Our apartment bedrooms, work space, and storage

This is my fifth and final post in my Montreal apartment tour series.

Our apartment has three bedrooms, one for us, one for Laurent and one for the girls. The bedrooms are a great size, which comes in handy when space is shared, like Laurent's room also being Damien's "office".

We'll start with our room.

I'm a bit shy to share photos of our bedroom on the blog, not because I feel our bedroom deserves any special privacy. If you came to visit I'd take you on the tour and show you our room, even if the bed wasn't made. We're not reserved about that kind of thing. (Although, because you can see our bedroom from the dining room I usually have the bed made.)

I'm shy on the blog because our room is very simple. There is nothing "master" bedroom about it. It doesn't look all that "grown-up". There is no matching bedroom furniture set and I don't imagine there ever will be one. Bedroom furniture is just not that important to us.

I am particular about no mattresses on the floor, so having a raised bed is important to me. And I want a comfortable mattress, but I want it to be simple.

Our bed frame and mattress are from IKEA and we're really happy with them.

As I mentioned on my Instagram recently, most of our home is decorated or accented in bold, bright colors; red and yellow being two of my favorite accent colours.

paintings from homeschool co-op art class
Laurent, left, Renee, right

But a different theme entirely has evolved in my bedroom over the years. I've purchased most of our bedroom linens second hand and it seems the nicest I could find, at the time of shopping, were pale yellow, pink, soft blues etc.

This is a decidedly different feel from the bold colors through the rest of the house. Somehow it all works.

Small Space Living Hack: Apple Crate Furniture

Years ago, when we lived in Maine, our CSA farmer's husband was selling apple/produce crates. We bought five, we should have bought ten.

These rectangular boxes are probably the most versatile furniture we've owned. We've used them to create shelving and side/end tables in the myriad of homes we've lived in over the last five years.

I've written on the blog about how we used these in previous homes for our at-home library. That post includes more photos and a sketch with dimensions if you're interested in building one (or five).

Currently, the apple crates are used as bedside tables in our room and Laurent's room and extra "large book" shelving in the dining/living room.

we have a low bed so this orientation is the perfect bedside table height.

Our bedroom is my retreat space when the family is watching a movie or playing a video game I don't care for, or when the music isn't my taste. I do a lot of writing in here also. Lots of mismatched pillows make for a comfy back rest. I'm sitting on the bed right now actually as I write this post.

Laurent's room is the most multi-purpose bedroom in the house. In part because Laurent is a really easy going person, and as the only "singleton" bedroom he has some space to share.

Small Space Living Hack: Roll-up Mattresses

Laurent's comfortable mattress (it's heftier than our own) is our twin guest bed. Laurent happily sleeps on the floor of the living room or the girls' room when we have guests. We bought a roll-up foam mattress at Costco for this very purpose. It fits under his bed.

This mattress gets used a lot in our house. Our kids, thirteen year old Brienne mostly, still come to us in the night when they are sick or having troubles sleeping. When this happens the opposite sex parent leaves, so that's usually Damien, to sleep on the living room floor.

The eight weeks of sickness in our home this past winter necessitated some creative sleeping solutions. The girls mattresses came down from their loft beds onto the floor because climbing up and down is no fun when you're sick. Kids were in our bed some nights, Damien was on the living floor. I spent a night in Laurent's bed when he needed to be in ours. It was a sleeping circus. This works for us largely because Damien can sleep anywhere and with very minimal mattress.

Laurent's room has a twin bed, desk for art and computer use, and a small dresser (filled 1/3 with art supplies, the kid has the most minimalist wardrobe I know). His room also has Damien's standing desk.

Damien is self-employed and works from home. Practically speaking, Damien works out of the home also because he goes to a cafe nearly every day to work for part of the time. When he's at home he uses this motorized height adjustable IKEA desk. Sometimes he stands, sometimes he sits. Sometimes he works at the dining room table.

As a rule, there is a lot of movement and fluidity in where people work in the house. Desk spaces are the personal "desk" storage areas, but everyone moves around the house a lot (with their computers, tablets, books and papers).

Damien uses a Roost stand (we actually helped Kickstart this product), a wireless keyboard and mouse for a more ergonomically-friendly work set-up.

This is really important since he spends a lot of time working on the computer. You may recall we used to have a treadmill desk. We don't anymore.

Laurent's desk is used mostly as a studio space and it usually looks more like this than the clear desk you see in most of his bedroom photos.

The girls bedroom is the largest bedroom, with the largest closet (so necessary for two teenage girls). I guess you could say we're blessed that our girls get along really well, though we had something to do with cultivating the respect, kindness and acceptance that we expect each member of our family to extend towards each other.

Celine and Brienne are very different people and I'm sure they get on each other's nerves but they have always shared a room; years of experience has taught them how to keep the peace. All of that to say, having two teenaged girls share a room has not been a problem for our family.

