Chopped: Frost Family Edition (Or, I Made Chocolate Curls)

I made homemade chocolate curls last weekend and it wasn’t a big deal (so easy, who knew?!). But still, I MADE chocolate curls. Gold star?


Several years ago we went through a period of watching The Food Network as a family. Abby, in particular, couldn’t get enough of Beat Bobby Flay and The Pioneer Woman. But her favourite show was Chopped.

The premise is simple: four competitors start by making an appetizer. The catch? Their workstation contains a basket with secret ingredients which have to be incorporated/highlighted in their dish. And these secret ingredients can be downright strange. Gummy bears and chicken in an entrée, hotdogs and pecans in a dessert. After each course, one chef is eliminated until two people remain to battle it out over dessert.

Abby loved this show (every iteration, but especially Chopped Junior).

At some point, we introduced a few elements into special cooking challenges at home. Abby and I would choose a “secret ingredient” for dessert and allow 15 minutes to prepare something for John and Levi. Other times we had informal judging – no winner, but an elaborate meal for which family members were invited to offer critiques and compliments.

Then, in early 2020, just before COVID shut down the world, we jumped in with two feet. My parents were overwintering locally and offered to serve as judges. We paired off into teams (John + Levi; Elisabeth + Abby) and printed off scoring cards. We planned for weeks, shopped covertly so the opposing team didn’t catch wind of our menu, and covered the French door to our dining room with butcher paper (so my parents couldn’t spy on the kitchen prep).

From start to finish it was a lot of work, but Abby was in rapture and my parents couldn’t stop raving about the food. I’ll admit – it was delicious food. But did I mention all the work?


For several years we had a reward system in our house called “Warm Fuzzies” – a glass jar filled with (fuzzy) multi-coloured pom-poms. If someone did or said something encouraging or kind, we would add a warm fuzzy. If someone was deliberately unkind or rude, we would take one away. The kids worked steadily toward a goal – most recently, to host another Chopped competition.

They reached that goal over a year ago by accruing 40 Warm Fuzzies…and we only got around to fulfilling our promise last Saturday. #PandemicLife. But, better late than never.


We invited a neighbour couple (the ones who bake the kids cookies, offer us fresh produce from their garden, and bought the whole neighbourhood a basketball hoop and set it up in our driveway; for long-time readers, this is also the couple who leave Christmas lights up for our benefit, help shovel our driveway, and have PB & Banana sandwiches each Friday so, basically the sweetest neighbours ever) to assign the secret ingredients and judge the resulting dishes. (We made things a bit easier with just a single ingredient set for each course.)

John and Abby teamed up, which left me paired with Levi.

I tend to be the killjoy in this sort of event as I find it exhausting to juggle so many dishes while worrying about presentation (Oh, and did I remember to clean the bathroom for our guests?), all while working as a team with a CHILD who has very strong opinions about what they want to do (and, if I’m being completely honest here, I just want to do it all myself and win the competition). The prep, the shopping, the execution, the managing expectations. It’s a lot.

But I survived and it was great.

The secret ingredient selections were: cheese in the appetizer, bacon in the entrée, and chocolate in the dessert.

We had the table set with score cards (again, judged blind – they didn’t know who was paired with whom) and menus.

We weren’t judged on the drinks, but each team made a punch that was similar in taste and appearance, so here’s a representative picture.

How do people make their hands not look weird in pictures? Does anyone else feel self-conscious of their hands in pictures? I never think about my hands in real life, but “picture hands” just always feel…strange looking to me.

And here’s how it all played out:

John + Abby’s Menu (Abby designed/coloured their menu; gold star to her):

Oops. I only took a picture of the front page of their menu…

Appetizer: Tomato bisque + a trifecta of grilled cheese

Appetizer; this was one of the best tomato soups I have EVER had. And each strip of grilled cheese had a different flavour/cheese profile. Also, didn’t they nail the presentation?

Entrée: Beef tenderloin, bacon-wrapped scallops, garlic/onion/bacon mashed potatoes, grilled red pepper, and green beans with hollandaise.

We don’t eat much red meat, but John got an incredible cut of local beef tenderloin from the butcher and it was…delicious.

Dessert: A layered ice-cream cake.

Sadly you can’t see the layers in this homemade ice-cream cake; a chocolate crumb base, peanut butter cups, Skor bits, homemade chocolate sauce and lots of ice-cream. It was so good!

Levi + Elisabeth’s Menu:

Giving credit where credit is due – Abby coloured the flowers.

Appetizer: A three-cheese buttermilk biscuit topped with smoked paprika and dill cream cheese, smoked salmon and Parmesan crisps.

This was our weakest dish; everything tasted great, but the presentation was lacking colour, and – I’ll talk about this tomorrow – 15 minutes before this picture was taken I was cleaning up a torrent of water on the kitchen floor on my hands and knees, so was rather distracted). Maybe the monochromatic look is in?

Entrée: Bacon-wrapped asparagus, bacon cornbread bites, and bacon/chicken alfredo. The homemade alfredo sauce was the bomb.

This was so good!

Dessert: A chocolate panda (Nutella + PB filled) lava cake, with an ice cream head, and chocolate curl limbs.

