Saturday Bonus <> Action Is An Antidote to Anxiety: Why Just Making A List Can Help Lighten A Mental Burden

I’ve had a stressful work situation cycling around lately; it’s an old issue (6+ years) that rears its ugly head every few months and settles in to cause trouble. For the most part, it’s out of my hands. I’ve put blood, sweat, and tears (literally – the blood is the only exaggerated part, and I suspect there has been the odd papercut inflicted while working on this issue) into a project and it occasionally – but repeatedly – hits major roadblocks.

I feel out of my depth. Much of what needs doing doesn’t fall within my skill set. I’ve learned to delegate more and remove some of the stress from my own plate, but ultimately I’m in charge of this project. The buck stops with me, even though I often feel like a helpless pawn in a much larger game.

One day a little over a week ago the situation escalated to the point I felt physically nauseous. Frustration from other involved parties was getting taken out on me, and I felt a gnawing sense that I wasn’t in control of the situation (I’m not!) and that I was letting people down. I dislike conflict and like to feel I’ve given 100% to every task. Yet, here I was face-to-face with this annoyingly familiar challenge…again. And I was virtually helpless to resolve the issue.

Of course beyond this irksome project there were appointments to schedule, other work streams to manage, kids to get to after-school programs and playdates, meals to prep, and laundry to put away. In other words, life had to continue.

I floundered for a few hours. I made lunchboxes on auto-pilot. I sent e-mails and tried to keep going, while mostly I just wanted to curl up in a ball and cry.

I’m familiar with temporary wallowing. I actually find it to be quite useful – a natural way of recovering from stressful situations. But it didn’t feel like the right fit this time. And I didn’t want to be my own cheerleader, either.

So I did what I know best – I spent 5 minutes before my next meeting writing a list for November. Personal, work, and other life items that were on my radar got spewed on the page. Because the unsettled feelings that were stemming from this very specific work issue were infecting my thoughts in all areas of life. In this moment I felt like everything was about to come unhinged.

Years ago I heard someone say “Action is the antidote to anxiety.” After some time to ponder this wisdom, I’d actually change that to read – “Action is an antidote to anxiety.” Sometimes I need to take a nap or lay on the couch and do nothing. Sometimes I need to take a long shower and cry and avoid checking e-mail or making supper.

And other times I need to send that tough e-mail I’ve been putting off. Sometimes I need to call and schedule that meeting, chop up the vegetables, or finally go get those passport pictures taken.

But this day, action simply meant writing a list. Seeing everything in black and white made it all feel…less daunting. Was there a lot to do? Yes. But it was also doable. Figureoutable.

I made it through that day and the next day dawned (slightly) brighter. As for the specific stressful situation I mentioned – it’s only partially resolved, but it’s moving in the right direction (for now, I’m trying to be realistic with my expectations).

I know I’ll fall into this cycle again. Overwhelm, temporary despair, and then resolve to do something to move the dial in the right direction. And often, for me, that starts by making a list.

What action step(s) helps you feel less anxious?

Header photo by Daniel Álvasd on Unsplash

Casual Friday + Why I Stopped My Yearly Bible Reading Plan on Day #311

A shout-out for any local readers. A friend of mine is on the board of Campaign for Kids. It's a non-profit charity that provides support for children and youth in Kings County. One of their annual campaigns is a Winter Wear Program. As a mother to two young children I can't imagine them having to brave cold winter weather without suitable clothing, but that is the difficult reality for too many kids. Unfortunately, demand this year is outstripping donations. For $100 an elementary school student can be outfitted in full winter gear; for $150, the same is provided for middle-schoolers. If you're able to support this valuable program, please see their website for more information on how to contribute (donations are tax deductible). 
  • Am I the only one that isn’t a fan of Daylight Savings? I do enjoy the extra light in the morning, but it just throws everything else off kilter. Every time. Admittedly, it’s a lot easier now that the kids are older (DST time with a toddler is the worst), but even with our age advantages, everyone has been off their sleeping game. It just doesn’t seem worth all the hassle. One perk: we’ve started lighting my favourite Danish candles at supper and it does feel very hygge (my brother married a Dane, so I feel like I can own the hygge concept with some validity; they gifted us these Georg Jensen candlesticks years ago and they still make me so happy)!

(Here’s a stock picture of what they look like in normal light – I leave them on our hutch year-round but have to steal them for the table when we start eating in the dark)!

