Here’s A Thought: Do You Binge or Savour?

Do you prefer to binge or savour?

At Christmas and on my birthday, I binge Twizzlers. Yes, Twizzlers. A huge part of the pleasure (for me) is to eat Twizzlers in large quantities. I feel minimal guilt – I eat very little candy the rest of the year – but that one package is consumed (almost exclusively by me) in about 24 hours. One piece of licorice is never enough. Yet, were I given an entire bowl of jelly beans, I could easily eat just one.

I binged Waco, but only allow myself one episode of The Great British Baking Show at a time. I’ve binged books in one night (regretting the decision early the next morning; though, for the right book, it’s totally worth it). When I recently re-read Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, I limited reading bouts to a single chapter at a time.

A few years ago I spent a glorious anniversary trip in Paris with my husband. There we binged on: art galleries, long walks, colourful storefronts, and fresh baguettes. We savoured: a van Gogh exhibit, our walk down the Champs de Elysses, a delectable eclair, filled with silky smooth crème pâtissière. One evening we spent several unhurried hours sitting in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, watching the sunlight fade and surrounded by thousands of tourists and Parisians, the air filled with the scent of summer air and the cheerful sounds of music and laughter. Binge and savour.

My immediate family all have poor eyesight (except my Dad, who we joke got all the “good” genes…and now my two siblings who had corrective laser surgery); each year at Christmas my Mom would carve out time to sit in front of the Christmas tree, take off her glasses and glide in her rocking chair while the twinkling lights blurred to create a magical world reserved for the nearsighted. After binging on Christmas treats, concerts, presents, and family, this was an experience to savour.

Sometimes, the same experience can induce both binging and savouring. When we make our annual summer trip to my parent’s home at the lake, I binge s’mores but savour the campfire we toast them over. I binge sunsets, looking for them every single night, but then I sit on the beach and savour them.

Night after night – summer after summer – and it never gets old.

By default, I tend toward bingeing – books, food, sitcoms, activities. Sometimes I need to be reminded that learning to savour is a valuable skill. Slowing down to better appreciate: the moment, the person, the art, the food, can lend a whole new experience.

As Solomon, the author of Ecclesiastes, so wisely pointed out: there is a time for everything under the sun. There are times to binge and times to savour. Maybe, if you’re lucky and have eyes tuned for it, you can find opportunities to binge-savour your own “sunset” moments this summer.

Zoom in on Perfection – It’s an Illusion

I’ve been reading home renovation blogs for years.*

*To clarify, this is one of those interests that remains strictly in the “aspirational” category. I once tackled a painting project my brother-in-law promised would take an hour – or less – to complete. It took me 6 hours and two trips to the hardware store. I ruined one of my favourite shirts – despite wearing a cover-up. I was sore for a week, got a sunburn and the end result suggested a kindergartener had been wielding the paintbrush (a kindergartener that hadn’t yet fully mastered the art of staying inside the lines).

Back to those DIY blogs. One of my favourite design duos got their start years ago with a very basic internet presence: simple website, simple projects, simple house. Over the last decade, I’ve followed along as they’ve morphed into an empire of sorts. There are furniture lines, partnerships with major brands, sponsored content, full-time staff, and even a clothing line. Despite $2,000 mirrors and a 5,000-square foot house making their lifestyle and renovation budgets a bit less…relatable…I’ve remained a loyal reader, mostly because of the pictures.

They provide spectacular eye candy: gorgeous wallpaper, custom closets with colour-coded clothing, modern-rustic exposed beams. For good measure they might throw in a steaming latte sitting next to a flickering candle on a spotless countertop. With nary a coffee table book, Persian rug or chambray throw pillow out of place – their home (and thus their life?) looks practically perfect. Some days it’s inspirational to view this content and, other days, when my floors are littered with discarded socks and cookie crumbs and when dated light fixtures reveal a sink full of dirty dishes, my life all feels too imperfect.

Last week I happened to zoom in on one of those perfectly staged photos. The lighting was stunning, the distribution of objects within the field of view provided maximum impact. But viewed at 150%, I could see that within this aesthetically “perfect” stairway vignette there was actually cracked caulking at the bottom of each step. And scuffed treads. Another day, new photo. Dream kitchen. Zoom. Dirt and dings on the cabinets, crumbs all over the floor.

From houses to food to bodies to children (and everything in between), we’re inundated with images that suggest perfection. It all seems so…attainable. If we only could find a way to dress our family in coordinating outfits and make it to Machu Picchu for the golden-hour sunset shot – then we’d reach perfection.

