It’s Our One Year Coastal-versary!

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March 28, 2019 – the day we moved in!

Break out the bubbly and let’s celebrate! The ProckyFam has been on the coast for one whole year today! And what a year it’s been. I don’t think when we bought this home we expected to be self-isolating in it from a global pandemic while pregnant with our third child, but here we are. I know a lot of people are curious so I want to talk about how this move from the city to a smaller town has been for us, plus how we’re finding living in the community of Gibsons itself. Here’s what you need to know!

Our Family 

The hardest thing for me has been the lack of walkability in our neighbourhood. For the last decade I’ve had the luxury of living only a block from coffee shops, grocery stores, bars, and parks, and it has been a bit of an adjustment for me to give up that #strollerlife I was used to. It’s worth mentioning though that I still haven’t gotten my license so that could be contributing to some feelings of being housebound (oops! I was going to start lessons this spring but now I have to wait until the pandemic has passed). I have always preferred to walk to stores than drive though, so not being able to that is a bummer for me whether I have my license or not. We still walk up to the shops from time to time as there’s a trail that takes us to our local bars, bank, hardware stores, and grocers, but it’s a solid 25 min trail walk to get there (while pushing a double stroller) so I can’t say I do it daily.

That said, moving from a 722 sq ft condo with three small windows and no direct sunlight to our big rancher with massive south-facing windows has had a positive affect on my personal mental health that outweighs living in a walkable neighbourhood, at least for me. Having two young children in a small, dark space was deeply impacting my happiness and contributing to anxiety when we were living in our small condo. I got out of the house as often as I could and we lived only a block from a large, walkable riverfront park, but you just can’t beat having access to outdoor space at home. My life as a stay-at-home-mom has drastically improved with the added space in our home and our yard. I feel like I finally have room to be a separate person from my kids now that we’re not living on top of each other and the kids aren’t waking each other up with their cries at night (they used to share a wall and Wells was in our bedroom). I’ve had far less anxiety attacks in the last year than any years previous. I distinctly remember the way I felt for the first couple weeks and months of living on the coast last Spring. I had space, my kids had space, we no longer had to fight for parking spaces… it just felt like I could breathe easier. That feeling has become the norm for me now, to the point where when we drive back to the Lower Mainland again to visit I can feel my body physically tensing from the stress of busyness and traffic.

Our House and Neighbourhood

Despite the grief it has given us in the first year we LOVE the house we bought! Being homeowners of an actual house feels totally different to us from being homeowners of a condo with a strata, fees, and strict rules. The responsibility and learning curve has of course been massive and various things went “tits up” over the course of our first year (you can scroll through a bunch of our adventures on Instagram here, if you’re curious!). Despite all of the crazy shit we’ve had to deal with so far we’re so glad to be masters of our own domain. We love the layout of our home, the open floor plan, the massive kitchen, the deck area, and the spacious yard. We love having a guest room with an ensuite so we can host family and friends for extended stays! We love that it’s a rancher and we love that none of the bedrooms border each other so no crying babies ever wake up sleeping babies; this is a big win for parents who are about to have 3 kids under the age of 4!

When it comes to neighbours we hit the absolute jackpot. The family across the street has two girls close to our kid’s ages who are always happy to come over and play (plus their yard has slides, a swing, a trampoline, a sand pit, and a zipline, plus a fully stocked beer fridge so…). We’ve known our neighbours for less than a year but they’ve happily leant us tools, trucks, and lawnmowers. When Tom totalled our only vehicle last summer after hitting a deer the family across the street gave us their SUV for two weeks while we looked for a new one (we have since bought a truck and were able to repay the favour for a few months when one of their vehicles died!). When we first moved in people stopped by with planters full of local beer and batches of fresh cookies still warm from the oven. A few months ago we found a pristine booster seat on the doorstep and still don’t know who left it there. These are the kinds of neighbours that come by with fresh produce when their garden is overproducing butter lettuce, who come over with hot dogs and beer when we’re around the fire, and who bring their tool belt over when Tom’s out of town and I’m stuck on a DIY, the kind of neighbourhood where we order pizzas to the front yard in the summertime and eat them while the kids ride their bikes in the street. The kind of neighbourhood where my friend across the street had a way more excited reaction than Tom when I told her I was pregnant, haha. When we first moved in I thought we had gotten particularly lucky but I’ve since met so many people on the coast who have said the same thing about their own neighbourhood that I’m starting to think it’s just how coast neighbourhoods are.

The Coast Community

The cons first. There is good food here but anyone who has come from the city would undoubtedly miss the diversity of culinary options there. I miss middle eastern food sooo bad. In Gibsons we have fantastic Mexican food, sushi, pizza, pubs and breweries, a Greek place, a bomb Italian place, coffee shops, donuts, and some hole-in-the-wall diners, but I would definitely sponsor someone to come open up a Lebanese restaurant (Nuba, anyone?). Another con is that if you’re moving here from the lower mainland the parks on the coast are going to seem absolutely pitiful to you. There are some great ones but nothing that comes close to comparing to something like Queens Park in New West (and since there are water bans in effect here for the hotter summer months, the one water park is turned off when it gets hot anyway).

That doesn’t mean there’s a shortage of things for your kids to do, though; there are many beaches on the coast and in Gibsons any of them are only a few minutes drive away. Parents here take their kids to the local trails, the mountain bike park, the beaches, library drop-ins, Strong Start programs and other drop-in programs, some of which even provide excellent free meals for parents and kids (most I’ve seen are free or $2 if you want to sneak off and leave your kids for a little bit to do a workout).

