Fast, Not Rushed

Earlier this week I encountered a situation that has been relatively infrequent over the summer – an empty house and a few low-impact tasks to complete without anyone underfoot. There was a batch of muffins to bake with over-ripe bananas; a load of laundry to start; general tidying of living spaces.

I knew the clock was ticking before everyone was going to converge back at our house. I told myself there was no rush – there wasn’t! – but I could feel an underlying nervous energy to get everything done. Sometimes it feels really good to check off the boxes (especially without anyone else in the house).

Nothing required perfection. I’ve made these banana muffins hundreds of times and no longer consult a recipe. I wash all our clothes together in cold water. There was no point in deep-cleaning the bathrooms with nine people in the house (over 50% of our houseguests are either in diapers – or barely out of them – and couldn’t give two hoots about the cleanliness of counters).

There was no rush and no external pressure. But I went ahead and put on loud music and went about completing my jobs. Fast.

Like running and sliding down the hallway gives me a mental and physical jolt, that same fun intensity can make knocking items off my to-do list more pleasant. I ran towels to the closet. I raced to see how quickly I could load clean dishes back into the cupboard.

I appreciate the fine art of dawdling (or lollygagging, as one reader puts it). But it’s okay to go fast, too, when it feels right.

If I hadn’t managed to get everything done it would have been fine. But guess what – I did get it all done, had my heartrate pumping (in a good way) and enjoyed the process far more by going fast.

Hopefully no one looks too closely at the floors or my folded laundry. I’m suspecting they won’t…

Your turn. Do you sometimes enjoy powering through chores quickly, racing against a clock in a low-pressure challenge?

Header photo by Saffu on Unsplash

Looking Forward: September Edition

I’ve decided that September is my “January”.

It’s when I clarify priorities. Get my bearings and reorient.


It has been this way for as long as I can remember. As a child, I especially loved the smell of new erasers at the start of each school term. (I always got a package of hard, rubber erasers. The distinctive smell of Pink Pearl is tattooed on my brain and though we tend to prefer the white variety in our household, I secretly love when a pink one finds its way into someone’s desk, just so I can breathe in that old, familiar scent).

I craved the sense of possibility I felt when opening up a brand new notebook. All that white space. Neatness, order – but also the awareness that those lines would soon be filled with information. It felt like positive growth, though in grade school I certainly didn’t label it as such.

While the setting has changed – I don’t sit inside an elementary classroom swinging my “inside-shoes” against a linoleum floor – the conditioned response remains constant.

September and October are my favourite months of the year. I’m almost ashamed to admit this out loud, because I know how long we Canadians wait for summer. And, yes, I realize waving goodbye to summer means that winter is now nipping at my heels. But still…fall is my favourite season. The crisp morning air. The gorgeous colours at sunset. The sound of crunchy leaves underfoot.

I live vicariously through my kids – their packs of pre-sharpened pencils and pristine notebooks and new (white) erasers; their refreshed wardrobes and fully stocked bookbags. But there are adult comforts too. A return to warm flavours and textures and experiences I miss over the summer. Hotdogs, flashlights, and tank-tops move over – it’s time for soup, candles, and fuzzy sweaters.

We’ve spread this summer out for longer than normal. Between John’s sabbatical and an unusually busy season spending time with family and friends, we’ve made a lot of great memories. But I’m also elated that September is in view. I know the shine will wear off quickly enough. I will undoubtedly be complaining about school lunchboxes and homework and having to dig out our cold weather gear. But, for now, the road ahead feels ripe with possibility and I’m going to enjoy the anticipation of that clean slate.

In no particular order, here are five things I’m looking forward to:

  1. My 5K race. I know for many people reading here, a 5K race is commonplace. For me it represents something more. I’ve been wanting to do a timed event for years and…just never got around to it. It feels good to have something scheduled while simultaneously feeling no pressure. I’m not aiming for a personal best; I don’t have aspirations to place near the top of my age category. I’m just doing this to check off a goal I set for the year, to enjoy a new sense of accomplishment, but mostly to have fun. It’s a new adventure and I’m genuinely excited.
  2. White space. I’ve talked before about the concept of wanting a broad margin, but it’s something that I have to revisit again and again because I keep losing sight of my need for white space. For the most part, I think society encourages us to fill in the void. To colour in available space with something. And this is often good and enriching. I’m pro-adventure. But it can also be exhausting. Abby has one wall of her room plastered in art projects. Drawings, homemade creations, colouring pages, photos, little shards of pottery and special shells she has collected. It is…quite a sight to behold. But regardless of how masterfully she colours a picture, the white spaces are what make them truly beautiful. We can’t have all white or all colour. And lately, I’m craving more white.
  3. Writing more. One of the components of that white space is spending more time writing. I’ve been cramming creative pursuits into little wedges of time, but I’m aiming to set aside dedicated (planned!) times to sit and write and think and create.
  4. Reading. I’m slowly reintroducing books. I’ve missed reading. I really need to take something off my radar over the summer and books are always one of the things that goes. I know there will be summers when the kids are older I can relax at the beach and read a book, but we’re simply not there yet. I have a set of books I’m ready to order in from our library and that feels…refreshing.
  5. Change. Abby is starting middle school. Behind-the-scenes John and I have been thinking through some exciting career developments. As much as I like sameness, I also like the thought of (some) change. Fall seems like a fresh start; a launch point for exploring new opportunities.