For almost all of their growing years our kids have not had their own desk. We had shared work spaces - craft tables, computer desks, in common living areas. When they were young there wasn't a need for individual desk space, then we had those years on the peninsula moving around from house to house and we made due with what was available. Before moving to Montreal we knew we wanted personal desk space for each member of the family.

To accommodate a desk for each girl in their room Damien converted their beds to loft beds. Damien built the girls' beds four years ago when we lived at the ski chalet and had access to our friend's wood working tools.

Last summer, he borrowed another friend's workshop and tools to raise the beds and build desks. The girls stained and finished the desks themselves.

The challenge with the girls room has been to tie together the girls' unique styles and decorating preferences. (Sci-fi meets My Little Pony.) The girls each choose their own bedding at IKEA and we settled on turquoise blue/green to be the unifying color.

One of the ideas I have in mind to bring it all together is to hang string lights with colored balls along the ceiling. There is a boutique lighting store on St. Denis in Montreal that lets you create your own mix of colors. These lights are adorable and I think could bring the room together quite nicely.

This is a good palette inspiration that suits both the girls' tastes. (Color palettes are so much fun!)

The girls' room is almost never this tidy. I had to plan the timing of this photo very carefully. It's their room, I try to give them the freedom to make their choices about this space but since our home is quite small and we rarely close bedroom doors I do request regular tidy sessions. (I know my Dad is going to want to comment now on the chaotic state of my bedroom as a teenage girl. He often reminds me of this with some incredulity since I am a fastidious housekeeper now.)

We still need to buy/build/roadside-rescue some nice shelving (with closing doors preferably) for the girls' room for all their "special personal effects" and creative supplies - fabric, papers, journaling materials, etc. Currently, all of that is in bins but assessing and accessing their contents is difficult. As a rule, I want creative supplies very easy to get to and very easy to clean up.

The apartment didn't come with window treatments so I purchased all our curtains at IKEA. They were too long, covering the hot water heaters below all the windows, so I hemmed them and kept the extra fabric to make covers for throw pillows. One of these days I plan to get around to that project.

Storage Space:

We have four closets in the house. One in each room and a small hallway closet we use for off-season jackets and footwear.

Bedroom closets store each person's backpack(s), sleeping bag (kept in large loose bags), and outdoor bin. These are the bins where we store personal hiking, skiing, backpacking effects that aren't in immediate use. For example, ski helmets, winter mitts, headlamps, etc.

Laurent's closet stores homeschool portfolios, memory stuff, irregularly used craft and homeschool supplies (the microscope for example), and luggage. I store guest linens and the extra double/queen sized blankets in our closet.

The girls' closet is the largest in the house and it stores clothes and extra twin blankets. We keep all our camping and ski gear, vacuum cleaner (I'd like to get a more compact model that could fit in a closet), tools, large empty boxes, and a lot of miscellanea in the garage.

Tour conclusion

Our tour of the apartment is now done. It's been fun to share it with you. Your comments and emails (I know, commenting does not work for many of you, a blog upgrade is in the works to fix this) have been complimentary and interesting, as you've shared your own housing stories with me.

Doing this tour of our apartment has brought several ideas to the surface: how people make housing choices, the benefits of city living, small space living ideas hacks, making things work with what you have (and furniture you might find in the trash), and the importance for me of creating a welcoming home.

I had another related thought to add to this list as I was putting together this final post.

I like to complete things. I don't want to live in a house that we are always remodeling or remaking or finishing. I know this is fun for some people and for other people it's just the reality of their housing situation.

While we were living in Maine, living in a house we owned (and still own as landlords), we decided that going forward in life we didn't want to live in a fixer-upper or a house that required a lot of DIY effort. A short season of making or remodeling is ok, but years of renos and building is not something we're interested in.

I'm not a super-duper home decorator. My DIY energy and skills for decorating projects is minimal. I'm not into painting and repainting rooms or doing a lot of thrift shopping, estate sales, or garage sales to furnish space. Damien is very skilled actually at building furniture and finishing work but his time right now is devoted to building and investing in other projects and interests.

I enjoy small creative projects, e.g.: sewing throw pillows. And I love organizing space for efficiency, this is a superpower of mine. Apartment living has allowed me to excel in these areas. I don't feel overwhelmed with unending home projects.

This apartment, with its clearly defined spaces and clean lines, feels tidy and put together, with the amount of effort we're willing to give.

I think that's one of the reasons I'm so happy here. It's not just that we live in a great location, but our living space fits our values and even our personalities.


Our apartment living and dining room

This is the fourth post in the Montreal apartment tour series.