A supposed con that turned out to be not an issue is the postal system. I was told when we moved here that Amazon deliveries to the coast would take about 11 days to arrive and that they would never come to our door, but most Amazon deliveries we’ve ordered have come in 3-4 days and come straight to our door every time (only one Amazon delivery went to the post office in the last year because it was super oversized). It’s not the same day delivery we enjoyed when we lived in the same city as the Amazon warehouse but we don’t mind at all; instant gratification probably isn’t good for people anyway (and before anyone roasts us about using Amazon, please note that we try to support small, local businesses whenever we’re able, but sometimes availability and price on the coast necessitate buying stuff from a large corporation).

When it comes to the Coast community though, by far what has made us the most sure that this move was the right choice has been the people and the welcoming nature of the community itself (though of course the rugged coastline views don’t hurt either!). We lived in a condo for a year and never met any of our neighbours. The community in Gibsons looks out for one another in a way I know we would never see in a larger city setting. It’s very easy to meet people because you see the same people are town at the beach, at preschool drop-off, at the coffee shop, and especially at events like the summer night market which brings out pretty much everyone. While it’s easy to meet people, we’ve found it a bit tougher to really make friends, but we have only been here a year and know good friendships take time to form (not to mention we’ve been so busy with our house this past year it hasn’t left much time for anything else!). The winters can be a little isolating socially, as with any community, but invitations to deck hangs, beach hangs, boat trips, and BBQs abound in the spring and summertime. It’s been really fun getting to know a ton of new people.

Another amazing thing we’ve found about the coast is the sheer willingness to help others. I’ve seen the community jump at the chance to help a stranger move, lend their truck, drop off firewood to a family who is running low, donate supplies to a new mom, run to the pharmacy for someone who is housebound, or deliver soup to someone who is sick (last week I posted on Instagram about having a craving for cinnamon buns but no yeast and there was a cinnamon bun on my doorstep the next day). We have a community FB page dedicated solely to delivering groceries to those in quarantine right now on the coast. Local businesses and breweries are delivering groceries and supplies free of charge right now and it feels like anyone who asks for help will receive it. It’s amazing to see the community really pull together through this global crisis but honestly, people here have been helping others since long before the pandemic started.

We have truly enjoyed our first year here and are so hopeful about our family’s future in Gibsons! The Coast is proving to be a wonderful place to raise a family.

What is Mindfulness and Why Do We Need it Right Now?

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I’ve long considered myself to be a #mindfulmama but so far I haven’t spoken much on here about what that means or how it translates into daily life with my kids. The concept of mindfulness is simple even if the practice is less easy to implement; to be mindful is just to be present without judgement. This can feel counter-intuitive for us for two reasons: most of us suck at being present and suck at not judging, particularly when it comes to ourselves. These same two points that make mindfulness so difficult for most of us also make them important lessons for us to learn.

With constant access to technology literally at hand, being present just isn’t something that most of our generation excels at. Personally, I have often struggled to curb my penchant for always looking forward to the “next best thing” and just be in the moment. It’s hard not to think “when I meet the right person…” or “when I get a new job…” or “when I lose this weight…” or “when my baby is older…” or ” when my kids are in school full time…” or “when we have a little more money…” but this line of thinking pulls us right out of the joy that exists where we are right now (for anyone currently struggling with this, consider starting a gratitude journal and jotting down a few things you’re grateful for at the end of each day, it has helped me so much!).

The second reason that mindfulness can be hard for us is because is trains us to see without judgment when judgment has become so ingrained in our psyches. From a young age we tend to judge and compare, from schoolyard bullying to online trolls to seemingly harmless stuff like the “Who Wore It Best?” articles in magazines. We have a tendency to want to conform to the norm rather than celebrate our differences, but for many of us the harshest judgment is self-imposed. When mindful practices ask us to be present without judgment, the goal is to really see what’s happening and to refrain from criticizing or even categorizing what we see.

So what does this look like? It’ll be difference for all of us but for me, practicing mindfulness in my day has a lot to do with my inner dialogue. On my most anxious days I might spiral quickly, thinking, “I’m having a hard day with the kids. Their misbehaving means that I’m failing as a mother because I can’t keep them happy. I don’t know why I ever thought I could do this. Tom should leave me for someone more capable.” (I know, what?). If I’m able to be mindful instead and withhold judgment of myself I can be gracious with myself and keep my thoughts from escalating. I might think, “I’m having a hard day with the kids. They’re at difficult ages right now and I’ve been exposed to a lot of overwhelming news stories lately. I feel anxious and impatient.” This simply gives voice to where I’m at and provides clarity without trying to problem solve. If you know you need to make a change like turning off the news, putting away your phone, or going outside, of course you can, and that’s a great idea. But being mindful doesn’t necessitate solutions, it’s more about noticing where you are in the moment and just being okay with it. Which I think we could all use a little more of these days!

For me mindfulness practice is especially important during the time of Corona because ruminating about the future is anxiety-inducing at the moment. Normally I revel in thinking ahead and making plans but there’s just so much uncertainty right now that it’s easier to focus on enjoying the present moment instead. I have definitely had many (many!) moments of exasperation but all in all I’m grateful to be home with my two oblivious children. The blissful, unconcerned way they continue to play and fight and demand snacks has been a refreshing dose of normalcy for me and has kept me grounded in an unexpected way, reminding me that what’s truly important during this frankly weird time is hanging out with the people I love most.