Oh, and one more for the bonus round. I’m anxiously anticipating an end to renovations. Work has stalled, yet again, because of our busy end-of-summer schedule, but everything should be wrapped up by the end of September/early October and I am very much looking forward to that!

How do you feel about September? Does it feel like a much needed fresh start, or do you mostly just miss the carefree warmth of summertime?

Header photo by Maddi Bazzocco on Unsplash

(Pursuing) Life with A Broad Margin

I’ve talked about minimalism a number of times here on the blog and embrace a number of minimalistic tendencies. That said – I still have plenty of excess “stuff” and certainly couldn’t fit all my possessions in a carry-on suitcase. Perhaps Joshua Becker (a prominent “minimalist”) clarifies my view of minimalism best when he defines the pursuit as: “the intentional promotion of things we most value and the removal of anything that distracts us from them.

A few weeks ago I went for a walk. Just a walk. No headphones. No companion. Just a walk with my thoughts. Usually, my mind darts off in a dozen different directions and I spend the whole walk untangling them. But this time I ended up with a singular focus – the concept of simplicity.

While in other seasons I might have been (perhaps subconsciously) aiming for adventure or challenge or achievement, right now, I realized, I’m craving simplicity.

I looked up a definition of simple (remember dictionaries?) and here are some of Google’s suggestions (I remember dictionaries, but don’t actually own one):

  • plain, basic, or uncomplicated in form, nature, or design
  • without much decoration or ornamentation
  • easily understood or done; presenting no difficulty
  • free of secondary complications; not limited or restricted

Life isn’t always going to be uncomplicated or easy (Twer that it was so simple; Hail, Caesar! anyone?). People I love will get sick. Tragic things will happen. Life will be hard and heartbreaking and frustrating and confusing. But for now – and hopefully in the middle of future challenges – I can try to approach life with a mind for simplicity.

I have done without electricity, and tend the fireplace and stove myself. Evenings, I light the old lamps. There is no running water, I pump the water from the well. I chop the wood and cook the food. These simple acts make man simple; and how difficult it is to be simple.

Carl Jung

Sometimes complications and states of busyness are out of our hands. But, much of the time, our to-do’s and limitations are, at least in part, self-imposed.

I have a relative who fills virtually every minute of their life with something (including some very intensive hobbies) but is constantly bemoaning how busy they are. This person has purposefully built a life with no margin, but then complains about having a life with no margin.

Counterintuitively, achieving “simple” – be it for a wedding cake or in our weekly calendar – can take a lot of hard work and intention. It is difficult to be simple. Why? Perhaps because it doesn’t leave us anywhere to hide?

When we strip away the excess, are we happy with what is left?

I’m also coming to realize that if I want margin, I’m going to have to pursue it. I have a way of filling in all that white space with messy scribbles of things I could/should/have to do and that margin I want and need…poof…vanishes.

Margin is the space between our load and our limits. Margin is the gap between rest and exhaustion, the space between breathing freely and suffocating.

Richard A. Swenson

As I went through a brief Thoreau kick last year, I realized he has a lot to say about these subjects.

I did not read books the first summer; I hoed beans. Nay, I often did better than this. There were times when I could not afford to sacrifice the bloom of the present moment to any work, whether of the head or hands. I love a broad margin to my life.

Henry David Thoreau

Why does it feel shameful to admit I love a broad margin to my life? To say with confidence I need some a lot of white space around my to-dos and calendar reminders.

Why do I feel bad admitting I enjoy nothing more on a Saturday morning than to spend it…puttering?

Why should we live with such hurry and waste of life? We are determined to be starved before we are hungry. Men say that a stitch in time saves nine, and so they take a thousand stitches to–day to save nine to–morrow.


