Ask Me (Almost) Anything: Vol. 2 – Grab Bag

I’m baaaaccckkkk…with another round of Ask Me (Almost) Anything! Yesterday I tackled questions related to kids and travel. Today I’m sorting through an interesting smorgasbord of queries – several of which left me puzzling over how to respond.

Without further ado:

From Katie: Always curious about underbuying and minimalism and how it helps or hinders you!

I’ve talked about minimalism/underbuying a few times on the blog, but realize that most of those “discussions” happened before people (aside from me, myself, and I) were actually coming to this space, so I’ll include some links below. To recap, here is something I wrote about minimalism in one of those posts:

Minimalism doesn’t look to get rid of everything. It looks to prioritize those possessions or activities that are most valued and then removes the rest. Keep the flowers but pull the weeds.

I love getting rid of stuff that no longer serves a purpose – items that fill space mentally and physically. At the life level, this can mean prioritizing activities and behaviours that I value. And to do the latter, it’s so much easier when I have fewer material possessions distracting me.

Per that definition, minimalism is a net-positive in my life. I wasn’t always like this and had a stereotypically cluttered room as a teenager/university student. But ditching excess stuff felt like a necessity about 8 years ago when we were living in a small space with two young kids and running two small businesses, all while bootstrapping it with side hustles. It was very intense and, at some point, the only way I could cope was to minimize the chaos of my environment. This was hard to do in a tiny space, so I think – visually at least – I became a “minimalist” to others when we moved into our current home and it was more obvious that I eschewed accumulating stuff. For me minimalism is about: wanting what I have, having a place for everything, and appreciating each item for either its function (e.g. a hammer isn’t pretty, but I need one) or its aesthetic (e.g. I don’t need lots of plants in my home, but I love how they look).

My house can, at any given moment, look messy. This is fundamentally different from clutter. Messes mean things are not put away. Clutter means there are too many things/they don’t have a designated place. For example, here are two pictures from a Wednesday night several weeks ago. I was solo parenting and we got home from one event and had 30 minutes to unpack groceries, unload school backpacks, make/eat supper, and get out the door again. This is a mess, but it is not clutter. Every single item you see is out of place or being used – but it does have a place.

Sarah – behold my ancient dishwasher. I’d clone it and send it your way if I could!

From Suzanne: What is your most irrational fear?

I really don’t like insects. This is dripping in irony because my graduate degree was in entomology and I handled honeybees daily for months. I was very open about this and won a national graduate award from the Entomological Society of Canada, in part – I think – because my application essay detailed how much I did not like insects.

Also from Suzanne: What is your favorite thing about yourself – or your biggest strength?

Hmmm. This is tough. I underestimate my abilities, so even in answering this question, I feel less than sure of my response!

Probably my favourite thing about myself is my ability to remember small details when in conversation with others (for example, I’ll remember the names of a loose acquaintance’s grandchildren or someone’s favourite colour or how someone I barely know takes their coffee) – this attention to detail helps me in practical ways in day-to-day-life.

My biggest strength could be the very fact that I habitually underestimate myself. I studied hard in university because I never thought I could coast through. Even after years of good academic performance, I still prepared for every test as if I could very easily fail.

Unless I’m disagreeing with a family member (when I get very stubborn), I’m happy to consider the fact that other people are probably right and this leaves me open to learning new things. I just finished reading Adam Grant’s book Think Again where he writes: A mark of lifelong learners is recognizing that they can learn something from everyone they meet.

If I had to use one word to describe myself it would be mediocre – there is no area of my life where I consider myself proficient or an expert; while there can be a danger to this line of thinking, harnessed properly, I think it can be a major strength. I don’t assume I have everything worked out or have discovered the “right” way of doing things (except with loading toilet paper where there is a “right” way and a “wrong” way). I really am always on the lookout to learn new things, especially if that advice comes from non-family members; sorry fam, I know I can be very pig-headed.

