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.

Sensory Bins: A Starter Guide

In the Pacific Northwest we have a LOT of rainy days so when we’re not at the local drop-in or the park in full rain gear we’re indoors trying to find something to occupy ourselves. Most rainy days we do baking that we need to do anyway but a few times a week now we pull out the sensory bin!

I’ve been following Susie at @BusyToddler for ages now and she’s big on the importance of sensory play but even considering all the pros she states I cannot tell you how much I hated the idea of putting a sensory bin together. With a 1 and 3-year-old I feel like I’m already picking up toys, sweeping, and generally cleaning up pretty much constantly just to keep the house in a general state of functionality, so the idea of creating extra mess on purpose was not appealing to me. But one morning I wanted desperately to drink my coffee uninterrupted so I figured I’d give it a shot. Afterwards I realized that the set-up took longer than the clean-up and now we sensory bin whenever we want and it’s no prob! Plus it’s an activity that the kids do well together and I’ve grown to love stepping back and watching them interact with each other and the bin.

If you wanna try it out here are a few things I’ve learned. PS I didn’t spend a dime!

Set it Up: I found a shallow tub storing shoes under our guest bed and gave it a quick wipe, but you can use a large tray or baking pan with a high rim, anything convenient you have kickin’ around your house. If you have carpet you can place a blanket or towel underneath for easy clean-up but I prefer to move our kitchen table out of the way and just put it down on hardwood. I keep Hennie’s kid-size dustpan and broom nearby so she can take the initiative to sweep up if something gets thrown out of the bin (spoiler alert: it does).

Fill it Up: since Wells is a very curious toddler we always use a base that is safe and generally edible (you can try dry pasta or beans, raw rice, lentils). You can use whatever you find in your pantry that’s cheap and easy to clean up (don’t use flour, k?). Rolled oats are our favourite these days because I always have a ton on hand. Hen likes it when I throw in a few handfuls of birthday sprinkles for some flair.

Add Tools: the whole point of sensory play is for kids to get to feel different textures and work on those transferring and scooping skills! What do your kids like to play with in your kitchen? Throw it in! Hen and Wells are obsessed with my kitchen tongs but we also use wooden spoons, measuring cups, monkey bowls, and funnels. I like to make sure that there’s enough stuff that they won’t fight over anything (they still will, of course) and I learned the hard way not to include your prized pottery. Make sure there’s some tupperware or something they can fill up and dump out because that’s the best part!

Optional Add-ins: these can be seasonal or just for fun! You could ‘bury’ their favourite toys (Paw Patrol pup figurines!) for them to ‘rescue’ with the kitchen tongs or hide leftover plastic Easter eggs for them to scoop up with their spoons – these are all great ways for them to work on their fine motor skills. This month I made a nature-inspired Christmas bin for the kids and included cedar clippings and pinecones we collected in our yard, dehydrated orange slices (Wells chewed the middles out of these), and some red jingle bells that were a big hit.

Clean it Up: after the kids are done playing with it I sweep up the (usually small) amount that has escaped the bin and save the rest for another time – it’s so easy to change out the tools and add-ins when we want to. The tub I originally found is no longer for shoe storage, it’s now a sensory bin all the time. It came with a lid so I can still store it out of sight under the guest bed and pull it out when we want to use it – the kids get so excited now when they see this tub! Sometimes to increase the excitement factor I’ll put away a few small toys they love to play with for a week or two and throw them into the bin and they get so stoked to play with them again (and I don’t have to buy anything new!). The best part is that oats are cheap and are offered at my local zero-waste grocery store, so I can go in a buy a huge bag without adding any plastic to the landfill. When the oats in our current bin are running low I’m gonna dye some rice for the next bin (google Rainbow Rice to learn how!).

I hope I’ve convinced you to introduce sensory play in your home! Let me know how it goes!

All is Calm: Tips For A More Mindful Holiday Season

We’re well into the holiday season and I’m surprised to be feeling so chill about things. I know it’s still early but I don’t feel stressed or spread-too-thin like I usually do by this time in December. It’s our first Christmas on the coast and there’s a lovely slower pace of life here to begin with, but the absolute madness that accompanies any holiday activity in a big city is absent here and it feels like it actually is the most wonderful time of the year (after summertime, of course). Here are a couple extra things I’ve been doing (or not doing!) that help get us through December without feeling like we’re starting the new year at a major energy deficit.