Finding the right balance between a full and contented life and an overfull life can be hard. And I also know it’s going to change – likely dramatically – as our family dynamics shift. Simple will almost certainly look and feel different from year to year.

To the relative I mentioned, my preferred margin would likely be far too liberal; for others, my margin would be too small.

But, overall, regardless of the margin we want or the level of simplicity we’re pursuing, I think the following thought is a good place to start:

Less but better.

Greg McKeown

Your turn. Are you in a season of adding responsibilities and hobbies and adventures or, like me, are you craving simplicity and a broad margin to life? It can be surprisingly difficult to define – and achieve – the idea of “simple”. Thoughts?

Header photo by Evie S. on Unsplash

My Surefire Way to Reduce Screentime – Shut Off the Phone

I continue to (loosely) monitor the time I spend on my phone. The numbers weren’t egregious but I knew there was room for improvement. More than anything I want to be mindful of how I’m interacting with screens, especially with two pint-sized humans watching my every move and, most likely, forming their own opinions of healthy screentime use.

I’m averaging just under an hour on my phone each day, with 75% of that time spent on categories I label as productive/positive (texting with friends and family, taking and editing photos), and about 25% on extraneous/mostly neutral activities (Googling random things, checking the news) that can spill over into negative behaviours like doomscrolling.

I’ve found mid-evening to be a real culprit; by this point in the day I’m tired and often lack enthusiasm for much of anything. Too often I was reaching for my phone as a way to avoid getting ready for bed (sad, but true). I’ve discovered a new trick that makes it easier to eliminate this mindless scrolling and it couldn’t be more simple. I shut down my phone.

I’ve started turning off my phone – completely, not just putting it in airplane mode – around 7 pm. By this point in the day I no longer need to worry about receiving a call from the school about a sick child. There will be no reminders from banks or dentists or customer service helpdesks. No texts from friends looking to coordinate playdates.

What held me back from implementing this earlier was an unshakeable feeling that I must be reachable at all times, mostly in case of an emergency. But anyone who would be reaching out to me for an emergency would also have John’s contact information, so I figure the risk is very, very low.

I power on my phone as soon as I wake up in the morning and spend 5 -10 minutes catching up on any texts I’ve missed overnight and scanning news headlines. I know productivity and mental health gurus all warn against using digital devices first thing in the morning, but I’ve decided 5-10 minutes at 6:45 am is better than the 50 minutes at 9 pm so, for me, it has been a good tradeoff.

Also, the whole process feels slightly rebellious. When I take the time to shut down my phone, I see it as an act of independence and ownership over my time. No dings or buzzes. Just a black screen and a tiny sliver of life from the pre-smartphone era. And that feels good (if slightly disconcerting).

Thoughts? Does anyone else actually shut down their phone overnight?

Header photo by Kevin Bhagat on Unsplash

A Day in the Life <> Circa March 2022

I haven’t done a Day in the Life post in months (October to be specific) and several people have expressed interest in seeing a breakdown of how I fill my days!

It is interesting to see how people structure their time and our life is about to shift in an exciting way for the next little while, so I wanted to capture a “typical” day before this change occurs (details coming tomorrow).

This post will cover Tuesday, 1 March but it makes sense to start by referencing events from February 28th.

I didn’t feel particularly tired on Monday night, but after a warm shower I hopped into bed to read (Anne of Ingleside) around 8:00 pm; by 8:20 I thought how nice it would be to put down the book and just “rest my eyes”.

I almost never fall asleep reading a book (to be fair I did put the book down, so it was a conscious decision) and I rarely fall asleep this early – my typical bedtime is between 10:00-10:30 pm.

It felt glorious to set aside my reading material and drift in and out of consciousness for about 35 minutes. But then practical me started sounding alarm bells – I knew this was not a wise decision for my nighttime sleep. I continue to have periodic issues with insomnia, and pre-bedtime naps are not ideal. Oh well. It was still worth it.

I got up at 9 pm, brushed my teeth, used the bathroom, and officially settled in for the night.

tuesday, March 1

1:51 am | I look at the clock for the first time. Whomp, whomp. I toss and turn a bit, but manage to get back to sleep.

3:15 am | I’ve been awake for a while but only look at the clock now. To be fair to my body, I have already had about 6 hours of (admittedly disjointed) sleep. I might as well get up. I read some news – I have been limiting consumption to a few times a day because doomscrolling does not feel productive, but I want to stay informed.

Life goes on, normally, for us here in Canada. And yet I can watch in real-time as mile after mile of military vehicles snake toward people whose lives have been altered in every conceivable way.

