This is it! My final post for NaBloPoMo 2022. I’ve said it before – and I’ll say it again – three cheers for San who organized this event (she tries to downplay her role, but it would not have happened without her!) and three cheers to all the participants who showed up day after day after day after day…
And to those who didn’t participate in the “official” event but have been following along, providing virtual cheerleading, commenting, and being relentlessly supportive? Three cheers to you, too!
I’ve been working primarily from home for over a decade now. I worked from home when I had infants in the house. I worked from home when I had preschoolers in the house. And, of course, like the rest of the world, I worked exclusively from home during the recent/ongoing global pandemic (this time with elementary-school kids in the house).
I’ll be the first to admit that working from home can be a double-edged sword. It is great to be able to switch over the laundry and prep supper over a lunch hour. But it also means that, concurrent with work, I am thinking about laundry and supper prep and can actually DO something about it.
Too often I take a limited view of what I can/can’t do with the level of flexibility my (part-time!) job provides.
I can run errands during regular business hours. I can walk with a friend in the middle of the day. I can do that load of laundry and prep that supper. Sometimes this means I answer work e-mails or wrap up projects in the evening – but that itself represents yet another layer of flexibility!
Here’s the rub: my flexible working schedule is only an advantage if I use it.
All of us can likely identify something we could label as an “advantage”. Maybe your workplace offers a free lunch program so you don’t have to pack a lunch. Maybe you have unlimited PTO and don’t have to scramble for childcare if someone needs to stay home sick. Maybe you work for a company that provides a great discount on hotels or rental vehicles. Maybe you have in-laws nearby that are willing to provide last-minute babysitting.
But these things are only advantages if we use them. And, if you’re anything like me, there might be some untapped treasures waiting for you.
Your turn? Can you think of an area of your life that involves a higher-than-normal level of flexibility? If so, do you feel like you maximize the potential of this situation?
When I read Katie’s post earlier this week, I had to wonder if she has been brushing up on her mind-reading skills. She wrote about what systems were working well as part of her fall routine and her post came on a day I was drafting my own thoughts on the same topic!
I spend a lot of time tweaking things that aren’t working well in my routine but don’t always take time to appreciate what is working. The next step, of course, is to find ways to promote the continuation of these positive behaviours and routines!
Without further ado…
things that are currently working well
Bedtime. This has been so much better in September. I would say at least 5 nights a week I have been in bed – lights out! – by 10:30 pm. I still regularly feel tired, but at least I know I’m getting to bed at a reasonable time and suspect much of my exhaustion is just carryover from our busy summer when my sleep hygiene was horrific!
Reading less. While it’s very normal for me to slow down book consumption over the summer, I was feeling guilty about how I haven’t transitioned back into a reading routine (either solo or with the kids) now that we’re settled into the back-to-school season. But then I thought: what I’m doing is actually working for me. In between a sharp uptick in the extracurriculars the kids are involved in, work and home responsibilities, my focus on getting outside and exercising every day, time spent writing here, etcetera, etcetera…there hasn’t been a lot of excess time to read. And that’s okay! Although I enjoy reading, I don’t want it to become a tedious “to-do” I have to check off. I’m reading solo 3-4 nights a week for 30 minutes, and probably spend about 2 hours over the course of the week reading to the kids which feels like a good balance for our current stage of life.
Scheduling work e-mails to send in the morning. I know this “hack” is old but it is the first time I’ve used this option consistently. Even though I work from home and my hours are flexible, it can feel like I should fit every task into the confines of a normal 9-5 working schedule. This doesn’t actually happen, though, nor is it the most efficient way for me to complete work tasks. I typically receive an influx of e-mails between 5-7 pm. So, a few times a week, I’ve been doing an evening “shift.” I set all the e-mails I draft to send the next morning at 8 am (or, if I’m doing it over the weekend, 8 am on the next weekday). I’m able to put in a bit less working time each week while feeling more efficient/effective in my role. I’ve been doing evening work for years, but always sent emails immediately, which meant in the morning I’d have an inbox full of responses. This new layer of automation is definitely working well.