This panda won the competition. Literally. Levi and I ended up winning by several points and it was all due to the panda dessert which was, I’m the first to admit, entirely Levi’s idea. He has been working for WEEKS on a panda project in school and this was the one thing he insisted on incorporating into our meal. It turned out about 100 times better than I imagined. I was going to do the ice cream head off to the side of the lava cake as an afterthought. But as we were plating, Abby (gold star to her for so generously helping her opponents) suggested we make a complete panda. Levi was so, so proud. And, it was delicious (though, I ask, could a chocolate lava cake NOT be delicious?)!

The raspberry was an afterthought as the peanut butter filling was leaking and made a hole at the top of the cake which we covered with a raspberry, forming a very adorable “belly button.”

Prepping the ice cream heads the day before!

And that’s enough Chopped for a few years. Lots of fun (and delicious leftovers), but also…exhausting!

Three cheers to the kids for being such great sports. Three cheers to John for loving to cook so much and encouraging and organizing so much of this event. And three cheers to our neighbours who were genuinely delighted by the whole experience and the most enthusiastic participants we could have hoped for (they very sweetly brought us a long thank-you note the next day and actually showed up to the “competition” with a plate of their famous cookies).


Anyone hungry? (Aside from vegan/vegetarian readers – sorry!).

Header photo by Sara Cervera on Unsplash

A Health Update Circa May 2022

People have been so kind with their inquiries about my health and I thought it was time for a little update.

Things are (mostly) good.

It does feel a bit daunting to put this in writing because I occasionally succumb to thoughts like: “What happens if/when everything starts to fall apart?”

But that’s no way to live – so I’m acknowledging the presence of those thoughts before slipping them into my back pocket. I carry them around with me, admittedly, but I’m mostly able to keep my hands free to get on with enjoying life.


For new readers to this space, TMI alert: I have extremely heavy periods. I’ve had this issue since I was 12, but the fallout has been most acute in the last decade or so. Near-constant fatigue and anemia which culminated in iron infusions last year. I joke (though it’s not funny) that I average about one “good” week a month. I have at least a week of PMS symptoms, then a week of hellish period-life, and then a week to recover physically. In addition to impacts on my energy, it takes a mental toll as well.

Over the last few months, my mental health has improved significantly, my energy levels have nudged higher, and my sleep is…better (definitely still working on this issue, though).

I still tire easily, have to watch physical activity levels, and just generally pay close attention to my body. But I’m (mostly – this week has been especially tough, ironically) feeling a lot better.

things that are helping right now

  1. John’s sabbatical. I recognize the immense privilege of being able to make this decision. But I also can’t deny the positive impact it has had on both my physical and mental health. I’m getting better sleep, I’m eating more healthfully, the division of labour has shifted considerably, and everyone is more relaxed. In short – it has been wonderful. It’s impossible to know if some of the other changes listed below would have had as much of an impact without this unprecedented level of flexibility/rest for our family. Despite my diagnosed physical challenges, I think the exhaustion of being immersed in start-up culture for so long played a big part in my burnout.
  2. Making a decision about surgery. I don’t think I realized how much this was weighing on me. Some back story: my former OB/GYN was in favour of a hysterectomy (she moved), my family doctor has always been hesitant, and my new OB/GYN also discouraged this approach. Because of major scar tissue from my C-sections, the risks associated with a hysterectomy are higher for me. It also rules out the more obvious option of an ablation (which, regardless of scarring, doesn’t work well because I’m so young, and the procedure would need to be repeated before I reach menopause). Surgery has been on the table for years now, and it’s confusing when medical professionals you respect don’t necessarily find consensus. Having finally made the decision to go ahead with surgery (now I wait – it could take two years) feels like a major burden lifted.
  3. Trying/going off an SSRI. The end of 2021 was brutal. In December, I asked to try an anti-anxiety medication. I have always managed low mood/anxiety with various forms of behavioural/talk therapy. But starting in November, I was averaging 3-4 hours sleep each night and it was not sustainable. Unfortunately, the SSRI didn’t work well for me. I had panic attacks, lost 10 pounds in the span of several weeks, and felt sick around the clock. I am, however, so glad I tried this approach. Everything I try that doesn’t work takes one possible treatment off my radar which, for someone who can be paralyzed by choice, is very helpful. It was/is so hard to tease apart what is physical and what is mental. I consider these medications to be wonderful assets (and recognize, at another time, I might opt to try a different medication), but it wasn’t the right fit for me, which ended up being helpful in its own way.
  4. Going off hormone treatments – for good. I have been off and on hormone treatments (in a BROAD range of doses and applications) since I was 14. Yes, you read that correctly. 14. Not a single treatment has worked properly. If it fixed one problem, it created three more. Again, I love my team of doctors, but I eventually had to go with what my body was telling me and it was telling me…stop. So I stopped. Mid-treatment! What works for others isn’t necessarily going to work for me. And to get to the point where I say yes to the surgery and no to any other intervention feels liberating.
  5. CBD oil. I’m not sure how much impact the CBD oil is having, as I started using it at the same time all the other things were falling into place (#’s 1-4). I haven’t had a single side effect (CBD oil has essentially no THC) and I think it has helped – in subtle ways – with anxiety, sleep issues, energy levels, and overall physical discomfort.
  6. Removing a large work project from my portfolio. I tend to overlook this final development, but for the last five years I have been in charge of a project that required intermittent – but completely unpredictable – work. There was an underlying tension that I felt at all times, 24/7/365 about this project. It was an unreasonable response given the sheer amount of time I invested was quite low, but it’s the response I had nonetheless. Finally moving this off my plate has also undoubtedly played a role in my improvement.

