I Checked My Phone 89 Times on 19 December. Or, Why We Might Need To Break Up With Our Phones

I have a love-hate relationship with my iPhone. On one hand, I appreciate having the world at my fingertips: a state-of-the-art camera, instant connection to the people I love (for both meaningful conversations and to facilitate the sharing of hilarious memes), a flashlight, timer, dictionary, and even an app (that I downloaded on an island in the middle of nowhere, I might add) to alert me to the fact that yes, in fact, my son had been playing in poison ivy for almost an hour. Cue facepalm.

But I hate that I turn to it for mindless entertainment. I hate that I turn to it to numb me from the stress and anxiety of parenting and a pandemic and renovations (even though, paradoxically enough, I often end up reading the news which does nothing to bolster my mood). I hate that I pick it up over and over and over again each day – to check the weather, look up lyrics to a song, or to Google “How many toilet paper rolls – jumbo size – would it take to circumnavigate the Earth.” You know, incredibly important tasks of that ilk.

I hate that I can be distracted when the kids are trying to interact with me – often under the guise of helping them (texting parents to arrange playdates, for example). I hate that I reach for it first thing in the morning and that I feel panicked if I head out to run errands and realize I’ve left it home on the counter.

I say all this and yet I think I actually have a lot of well-established boundaries with my phone. I don’t text while driving, don’t have any social media apps (which makes sense because I don’t have any social media accounts!), and generally keep my daily screen time below 2 hours (and most weeks this hovers around the 1 hour/day mark).

I’ve decluttered my home screen, leaving only a handful of apps, and I try to only check e-mail on my phone a few times a day. I deleted all my news apps years ago, so have to navigate to physical web addresses each time (which does help lessen my news consumption, but I still head to news sites more than would be advisable given the general tone of coverage).

But, but, but…

I can tell there is significant room for improvement. I know there are ways to decrease my screen time and, more importantly to me right now, improve how I feel when I walk away from time on my digital device.

I talk with my family a lot about things being net-negative or net-positive. I think, despite all the upsides, social media is a net-negative experience for almost all users (and I believe the mental health statistics from the last decade would back me up on this). Most technologies have positives and negatives, and it’s all about assessing the net result. For example, washing machines can break down clothing fibers far more quickly than hand-washing, but I can think of a dozen reasons why I’m not rushing to eBay to source a washboard and lye soap anytime soon. To me, a washing machine falls neatly into the net-positive category.

But right now, despite my best efforts and “good” habits, my phone feels like a net-negative. I think it has less to do with the amount of time (quantity) and more to do with the function of that time (quality).

I just finished reading How To Break Up With Your Phone by Catherine Price. Instead of trying to summarize everything she said, I’m just going to discuss some of the key takeaways I wrote down while reading the book (it’s short, readable, very practical, and I would highly recommend it to anyone that wants to revisit their relationship with smartphones) + some direct quotes.

Action items I’m implementing

  1. I’ve put a hair elastic around my phone as a tangible/sensory reminder to me to pay attention each time I pick up my phone. She calls this sort of thing “speed bumps” – little reminders that slow us down and either make time on our phones seem less efficient/attractive or, at the very least, leave us aware that we’ve reached for our phone again. [She also suggests changing the picture on the lock screen to something like “Notice” or a taking a picture of a piece of paper – bonus points if someone you love is holding it up – that reads: “Why did you pick me up?”I love my current picture (of the hubby and I on vacation) too much to do that, but I still thought it was a good idea.]
  2. Use the WWW prompt. Price suggests we ask ourselves the following questions when we’re reaching for our phone: What For (Why am I picking up the phone?Name a specific purpose – to order underwear on Amazon, to look up reviews on a new restaurant, to kill time?), Why Now (Is it practical – to take a picture of something; is it situational – am I on an awkward elevator ride; is it emotional – I want a distraction?), and What Else (What else could I be doing instead of turning to my phone?)?
  3. Pick a new charging spot. I’m a bit stymied by this one, but will report back when I find a better location than my bedside table which certainly doesn’t help me avoid the last-thing-at-night/first-thing-in-the-morning phone usage. For the last few days I’ve been leaving my phone on the dresser and not charging it until it gets low. A happy by-product of using my phone less – it doesn’t need to be charged every day and I can always plug it in first thing in the morning, which will make it less convenient to over-consume in the first place.
  4. Track total pickups. I think I have a pretty good handle on total time (I like this to be about an hour, and am generally within 20 minutes or so of this, but can definitely spike over 2 hours without much effort, especially if I’ve had a tough day). I think my bigger issue is how often I reach for my phone and how that short check-in with texts can morph into 30 minutes catastrophizing about COVID and climate change and politics on the BBC news website. In my defence of the screenshot below – some of the 89 pick-ups on December 18th are related to preparing all the verses for our Christmas gifts; the fact that the Bible app was responsible for at least 17 of those pickups has to count for something! Also, I don’t mind seeing a high Camera count because that is one of my favourite uses for the phone. The issue is I’ll open up my camera and then see a text and then enter a search string and…you know how the rest of this story goes, right?