  • After some grumpiness on my end, last Friday ended on a high note. The kids were off school all day and I participated in a game of morning soccer, arranged an impromptu playdate and packed a pinic. All good so far. But then we needed to run errands in Halifax, culminating in some thrift-store shopping. I was cold and tired and wasn’t. feeling. it. I couldn’t bear the thought of traipsing through IKEA (we didn’t actually need anything, but the kids do love eating there), so we opted to come home much earlier than planned, grab Subway (with coupons!) for supper, and put on a movie. It is getting challenging to find something that appeals to everyone as there are some strong opinions from certain children. But the kids were intrigued by the trailer for Maleficent as we panned through the offerings on Disney. I had no desire to watch it, but ended up really enjoying the movie! The kids have a high tolerance for scary things, and it was relatively tame (PG). Also, Subway was just…easy and deliciously loaded with veggies.
  • The weekend was okay. Daylight Savings and/or some mood cycling threw me off my game. But we fit in two family walks. I was feeling extra distracted Saturday morning on our walk, thinking about all sorts of things and I added guilt to the mix because I wasn’t really engaging with Levi who was happily chatting up a storm (when he wasn’t stopping every 5 seconds to throw a rock into the canal…which was frustrating me more than I care to admit). Abby and John were way up ahead absorbed in their own conversation. Levi suddenly stopped (literally, yet again) but before I could sigh he said “I bet they’re having just as good a time up there as we are back here, Mom.” And it just made me so happy – even though I wasn’t 100% “present” in that moment with him, he really was content to just be with me. He didn’t need me to engage, he just needed my presence. And then we stopped so he could take this selfie; a budding photographer.
A haircut has been scheduled!
  • Also, I am now officially “Mom.” It’s making me sad. I’ve been Mama for years, occasionally Mommy. Now I’m “Mom” and it feels very old and grownup and I just wasn’t ready for it. Maybe if I don’t respond to it, they’ll revert to Mama?
  • It has been a low-key week. Very busy, but all good. Productive at work – and I fit in some enjoyable networking events – and also got to spend quality time with friends. I survived my second consecutive week of solo-parenting (should be the last one for a while, so it felt more doable) which went smoothly. The kids were on their best behaviour in months! I hosted some of the kids friends for a supper. We had waffles for the first time in weeks. Friends stopped by for an impromptu visit. It all felt nice after a lot of ups and downs the last few weeks.
  • We walked to school most days, and it’s still warm enough that I’m pleasantly toasty by the time I get home. I have been wearing my heated socks religiously in the house. I fit in two runs (aiming for 3/week, which makes it a habit according to Laura Vanderkam).
After Monday’s post, I took a picture of the cement perch Levi seeks out each day en route to school. Someday – and likely soon – he’ll stop climbing this. But now I’ll have pictorial evidence of this stage forever.
  • We went back to the school playground twice after school this week, and then yesterday morning (a holiday in Canada), we gathered yet again. A group of us coordinated and moms talked while the kids played. It was fun and reminded me of all those pleasant afternoons pre-COVID when this was the routine.
  • Today I’m going to fit in a visit to my soup-and-sandwich oasis. It has been far too long.
  • I bought kombucha for the first time because a friend recommended it and…why not. I’m actually loving it.
  • I cashed in on freezer meals – I’ve been stashing leftovers away and it felt so nice to come home and have something hot, delicious and relatively healthy to put on the table with a little help from the microwave and/or slowcooker.
  • And then there was the day I took at shower at 6:30 and told Abby to handle shutting off all the lights and I hopped in bed at 7:00 and worked on writing projects and vegged and then turned out the light before 9:30 pm because even when things are going well life is exhausting and DST can be brutal and sleep is a magic elixar that I’m just not getting enough of lately!

thoughts on abandoning a streak

A few years ago I got a One-Year Bible; it’s a great concept. Instead of printing off a schedule, this Bible is actually pre-arranged with all the readings (one from the Old/New Testaments, Psalms, and Proverbs) for every day of the year. You literally flip to a date and it’s all laid out.

I’ve never made it all the way through. Some years I’ve skipped around (reading when I could but not going back to re-read days missed); another year I made it to about May or June consecutively.

This year I didn’t actually set out to complete the reading schedule. But I started in January for lack of another plan and just…kept at it. For the first 6 months it was great; I underlined and tagged verses and really enjoyed the study.

But lately it has felt like a chore. I joined a 7-week Bible Study on the side, which came with a lot of “homework” – not required, but I wouldn’t imagine not doing it!

So I’ve been checking this off, dreading the current slog through Ezekiel more and more each day.

And then on Sunday morning in church, I realized there is no reward at the end for checking this off. What I want is spiritual growth. So better to read one verse in a day and benefit from it versus continuing on with something that is net neutral at best (I had started skimming, definitely no longer absorbing much of anything).

So I stopped*. I stopped a 365-day reading plan on day 311. And it was absolutely the right decision. It feels like a weight has been lifted and the last few days of Bible reading (short sections at a time) while taking notes has been wonderful!

*I originally wrote “I quit” but this doesn’t feel like quitting and it wasn’t even choosing to fail. It was a mindful, purposeful stop. Also, to be fair, I missed plenty of days, but would always catch-up, so it’s more accurate to say I completed 311 days worth of readings, but that wasn’t on 311 consecutive days.

Let’s hear it. How was your week? Have you abandoned a project or a streak lately?

Why Learning the Mundane Details of Someone’s Life Fosters Attachment

My father-in-law visited recently. It has been a long separation – nearly two years – due to COVID. I try to keep everyone engaged through lengthy family updates and accompanying pictures. But after two years of Skype calls and e-mails, we all know it’s just not the same.

His visit included some fun adventures, but what he seemed to enjoy most of all was getting a sense of our daily routines.

He learned the route we take when we walk to school each morning. He saw the small shelf in the dining room where I store our current reading selections. He familiarized himself with our kitchen cupboards – learning where to find the cutlery and his favourite coffee mug. He knew where to find light switches in the dark and grew accustomed to how we load our dishwasher. He learned where we stored basketballs and soccer balls (and never had any trouble finding willing companions for a pick-up game).