Middle school independence. I’m only a bystander to her experience, but I am so, so happy with how excited Abby has been about the new opportunities of middle school. On Sunday, after helping with preschool-age kids during the first church service along with a whole gaggle of other middle-schoolers and then attending her own middle-school group (all independent from her brother and parents!), she was positively glowing when she said: “Mom, I love youth group soooo much.” Her enthusiasm is wonderful to see. Drama camp, choir, school soccer, various groups and clubs – this weekend even involves an overnight camp retreat! It’s an exciting time in the Frost household.
Freezing sandwiches. Yes, you read that right. Freezing sandwiches. This is a trick my sister taught me when we visited South Carolina. She has a big family and a VERY hectic schedule. One of her time-saving hacks is making up a batch of sandwiches and freezing them. I was skeptical at first, but it works like a charm. It takes about the same amount of time to make 12 ham and cheese sandwiches as it does 2. We’ve mass-produced (and frozen) ham + cheese, butter + jam, and egg + bacon. I just pull two sandwiches out the night before and put them into their lunchbox frozen. I might add something like mustard, mayo or lettuce/spinach to the sandwich at this point, but there are no crumbs to deal with and no cheese to slice. We do still prep fruit/veggies the day before, but not having to make a fresh sandwich has been a game-changer.
My Sprouted planner. I have been LOVING my Sprouted planner recently. To be fair, I’ve loved it all year (*not paid or perked!*), but I feel like I’ve made it work extra hard in September and it has been invaluable for keeping me on task. I’ve come up with some new tracking systems and have settled into a daily routine of maximizing the heavy lifting my planner can do.
Limiting coffee. A few years ago I had a Meridian Stress Assessment done and was told to eliminate coffee from my diet. For months I avoided coffee completely (tea and other caffeinated beverages were fine). I do not find coffee gives me a jolt of energy, so consuming it was all about taste and the pleasant relaxation of sipping a hot beverage. If I drink it consistently, though, it really upsets my stomach. Demerit alert: I had been back to drinking way too much coffee. Lately, I’ve been allowing myself one cup a week – and my stomach is so much happier.
Intuitive eating/no scale. For months now I have just been…eating food. Nothing has been off-limits. I eat when I’m hungry. Sometimes I eat emotionally. Sometimes I skip a meal when I’m not hungry at a prescribed time. Sometimes I have a late-night snack. Sometimes I eat carrot sticks, sometimes I eat a chocolate. After two decades of either dieting and/or eliminating foods to try to get to the bottom of health issues, this is a very, very big change. I also used to track my weight each day and haven’t touched a scale in months. My clothes might be fitting a tad snugger but such is life. I’m active and healthy and it’s (mostly – see below) working well to spend less time dithering over food.
Daily walks. These continue to be a great tool for my mental and physical wellbeing. Do 12 minutes outside each day solve all my problems? Nope. But it has felt comforting to have a daily ritual in place that I know is so good for me. Occasionally it does feel like a burden, but the majority of the time I recognize and celebrate the fact that it is such a blessing to have a body that is strong and capable of walking; that it is such a blessing to have clear air and safe streets where I can walk; that it is such a blessing to have the flexibility to make this activity happen daily.
A few things not working so well
I would be remiss if I didn’t address a few things that are NOT going well…
Phone use. I’m back to spending too much time on my phone. On Tuesday I picked up my phone 125 times – 125 times?! – and responded to 91 notifications. Allow me to throw out a few flimsy excuses. Excuse #1: this fall has had a lot of logistics to juggle. This means plenty of texting to coordinate rides and schedules. Excuse #2: I have two e-mail accounts at work that require 2-step authentication for sign-in, which means I have to access my phone regularly (every time I switch between accounts which could be a dozen times a day) for the Authenticator app. Once I pick it up to confirm sign-in, I have a bad tendency of checking texts or the latest news headlines. These excuses are legitimate but, if I’m being honest, most of my pickups are superfluous and it’s starting to make me feel icky and restless. I think I might go back to tracking my time + pickups each day? It is frustrating to be back in this place after doing so well with reducing phone use in the spring. What’s that Japanese proverb? Fall seven, rise eight. I guess it’s time to get up again..,and put down the phone!