QUotes that stood out

“Smartphones…nag us. They disturb us when we’re working. They demand our attention and reward us when we give it to them. Smartphones engage in disruptive behaviors that have traditionally been performed only by extremely annoying people.”

  • I bolded that last bit because…it literally made me laugh out loud.

“When we check our phones, we occasionally find something satisfying – a complimentary e-mail…an interesting piece of news. The resulting burst of dopamine makes us begin to associate the art of checking our phones with the receipt of a reward. Similarly, there are times when checking your phone out of anxiety really does leave you feeling soothed. 

Once that link has been established, it doesn’t matter if we’re rewarded only one time out of every fifty. Thanks to dopamine, our brains remember that one time. And instead of dissuading us, the fact that we can’t predict which of our fifty checks is going to be rewarding makes us check our phones even more. 

Want to know another device that uses intermittent rewards to drive compulsive behavior? Slot machines.

In fact, the similarities between the two devices are so powerful that Harris [who wrote an article titled: How Technology is Hijacking Your Mind] frequently compares smartphones to slot machines [considered to be one of the most addictive devices ever invented] we keep in our pockets.”

  • Okay, this hits close to home. I actually spent a year of my Master’s using classic Pavlovian conditioning – on honeybees, not humans or dogs, admittedly – and my all-time favourite clip from the office is the Altoid exchange between Dwight and Jim. In other words: I should recognize this pattern and know better.

[Referring to social media and “likes”]: “Put this all together, and it makes sense that spending a lot of time on social media could be associated with depression and lower self-esteem. What doesn’t make sense is that we are deliberately choosing to relive the worst parts of middle school.

  • This also made me laugh because…it’s so relatable. Middle school (and high school, too) are just so objectively tough and awkward when it comes to the judgement of a few, specific “popular” people we admire for their perceived status who don’t care about our emotional wellbeing. And now, as a society, we are so often willingly opening ourselves up to the same sort of critique!?

“…a New York Times analysis calculated that as of 2014, Facebook users were spending a collective 39,757 years’ worth of attention on the site, every single day. It’s attention that we didn’t spend on our families, or our friends, or ourselves. And just like time, once we’ve spent attention, we can never get it back. 

This is a really big deal, because our attention is the most valuable thing we have. We experience only what we pay attention to. We remember only what we pay attention to. When we decide what to pay attention to in the moment, we are making a broader decision about how we want to spend our lives.”

  • I am so easily distracted, not just by my phone but I think largely because of it; because I’ve wired myself to short bursts of attention, to supposed “multitasking” and to always feeling like I need to be doing…something. Can anyone else see parallels with Oliver Burkeman’s productivity trap discussion?

“…if you wanted to invent a device that could rewire our minds, if you wanted to create a society of people who were perpetually distracted, isolated, and overtired, if you wanted to weaken our memories and damage our capacity for focus and deep thought, if you wanted to reduce empathy, encourage self-absorption, and redraw the lines of social etiquette, you’d likely end up with a smartphone. “

  • Hmmm. She’s clearly not holding back any punches in this quote.

“Most of the things we do on our phones – reading the news, playing games – are stimulating activities. Imagine how difficult it would be to doze off if all of the people you follow on social media were in the room with you, the television was blaring in the background, and several friends were having a political debate. That’s essentially what you’re doing when you bring your phone into bed with you.”

  • I thought this was a great perspective/unique way of visualizing the problem. I have definitely caught myself going to my phone for one final “check-in” before bed and seeing a challenging work e-mail, depressing news story or frustrating text…and then not being able to get it off my mind.

“We learn to stay with the uneasiness, the tightening, the itch of [our cravings]. We train in sitting still with our desire to scratch. This is how we learn to stop the chain reaction of habitual patterns that otherwise will rule our lives.” Pema Chodron

  • I read about something similar in Russ Harris’ The Happiness Trap (also highly recommend) where he talks about surfing the urge. This could be related to overconsumption of food or getting angry at your kids or, in this case, the urge to pick up a smartphone. Being conscious of the urge (or itch) is part of the solution – once we’re aware of the triggers we can actually tune into the feedback our body is giving us (physical and mental clues) and simply try to ride it out.

“The point of breaking up with our phones isn’t to deprive ourselves of the benefits of modern technology. It’s to set boundaries so that we can enjoy the good parts of our phones while also protecting ourselves from the bad.”

  • How true! There is SO much good about phone technology and I appreciate the fact this book isn’t designed to be a giant guilt-trip.

The difference between technology and slavery is that slaves are fully aware that they are not free.” Nassim Nicholas Taleb

  • Again, it’s about awareness. And too often I pick the phone up out of habit, not with a true sense of purpose in mind (or, if my purpose is clear, I quickly forget it with notifications and pinging notifcations).

[Quote from a participant in the author’s focus group]: “Checking your phone is like picking your nose: there’s nothing wrong with it, but no one should have to watch you do it.” Alex

  • Made me laugh, while also being insightful.