He took pictures the morning he left for home – one of us all geared up for the walk to school, another of me reading to the kids while they ate breakfast. He took one of the guest room, his home for two weeks. He snapped another of the outside of our house before it gets a facelift. All unremarkable, mundane things. Yet knowing the intricacies of these small things feels big.

Knowing where someone stores their vegetable peeler might just make you feel more connected than having a long conversation over coffee.

It reminds me of Gretchen Rubin’s suggestion to take pictures of usual things:

Instead of taking photos of unusual sights, take a photo of the most usual sights. In the future, you’ll be a lot more interested in seeing a photo of your dorm-room closet or your laundromat than seeing a photo of the Louvre.

Gretchen Rubin

I’d love to have a photo of my closet from university days – I know it was tiny and didn’t even have a door, just a small curtain pulled across it (which, for the life of me, I frustratingly can’t remember the colour of…and this haunts me).

My father-in-law came to the bus stop each day. He learned the driveway where I wait, the names of the friends that would tumble out alongside his grandkids; he now knows, to the minute, when the bus arrives. He also joined us on our daily commute to school morning after morning. He said hello to the crossing guard and saw the giant concrete pillar my son likes to climb up every morning.

Sure, I describe a lot of things in my family update e-mails (they are shockingly thorough). But reading about the route to school and actually walking it are two very different things.

Saturday Bonus <> I Need to Heed My Own Advice – On Adding Buffers

After five years of organizing after-school pickup, I was beyond relieved to jump on the bussing bandwagon last year.

We enjoy walking to school and, pre-COVID, the hassle of after-school pickup (having to arrive 25 minutes early to find a parking spot) was offset by the fact that a large and dedicated group of parents + kids stayed after school to play and chat. This was my favourite way to pass the time between school dismissal and supper.

But then came COVID. We started the 2020 academic year with a wave of new restrictions – including shutting down the playground for an entire hour after school dismissal. Without any impetus to do pickup, I gladly signed our kids up for the afternoon bus.

The registration process went smoothly and I received notice of their very specific drop-off time. And, for over a year, the bus has dutifully arrived at that very specific time – almost without exception.

Then a few weeks ago, because of a mechanical issue, the bus arrived 30 minutes late. The next day it was 10 minutes late. And then, ever since, it has been arriving 3 minutes earlier.

Three minutes is a long time when my walk to the bus stop only takes a little over 3 minutes. If parents aren’t at the bus stop to meet children in Grade 3 and below, they bus those kids back to school and contact parents for in-person pickup. This has never happened to us, but the stress and disruption of that process would not be ideal.

So I make every effort to be on time.

The problem is I have had a very specific schedule for over a year now – I need to leave the house at 2:47 to make it to the bus stop with a few minutes buffer. This no longer works. With the bus arriving 3 minutes earlier, it’s a case of very simple math that I no longer have any buffer. In fact, I’m running late.

After having the same cues for over a year – 2:47 I need to be out the door; 2:48, I need to speed walk; 2:49 I need to run; 2:50 I need to sprint – I’m struggling to accept the reality that all those times are no longer relevant. In fact, now, a 2:47 departure requires a sprint, not a leisurely stroll.

So earlier this week, when I looked at the clock (after yet another afternoon of sprinting in my not-made-for-sprinting footwear) and saw it was 2:45, even though my mind told me I had buffer, I forced myself to get dressed and out the door. I enjoyed a leisurely walk to the bus and arrived early, with the perfect amount of buffer. Time for small talk with the rest of the congregants, but no time to get bored or cold.

Yet another reminder, adding a little bit of buffer can go a long way in making life more pleasant (and convenient – I really don’t want to have to drive back to school to rescue my child)!

Here’s to establishing more buffer…again.

Saturday Bonus <> October Edition

I’ve really missed posting 5x/week. I’m seeing all sorts of bloggers post about their intentions to publish every day in November (NaBloPoMo, which is a take on the infamous NaNoWriMo).

As much as I’d like to jump on the same bandwagon, it’s not going to happen.

Something has to give in this busy season, and even 5x/week doesn’t feel doable let alone 7.

And, since I love order and schedules, posting when I “feel” like it doesn’t really suit me. So I’ve eased back to 3x/week. I started the year with a goal of getting to 52 blog posts and this will be #112. But when John bundled up the kids and decided to take them out for the morning, I really just wanted to sit down and write.

So I did. I am an adult after all.

Some things from today, inspired by San’s post (and layout!).

SLEEPING | Another rough night with a random child wake-up at 2:30. I got back to sleep from 5:30-7:30ish, which definitely made me feel worse upon waking but should help me power through the day. I did catch up on my Bible reading (I was 2 days behind) at 4 am, so all was not lost. Thursday night I was out at an event and could not stop yawning (though, wearing a mask, I hope it wasn’t too obvious). Sadly, my stint of insomnia/child disruptions shows no sign of relenting.

EATING | It’s date night. Cue the jazz hands. One meal last weekend included fresh scallops, bacon, and mushrooms with homemade sauce on a bed of noodles. Can’t wait to see what hubby dreams up this week. While everyone was away I used up the rest of the apples to create one of my favourite desserts. I could eat crisp topping by the bowlful. It’s currently sitting in the fridge and I can’t wait to pop this in the oven and have the smells of fall permeate the house. Apple and cinnamon (with a nice dose of sugar) for the win.

MAKING | Other than Halloween costumes? LEGO. And these muffins on repeat (I’m sure I’ve made this recipe several hundred times now).