So there you have it.

This week has been tough as I wade through the physical fallout from an especially awful period. But with so many big decisions made, it still feels like I’m moving in the right direction.

A huge thanks to everyone for the love, support, and inquiries about my health both in this space and from friends locally. It really does mean so much to me!

Header photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash

Acceptance Doesn’t (Have To) Preclude Growth

I’ve been mulling over comments from my post a few weeks ago on weight and body image. It’s a complicated topic and I naturally approach it from the perspective of personal experience.

Many commentators talked about pursuing/finding “peace” and coming to a place of “acceptance” and those words reminded me of a quote I wrote down years ago:

Accepting oneself does not preclude an attempt to become better.

Flannery O’Connor

Frankly, I think “become better” would be more appropriate if substituted with the phrase “to grow.” Sorry, Flannery.

And then I keep circling back around to one of the thoughts captured in this post by Suzanne (which I’ve modified for a broader scope):

“I feel like I should love [insert trait]…So wanting to [make this change] feels like a failure. But the fact is, I DO want to [make this change].”

So I’m asking – can’t we do both?


In pondering that question, let’s take a minute and discuss toddler temper tantrums, shall we? While neither of my children was prone to tantrums, they definitely happened (and always at inopportune times).

Did I love my children less because of their tantrums? No.

Did I refuse to accept their tantrums? No…there is really very little one can do about a tantruming toddler.

So I both loved and accepted them at that stage – but I also actively worked to help them move toward positive emotional responses.

With a two-year-old, most of the heavy lifting comes from the parent. I’d make sure they were well fed before a trip to the grocery store. I tried to prioritize naps and bedtime routines. I avoided taking them to certain locations when I could tell the conditions were just right for a tantrum (hungry toddler in grocery store cart = the worst).

Now, when they emerged from the stage of tantrums, did I love or accept them more? No. (But it sure did make life a whole lot more pleasant.)

So while I love and accept my children at every stage, that doesn’t preclude an attempt to change and/or maximize positive behaviours.

And the same can be true in other areas of my life. I do love and accept my body (as much as I’m able given natural responses to societal pressures, let’s be realistic here). I think it is a miraculous gift from God. The fact I can see and hear and taste and move – these are incredible facets of my life and some of the most obvious sources of #joyfinding.

But I’d argue love and acceptance do not preclude me from seeking growth and positive change.

Is it hard to balance these two, sometimes conflicting, mental states? Absolutely. But I think love, acceptance, and a longing for change can, and do, exist on a spectrum…together. Especially when nurtured under the umbrella of wanting to show appreciation for this body (or insert other relevant trait or state – mental, physical, emotional, financial, relational) God has given me while recognizing my responsibility and privilege to make choices for the betterment of my health and those I love.

One last thought. We throw around the word “acceptance” a lot which has an air of finality to it. I vote we say “accepting” which connotes continual action which will, undoubtedly, ebb and flow over the years.

Thoughts? Do you think acceptance precludes change/growth?

Header photo by Fabien Bazanegue on Unsplash

A Big Ol’ Sleep Post

Sleep.

From how long we sleep to our assortment of idiosyncrasies, sleep is now categorized as another branch of “hygiene” – as if there are clean and dirty ways to get our shut-eye.

Since such a large portion of our time is spent sleeping (or trying to sleep or trying to get someone else to sleep), it’s also a topic that permeates everyday life for all humans on the planet.

So let’s talk about sleep, including some weird (but true) quirks about my own sleep habits.

weird but true

  • In high school I hated making my bed and, at some point, decided to sleep in a sleeping bag every night. My parents were 100% okay with this decision. I feel like I might resist my own children making a similar choice, but I’m not sure why? It just seems like a weird habit in retrospect. I had a giant wicker basket that I would stuff my sleeping bag into during the day, so making my bed took seconds. I loved this arrangement.
  • I sleep on the same side of the bed, even at hotels. This might not actually be uncommon, but I once talked to someone who said she and her husband would just randomly pick a side if they weren’t home in their own bed. Um, no. This simply would not work.
  • For over 30 years I slept on my stomach every night. When I was a teenager I happened to see a snippet of an Oprah show where a guest (a chiropractor, maybe?) was suggesting viewers wear a baseball cap to prevent rolling over onto their stomachs. Or, alternatively, the suggestion was to stop sleeping with a pillow. I chose the latter. I was so attached to stomach sleeping it was one of the hardest things to avoid during pregnancy and I slept on my stomach almost immediately after giving birth. Now it hurts my lower back and I rarely sleep on my stomach (but I sleep with a VERY thin pillow and if I do happen to spend any time on my stomach, I put my head directly onto the mattress).
  • I wash my sheets infrequently. I will not share how infrequent this is but will let your imagination run wild (let’s just say it would be horrifying to any once-a-week folk out there; I had an aunt who was a once-a-day sheet washer. We clearly do not share the same genetic profile on this habit). I tend to shower most evenings, though, which has to count for something?
  • Speaking of sheets, I no longer use top sheets. Just a fitted sheet (over a mattress protector) + a duvet. Life is too short for fighting with top sheets.
  • My nighttime routine is getting more and more complicated. I use a white noise machine and wear an eye mask. I cannot sleep without either of these things. I must use the washroom about 10 times or I am guaranteed to wake up in the night. And if my feet are cold I can’t sleep so I often warm up Magic Bags. It’s a gong show.