Mindfully Avoid Sources of Stress: this has helped me a lot. It’s tough to seek calm and avoid chaos if you don’t know which things trigger stress reactions for you. Spend a few minutes thinking about the activities, events, or people that usually make you feel overwhelmed or overstretched during the holidays – this will look different for each of us, of course! Keep in mind that there’s good chaos and bad chaos; some things are inconvenient but unavoidable (busy parking lots, holiday traffic, crowded malls) and some things might make us feel the kind of negative, out-of-control stressed that is harder to recover from. Once you’ve identified the key things that set off your stress/anxiety during the season you can decide if you should try to manage them or if it’s best to avoid them completely. Life is too short to do tons of stuff you don’t feel like doing so if you hate Santa photos, don’t have the energy for Elf on the Shelf, don’t worry about it. If parking at a busy mall gives you a panic attack before you even get inside, shop online. If you have a shitty friend or a toxic family situation, consider staying home to create your own meaningful traditions. Craft the perfect holiday season based on exactly what your family needs in order to make lasting memories.

Focus on the Magic and Forget the Rest: what makes the season special for your family? Is it Santa? Jesus? Giving back to others? Long overdue family time? Sometimes we get hung up on the small stuff during the holidays and don’t even give ourselves the time to step back and realize it’s not as important as we thought. Many of us are probably guilty of stressing over cooking a big meal when the most important aspect of the night is spending time with those we’re cooking for, or finding the “perfect” gift for someone when the season isn’t actually about the gifts. Putting some of our priorities into perspective can shift the vibe and help us chill out about those little things, like the kids refusing to wear their matching sweaters or the stuffing getting a little too crispy. When in doubt, make like Elsa or Anna or whatever (I haven’t seen Frozen yet) and let it gooooo… nobody’s gonna remember that stuff, anyway!

Keep Expectations for Kids Super Low: some kids do pretty well attending an onslaught of social functions and fun activities over the course of December but even the most extrovert kids I know need to recharge at home between all of the festivities. Lights, crowds, and a full day of sugary treats make even adults feel a little nuts and our kiddos get even more overstimulated (and then we feel frustrated with them when they have an epic meltdown; “they don’t normally do this!” …well you don’t normally skip their nap, give them a hot chocolate and then expect them to sit on a weird stranger’s lap either, Susan. Use your brain). Of course it’s okay for them to have a late bedtime once in a while so they can catch the magic of the Santa Parade or go carolling but often I find that framing the fun stuff around established nap times and routines helps my kids to enjoy those activities more fully because they have more energy (not to mention every time our family scrimps on sleep we all get sick!). But like I said, you know your kids best. Mine are very young and get overtired pretty quickly so keeping big events short and sweet (and then slinking off early to watch a Christmas movie on the couch in our jammies) works well for us! Other families I know try to keep just one big activity or family visit per day in their schedule so they aren’t driving around to multiple cities to cram too much in. Do what works for you!

A Word about Consent: just a friendly reminder that there are a lot of ways for your kids to say hello/goodbye to their relatives or thank them for a gift that don’t involve physical touch. Some children are naturally affectionate but some (like mine!) have a large bubble of ‘personal space’. If your child doesn’t want to hug or kiss their relatives you have a perfect opportunity to teach them about consent and show them that you respect their boundaries. There are a ton of articles online discussing this point if you’re interested in reading more but I find it helpful to consider this during the holidays.

Mindful Seasonal Traditions You Can Start: picking out a Christmas tree, decorating the tree, making cookies for family or neighbours, making a meal for the local shelter, choosing toys and coats to donate (both new and used), DIYing a garland from yard clippings (go ‘foraging’ first to find pinecones, berries, etc), making Christmas playdough (try using peppermint extract or pumpkin spices!), advent calendars (so many ideas on Pinterest), stamping kraft paper to use to wrap gifts (did you know that wrapping paper isn’t recyclable?), having a bonfire (don’t forget hot chocolate!), writing a Christmas story together, cooking something new for dinner, salt dough ornaments, Christmas colouring sheets, letting the kids pick out small gifts for their siblings, bundling up and going to the beach…there’s so much you can do during the day with kids in the winter! What would you add?