#1 Dad LEGO creation we made last week.

READING | Not much. Anne of Green Gables with the kids. Grateful Kae suggested a few to add to my reading list and I’ve already ordered one of those from my library. Lots of picture books (because I’m going to be checking those out until the kids are 30 years old because they are my happy place). I do have a copy of Russ Harris’ The Illustrated Happiness Trap on my bedside table because I got so much out of the full-length version, but I’ve not made much headway yet.

Freshly re-stocked library haul of picture books. No matter how hard I try, I always walk out with WAY more books than intended.

ENJOYING | I love to laugh and this National Post article is the funniest thing I’ve read in a long time.

EXERCISE | September I ran every day! In October I’ve run twice (including today). It’s been a weird few months with exercise. Now that the kids are back in school we’re walking ~4km every weekday, and I try to fit in at least one long (>6 km) walk with a friend each week. But in terms of running, it feels far from a habit. In keeping with Laura Vanderkam’s belief that doing anything 3x per week makes it a habit, in November I’m going to aim to run 3x/week. Every day doesn’t feel doable, but I DO want running to be a habit. I’m not convinced I’ll make it, but today was a start.

I was planning to run down the hill and along a nice flat path to meet the family. At the bottom of the big hill I realized I was only 98% certain I had turned off the stove burner. So my longer, downhill/flat run, became a very short, mostly uphill run. And yes, the element was off.

HALLOWEEN | Those massive pumpkins have been transformed into an October snowman! I had no hand in this project whatsoever and it exceeded my expectations. Gold stars to the kids + John. I do wish the exterior renos had happened before Halloween so Mr. Frosty didn’t have to hang out in front of the 2/3 dismantled house facade, but he’s a cheery addition to the chaos.

Also, because it’s supposed to be rainy AND windy tomorrow night, we got the kids geared up in their costumes when it was bright and sunny and beautiful (everything one could hope for in a fall day) to get nice outdoor photos. Abby’s costume will be ruined in seconds if the downpour materializes!

In that lovely afternoon weather, we spent a fun 30 minutes decorating a neighbours driveway with Halloween-themed chalk messages and pictures. I was quite proud of my freehand pumpkin…

CHRISTMAS | After reading one too many articles about how delayed things were going to be this year, I hopped on the Christmas gift bandwagon. My Vistaprint order arrived earlier this week with our holiday cards and calendars, and I’ve put in a few orders from Amazon. The rest I’ll piece together locally. Today involved wrapping. It’s a nuisance to get set up, so I try to do this in relatively large batches. It feels good to know I have some things already wrapped and it gave me a better sense of what I had managed to stockpile during the year (I often start buying gifts 12 months out…and can forget what I’ve already nabbed on sale).

Everything in my stash is wrapped and stowed away in the guest-room closet.

While John was out with the kids he tackled buying items for the Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes. We’ve been packing these for a decade now, and we have each kid pack a box for a similarly aged child. Levi was content to let Abby and I do the organizing, and it’s always so much fun!

PLANNING | November is going to be…intense. The kids only have a single full week of school. There are some trips for work. There are renos (have mercy). Levi has a birthday. My paper calendar looks pretty empty right now, but my digital calendar is filling up fast. Still trying to keep things minimal for the holidays and enjoying white space where I can find it. Definitely going to have to remind myself to make things easy when I can. Can anyone say cereal for supper?

I really set up shop this morning in the dining room. Bible Study, coffee, laptop, and daytimer. I’m set.

KEEPING IT REAL | And just to pan out on the serene scene above…here is the rest of the table this morning. Treat bags (two friends who will be away over Halloween brought loaded goodie bags for the kids – including homemade cookies which make a cameo in this shot)…as if they weren’t going to get enough on Sunday night! There is also the: audiobook phone, a random glass of water from breakfast, John’s hat, Abby’s nutrition label (to glue on to her KD costume), a random mini dish from pumpkin seeds, an extra pad of scratch paper, salt and pepper, and my Yeti which is mysteriously missing its lid. Thankfully, these items DO all have a place, so it’s mess not clutter.

Chores: Outsourcing, What the Kids Do, and other General Q&A

I really enjoyed my weekly series on food a few months back (which even got a shout-out from one of my favourite bloggers – Sarah Hart-Unger). I’ve tackled travel on a budget and spent a week talking about clutter. This time I thought I’d delve into the never-ending world of household chores, kicking things off with a short Q&A.

What Do You outsource?

Really the only thing we consistently outsource is house cleaning. For the last 18 months (as COVID regulations have allowed) we have hired someone to deep clean the house. Every two weeks someone comes to do the floors, blitz the bathrooms and, every so often, dust the fan blades. If we include the basement floors and bathroom, we budget for 3 hours, but typically 2 hours is long enough to do the main floor.

I spend about an hour prepping beforehand. I do all the dusting, we pull things up off the floor (chairs, garbage cans, random detritus in kid bedrooms). This feels slightly like hiring a dog and barking myself, but I don’t really mind this prep work.

Having extra support with the cleaning maintenance has been wonderful. Admittedly, after about 24 hours, the floors already show the wear and tear of life, and the bathroom mirrors are speckled with toothpaste. But I know it’s been clean, and nothing gets grimy. It’s mostly superficial dirt!