“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally. This kind of attention nurtures greater awareness, clarity, and acceptance of the present-moment reality. It wakes u up to the fact that our lives unfold only in moments If we are not fully present for many of those moments, we may not only miss what is most valuable in our lives but also fail to realize the richness and the depth of our possibilities for growth and transformation.” – Jon Kabat Zinn

 

Why I Want My Kids to Witness My Anger

I don’t really love writing about the super vulnerable parts of parenthood, like the brokenness and shame I felt after six months with my colicky first baby or the inexplicable rage and sadness I felt shortly after my second baby was born. But even more scary than baring my soul on the internet is the idea that other mamas might not see these parts of parenthood represented on this platform and wrongly assume that nobody else feels the way they feel. For me as a stay-at-home-mama isolation has always been the hardest part about parenthood these past 3.5 years and my goal is to talk about even / especially the hard stuff in order to help break down those barriers and make other mamas feel less alone.

So let’s talk about anger. I’m sure that none of us love it when we break down and yell at our kids. It happens in our house really, really rarely but of course there are days when I’ve been tested and depleted for days or weeks and something trivial pushes me over the edge. Growing up I assumed it was a parent’s job to keep their composure all the time but I know now that of course that’s not true. It was never our job to not have, or to hide all of our emotions. Since children learn how to regulate big emotions from their primary caregivers it’s actually extra important that they are able to see how we de-escalate from those big emotions of anger and exasperation that they will inevitably feel as well (this is also why we don’t do isolated time-outs in our house, but that’s probably a whole other post for another day).

Anyone who knows me even a little bit knows that while I communicate well I have a tendency to shut down and walk away when things get too overwhelming. This has led me to leave the room and take some time alone when my anger or frustration get the better of me, especially if I know that the kids are safe for a few minutes or if Tom’s off work and available to pick up the slack. I’m an introvert and need alone time, but it’s so, so hard to come by in these early years of motherhood when my kids’ emotional and physical needs are so high and unrelenting. So I’ve been focusing on staying in the room when I lose my composure. I make a point of talking through what I’m feeling so the kids can see why I’m upset and watch as I calm myself down; it’s important to me that they know that the big emotions they feel are valid, that everyone feels them, and that’s it’s possible to have self control when we’re ready to calm down again.

What does this look like in practice?

Last week after I had a rough, anxious, lonely week I yelled at Wells at dinner (don’t bother shaming me because you couldn’t possible make me feel more guilt and shame than I put on myself for it already). I had fiiiinally been feeling well enough to make a really nice meal and Wells threw the entire bowl on the ground as soon as we sat down. I shouted, dropped an expletive, and both Hen and Wells started to cry (my sensitive babies are not used to seeing their mama have an outburst). I instantly reined myself back and said “I’m sorry kiddos, I shouldn’t have yelled but mama is just feeling really frustrated today and I’m having a hard time. I’m gonna take a few big deep breaths and calm myself down, okay?” I took some deep breaths (while tearfully locking eyes with Tom) and Hennie breathed along with me. Then I repeated that I was upset but I shouldn’t have yelled, and I apologized again. Hennie kept telling me through her tears that it was “not nice to say dat mummy!” which broke my heart a little but two minutes later the kids were fine and eating their dinners (except for Wells, whose rice, salmon, and veggies remained on the floor). 

I know that this approach may not seem super revolutionary but I’m hoping that in the long run it leads to me kids being comfortable with their big emotions and not thinking that anger, sadness, and frustration are “bad” and should be hidden. My goal is to raise kids that feel comfortable coming to us with their emotions and I figure they won’t feel that way if they learn from us to run into another room and feel them alone.

Emotional Isolation and the Struggle of the First Trimester

I decided to announce my pregnancy with baby number 3 at only ten weeks pregnant, prompting more than a few people to ask me whether I thought that was an altogether wise decision. My answer, of course, is “yes!” It was the right decision for me, and not one that I made arbitrarily.

I know that everyone is different and many women value their privacy. Perhaps I’m at risk of being labeled an over-sharer but I learned, painstakingly over the course of my twenties, just who I was and how I operate and I’ve come to know that sharing is just who I am. Personally I find speaking about my experiences therapeutic. I’m not a very private person because finding commonality with others makes me feel like I’m part of a community and one of my biggest fears is emotional isolation. Feeling like we’re the only one going through something hard can be incredibly difficult and I’m grateful for the platforms we have in 2020 to speak about our experiences and easily find others who are feeling the same way (this ability to surround ourselves with only others who think the way we do comes with obvious dangers as well, but that’s a discussion for another time).

Feeling so bad in the first trimester but not being “allowed” to tell others or talk about it always feels a little tortuous to me. Since 2020 started I’ve missed appointments, cancelled plans, barely left the house, and completely dropped the ball on all parenting-related responsibilities without being able to give anyone any explanation. Sometimes it feels as if the hardest parts in pregnancy and motherhood are the ones that are also considered too private to talk about. The majority of pregnant women feel nausea during their first trimester and it often lasts all day (that morning sickness label is exceedingly false for many!). There’s also a pervasive fatigue, like a cant-keep-your-eyes-open, exhausted-down-to-your-very-bones kind of tiredness, the likes of which challenges even that postpartum fatigue once baby arrives and decides not to sleep for the first six months if it’s life. I described the First Trimester to Tom as waking up with one of the worst hangovers of your life, but every day for weeks. You don’t have the appetite for any food but know you have to eat something to feel better and you wake up and wistfully dream about bedtime before you’ve even gotten out of bed to start your day. This is what the First Trimester is like for most of us so why should we have to suffer through it in silence?

There are some super exciting moments in these early days as well, like peeing on a stick in the sleepy hours of the morning and then sharing the happy results with your partner (or your hetero life partner/cousin, in my case), telling family and friends, and going to your first ultrasound appointment to see that tiny blob in your growing uterus and hear baby’s heartbeat for the first time. There’s nothing quite like those exciting and anxiety-ridden first few months of pregnancy and we try our best to enjoy it with gratitude and hope, even through the nausea and food aversions.