The living and dining room are truly all-purpose, functional living spaces. We eat, relax, visit, study, create, read, wax skis, watch TV, play video games, and do schoolwork in this space. You could call it our great room because we use it for a great many purposes, including bike storage over winter.

Our living and dining room is a long rectangular room with French doors opening to the hallway near the main apartment entrance and a single door at the other end, closer to the kitchen and bathroom.

The other long wall in the room is shared with another apartment on the other side so there are no windows along that wall. The lack of natural light in the dining room is my main complaint about our apartment.

These rooms are furnished with a hodge-podge of old furniture, roadside rescues, and recent IKEA purchases.

Small Space Living Hack: Folding Chairs

Our dining chairs were an amazing gift from one of Damien's old bosses when we lived in Maine. His church was getting rid of these folding chairs and either we got them for free or we paid a pittance for them. I don't remember any more.

They are not fancy but they are very functional for smaller space living, have been a breeze to move (which is one of the reasons we've held onto them this long), and are quality-made.

We have ten of these chairs. They are used around the house - at the kids' desks, my desk - as well as at the dining room table.

We only open up and use as many chairs as we need in a given circumstance. Five at supper, two or three during the day, six or more when hosting friends for meals.

The rest of the time we fold the chairs we aren't using and this makes the room more spacious, less cluttered.

These chairs were made by the Paris Mfg. Co. in South Paris, Maine when mills and manufacturing powered the state. They served the first part of their life in a Lewiston church, and now they serve us. These chairs remind me of the years our family lived in Maine, a place I dearly love.

Our dining room table also has a history (and is in need of love). We bought it used when we were first married and it was originally a coffee table. Eventually, we added longer legs and used it as a craft table for years. It's now a small dining room table with heavy evidence of its previous life as craft/work table.

The table just fits six, and with that many people you have to dish up food in the kitchen. It desperately needs to be refinished, it's solid pine and I think it will clean up really nice.

Ideally, I want a longer drop leaf, or leaf insert, rectangular table. Something that can be made larger to accommodate food and guests more easily.

For now we accommodate guests by bringing the kitchen bistro table into the dining room. We also make space for buffet food service by adding two patio furniture tables we found in the garbage last summer.

These are square plastic tables that are ugly and old but otherwise in good condition, not broken, not wobbly, etc. We keep them in our garage and bring them out for parties and group gatherings. Covered with a large tablecloth you can't tell how hideous they are and they serve our purposes very well.

Small Space Living Hack: Multi-Purpose Furniture

To make more space when hosting a gathering the top of my desk gets cleared (contents stored in bin in our bedroom) to make room for beverages and glasses, napkins, dishes, cutlery, etc.

Frugal Living Hack: Roadside Rescues

As the photos show the dining room is home to my desk. It also holds our library/craft supply cupboard. Both of these pieces of furniture were roadside rescues that we picked up last July, right after we moved.

Roadside rescues are when someone else's trash is your treasure. Spring cleaning and summer moving are great times of year to find these treasures that people put out with their trash.

We didn't find my desk, as a desk. We found the top on its own and we made it into desk by adding five legs from IKEA. It's not too wide which is perfect for sharing the room with the dining room table.

I don't actually sit at my desk much to work. It's a dark and rather uninspiring spot, even with my new inspiration board. But my desk is command central and where I keep all my desk "stuff". It's the clearinghouse for homeschool and household management.

We keep books and craft supplies in a hutch we've converted to a bookshelf/craft cupboard. I'm assuming people put such fine furniture in the trash, not to garbage it, but to pass it on to other people.

We don't have a big library, it fits in one bookshelf. We use the public library, for both digital and paper books. The books we buy are mostly digital, which the kids read on their iPads. We don't use a lot of homeschool "curriculum" and because we don't have younger children I give away the resources we are finished using.

Before our last move from the Peninsula to Montreal I downsized our book collection, once again, getting rid of the picture books, easy-readers, easy chapter books and dated or no longer used reference materials. I plan to cull our library this May to donate at the Homeschool Convention in Laval in June. I've saved my absolute favorites - Little House on the Prairie, Chronicles of Narnia, and a few Maine author and illustrated picture books to read to my grandchildren someday.

Over the years I've written about our library/book philosophy and you can find those posts here:

With the exception of one bookshelf and our rug (both hand-me-downs from my parents) we had no living room furniture when we moved to Montreal. My vision for the living room is to have a large, comfy leather couch, that seats all of us, as the dominant piece of furniture in this room. I also want that couch to have a double bed so we can more easily accommodate guests. We can't afford that yet so we're making due with roadside rescues, an IKEA Prang chair, and three beanbags.

The beanbags were a stroke of genius, they were Damien's idea. These beanbags are made locally, in our neighborhood actually.