But perfection is an illusion. When we’re struggling with our own basket of anxieties, foibles, and griefs, it’s so easy to look at something or someone else and see perfection. Perfection could be: a number on the scale, a figure in the bank, a street address or a particular type of car in the driveway. If only we could get that, life would be perfect.

I have scuffs on my stairs and crumbs on my floor (counter and table, too). And I often wish them – will them – away. But those crumbs don’t make me a failure, don’t reduce my value, don’t make my life less beautiful. They just make me a person with scuffs on her stairs and crumbs on her floor (proverbially and literally). Nothing more or less.

Some days I rail at the kids to eat over their plates and take off their shoes, but on the good days, I zoom out: I ignore the crumbs (or take the time to sweep them up without complaint) and say: Today isn’t perfect. But today is good.

Here’s A Thought: What’s Your Thing?

I don’t do crafts with my kids. I have no skills in makeup or hair design. I can’t paint a room, I rarely make bread from scratch, and I will stall a 5-speed car every time I get behind the wheel. Even worse – in a house full of fanatics – I can’t even solve a Rubix Cube.

When I was a kid, Saturday mornings were reserved for cartoons. This was before binge-watching was a verb and forget about Netflix – we didn’t even have cable. If you didn’t get your butt out of bed by 7 AM to watch Bugs Bunny, you were out of luck. Aside from happy hours spent with Inspector Gadget and Looney Tunes, I vividly remember the Saturday morning service announcements put out by Concerned Children’s Advertisers. They came up with witty numbers like: “Don’t you put it in your mouth. Don’t you stuff it in your face. Though it might look good to eat, and it might look good to taste.” Does anyone else remember those furry little blue creatures?!

But the commercial I remember best depicts a series of kids demonstrating their “thing.” There’s Aiden, waving his magic handkerchiefs (against a backdrop of the same wood paneling we had in our dated 1970’s basement), while his sister shouts “Mom, Mom. Aiden cut me in half again.” Classic.

From bug collections to tap-dancing, skateboarding, martial arts, and dinosaur sound effects, the takehome message: “Nobody’s good at everything, but everybody’s good at something. What’s your thing?”

Opportunities for comparison are everywhere. Power up your computer or swipe your finger and you have access to a world of women we perceive to be better: better workers, better wives, better mothers, better daughters, better friends. Few people are immune to this comparison game.

We know. These are curated snapshots, they don’t actually represent reality. These women have insecurities too. I’ve heard it. You’ve heard it. Yet that photo of the smiling family in matching outfits on the beach, or that impressive law school degree, or that sunset shot from a yacht off the coast of Greece make it pretty tough to ignore the messages we tell ourselves. 

You’re not enough. You’ll never be enough.

We live in a world telling us to embrace our strengths while it subversively asks us to recognize our weaknesses. We are, directly or indirectly, made to feel less than if we haven’t mastered all the categories. Women – and I’d argue mother’s all the more – are expected to: have a fulfilling career, be a good cook (healthy, organic food for bonus points), be physically active, and volunteer in numerous capacities; extroversion is a must, and don’t forget to prioritize self-care in the form of yoga practice, meditation, and routine massages.

Amidst the drone of outside chatter, what if we could all say, with confidence, “This is my thing.”

Hi. I’m Elisabeth, and my thing is books. I read on the couch and in the car (but only when it’s stopped or, hello barf bag) and on airplanes; I read in waiting rooms, poolside on vacation, and before bed. Aside from feelings of wistfulness that there are always too many books and too little time, this is the one area of life where I feel 100% guilt-free. And nowhere do I need this more than in the guilt-ridden landscape of motherhood.

Fresh stack of books from the library, she found the closest bench and settled in…

We’ve read classical literature (Swiss Family Robinson, Anne of Green Gables, and Laura Ingalls Wilder) and newer hits too (Harry Potter, Roald Dahl). We read Bible stories at breakfast, and Nancy Drew at night. We’ve read picture books about talking narwhals, a gluttonous caterpillar, and the sounds on a construction site (at night and at Christmas). We’ve tackled tough topics: cancer and grief, slavery and war, disability and persecution. We’ve read about children living on the streets of Paris; we’ve cheered as Matilda stands up to that bully Miss Trunchbull; we’ve wondered how a guy named Mike and his steam shovel could possibly win the bet.

We’ve looked for Waldo and lifted flaps to find the baby’s belly. We’ve watched an old woman bring her farmyard menagerie inside, and learned valuable life lessons along the way.

He learned about the Titanic at school and an obsession was born; the picture he’s looking at, which the book suggested could be the actual iceberg that caused the sinking of the Titanic, was his fav.