As in all things, what’s right for me may not be right for you – maybe you’re the type to keep silent and maybe you, like me, are prone to sharing and commiserating with others. Whatever feels right for you, do it! But know that you’re not alone – the first trimester is a tough time for all of us.

Wells turns One-and-a-Half!

Happy Half Birthday to our Baby Boy!

Things We Want to Remember about Wells at 18 months:

  • his obsession for bananas! His first word in the morning is “nana!” and he runs to the counter and points to the fruit basket, stomping his feet and crying until he gets one. He asks for one multiple times a day and we buy about 5 bunches per week.
  • the way he sings into a microphone saying “yaa yaaa yaaaaa” and plays the piano carefully, not bashing the keys but picking out one little sound at a time
  • he says “hiiiiiiiiiiii” as he’s giggling when he’s being tickled
  • he loves going outside! Every day he grabs his shoes and stands by the door asking to go out like a puppy who needs a walk
  • how well he can kick and throw balls, and from such a young age! Natural athlete.
  • how much he looooves to get a piggyback ride from mum and will grin so big (and throw a tantrum when he is refused); whenever I sit on the floor he constantly tries to climb on my back like a little monkey and it’s surprisingly hard to shake him off so I usually have to give in
  • we love how cuddly and shy he gets in large groups of people – it’s one of the only times we get cuddles from him anymore and Tom and I fight over who gets to hold him at noisy family functions
  • how he climbs up onto the windowsill – climbs up onto anythings he can – every chance he gets. This is something his sister never did and still doesn’t really do. He is fearless but cautious.
  • how easy it is to put him down for a nap or bedtime – we just lay him down in the crib, put a pacifier in each hand, and walk out the door (ps we worked very hard to achieve this; all hail sleep training!)
  • how sweet it is that he’s Hennie’s little shadow and wants to do everything she does. Once in a while he’ll run off for some alone time and hang out independently in our playroom for an hour but generally he is wherever Hennie is, doing whatever Hennie’s doing. He lights up when she comes home from preschool
  • how he scrunches up his face when he is displeased (usually when someone has food that they’re not sharing with him)
  • Favourite Words (other than “nana” of course): “football!” “more!” “Paw Po” (Paw Patrol), “yay!”, “hi!”, “nigh-nigh”, “kitty”, and hooting like an owl, obviously.

We love parenting this adventurous boy! He favours his mama but only just, seeking out cuddles with daddy as often as he can and giving us loud kisses on the mouth (“mmmmmwaa!”). He is a perfect piece of our little family and we can’t wait to watch him continue to grow and learn. Love you, Wellsy Boy!

My Vision for the NorthWestJess Community

North West Jess

I need to tell you something that makes me feel embarrassed so I’m gonna rip the bandaid off right away and then I can freely dig into the ‘why’. Here it is: I want to grow my Instagram following and blog.

I know, maybe not what you were expecting. The reason it feels embarrassing to me is because I don’t want people to think I’m over here “trying to be an influencer”. I’m not interested in buying followers (yes, that’s a thing you can do!) or trading likes for likes so that I can sell you shit. I’m not interested in making money by perpetuating a false image of motherhood and posting only picture-perfect poses of my children. What I am interested in is building connection and community and here’s why.

The first time I really started using this space to try and foster connection was when I was in the throes of colic and medical drama with Hennie. My first experience of motherhood had me baffled; I had truly never experienced a feeling of isolation quite like during that time. I felt so resentful toward the internet and all of the perfectly staged sleeping babies I had seen throughout my pregnancy. Why was no one was being honest about how hard the postpartum phase could be? We couldn’t get our baby to stop screaming, let alone fall asleep for one of those sleeping-baby photos and I felt completely alone in my experience. The moms I knew in my real life were having a hard time adjusting to their new lives postpartum too, but they weren’t traumatized. Slowly I stopped seeing friends and family, stopped going out of the house. When Hurricane Hennie (what we called her colic phase) had fully passed almost a year later I finally posted about how bad the colic had been and immediately received comments from women who said they had struggled with colic, too. Why wasn’t anybody posting about this, I wondered. I hadn’t been able to find many moms on the internet who were portraying an authentic view of motherhood so I decided to become one for the next round of new moms who would end up searching the colic hashtag on Instagram at four in the morning, not having slept yet, searching for just one person who understood their distress and guilt at being unable to calm their own baby. “I survived!” I would be able to tell them, “and you will too. I promise.” Then I would send them the list of 42 things we had tried for Hennie’s colic that hadn’t worked and probably wouldn’t work for their babies, either (you gotta try though, just to feel like you’re doing something).

You know that quote that says “be who you needed when you were younger”? Well North West Jess became my attempt at being who I needed in that first year of motherhood, colic and all.

Of course, trying to portray an authentic view of motherhood doesn’t mean that I’m constantly complaining or that I’m ungrateful for my lot in life (as a coupla judgey DMs accused me of back in the day). There’s a lot to celebrate in my life and I’m always doing my best to choose gratitude over grumbling. But when we omit those inevitable dark, ugly, angry, or messy times from the conversation (and our feeds!) we run the risk of sending the message to new mamas that those times don’t exist  at all and that it’s wrong if you’re experiencing them. In meditation you’re encouraged to quiet your mind not by ignoring intrusive thoughts but acknowledging them and letting them pass through you without holding onto them. This has been my aim in my portrayal of motherhood as well – not to dwell on or ignore the hardships that come along with having kids but to acknowledge them and let them pass without holding them until they make me bitter. There is more in parenthood that unites than divides us and our acknowledgement of and reaction to hardship can be something that contributes to our ability to find connection, community, and common ground.