“At first you’re likely to feel physically and emotionally twitchy, as if your brain is banging on a door that usually opens, and panicking when it realizes that it’s locked.”

  • Again, I liked this imagery. We get so used to reaching for our phone in a lineup or when we’re angry or overwhelmed or scared or bored or tired; also, it’s another reminder to sit still with the “itch.”

“It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who, in the midst of the crowd, keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

  • I am an introvert. I think I’ve come to realize the importance of this aspect of my personality more and more (likely compounded by the fact, for many months, there was very little chance for solitude with pandemic lockdowns and a young family at home). I like stillness and solitude and communion with God and spending time in nature, and need to be more proactive about seeking this out each and every day, even when I can’t necessarily carve out solo time.

Phew…that was a big, long post.

What are your thoughts about phones/screentime? Anything you’re looking to change in 2022 or any “hacks” you’ve successfully implemented to improve your interactions with your smartphone?

Header photo by Benjaminrobyn Jespersen on Unsplash

The Days Are Long…

Coming home from a family walk last week, I happened to be in the backseat with our precocious, surprisingly deep-thinking, 7-year-old. He looked pensive for a moment (all while perched on his booster seat, with scrawny legs crossed neatly – a truly adorable sight) and then turned to me and said: “You know how some people say 2021 went by very quickly? I think it did too.”

Cue mike drop. A 7-year-old who realizes the profound truth that time flies. 2021 felt like a time vortex; days that felt like eons, but then the reality of the fact that the year sped by like no other. Because – let’s face it – it was (yet another) year that felt like no other.

I’ve written before about my admiration for Gretchen Rubin’s work – I find her material very relatable and have incorporated so many of her life improvement strategies into my daily life that I’ve lost count.

One of her more famous discussions centers around the simplistically profound conclusion that: “The days are long, but the years are short.

Today I’m just going to focus on the first bit because, friends, the days can feel really, really long sometimes.

Our extended break between Christmas and the return to school has been a blessing in many ways; case numbers are relatively high in our province (especially considering we have always had very low infection rates per capita). After a “heavy” year – the word I’ve decided best describes 2021 – I needed the extra breathing room.


It’s ironic, as a mother, how often I feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day…but then also that the hours drag on interminably and there are far too many of them.

Don’t get me wrong – I love my children deeply, but it can sometimes feel very, very hard to fill all those hours.

They wake up early – often before I’ve set my own feet on terra firma. They’re always hungry…but eat fast. They no longer nap and are no longer content to sit still for hours reading books on my lap or cozying up on the floor doing the same puzzle 15 times in a row (thereby allowing me to turn off my brain). Honestly, it’s not that uncommon for them to be awake after I go to bed.

By 8:00 am last Saturday I had: helped with breakfast prep + cleanup, read the daily devotional + finished a chapter in our latest book (an epic account of Ernest Shackleton’s expedition to the Antarctic; Endurance by Alfred Lansing – highly recommend) and fielded about 22 requests for screen time.

By 10:30 am I had gone on a family hike (and snapped more pictures of the festive decor downtown), played two rounds of the board game Sorry, and deflected about 17 more requests for screen time.

By 1:00 pm I had helped prep lunch, gone for another walk (how could I turn down a 10-year-old requesting to go for a walk with her mother?), and settled the kids in their rooms for an hour of quiet time.

There are just so many hours to fill.

We do lots of (good) things. We go outside: we walk and hike and bike and play soccer and visit playgrounds. We play games and build LEGO. We read (a lot). The kids spend hundreds (literally) of hours outside with neighbourhood friends playing soccer and doing chalk art on our quiet little streets. We go skating and we stroll down picturesque streets. We sit around the table by candlelight each night and talk about our day (and endless Harry Potter trivia that is slowly melting my brain). But each activity can only fill…so much time.

We also allow plenty of screen time – some of it with quasi-educational value (drawing off Art for Kids Hub falls in this category to me), most of it not. Disney+ and Netflix have saved my sanity during this pandemic. In the last week my children have watched Encanto exactly 5 1/2 times. I made it through 1/2 the movie and do not need to finish it OR re-watch it. But it does keep them happy for roughly 90 minutes.

90 minutes might seem like a lot, but in the span of a day, a week, a month, a year – I can assure you it’s not.

In addition to 5.5 viewings of Encanto, in the last week they have also watched all three extended editions of The Lord of The Rings trilogy. Like I said, there is plenty of screen time in our house.

I don’t necessarily have a point to all of this, except the observation that sometimes the days can just feel long. Not because they’re particularly bad or hard – and I’m not opposed to kids feeling bored or entertaining themselves or to spending a portion of the day in front of a screen (trust me this plummets significantly when school is in session) – but just because there are so many hours to fill.

Now excuse me while I go put Encanto on…again.

Thoughts? Do you ever feel the same way?

