherine Newman’s house tour on Cup of Jo. It is a popular article for good reason – the story and pictures are inspiring.

The featured home looks welcoming without a hint of pretension. This is a space that clearly brings the homeowners great joy. A couch in the kitchen! A whole wall full of pictures of pears! A dining room complete with floor-to-ceiling shelves for board games! Vibrant pops of colour on the walls! Piles of laundry on the chair that practically scream: real people live here!

It’s a tour that leaves the reader (well, this reader at least) wanting to break through the screen and sit down in the cozy kitchen to share a cup of tea (while sitting on that kitchen couch, perhaps?).

But I have to admit, by the end of the article, I was feeling…bad? Maybe that’s not the right emotion, but I couldn’t/can’t put my finger on it exactly. In reflecting on my gut reaction – articulated or not – I can isolate a few specifics that made me think long and hard.

First, when Newman talks about her couch she says: We have a houseful of teenagers all the time, and kids will spill stuff and say, ‘…I’m so sorry!’ But we truly don’t care, and I’m very happy about that. 

It made me feel overly rigid because I do care (moderately, at least) if people spill things on my couch. I mean – it’s fine. I’ll deal with the mess, I’m sure it was an accident…but I’d really rather someone didn’t spill things on my couch.

But the thing that hit me the hardest, oddly enough, was her coffee table. Here’s the description:

When the kids were tiny, we covered the coffee table with white paper. It was fun for them to draw on the table, and their friends would come over and draw, too. It became a 20-year habit. Now, at Thanksgiving, someone will doodle a perfect thing or a portrait, and I’m like, okay, I’m cutting that out and keeping it! We score games on it, I take notes during phone calls, I figure out recipes on it. 

That felt so fun and whimsical and I swear when I read that line I decided then and there my children’s lives are ruined because WE DON’T HAVE A COFFEE TABLE COVERED IN PAPER for them to doodle on.

But guess what.

We don’t even own a coffee table.

And do you know why? Because when we bought our house one of the primary features we loved was the open loop that tracks around the upstairs. We have one long hallway that all the bedrooms open up into which feeds into our living room/dining room which feeds into the kitchen and then back to the hallway.

We debated getting a coffee table but opted to prioritize leaving that space open so the kids could – literally – run circles around us.

In fact, just a few days after we moved in, a friend suggested a different configuration for our couch (which would have been cozier, admittedly)…but we didn’t even entertain the idea because it would have prevented the kids from running around “The Loop”.

We’ve played countless games of chase (this is how Levi split open his chin) and hide-and-seek tag; the kids have cartwheeled through the living room and regularly sprawl out on the open floor to play charades or chess and leave messes of an assortment of doodads and doohickies.

So we don’t have a coffee table…but the kids do occasionally doodle on the kitchen whiteboard and little pads of paper that end up everywhere (though, obviously, not on top of a coffee table).

We also don’t have a couch where I encourage people to hop around with drinks in their hand, but we bought a less comfortable couch for our family room specifically because the colour and material would minimize the appearance of stains. (This one was a bitter pill to swallow; there was an incredible clear-out sale on a very nice couch, but it had light fabric and so we opted to pay more – yes that hurt! – for a less comfortable, less visually appealing, very utilitarian option but I distinctly remember saying to John: The kids HAVE to be able to play and live life on this couch! And it truly doesn’t show a single stain despite a variety of sources – including Dorito-covered fingerprints from movie nights and, sadly, one case of vomit several years ago).

When I read the article, I wanted to be “that Mom”- the one with the doodling paper over her coffee table for two decades. But I’m not. I’m me. A lady without a coffee table.

Your turn. Did you read Catherine Newman’s house tour? If so, what was your favourite feature? Mine was definitely the coffee table art, even if it did leave me feeling temporarily conflicted! If you tend toward the Type-A/planner/Upholder personality, do you ever feel guilty or unsettled when you see someone who can embrace a different level of spontaneity and devil-may-care attitude?

Header photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Just Use the Bigger Bowl

My mother – a truly wonderful woman – has the frustrating habit of always trying to fit too much into a too-small bowl.

Salad is the biggest culprit. She has a stacked set of glass bowls she loves to use for salad (a side dish that shows up at most meals in her house). Invariably she will choose the smallest bowl and fill it so full the lettuce and other veggies are perfectly flush with the top rim of said bowl. This means when someone goes to toss the salad, a random assortment of ingredients will fall out onto the counter/table/floor. Or, it will take 10 minutes to toss a simple salad because you wind up mixing in each carrot shred individually to avoid making a huge mess.

I’m not sure why she does this? It takes the same amount of effort to wash a small bowl as it does a slightly larger bowl.

Alas, I do it too. I’ll try to gauge whether leftovers from supper will fit into the smallest version of a storage container. I have the fridge space – why risk it?