Through my blog posts about colic, Noonan Syndrome, and all of the more common ailments and milestones of motherhood from teething to sleep regressions to pelvic floor dysfunction I’m able to connect with other moms and say to them “I hear you. I understand you. I’ve been there and it gets easier” and sometimes that’s all we need to hear in order to feel less isolated in our experience.

So there it is: my hopes and dreams for this space. A group of parents who feel supported and encouraged, who can speak freely about their troubles and joys without feeling the need to filter their experiences before presenting them to the world. I promise I will always portray my own truth just as it is, answer your questions honestly, cheer you on through the easy parts and help you carry the weight of the harder ones. I hope you’ll stick around.

Flavourful, Hearty Buddha Bowls Your Whole Fam Will Love 🥦

Happy New Year!

I know this is far from my regular content and I am oh-so-far from being a qualified food photographer (how is it easier to take a good photo of a moving toddler than a good photo of a stationary meal?) but I’ve gotten so many questions about my great veggie bowls and I figured the New Year was the right time to post it. Despite how long-winded I can be (it’s all in the details, right?) it’s actually super simple. Let’s get to it!

There are 3-4 layers that you can mix as you wish and that’s basically the gist of it. You can remove and substitute to make adjustments for cost, flavour, intolerances, or availability. Here they are:

Greens Layer: this is a nutritious layer rather than a flavourful one but don’t worry, we’ll jazz it up in a minute. If I’m making a smaller bowl I’ll stick to just greens (spinach, kale, butter lettuce) but if I want quite a filling bowl (aka for Tom) I’ll add a few scoops of quinoa to bulk things up. I love a crunchy, fresh combo of kale and shredded purple cabbage! You could also use: lentils, beans, rice, potatoes, arugula, parsley.

Roasted Veg Layer: this is my favourite part because if you do it right it’ll be a super flavourful layer! I almost always roast just shallots, broccoli and cauliflower – they key is to roast them long enough, til they’re a tad charred and all of the good flavours are released when they caramelize (usually 20 mins at 400, longer if you’ve got a packed tray). Just chop up your veg, drizzle some oil over ’em (I usually use avocado oil but olive oil works too!) and go crazy with seasoning; my go-to combo is a little salt and a lot of garlic and paprika. You could also use: carrots, sweet potato, shredded brussels sprouts, peppers, zucchini, mushrooms, onion, eggplant, asparagus, the possibilities are truly endless. Different vegetables will roast at different rates of course, so be mindful of that when you chop them so they’re all done at the same time. Veg can be expensive so you can always stick to the cheaper veg if you need to or focus on what’s in season, local, or growing in your own garden!

Optional “Meat” Layer: this is where you can add some crispy fried tofu if you please! I’m not calling this the ‘protein layer’ because there is a ton of protein in plants as well and I’m not into furthering long-held misconceptions about protein 😉 If you’re in doubt go watch Game Changers on Netflix or do some good ol’ fashioned googling on a fact/science-based website. Anyway, my favourite way to cook tofu is to press the water out, cube it small, pan fry it in a little oil with garlic powder til it’s crispy, then add sauce at the end for about 1 min over high heat til the sugars in the sauce caramelize and become sticky. So good! My favourite sauces for tofu are this peanut sauce or a mix of soy and sriracha if I’m feeling lazy. I probably only put tofu on like 25% of the time though (again, lazy!). You could also use: beans, tempeh, hell throw some baked pakoras on there! I generally try to stay away from the faux-meat substitutes since they’re still highly processed foods chock full of sodium and we’re tryin’ to make a plant-heavy bowl here.

Super-Filling Sprankles Layer: I always add hemp hearts and slivered almonds to keep us nice and full for a long time but you can add any yummy additions you like! You could also use: nutritional yeast, avocado, roasted sunflower seeds, bean sprouts, cashews, any nuts or seeds you’ve got in your pantry (pecans would be lovely with the caramelized veg!), or this vegan parmesan that is yummy and easy to make and keeps in the fridge so you can throw it on everything all week. Go nuts! (get it?)

The Most Important Layer, DRIZZLE: for almost all of my bowls I mix up the same quick-n-tangy Lemon Tahini dressing that I couldn’t tell you the recipe for but it always works out. Into a mason jar I throw a scoop of tahini, the juice of half a lemon, garlic, salt, and pepper. Then I shake the bejeesus out of it and drizzle it all over the bottom (greens) layer of my bowl and again over the top. You can thin it out with a little water, oil, or even almond milk if you like and if you want to do a bigger batch just throw it all in your mini food processor or blender. I also keep a huge bottle of this, the only store-bought dressing I ever buy on hand for the lazy days when I want less dishes to do. I feel passionately about this dressing to the point where it was the first thing I sought out when we moved to the coast because I was worried no stores would carry it here (found it at IGA though!). A wine-bottle-sized-bottle only costs $12. So delicious.

I know this looks like a lot but it only takes about 25 minutes total: 5 mins to chop my veg and then 20 mins in the oven. I prep the tofu and make the drizzle while the veg is in the oven and throw it all together when it’s done! We eat this bowl a few times a week and it just feels so hearty and nourishing – no one wants to eat a cold salad in the winter time so this is my way of eating salad, a warm, roasted salad with a light, tangy sauce.

Variations: I’ve added curry powder to the veg and done the tofu in a peanut sauce to create a yummy curry-peanut bowl before. I’ve also made this dressing before over roasted sweet potato, black beans, corn, and edamame for a southwestern-y version of the bowl (you could use a lime-ier dressing if you can’t handle the heat of chipotles). As a matter of fact since I’m so into the drizzle layer of these bowls, here is a link to all of Pinch of Yum’s sauces, they are truly the best at drizzles.