Faith is the central part of my identity, but my prayer life is admittedly weak. I spend too much time worrying about the structure of my prayer when, really, prayer is just heartfelt communication with a God who doesn’t score these petitions based on eloquence. So I pray – as best as I’m able – reminding myself it’s the authenticity and posture of my heart that matters, not how I articulate my words. My mind does wander (lots) but I pray until I fall asleep somewhere around 4:30/5:00 am.

6:54 am | I wake up. I don’t feel as groggy as I feared. I typically make lunchboxes the night before, but hadn’t on Monday (choosing to read and fall asleep early instead). I put on my watch and check the temperature. -16C. Brrr. At least it is now light when we get going with our day.

7:00 am | I wander out to the kitchen, turning up the heat on my way down the hall. I set the kids up with leftover Baked French Toast while I quickly prep lunchboxes. Usually I sit with the kids and read to them while they eat breakfast, but today I stay put in the kitchen while John reads a daily kids devotional with them. I usually follow this with a chapter of a book (currently The Mysterious Benedict Society), but that doesn’t happen today.

I spy a chess game…

7:30 AM | While the kids + John work on a chess game, I get dressed + brush my teeth.

I get side-tracked. My brother sends a text from his home in Denmark. His wife has many colleagues who live in Kharkiv and she has visited the city on several occasions. He calls the situation “surreal.” His wife is trying to make contact with friends and work colleagues in the city; some have made it out successfully but, he adds, “most of the men have stayed [to fight];” he talks of Romanian friends who are opening their doors to people fleeing Ukraine, including people in medical distress. In a war that can feel so distant, this brings it closer to home.

7:40 am | Then there is the juxtaposition of my life and reality. It is time to rally the troops for school. At -16C it is a chilly walk but, without wind, it’s bearable. Abby has a friend join her and Levi, John and I walk together.

On the way home my nose is running like crazy; I think I have no Kleenex but try my pockets just in case and hit the jackpot – multiple CLEAN tissues. This discovery makes me so happy; then I realize this seems like something an 80-year old would rejoice over. It’s the little things, right? And finding clean Kleenex was definitely #joyfinding.

~8:45 am | 52 minutes after we left the house, we’re home.

I putter. I make tea, prep lunchboxes for the next day (minus the sandwich; I’ll make those Wednesday morning – though, spoiler alert, Wednesday ends up being another snow day), and put away some dishes.

9:00 – 9:30 am | I sit at the table and lament. I am frustrated about some health things. Long story short, the latest course of action is not working. Today was to be cycle 3 of hormone treatments, and I opted to pull the plug. I am tired of complaining about my body but can’t seem to help myself.

9:30-9:45 am| I still feel a bit “off” but it’s time to work. I settle in at my desk and then end up spending 15 minutes texting back-and-forth with a friend; I share all the details of my gynecological woes and she makes me feel much better. She asks what she can do, but she’s already done what I need her to do which is to listen. This was 15 minutes well spent and I start working with a clear head.

9:45 am – 12:15 pm | Work. I had no scheduled meetings on Tuesday. Monday was a busy day in which I tackled a lot of specific to-do’s. Tuesday was more of a free day, and I use my time wisely (I think!) to start mapping out the next three months. I make a lot of notes about deadlines in my planner. This really helps me avoid ruminating over what I might be forgetting. I answer e-mails, prepare a spreadsheet, verify an invoice…nothing exciting, but it feels very productive.

12:15 – 12:45 pm | Walk on the treadmill. I sketch out a bit of this blog post, check the news again – briefly – and read a few e-mails.

12:45 | Upstairs to make and eat lunch. John fries up some mushrooms and leftover diced chicken with spices and balsamic vinegar. I scramble a few eggs and put the combo on a bed of spinach. It looks unappetizing but was absolutely delicious. Topped with nutritional yeast and my favourite balsamic + smoked paprika vinaigrette (based loosely on this recipe; I don’t use soy sauce), it is a very satisfying lunch. I drink some kombucha on the side.

After we’re done eating I sit in front of the patio door and enjoy the heat from the sun and stare out the window. The sun looks beautiful on the snow. While looking out the window I think: “You’re going to write about what you do today. You should get up and do something productive.” Then I remember what I try to work through here on this blog – about the need for puttering and resting – and go back to looking out the window.

John suggests we do Wordle. This feels fun and slightly productive (it’s exercising mental muscles). It takes us 5 tries; not our best effort…but rupee was unexpected. These seem to be getting more and more challenging?!

1:20 pm| Work check-in. I read through some e-mails, including a flurry of emails covering an aspect of a project over which I have no responsibility, so I get to muddle my way through reading about the problem and know it requires no further action from me. It’s fun to have things cross my inbox that I can read and file without further action!