The last two summers we’ve largely outsourced lawn care; we’re still in the middle of exterior renovations and we have a lot of landscaping work to be done. It’s not an easy lawn to mow right now and between vacations and an arm injury and lack of time (we’d rather be adventuring), we had someone come 2x/month to mow as well. This winter I think we’ll look to have the same person come with their snowplow and clear the driveway after really big storms. In the grand scheme of things, it’s very reasonably priced and since we save in so many areas, these are places that we can choose to “splurge” and give ourselves the gift of time.

What do the kids do?

We don’t have a set chore routine; there are no charts, no stickers, and no specific schedule of when certain things get done. I mostly have to remind the kids to do their various jobs, but they tend to comply without too much complaining (yes, there is definitely some). I’ve talked a bit about this topic before in terms of kids clutter and how they help keep things under control.

Levi (~7 years old):

  • is responsible for general tidying in his room. I’ll get him to clean up LEGO every few weeks (but it’s downstairs and there is almost always a current project going, so I don’t care too much).
  • collects the garbage cans. Every week (usually Thursday, since garbage day is Friday), he brings all the garbage cans out to the kitchen. I handle combining/disposing of the garbage, but he is responsible for taking the cans back to their respective rooms when I’m done.
  • helps clean off the table; sometimes we’ll have him do everything, sometimes just his own dishes.
  • now puts away his laundry. It is sorted and left in a neat pile in the laundry room but he is responsible for getting it and putting it away. Once a week or so I “straighten” up his drawers, because things tend to get shoved into spots that are already full or hung very precariously on hangers in his closet, but it’s done and I don’t have to do it!

Abby (~10.5 years old):

  • is responsible for the dishwasher. This is her biggest job. Every 1-2 days she has to empty clean dishes (for the most part, an adult loads items into the dishwasher). She doesn’t love this job, and I always let her know when it’s done (i.e. she doesn’t take it upon herself to check if it needs doing). I don’t run it until it’s relatively full, and I think it would be ideal if she could count on a set schedule – say every day when she got home from school – but it’s not and I just let her know when it needs doing.
  • also puts away her own laundry. More neatly than Levi, but as she should at nearly 11!
  • also helps clear the table.

How do you balance chores with work and fun?

There is always something to be done. Sometimes things just need to be left undone, and I’m trying to come to peace with that (I’m having mixed success on that front).

A few things that help:

  1. Have less stuff. Cluttered spaces are generally harder to keep clean. Messy worktops are harder to dust; it takes a lot longer to vacuum a bedroom floor littered in toys.
  2. As much as possible, keep messes localized. I’ll spot vacuum (with our dust buster) around the table every day or so. Then this mess doesn’t get tracked through the whole house, requiring more intensive cleaning everywhere.
  3. Outsource. See above. If it will fit into the budget, consider getting someone to help out with staying on top of house cleaning, laundry, meal prep, stacking wood or yardwork.

While chores can feel…like a chore…I also find them satisfying. They’re part of the rhythm of life and while it can be frustrating to launder the same sets of clothes and wash the same dishes and empty the same garbage cans, there is an element of productivity and satisfaction. I don’t grow my own vegetables or sew my own clothes; some of the working subsistence practices from previous generations don’t apply to me. But I can still find comfort and a sense of accomplishment from staying on top of the daily – admittedly mundane – chores of organizing a household.

Also, I think chores can also be a cue for gratitude. James Clear talks about changing “I have to” sentences into “I get to” sentences. Instead of “I have to do laundry…again” we can recast this into the realization “I get to do laundry again” which might trigger a swell of thanks that we have clothing, or easy access to water in which to wash our clothes, or gratitude for a modern washing machine without a washboard or handwringer in sight; “I have to cook supper” can become “I get to cook supper” which means there is enough food in the fridge to feed the family or feelings of gratitude that you have someone with whom to share meals.

4. And, like I said in my very first blog post: let’s not let the perfect get in the way of the good, or the done! A 15-second wipe-down of the bathroom counter with a baby wipe can be almost as good as a 5 minute deep dive with cleaners and special equipment.

A Day in the Life (Circa October 2021)

Years ago I was a guest blogger for a Day in the Life series (sadly, I can’t actually find the link to that post and don’t even remember the name of the blog). It was a lot of fun…and also a completely different season of life. Abby was still having milk in sippy cups each morning; Levi was just a dream in our future.

I don’t miss that season but also, I miss that season. The sweet little cheeks and zippered pajamas and morning snuggles and soothers and wobbly first steps.

Days now are busy in a different way. No sippy cups or diapers, but lots of activities to juggle. Extracurriculars are just starting to ramp up for the fall; I think we’re – comparatively – an unscheduled family, but even still our calendars fill up quickly

There are also no naps and as much as I loathed naps (literally the very first thought that crossed my mind when I found out I was pregnant with Levi was: “Oh no, I have to do naps again!”), they were a great way to break up the day.

Also, early bedtimes. I can’t believe a few years ago the kids were asleep by 6:30 pm each night. I didn’t know what I had coming. It’s not unusual for one of the kids to still be awake in their rooms when I’m falling asleep.

This post covers specific life happenings on 19 October 2021, an overcast and cool Tuesday, but I’ll fill in details about how our schedule generally shakes down during weekdays.