Rancher Renovations: The First 6 Months

For many of our local Vancouver friends maybe it seems a bit show-offy to be writing about renovating what would be considered a pretty massive home to anyone hoping to buy in the city. Even the hardest workers amongst our generation are struggling to become homeowners of a condo or townhouse in the city and here I am about to go off about our sprawling rancher on a third of an acre. The catch, of course, is that we had to say goodbye to our coveted city-dwelling status and move to a small community a short ferry sailing from Vancouver. While Tom and I would love to still reap the benefits of raising our kids in the diverse, liberal mecca that is (ideally) the city, there is an undeniable trend building amongst our liberal friends and acquaintances towards a life with a little land, a garden, and room for our families to grow and play. The trade-off for losing out on some of those amazing city events and experiences is that we get to have a home that is unsullied by overbearing landlords, rent increases, or strata rules and regulations. Of course that #RenoLife is not for everyone; some people just wanna score a gorgeous, move-in ready remodel and if you’d rather go to the dentist than paint a room definitely do not buy a fixer-upper; it’s okay if it isn’t your thing. But for me, homes, like life, are all about the journey, and renovating has given me a much-needed outlet for my creativity at a time in my life (stay at home mom with two young, needy children) when I desperately need that outlet. So if you want renovation advice from someone who knows close to nothing about renovation, home ownership, or design: read on, friends!

We Are Our Own Masters! Home ownership is like adulthood: there are some really gratifying experiences associated with having independence but between those times of fun freedom are many, many un-fun responsibilities. Sure, you can spend half of every paycheque on cool vacations but in order to take those sweet vacay’s you have to do the work, file your taxes, go to bank appointments, take our your recycling, and do all that general adult stuff that you wish you didn’t have to do. The freedom that comes with both adulthood and home ownership comes at a price and that price is having to spend your time and money on things that are boring and mundane. Once you buy your own home and can no longer call your landlord to come fix shit when it breaks you gotta go old school and call your dad or call YouTube and learn to do it ya damn self. The upside is that if you feel spontaneously compelled to paint a room after a bottle of wine on a Friday night you can do it without asking anyone’s permission (except maybe your partner’s, depending what your relationship is like). Once when my husband was half asleep and hopped up on NeoCitron I asked him what he thought about me painting his beloved piano blush pink and he said “I’d love a pink piano”. Highly recommend asking for your spouses opinions in this way.

Do A Quick Google First This is the worst advice ever for a parent but the best advice for a homeowner. Do a quick google (or a deep dive, depending on the complexity and scope of the project you’re about to undertake) and educate yourself before jumping in. Assess whether your project will require a professional or if it’s something you can easily learn to do yourself. There are so many things that a human of basic intelligence can do on her own and hear me when I say that after you do it, even if you screwed it up the first and second times, you will feel so badass and proud of yourself when it’s done whether you planted a garden, demolished a shed, installed a light fixture, sanded and refinished a piece of furniture, patched a fence, or took apart the plumbing under your sink to get out all of the environmentally friendly millennial metal straws that your kids somehow poked through the drain. A quick google will also tell you when you’re about to do something that should really be left to a qualified professional, like, say, getting the rabid mama racoon and her three day old babies out from under your crawlspace and relocating them to a nearby wood.

Consider Starting with a Blank Slate Depending on what things look like when you first get possession of your new home (no matter the size!) it can sometimes help to tone down some of the more distracting elements in order to more easily find your own home style buried within the noise. If you are a first-timer like me who isn’t at all sure about your actual home style it can help to start with as blank a slate as possible and work from there. When we got possession of our rancher some of the rooms were dark, distracting, and oppressive despite the huge south-facing windows so I painted everything white. We’ve gone through at least 15 gallons of paint in six months. Once the turquoise, purple, and gold walls and murals had been whitewashed into oblivion (yeah, we bought a pretty eccentric home…) I was able to start putting together my own vision for each space, sometimes completely changing the functionality of a room. I know that not everyone loves the all-white-everything aesthetic that is so hot in home decor right now but sometimes it can be hard to see the potential in your home without removing the big distractions first.

Progress, not Perfection: this has been my mantra since we moved into this house. It’s much too easy to get sucked into the comparison game on Instagram without seeing any of the behind-the-scenes details. There’s no end to the filtered, perfectly staged homes featured on the internet but as always it’s not fair to compare our journey to someone else’s highlight reel, or our fixer-upper to their painstakingly remodelled Dream House; they may have worked ten years to get that house to where it is. To combat that I make sure I’m not fixating on getting each room “done” (what does that even mean, anyway?). Instead I just try to focus on functionality first. When each space is functional (or intentionally lacking function, but very pretty), then I can tick away at small improvements and make simple changes that I love. This can mean something seemingly major like painting the exterior of our house or something minor like moving some light fixtures around or reorganizing a closet. Prioritize whatever you have the energy and motivation to prioritize and eventually everything will come together. Some weeks we get a lot done on our home and some weeks we just look around and think through the next steps. This is true for seasons, too: we did a ton of projects in the Spring, Summer and early Fall, then settled in and are planning on taking Winter off to recoup (and pay off our bursting line of credit…).