nighttime bathroom breaks

I can remember drinking a full glass of caffeinated pop (soda, depending on where you live) right before bed as a teen and my Dad would always shake his head and say: “I don’t know how you can do that and not be up constantly.”

How I miss that young bladder. Baby #2 did away with my bladder of steel and regardless of how little I drink in the evenings, I often wake up to pee and then struggle to get back to sleep.

This is so frustrating and I feel like I’m too young for this issue. I do have significant scar tissue from my C-sections and have had osteopathic adjustments which have helped with scar adhesion to my bladder. But still. I definitely don’t have the guts to drink a full glass of anything before bedtime these days.

insomnia

A defining theme of my childhood was my mother’s issues with sleep. She struggled for decades with insomnia. I can only now begin to appreciate how hard it must have been for her to show up for her family, at her workplace, and complete her myriad responsibilities in a regular state of sleep deprivation.

I’ve mostly been an okay sleeper, but have had periodic issues for over 10 years which, coincidentally, matches up with when I became a mother. Hmmmm. That said, both kids have been excellent sleepers. If the kids aren’t sick (or desperately hungry, a recent theme with someone going through a growth spurt), we don’t see them between 8 pm and 7 am. So outside of the baby stage, I can’t really blame them for sleep disruption, though I think having children just makes one sleep less deeply as I’m always, always attuned to their noise. In fact on the morning I’m writing this post, I thought I heard someone knocking on the door at 4:56 am (it was either a false alarm or something happening within my dream), but it woke me up just the same.

The DST change back in November 2021 seemed to set off my worst-ever period (several months) of insomnia. I was getting 3-4 hours most nights, and I definitely fall squarely within the “needs 8 hours” category. It was awful.

I’ve done all the “right” things – I’ve gone weeks without caffeine, I incorporate regular exercise, I shower an hour before bed, eliminate evening snacking, and keep the temperature low. Etcetera.

The full moon definitely impacts my sleep – pretty sad when I start blaming lunar cycles, eh?

I’ve tried Magnesium Citrate (hate that stuff), Valerian Root, Passionflower, and Melatonin. Mostly now I try to read my body. If I can’t get to sleep or wake up in the night, I don’t fight it for very long. I get up and do some low-impact activity (often reading or writing) until I feel tired. In a real pinch, I take one of my OTC drowsy allergy pills, which helps with my relatively persistent allergy symptoms and acts as a sleep aid.


Thankfully, sleep has improved lately, but I know it’s a cyclical thing that will almost certainly impact me again. Such is life.

That’s all I’ve got for today. For any mom reading with small kiddos at home, I suspect sleep is on your mind a lot these days. Does anyone have weird quirks surrounding sleep hygiene they’re willing to share?

Header photo by Laura Chouette on Unsplash

Breakfast Is Served

A random topic I know, but breakfast has been on my mind.

Do you love it? Hate it? Eat it everyday? Skip it? Want it mid-morning or first thing after you wake up?

I find routines absolutely fascinating, so let’s chat about breakfast.


Growing up, breakfast was non-negotiable. We always ate breakfast. Together. It was usually toast or boxed cereal; my Mom would set the table the evening before, a trait which I now find absolutely endearing (but never do myself).

I continued on with a regular breakfast routine through university (my favourite: English muffins with PB + banana). Then I happened to catch a nutrition segment on a morning talk show that mentioned breakfast isn’t necessarily the most important meal of the day and we only need to eat first thing if our body naturally leads us to do so.

Up until that moment it had never once crossed my mind that breakfast was a meal that could be skipped or postponed. As silly as it might sound, that 10-minute clip changed the way I viewed breakfast forever.

Because of health challenges, which often translate into low energy, I found when I skipped breakfast my metabolism seemed to hum along at a more predictable level and I didn’t “crash” mid-morning.

I started using intermittent fasting for both weight maintenance + anti-inflammation benefits and have, for the majority of the last 5 years, skipped breakfast 75% of the time.

Do I miss breakfast? Sometimes. Mostly because I love breakfast food.

Do I feel hungry? Sometimes. So I go ahead eat! But most of the time once I get moving I feel good until 11:00 am or so when I’ll eat a late breakfast/early lunch. When I do eat breakfast, I almost always have an energy crash mid-morning and have learned to go into a morning meal with that expectation.

Lately, I’ve been having a tea with oat milk (so I’m not technically staying in a fasted state). I don’t find the tea impacts my energy levels and I really enjoy it, so I’ve put it back into my morning routine.