The Phone Interview Blues – Life @ U of T

Also from Suzanne: What are your desert island foods?

Sushi. Oatmeal (with all my favourite fixings). Peanut butter on toast with banana. Unbaked cherry cheesecake. Twizzlers.

From Stephany: What are your favorite and least-favorite things about where you live?


  • The laid-back culture of Atlantic Canada. People are friendly and unpretentious. Neighbours help neighbours. For the most part, people couldn’t care less what you do for a living or what type of car you drive. I live in a town where the local librarians automatically cue up my account – and put my holds stack on the counter – the instant we make eye contact. Just today a new librarian was working and couldn’t access my account; a regular librarian leaned over and said: Oh, that’s because you’re spelling her name wrong. It’s with an ‘s’. Yes, all the librarians know how to spell my name properly. That alone should tell you all you need to know about where I live…
  • The natural beauty of Nova Scotia blows me away (it recently topped the list of 30 places to travel in 2023 in Lonely Planet’s guide). We’re within driving distance of gorgeous coastline, beautiful beaches, and impressive lighthouses.
  • We enjoy the best of both worlds. Despite living in a “rural” area, we’re less than an hour from an international airport, a world-class children’s hospital, lots of great restaurants and so much more. And though I love walking my kids to a community school and do 90% of my grocery shopping at small in-town stores, I’m 10 minutes from a Home Depot and Walmart. The small-town feel, but close to big-city amenities.

Least-favourite thing: Winter. It’s cold and icy and bleak. I hate winter.

Also from Stephany: When putting on socks and shoes, do you do sock, shoe, sock, shoe or sock, sock, shoe, shoe?

Um. Sock, sock, shoe, shoe. Does anyone NOT do this? If so, I didn’t know that was even legal…

Also from Stephany: What are some of the books that everyone else raves about that you didn’t like at all?

I was not a fan of The Midnight Library. Or The Year of Magical Thinking. Or Lord of the Flies (I assume some other people will agree with me on this one?! But I know a few adults who loved reading this book in high school. How? Why?). Or The Giver (read it in Grade 9; hated it; maybe I should try again?). Or Reasons to Stay Alive. Or Girl, Wash Your Face. Or The Dinner List. Or Wintering. Or Where The Red Fern Grows (this book is one big long trauma – why is it a beloved classic?).

From Ally: This is a question I was asked years ago and it lead to some great conversations. As a personal blogger do you think of yourself as a Creator or a Coach? Are you expressing yourself or are you encouraging others? And how do you handle your comments because of it?

Wowzers. What a question. I’ve only been blogging a little over a year, so am very much a “newby”. For the first few months, I was publishing things for an audience of 1 (literally). Me. That hasn’t changed on one level; I try to post only about things that interest me or help me think of personal experiences in a new light. To that end, I think of myself as an encourager – but for myself first and foremost. That said, I do hope the things I write – in an attempt to express myself/process the world -help/motivate/encourage others toward positive growth.

I would never call myself a Coach (that seems to imply I have some level of expertise/proficiency, and you now know I categorize myself as mediocre)…so let’s go with Creator?

I aim to treat each comment/response as if a personal friend were asking me a question – in the flesh – over a cup of tea. Because that is what this community has become – an extension of my friend group, albeit via distance.

From NGS: When you think of your life in thirty years, what do you picture?

Doing life with John. He has so many incredible skills in cross-cultural settings and has a heart for helping others. And I think/hope I could also be useful? So in 30 years, I envision us retired, working in a volunteer capacity in a developing country. Hopefully with lots of visits from our kids (and grandkids?!) with some leisure travel on the side.

Also from NGS: What are some holiday traditions you’re looking forward to in the next month or two?

I’m so glad you asked. I love Christmas. I love traditions.