Our goal was to have comfortable, transportable chairs for the kids to "hang-out". They chose their own colors and they each have their own chair. We weren't sure if the kids would want to sit in their rooms or the living room. Turns out they mostly like sitting in the living room. So the beanbags spend most of their time in this space.

I love these beanbag "chairs". They give a real teenager vibe to our house. My number one goal in homemaking is to create a welcoming space, first and foremost for my family and then to others.

As our children get older it is especially important to me that our kids feel at-ease at home. That they enjoy being here. This is their home. Which means they can eat where they like and use the space how they please (within reason), and they also clean and contribute to the household chores.

After moving last summer we purchased our first TV in over a decade and the kids and Damien pooled their resources to buy a PS4 just before Christmas. These have a prominent place in our living room. The ubiquitous IKEA KALLAX shelving adds more storage space to the living room and holds some media hardware and our photo and memory albums that no one looks at.

As I've been writing these apartment tour posts it's given me an opportunity to think, once again, about the kind of home I am wanting to create for my family and to share with others. Both my parents have commented (or emailed me) on my posts and their words are exactly what I value in our home: bright spaces that are warm and efficient.

My homemaking goal is to create a welcoming home that helps us nurture relationship, within our family and with others, and provides a well-managed and organized space for us to work and learn together.

It gives me joy when the dining room becomes a workshop for sewing or artist projects, when all three kids enjoy playing a video game together, when a kid drags a beanbag chair to the kitchen to sit and study while I cook or clean, or when we all sit around the table for supper.

These days are fleeting. Our oldest is seventeen next month. The baby will be an "adult" in five years. We are in the home stretch years of the five of us sharing a home. I want to make it good. And you don't need a ton of space to make it "good"; you need love, respect, kindness and maybe a few beanbags.


Some thoughts on city living and lifestyle choices

I'm currently taking you on an tour of our Montreal apartment. But as I sat down to write the next installment, some other thoughts surfaced so I'm taking time to share those today before we go back to the tour. With me, the practical must always be mixed liberally with the philosophical. Or sometimes the other way around.

Our apartment is approximately 1,100 square feet. I haven't measured, that was the number given in the "apartment for rent" advertisement.

I have visited some beautiful Montreal apartments in areas of the city with older, grander housing. When we came to the city last spring to secure an apartment we Couchsurfed at one such place in the Plateau-Mile End neighborhood.

It was so beautiful and funky I felt like I was on a movie set. Our apartment definitely lacks the character of those classics. On the other hand, it's what we could afford and the location and amenities are great.

When I'm tempted to feel my lot in life is "not enough", it honestly does not take me long to leave this frame of mind by broadening my perspective just a wee bit.

I live in a city of apartments. And families of all sizes, big and small, live in these apartments. I have friends who lived in a camping trailer for four years with four little kids as they saved to build their off-grid, mortgage-free homestead. I have a friend who lives in Japan in a much smaller apartment than mine with her three young children. These are people I know. They are a drop in the population bucket.

Our family is blessed with tons of space.

It's all relative.

I am drawn to blogs that tell beautiful stories of family life. I don't follow a ton of blogs these days, but almost all of the family lifestyle blogs I follow, intermittently or devotedly, feature acreage/rural/wide-open-spaces/single-family dwelling living.

It's not that I'm longing for that kind of lifestyle myself. I've experienced "living surrounded by nature" and it was amazing.

Last night I was driving the kids home after spending a full day with other homeschooled teens and families at our homeschool co-op. We were on the always busy Trans-Canada highway through Montreal, surrounded by other vehicles including plenty of tractor-trailers. Thankfully, because we waited until 7:30 to make our commute home, traffic was flowing smoothly. You learn the tricks.

Traffic on the Gaspe Peninsula

The sun was setting and we were admiring the clouds. It was a pretty sunset, for the city. But it paled in comparison to the sunsets on the Baie des Chaleurs. And my heart longed to be in a natural place for that moment; back on the Gaspe Peninsula, on the Appalachian Trail, on the open prairie of my growing years.

I know, from intimate experience, there are many places in which to watch sunsets without traffic, buildings, or human-made structures to block your view. I've lived those experiences, and now I get to live the unique experiences of the city.

I like to follow blogs that tell stories of family life, but I haven't found many about families in cities or in apartments. I'm not sure why this is.

I crave beauty and to pass muster the lifestyle blogs I read need to feature beauty prominently. Is apartment/city living less beautiful? That doesn't ring true for me, I am continually energized by the beauty of Montreal.

Where are all the beautiful families-living-in-the-city lifestyle blogs? And not just living there, but wanting to live there. There are plenty living-in-the-suburbs-hoping-to-build-a-homestead type blogs.

I enjoy reading the blogs of families making beautiful lives, and for reasons I don't yet understand, these tend to be homestead-focused. On one such blog I read I came across a comment from another reader which basically said, "the homestead life is the best gift you could give your children".

