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

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

Without further ado:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Suzanne: What is your most irrational fear?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Phone Interview Blues – Life @ U of T

Also from Suzanne: What are your desert island foods?

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

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

Favourites:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Sarah: What Bible version do you like best?

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

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

From Tobia: What is your favorite fruit?

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

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

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

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

2015
2016 (not wearing the skirt, and we’re still jinxed)
2019

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


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

Header photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

31 thoughts on “Ask Me (Almost) Anything: Vol. 2 – Grab Bag”

  1. That black and white skirt looks good on you! I love a good a-line skirt. I had a linen one with white stitching and a white band around the bottom that I wore several times a week. It fell apart (the fabric was ripping due to so much wear) and I still miss it.
    These are all such great questions! I love it. It can really make for interesting conversation. I also did not consider that there could be any other way than sock, sock. shoe shoe!
    I don’t think I have any pictures of me with the kids on mother’s day. My husband has done a gift of taking pictures of the kids together (smiling) and giving me a framed picture on Mother’s day every year. I don’t think it says anything with the crying except that May is earlier and the shifting into summer is hard on the eyes.

    1. Thanks. I am a HUGE fan of A-line skirts. In fact, it’s the only type I own because of my body shape.
      What a sweet gift for Mother’s Day each year. And I appreciate you saying that the crying in May has to do with the shifting sunlight…and not some reflection on my mothering. Haha. To be honest, I’ve come to love these pictures as they’re an inside joke. And I think – fingers crossed – we are passed the stage of kids crying in pictures!!!

  2. Thanks for answering my question. I know it’s abstract and more theoretical than most of the others, but it really helped me decide how I’d write my blog. Your answer is in line with what I said, too. I like your addition of saying you’re an encourager. You definitely are.

    As for “What’s one thing you’d like to accomplish this next year?” I’d like to get back into a regular walking schedule. Sounds simple, but once the pandemic hit and my husband started working from home every day I got out of sync with myself & exercise. Walking took a backseat, time for it to be in the driver’s seat again.

    1. Thanks, Ally. For the question and for the support as I plod forward with this corner of the internet <3

      Good luck with your movement goals for 2023; time spent outside walking is rarely regrettable, so I hope you find a great way to reintroduce it into a regular routine.

  3. Thank you for answering my questions!!!

    How cool that your grad degree is in entomology!!! I don’t think I knew that!

    And while I loved Lord of the Flies (perhaps I have to reread it as an adult) I found Where the Red Fern Grows to be just okay.

    I agree it should be illegal to put on shoes sock, shoe, sock, shoe – lol! And I love your three wishes. Really good ones.

  4. Yay!!! Both of my questions got answered! 🙂 thank you! I love that Levi’s middle name is Indiana- that is where I’m from!

    I will be digging into your minimalism posts during my kiddos’ nap times! (I also have one girl and one boy!)

    1. People’s first assumption is that it is because we have some attachment to the state Indiana. I LOVE it. We tried to use the nickname Indy, but it never stuck…yet. I wonder if he might try it out in high school?

      I feel like I need to come up with some other word for myself than minimalist, because…I don’t think it really captures things too well? It sounds stark and clinical? But I haven’t come up with anything better yet. I’m open to suggestions! Clutter Resister? Ruthless Donater? Conscientious Decliner?

    1. The ornament on Christmas Eve is one of my favourite tradtions!
      Our dishwasher might not look very fancy (and it isn’t – not a single digital display to be found), it works SO well. They really don’t make things like they used to…(we’ve been through THREE microwaves since getting married; my parents owned their first microwave for almost 20 years). We also have top-loading washing machines that work like a dream. I know they’re very old-school, but I am dreading the day they break down because they’re just so reliable.