  • Watching White Christmas with my best friend. An absolute highlight for me each year. We basically have the whole script memorized and it is pure fun to watch this movie and quote lines together. There’s singing! There’s dancing! And the evening usually involves some delicious sweet or salty treat (or both) and fluffy blankets and twinkle lights.
  • Opening new ornaments on Christmas Eve. We each get a new ornament on Christmas Eve; when the kids leave home, they’ll have 18, 19, 20, (45?!) ornaments to take with them.
  • All the food. I love the food at Christmas.
  • The kids opening Advent calendars every morning before breakfast.

From San: If you had three wishes, what would you wish for?

  • For my kids to be healthy, happy, well-adjusted, and strong in their faith.
  • To be guaranteed to grow old together with John.
  • Unlimited free air travel for life for the whole family (as in: we could go anywhere, at any time, for free).

Also from San: What’s one thing you’d like to accomplish this next year?

I want to plan out my summer for 2023. I went into Summer 2022 trying to be laid back, but it really backfired. It was unusual circumstances – a crazy combo of renovations, company, the kids off for extra time because of our road trip, a stressful neighbourhood dynamic – but I end up really struggling with my mental health and want to be more intentional about doing things that help me feel grounded. In short, I need to keep planning exactly like I do during the rest of the year.

From Sarah: What Bible version do you like best?

I have a NASB study Bible, but my go-to Bible (I asked for a new one last Christmas and it’s aesthetically beautiful) is now ESV.

Also, even though I stopped on day 311 last year, I have to give a plug for the One Year Bibles (they come in a variety of translations), which are organized into daily readings designed for reading through the whole Bible in a calendar year. In that Bible, I have the NLT!

From Tobia: What is your favorite fruit?

Raspberries. Then strawberries? Though a really good: apple, banana, peach, or slice of watermelon (with salt) are hard to beat. While I eat fruit most days, I’m not actually a huge fan.

Also from Tobia: What is the oldest piece of clothing you own?

What an interesting question! Definitely my black and white flowered skirt. During my first summer of university, I worked at a research facility in Montreal and lived with my brother (who worked in the same complex). We went to a local mall one day, and I bought this skirt. I’ve worn it every single year since; it’s almost 20 years old!

I could not think of how to find pictures of me wearing this skirt and then remembered the debacle that is Mother’s Day. You’ve all seen pictures of my kids smiling, right? For the record, two of these years – involving different kids – the wailing was because the sun was “too bright”. Note to self: henceforth we should only take Mother’s Day pictures in sunglasses. Or using cardboard cutouts of the kids – smiling.

2016 (not wearing the skirt, and we’re still jinxed)

And, for the record, we don’t have a single picture of the kids crying on Father’s Day. What am I supposed to make of that?

Your turn. What are your desert island foods? Favourite fruit? What’s something you hope to accomplish in 2023? (Or feel free to answer any other question above!).

Header photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

Ask Me (Almost) Anything: Vol. 1 – Kids + Travel

First of all, thank you to everyone for submitting such thoughtful, hilarious, entertaining, ______(insert other descriptive words) questions. I have a feeling this will be a long post, so let’s jump right in:


From Lisa: How long were you married before you had kids?

Less than two years. I was surprised to get a positive test result a few weeks before our first anniversary but it definitely made sense – I was EXHAUSTED all the time. This means I was 7 months pregnant when I defended my Master’s thesis – and my due date was 2 days after the end of a research contract – so there was not much buffer between graduate school and motherhood!

From Katie: Curious how you decided to have 2 children and what your favorite parts of having a girl and boy are?

Honestly, two kids felt like all my body and mind could handle. Before actually having children, I was convinced I would have four. This was my family structure growing up (2 sisters + 1 brother). But then I ended up with an unexpected C-section, an especially challenging second pregnancy (which also required a C-section), and was unable to nurse. Both kids had colic and reflux, and motherhood took a huge toll on me mentally and physically. Also, because I have a “thin uterine lining” and a whole lot of scar tissue, a VBAC would be out of the question; plus, because of said scar tissue, the risks associated with additional C-sections weren’t inconsequential either.