I've said a lot of things in blog comments that I wouldn't want people to pull out of context and quote me on, so I'm not trying to do that here. And we all have biases about what is best for families and children. I've written things here that people have called me on, ideas that were insensitive.

But I feel there is a ring of truth to the sentiment of that comment, the bias towards "rural" life. Maybe it's just a bias in my online world.

I didn't take the comment personally. (It wasn't written to me, for one thing!) Nor did I feel offended that I wasn't giving my kids a homestead life. I noted it with curiosity and a bit of incredulity. If a statement like that is true, most parents on the planet are failing to give their kids the best gifts. Logically and statistically speaking, that just can't be true.

All the people I know, online and in person, want healthy, vibrant family lives. They want the best for their kids.

But I also see families, or at least mothers, living in the shadow of other people's choices and biases, believing those are the choices they too must make for their families. I've done this myself. It's easy to blame the media but I think social media is a larger influence.

Assuming you are raising your kids with a measure of self-awareness, lots of love, and enough food it's not a certain lifestyle that defines what is best for your kids.

What's best for Your kids is the best You can offer.

By virtue of where we are born, how we are raised, and who we are as individuals and couples, the best you offer is different and unique from every other family in your neighborhood, your community, the internet, the planet.

I hear from you in comments and emails, you say things like "we're considering living like x but it feels so different from y, we're not sure..." If x feels like your best, if what you get outweighs what you give why not go for it?

Not all "getting" is selfishly motivated either. A lot of people achieve satisfaction and purpose by living their calling in ministry-related work. And what they "get" from raising kids in a big city, for example, is a fulfilling sense of mission.

There is no best overall and there is no right way to do it. My systematic mind thinks in these terms. These are the words I use. Your words might be different, but the sentiment is the same.

You can have a beautiful, vibrant family life living in the woods, in an apartment, living on the road in an RV, building a homestead, living in a small house, living in a big house, living "overseas" (one person's overseas is another person's homeland), living in the suburbs, etc.

It's not about the "container" - the structure you live in or how much space your children have to free-range. It's about how the choices you make line-up with your goals and values as a family. And if your goals and values are different from some of your friends, your family of origin, your favorite blogger - appreciate the differences, don't use someone else's lifestyle as a standard.

Differences are beautiful, not scary.

I know we talk about this in homeschooling, and in mothering. And so of course this applies to lifestyle and housing also.

Find your best, your beautiful.


Our apartment kitchen, bathroom, and laundry

Now the fun part, I get to take you on a tour of our apartment.

We're going to start in the kitchen because if you were to visit this is where you'd first land. Our apartment building has a front door (with a buzzer) to access all the apartments. This is the door that strangers and new friends will use, since they don't know about our private back door entrance.

I love having our own entrance, it's such a bonus. However, the backdoor opens directly into the kitchen. No entryway, no mudroom, or anything like that.

Montreal apartment rentals do not come with appliances, unless the previous tenants sell theirs to you. Our apartment was renovated before we moved in, so no previous tenants to buy appliances from. We bought all our appliances used - fridge, stove, washer and dryer but still it was a chunk of change. We couldn't afford to buy a dishwasher.

We are saving for a dishwasher because I definitely want one. I also want an upright freezer. We'll have to reconfigure some of our kitchen space to fit one but it can be done.

Our island with the sink has an overhang that would fit three bar stools. I'd love to use this space for extra seating and eating space, but without a dishwasher our counter gets quickly cluttered with dishes - both dirty dishes waiting to be washed and clean dishes drying on the rack. There's no space for eating. Maybe with a dishwasher we can clear some of this constant clutter.

When finances allow we will buy stools for this counter. I'd like red.

The part of our kitchen I am least happy with is our shoe rack. Again when funds allow, maybe next year, I'd like to purchase a storage unit of some kind with shelves that will hide all this behind closed doors. Our kitchen is our main entrance and there will be shoes in this space but I'd like to make that less obvious.

We also have a small hallway closet, near the front door, where we store off-season jackets and shoes.

Small Space Living Hack: Folding furniture

Our kitchen does not have space for a table but it has the best light in the whole house as it faces south, and I find the darkness of our dining room a little depressing in the winter.

I really wanted a place to sit and read, eat, write or draw in the kitchen. So for my birthday last December I purchased a small folding table and folding chairs to use in the kitchen. These are actually made to be outdoor furniture (which means I found them on sale in December) and I will use them on our little balcony in the summer. Really pleased with this small space living win.

When the table is not needed or is making the kitchen feel cluttered I fold it up and store it next to our pantry. This is the space where I want to put an upright freezer, someday.

Directly off the kitchen is the girls bedroom and a hallway to the rest of the house. The first left off the hallway is our bathroom. One bathroom, three teenagers. Yes, it's possible.