A Word about Calories: there are a lot of things in here that make this a dense, calorie-rich bowl, so I always imagine this to be a meal that is meant to accompany a fairly active lifestyle (or a breastfeeding mother, haha). They’re all those good, healthy fats that our bodies need sometimes but I realize that some of my readers are also looking to make healthy changes with the goal of weight loss. If this is the case for you, you can go easier on the nuts, seeds, quinoa, hemp hearts, etc. and heavier on the greens, veg, and drizzle. My kids love these bowls because there’s so much flavour and I like that they get those healthy fats for their developing brains! I have a much slower metabolism than Tom so when I make these bowls for our family I always add more veg to my own and more high-calorie nuts and seeds to his because his body burns his food so fast that he has to follow most meals with a few pieces of toast if I don’t bulk them up.

If you make a bowl, let me know! I’d love to see it. And if anyone has food photography tips I’M ALL EARS, haha.

 

2019 Reflections: Assessing the Lessons We Learned So We Can Start Planning for Next Year’s Growth

I’ve been having a really difficult time lately trying to decide where I want to put my energy and how I want to grow this next year. I’ve been reading some great self-help books that have helped me hone in on the “how” of goal-setting, the only problem is that I can’t figure out which goals to set! Today I realized that I’m trying to harness all of my hopeful, positive January energy into looking ahead before I’ve done the work of looking back to see what I learned last year.

Why Is This Important? I love goal-setting and I really, really love planning ahead. In fact, I’ve learned that planning makes me feel grounded and stable and when something happens that I cannot plan for I feel untethered and anxious. But when we go ‘full speed ahead’ with planning and don’t stop to make sure we’re still going in the direction we wanna go we can end up wildly off course. Without looking back to see if we met the last goals we set – or if they’re even still relevant to our long term vision! – we lose the ability to make sure we’re still on the right track.

How To Do This? Easy. Make a list of the big moments and analyze what worked and didn’t work for you. The most important part: reflect on WHY they worked (or didn’t!) and the lessons you can learn from the outcome. Why do you think that one business venture failed? What did you learn from that failure? Why was something else such a success? Did you learn from that outcome too, or just celebrate it? This is the time to dive deep and do the work so you can set smarter goals for the next season of your business / mental health / family finances / fitness / whatever it is you want to work on or make slight changes to. To jog your memory you can look back over journal entries, blog entries, Instagram posts, your day timer… wherever you chronicle important information or share successes and failures. You could ask your therapist to work through it with you or talk it through with a partner or close friend. For me writing is therapy, so I re-read my journals from the last year. This didn’t take long since I started the year with a five month old who had just learned to crawl, but a few key things still stuck out. Since emotions and reactions are the chaos I need to learn to harness in my life I’ve decided to look at the emotions behind some of the biggest milestones in my year and see how I dealt with them. Hopefully in that way I can learn from my successes and use my failures to shine a light on potential new goals.

A Big Move (aka Big Stress) We started the year by moving into my dad’s house so we could start the process of selling our condo. This became a huge stressor for me from January through to late March when we got possession of our new place. We moved out so we could properly stage and show our condo and in the meantime we found our dream home on the coast and put an offer in subject to sale. We quickly sold our condo but it fell through at the last minute due to the buyer’s financing. A week later we sold it again but it fell through again. The third time was the charm, thankfully, and both our sale and our purchase were finalized. Sounds quick and easy when I tell it like that but spending a few months not knowing where we’d end up was overwhelming for me. What I learned about myself: I tend to get emotionally invested in things extremely quickly and don’t fare well when I can’t plan for something specific so I lost a ton of sleep during this time. During the wee hours one night I downloaded a 30 day trial of the Calm app and, happily, it automatically took my annual payment before I could cancel. That app and the sleep stories and meditations it has provided me this year have saved my sanity so many times. I learned how well my mind responds to meditation and how necessary it is that I make time for a few moments (or half an hour) of focus in order to achieve a calmer, less anxious headspace for the whole day. I had always suspected that meditation would be worth it for me but had never looked into it so I’m grateful for that stressful phase at the beginning of the year for forcing me to find a coping mechanism that worked for me.

Adjusting to Two Kids (aka Big Burnout) the “fourth trimester” is generally considered to be the toughest time with a new baby but for our family the entire first year is generally pretty tumultuous. Living out of someone else’s house, even when it’s a family member, and then navigating a massive move with two needy children was tough. Many days were super fun and full of hope for our new home and community but it was also isolating and full of unknowns as well.  What I learned about myself: I thrive when I operate within a predictable routine and I have difficulty during times of transition. If I had known this earlier I could have prepared for the emotional upheaval that I would have known would be imminent as we entered our first year with two kids while planning a massive move to a completely new community that we had never been to. In general I handled things pretty well but in 2020 I know I can do a better job to adjust my expectations for big transitional times (like back-to-school) and prepare more to help myself deal.

Our Trip to the UK (aka Big Anxiety) by far the toughest part of the year for me emotionally was our trip to the UK in June. I’ve actually been meaning to write about it since, well, June, but seven months later the thought of that trip still makes my heart palpitate (not because of England by the way, which I’ve visited 8 times now, or my in-laws, who are absolutely wonderful). I know that this may sound utterly ridiculous to many of you seasoned travellers (I was an enthusiastic and flexible traveller before I had kids, by the way!) but it’s just my truth. Our kids are not Kids Who Travel Well, it would seem, and while the stress and anxiety of parenting our kids is easy for me to handle within the confines of an established routine and home environment it is very tough for me to manage so far outside of that space. I very much envy those “fly by the seat of their pants” type of people. What I learned about myself: I was completely overwhelmed, almost distraught most days and unfortunately my in-laws and my husband’s friends saw me at my absolute worst. To give a visual, let’s say that normally I wake up with my latent anxiety at a 1 or 2 out of 10. Through breath-work, meditations, and respecting my own boundaries I can keep it at that level which works for me as it’s hardly on my mind at all. On a bad day I might wake with it around a 3-5 and need to do more serious work to expel my anxious thoughts or feelings, like getting away from the kids and going for a nice long run. By contrast, every day that we were in the UK dealing with jetlag and illness I woke with my anxiety already at a 9 or 10. I guess what I’ve learned the most from it has been the massive failure of my inability to cope. While I’ve spent a lot of time working on tools for handling my anxiety these past few years I’m clearly not equipped to handle it at that level, nor do I have a single clue where to start. Perhaps this offers a good insight into where my emotional focus for the new year should be.