Favourite parts of having my girl: watching her grow up and become more of a friend. I love thrifting with her and sharing an interest in things like Harry Potter trivia and listening to music when we’re driving somewhere solo. (And I have to admit I 100% loved all the pretty dresses when she was little. It might sound cliché, but dressing a toddler girl was so. much. fun.)

Favorite parts of having my boy? That he’s sensitive to those around him and tends to have excellent emotional IQ. I love how dirty he gets playing outside – he’s very enthusiastic about whatever he’s doing and that shows in worn knees on all his pants and scuffed sneakers. He’s an “all in” sort of kid. I love his voice – it’s truly the sweetest – and our hushed conversations at bedtime. I also appreciate what a deep thinker he is; he can go from climbing trees to discussing huge existential topics in the span of just a few minutes.

From Suzanne: Did you always know you wanted kids? Was it always two?

Yes, I knew I wanted children and always envisioned a family of 4. This didn’t happen; see above!

Also from Suzanne: How did you choose your kids’ names?

John entered my life loving the name Abigail. I didn’t have any strong attachment to specific names (though as a teenager I thought Mackenzie for a girl was the cat’s meow). If Abby had been a boy, she would have been Elijah – Eli for short. We briefly discussed: Charlotte, Catalina, and Violet. But, really, it was Abigail all along.

Here John and I butt heads – he thinks he suggested Levi, and I’m pretty sure it was me. Either way, I firmly believe it’s the best boy name EVER. One thing I know for certain: I read a book by Ann Voskamp (One Thousand Gifts) when I was newly pregnant with Levi. She wrote about one of her sons named Levi being involved in a farming accident; when I read that story I immediately 1) loved the name Levi and 2) “knew” something was about to happen in my life. A few days later we had our routine 20-week ultrasound and the next few months were an intense blur of appointments. We didn’t find out the gender, but I felt in the core of my being it was going to be a boy. Fun fact: because Eli had been our “boy” name for Abby, for the first few weeks after Levi was born, I kept calling him Eli.

As for middle names, those are more personal. Abby’s middle name – Isabella – is a play on her grandmother’s name. It is also a nod to her Portuguese heritage. Levi’s middle name – Indiana – comes from John’s love of the Indiana Jones movies. People assume it is related to Indiana the American state; nope – it’s because of action movies. (To put this in more context, John and I walked down the aisle at our wedding to the Imperial March -Darth Vader’s theme song. At our rehearsal, my Mom heard it for the first time and said: This is a joke, right? That’s not actually the song you’re walking out to? It was not a joke, but I did put an asterisk by the song title in our program that read: By special request of the groom.)

From Sarah: How do you strengthen your kids’ faith while they are in public school (presumably)?

Yes, both children attend public school and faith is a big part of our lives! I’m no expert – and every situation is unique – but here are a few thoughts from my experience:

We encourage our kids to ask questions. The Bible mentions talking about spiritual things when you wake up and when you go to bed and we end up doing this most days, often in the form of open discussions. We answer questions as we’re able, but also admit we don’t have it all figured out! A few years ago I read the following (paraphrased): Wrestling with God is a full-contact sport; as in, if you’re asking questions and working through things, you’re in contact with Him. I’d rather them feel secure in asking questions – even if they’re hard/unanswerable – over becoming apathetic! (To quote C.S. Lewis: Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.)

We support our kids when they engage with others. One child in particular is very open about their faith. They emerged from a day camp recently and literally the first words out of their mouth were: “Do you know So-and-So doesn’t believe in God? But we sat together at lunch, and he said it would be okay if I talked to him about God. So I did. And he shared his lunch with me.” I was gobsmacked. How did this come up in casual conversation? And how are you so confident at (insert young age) that you broached this topic over Cheetos and apple slices? About this same interaction, the child said: “He doesn’t believe in God, but he knows about Him. And everyone has to make their own choice about believing, don’t they?