Header photo by Malvestida Magazine on Unsplash

My Own Secret of Adulthood – Not Everything Needs Doing

I really appreciate Gretchen Rubin. I’ve read all her books. I listen to her podcast. I follow her blog. I’ve signed up for her newsletter. I’ve been a Gretchen Rubin groupie for almost a decade now, with no signs of waning.

One of my favourite parts of the first book I read – her bestselling The Happiness Project – was her section titled Secrets of Adulthood. Here she lists a number of things that, on first glance, appear startlingly obvious. Things like:

  • Turning the computer on and off a few times often fixes a glitch.
  • What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while.
  • Bring a sweater.
  • Soap and water remove most stains.
  • The days are long, but the years are short.
  • You can choose what you do; you can’t choose what you like to do.
  • Most decisions don’t require extensive research.
  • No deposit, no return.
  • You can’t profoundly change your children’s natures by nagging them or signing them up for classes.
  • By doing a little bit each day, you can get a lot accomplished.

Sometimes obvious things only become obvious (or relevant) with life experience. I think that’s one of the things about Gretchen Rubin’s list. While they seem obvious (and are) you can only properly internalize the messages once you’ve had a chance to live them.

We learn the hard way that wearing cute shoes is not worth the blisters. We learn through trial and error that going to bed early is almost always the best decision.

Maybe that’s why it’s so frustrating to be a parent? Some of the decisions our children make are so obviously illogical, doomed to failure, or strike us as being downright ridiculous. But they’re not adults yet and having that “Aha” moment can’t be forced down someone’s throat – it has to be lived.

Last week, still mulling over the various nuggets of wisdom from Oliver Burkeman’s Four Thousand Weeks, I thought to myself on a particularly overwhelming day: “I cannot get it all done.” Burkeman has assured me of that.

And then, I thought, “It does not all have to get done.

I cannot get it all done. It does not all have to get done.

There are a lot of things I want to do, many things I should do and a nearly infinite array of things I could do. But I cannot do them all. And they do not all need doing.

I was only rearranging in my own mind something I already know and have discussed but still – it felt like an “aha” moment.

My own little secret of adulthood. Now to remember and apply this wisdom. Now that’s the tricky part.

And, for the record, Gretchen is right. Soap and water do remove most stains.

What about you? Any “Secrets of Adulthood” you’re willing to share?

Giving Some Thought to Contingencies

I like to think I have a relatively good handle on life responsibilities. Sure it’s a juggling act: appointments, work meetings, supper prep, laundry, and getting Aunt Mabel’s birthday card in the mail on time (I don’t actually have an Aunt Mabel, and I don’t even send birthday cards to any of my aunts – or uncles for that matter – but somehow Aunt Mabel sounded like a good representative name).

But ask anyone close to me and they can tell you I’m a worrier by nature. Not just a worrier, but I like to think through 100 (equally unlikely) worst-case scenarios. One day, when John and I were newly engaged, I worked myself up into a frenzy over sushi and someone not having soya sauce at their house. It’s a long story, but suffice to say we still joke about this mental spiral over soya sauce regularly.

So while I’m trying to dial down some of my irrational neuroses (recently, it involved new hardware for our front door, where I spiraled to epic heights over something that had about 0.01% chance of happening)…I have been thinking about the wisdom of thinking through reasonable contingencies. Not out of worry or anxiety, but pragmatic planning for things that have more than a 0.001% chance of happening.

The door and the hardware were just fine…
  • What would I do if the kids were suddenly home for 2 weeks due to a teacher strike (or COVID outbreak, which, it turns out IS currently happening in our area)?
  • What would I do if our dishwasher broke?
  • What would we do if our power went on during a cold snap?
  • What would we do if our basement flooded?

I’m not going to have my kids do dry-runs of at-home learning over the weekends or source a new dishwasher, but maybe when I see a set of Bluetooth headphones that would make it easier for Levi to concentrate on schoolwork if he had to do at-home learning again (perish the thought), I might buy them. Maybe I’d take the time to write down the name of the small appliance repairman my friend mentions in passing. I can check the propane levels for our backup heating source and make sure I have lots of candles and flashlights stockpiled.

Maybe I can pick the stack of books up off the basement floor and store them in a plastic tote. I know that’s where I’m going to be storing wrapped Christmas gifts moving forward.

It can be a delicate balance – not overthinking what might happen, while understanding the importance of being prepared. I don’t have all the answers, but I’m heading off to put in an order for a propane delivery…just to be on the safe side.

What about you? Any contingencies you’ve planned for that you’ve ended up having to fall back on?

2021 Goal Recap + 2022 Forecasting

A few months ago I wrote about my 2021 Goals (it was really fun to go back and revisit this post!) and how I select and track annual goals. This year feels the same, but different – this time I’m brainstorming with my list of values physically printed out in front of me.

As we wind down 2021 (am I the only one ready to wave goodbye?)…I thought it would be fun to revisit some of my 2021 goals and see how I fared.

At the balancing rock. Not a goal, but represents the hikes I did NOT do!