Fruit and veggie consumption/menu planning. While I’ve worked really hard to retrain my brain to think about food less critically and to eat more intuitively, I definitely feel like I’m in a cooking rut. We’re eating fine. I’ve made several soups. We consume fruits and vegetables every day, but I don’t feel like there is any rhythm to food prep these days and I’m definitely often throwing something together out of convenience. For years I had a very concrete structure for what I always had available (e.g. homemade salad dressing and fixings for salads) and I’m just not energetic or organized on the kitchen front right now and I’m not sure how to jumpstart my enthusiasm. While I want to eat intuitively, I also want to make it easy to make choices that will fuel my body to perform well…and that takes a bit more mental bandwidth than I’ve been allocating to the task lately.
Your turn. Any current routine that is working particularly well for you (or not) as we transition into fall?
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?
I’ve loved reading all the responses to my post on family sayings and vacation mantras. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking through more go-to lines that have subconsciously embedded themselves into our lexicon.
More by good luck than good management. I’ve mentioned before how my maternal grandmother loved to play the board game Crokinole. I first referenced it because she was forever saying: So near, but yet so far while competing in weekend-long tournaments with my older brother. But, with equal frequency, she was quick to say: More by good luck than good management. If someone managed to accidentally knock one of her players off the board, her commentary on the situation was always the same: It was more by good luck than good management. I can’t remember if she would apply this logic to herself when she made a play that was more by “good luck” than “good management”…?
Be kind, be safe, be neat. We adored the preschool Abby and Levi attended with good reason. It was amazing. John and I used to joke we wanted to quit our jobs and attend preschool full-time. Outdoor classrooms. Incredible staff. Delicious food (Levi still raves about many of the dishes). Sand and water tables. Dress up stations with costumes. Magnets and puzzles and books and magnifying glasses and every creative delight you could imagine. And, perhaps most alluring of all, someone to encourage you to lie down after lunch who would also rub your back until you fell asleep. #BestLifeEver. They also did great preparatory work with the kids, offering them support in handling conflict at the pint-sized level. One year, when Levi was still attending, the class was tasked with coming up with a saying to promote good choices. They settled on: Be kind, be safe, be neat. We still repeat this line to our kids regularly. Kissing them goodbye outside the school? Be kind, be safe, be neat. Dropping them off for a playdate? Be kind, be safe, be neat. In the last few years we’ve added our own family twist with one extra line: “…and have fun!”
Nobody loves us…but at least there aren’t any bills. This one might not be the greatest quote to mention publicly. Are you familiar with the truly disgusting/horrible song that goes: Nobody likes me, everybody hates me…guess I’ll go eat worms. If you’ve never heard this song, count your blessings. It gets worse in the following verses, detailing the specific characteristics of said worms. Ick. Yet, somehow, this chorus has stood the test of time and continues to make its way ONTO CHILDREN’S ALBUMS. Anyhoo. Somewhere along the way our kids learned this ditty (can I blame preschool), and found the whole worm-eating bit rather hilarious. Sigh. Where does this fit in with regular family sayings, you might ask? In our household, checking the mail remains a very serious endeavor. One child is primarily responsible for this task and takes the job very seriously (woe to the other sibling should they abscond the mail key and check the box first). At one point somebody said, in response to an empty mailbox – Nobody loves us. How depressing, right? I pointed out an empty mailbox was GREAT news since it meant no bills. It has become a family ritual, when the mailbox is empty, to say: Nobody loves us…but at least there aren’t any bills. *For the record, both kids regularly receive fun things in the mail. Many people love us – mail or no mail.
Home again, home again. I know my Dad used to say this, but it’s in regular rotation at our house, too. As soon as we pull into the driveway someone will either sigh – or scream with delight, depending on what situation we’re leaving/entering – home again, home again. (This originally comes from To Market, To Market to Buy a Fat Pig; we apparently get a lot of our material from questionable and antiquated nursery rhymes?)