When you strip away my bursts of frustration over dirty clothes on the floor, my woefully intermittent enforcement of flossing, and my unwillingness/inability to engage in imaginative play of any sort – books, this I do well. This is my thing.

I haven’t read a book on how to paint a room, drive a stick-shift, or make sourdough. And that’s okay. Life is short and I’ll let painting and driving and kneading be someone else’s thing.

Nobody’s good at everything, but everybody’s good at something. What’s your thing?

She came in to ask if we could read together; it was late – past bedtime – but how could I refuse? The Mysterious Benedict Society for her; Station Eleven (just the sort of book one should read in the midst of a pandemic) for me.

Here’s A Thought: Give Yourself Permission to Quit

I’ve already given us permission to eat ice cream for supper, ditch the gimmicky toothpaste, and feed our kids more cereal (if that would make life easier). Now I’m going to suggest we think about giving ourselves permission to quit.

Years ago, at a local craft market, I came across a piece of art that used rocks and sea glass to create a whimsical and minimalistic (but recognizable) scene. I set out to recreate something similar on my own – not only would I save money, but I’d also be able to give personalized art to people about whom I cared deeply. I started the creative process – with enthusiasm.

First step: sourcing materials. While visiting my parent’s beloved lakeside house a few weeks later, I went to a nearby island and collected a baggie full of suitable rocks. My family has been visiting this island for over thirty years, so these water-weathered pebbles had deep nostalgic significance. Off to a good start! I pulled together a collection of sea glass sourced during various coastal adventures and prepared for the next stage: planning.

I generally enjoy creative projects but this time I was just not “feeling it.” I wanted to be engaged and loved the idea of the project, but felt no actual motivation to keep going.

So I put the rocks in a drawer and told myself: I’ll tackle this next year for Christmas. It was just a little baggie, but every time I opened the drawer I felt a stab of guilt, mixed with dread. I’d need to get special glue and a shadow-box frame. Then I’d need to think of sentimental scenes for each recipient. What extra materials would I need to create a canoe out of tiny pieces of driftwood for my Dad? And those beach-loving friends might appreciate an abstract campfire, right? I wanted this to be perfect.

Then, one random weekday while I was doing a load of laundry, I thought of those rocks. Again. Several Christmases had passed me by since I collected them from the shoreline of Goat Island, but not a week went by that I didn’t see (or at least think of) them. I stopped sorting whites from darks and headed straight to my desk; seconds later the entire contents of the bag were at the bottom of a garbage can.

I texted a friend in triumph. Truth was, no one was forcing me to complete this project. No one even knew I was planning it; there was zero external pressure. And, frankly, after a few years of this…I’d had enough internal pressure. So I gave myself permission to quit. It felt exhilarating. 

Rules can be arbitrary (especially the ones we set for ourselves) and projects can be misaligned with our interests and time. As Laura Vanderkam writes: “Possibilities are infinite. Time is not. You are always choosing. Choose wisely.

It’s great to set high expectations and give ourselves room to grow through challenge and novelty. But other times? We need to cut ourselves some slack, and that might include granting ourselves permission to quit. This could be a job, training for a marathon, or stepping back from a toxic friendship; maybe you need to quit the PTA committee or say “no” to the expectation you have to host the entire family on Christmas Day (even Uncle Steve’s crazed Rottweiler). Or, maybe you’ll just give yourself permission to throw out a baggie of rocks. You are an adult – and that comes with a lot more autonomy than you may think.

Here’s A Thought: Give Yourself the Gift of Time

Ask people what they want more of and you’re likely to get one of two answers: time or money. These two resources, often inextricably linked, are among what we value most in life. Time, in particular, always seems in short supply.

  • “I’d love to join my friends on that weekend getaway, but I haven’t got enough time.”
  • “I sure wish I’d had the time to keep up with guitar lessons. “
  • “I want to start exercising regularly…but I don’t have space in my schedule.”
  • “Taking that night class would expedite my promotion, but there aren’t enough hours in the day.”

True enough, time is finite. From the minute our feet hit the floor in the morning, it seems we’re in a desperate race with the clock hands. We eat in our cars during the morning commute to save time. We order groceries online to avoid inefficient lines. We make a week’s worth of lunchboxes on Sunday afternoon to expedite our mornings. There is no shortage of hacks, tweaks, and tricks to squeeze “more” into less time.

Last week I wrote about buffer: too often I try to cram too many things into too narrow a timeframe which leaves me feeling rushed and anxious.

But what about when I do have a buffer.

In reality, there are many days when my timeline is flexible. What about when, with the help of time management strategies, or by simply eliminating unnecessary tasks, I’ve managed to carve out that elusive white space? This flex-time is only an asset – and worth the time expenditure to secure it – if I end up using it.