Small Space Living Hack: One bath towel per person

Everyone has one towel (and one set of sheets). We also have a couple guest towels and a few "spare" towels for cleaning up messes and hosting extra guests if necessary.

The cupboard and vanity in the bathroom holds all our bathroom and laundry related items: towels, first aid, medicines, toilet paper, personal care products, girls make-up, diffusers (when not in use), cat litter & supplies, cleaners, laundry soap, etc... (I keep herbs and remedies in the kitchen.)

Let's talk dental hygiene and personal care for just a wee minute.

I love to simplify and streamline our possessions but each family prefers different toothpaste so we have a bunch of those. Told you we weren't minimalists. And I'm always experimenting with new "natural" toothpastes.

My current favorite toothpaste is unsweetened (finally!) Redmond Earthpaste. In Canada you can find it at (I buy it much cheaper locally.) I'm done experimenting with making my own toothpaste.

Another dental hygiene reality: it seems the kids are more likely to floss when there are multiple brands and boxes to choose from. At least the kids and I are happy to share the same shampoo, conditioner and body soap, which keeps the shower simple.

Now back to the tour.

We don't have a linen closet. I keep all the guest linens in a tub in our bedroom closet along with our extra blankets.

Directly across from the bathroom door is the laundry closet. This is an instagram shot from last summer. I admit to removing the red mop bucket that usually sits on top of the dryer. The top of the dryer is also where I store extra toilet paper when I buy the big packages at Costco.

That's the tour of the kitchen, laundry and bath. Having a newly renovated kitchen and bathroom is such a treat for me. Yes, the counter tops and backsplash aren't anything special. It's not fancy but it's simple, clean, and functional. Also the kitchen is well lit with natural light and I love that.

Next up on the tour: the dining and living room. A family and teen hang-out space for eating, working, studying, hosting friends, lounging, watching TV, and gaming. It's definitely an all-purpose "living" room.

This post has affiliate links (the toothpaste links).


Our Montreal Apartment

Damien and I have lived in fourteen homes in our almost twenty year marriage. I never set out to move a lot, I'm a person who depends on security and stability so moving was never my goal, but it was one of the tools to make the other goals and dreams happen - establishing a career, living in beautiful places, having adventures etc.

I had very straightforward and "traditional" dreams as a young woman - finish my education, get married, make a home, have babies, take care of those babies. I had no idea that life would take me the places it did and that at forty years old I would be living in Montreal with my three teenaged "babies". Growing up in rural Alberta, Montreal was a world away. I am still delightfully surprised that I live here.

One of the cool things about having lived in a few different places is that I appreciate the diversity of different living situations, homes, and dwellings. In my middle class western Canadian upbringing families did not live in apartments. And then Damien and I moved to New Jersey, Maine, and Quebec. We've lived in urban residential neighborhoods, small-ish cities, bigger cities, in the woods, mountains and by the ocean. We've lived in side-by-side duplexes, multi-family homes, single family homes, cabins, and chalets. Life is bigger, more varied and diverse, than what I knew as a child growing up in small prairie town.

In the course of my adult life, my housing perspective has broadened but also my values have shifted. As we've grown through our adult years and come to understand who we are as a married couple, Damien and I realize there are trade-offs with housing, as there is with every decision we make.

For us, deciding what size of house and where to live comes down to the weighing of two factors: what you get and what you give.

"The get" of course is the amenities that house, location, town, city, area offers. These could be many things: proximity to family, space, good schools, safety, decent neighborhood, mountains, a view, 4 bedrooms, etc...

The give is what it costs to achieve that, and not all cost is financial. All costs come down to time. The amount of time you have to work to afford the house you live in, and also the amount of time you must invest to maintain and manage that dwelling.

Some people want to spend a lot of time on their house, either in the amount of hours they work to pay for it or in the building and upkeep of their home and property. (And I realize a lot of people have little choice, and because of low income must spend a lot of time working for shelter, even substandard shelter.)

Ultimately, these decisions, evaluating what you get and what you give, are made in the context of your life circumstance and your values.

Families living in apartments is the norm in many parts of the world, especially considering that over half of the world's population lives in cities. And apartment living is certainly the norm in my vibrant family-friendly neighborhood, but it's not how I grew up and it's not the norm in many parts of middle class North America.

We live in a three-storey, four-plex apartment building. Two or three storey apartment buildings are common, both in our neighborhood and in other older parts of the city. Many of these buildings, the ones closer to downtown especially, were grand homes built in the 19th century. The buildings in my Rosemont neighborhood are circa post-WWII housing boom.

Buildings are owned by landlords (who may or may not live in the building), or co-operatives (something I'm not really familiar with). Buildings sit smack dab against neighboring buildings, sometimes with alleys or driveways between, but the "building" remains a discrete unit of 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, (more?) apartments.