1:45 – 3:00 pm | Walk with John + get the kids off the bus. This is the first long (5 km+) walk we’ve taken in…months?

3:00-3:15 pm | Home! We sort through school stuff; I help the kids unpack lunchboxes and they polish off whatever food they didn’t consume at school. Abby stays home to finish a chess game with John while Levi and I head to the library to exchange books.

3:45 pm | As always, the library is a treat. We had lots of books on hold, but we always enjoy browsing the stacks too. I make sure to look at the latest art installation. When we’re finished I drop Levi off at a friend’s house to…play more chess.

4:00 – 4:45 pm| I head back to the office (with a little snack of walnuts). I need to help someone troubleshoot a software issue; I can’t replicate the problem on my staging site (always a good sign, but also makes it more complicated to get to the bottom of the problem) so push this to my developer to see if he can get to the bottom of it. I respond to a few blog comments and get caught up on some online reading.

4:45-5:00 pm| I walk to collect Levi from his friend’s house and observe the end of their chess game. I suspect the rules were a bit flexible?

5:00 – 6:00 pm | John is boiling pasta while he takes a work call when we walk through the door. Levi asks if we can do a puzzle together. At first I say no, but figure since someone else is handling supper prep…why not?

We finish an old Shopkin puzzle in 18 minutes. It’s a lot of fun.

Then it’s time to eat – spaghetti sauce from the freezer. I made the sauce but will admit I’d classify it as only “okay.” It had zucchini and bell peppers and sausage – so was nice and hearty – but it was also a bit acidic (despite my trick of adding just a pinch of baking soda to counteract the acidity). No one complains, though, and there will be enough leftovers for Thursday’s supper. We mostly discuss Abby’s upcoming birthday while we eat. She has some great ideas for her party!

6:00 – 6:20 pm | Abby helps put things away and talks about birthday plans some more while I start the dishwasher, do a load of dishes and putter in the kitchen. Levi reads his “homework” book to John and then they start another chess game.

6:20 – 7:00 pm | John heads downstairs for the start of his evening meetings. The dishwasher is running and I’ve puttered as much as I need to in order to feel quasi-ready for Wednesday morning. I sit down in the living room and watch the kids play chess. When they finish their game they get ready for bed and spend 30 watching videos, per their request. We could have avoided videos entirely this day, but it was nice to have a break before the final stages of bedtime. I write more of this post.

7:00 – 7:30 pm | We pile into bed and read books. One, A Map of Good Memories, ends with the words of Anne Frankl: “One day this terrible war will be over…” It’s a book we’ve read before; it’s both haunting and hopeful.

Arranged in order of our preference. With the exception of Clifford which is…well…a Clifford book, all the selections were great (we each got to pick 2).

7:30 pm | When we’re done reading we talk about war. We discuss Russia and Putin and democracy; we talk about how their great-grandfather was in the Navy in WWII and how his ship was torpedoed. They ask if he survived? “Yes, or you wouldn’t be here!” There are a lot of questions and I admit to not having many of the answers. We say our bedtime prayers and we mention many of our blessings – which we so often take for granted; things like a warm bed, plenty of food, shelter, security. We pray for Ukraine – honing in on the needs of children, praying they have access to food and shelter and are surrounded by people that love them.

8:00 – 8:30 pm | I let the kids have a “start” sleepover. They listen to an audiobook and talk. There is plenty of giggling, but everyone stays happy which isn’t always the case.

I write, and send, a monthly family update to family and friends. It’s shorter than usual. I send a second email to a handful of people with pictures from the month.

8:32 pm | Levi heads back to his bed and asks for a snuggle. I oblige and say I’ll be there in less than 5 minutes. He’s dead asleep by the time I arrive, but I linger for a long time; I climb under the covers and snuggle him and rub his back and kiss his cheeks over and over again (easier while he’s stationary). And I just think how thankful I am that he is nestled so contentedly in bed. The injustice of what children – not just in Ukraine, though this is clearly at the forefront of our minds – all around the world are experiencing feels heavy. I simply can’t solve all the world’s problems, and that realization feels heavy. But I can be thankful and use that gratitude to spawn more love for those around me and trust that ripple will grow and spread.

8:45 pm | Abby is still awake and wants to talk more about Ukraine. I do my best to explain NATO. We talk about propaganda and why other countries haven’t supplied ground troops. It’s a delicate balance – answering questions so they feel informed, while recognizing they are still children and it’s my/our duty to protect them from unnecessary overload.