2021 Goals

Run 10KPartialMaxed at 5K for running, but did run every day in September + lots of walking + recorded my highest monthly mileage in June.
Get new running shoesYesIt did involve bringing home (and agonizing over) 4 pairs – I actually made a rating grid to test them out on different features and ran with all of them multiple times on the treadmill – but finally checked this off my list in June. Re-reading the above I sound neurotic, but an uncomfortable pair of shoes is just the worst.
Get two massagesPartialOne in January.
Get away for at least 1 night with JohnYes, yes, yesWent to White Point for 2 nights thanks to his award-winning photograph. And, bonus, the food was included.
Publish 52 blog postsYes, yes, yesWill get to almost 150 by the end of the year. So excited I finally took the plunge on this creative outlet!
Hike the entire Duncan’s Cove Trail NoOverall did a lot less major hiking this year. That’s fine.
Read Great ExpectationsYesFinished January 24.
Re-read the whole Harry Potter series (maybe with Abby)Yes, yes, yesAbby and I both read these books (I read Book #1 aloud to both kiddos) + we’ve listened to the audiobooks + watched all the movies in 2021.
Get to X lbsNoBut I ate healthfully, exercised regularly, and am (mostly) happy where I’m at. I won’t add a specific weight goal for 2022.
Use more stickersYesI put stickers on letters I sent in the mail and placed them in my daytimer on days I had low moods. It was a note of whimsy, and also an easy way to see cyclical patterns, often related to hormone fluctuations.
Print off a book of quotesYesOrdered on October 6. This was a decades-long project and I was so happy to bring it to completion.
Print off 2020 photobookYesFebruary
Get a new house facadeIn progressMajor external renovations happening. New windows + a front door have been installed, additional insulation (our house was built in the 1970’s so the walls are thin and insulation was sparse) has been added, and metal siding and new gutters are currently going up!
Hang something over the couchCan I sneak in a partial?We bought a shelf to go to the left of the couch so that one big wall looks a little less lonely. I think I want to hang a giant mirror over here? It’s been four years of a very blank wall and it’s time to spruce things up!
Go to Amethyst CoveNoSee note above about hiking.
Go downhill skiing at least onceYes, yes, yesWent as a family over March Break and ended up with season passes for 2022 + John bought second-hand gear for the family.
Water fast 24 hours (x5)PartialNever completely a full 24 hours, but lots of intermittent fasting. I think intermittent fasting really does help with my energy levels, but I’m not feeling the need to extend to a full day.
Get rid of spider vein on foreheadIn progressTacked this on to an appointment at the dermatologist. Think it will take another laser treatment. It’s been bothering me for years.
Re-read: Grapes of Wrath, Off the Clock, Bread and Wine, and Gretchen RubinYesI did intend to reread all the Gretchen Rubin books I own and only got around to reading one, but I’m still checking this off as completed. All the rest of the books listed I did re-read.
Go for coffee with someone newYesMet two casual acquaintances at my favourite local coffee shop and have subsequently become a lot closer with both of them!
Get and use an Instant PotNoNot really interested anymore. Another big gadget to store and use and meals are working pretty well lately.


I also keep a running list of things that didn’t necessarily make the “goal” list, but I’m glad to have accomplished in the year. Some highlights from 2021:

Installed a new toilet in the en suite and fixed miscellaneous plumbing issues.
Submitted photos to Saltscapes photo competition (and John won!)
Planned and hosted a birthday party for Abby in March.
My audio question was played (and answered) on Best of Both Worlds. Between this podcast episode + Laura’s surveys for her upcoming Tranquility by Tuesday book, I gathered the momentum to start this blog!
Set up elisabeth-frost.com and started posting regularly (and SHU linked to some of my posts).
Had a call with Laura Vanderkam. As in the author whose book I have on my living room hutch!!! A phone call. With Laura!
Enjoyed another coffee with friend (and local author) Jan Coates.
Survived solo-parenting for the first time since March 2020.
Worked toward an exciting business acquisition opportunity.
Accepted an unexpected job offer pushing me back into the research sphere I left over a decade ago.
Read books with accompanying movies. Highlights included: Anne of Green Gables, Heidi, and The Fantastic Mr. Fox.
Went to NB x3 when the border bubble was open. Had a great time at the lake.
Hosted my father-in-law – whom we hadn’t seen in 2 years – twice!
Participated in a ladies’ Bible Study at our new church.
Almost finished reading the whole Bible again…but then stopped at day 311.
Survived a month-long lockdown + return to at-home learning. The kids spread their proverbial wings with neighbourhood friends.
Hosted A LOT of playdates for the kids + even 2 sleepovers.
Did in-home date nights almost weekly the whole year.

looking ahead to 2022

I’m not sure how long this will make sense (somehow 50 goals in 2050 feels a bit excessive), but I have forged ahead and come up with 22 goals for 2022.