Just a few weeks ago I started to measure out a sauce in a 2-cup glass measuring cup. I added in the first few ingredients and then realized: the total volume of the recipe was more than the volume of the measuring cup – and that didn’t even factor in the need for buffer at the top to stir!

I swallowed my pride and poured everything into a 4-cup measuring cup. Predictably, it was a cinch to mix and pour the sauce…except now I had to wash both a 2- and a 4-cup measuring cup.

So, when in doubt, I’m telling myself: just use the bigger bowl.

Your turn. Do you ever try to use a too-small bowl/tote/box when it would be so much easier to opt for a container with buffer?

Header photo by Dee @ Copper and Wild on Unsplash

Hide It and Move Along

Long-time readers may remember a few cameo appearances by a large hole in the drywall of our ensuite bathroom. (Lest you be envisioning a space resplendent with marble tile and gold-plated sinks, this room is very much rocking the 1970’s vibe of our 1970’s house. I’m holding out hope salmon-coloured tile will become fashionable again?)

For the most part, I don’t give two hoots about the aesthetics of this space. It’s highly functional and no one outside of our family uses it.

About three years ago, we had a water issue in the main bathroom. Yes, believe it or not, our water woes predate this blog. For those keeping track of such things, the score is hovering around Water, 18; Frosts, 0.

Our ensuite backs against the main bathroom and the shower in that room started leaking, resulting in a pool of water on the floor of the ensuite. At 9:30 pm at night. When we had overnight company.

Anyhoo. To access the shower in the main bathroom, we needed to cut a hole in the drywall of our little ensuite and that hole has stayed there ever since. After the emergency plumbing fix, we kept it open for a few months to allow for a final phase of repair. And then I started thinking how if we filled the hole and had another issue with the shower, we’d have to cut through the drywall again.

It wasn’t a big deal – and we’ve had plenty of other home updates to contend with lately – so we left it. Until a few weeks ago when I happened upon a painting that hadn’t found a new home after some artwork switcharoos.

You can likely guess where this is going. That extra painting covered up the hole perfectly. We didn’t have to pay for drywall repair and, if we ever have another issue with the shower, we’re seconds away from easy access.

Maybe, sometimes, situations in life deserve the same approach. While it often makes sense to fix or change things, other times we might be able to get away with slapping on a proverbial BandAid…or covering a giant eyesore with a nice painting.


Header photo by Luis Villasmil on Unsplash

A Cleaning Hack: Move the Rags

It’s Labour Day! Is anyone else feeling positively giddy this morning? Just me? The holiday feels especially momentous this year as the kids go back to school tomorrow. I repeat: tomorrow. This summer has been jammed full of adventure and work and company, but we’re all ready to ease back into a more settled routine.

In the meantime, a revelation from my end.

Last year I blogged about how I Moved My Deodorant…And It Kinda (Slightly) Changed My World. In similar fashion, last week I was on a cleaning blitz of both upstairs bathrooms when I started thinking about the benefits of resetting a room at the end of each day. I do this relatively frequently in the main bathroom – this is where we all shower and the kids brush their teeth. But I’m more likely to wait for a weekly deep-clean to touch our en suite. So if I see some toothpaste residue on the counter it will annoy me, but I’m likely to leave it until my weekly cleaning regime rolls around – even though it would only take seconds to handle the problem.

After five years of this behaviour, I stopped to ask myself Why? Why leave toothpaste spackle on the counter when it annoys me? (To be fair, since the kids don’t use our bathroom it stays dramatically cleaner than the main bathroom).

The answer? I store all my cleaning rags in the linen closet of the main bathroom. The ensuite contains its own little cache of cleaning supplies, but no rags.

Hopefully you can sense from the title of this post where this thought process led. Yup, I put a handful of cleaning rags under the sink in our en suite and now I can easily do a 30-second reset of counters and mirrors every day or two. No extra thinking – or trip to the linen closet – required.

A little change but, as is often the case, it feels disproportionately impactful.

Happy Labour Day! Now it’s your turn – has anyone implemented a little “hack” lately that has felt momentous in how it streamlines your routine or boosts your happiness?

Header photo by Brian Patrick Tagalog on Unsplash

Fruit Fly Hack: Freeze Compost Materials

I can’t remember who taught us this trick, but it is now an established household habit.

After near-constant issues with fruit flies setting up shop in our food scraps bin, we have been successfully using the following two-step process for years:

  1. Save small cardboard boxes or paper bags. We keep our cracker and cereal boxes and any paper bags we get from takeout.
  2. Fill the paper box/bag with food scraps, vegetable peelings and other compostable materials and store it in the fridge-freezer. Once it’s full, we throw the paper container + biodegradable scraps directly into our compost bin.

It works like a charm.

Header photo by CA Creative on Unsplash