We openly discuss where beliefs diverge. Specific religious beliefs of any kind are not championed in our local public school, but perhaps because we’ve been so open with our kids, they realize and are curious about those around them. For example, we discussed Ramadan one year when a friend reached the age where they were fasting during the day. We’ve talked about the difference between atheists and agnostics. We never try to pretend that everyone believes the same things. This comes up in conversations about language, too. Both kids have mentioned people using the Lord’s name in vain at school and we discuss how/why others might use these terms so differently from us. We can be sensitive to it (and not participate in it/prefer no one used this language), while realizing there are inherent differences in other people’s spiritual beliefs.

We raise our kids in light of certain truths we adhere to, but they are going to have to make their own choices. I love a point I heard once that God doesn’t have any grandchildren – as in, we each make independent decisions. My deepest desire is for my kids to have a personal relationship with Jesus because I believe in sin and His redemptive sacrifice. I think their response to this question is of infinite importance. But our kids are independent individuals and I recognize they will have to make their own faith choices. We are trying to equip them to think critically, we are offering them regular exposure to faith-centric activities and discussions, and we live out our own faith journey in front of them – the rest is between them and God.

Also from Sarah: How do you limit screen time for your kids?

Um. We kinda don’t? They have no set time limits. There is no way they “earn” screen time. There is no quota for the week. We try to naturally limit things – between extracurriculars and school, there are a lot of hours they can’t be on screens. For the most part, this approach works. Many days they watch nothing, but there have certainly been plenty of Saturdays where they watch 6+ hours. Nothing catastrophic has happened yet.

From NGS: What are your top five picture books?

You’re kidding, right? FIVE picture books. You want me to stop at FIVE? This is clearly an impossible question (I’ve got a whole post about picture books and favourite ones here). I’m going “cheat” and do this in two categories.

My top five favourite sentimental books:

Top five picture books from the last few years?:

And since you asked (wait, you didn’t ask?) here are five books my kids might list:

I feel like I’m reading an Oscar acceptance speech and the music is playing and I still have a dozen people I want to mention…


From Lisa: What is the best trip you and John have taken?

Paris, 2019. Full stop. We talk about this trip constantly. It was the experience of a lifetime. Perfect weather. Amazing food. Sitting on the lawn at Trocadéro with a bottle of wine watching the sun go down and the Eiffel Tower light up is one of the best experiences of my entire life. It was my first time visiting Paris and it was everything I had hoped for and more.

Also from Lisa: What is the best trip you’ve taken with kids?

We haven’t done many “big” trips with kids (aside from 3 weeks in Denmark when Abby was a toddler). Thus both by process of elimination – and because it truly was an incredible experience – I’d have to say our trek to South Carolina last May. The weather was great; plus, my sister and her family are pure fun. Seriously. There was so much laughter on that trip. Bless.

Denmark, 2012
En route to South Carolina, 2022

From San: If you could move anywhere (for a while), where would you want to live?

Somewhere warm. Not hot, just temperate. In an ideal world, I’d leave Canada from December 26th to May 1st.

If it was for year-round living, somewhere in Scandinavia.

From Tobia: What is the furthest you traveled from home?

Sydney, Australia – literally the other side of the world. While it wasn’t as memorable as Paris, it was another great trip. And it changed the trajectory of our lives as an impromptu meeting while there launched John on a new career path.

With Abby’s “Chickie” in front of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Fun fact: I wasn’t on an airplane until my last year of university. My parents didn’t have much money when I was growing up, and aside from a few road trips down to South Carolina, I basically never left a 4-5 hour radius of my childhood home until I was almost 20.

Okay – that wraps up the first round of questions. I’ll be back tomorrow with Vol. 2 which is a more eclectic mix (favourite fruit! minimalism! how I’d use three wishes! irrational fears! desert island foods!).

Also, if you have more Ask Me (Almost) Anything questions, feel free to leave them in the comments below, or via my nifty Google form.

Your turn. What’s the best trip you’ve ever taken? The furthest you’ve traveled from home? If you have children, how did you settle on names – and was it a consensus or compromise?