I put my butt in a chair and typed for 15 minutes and this is what I came up with – in no particular order. I’m glad to be starting now so I can ruminate a bit and tweak, remove, or edit. Obviously, I’m not tattooing these to my forehead, so it’s fine to modify the list as I go, but there is something satisfying about listing these intentions at the front of my annual planner and not touching them until year-end. It does feel very reno-heavy still, but 2022 should be the last big “push” in terms of upgrading our home!

Without further ado:

  1. Travel somewhere that requires an airplane. We had to cancel our much-anticipated trip to visit my sister in South Carolina in May 2020. I would love to be able to make it down to see her family, and it would mark Levi’s first trip on an airplane! Obviously, this goal is heavily dependent on COVID (as is much of life, it seems), and with the new variant, I’m also 100% at peace with the fact travel may not happen for a while yet. But it is nice to dream…
  2. Get away alone with John at least twice. Upping the ante for 2022. I would settle for one trip back to Paris, however unlikely (see #1).
  3. Take each child on a special date (not just popping into a coffee shop for a muffin – like an all-day sort of thing).
  4. Go to Grand Lake at least twice over the summer.
  5. Print off a photobook for 2021 (this feels a bit like cheating because I always do this and this particular photobook is already ~75% complete), but it’s my list…so I’m doing it.
  6. Run in an organized race. Doesn’t have to be timed, but something official with other people participating. A 5K Blue Nose event in Halifax, perhaps?
  7. Go out for coffee at least once a month with a friend.
  8. Finish reading (probably just to myself) all the Anne of Green Gables books. It has been almost two decades since I read the complete series.
  9. Get a blog comment from Laura Vanderkam and/or Gretchen Rubin.
  10. Research the steps to starting a podcast (I have a particular friend in mind I’d want to do this with; we joke about this possibility regularly and I’d love to make it a reality someday). This would be for fun, no pressure – just a bit of casual background research. AND/OR be a guest on someone else’s podcast!
  11. Get blinds/curtains for the windows and patio door in the living/dining room.
  12. Have all the bedrooms on the main floor painted. We haven’t painted or done any upgrades to the bedrooms since we moved in so I have no idea how old the existing paint is…but it’s definitely showing it’s age. (Plus get the trim painted and all the touch-ups from renovation work in the living room; bonus points if we get the pink tile in our en suite painted; bonus, bonus points if we introduce a note of whimsy – e.g. a pop of colour – in some of the bedroom closets).
  13. Upgrade electrical outlets on the main floor.
  14. Re-build the carport/expand the entry way. This is a big one, but after only a few months without it I am missing it!
  15. Get one week of meal-delivery kits.
  16. Enjoy at least three soup-and-sandwich oasis visits.
  17. Go out for a nice supper, just adults, when my brother and sister-in-law come from Denmark to visit Canada (COVID restrictions permitting) in the summer. It will be 3.5 years…I think, I’ve lost count?…since we last saw them.
  18. Go to the movies at least once with John and at least once with the kids.
  19. Get better at downhill skiing. Go at least once during the day without kids and go at least once at night to ski under the lights.
  20. Get a pair of (small) hoop earrings. I have never owned a pair of hoops.
  21. Get a dressier, down-filled puffer coat.
  22. Try to make a habit of Sunday-afternoon naps. I’ve had a hard time with Mondays this year, and I think going into the new week with a boost in my energy via a quick, restorative nap would be a great goal for 2022.

Life can take a lot of unexpected twists and turns in the run of a year (or even a day for that matter). I’ll likely have to abandon some of these aspirations, or at least be content for modified versions. But, for now, I say: bring on 2022! We’ll see how long my enthusiasm lasts…

What about you? Any specific goals/plans for the year ahead?

Header photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

This Christmas: Good Things I Don’t Have to Do

The last few weeks have felt especially rough. There have been lots of good moments peppered in but, honestly, life is feeling like a bit of a slog. I can’t put my finger on exactly why – most likely a perfect storm of renovations, work stressors, parenting challenges, hormonal fluctuations, and all this dismal/cold weather. I’m coasting where I can, showering at night, and trying to soak up festive cheer…but I’m feeling pretty low on motivation.

Back on (Canadian) Thanksgiving I wrote about “Good Things I Don’t Have to Do.

It turns out that most of the things I tell myself I have to do…I don’t actually have to do. I think I need to shake myself awake every few weeks with a stern: Elisabeth, you are an adultthis means you get a say in most of the things on your plate!

I recently mentioned to my husband that I had mailed off the Christmas photocards earlier in the day. He expressed appreciation for my efforts (bless him) and then said: “If it were left to me, I wouldn’t send out a single card.” I replied, in complete honesty, “And that would be fine!”