6:30-6:45: Wake up

We all woke up a bit early this morning, so while John got Levi showered (I am not great about staying on top of regular bathing for the kids), I set up shop in bed with my laptop and started clearing out the inbox accumulation from the previous evening/overnight. There was some low-hanging fruit that I tackled immediately and I read through the rest so I had an idea of what to triage when the dust settled from our morning routine. I also read my Bible for the day (using The One Year Bible). I checked the temperature (6 degrees, brrrr) and dressed appropriately for the conditions, made the bed, and was out the bedroom door before 7 am.

About once a week or so I’ll get up around 6 am, slip out to the living room and read my Bible or tackle some communications. But most of the time I succumb to the warmth and comfort of bed until close to 7 am. When I manage it, though, even getting up 15 minutes before the breakfast routine feels like a huge win. Apparently not enough of a “win” to sacrifice sleep, though. I know about all the early-morning high achieving types, but I have just never been an early morning person. In an ideal world, I’d sleep until at least 7:30 am every morning, but that is many, many years away.

I almost never set an alarm. We just always wake up (or get woken up by the kids). Someday we’re all going to wake up at 8:30 am, incredibly well-rested and late for work and school. Until that time, I just let the kids/the sunlight wake me up.

7:00 – 7:50: Breakfast + prep for school

Because of how our Atlantic time zone currently aligns with Australia, John has an important work call at 7 am Tuesday mornings. While he paced around talking (and helping prep bookbags), Abby emptied the dishwasher. I’m going to write more about chores soon, but this is Abby’s main household responsibility.

It was an oatmeal day, so I helped carry hot bowls from the microwave and prepped Levi’s (cinnamon, lots of banana, milk, a bit of brown sugar and a sprinkle of chocolate chips). Abby does her own from scratch now and I love this breakfast independence!

We needed laundry started, so I sent Abby down to put on a load, while I did some final lunchbox prep.

Getting up a bit earlier this particular Tuesday was great, but generally it feels like there is not quite enough buffer. It’s not because we have that much to accomplish (I almost always have lunchboxes ready the night before), but everyone is slower and more sluggish and no one is particularly keen to brush teeth or hair, load the dishwasher and put on socks.

Getting the kids in socks is a daily battle.

While the kids eat (most often oatmeal, their favourite, or cereal/toast) we go over their weekly memory verse for Bible Club, read a Bible story, and then I read a chapter from whatever book we’re working through or grab a few picture books from our weekly library haul.

Right now we’re reading Anne of Green Gables and the kids are all in.

7:50-8:30: Walk to school + return

From a different day (when Levi had a friend in tow), but I love to see the crew walking past the bus that could transport them to school. Fresh air and exercise and lots of laughing with friends is just such a great start to the day!

John is able to take his call while walking, so he set out with Levi first while I locked up and donned my headband and finger gloves. I get cold easily, so always need to be mindful of the conditions and wear lots of layers. I had to run to catch up with Abby which helped warm me up despite the chilly temperatures. We were quickly joined by one of her friends so it was a happy family crew +1. For 5 blissful minutes, I walked in the middle of the two groups and enjoyed peace and quiet. Then I caught up with John and Levi and since John was occupied on a call, Levi was happy to walk with me and we had a great chat the rest of the way to school, culminating in a footrace which left me extra toasty.

Finger-glove, hat, and puffer-coat weather has arrived in the East.

He beat me, as he always does. That boy is fast.

It’s about 20 minutes to get to school on foot, and we aim to do this every morning. It’s a huge source of happiness for our family and a great way to start the day. Plus, it means before I make the first cup of coffee, I’ve already walked about 5 km.

9:00-2:30: Work + home management

I take most video calls at the dining room table (because we can’t both be on calls in the office at the same time).

With a recent uptick in my work responsibilities, the time after getting home until bus pickup is all about work. I moved the laundry over to the dryer (the washer completed its cycle while we were away), heated up a mug of tea, and settled in to work on e-mails. I manage three different streams of communications/distinct working roles; while I try to keep the streams separate, realistically I am often toggling back and forth between these three areas simultaneously. I worked through to 10 am, and hopped on my first call.

This virtual meeting was wonderful. I had been confused and stressed by a daunting responsibility that seemed beyond my skillset. I got some much-needed encouragement, along with practical support which left me feeling better positioned to be successful on the project. We tackled everything on my meeeting agenda and I left feeling like I had a clear action plan for next steps.

I went immediately into another meeting, switching hats (figuratively) as I went. This second call was also great as I shared the results of months-long work and negotiations on a particular project. After I gave my presentation and assessment of the situation, one of the attendees actually awarded me “brownie points.” Am I too old to admit this comment boosted my mood for the whole day?

I typically don’t eat much lunch (I have struggled with energy issues for years and really do find that intermittent fasting helps me battle against morning fatigue), so try to power through lots of jobs in this time. This Tuesday I felt hungry, though, so had an apple, sparkling water (lime), a coconut flour PB ball, and about 1/4 cup of pumpkin seeds. Just enough food to give me an energy boost, but not enough to trigger an afternoon slump. After 2 hours of intensive video calls, I actually took a lunch “break” and spent 30 minutes on creative writing projects, and then worked through my daily Bible Study (I’m participating in a 7-week study with my local church, which has 5 weekly at-home study sessions which take about 30 minutes to complete).