9:00 pm | I head to my room to write in my One Line A Day journal. How I’ve loved filling out this journal every evening! John comes upstairs after his last meeting and I head in for a shower. I really should wash my hair, but can’t bear the thought of dealing with wet hair.

9:30 pm | Usually I read before bed, but this night we put on an episode of The Great Canadian Baking Show (not nearly as good as the British version but it’s a new season and it will do just fine). When that’s over I do a bit of Googling about health questions and check the news one last time.

11:00 pm | Lights out.

And that’s a wrap on Tuesday, 1 March…

Header photo by Di_An_h on Unsplash

Juggling Life – What Can Be Removed/What Can Be Dropped?

Busyness is a hallmark of our generation. As much as we may rage against it, many of us (myself included) often wear it as a badge of honour. The pursuits that keep us busy can give us purpose and help us feel validated.

And most of the things that keep us busy are “good”. A meaningful career, maintaining a unique family culture, belonging to a faith community, social commitments and extracurriculars; then there is exercise and self-care, home management and other life responsibilities. But I know I’m not the only one that can feel like the pace and demands of all these “good” things can end up feeling like too much; and, inevitably, along with the good, there will also be a lot of “hard” – often unpredictable – things that come our way.

A few weeks ago I read a blogger comment (Hi Kae!) about some advice from Cal Newport whose suggestion basically boiled down to this: if you’re having a hard time juggling all the balls you have in the air, the best solution is likely to remove a bunch of the balls.

Several years ago I was knee-deep in preschool life, wading through endless challenges with new home ownership, tending to what seemed like perpetually sick children (this has gotten approximately 1000x times better since the kids have gotten out of preschool so, for any parents of toddlers, there is hope) and solo parenting about 50% of the time. Translation: I was juggling A LOT of balls.

Around that time I picked up the book Drop the Ball: Achieving More by Doing Less by Tiffany Dufu. She encourages readers (women predominantly) to “drop the ball” which she defines as: releasing unrealistic expectations of doing it all and engaging others to achieve what matters most to us, deepening our relationships and enriching our lives. Sounds great. Sign me up, right?!

Then in the last year I came across a discussion of the different types of balls we juggle which adds a whole new layer to the discussion.

First up are glass balls – these break when we drop them. Glass balls might be a fragile family relationship. They might be work deadlines. They might be regular checkups to monitor cancer remission. These balls must be handled with care and we need to prioritize catching these balls.

On the other hand, rubber balls bounce when we drop them. These might be RSVPing in time for your child to attend a classmate’s birthday party. A rubber-ball might be keeping up with a daily running habit, signing up to join the PTA or weeding the garden.

None of us want to drop the ball – glass or rubber. And I suspect that Cal Newport is bang on when he encourages us all to pause the music and evaluate exactly what balls we’re trying to keep in the air. But before – or after – that thoughtful exercise, I think we’d do well to consider which balls are glass and which are rubber. When we’re surrounded by balls raining down on us, it can be very hard – nigh impossible – to differentiate between glass and rubber. We’re so overwhelmed we just scramble around desperately trying to catch each and every ball. And, inevitably, we’ll drop some glass balls along the way.

So how do we decide which balls to keep in the air?

How do we triage life?

The root cause of burnout is not that we have too much to do, it’s the feeling that the things we do aren’t meaningful or don’t reflect who we really are.

Tiffany Dufu/Dr. Ayala Malach Pines

Maybe emptying the garbage cans on Friday night doesn’t feel “meaningful,” but if you want to have a house that doesn’t smell like dirty diapers (toddler parents – this too shall pass), it requires taking the trash out on a regular basis. So, in a sense, garbage duty does likely reflect who we are (though, to be fair, if we dropped this ball once in a while, the world would not end).

Maybe the job that takes us out of town and away from our kids week after week isn’t actually meaningful to us. Maybe being on the PTA is a soul-sucking activity (or maybe it’s not…I know people who genuinely enjoy serving the school community this way).

Or maybe the burnout is caused by so many miscellaneous things blocking out the stuff that is meaningful; lazy weekend mornings at home or waking up at the crack of dawn to train for a marathon with a tribe of running friends. Activities that might get crowded out by cooking baked goods for a classroom fundraiser (not to disparage school fundraisers…but just sayin’). Maybe meaningful is family dinner three nights a week, but that gets crowded out by a book club you don’t even enjoy attending. Maybe meaningful is time spent researching 16th-century architecture (just for the fun of it), which gets crowded out by spending Saturday morning cooking from scratch.

I’m in a season of trying to simplify my juggling routine. I want fewer balls to manage. But out of those that remain, I don’t want to only be managing glass balls – that doesn’t sound like a fun life.