That’s how I eat breakfast; let’s switch gears and talk about breakfast foods.

breakfast foods

If I had to pick items from one meal to eat forever, it would be breakfast. I LOVE breakfast food.

I love waffles and pancakes and toast (with PB + banana, obviously). I love eggs and bacon and roasted potatoes. I love yogurt and granola. I love breakfast sandwiches (more eggs). I love oatmeal loaded with fruit and nuts. I love it all. (Except for quiche. Quiche is the disgrace of the breakfast buffet in my opinion.)

We have waffles for supper most Fridays and I have started enjoying a bowl of oatmeal Sunday evening for supper. I have eggs in various states almost daily. I mostly avoid gluten, so don’t eat bread/toast very often, but when I do it’s delightful (especially if it involves PB and banana).

I am not, interestingly enough, a big fan of smoothies. I find them to be a hassle to make/clean up and find they require a lot of fruit and/or sugary things like juice or yogurt to taste good. Also, in general, I prefer to eat, not drink, my calories.

As for my most memorable breakfast? That was in Paris – we got the most delicious coffee/hot chocolate and ham croissants in the shadow of Sacre Coeur. The food that morning and my conversation with John over breakfast – it is one of the happiest moments of my life thus far. That’s a big statement, but it’s true…and all because of breakfast.

Your turn. Do you eat breakfast every day? Do you love breakfast foods, or are you happy to avoid them outside of breakfast hours? Any specific breakfast that stands out as being especially memorable?

Header photo by Mae Mu on Unsplash

Casual Friday + Another Look at the Scale

And just like that, it’s Friday again. We’ve planned a few quasi-last-minute adventures and I’ll be back next week with all the details. The weather forecast is not ideal, but we’ll make the most of what comes our way.

But first, a quick recap of the week that was…

FRIDAY |

  • I had a rough night on Thursday (overall my insomnia has been so much better lately; I’ve got a health update post in the works!) and was awake by 3 am. Ugh. I went downstairs but could hear the kids up BEFORE six. Turns out they were preparing April Fools pranks. This is hilarious because I almost never do anything for April Fools and on a whim decided to trick them last year (I froze a spoon inside cereal and milk in the freezer and 100% fooled them). They repeated the same frozen cereal trick (a bit of a stretch since I don’t eat cereal very often) and also colored water yellow to make it look like pee (Sigh).
  • John and I did an outside run together (my first of 2022). I only did 3 km and was tuckered by the end, but I have to start somewhere!
  • After the kids finished school we headed off on a blitz of errands: I officially waved goodbye to 2021 taxes at the bank, dropped off a bag of kid’s clothes at consignment, and we bought Abby’s main birthday gift (a new pair of boots).
  • John and I watched the latest episode of The Dropout; I am really enjoying this show!

SATURDAY |

  • I got the chance to invest in a new friendship. I’ve casually known a person for years, but we had an impromptu meet-up a few months ago and last week I reached out to ask if she wanted to drop by for tea. She arrived at 8:30 am…and left at 12:30 pm! It was lovely to get better acquainted (she’s in her 50s and I really do value/enjoy connecting with people with some extra life experience).
  • I did two, short solo walks using my AirPods to call people en route. I am not a fan of phone calls and try to avoid them as much as possible (I would say I do 2-3 phone calls/month for personal connection – so not related to work/home management – which I suspect is shockingly low?), but talking while I walk is a nice way to fit them in.
  • I read a set of picture books that were forgettable to the kids at supper. After one such disappointment, I started the sentence: “Well that was...” and then I paused, not quite sure how to complete my thought (realizing that authors deserve respect for their craft, regardless of my perceptions). Abby didn’t miss a beat and said with confidence “…a dud.” My thoughts exactly and her deadpan reaction made me literally laugh out loud.
  • Date night. We watched Death on the Nile (it was okay) and the first episode of Only Murders in the Building.

SUNDAY |

  • Church! We were sitting several rows behind one of “the knitters” so I can’t confirm if she was knitting, but I like to think so.
  • I made Chicken Noodle Soup (for Monday’s supper).
  • Sunday morning friends had invited us over for a last-minute lunch. I prepped raw veggies and they did BBQ. They have a great backyard and the kids played on walkie-talkies, made a lot of noise, and generally had a blast.
  • We left their house and walked to Grand Pre, a UNESCO World Heritage site. We saw eagles, an otter, and Levi picked me a few crocuses.
  • Low-light: I felt ravenous all day. But in a weird not-really-hungry and not-eating-because-I’m-emotional sort of way. I’m blaming it on hormones, but it was frustrating and my clothes all felt uncomfortably tight.

