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

Generating More “Good Days” by Identifying Anxiety Triggers

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If you’re a stay-at-home-parent then you know that some days feel amazing and some days feel like absolute shit. Obviously life is like that before we have kids too because circumstances are always in flux but I think that with every child you add to your family you also add a new depth to the lows and high to the highs. Those wonderful “good days” when you and your kids are all in sync and going with the flow and not under the influence of hormones, teething, sleep deprivation or a general latent crankiness become almost magical. Unfortunately the “bad days” when you all wake up short on patience and joy and everyone blows out their diapers and cries and you finally get 30 seconds to yourself only to realize you’re out of coffee… those mornings can turn into some real rock bottom days if you can’t figure out how to do a hard reset. Is this resonating? If not I’m gonna seem like a total Jackass Mom, but I’m gonna risk your judgement and continue.

At some point I realized something that shook me to my core: it usually wasn’t my kids determining whether a day was “good” or “bad,” IT WAS ME (insert sheepish look and apologies to my children). Specifically, the days were determined by my mental state which usually hinged on one single thing: whether I was feeling anxious that day or not. I know, I know, anxiety is such a buzzword right now and I’m sure you’re sick of hearing about it but it can be a big deal. Anxiety manifests in our lives in a ton of ways that can affect home, work, health, parenting, pretty much anything including… your ability to handle your day! Apparently.

First let me just mention how much power can come from getting to know yourself better. Learning about ourselves throughout our childhood and adolescence, our twenties and thirties, can unlock a lot of problem-solving potential in later life! Knowing why and how we do things the way we do them – at work, school, home, or when we’re dating – is crucial knowledge. We can use that knowledge to (hopefully) avoid making the same dumb mistakes over and over again or keep those mistakes from becoming harmful habits that continue to cripple us throughout adulthood. Self knowledge is an ongoing, lifelong journey but I think certain experiences like hardship can push us to discover our own minds faster than normal. I can’t be sure about everyone else but I don’t learn much from those perfect, joyful days where everything goes according to plan. I try to stay present and soak it all in but there aren’t many teaching moments in the good times. But during hardship phases, when my mettle is truly tested, I can often learn a lot about my own mental workings as long as I create the space to allow that to happen. Nothing has taught me more in such a short time than my hardest phases of motherhood.

After my first pregnancy I ended up with a severely colicky newborn with an unknown future due to a medical diagnosis we hadn’t been expecting. The crippling anxiety that hit me my first year as a mother made the anxiety I had been dealing with throughout university look, well, cute. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t go out, I couldn’t make time or room in my life for my friends, I couldn’t do anything so I completely shut down. For about ten months I just stayed home with my new baby bouncing on a yoga ball and crying. It wasn’t until after I had my second baby that I realized postpartum anxiety is normal for me but not nearly to that extent.

During that first year of motherhood I was in a survival state that didn’t leave a lot of time for philosophical deep-dives into my sense of self. But I guess I scraped together enough self-actualization to recognize that certain things triggered the onset of those first anxious feelings that had the potential to spiral into a full-blown, heart-racing, I-can’t-do-this Anxiety Attack. After the surprising realization that it was my own issues that charted the course for the day and not the kids and their crankiness, I started to pay more attention to how I felt on good or bad days (aka manageable or unmanageable days) to see if I could garner more control over the outcome of my days at home. Here are the things that I figured out I personally need to avoid to ensure that I have more “good” emotional days! I’d love to hear what your “bad day” triggers are, if you know them.

Hunger: the kids’ hunger, my own hunger, anyone’s hunger anywhere is a trigger for my feelings of inadequacy because apparently I’m a Feeder. Lack of food in the fridge makes me feel like I’m failing as a parent and human and when I don’t have something on hand to feed the kids (they get hangry every hour on the hour) everyone loses their shit collectively and the day goes downhill from there.

The Solution: on days when I need to majorly lessen the chance of a mama meltdown (like when Tom is out of town) I make sure that the fridge is stocked, fresh snacks are at hand, and meals are prepped and ready to be reheated quickly. If there’s nothing around we do an emergency stroller walk to the grocery store and buy every croissant available and a massive amount of fruit for the walk home.