Our three-storey building has four apartments. Two above us, side by side, and one below us. Ours is the main floor apartment and usually the main floor apartment gets the backyard, if there is one.

What do we get from apartment living? The experience of living in Montreal. Access to everything Montreal offers, out our door, within walking distance from our house. I love the city. I love living in the city. We moved to Montreal to be in Montreal.

We wanted to give our kids a city experience, with everthing a city offers in terms of arts, culture and education opportunities. We didn't even consider the suburbs as an option, though we could have afforded to rent a single family house, or at the very least a multi-level duplex in those far flung neighborhoods.

We are lucky because our apartment has a great backyard space (in need of love and flowers), a garage and a driveway which is nearly unheard of for most of Montreal apartment dwellers. And we were the first renters after a complete interior renovation. That's a first for me.

What do we give? We give up a certain amount of privacy, we can hear our neighbors and they can hear us. And if our neighbors are having a big pot-smoking party we smell it and breathe it. Yuck.

We gave up living in the woods, and we all miss that from time to time. Our homeschool co-op meets on the West Island and we have to drive the freeway to get there, twice, sometimes three times a week. Since Damien works from home, this is our "commute". That is something we give.

We give up three bedrooms for three kids. There have been seasons of life when all three kids shared one room. This is not that season.

I'd love to give the girls their own rooms, but it wasn't possible in our price range, location, and condition of house search requirements. We give up having a dedicated space for guests. I'd love a guest room to make hosting people easier, but we manage. We're not going to make a housing choice based on something we need less than 10% of the time.

Damien and I prefer small space living, our goal is to live small wherever we live. We still dream of owning a yurt. We prioritize unique and interesting experiences (with attention now to the security and stability I need to thrive), hence the Gaspe Peninsula, Appalachian Trail, and Montreal.

In this life stage we don't want to spend time a lot of time on our house and we want to live in something finished.

Those are our values and our preferences. We don't feel we give up much by living in a Montreal apartment. For us, the get far outweighs the give - location, simplicity, and less time spent on maintenance.

We like our apartment and it's completely within our comfort range for what we want to spend on housing in relation to our income.

We spend less hours on the house (both in maintenance and earning hours) which means more time for other things. Time to build a business (Damien's focus right now), time to support our kids' interests, and time spent enjoying the city. E.g.: Damien and I would rather spend a day exploring the city together or driving to the mountains to hike than working on a house project.

A Montreal apartment is a good choice for who we are in our early forties, raising three teens, and building a business. It fits our lifestyle and it fits our values. It's not perfect. It's not without challenges, but it works. It's us.

This week on the blog I'm going to give you a tour of our apartment with some small space living hacks. Cool furniture finds and other tips that make apartment living not just affordable but comfortable for our family of five.

Now tell me, where do you live? And if you have an international perspective I'd love to hear it!

The photos in this post, except for our kitchen, were taken while going for leisurely walks or doing errands (fruiterie, bibliotheque, boulangerie, pharmacie, etc.) in our Rosemont neighborhood.


A change in energy

I noticed the change on Easter Sunday. The definite shift in the season.

I stayed home from church on Easter Sunday morning (kind of a bummer since I am big on celebratory worship and Easter Sunday is the most celebratory of them all). Celine was healing from bronchitis and needed the long sleep in the morning. I stayed home with her and slow roasted the chickens we were taking to Easter lunch at our friends' house.

After a quiet morning at home I was very relaxed and rested. I was refreshed, ready for an afternoon of feasting and engaging with friends and new acquaintances from our church.

I had a fabulous afternoon. It felt like stepping out into the light after nearly two months of sickness and quarantine.

Since that day, or nearabouts that time, I have experienced a change of energy.

My goal through March is to hold on to my sanity, hold on to Joy, hold on for dear life. It's a fight. I have to work hard. I know from experience things will change in April, and all signs point to winter ending, but in the day-by-day living it feels like there is little evidence of this.

Trusting that winter will end reminds me of one of the conversations I had on Easter Sunday, around our friend's generous dinner table.

I have a hard time trusting God. I want to be in control. I like to anticipate how situations will turn out so I can avoid pain and discomfort, both present and future. My struggles with anxiety are all wrapped up in this of course.

In early winter I talked to a friend about this, my struggle with trust and how perhaps my personality type affects that, and she said "oh, you need to talk to so-and-so". On Easter Sunday I was able to talk to so-and-so, someone who shares my STJ. He explained the way that he is able to trust God is to look back and remember God's faithfulness in his life till this point and to rely on what he knows to be true, the Word of God. This made total sense to my way of processing information and how I make decisions.

I can't just feel my way to trusting God. "It just feels right", does not work for me. And I need to experience things hands-on, not in an abstract way.