Perhaps it’s because I’m so used to that undercurrent of time-related anxiety that I end up checking the clock (and trying to maximize every second), even when there’s no need.

It seems I’d do well to ask: Is there a reason I’m rushing?

And, if not: Can I give myself the gift of time?

Summer marks the start of sandal season which means one thing: nail polish. Last year’s options were looking pretty stale, and I was on the hunt for a perfect (well, good enough) pale pink. Crouched in the pharmacy aisle I was overwhelmed by options, oddly reminiscent of my experience in the toothpaste aisle. With dozens of pinks to choose from, many of them pale, I could feel the anxiety building. I could also sense myself heeding the chiding voice of my inner clock: “You’re spending too much time on this, Elisabeth.” Eventually, I walked away feeling I’d wasted more than enough time debating the merits of Rose Petal vs Pink Cloud (did I want peach undertones or white?).

But I had nowhere I needed to go. I had more than enough time, so I circled back around the aisle and looked at more options. While I didn’t end up buying anything,* it ended up being a fun – unrushed – 15 minutes.

Maybe you can read that second bedtime story after all. Perhaps there is enough time to linger in that phone conversation with your Grandma. Or, just maybe, you’ll spend your extra time considering every hue of pink nail polish in the pharmacy display. If you can – and do – you’ve just given yourself the gift of time.

*I went back the next day and came home with Pink Pursuit; one family member, who shall remain nameless, take one look and told me it looked like I painted my nails with WhiteOut. Hmmm. A bit too pale, perhaps?

Here’s a Thought: Leave a Buffer

I grew up with a father who believed if you weren’t 10 minutes early to an appointment, you were late.

When I headed out into the world I carried this belief with me. In the four years of my undergraduate degree, I was never late for a single 8:30 AM class (which I had almost every day). Usually, I was one of the first to arrive – 10 minutes early.

Then I had kids.

Suddenly there were naps to contend with and the inevitable last-minute diaper or outfit change. Also, with a never-ending list of to-do’s, I felt I couldn’t justify the luxury of wasting precious minutes by arriving somewhere ahead of time.

I am rarely late. But I am also rarely early. This wouldn’t be a problem if I didn’t constantly feel anxious that I will be late.

While I still feel pulled in 30 directions most days, I can admit this “under the wire” arrival has simply become a habit. I’m no longer contending with outfit changes or blow-outs. And, even worse, I often plan for it.

For example, I’ll schedule a playdate for 3:00, even though the afternoon school bus drop-off is at 2:50 and it’s a 10-minute drive…under perfect traffic conditions. With that planning, there is no way to avoid arriving on time – at best – or late (well, aside from driving over the speed limit, which of course I’d never do. Hem hem.)

So I’m trying to arrange more buffer into my life.

If the kids are scheduled to come out of quiet time at 2:30, I shouldn’t work on a challenging project until 2:29. Stopping at 2:20 to breath, read a book, or just light a candle and prepare for the onslaught of snack requests and sibling rivalries really helps.

Have a doctors appointment and it takes 30 minutes to get to the clinic? You should plan to leave leave more than 30 minutes before. Preferably more than 31 minutes before, too.

Have a Zoom meeting? Think about making sure to use the washroom, brush the spinach out of your teeth and have the meeting notes all ready so you can log on a few minutes before it’s scheduled to start. After all this time, there are inevitably technical glitches.

Things take longer than expected: kids forget bookbags, icy roads slow us down, computers freeze. Adding in a little buffer can go a long way.

Go ahead. Try it.

Here’s a Thought: Aim for Progress, Not Completion

I’ve already professed my love for lists. Sometimes, I even relish the assignment of new tasks simply because it allows me the satisfaction that comes from recording new items on my to-do list. Another one added…another one to cross off.

In fact, I’ve been known to add items to a list that are already completed. (Friends have confessed to the same behaviour, so I know I’m not alone).

Why? A sense of purpose. A sense of pride. A sense of achievement. “Look what I’ve accomplished” – gold star to me (and I sure do love gold stars).

Sometimes, though, I can get so wrapped up in focussing on the end goal, I lose sight of – or neglect entirely – the process to get there.

That’s why I’m trying to embrace the concept of progress, not completion.

Let’s take laundry. Oh laundry. The never-ending source of work for any parent. Sometimes I look at that jumble of blended cotton and want to cry. Getting it all put away before another load joins the teetering pile feels impossible. But here’s what I’ve found: making progress can be satisfying.