You get what you get and you don’t get upset. Another preschool saying, and one I know has made the rounds in daycares and homes around the world: You get what you get and you don’t get upset. Does saying this to the kids eliminate all their angst? I wish. They still love to complain – especially if they feel like a sibling has gotten an extra microgram of chocolate sauce on their ice cream or in other matters of equal importance. If complaining was a sport, our kids could vie for the top prize. But occasionally, when I remember to repeat this line, something clicks into place in their sweet little brains and it actually does make a tangible difference. And let’s be honest, I need to repeat this line for my own benefit, too. Elisabeth: you get what you get, and you don’t get upset. It works…occasionally.
The things that go wrong often make the best memories. I got this line from Gretchen Rubin years ago and we say it all the time. All. the. time. It’s so true. The things that go wrong often do make the best memories; or, if not the best, then at least the most likely to be retold around the dinner table.
And in the current chaos of finishing out a somewhat oddly configured summer schedule, I’m still trying to lean on my vacation mantras like: It costs what it costs, Choose the bigger life (I actually said this out loud to Levi yesterday when I jumped off a diving board at a public pool), and This will feel different tomorrow.
My newest addition to the repertoire: There is no rush.
90% of the time when I find myself rushing, there is literally no need to rush. Rushing adds an unnecessary layer of stress to the day and is usually self-induced.
I wrote this line in the front of my daytimer. I’ve said it over and over to myself when I’m bouncing like a pinball around the house or the grocery store. I don’t have to run down the stairs to get the mop. I can walk. I don’t have to push my cart at top speed to get Greek yogurt. I can saunter.
There is no rush.
A few weeks ago John went on a long run and we coordinated a rendezvous point I could meet him with the car. On our way home he asked about stopping to go down a side road he knew provided access to a field covered in freshly baled hay. The detour was a bust – when we arrived a tractor had just cleared the field of our photo op. But as we drove back up the little dirt road, we spotted a huge wheat field with a beautiful cloudy sky as the backdrop. Would I mind stopping, he asked?
It was supper time. I had a list of things to get done at home. But we stopped, he hopped out. He got the picture. There was no rush.
Here’s the sad truth. Too often I don’t stop for the wheat fields in life. I rush past. And I suspect I’ll continue to do this because, well, life is busy and once you get started, it can be hard to slow down. But sometimes these little reminders of simple truths – There is no rush, This will feel different tomorrow – can change decisions or attitudes long enough to create little bits of magic.
Your turn. Any new sayings you’ve come across lately?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Update: I am currently hanging my head in shame (not really; this is very metaphorical). In both the header picture and throughout this post, I referred to carbon monoxide as CO2.
I went to university for six years to study Biology. I have taken enough Chemistry classes that there is no feasible excuse for me to very confidently discuss our carbon dioxide detector. Now both gasses are dangerous, but considering I exhale carbon dioxide about 25,000 times/day, I’m very grateful we don’t have a CO2 detector furiously beeping to warn me of my own breath.
I fixed the blog post text, but am too lazy to fix the header photo. And to be clear – we have carbon MONoxide detectors. And I hope you all do as well.
A few months ago I wrote a post about moving my deodorant out of our ensuite bathroom and into the top drawer of my bedroom dresser. I remain committed to Team Bedroom (though a friend told me she keeps deodorant in both her room and the bathroom, which seems even wiser).
I can’t believe it took me YEARS to move a stick of armpit neutralizer 5 feet. But it did. I also can’t believe how much easier my morning routine is since making this shift.
But want to know what’s worse? It took me even longer to move our CO detector.
When we moved into our home, we dutifully bought carbon monoxide detectors for each level. And, on both floors, we elected to install them in the hallway.
This was great for a while, but the one on the main level was constantly getting bumped.
Over the last year, we’ve started playing hallway soccer. Hours and hours of hallway soccer every single week. That is a lot of action for a hallway and, sadly, for the CO detector, a lot of opportunities to get bumped out of the socket.
It was also just a very annoying placement.
The detector would get loose and then eventually fall down with a jarring bang – managing to scare me every time. Then the soccer game would get prematurely halted (not always a bad thing as I do reliably lose, and I am always trying to win – I can’t think of a single game, soccer or otherwise, where I have not actively tried to beat my children in years. Levi is 7 and needs to learn to lose gracefully, but he’s not learning that skill by playing me – despite my best efforts).