It really would be. Photocards are important to me (even if the process isn’t always entirely pleasant). There will always be a new ornament on Christmas Eve. And, if I have anything to do about it, I will watch White Christmas with my friend Joy every single year. But there are lots of other things that are good and on someone else’s agenda that simply don’t fall on mine (see also Grateful Kae – I’m not the only one!). This year, especially, I’m giving myself lots of grace and realizing what’s fun for someone else doesn’t have to be fun for me – at least in this particular season of life.

good things I don’t have to do this year

  • Make a family Holiday Fun List. Yes, I made one several years in a row. No I don’t have to do it this year. We can still watch Elf, deliver homemade cookies to the neighbours, and drink hot cocoa while looking at Christmas lights even if we don’t cross it off some fancifully designed list.
  • Buy matching family pajamas. This does not appeal to me (in. the. slightest), but I know this is a very common and happy tradition for many families. I track down second-hand (thrift or consignment store) winter/Christmas pajamas and give those to the kids on Christmas Eve. They rarely match (but have occasionally, by coincidence) and it’s just not a big deal. I honestly can’t think of something I’d want to do less than try to source matching PJ’s?!
  • Go see Santa. My kids have never believed in Santa. I think they’ve gone twice when we happened by a Santa in the mall, but were uninterested and never make any request to seek him out. Obviously we also skip the cookies and milk for Santa (and carrots and oats for the reindeer).
  • Elf on the Shelf. I once read about someone taking hours to make mini doughnuts out of Cheerios – hilarious and a great creative outlet, but definitely not for me. Levi did love his classroom Elf in primary last year, but she just moved around during the night – no mischevious antics. I’m sure this is loads of fun to some families, but I almost get hives just thinking about trying to pull this off in my own house day after day in December.
  • Make gingerbread houses. We’ve done cutout ginger cookies before but gingerbread houses? NO THANK YOU! The mess. The candy. The sticky icing everywhere. And then where do you store it? Again – a very fun tradition for many families, but doesn’t have to be fun for me.
  • Go see a live show. While I think this would be a great tradition (I love seeing live performances of just about anything), we haven’t made it our own. A local dance school puts on the Nutcracker ballet each Christmas and this is a must-see performance for many people in our town/neighbouring communities. I’ve gone once. And that’s okay! Although Abby is begging to go see it again this year as she knows a number of the dancers…
  • Wrapping gifts in matching paper. I love the aesthetic of “brown paper packages tied up with string” as much as the next person but when I read someone waxing eloquent about how they wanted their wrapping to reflect all the time and effort that went in to sourcing the gifts, I have to admit it doesn’t apply to me. My kids don’t care about these things at all. I buy whatever cute (or cheap) wrapping paper I can find on sale after Christmas, and that is what gets used. It could be blue with cartoon penguins next to red plaid. While I do love all the coordinating gift pictures…it’s not for me. And I honestly think the gifts still looks great in their hodgepodge under the tree. Twinkle lights do amazing things…
  • Cutting down a Christmas tree. We have done this in previous years but I have to admit I dreaded the experience. It was always cold or wet and it’s so hard to gauge the tree height accurately. Last year, when we couldn’t make it to the tree lot, I loved visiting the tree stand a 3-minute drive from our house and then paying $5 to have said tree delivered straight to our door. No saw or rubber boots required…
  • Holiday parties. I’m in introvert. I like to be home in my pajamas listening to Christmas music or watching Christmas movies with my family. Full stop. We do end up hosting a bit over the holidays but mostly at our place. No big office parties. No fancy to-do’s. Quiet and simple and at home.

There are always lots of “good” things, especially during a holiday season, but not enough time to do them all – so you’ll find me wearing my regular pajamas come Christmas morning. And, for the record, I still haven’t done those Pilates videos.

What about you? Any traditions you’re mindfully opting out of this Christmas? Any new ones you’re looking to incorporate for the first time?

Header photo by Tim Bish on Unsplash

Flexibility Is Only Beneficial If I Use It

It is 10:28 am on Friday, December 3.

I woke up at 3:15 am (ugh, but I did fall asleep around 9 pm, so it wasn’t all bad). After resting for a while, I headed downstairs to tackle a work project. While I didn’t have a set deadline, it was one of those tasks that was going to hang over my head until I got it out the door. I also knew I need two solid hours of uninterrupted time. No contractors, no phone calls or texts or chasing the Inbox Zero dream.

So I put in my headphones and got to work. At 6:30 am, when the kids wandered into the office, I was done my main work responsibility for the day.

By 7:00 am, I was helping the kids get breakfast and prep their bookbags; we even fit in morning reading time around the table.

At 7:30 I hopped back in bed with some Magic Bags and dozed/rested until 8:30 while John drove the kids to school (it was raining, so we skipped the daily walk). I wasn’t feeling that tired, but I knew I’d handle the day better if I had a bit more sleep.

At 9:00 am I whipped up a batch of waffles for supper. By 9:30 I was on a virtual work meeting; it’s now 10:36 am and I’m heading down to the office to work for the next hour or so getting some strategic e-mails out the door.

At 11:45 am, I’ll head to the bus stop to get the kids (parent-teacher interviews, so it’s a half-day). Then we’ll have lunch, I’ll take them to drop off some local Christmas cards in person, and we’ll come home in time for me to finish off some week-end Friday work responsibilities, have supper (the waffles are all ready, hooray!), and then I’ll kiss everyone goodbye and head out the door for a Christmas pottery-painting session with a group of local girlfriends.