Most Renovation Necessities Are Not Fun You already know this, but life is not HGTV. There are times that you will indeed have the time and money to do a full room makeover that completely transforms a space but more often than not renovating is about dropping a shitload of money on stuff that is explicitly not fun, like upgrading your roof, insulating your crawlspace, or getting a new fireplace insert. The majority of your money as a homeowner will go into boring stuff like that so be sure to really enjoy it when a fun project comes along that you’re stoked about! I wish that I had taken the time to enjoy the really good ones a little more instead of rushing through them to get to the next thing. So far I’ve found that the journey is just as fun as the “big reveal,” which I certainly wasn’t expecting when we got ourselves into this whole homeowner gig.

Don’t Be Afraid to Cut Corners I know many people might disagree with this one and normally if you’re gonna do something you may as well do it right the first time, but you don’t have to do everything the right way right away when it comes to your home, and as a logical adult you likely have an idea which things are structural (don’t take shortcuts) and which things are superficial (shortcuts often okay). Most of us won’t have the money to do every single update we want to do right away or even in the first few years and this is especially true if you have a lot of “un-fun” upgrades to do (lookin’ at you, plumbing and electrical!). In the meantime, there are a ton of shortcuts you can take to make your spaces look nicer while minding your budget. If you can’t afford to re-tile your entire front entryway you can paint or stencil that ugly tile to get you through a few years while you save up to do the job the right way. There are amazing high quality backsplash decals or peel-and-stick tiles to update a kitchen for the same purpose (kitchen reno’s are big bucks!). You can sand and stain dated wood floors rather than replace your entire home with expensive oak-engineered hardwood. A coat of paint and some new hardware can completely transform a dated kitchen or bathroom without having to gut it. If you’re renting you can often paint as long as you agree to paint it back before you move. Peel-and-stick wallpaper is another renter-friendly option that’s readily available on Amazon and comes off easily when you need to move. The moral of the story: there are a lot of options these days, so while you choose which things to throw your hard-earned money at you can still make changes that you love to the rest of your home.  Another way to cut corners is to be honest with the people you hire about your budget. We’ve saved lots of money by doing the cleanup and junk hauling parts of jobs ourselves to minimize labour costs. If we can prep a job ourselves or come in later and do the sanding and finishing, we’ll just ask the contractor to give us an itemized quote so we can decide how involved we want to be and what’s worth our time. Sometimes a quote can almost double because of the time it takes to clean up after tree-felling, demolition, etc. It’s hard work but you’ll save a lot by doing it yourself.

Be Patient This is a laughable concept to anyone who is following our renovation journey on our instagram account because we’re diving into new projects every weekend, usually before the current one is even finished. I know myself well enough to know that my motivation for projects ebbs and flows, so when I’m going through a phase where I’m energized and excited to get stuff done I roll with it and accomplish as much as I can before the inevitable “Netflix phase” (aka January to March). But when I say it pays to be patient I mean this in terms of furniture pieces. When you first move into a new place, whether it’s a sprawling rancher or your first tiny, cute bachelor apartment, it’s easy to just go nuts at IKEA and bring home all new stuff. Depending on your circumstances maybe this is the best option for you! But finding the absolute perfect piece at a thrift store or garage sale is the biggest thrill (at least for some of us nerds). It’s always worth it to wait a little while for something different and gorgeous that’s a good deal. Unless you’re freakin’ rich and then by all means get what you want! But second hand pieces are way cooler 🙂

After our first six months in our fixer upper we feel like it’s finally starting to feel like our family home. I can’t believe it took half a year but we’ve gotten our house to a great “blank slate” place and are ready to infuse some of the rooms with some more interesting concepts and starting thinking about those things that make a house into a home with personality: art on the walls, some gorgeous wallpaper, a funky kitchen backsplash. Unfortunately we are currently out of money so it’s time to get creative!

If you’d like to follow along on our journey feel free to follow us at @northwestrancher