I know there will always be glass balls, some of them unwelcome and unavoidable; glass balls like a surprising diagnosis or an aging parent. That is life, at least as an adult.

And I want to juggle some rubber balls, because they give life a unique flavour. But I still struggle with letting myself drop those rubber balls even though I’ve learned they will bounce back.

I’m starting to realize (this is a work in progress) that when I drop the same ball again and again, sometimes it’s okay to let it roll across the floor and get stuck under the couch. Then I can turn my attention back to the task at hand: keeping the rest of the balls in the air – sucking the marrow out of life when I can and finding joy and, at other times, simply showing up.

What about you? Are you juggling a lot right now? Any glass or rubber balls you’re ready to excise from your life? Are you good at prioritizing glass balls, or have you been like me – often just desperately trying to catch balls indiscriminately?

Header photo by Zak Neilson on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WATCHING | Two very infuriating documentaries centering around human greed.

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

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

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

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

This text.

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

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

In this haul I bought:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As for picture books.

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

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

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


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

family/heritage day

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

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

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

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

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

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

They did some screentime. I made muffins.

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

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

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

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

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

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

when do I work! When do I write?

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

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

But I’ll rehash the main points below.

when do I work?

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

So when do I work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

when/how do I write?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Header photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

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

In Praise of Dawdling (Now There’s a Word You Don’t Hear Everyday)

The title of this post was originally In Praise of Puttering. But as I was out on a walk that can only be accurately described as being of the ‘dawdling’ variety, I opted to switch gears. As much as I love an opportunity to showcase some alliteration (thank you Mr. Howland, Grade 12 English), I think dawdling is an underutilized word and wanted to give it a brief moment in the spotlight.

(Puttering makes me think of an old grandfather out cruising around in a tiny boat on the lake wearing a tattered fishing vest with a thermos of coffee at his feet. Which does, admittedly, sound charming. Dawdling, on the other hand, seems to have a slightly rebellious edge. As if to say: “I see you, clock, and I raise you a good old-fashioned dawdle.” Though I don’t think there was much time for dawdling a few generations ago – what with no electricity, centralized plumbing, or supermarkets.)

Whatever you want to call it – dawdling, puttering, happy idling, wasting time – I think we would all do well to have more of it in our lives.

Twice last week I came home from the walk to school in a…mood? I wasn’t grumpy, per se, but still felt an unsettling discontent I couldn’t quite put my finger on. The sun was shining, the kids were back in school. What was amiss?

For starters, I had a lot of accumulated work tasks, my floors were a disaster and the garbage can under the sink was overflowing and smelled funny (never a good sign in a house with small children). My boots and entryway were leaking. But despite all these things, I couldn’t actually identify the common theme; I just knew I was feeling “off”.

One glance at my to-do list felt rather crushing. It was all doable, but I didn’t want to do any of it. And I knew if I wanted to have any chance of getting it all done before the kids arrived home from school, I needed to get cracking.

But what I really wanted to do was putter.

If you’re not on speaking terms with these states of being, count yourself in good company. These character traits don’t exactly make the evening news. Yet one of my favourite things to do is to putter.

Here is the internet definition: to spend time in a relaxed way doing small jobs and other things that are not very important.

Why do I feel ashamed to admit, then, how much I enjoy puttering? This definition sounds pretty wonderful to me.

Maybe my shame stems from the fact I’m hard-wired to seek out those things that are “important”. Maybe it’s because I live in a society that tells me I need to produce more, do more, experience more?

For some, puttering might be tinkering with an old computer, knitting a dishcloth, sitting down with a tote full of LEGO, or doodling on the back of an envelope. And, sadly, puttering can headline as “wasted” time.

Of course in hindsight, we might conclude Steve Jobs’ puttering led to an tech empire. I hazard a guess that a large number of architects got their start “puttering” with a basement collection of vividly-coloured Danish building blocks.

Might puttering, then, be a key to fostering creativity and, perhaps, even more efficiency? When I read Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey, one of the biggest takeaways for me was the (often staggering) amount of time people spent walking or puttering around their homes/gardens (or inebriated; there was also a lot of inebriation).

Do I dare set forth here the most important, the most useful rule of all education? It is not to save time, but to squander it.

Jean–Jacques Rousseau

When I putter, I lose track of time. I’m often in what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi termed “flow”. I move from activity to activity without much thought. Folding the towels in the bathroom, wiping down the counter, lining up the shoes in the entryway, opening the stack of mail on the counter, pulling weeds out of cracks in the front walkway.