Then back to work, this time in the downstairs office, until 2:30, when it was time to completely shift gears…

My corner of the basement office. I often have my laptop going which functions as a 3rd monitor and helps me compartmentalize different work tasks.
John has his own corner (it’s a big room), and it’s really nice to have lots of space for each of us to work while maintaining a sense of closeness during the day. He spends a lot of time on calls, so noise-canceling headphones (for both of us) are a must. The picture cuts out the other half of the built-ins, all covered in Stars Wars LEGO (with one lone construction set from a corporate team-building exercise). Also: note the standing desk mat. We’ve had this for a few years and it is just so handy. It’s topographic so has ridges and bumps where you can stand and position your feet to relieve pressure while standing.

2:50-5:00: kids return + activities

I typically walk to meet the kids at the bus stop and then we’ll saunter home together. Abby often walks ahead and checks the mail. When we get home, we unload bookbags…and then comes the task of filling the time. The kids tend to be on the grumpy side with each other and want to play with friends (which only works if they stay separate).

Lately I’ve been trying to structure this time with off-site activities. We’ll go visit a friend, go for a longish drive, do errands. Instead of me fitting these jobs/duties/activities in while the kids are in school, I figure they might as well come along. Also, extracurriculars are ramping up in the next few weeks so 1-2 afternoons a week will be filled, for Abby at least, by different clubs/lessons.

This Tuesday, we had a birthday gift to deliver to a friend who lives out of town. Levi ended up arranging a spontaneous playdate at the bus stop, so Abby and I headed out alone. It was lovely. We stopped at the post office to deal with some packages that had accumulated. Next up was the birthday parcel delivery, which morphed into a relaxing 45-minute visit complete with homemade cake and warm cider. On the way home, we stopped at a consignment store to drop off a bag of toys and kids’ clothing. Hooray – another giant bag of things out of the house. Plus I had $25 on my account.

Our final stop was the grocery store. I like to shop at least twice a week; this way I can buy fewer things each time, it takes a lot less energy to put things away, and I buy less fresh produce in bulk, so things don’t spoil in the fridge (I love to have a near-empty fridge).

It is so much easier to do errands with only one kid in tow. Also, Abby is such a practical help at the grocery store. She asks to go off to get specific items, insists on pushing the cart (but can do this capably enough that she needs no supervision, so my hands stay free the whole time), and she loves loading items on the belt and then bagging scanned items. This grocery order also involved buying some newborn-sized diapers for a friend’s little baby. We dropped off the diapers, enjoyed some baby cuddles and collected Levi in time to get home for supper at 5:30.

5:00-7:30: Supper + cleanup + bedtime

If it’s Friday night…supper is waffles.

Supper this Tuesday was leftover meatballs, rice, peas, salad/raw veggies and hummus. The meatballs were in the slow cooker and I just needed to microwave the rest. Meatballs are a family favourite, so there was not a crumb left on anyone’s plates. Always a very satisfying feeling.

We try to eat supper by 5:30ish, depending on John’s work schedule. This never takes as long as it should – the kids usually devour their food so they can get outside to play with friends. Post-supper time tends to be unstructured and a lot more casual. While the kids help remove items from the table, I work on kitchen cleanup while they play. Depending on the weather, their moods, and my energy levels we start the bedtime routines around 7:15, but this can vary. I like to have them settled by 7:30, but that rarely happens anymore. They both love to come out for water, bathroom breaks, or to let me know some toy got broken, a tooth is wiggly, etc.

John works at least two evenings a week. This Tuesday was one of his working evenings, but after supper he had enough time to listen to Levi’s reading homework, help make Levi’s bed (we’d done his sheets in the morning wash), and see that he got dressed/teeth got brushed. Meanwhile, Abby headed off to find a friend and came home successful, so they worked on art projects in her room for an hour without any need for parental input.

While the kids were entertained – by John/a friend – I tackled prep of Wednesday’s supper: chili. We don’t usually have this much hamburger in a week, but I had bell peppers and spinach I wanted to use up and hamburger was on sale…so for about an hour I worked on prepping chili for the slowcooker (I turned it on Wednesday morning and let it simmer all day), clearing up all the dishes, and doing some lunchbox prep.

After John headed down to the office, Levi and I worked on a word search together at the dining room table, which was very fun! Once Abby’s friend headed home, I gathered the kids in our bed for some picture books and prayers and then had them head to bed (where they proceeded to talk to each other through the heating vents until I told them to pipe down).

8:00-10:00: Work/leisure/bedtime prep

By 8:00, I really want the kids to be in their rooms. This doesn’t always happen, but I start losing patience with interruptions about this point. I then either tackle lingering work tasks, do a bit more cleanup, or pursue some leisure activity. Writing for the blog, reading a book, texting friends, talking with John. When I have the energy, I love taking a hot shower before bedtime.

This Tuesday, I actually had a lot of work tasks that had piled up between 2:45 (when I logged off) and 8:00 (when I logged back on). I usually check in on things periodically throughout the afternoon and put out any urgent fires, but since I had been on the road with Abby, then supper, then cleanup and meal prep, I dedicated an hour in the office working on some reports, checking calculations, setting up calendar reminders for action items, and sending a slew of e-mails.

I wrapped up my computer time by spending a few minutes tackling a creative holiday project on Vistaprint.