Unrealistic Expectations: this is a huge one for me. I went into motherhood with a rigid expectation for what I should do each day and that expectation was: everything. I was making myself massive to-do lists and then berating myself if there was one thing that didn’t get done because the baby refused to nap that day. Allowing my day to be more flexible has served me better than most lessons I’ve learned over the course of the last three years. My “must do” list has become a “suggestions” list and if I ignore the whole thing to brave a solo beach day or go get coffee with a friend I don’t sweat it.

The Solution: learning to let the small stuff go has been an important and necessary step for me and my relationship with my anxiety. I have the perspective now to care less about the little things. My kids are still pretty young but I’m also making attempts to get more stuff done while they’re awake instead of during their naptimes. I’ve been incorporating my to-do list into their day and making it as fun for them as I can. Usually I can unload the dishwasher, bake or prep meals, load the laundry machine and get the laundry hung on the line, tidy up, and exercise by pretending it’s a fun thing Hen and I can do together. Kids love to help and she likes it a lot more than I do!

Lack of Routine: since my kids aren’t school age yet it’s easy to feel like we have no structure and are just floating through the day doing whatever. Both me and my kids respond better to a bit of a routine but as per above, we keep it pretty flexible. The outline of our day evolves naturally but gets more lax in the summertime.

The Solution: duh. Create a bit of a routine, even if it’s just a loose one: park in the mornings, books before naptime, a little screentime while you cook dinner just to keep the kids out of your hair. I’m going to try for a tighter routine in September and I have some pretty cool tools at hand that I’m excited to try out.

Staying Inside: even though getting out of the house is daunting some days (and becomes more daunting the more children you have!) every mom I know swears by it in order to gain some perspective and distract everyone long enough for a bit of a reset. If you have older kids you can get a pretty fun day trip in once in a while, but if you have younger ones like me you might have to keep outings pretty short and sweet. Currently our son sleeps 10-12, our daughter naps 12-2, and our son takes a second nap from 2-3, so I’m housebound for most of the day.

The Solution: I prep the stroller in advance for a quick morning outing and stay close to home by just doing a coffeeshop run, a visit to the nearby garden store, a hangout at the park around the corner, or just a long walk through some neighbourhood trails. We definitely don’t get out every single day but sometimes just hanging out in the front yard is enough!

Identity Outside of Motherhood: I’m still working on this one because it’s really hard. It took me multiple years of being a mother to admit that I not only want but need time away from my kids. There’s still a pervasive idea for many moms that our kids should be enough for us but why? If we’re multi-faceted women before we have kids why wouldn’t we expect to be multi-faceted women after we have kids? I think we need to play other roles besides just the mama one, and have other interests as well. It’s a necessity for sanity, I’m sure of it.

The Solution: I make time to do the things I like to do without my kids around, even if it’s just once in a while. Tom and I are pretty hardcore homebodies so we don’t need time out of the house super often. Just watching movies together, doing renovation projects, and the occasional date night are enough for us. He also has work and I chip away at my freelance writing projects when I’m able to. When I crave adult conversation I call a friend and we FaceTime or go for beers!

Not Exercising: I don’t care who you are, exercise helps clear your head and offers perspective. Sometimes just going for a walk (preferably in the forest) is enough but when I’m really working through some stuff I generally have to get some longer runs or harder workouts in to feel like I’m releasing some of the nervous energy I feel when I’m anxious about something.

The Solution: I haven’t felt very motivated this summer so Hennie and I have just been doing yoga together before bed and sometimes in the mornings as well. It’s a great way to get her to stretch and a great way for us to bond. I want our kids to grow up seeing us being active and prioritizing ourselves so they know that it’s important.

I’m always interested to learn more tools for handling anxiety; what are some of the things that threaten to send you into a Bad Day Tailspin? What do you do to combat them? Let’s learn together!