In one particularly tough season of a precarious work/life balance, I told myself I only had to put away three items of laundry each day. My kids create three pieces of laundry before they’re out of bed in the morning, so the math didn’t really add up. Some days, I’d manage a pair of socks (I counted that as a single item), a dishtowel and a T-shirt. But, most days, I felt up to more. I’d stick to three at a time, but 3 + 3+ 3 + 3 adds up to a full load of laundry…eventually.

Remember Desmond Tutu’s sage advice: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”

Sometimes the first bite is the most discouraging and daunting. The elephant – be it laundry, an adoption process, the move to a new city, saving for a college education, or quitting a lifelong addiction to smoking – can seem too big to tackle, even in bite-sized pieces. But, in reality, that is exactly how we have to handle each problem. One dollar at a time, we fund that education. Skipping a single cigarette is the only way to quit smoking.

Step by step we make more and more progress. . .which, ultimately, leads to completion.

Go ahead. Try it.

You’re An Adult. You Can Give Yourself Permission.

Not long ago I stumbled across an essay written by a woman dealing with an esophageal burn. To promote healing and lessen the pain, she was asked to follow a soft-food diet.

With many staple foods no longer an option, she was forced to confront the slew of arbitrary rules she had assigned to her eating over the years. In time, through consultation with a dietician, she was able to switch her focus to finding foods that didn’t cause discomfort, which required disregarding many of those self-imposed restrictions. She writes:

“I had never eaten a pint of ice cream as a meal in my life; I was convinced this was some kind of food rubicon I would cross, and that afterwards, all my meals would become pints of ice cream.”

One day hungry, and stuck in traffic, she bought ice cream:

“I ate my fill of dulce de leche ice cream with a plastic spoon as it grew cool and viscous at the edges and felt like I’d won a prize. Literally nothing bad happened. Instead, two good things happened: I was no longer painfully hungry, and I’d had ice cream.”

While the article then turns to discussing the benefits of intuitive eating – an approach to food that involves consuming foods to satisfy hunger, without restriction or labeling foods as “good” or “bad” – I was struck by her final observation.

At the worst of my injury, friends would say enviously, Oh, at least you get to eat all this ice cream. But guess what: We all do, whenever we want.

Wait a minute? I can eat ice cream for supper? Say it isn’t so!

This reminds me of an article/podcast episode from Gretchen Rubin where she relays the experience of Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard. Ironically enough, this excerpt also involves an adult consuming ice cream in a way most would consider unusual (more specifically, unusual in the context of the unwritten “rules” of adult moderation). It also succinctly highlights that we adults have far more autonomy over basic decisions than we acknowledge or leverage.

As a side effect of mild anemia, I struggle with cold extremities; my hands and feet are perpetually frozen (ice blocks, my family calls them). I exercise regularly, bundle up, wear heated socks, use Magic Bags constantly, turn up the heat, wear slippers, and have invested in the best quality winter gear for Canadian living. But, at the end of many days, the only thing that can bring relief is a very hot shower. For years I would look forward to the evening so I could finally get warm, thinking longingly of just getting the kids to bed so I could get relief from the penetrating cold.

This year I had an epiphany. I could take two showers in a single day. I could take ten if I wanted to. There was no shower patrol limiting my access; no cutoff valve on the hot water tank that would cut me off after five minutes of gloriously scalding water.

While I don’t do it very often, on those particularly frigid days when I just cannot get warm – I take a second shower. And, literally, nothing bad has every happened.

Another example involves sleep. One evening my husband and I, usually very responsible about our bedtime, stayed up and binged the entire Waco mini-series on Netflix. It was close to 2 AM before we finished and I felt both horribly guilty and exhilarated. It felt like I had just broken some high-school-era curfew; when the morning rolled around and my elders learned about this, I’d be grounded for a month and lose access to the family car to boot. But, once again, nothing bad happened.

Truth is, I’m an adult. A perk – and curse – is the right to make a tremendous number of decisions. Most of the rules I project onto my life are completely my own construct.

I can eat ice cream for supper. I can have dessert before a meal. I can mix a load of light and dark laundry. I can say yes to that late-night conversation with a friend, even though it’s past my bedtime; I can skip my morning run even if I’ve got a 30-day exercise streak; I can decide not to give teacher gifts this year.

Mileage will vary on this; I suspect different personality types would find wildly different applications. And I’m not advocating for rampant embrace of unhealthy decisions. But I think we would do well to revisit the rules we’ve assigned and see if they are adequately serving our needs. Eating ice cream for supper doesn’t make me an unhealthy person…it just makes me a person who ate ice cream for supper.

I’m actually not a big fan of ice cream anyway…now Zesty Cheese Doritos are another story. But chances are, if I pick up a bag for supper tomorrow night, literally nothing bad will happen.