I make family calendars for my parents + inlaws, and I had received some pictures from a sister and brother that needed to be incorporated. I did this and finished off the calendar! I had a coupon code that expired on Saturday, so I really wanted to get this done. *I finalized this order a few days later (enjoying 33% off + free shipping. Such a great feeling as I am officially feeling behind on holiday shopping, though I’m hoping for it to be extra minimal this year, focusing on experience-based gifts as much as possible.

John and I debriefed about the day while relaxing in the downstairs family room, and then enjoyed a scalding shower. When I make the time for this, I never regret feeling clean and warm before climbing into bed.

We often watch some sort of sitcom right before bed, and recently finished Parks and Rec for the umpteenth time. This particular Tuesday it was back to the very first episode of Seinfeld! Running 9 seasons, there is lots of fodder.

3-4 nights of the week I’ll read for 30 minutes or so, instead of watching something.

10:00-11:00: Bedtime

I have made a concerted effort to stick to a 10:30 pm bedtime and that’s exactly when I shut everything down this Tuesday.

That said, I’ve been realized it’s fine to aim for a range. I try to turn the light off between 10:00-11:00. Some nights I’m exhausted and fall asleep by 9:30 (actually Monday, 18 October, I was asleep by 9:15), but generally find I’ve managed to unwind enough to get to sleep at some point before 11:00.

When I have a hard time getting – or staying – asleep, I’ll tackle a project. Finishing a book, working on photo organization, getting ahead on work tasks.

*PERIODIC insomnia*

In general, I’m a good sleeper, but 4-5 times a month (often around the full moon cycle, which my Mom always swears is a legit sleep disturbance) I will wake up at some point during the night and won’t be able to get back to sleep. I always feel like there is too much I want to do and too little time (this is true!) and I actually count on having these nights of disturbed sleep to catch up. This particular Tuesday, I slept from 10:30-3:15 and then woke up feeling wide awake. I rested for 30 minutes or so and when I was sure sleep wasn’t coming any time soon, grabbed my robe and a fluffy blanket, and settled in on the downstairs couch to work on this blog post!

Casual Friday + Love of the Week

  • I’m not that “in” to Halloween. My family never decorated growing up, and I like to keep my focus on Christmas. That said, I put up our pumpkin mini-lights last week, and everyone in the house keeps commenting on them. A thrift store find years ago, I leave the mini-light string up all year round (incorporating it into our mantle swag at Christmas), but slip the plastic pumpkin covers on for October. It’s the little things. And this is, literally, the only decorating I do for Halloween/fall.
  • I do succumb to checking out a few fall/Halloween-themed books. The one pictured above, The Witch Who Was Afraid of Witches is one of my favourites, and we’ve read it for years (in true minimalist fashion, I don’t actually own the book, we just get it from the library). We also got Arthur’s Halloween, by Marc Brown, which was the only Halloween book I owned growing up. Talk about a blast from the past.
  • Last weekend was great. Church was great. Date nights were great. Sunday-morning coffee (I’m off caffeine during the week now) was great.
  • Monday had a rough start with some credit card hassles (fradulent charges), work challenges, so many sets of paperwork to complete I was about ready to cry and a 1 am child wakeup. Tuesday and Wednesday were great. Busy, but productive. Relaxed in the right ways. Then Thursday hit me like a freight train. Another restless night (3 out of 4, so cumulative exhaustion), and I ended up so exhausted, so overwhelmed and frazzled that some of the jobs I usually feel very competent to handle felt onerous. I guess this is all to say – a week can really cycle through all the emotions. Onward and upward.
  • I got a haircut! It had been almost a year. Between COVID and laziness, it was very overdue. It’s short. But I know it will grow out quickly, and it will be such a treat to wash and dry 1/3 of the amount of hair for a while!
  • Stage 2 of renos is supposed to start next week. I’m getting nervous. I know there will be lots of decisions, we’ll hit snags, and things will take longer and cost more than we’re anticipating. But, sometimes the only way through is through, and I’m trying to take anxiety as a cue for gratitude and, on this score, I should be overwhelmed with gratitude! The renovations will make our home warmer and safer and a lot nicer (from the outside) on the eyes! After 4 years of living in a quasi-permanent “needs” reno state, it will be wonderful to have this major set of upgrades behind us. Here’s to getting through…
  • Date-night supper for the kids. We feed them separately each Saturday and Sunday evening to accommodate an in-home date-night. On the menu for them this week: Cheesy omelets with veggies, dip and a ketchup smile. They were thrilled – with nary a complaint about the veggies.

love of the week: My quotes book

Since I graduated from high school I’ve been keeping track of quotes from various books I read. I’ve maintained an enormous document which – over the course of this summer and early fall – I’ve been reorganizing and downsizing. I culled a lot of quotes (and now feel slightly guilty about this!), did some basic reorganizing, and then printed off a few copies, going with the same publisher I’ve been using for photobooks (and family updates) – Blurb.

It includes quotes on parenting, spiritual growth, grief/pain, work/creativity, productivity/time management, and lots more. I’ve really enjoyed reading back through all the quotes I selected, a few pages each night. I’m often left nodding my head at some nugget of wisdom someone (far wiser than me!) dropped within the pages of their book.

It’s not going to win any awards and as soon as it arrived I noticed loads of things I wish I had adjusted. But I really did aim to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good (or the done). It’s decidedly imperfect, but it’s a great starting point. And, it’s another of my 2021 goals checked off. As a form of memory keeping (my reading history over 20 odd years), it also aligns nicely with my values!