How the Phrase “It’s Just a Phase” is Saving Motherhood for Me

I’m the first to admit that motherhood isn’t easy. If you’ve followed our journey on social media for a while or you know me in real life then you know that it hasn’t been all sleepy newborn snuggles and sweet toddler affection over here. The addition of a child is an adjustment for everyone and we all have our own struggles but for me the difficulty felt so deeply ingrained in my emotional wellbeing and went overlooked for so long (who has the time!?) that it eventually became a part of me and my mothering worldview. Resentment, anger, and frustration became my norm. I was grateful but I wasn’t deep down in my core grateful. I didn’t feel like I really knew the meaning of the word, actually. Maybe somewhere amidst the colic, the medical diagnosis, the always-looming questions about Hen’s health and the complete shitshow that is raising back-to-back babies while moving to a new house in a completely new place (phew!) I got bogged down by my feelings of discontent.

It’s no surprise that those feelings started to colour my perception of motherhood. I was holding on to so much trauma that there was no room left for me to notice the characteristics that made my two kids unique and wonderful in my everyday present reality. Defining myself by how my journey had begun left no room for me to create new, freer versions of myself. Even though I was renovating my dream house with the love of my life in a new community that we loved with our two gorgeous babies I still had niggling feelings of discontent and even unhappiness. I was stealing joy right out from under myself and I felt so much shame because I knew I was doing it but couldn’t figure out how to set myself on a different course.

The biggest difference between first-time and second-time motherhood for me was always foresight. In the thick of the sleeplessness and colic and medical-mama-drama of that first year of motherhood I truly felt that I had no lifeline, that there was no end in sight. That first year felt eternal and my husband and I still agree that there were not many good moments in it but it ended. Colic sloooowly subsided, Hen slowly became more manageable, we slowly got a handle on her diagnosis. Bad days come, but if we’re lucky they also end.

The thing is, the second time around you have that hopeful knowledge to cling to and it helps with the teething and the sleep regressions and the rest but you quickly realize that it applies to the good stuff as well. The phase when your newborn blissfully passes out on your shoulder despite the low rumble of background noise at a party? That ends way too quickly. The phase when they need you to kiss their bumps and bruises ends, too. The phase when they need help getting their own snacks. The phase when they crawl into your bed at 4am and fall asleep, sweaty and content, in the crook of your body ends. There will come a point when they’ll solve their own problems, do their own homework, a time when they have so much going on in their own life that they won’t even remember to call. All the good stuff ends.

Unfortunately it took this constant, painful, roundabout realization of the finite nature of childhood for me to start practicing true gratitude for what I had. In order to remind myself about what I had learned I drilled the phrase “it’s just a phase” into my head and repeated it as necessary (luckily it applies to everything from toddler tantrums to weather systems). When you’re tired of the long, dark, cold days of winter you know that the spring will inevitably arrive and when you’re tired of applying endless layers of sunscreen to your sticky, sweaty kids you know to soak up those summer days because the autumn is coming, too. Of course none of this means that you have to love every minute of motherhood (I ain’t about that vibe!) but take it from a constantly rehabilitating complainer: seeing the silver lining makes it a whole lot more sweet.

Natural Kids Sunscreen Review

ThinkSport | This is my number one fave. It’s easy to apply, works well, and smells good. I like that it’s an SPF 50 for my pale English babies and I usually only have to apply it once in the morning on a sunny day (if we’re spending the entire day in the sun I apply it after Hen’s midday nap as well, just for insurance). In addition to the Kids one pictured above there’s a Sport version, a Baby version, and one called Everyday Face that I should probably start using myself before my face starts to look like an old leather handbag 🙂

Green Beaver | This is by far the greasiest sunscreen I’ve ever used. When I used it last summer it ended up greasin’ up my toddler, myself, and pretty much all of our furniture. The Pro to this sunscreen is that the water beads right off your skin when you use it, so it’d be a great option for kids who are spending a lot of time in water at the pool or beach. The Con is that it’s a thick formula so it’s tough to apply on kids and I had to scrub pretty vigorously with soap to get it off my hands after I applied it; if you wanted to get all the sunscreen off of your kids before bedtime you might have to work pretty hard in the bath to remove it all from their skin. Moral of the story: effective, but a pain in the ass.

Badger | If you’re a mama with tattoos you need a sunscreen stick! I never use a stick for everyday use because they’re difficult to apply on kids, faces, and large surfaces like arms and legs. But I started carrying one around when I got my forearm tattoos done and was working on patios all summer – gotta protect that expensive artwork! I highly recommend this stick for tattoos and easy application areas like the bridge of your nose. Bonus : it smells SO good, like vanilla and oranges.