It would also sometimes come loose (which I couldn’t see) and revert to the battery backup which would eventually result in a warning alarm beeping pattern…which always started in the middle of the night. Twice I couldn’t get it to shut off and ended up taking the detector outside and throwing it in the trunk of the car until morning – once in the middle of a horrific rainstorm when I happened to be solo-parenting and was in sock feet…which got soaked.
(Thankfully no one has ever been out walking their dog at 3 am and called the police about a mysterious beeping sound emanating from our vehicle.)
All this to say it has been a major, near-daily, nuisance.
And guess what I did.
Moved it to an outlet in the living room – the room with a gas fireplace (the most likely source of a CO issue upstairs anyway) – completely away from all soccer and general life action. The problem and solution took me 5 years to identify, and less than 30 seconds to execute.
John noticed the switch one day and was like: Oh. Yeah. That makes sense!
So why did it take me/us so long to identify the solution?
I’ve written before about our 1970’s kitchen (the one with the apartment-sized fridge). It’s functional, albeit dated, and I like it. But our dishwasher opens up in front of the kitchen sink.
We have a double sink, but if I use the left-hand sink (my natural preference), I can’t access the dishwasher OR the under-the-counter garbage bin – both of which are quite annoying to have off-limits while handling dishes. I would regularly move out of the way, open the dishwasher, put something in, close it, and go back to washing dishes that need to be hand-washed until I needed to access the garbage bin, which would also require me to move out of the way. Repeat ad nauseam.
A few weeks ago I had a thought: there are two sinks. If I stand in front of the right-hand sink to wash and reach over to the left-hand sink to rinse…I can wash dishes AND leave the dishwasher open OR access the cupboard with the garbage bag AND be closer to the dish drainer. Win, win, win.
But also, why did this take so long?
What about you? Any little hacks to report from life lately that have had a disproportionate impact on your productivity or happiness? I’m all ears…
I’ve been a “planner” for a long time now. From keeping lists of lists (really – sad, but true) to homemade binders, wall calendars and, eventually, daytimers, I feel a compulsion to lay things out in black-and-white (or blue-and-white; I can respect a good blue pen when it comes around). I have used an admittedly hodge-podge system over the years; what – and how – I plan ebbs and flows by life season and I don’t actively pursue new organizational methods.
I’ve also jumped around with my planners; the first one to which I formed any real attachment was a free daytimer handed out to all incoming students by my university student union when I was a freshman. I dutifully poured over syllabi, writing down deadlines and textbook lists and planning out my (very pitiful) social life.
Some years, especially when the kids were young and I was essentially just focused on keeping them alive, I didn’t use a daytimer at all and a shared family calendar was enough. But as the kids have gotten older and my work and home managerial responsibilities have increased, I use a planner. Daily.
Sadly, my planner doesn’t “do” life for me. If I have an over-full planner, chances are I’m going to have an over-full life. This topic is highly relevant right now as I’m looking for ways to overhaul some responsibilities and grasp ahold of those weeks I have left (out of my very fragile 4,000) and enjoy life and the people in it that make it joyful (and maybe even choose to fail at some things along the way)?
So, while planners are a great tool, they are no replacement for balancing life. To paraphrase the words of Gretchen Rubin (talking about technology): I want my planner to be a great servant, not my master.
With this in mind, let’s explore how I plan!
The last few years I have…are you ready for this?…used planners from the DollarStore.
My planner for 2021 cost $1.25…and I loved it. In fact I was elated to see it show up on the shelves for 2022 and I gladly forked over $1.25 and walked out with plans to keep moving forward with my DollarStore system.
And then I saw Sarah Hart-Unger had discussed the Sprouted daytimer in Episode 68 of her podcast Best Laid Plans. I rarely comment on planner posts because…well, I was contented with my $1.25 planner. (And if you’re contented with a $1.25 planner, you probably aren’t the type to comment on planning posts.)
