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!

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.

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?