Alba | As you can see from the Sharpie written on this tube, this sunscreen comes out super fast! It’s the thinnest of the sunscreens I’ve tried so it’s easy to apply on skin because it spreads really well, but there’s no easy way of getting it out of the tube without getting half the tube. More importantly, because the formula is so thin it ran into Hennie’s eyes from her forehead when we used it on her face last summer, leading to major meltdowns and aversion to sunscreen for a while after (ugh, fail!). If you can figure out the perfect amount of pressure to apply to the tube so it doesn’t shoot out and waste the lotion it’s an effective choice with good coverage for arms and legs, but I wouldn’t recommend using it anywhere near the eyes. For now it’s our Stroller Sunscreen.

Do you have any favourite kiddo sunscreens to recommend?

Earth Day should be Every Day

Happy It’s-Been-A-Week-Since-Earth-Day!

I didn’t want to post something about how crucial it is that we save the planet because I found that the internet was oversaturated with that sentiment and sometimes that makes our scrolling become immune to the real message. I’m so glad so many people posted and reposted those messages of urgency because it’s an urgent problem and it has become the most important problem that we as humankind need to solve (aka fix the problem we ourselves have made). There was also also a lot of influencer garbage being posted too, though. If someone is endlessly trying to sell you shit every day in their posts but takes one day off to talk about how important it is to reduce your consumption, that person is a fraud who is just trying to use the moment to get some likes. The internet makes it so easy to tap in collectively to an event and share information about it … and then leave it behind 24 hours later until the next year’s annual post. This is usually fairly harmless but when it comes to climate change every year that passes is crucial to the cause, so please join me in trying to talk about this stuff all year long – I don’t normally post about the environment but I think we all need to start making space for an ongoing discussion about what we’re doing to save this planet and how we can all better our choices so we can move collectively toward a more sustainable future, fast. It’s too late for a bandaid solution now and fast is our only option. We have an opportunity to use the internet as a platform for us to learn from, encourage, and inspire each other. So let’s dive right into my own unsolicited two cents 😂

The latest climate change report stated that we have 11.5 years to reverse the damage we’ve done to our planet, and that’s frightening. My kids will just be entering their teen years then and if Tom and I have raised them even remotely well they’ll be asking why the hell they’re being left an irrevocably damaged planet and what, if anything, we did to try and stop that from happening. We don’t want to have to tell them we did anything less than our absolute, back-breaking best to pass on a beautiful (albeit healing) earth, so we’ve been making as many changes as we can in our lifestyle to attempt to do as much as we are able to do.

It’s really hard to do everything. In fact unless you have unlimited resources it’s impossible, and we’re all in different situations so I think it’s understandable that we each do whatever is within our personal means to do. And I don’t mean we change one little thing to assuage our own guilt and call it a day. The time for fake change and ignorant bliss has long past. Start today and every few months re-evaluate what you can do. Can you make more eco-friendly swaps? Can you go meat-free 6 days a week instead of just 1? Can you stop buying gd water bottles for once and for all (seriously this is SO BAD, but obviously don’t do this if you live in an area without safe drinking water). That’s why we do what makes sense for us to do.

I write all this in the spirit of informing, not preaching. It’s not about who is doing the most, it’s about all of us doing as much as we can. I’m learning more all the time about my impact and the impact of my family. This is an ongoing conversation that Tom and I have and that we hope to include our children in as soon as they’re old enough to talk (lol, still waiting on that). Just in case you’re at a loss for ideas here are some places to start! We have incorporated or are in the middle of incorporating these changes and would love to answer any questions if you have them!