Settling In (aka Big Gratitude) looking at my inner mindset over the last year there was one big change that only I could feel, and that was gratitude (yay!). After months in survival mode after moving with a baby and a toddler it was quite a while before I felt like the smoke had cleared in our lives and we had settled in. I found myself feeling isolated, irritated, and annoyed so often that I didn’t have any energy left to notice that the joy outweighed it all. By forcing myself to document the best part of my day, every day, I trained my brain to start looking for the good stuff rather than the bad. Over the course of the year I felt a deep-rooted shift in my perspective but I know I can still do better.  What I learned about myself: Only I can make the changes I want to make and even small changes can yield massive results. This 10-second activity of writing down the best part of the day before I go to bed has saved me many times before. Our whole lives are our habits; if we’re always looking at the bad we won’t have time to see the good, but with work habits can be changed. My gratitude journal is definitely a practice I want to continue in the new year.

My biggest takeaway from doing this self-imposed introspective deep-dive is that whether I handled a difficult time well or terribly, I tried to learn from it. I have often felt this year that since I don’t have a “real job” I was just stagnating. I have had a lot of energy to burn this year but without a career to put that energy into I felt a bit lost. After reflecting on the emotional gains and lessons learned in 2019 I can see that in fact it was a big year of growth for me, just in my mind and heart rather than in my job. As a deeply emotional person I think it has been necessary growth for me but I’m beyond excited to channel some of my energy into writing and career opportunities in the coming year. I’m working on a separate post detailing how and why I hope to grow the NorthWestJess community so stay tuned!

What’s Working For Us: A Response to Toddler Hitting

As most parents with more than one child already know, children that come from the same parents can be so different. Wonderfully, shockingly so. Even though we may feel like we’re experienced parents who have been doing this for years, sometimes the youngest child can make us feel like we’re figuring stuff out all over again! This is the case these days with Wells. If you’re interested in hearing, let me tell you what’s been working for me when dealing with his recent bout of hitting.

First off, Hennie never hits. She’s never kicked us or thrown anything or done one thing that could be deemed worthy of ‘discipline’ by conventional norms. She’s no saint of course, her sass level is high even by my own standards, but she’s always been apprehensive and has responded very well to the boundaries we’ve laid out for her.  Wells is different. He pushes boundaries and tests us constantly. I’m so glad that he’s the one of our kids who is doing this because as a first-time anxious parent and more importantly, a colic survivor and new mama to a medically-complex child, I’m not sure if I would have been able to react to Hennie from a place of grace and learning like I have been able to react to Wells. Hennie’s first year was wrought with trauma for me and I was still working through those emotions in her second year. The way she responded so well to the few hard rules we introduced to her was a sigh of relief for my spirit, which desperately needed a break by way of an easy second year of motherhood. She was a timidly curious one-year-old and a sweet, complacent two-year-old.

These days Hen is definitely a “threenager” but that’s a story for another post. Lately my main worry has been this hitting problem popping up with Wells (who is almost 17 months old). I know that this is a normal and expected part of development, a testing of boundaries that all kids (except Hen) go through for a short or long period of time before they (hopefully!) grow out of it. My aim is to shorten the length of time that it’s a problem, mostly to preserve his newfound friendship with his timid and now skeptical big sister, but also to ensure that my kids learn to deal with their big emotions in a way that’s healthy.

Unfortunately, because I still have much un-learning to do, I responded to Wells’ first big hit in exactly the way I have now decided that I shouldn’t. I wasn’t expecting it and because I’d never had to deal with it before with Hennie I hadn’t yet decided how I wanted to respond. Surprised that he had done it and indignant on behalf of Hennie, I said “Wells, NO!” much too loudly and then threw out a vague and useless, “we don’t hit!” which I’m sure he found both upsetting and confusing – he was only trying something new, after all. He grew more agitated and immediately escalated to constant, spastic attacks. For a few days afterward it was awful; from that first bum change in the morning he was winding up that arm and Hennie couldn’t go anywhere near him. She would whimper fearfully when he came close (even though his attacks rarely landed and didn’t hurt) and begged me to carry her everywhere in the house (I did not do this).

As all of you know, I’m not a professional child behaviourist, an early childhood educator, or even a veteran mom so I’m just sharing what is working for me and Wells lately. You should do what fits into your worldview and is right for your family.