MONDAY |

  • An April snow day and the kids ended up being off school.
  • I worked on the couch getting caught up on work e-mails that had filtered in over the weekend while the kids made their own breakfast (lovely), read their kids devotional/practiced their Bible Club verse together (also lovely), and then started fighting with each other (less lovely).
  • I was scheduled to host a little group to discuss the Find Your People book; that meeting ended up being canceled, but my best friend came over with her kiddos and we spent the morning together. The kids had loads of fun, including a rousing game of laser tag and some outside play in the snow.
  • That same friend (and the rest of her family) came back for supper. I am loving these Monday-night suppers. We had the soup (prepared on Sunday), crackers, homemade cornbread, and leftover birthday cake (from the freezer). The big kids played more laser tag and LEGO and I read the toddler 8 board books – the cuteness of the latter activity was almost too much to bear.
  • Random, but I set out a little table for two of the kids to eat at and it made me smile to see these chairs. When Abby was little someone gifted us the A chair and etched her handprints. I am, in general, not very sentimental about “stuff” but I want the kids to keep these chairs forever. When Levi was born, we commissioned the same person to build us an L chair. These get used for EVERYTHING and are so, so sturdy.
The handprints…
  • The evening ended on a high with a stunning sunset where everyone rushed to the window – even the kids stood still in awe.

TUESDAY |

  • It was a cold wake-up. We left the house with one child in hysterics over being told to wear snowpants and another child giving the silent treatment over being told to wear snow boots (there is SNOW on the ground, hence SNOW boots). But both kids found friends to walk with them and all was forgiven and forgotten.
  • I worked in the office for hours and started to stress about how busy May is looking – I have to organize a virtual research conference, two committee meetings, and finish quarterly reporting + prepare an annual report. All in the span of a little over a week. And there isn’t much I can do in advance to lighten that load. Oh well.
  • I worked off some of that anticipatory stress with a 3 km outside run. This run felt much better than Friday, but it is still discouraging how hard running feels right now. I’m glad I abandoned treadmill running this winter and focused on daily walking instead, but the fact that a few years ago I was churning out 10 km in under 60-minutes feels…completely unreachable, maybe forever?
  • Back to the office by lunchtime and my head literally hurt by the end of 3 hours of e-mails. I powered through a lot of big things, but when I dealt with one “emergency” it felt like another one popped right up.
  • After supper, we watched two episodes of Race the Tide, a Canadian sand-sculpture competition. We all really enjoyed it; what people can create from a giant hunk of sand is incredible.
  • I started – and finished – New Minimalism. I thought it offered a very balanced approach on the topic and more genreally I find this sort of book both calming and motivational.

WEDNESDAY |

*I am going to talk about weight – with specifics – which I know can be a triggering topic, so please feel free to skip this section*

  • A beautiful, crisp day. After the walk to school I made a batch of seed bars (seeds + water; they’re delicious)
  • Work, work, work.
  • A walk with my best friend. We spent 20 minutes at the end of the walk discussing some things that are currently feeling “hard”. I’m so thankful for this friend and that we can tell each other that it’s okay to stop saying “everything’s fine” and admit when certain things in life are a tough slog.
  • Back to do a work call. One part of my university role involves regular onboarding; instead of a video call, we agreed to do this session as a remote “walk-and-talk” so I paced back and forth in my neighbourhood, gesturing wildly with my hands and generally looking crazy to any neighbours watching!
  • 3 km run with John (we went in separate directions and met in the middle for a high five). My best run yet!
  • Another onboarding session (walk-and-talk), work, a quick hello to the kids and back to the office.
  • Post-supper = library + grocery store stop to prep for our little adventure.

And now a tangent time because on Wednesday I decided to take another break from the scale.

It’s likely not proper etiquette to share your weight with strangers (or even those closest to you) and weight, body image, and health are very broad topics with so many considerations (hence my warning above). I can only share my own struggles – mental and physical – with weight management.

And I find it hard to describe my experience without mentioning numbers.

As of Wednesday morning, I weigh 147 lbs. Like my age, I try to see this number as nothing more than a descriptive fact. But, if I bought into BMI mentality – which I don’t – it puts me on the low end of the “overweight” scale.

Some history. When I was 12 years old I weighed over 130 lbs. That is a lot for a 12-year-old (and I was not tall). At one point post-partum I weighed about 210 lbs.

Over the last decade, I have completely overhauled how I eat, what I eat, and how I stay active – and I am very happy with the major changes I’ve made and embraced for so long. I am confident many of these habits will stick for life.

But here’s the thing: if I am not mindful of what I eat, I will overeat. My body is geared this way and I have to accept that I will need to monitor my eating habits forever. Some of this is personality and lifestyle choices and some of this is genetic predispositions to high cholesterol and weight issues.

I know intuitive eating is a wonderful option for many…but I honestly feel like just about every waking moment I want to eat something; I also almost never feel full. True story. For anyone who doesn’t feel this way, I think it can be hard to imagine life in this reality (I have no idea how common my experience is?). It takes a lot of mental willpower for me to make good choices that don’t necessarily come “intuitively” or for which my body doesn’t necessarily produce accurate cues.

Suzanne had an excellent, balanced post earlier this week about eating healthfully/weight management and one of her comments stuck out:

“I’ve tried to accept [my body] changes, to eat intuitively, and to buy clothes that fit me. I feel like I should love my body. But I don’t. So wanting to lose weight feels like a failure. But the fact is, I DO want to lose weight.”

While I would love to say I don’t care if I stay at 147, I would like to reach some number in the 130s. This is arbitrary in a way, but it is most definitely the weight where I feel best. I feel best physically – for walking, running, and being active with my family. And yes, my clothes fit and feel better, too.