I have a lot of flexibility in my life.

For starters, I’ve been working from home for over a decade now. There are drawbacks to this – mainly the fact I never “leave” the office. Work and home management tend to blur and I don’t get to outsource the mess of working materials to another location.

But, for the most part, it’s a net positive arrangement. Long before COVID forced this lifestyle on the masses, my husband and I were doing it from our very tiny apartment (with two little ones in the mix).

And I’ve been thinking more about this flexibility lately. I have, overall, less than I once did in the sense that I have more working responsibilities, especially since I assumed another role at a local university. In another sense I have more than I once did – the kids are both in school and are increasingly independent outside of school hours.

Regardless of where the needle falls from one week to the next, though, this flexibility is only advantageous if I use it.

I’ll feel guilty about going to run an errand at 10 am on a Tuesday morning or fitting in a walk with a friend during normal working hours – but that’s the flexibility my life affords. I also have the flexibility to work a second shift from, say, 7 – 9 pm (or 4:15 – 6:30 am) to tackle a pressing work challenge. One family member, who works in a dental practice, has to be there – boots on the ground, so to speak – at specific times. There is no multi-tasking with home administration; she can’t switch out a load of laundry in between seeing patients (but it also means work doesn’t come “home,” so there is a tradeoff).

It can be challenging to work outside of normal parameters/social constructs (and adhering to them relatively closely has distinct advantages for staying on track), but when I give myself license to fit things in when it’s convenient, I make use of my flexibility muscles. And they’re a gift. When I don’t use them these muscles will atrophy – and what a waste.

Header photo by Michael Walter on Unsplash

Life Lessons from the Hill – In Praise of Coasting

Our kids love to go coasting (we usually call it sliding or sledding). Living in Eastern Canada it’s one of the few perks of winter. We bundle up and grab our gear and head to the hill. Over and over and over again.

The kids have learned (as they get older and heavier – such that I can/will no longer help cart them or their sleds to the top of the hill) that to enjoy the downhill part of the adventure, there’s a lot of hard work that has to happen first.

I can’t believe we emerged from this hill with all body parts intact. So steep, so icy, and a blind crest so when you’re sliding you can’t see people walking up from below. Yet, this particular hill is always packed in the winter. I’m surprised they don’t hire a paramedic to stay on site. Never again!

Even on the tallest hill, the coasting element of the experience will last a minute at best. But the climbing? Oh, the climbing can go on for a looonnnggg time.

In addition to the elevation, you have to contend with the ice – slipping and losing ground is a frustrating, but common, occurrence. Then there is the burden of transporting the necessary tools. To slide down a hill, you need to bring something on which to slide with you to the top.

A few weeks ago my husband and I were walking home from school drop-off and were slogging up a particularly steep hill. Where we live, hills are unavoidable on the return trip.

I hate the hills.

It’s not because my fitness level isn’t sufficient, hills just take more work. I have to concentrate. I can’t ease into the conversation with my walking partner or get lost in my own thoughts. I start sweating (I loathe sweating).

But I set my sights on the prize – namely level ground at the top. Ultimately, my goal is to get home, so I do it. Sometimes the only way through is through.

On this particular walk I was wrestling with various life and work events and was feeling overwhelmed by it all. Ruminating over all these thoughts and then coming face-to-face with the inevitable climb – well, the hill suddenly felt like a metaphor for life.

Starting a new job can feel like climbing up a hill. So many processes with which to become familiar; lots of icy patches that send me careening back to the bottom of the hill.

Parenting always comes with new challenges. And sometimes it can start feeling like one continuous slog up the hill, one step forward before sliding ten back.

But, also, some of the hard work from before means I’m ready to coast in a lot of other areas. I’m easing back on Christmas this year – buying fewer gifts and starting later so I don’t keep seeing new things to buy (adding to the total bill and time commitment). I’m coasting with meals; I’ve gone from dedicating swaths of time to meal-planning to being someone who throws together last-minute one-pot wonders from whatever is hanging out in the crisper drawer or using up freezer leftovers I’ve been hoarding. No one has starved yet.

See, sometimes I force myself to keep climbing in areas when I’ve earned the right to jump on my sled and coast for a while. Scrambled eggs and bacon twice in a week is fine. (It’s actually great since eggs and bacon are two of the most delicious food items known to man). I don’t have to prove I can cook and I’m not competing for Best Domestic Housewife in the East. I’ll make the long, elaborate meals again. But it doesn’t have to be this week.

I know that coasting is short-lived. The downhill ends eventually and requires another climb back up to the top.

But, maybe, after I’ve coasted to the bottom, this time I’ll take a moment to sit and enjoy the view…from the bottom of the hill.

There will always be new hills to climb, but there are also opportunities for coasting, too.

And hurtling down the hill can be a pretty fun way to view the world.

Where are you currently climbing? Any areas where you’re coasting?