But I mentioned how it looked like a great planner for my needs. Within 24 hours I had an e-mail in my inbox asking if I’d like her copy of the Sprouted Planner. [In the comment thread, I referenced my $4 planner, but when I went to buy it this year, it was $1.25, so I’m sure it was $1.25 the year before, too.]
Um, yes, please.
I had a rough time around Christmas and just couldn’t get my head into planning for…anything. 2021 was a hard year and I was tired and knew we were facing more restrictions and likely another bout of online learning (turns out I was right).
But a few days before we rang in the New Year, I found enough enthusiasm to get started, and haven’t looked back. I absolutely LOVE my Sprouted planner and fully intend to purchase one next year.
I have no experience doing reviews of any sort; this was gifted to me by Sarah (who isn’t affiliated with Sprouted…but I believe this planner was gifted to her). So don’t expect any crazy picture-perfect influencer spreads. It is not neat and colour-coded; that’s not how I roll. I also don’t have a specific system I’m trying to recommend because I just do what works for me and it’s a bit scattered.
With that caveat out of the way, let’s dive in:
Front cover + storage
I love the aesthetic of the book. It’s hardcover and is exceptionally well made. The paper is thick enough to prevent bleedthrough (though I just use basic ballpoints, so I’m not sure about anyone using Sharpie pens or other more elaborate writing utensils).
The ring binding works like a charm and never catches (major pet peeve of mine). It’s big, but not bulky. I have no problem slipping this into my laptop bag when I escape to a cafe to work. But, most of the time, it simply moves between my bedside dresser, the dining room table, and my desk.
It’s classy looking and very “me” in terms of the design. I think Sprouted offers other cover options, but suspect this is the one I would have chosen anyway!
On the inside cover there is a pocket. This is SO handy. Last year, in that $1.25 planner, I taped an envelope inside the front cover to store assorted papers, receipts, and stickers. These items fell out constantly and this much sturdier alternative is a significant improvement.
In fact, if anyone from Sprouted happens to be reading this – I love the pocket so much I really wish there was a back pocket, too! Hint, hint…
I’ve stopped recording “tough” days via stickers [I did this last year in my daytimer, mostly to track hormonal issues – a sticker was a nice way to say…”This day sucked, but at least I have a pretty sticker to show for it!“] but have been putting stickers on special days – family birthdays, anniversaries, major holidays. I also keep a running list of blog post ideas. I spy one that says “Planner overview.”
Prompts + Long-Range PLanning pages
Okay, I’ll admit when I saw all these high-level planning pages I did a bit of an eye-roll. But they are genius.
Heather (the creator of Sprouted) has put a lot of thought in to these layouts, offering some great perspective about the various areas of our life we likely all want to prioritize. Here is the “People” layout where I’ve listed my overarching goal to “Be Kind” and then ideas like:
More solo walks; even just around the neighbourhood.
More coffee dates with friends.
More low-key dessert/coffee invites; less pressure to do meals.
Spend more time at bedtime with kids – even 5 minutes would be a great place to start.
There are also pages devoted to “Things” – which offers high-level planning by month, a page devoted to hopes for the year ahead, and a set of blank pages where I’ve set up my “Ta-Da” list for 2022.
Of course, I was thrilled to see this “Year List” page and wasted no time in creating a hard copy of my Goals for 2022 list.
A quick word about my system. While I rely HEAVILY on my planner, I also almost always have a running list that contains overlap if I have an especially hectic day. On those days, I will typically list everything on one of my beloved scratch-paper pads that I mentioned yesterday. I keep these handy (i.e. with my planner) as I move throughout the day. For example, off to the right-hand side I can see “L2,” “larvae counts” “3 mo.” and “environmental impact” which were prompts for questions I ended up needing to ask over the course of the “SBW” [Spruce Budworm; how’s that for a fun topic] call from 1:00-2:00 pm. So I may scribble on the pad during meetings and add/subtract to-dos as the day goes by based on new scheduling developments.
I also have some work responsibilities I never list; checking e-mails and even some regularly scheduled big action items are so ingrained at this point, I don’t take the time to write them down and monitor their execution. My planner is predominantly to help me stay on top of tasks that are time-sensitive or I’m likely to forget.