So last week, before I tackled my to-do list, I spent a chunk of time…puttering.

I know that the kids will pull down the hand towel in the bathroom and leave it in a pile by the sink (if they wash their hands at all, sigh). I know the shoes will spill off the boot tray again. The fridge will get disorganized, the dishes in the drainer will end up dirty again, the clothes will find their way back into the laundry basket (or inside out on the floor, double sigh) and LEGO will get pulled from bins.

But I did these sorts of tasks anyway. It was light and easy. I didn’t rush. I just moved from room to room, quietly resetting the spaces. Watering plants. Pushing chairs in around the table. Nothing was on a list, nothing happened in a set order and I wasn’t working toward a singular goal. But I gave myself a break – engaging my mind in an activity that was so undemanding and cathartic, it felt like I’d finished a yoga routine by the end of it all.

And then I went downstairs to the office with a cup of tea, put on some tunes, and churned through my to-do list with a level of efficiency I know I couldn’t have achieved without allowing myself the “luxury” of time spent puttering.

Perhaps, then, the rationale for saying Yes to something doesn’t have to be based on the outcome? Sometimes the answer can be: it’s for the journey and what that experience offers me.

The way to the park is an important part of the experience.

Linda Akeson McGurk

Here comes my turn for some self-talk. How often do I tell the kids to pick up their pace on a walk…to the park? How many times do I tell them to stop chasing the butterfly so we can finish our game of pick-up soccer? How many times do I try to maximize the efficiency of our bedtimes or baking routines or just about any other activity I can try to hack and tweak to edge it ever closer to the stage where it reeks of efficiency and productivity?

Often, friends. I do this often.

Most of life seems like a means to an end. But the way to the park can be just as much fun as the park itself. I know this, of course, but need regular reminders.

I move at a slower pace than many – I’m an introvert with low energy. Yet I still often feel like I’m moving at a pace faster than ideal.

It’s not only the scenery you miss by going too fast – you also miss the sense of where you are going and why.

Eddie Cantor

Sometimes I put on music and clean up the house with relentless efficiency; in essence, I drill-sergeant the experience. And that approach has a place.

But when I putter, I think I’m better at remembering the underlying purpose behind those “small jobs and other things that are not very important“.

I put the house back in order so it’s a calming place for our family to make memories. I putter with the book collection on my bedside table so they’re displayed where I’ll see them, making me far more likely to pick them up. Or I might spend time chopping up veggies for the week and simmering a soup; when I do these tasks slowly and mindfully, without the pressure of hungry bellies, I remember the purpose. I cook and clean and shop so that we can eat together, nourishing our bodies and family relationships (outside of bedtime, the dining room table is the main venue for deep conversation in our household).

Our society – myself included – has become so outcome-directed. Even our hobbies have to produce something; turn those knitted Star Wars characters into a booming Etsy shop, train for an Ironman, day-trade on the side, start posting yoga videos to a YouTube channel. And this can be great…until it’s not.

I’m not promising every time you putter you’ll end up becoming more efficient and productive at the other end. I’m not promising a transcendent experience while you wipe down the kitchen counters. I love those outcomes too, but sometimes they can’t be the only reason we say yes to adding something to our schedule.

What if we didn’t go to bed early so we could wake up early to get a jumpstart on responding to work e-mails? What if we went to bed early because it feels nice and so we can wake up early (or not) and relax in bed with a book or organize our sock drawer (I really do love doing this) or sketch or talk on the phone with our Mom or play with our cats or spend an hour drinking a single cup of tea or browse workout videos on Pelaton or play Beethoven on our piano or pick the lint out of our belly buttons if that’s what we so desire.

Just like we might need to learn to fail on purpose, I think we have a lot of work to do in learning how to…not be so efficient.

I’m sure I will continue to do many things more productively than necessary because I enjoy being productive. I enjoy the sense of satisfaction that comes from checking off boxes and helping others and contributing to a cause. I have obligations to meet – at work, in my relationships, at home.

But I’m trying to set time aside each day to putter, dawdle, and indulge in unstructured time. It can be hard to remember that life is made to be lived, not simply managed. And puttering might just be a good first step toward recognizing this distinction.

As any parent knows, children do this instinctively. I don’t have to cajole my youngsters to stop to look at the ants marching across the sidewalk, beg them to throw a rock off the bridge into the river below, or take an hour to put on two socks and a pair of pants.

So let’s raise a glass to Puttering, Dawdling, and Idling. Let’s welcome them like long-lost friends and get reacquainted…they have a lot to offer.

What about you? Anyone else enjoy puttering?

Photo by Rayson Tan on Unsplash