G R O C E R Y and K I T C H E N

  • Most people already know to bring fabric bags with them when they do a food shop (this is like, Environmental Impacts 101) but the little plastic bags in the produce and bulk sections are a killer too! You can replace them with reusable mesh produce bags you can bring to the store for your fruit, veg, and bulk purchases.
  • It’s amazing how many things can be replaced with a reusable product: I’ve replaced my parchment paper with a washable silicone pan liner (I was using parchment paper every single day!), there are great quality heavy duty and leakproof ziplock bags on Amazon as well as beeswax alternatives to clingwrap. You can use biodegradable cloths instead of paper towel, washable makeup remover pads, even biodegradable wooden dish scrubbers and toothbrushes that you can happily throw in with your regular compost at the end of its lifespan.
  • You can’t use what you don’t have with you, so throw a metal straw in your car, stroller, and backpack so you don’t have to use plastic when you need to stop for a coffee or takeout. Same goes for plastic cutlery when ordering takeout.
  • If you live near a bulk or zerowaste store (yay, big cities!) bring those bags and jars and fill up in bulk on whatever you can. This can greatly reduce the amount of plastic packaging that goes from your home to the landfill.
  • Purchase less “single serving” products like juice boxes, squeezepacks, cheese strings, individual yogurts. Buy these things in larger portions and use reusable cups and glass tupperware. If you’re able to, making hummus, guac, salsa, etc from scratch can save a lot of plastic containers over the years. Not all of us have time for that, but a lot of us do. Hummus is stupid easy and takes about 2.5 minutes though so nobody has an excuse for that one.
  • As your plastic tupperware gets worn out, replace it with glass – you can find options everywhere, even at Ikea, and they’re a little heavier but so affordable.

S H O P P I N G

  • start popping into a thrift store once a week – you never know what you’ll find! I score so many kids clothing items, toys, and housewares for a super low cost, and it makes me feel good to know I’ve kept something from going to the landfill. You’re not gonna find the secondhand stuff of your dreams every time, but you won’t ever find anything if you never go. The best find are kids shoes – they’re often priced around $3-$8 and barely used because kids grow so damn fast! New kids shoes can cost a LOT so if you’re near a thrift store but don’t have a lot of time to go through it all, just check out the shoes.
  • let friends and family know that you don’t mind receiving secondhand stuff sometimes! I think we often feel like a new gift is so much better than a used one and that if we give someone a secondhand gift it means we’re dirt poor (lol) but a lovingly-thrifted vintage toy or baby dress or a big basket of excellent used books is way cooler and took more time to choose than some neon plastic that someone bought on their phone on Amazon without a second thought. No shade to plastic toys, there are times when they bring major joy to our kids and last years and years, but I’ve seen firsthand how well kids play with less quantity and less flashy toys, and there’s something to be said for that, too.
  • I used to think making and receiving DIY stuff was a little ghetto, but I’ve since realized that these are just the best gift. Homemade play dough is freaky easy to make, the colours are better, it’s all natural, and you can choose your own scents with essential oils.

D I E T

  • Whelp, this is gonna be an unpopular suggestion, but also maybe not because I’ve received a ton of questions about all of the vegan recipes I’ve posted on IG and I know that a lot of people are making some changes for health, for planet, and for their love of animals. Veganism has such a weird negative stigma associated with it sometimes but meat and dairy are a major part of your individual environmental impact. I’m not going to cite all of my sources here because it’s so easy to find the information if you choose to look into it. I didn’t look into it on purpose for a really long time because I knew what I was going to find and I knew that my discomfort and guilt would make me want to make major choices that I didn’t feel ready to make. To be perfectly honest I don’t give a hot damn about animals being eaten (this makes me sound like a total monster and I’m very sorry but I’ve always felt much more tender-hearted toward humans in need than animals. But saving animals is a lovely bonus too). The more I informed myself about meat and dairy and their affects on our health (so bad) and the planet (so, so bad), the more inclined I was to try reducing our consumption of those products. I was worried that Tom wouldn’t be on board at all, but after the latest climate change report freaked us out we did some research and found that cutting out meat and dairy was one of the biggest things we could do for climate change on an individual and family level. At first I felt like it was such a major personal sacrifice to make (and difficult for me as our family’s primary meal-planner and cook to change all of my habits!) but I quickly realized that my palate had changed and I truly preferred to eat a more veg-heavy meal. I experimented a lot and found ways that my family and I could love eating tons of veg and fruit. I found that there are amazing meat-free alternatives to almost all of our favourite things. For now we are what I’d call “Home Vegans” and it’s really easy for us. This means we eat plant-based meals at home and we try to go veg when we’re out but we sometimes indulge when it’s easy or we’re having a major craving for something. If we’re out with the kids we might grab an ice cream or a piece of pizza. On a date night (not that we get any of those!) we might split a burger. When we eat at someone’s house we will happily eat whatever we’re served without making a special request. But I’m shocked at how easy it’s been to transition at home and how much I prefer to eat healthful meals that I know are nourishing our bodies in a big way. I easily made all of my baking dairy and egg-free without one failed recipe. Our dinners are big, beautiful buddha-bowls filled with grains, veg, tasty sauces, nuts and seeds. We aren’t perfect but we’ve made a big change and I’m kinda proud of us.
  • if you want any recommendations for great meat-free substitutes, hit me up! I’ve tried a lot of them and have some major faves. If you have that you love, also hit me up! Always looking to try new recipes and products.