Rather than trying to ‘fix’ my toddler I’ve been trying to understand him a little better. Since he can’t communicate with words yet I figured hitting must be a way for him to communicate some big emotions he’s navigating. Since he is usually laughing and/or playing when it happens, I don’t think he is trying to communicate anger but some other feeling that he doesn’t know how to process because he’s, well, a one-year-old. Approaching his newfound penchant for hitting from a compassionate standpoint rather than anger or exasperation has worked wonders the past few weeks. Here’s what it looks like for us:

  • I EMPATHIZE by treating his behaviour like a series of questions he’s asking. This has helped me to see things from his perspective. Toddlers his age are inquisitive and I imagine him wondering “what will happen if I do this? Is this allowed? What reaction will Mummy and Hennie have? Will I get the same reaction if I do it again? and again? and again? I know I’m not supposed to do this but I want to see if Mummy will still love me if I do it. I’m feeling agitated/ excited/ fearful and I want to see if this is the appropriate way for me to demonstrate these feelings.” Yes I know that he’s not really thinking those exact things but I do believe that his actions are a way for him to explore and ask questions about his environment and to gauge and learn from my response. He’s learning boundaries in a different way than Hennie learned boundaries at his age and that’s completely okay.
  • I ACT, staying consistent and recognizing that his behaviour is not “bad” but developmentally appropriate. I meet him where he’s at. I get down on the ground with the kids and stay physically close to Wells so that I can intervene between him and his sister. If his arm comes up, I gently but firmly stop him from hitting.
  • I SPEAK in a way that is straightforward and not confusing for him, abandoning the “we” and saying instead “I don’t want you to do that” before redirecting his attention elsewhere. For Hennie’s sake I usually recognize out loud that Wells is “still learning how to act and it’s our job to show him what’s okay and what’s not okay. Let’s tell him how much we love him.”
  • I CONNECT and demonstrate calm by controlling my reaction if he continues. In order to show him that emotions are not bad, I allow him to feel however he’s feeling and I don’t shout, scold, or punish him by putting him in forced isolation (aka time-out) which I think would demonstrate to him that emotions are unacceptable and should be dealt with only by himself. I remind myself that a small child’s biggest fear is being separated or isolated from his parents so I offer him connection by making eye contact, keeping my voice calm, and offering hugs and cuddles.

This last part usually results in Wells sinking into my arms and calming right down, which shows me that maybe through his behaviour he’s looking for connection and reassurance all along. Again, this is just one mama’s experience but it’s working for me! I feel like increased connection and being present is probably the antidote to most of the difficulties we face in these early years. Have you dealt with a toddler who hits? What have you found that has worked for you?

 

Jessie Runs a (Half) Marathon: What Happened When I Replaced Drinking with Running

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Have you seen the movie Brittany Runs A Marathon? We watched it this past weekend and I just kept thinking about how many Brittany’s there must be in the world, how many humans have changed the course of their life through sheer will and hard work. After all, I did it. 12 years ago I was a Brittany.

To be perfectly honest the picture above is the source of some of my deepest shame. Unlike a lot of people who have successfully lost a lot of weight I don’t ever talk about it. In fact, I destroyed so many photos from that time that I didn’t have any to share here until I asked family to send one over. But it was never about how I looked.

My shame surrounding that time comes from the knowledge that I wasn’t taking care of myself and my weight was tied to my lack of direction in life and a deep-seated self-loathing. This ‘before’ photo was taken at my brother’s wedding when I was 182 lbs. At the time I thought I was happy and fun but in hindsight I was lost and miserable, clinging to a party girl persona that just wasn’t who I was. I was waking up feeling like shit six days a week, eating shit food, getting shit grades in university and making plans to exercise “tomorrow.” I never hated the way I looked but I deeply hated the way I felt: no energy, no motivation, and not a lot of true joy. I know that bodies come in a multitude of sizes and genetic dispositions and smaller does not always equate healthier. In my case I knew without a doubt that the weight I had gained in my early twenties was due to alcohol consumption, very poor eating, and a sedentary lifestyle – in short, a basic lack of attention to my emotional and physical needs (wish the ‘self care movement’ had been as strong a decade ago!).

One day I decided to get my shit together and over the course of the following year, I did. That makes it sound easy but changing long-held habits is not a commitment you make one time, it’s a choice you have to re-choose multiple times a day until the changes you hoped to bring about have become second nature. Every night when my coworkers pressured me to go to the bar with them after work I had to choose my new lifestyle and say no. Every morning when my body wanted to sleep in but I had a training run in the calendar I had to re-commit and get my butt out of bed. Every single meal time I had to make a choice, too. I gave up alcohol and meat for six months and the weight fell off.

Slooooooowly the running came easier too and the distances of my runs lengthened. Since I don’t enjoy running with music it was just me on the seawall for 17km trying to make sense of the thoughts in my head and figuring out who I was, who I wanted to be going forward. At first it was difficult to replace my impulse to drink with an impulse to run but as it turns out running is much better therapy (and cheaper, too!) and soon I was itching to “run out” my problems after a hard day rather than forget them momentarily with booze. As I learned more about nutrition and tuned in to my body my eating habits changed naturally, too – I started to see food as fuel rather than my enemy or comfort and the resulting removal of emotion from my eating has been one of the biggest un-learnings of my life.

My goal was never to lose the weight because my body wasn’t the problem. My body was the physical result of an emotional void, proof of the lack of care I was taking with myself. Rather than a weight loss goal I had set the goal of accomplishing something, of seeing something through without quitting for once. I signed up for a half marathon and committed to the months of training required for me to run it. I did those runs and ran that race all by myself and it transformed my whole life. I lost 50 lbs and gained an inner and outer strength I never knew lay within me. I created lifelong habits that have served me so well: I know now how to listen carefully to what my body needs, I know how much it can save me to unplug and get outside, I know how to cook vegetables so they taste amazing (an important skill!), I know how to savour treats, I know how it feels to have energy when you actually drink the amount of water we’re supposed to drink each day, I know how crippling a single shot of Jameson can be to my Sunday morning mileage.

All this to say: if you’re not feeling like yourself lately, make a change. Make a plan for how to execute little, doable changes that will lead you to the lifestyle you truly want but have only dreamed about. Take it from me, it’s worth it.