  5. Wow, interesting questions! I love the blogging question from Ally. It really made me think. I definitely don’t have credentials to call myself a “coach,” but I would say the goal of my blog is to share things in a way that (hopefully) helps other people- so I’m going to use your term “encourager.”
    I’m constantly marveling at how beautiful your area is. BUT, I don’t think I could get through those winters. And I was interested by your answer to where you see yourself 30 years from now- that’s a wonderful goal!

    1. Yes – if I had my druthers, I’d live in Nova Scotia from late spring to early winter and beat a hasty retreat to somewhere more hospitable for the coldest months.

  6. Those Mother’s Day photos! That cracks me up. Oh, kids.

    I loved reading the questions and answers! I also hated Girl, Wash Your Face. GIRL, PUNCH YOUR FACE (I kid, I kid).

    The wishes question reminded me of the dumbest funny joke:
    A genie will grant you one wish.
    “Okay, I wish I were you.”
    Genie: “Wuerd, but alrught.”

    1. I didn’t read any other Rachel Hollis books because I really struggled with her tone in Girl, Wash Your Face. Oh well, for a different audience it was a huge hit!

      Can I admit it took me two attempts to get your joke. I got it, and it’s hilarious. I’m going to tell that one to Abby (though you really have to write it out for it to make sense). She’s sure to approve.

  7. What an interesting batch of questions!! I loved The Year of Magical Thinking but didn’t love The Midnight Library. I thought it was ‘just ok.’ I could never bring myself to read “Girl, Wash Your Face.” From what I’ve heard about the author, she’s not a fit for me. And I abandoned Wintering – and then had my good friend message me this fall to say how much she’s loving it! I love how books can elicit such different opinions from people.

    Let’s see, desert island foods would probably be tacos, a variety of fruits, dried mango, and peanut butter cups! My favorite fruit is probably raspberries as well, followed by a perfectly ripe watermelon – but NO SALT! My mom eats it with salt on it and I’ll never understand that combination! And in 2023, we’ll need to figure out the transition from daycare to kindergarten for Paul – which we are all very excited about. But we’ll need to figure out childcare. We’re debating pulling him out of daycare and putting him in the public school summer kids program because they don’t nap at that program! And we figure it would help w/ the transition to K in the fall? But it’s mostly about getting rid of the nap which is the bane of our existence.

    1. I know people who LOVED Wintering. I think I should re-read The Year of Magical Thinking now that I’ve watched the Netflix documentary on Joan Didion? And yes, books bring out such wide responses.

      Dried mango. Yum. I’m so happy to hear about someone else that likes salt on their watermelon; my Mom and I are the only ones who love it this way (both my kids use it sometimes, and othertimes want it plain, but I really don’t want to eat watermelon ever if there isn’t salt involved).

      Naps. When I found out I was pregnant with Levi the very first thought that entered my mind was: Oh no. I have to do naps again. They are the biggest blessing (kid-free hours!) and curse in early parenthood. Good luck with the transition – it is an exciting time!!

  8. Where will you like to go to work as volunteers? I work in development and it’s truly a job that gives so much fulfillment, helping the poor and vulnerables, in the little ways possible.
    Raspberries? I love seeing them more than eating them as it’s so sour! 🙂

    1. No idea. John worked in Tanzania years ago and I think a piece of his heart will always be in Africa, so that would be my first guess.
      A week after my Mom retired, she and my Dad went to Liberia for 3 months to volunteer (they ended up doing it a second time, too). We’ll see where the path ends up leading?!

      Raspberries are so pretty! I love them in things (oatmeal) and on things (waffles), but don’t usually sit down to just eat a bowl of raspberries because they can be quite tart – but oh, so tasty!

  9. I have a huge tub of ornaments that my mom sent with me when we bought our house. I LOVE having all these memories from when I was a child and I love that your kids will have a similar Christmas tote to take with them when they leave home.

    I had an advent calendar for the first time ever last year and I really loved opening it every night after dinner. I am hoping to make it a yearly tradition and am super excited for the one I bought this year.