For most of the last 8 years, I have been gaining and losing the same 12-15 pounds. While I feel best in the 130s, I also have to accept I have a weight that fluctuates. A lot. Especially hormonally. So it feels like a difficult balance of keeping a pulse on things (which I need to do for health reasons), while eating “intuitively”…even though my body doesn’t always send clear signals.

With all that in mind, for the rest of April I’m going to listen to my body – hunger cues, but also “How do these jeans feel” – instead of being tied to a scale. If/when I hop on in May I would really like to see something in the 130s show up.

Because that is where my body feels best. But it might also say 147lb or 155lb. And…well, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.


THURSDAY |

  • Hmmm. Thursday threw some curveballs that were pretty exhausting, to be honest. But I fit in lots of work, walked the kids to school, and managed another 3 km run (much tougher than Wednesday; I was underdressed for the unexpectedly chilly conditions!).

Now it’s adventure time!

Happy weekending! Any exciting plans in the days ahead?

Header photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

On 90 Days of Walking

On January 1st I decided to start walking (outside) at least 1 km a day. And that’s exactly what I’ve done for 90 days and counting.

I’ve walked in rain. I’ve walked in freezing rain. I’ve walked in hail.

High winds? Check. Icy sidewalks? Check, check, check.

I’ve trudged through snowdrifts and walked in multiple blizzards. I’ve logged miles on a frozen lake, on maintained sidewalks, and through backwood trails. And I have, occasionally, seen the sun.

I’ve worn hats and gloves and snow pants and heavy jackets. And that’s mostly all I’ve worn because, well, it has been winter in Canada and that is the dress code. I’ve worn boots and I’ve worn plastic bags inside those boots after they sprung a leak. And now, finally, I’m logging most of my miles (kilometers) in sneakers. Except for Monday, when we had an April snowstorm that closed schools and left the sidewalks covered in slippery slush.


I’ve had an Apple Watch for years now and, at first, the daily activity rings were a great motivator. But last year, when I had some health flareups and burned out completely on exercise (Exhibit A: 25 km last July), those rings started making me feel…terrible. Maintaining streaks and closing rings sometimes (often?) took precedence over proper recovery periods and mental health. I literally ran in the dark at the foot of my bed on multiple occasions to close rings. Arbitrary billion-dollar-tech-constructed rings.

I’m not against rings or related equivalents. They worked for me for years. But then they didn’t and it took me longer than I would have liked to come to terms with that reality. Because I had learned to crave those gold stars from Apple.

But I did stop closing rings. And literally nothing bad happened.

Last fall I tried to exercise regularly but with the chief aim of prioritizing mental and physical health. In September I ran every day – no set distance and no rings, but I was still so relieved when the month was over. Every day felt like work. And as much as I appreciate our treadmill, it’s a depressing piece of equipment.

So on January 1st, I decided I would walk – outside for 1 km every day. There was no set goal or streak. Just walking. Outside. Through the Canadian winter. Until it didn’t work for me.

It’s still working.

See burnout creeping in by July 2021; ironically enough, and without trying or monitoring, my second highest mileage over the last two years occurred in March 2022, with 180.0 km of walking. Also I realize, to some, 57 workouts/month might sound excessive, but some of these would be 0.3 km walks to the mailbox. Or 0.1 km runs at the foot of my bed. When I was trying to close my rings I recorded…everything.

1 km doesn’t feel like much. But it’s enough to get outside, reset my mood, and put my heart muscles to work.

…the benefits of exercise begin with any amount of exercise that is more than zero.

Ellen Vora

Working it out across the first 90 days of 2022, I averaged 4.0 km/day. A lot of this is related to our walks to/from school, but it also represents walks with John, close friends, and even a few solo walks.

I no longer record everything (for example, the walk to/from the school bus is rarely recorded unless I haven’t already logged my 1 km for the day).

It has been a wonderful, wholly positive experience. I don’t have to think about getting outside each day – I just go. Some days I walked solo until I reached the 1 km mark and then raced into the warmth of the house. Other days I’ve set out two or three times with different companions.

But, without a doubt, the benefits of this daily walking routine have been more mental than physical. The cold air has woken me up on days when I felt exhausted. The birds and the trees and the snow have given a source of lightness to the world, and my thoughts, on this dark, long winter.


A friend recently asked me how long I’ll keep up with daily walks outside.

I’m not sure. I didn’t make a goal for the duration. For now it works and I like it. It doesn’t feel like a burden – it feels like a privilege. I am healthy and mobile and live in a place with safe sidewalks and clear air and I have the use of my legs. This too shall pass, so I’m enjoying it now.

But I hope when the time comes that I miss a day – and that time will come – that I shrug and move on with my life and then, hopefully, wake up the following morning and walk if I’m able.

I’m currently on Day 97. And, for the record Apple, I haven’t looked at my rings a single time in 2022. And literally nothing bad has happened.


Your turn? Does anyone else have to be careful with their exercise patterns? Anyone else overstretch their limits and burnout like I did? Anyone else prioritizing low-impact walking over other forms of more intensive exercise?

Header photo by trail on Unsplash

The Animals At The Zoo Must Be Fed (Or, Kid Lunchboxes)

I really, really, really like my kids. I also really, really, really like when my kids are in school.

But know the one thing that makes me most excited about in-service days or extended school breaks?