I had some specific names/information recorded in the weekly spread (and on the scratch-pad), hence all the chicken scratches. (I was going to use a whiteout pen, but got lazy).
Here is a completed week. I LOVE the amount of flexibility in these layouts.
I use the top “free” space to record my joyfinding exercises.
I write down a meal plan as I go through the week in the space just below the date
Anything with specific timing I highlight in yellow (this is mostly calls/video meetings as I still rarely have in-person meetings)
The other side of the spread I use to list general to-dos for the week. These can migrate over and end up getting listed under a specific day but, more often than not, I simply tackle these when I’m able since they are not time-sensitive (things like: draft my monthly family update email, send a reminder email about progress reports, schedule some meetings for early February, sign and return forms related to corporate taxes, mail our confetti notes, and take the kids sledding – I guess the sledding one would be time-sensitive if it rained). I review this list throughout the week and if anything hasn’t been taken care of by Sunday evening, I move it forward to the following week.
I have been tracking my daily outside walks, phone pick-ups, total screen time, and the Psalm we’ve read for the day. For pick-ups, I’m actually subtracting the number of times I use my phone as a camera. To me taking pictures is hugely important and I don’t want to come down hard on myself for excessive pick-ups if it’s done for photography. But still…I sure do handle my phone a lot (and last week was worse. A lot worse.). Sigh.
Above is a picture of last week’s spread first thing Monday morning. This week was significantly less busy (John was out of town, so I was very purposeful to book as light a week as possible), but even still it filled up quickly once things got started!
You can see I only have one meal listed (Monday). I sketch out meal ideas over the weekend, but don’t have a strict meal plan and just fill things in based on what ingredients I have/the time I have available for prep.
My monthly spread for January just had too much specific information, so I’m showing you June so you can get a sense of the layout.
I have to get my engagement and wedding band inspected every 6 months for insurance, so that is already listed but other than that (and a heart sticker on Father’s Day), June looks deliciously open (sounds like something Anne of Green Gables would say)! I’m not using the month-view that often, but it’s very handy for long-range planning.
Each month ends with a full spread of prompts. I’m really, really excited about these.
And there is a yearly review at the end of the book.
I think this is a great feature. The questions are insightful and relevant (they do vary slightly month-to-month) and I don’t think I’m going to feel pressured to answer everything (or give long, detailed answers), but I appreciate not having to think through big questions to ask of myself. Having the prompts in place seems like one responsibility off my shoulders. Now when the planner can start doing laundry and taking the kids to the dentist, then we’ll really be getting somewhere…
At the back of the book there are about 30 extra, lined pages. At first I wasn’t sure how to fill them, but I’m starting to come up with ideas…
I’ve decided to track things related to mood and overall health (i.e. if I was tired, details of my downright terrible period – sigh). I don’t enjoy doing this; it feels tedious and another thing to remember but since I’ve gone back on hormonal treatments + iron, I really want to be as specific and thorough as I can be to monitor symptoms/results. I also used a little code of up and down arrows to signify how I felt overall (mood/energy/headaches).
I’m reading a Psalm with the kids at the breakfast table most days and have written down some favourite verses as we go along.
Honestly, I like just about everything in this planner (not paid or perked in any way!). I thought I would feel obligated to fill in every high-level planning page, but I don’t.
I really, really, really love the month tabs. It makes for easy navigation. I do use a small paperclip to hold together weeks of the month that are completed so it’s even faster to locate the current weekly spread.
I appreciate all the extra pages and the overall sense of flexibility with how to use the layouts.
If I had to come up with any critique, I feel like I’d prefer to have a bit more space for daily to-do’s (lines) and less “free” space in the weekly spreads. That said, I can see many people wanting it exactly as shown here. I like the structure but feel like I have more space than I need on the right-hand side of the layout. If I was designing the planner, I think (?) I’d do M-F on the left, S+S on the top right and cut down on the size of free-form space on the second page (but not remove them entirely as I sure do love those boxes and currently use the header/footer ones for the “Joyfinding” and “Grateful” lists that I maintain each week).
There you have it my first – and probably only – planner review!
Are you a planner person – or do you prefer wall/digital calendars?