H O M E

  • when Tom told me he wanted to replace all of our thermostats with smart thermostats and our bulbs with smart bulbs I thought he was just being a dork who wanted to pimp our house with tech. And maybe he is! But then I read about how setting your heating systems to a timer can save a ton of energy and now I’m into it too. When we leave the house in a frenzy of chaos (which is every time we leave the house, because kids) and we forget to turn lights and heaters off, we can just do it from our phone in the car. We can set our heat to drop during the night and come up again in time for morning. We use this one.
  • cleaning supplies: just so much room for improvement here. Science is amazing and people have come up with eco-friendly cleaning agents that work just as well as the ‘bad stuff’ and won’t give your kids a rash or kill their brain cells. So many of those mass-produced candles and “odour cover” sprays are full of some truly toxic shit. Get thee to Amazon, Whole Foods, any alternative store, or just your local grocer, because better options exist! Esp. essential oils. 
  • I hang-dry the laundry when I can but sometimes you just need to use the dryer (especially when you’re cleaning your toddlers sheets in the middle of the night when they have the flu). I just found out about wool dryer balls last week. Throwing a couple of wool balls in the dryer with your clothes can reduce your dry time by 50%! That’s just convenient. I ordered mine on Amazon but you can find Canadian-made, organic wool balls (lol) pretty much everywhere.
  • I know that it would be more eco-friendly for us to have stayed in our 750 sq ft condo; the massive house we bought needs a lot of heating and that isn’t doing the environment any favours. But the plus side of having such a large property is that we have the opportunity to do some other cool stuff, like composting, rain collection, and growing our own food. Plus hello, money saving! The free soil we’ll get from our compost and the free food we’ll grow in our veg garden and harvest from our fruit trees will save us tons of money, especially since I’ve found groceries to be much more expensive on the coast.
  • we paid a few hundred bucks to have a full EnerGuide home evaluation done. An energy expert comes to your house and assesses its draftiness, heat sources, blah blah blah, and sends you a full report on your home, telling you where you can save the most money and energy and which rebates (whoop!!) you can apply for to get a bunch of money back on the changes you make. Knowledge is power, people. Also we basically bought the draftiest home in BC so there’s a lot of work to be done over here (cringe).
  • eventually we’d love to get solar-powered energy in our house but it can cost around $25-$30k so we aren’t able to make all the leaps we wanna make at this time. But I’ll mention it because maybe you can! Also, the government should give huge rebates for this kinda stuff. 

P O L I T I C A L

  • I’m still working on this one. Currently in North America our leaders are not the climate change leaders that every country needs. Keeping myself informed and voting for a party that will consider the future of the planet is important to me and something that I want to spend more time doing.
  • major corporations should be held much more accountable for their environmental footprint than they currently are. This is something we can all learn more about and lobby for within our local and wider government systems.

If you’ve read this far, wow (fun fact: I started writing this as an Instagram caption, but it got a little ahead of me). If you read this and want to head to your local shops to purchase some reusable and sustainable items, mother earth applauds you! We can’t all do it all. You might not be able to relinquish air travel if you have relatives overseas. You might not have the space to grow your own vegetables. But maybe you have the money to buy handmade wooden toys on Etsy for the next birthday party you attend, or the time to search on Craigslist for a baby swing instead of having it delivered by Amazon Prime, or the energy to visit a bulk store for half of your grocery list. Again, it’s not about who’s doing the most, it’s about all of us doing as much as we can.