    1. I’m tempted to buy myself an advent calendar. I did this in university (as a way to countdown getting home for Christmas, as my exams always seemed to take until the very last day)…but that’s been almost 20 years. Could be time to splurge? Plus, how whimsical!!

  10. Again: so, so fun to read your answers (and learn more about you!).
    I kinda love that you said about yourself that you’re mediocre – I mean, most people are and it’s not a bad thing AT ALL. I shared this article a few months ago and I think it’s so beautiful and holds so much truth: https://getpocket.com/explore/item/in-defense-of-being-average

    I loved Ally’s question about blogging: I would definitely think I am more of a creator than a coach. A coach sounds like someone who has something to “teach” to others, and well, maybe some things I share do teach others something they didn’t know, but how about could we possibly also be “connectors”? Because I feel like the blogosphere is really a place where people come together and connect.

    My desert island foods are bread, cheeses, and fruit. My favourite fruit(s) are apples and berries. And something I’d like to accomplish in the next year is manage my time better.

    1. Yes, average might sound even better than mediocre! I just read the article and appreciated this: ?mediocrity, as a goal, sucks. But mediocrity, as a result, is OK.”

  11. These questions are so fun! I love the “mediocre” celebration as well. And maybe it’s good to be mediocre at some things too? Like if I were a super good cook I would probably weigh 20 lbs more haha. If I were excellent at decorating and interior design I would probably spend lots of $ on my house. There is something to be said for being competent at general life without needing to be an expert in all things.

    1. Great point. I do think that embracing “mediocrity” can mean less stress overall.
      Your cooking example is a great one; I’d say I’m very average at cooking. I don’t do anything fancy, but I know how to do the basics. If I didn’t know how to cook an egg, that would impact my life. If I spent hours and hours making gourmet meals, that would also impact my life. But by being competent, good enough is good enough and I can fly below the radar.

  12. I love this AMA! I, too, remember random small details about people. This has actually creeped people out because I will recount a story or details they told me and the response will be, “Whoa. Um, you have a really good memory.” Unspoken question, “ARE YOU OBSESSED WITH ME!?!?!?!”

    I also love Nova Scotia and thank you for the recommendation in my blog comments section. I went on a family road trip years ago to PEI and Nova Scotia. We started from Washington, DC so it was a lot of driving. I loved Cape Breton Highlands National Park. It was incredibly beautiful, especially the cliffs and night sky.

    1. “ARE YOU OBSESSED WITH ME!?!?!?!” – I am laughing my head off over here!
      I’m so glad you’ve been to Nova Scotia. Cape Breton is iconic; I have to admit, I’m partial to my local area, but it’s really breathtaking how much natural beauty there is around here. It’s a very special part of the world (and it made me happy to see Lonely Planet highlight this area).

  13. I will die on the hill that it is sock, shoe, sock, shoe. When I’m putting on socks and shoes, I bring my socks and my shoes to the couch and put them on one at a time. I didn’t even realize it was weird until someone posed this question in our team Slack channel and things got HEATED. Hahaha. It’s now my new favorite thing to ask people because people are very adamant in the “right” way to do this.

    1. I wonder if people who like bubble baths do sock, shoe, sock, shoe? That’s the only explanation I can come up with?!
      To me this is DEFINITELY weird, but what do I know – maybe everyone else does the sock, shoe, sock, shoe and I’m the weird one with my sock, sock, shoe, shoe. But I always have my socks on first thing, sometimes hours before I even put on shoes!

  14. Wow you did answer a whole lot of questions. So random and so deep. I love it all. I am really a bit said I didnt have any ask me anything form up. Definitely something to consider for next years NaBloPoMo. I love that you are such a curious person – at least that is what I read between the lines. And going for a thesis that includes insects even though you hate them is very impressive.

    1. Yes! You should definitely do this next year! (I mean, you don’t have to wait for NaBloPoMo, either? You could set up a form any time)!

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