NOT HAVING TO MAKE LUNCHBOXES. Can I get an Amen?

I think I have a pretty minimal approach to packing lunchboxes (shocking), but it still takes time and effort every day.

After over 6 years of packing school lunches (the kids had hot meals provided for them at preschool), here is my current system.

I Stick to specific categories

Lunches include:

VEGGIES | (almost always raw, but if I send something like hot vegetable soup in a Thermos, I won’t include raw veggies on the side).

  • carrot sticks, broccoli, cucumber, green beans, baby tomatoes. I almost always have baby carrots on hand. One child prefers broccoli; the other tomatoes. I try to balance out preferences based on what’s on sale/seasonality (our neighbours, for example, give us loads of delicious tiny tomatoes each fall, so tomatoes feature heavily in September lunchboxes). Neither child likes snap peas, so those don’t end up in lunchboxes.

FRUIT | (75% of the time this is fresh; the rest of the time it is an unsweetened applesauce cup).

  • kiwi (the kids prefer kiwi with the peel left on, so this is so easy), apple slices, grapes (one child’s favourite), fresh berries (another child’s favourite, but they don’t always travel well), orange slices.

MAIN” COURSE | 9 days out of 10 this is a sandwich. Either ham/cheese/spinach, tuna/spinach, egg salad, or butter and jam. Sometimes I’ll send hummus and pita wedges. A few times a month I’ll send hot food in a Thermos. Originally I was aiming to do this once a week but the Thermos’ can be tricky to open, the food is never fully hot by the time they get to it, and leftovers can make a mess of their lunchbox if the lids don’t get secured properly. So I’ve mostly stopped trying, especially with soup. If we have leftover pasta or something that really holds together I sometimes send it along, but the kids prefer a small sandwich and hodge-podge of other items and it’s easier for me.

I used to send hard-boiled eggs regularly, but these tend to get quite messy if the kids take a bite at snack and then don’t finish it until lunch and egg yolk gets mixed up with carrots sticks and rice crackers. Yuck.

DESSERT | this is usually a small cookie. I used to make seed-and-date energy balls…but they’re just not as good as the nut-butter variety (we have a peanut-free school, which I think is mostly standard these days). Sometimes I send our go-to muffins. I never send anything overtly messy (i.e. no slices of cake with frosting)!

When Abby started school, I used to only send dessert on Fridays but I’ve mellowed with age and it’s a nice little boost in their lunchbox.

MISC | popcorn or crackers; sunflower or pumpkin seeds; individual packets of Nori, dried fruit (figs, dates, raisins), a granola bar.

WATER | Each child takes a full water bottle (insulated stainless steel so the water stays cold). No juice (ever) or milk (ever). Just water. They’re able to refill their water bottles at school as needed.

how do you package the lunches?

We have reusable (BPA-free) bags that are both adorable and functional and of a unique firmness. They can stand upright and are quite tricky to seal, but really protect the food within; I’ll use these for apple slices, popcorn, or other things that are hard to fit in a small container.

Carrot sticks, applesauce, sunflower seeds, a ham, cheese and spinach Brioche sandwich, popcorn and a chocolate cookie.
Tuna and spinach sandwich, grapes, clementine, carrot sticks, green beans, and tomatoes. There would have been some sort of cookie or muffin as well, and maybe a dish of rice crackers.

I use the bento-boxes from IKEA. I have two sets of these and they are one of my favourite things ever. They’re a bit of a nuisance to wash (and I wash them by hand), but they’re worth it. It is just so handy to have the separation for different items.

buying lunches

Abby did this a few times in earlier grades (typically on pizza day). It was a hassle; I had to send in money (the exact change) and it was never enough food. So I still had to pack a water bottle and snacks.

Then a few years ago our school switched to an online payment system so I have to log on and…I don’t know…sign over my soul to the school board? For someone that works on computers all day and has helped develop custom software…I tried to figure out the system once, failed miserably, and decided we just won’t buy lunches. I’m sure it’s not rocket science, but it felt akin to that level of complexity.

So Levi has never had a school lunch and I suspect he will continue to learn and survive. It would be convenient sometimes, but even school lunches require thought and effort (and snacks)…

*I’m sure there are lots of schools where the process is more streamlined. If I could just send my kids in with $5.50 to pick a sandwich off the menu, I’d be tempted. This is exactly how my high school cafeteria was set up; no pre-ordering. You just walked through the lunchline and picked out what you wanted. But even pre-COVID this wasn’t the way our school operated (I suspect this is GREAT for reducing food waste, so I’m not complaining).


And that’s it. When the kids come home from school they’re responsible for unpacking their bookbags, including taking all their lunch dishes out of lunchboxes. For a while we had things organized so the kids made their lunches one day a week but, honestly, I found it more work. I still had to make sure we had the right things in the right places and after a few times of siblings coming home complaining they hadn’t had enough food to eat…I was happy to reassume full responsibility. While I am all for independence, this just hasn’t been an area where I really want them taking the lead (yet). Laundry and emptying garbage cans on the other hand…


Your turn! Are you still packing lunchboxes for school-age kiddos? If so, any suggestions on how to kick things up a notch?

Header photo by S’well on Unsplash