Waiting for spring feels like learning to trust God. Every year spring comes. The track record is impeccable. And the logic, the truth in the lengthening days, is inescapable. I can trust spring will come.

As I'm writing this post, we're experiencing frequent snowfalls (that thankfully melt), cold rains, and freezing temperatures. But the days continue to lengthen, we are drawing closer to the sun, and past experience tells us this weather is the harbinger of better things to come.

Even though the daffodils and tulips haven't bloomed yet my energy has shifted and spring is the reality in my mind, which makes all the difference.

Lately I've been thinking about personal energy through two different lenses.

  1. The cyclical nature of the seasons and how that affects my energy.
  2. The importance of personality type in how we manage our energy.

I undeniably experience shifts in energy with the seasons and in certain activities and ways of doing things.

Noticing and naming this reality has been really important because it gives me greater self-awareness and helps me make better life decisions from this awareness.

I'm not going to talk too much about personality type and energy, fascinating though that is. (I love that stuff!) I'll direct you to this Personality Hacker podcast instead. I love Personality Hacker. This podcast is particularly good as it explains energy flow, stress and burnout from the perspective of identifying and operating in the strengths of our personality, while building, but not overly relying on, the weaker parts of ourselves. When we operate or depend too much on our non-dominant functions we can experience burnout. I know this to be true.

Listening to this podcast was like flash bulbs of understanding all over the place in making sense of some of the stuff I've experienced.

Another way I think about energy is by paying attention to how cycles and seasons affect my energy.

I have calendar seasons of low energy (winter) and high energy (summer). (I know for some people it's the opposite.)

I have a monthly menstrual cycle that affects how much I can give out and when I need to pull back.

My weeks looks like a wave; gathering energy, expending energy, gathering energy, expending energy, over and over. My days even look like this. Gather energy, expend energy. Certain obligations and commitments will drain me, the fact I call them obligations is a big tip off. Those must be balanced with the activities that renew and energize me.

All of us have to expend energy and experience draining activities, that's life. The important thing is that we recognize and nurture the activities, practices, disciplines, and mindsets that restore our energy. And yes, this is challenging when you're living with people whose energy levels are fueled and drained in ways different from your own.

I feel better when I live in a way that acknowledges and honors my energy highs and lows. I need to hibernate for a period of time in winter. I need a chunk of time every week that is unstructured and unscheduled. I need daily quiet times. I need naps. I need to read and write. I need to go for walks. I need so many things I can't even begin to name them all.

I must listen to my body and read "the signs" (fatigue, excessive tears, frustation). I must do the things that restore my energy. I must honor boundaries, mine and others.

And here's the kicker: I must give myself permission to be this way in the first place.

Give myself permission to be the unique mix of "me". To have the personality I do (an introspective, quiet-loving ESTJ, enneagram 6), and to be a person who lives by seasons and cycles.

The human-made world around me - institutions, establishments, infrastructure - often doesn't account much for cycles and seasons. We want the economy to be in a state of constant growth. We expect steady output, like we are machines, not man.

I'm not anti-society or establishment. I love the security of systems. (ESTJ folks.) Hospitals, schools, insurance, air traffic controllers, police, all the people and infrastructure we rely on in a complicated world.

But sometimes it feels like seasons and cycles, which are inherently circular, bump up against the rigidity of our human-made constructs, which feel linear and square.

I have lots of questions around this. How is it that systems designed, created, maintained and used by humans feel square and we humans feel round? Or is it just me?

I highly value the efficacy of a well-oiled machine. I love systems. But I know that I have limits and other people have limits. Ergo, society and systems have limits. I ponder these things; the role of society, the dis-function of society, the human-ness of being human, and how that all fits together. And though I value and respect authority I do feel we must question "the way things are done". Our systems should work for us, not against us.

This is not (wo)man against machine, or a call to arms or action, except for the action of quotidien living that honors cycles, seasons, and energy flow.

My energy has shifted with the coming of spring. The household routine is transitioning, menu plans are changing, there are more appointments and errand runs. I can manage a "fuller" day with aplomb and joy.

It's time for a new season.

A Personal Retreat Day for Life Assessment and Planning

This is my second post in an Organizing Ideas series. My first post is Using Evernote to manage Ideas.

I feel this post would be better presented in a video chat where I could draw on a white board to illustrate.

I've tried to do my best with screen shots from Evernote. This flow chart is to help explain and recap my last post and introduce the purpose of my Personal Retreat Day.

This post is about that orange box in the lower right.

A "personal retreat day" could conjure up a lot of ideas: yoga, massage, meditation, writing, prayer, contemplation. None of those are what I do on my Personal Retreat Day (PRD). The purpose of my PRD is to manage, organize and evaluate ideas.

My Personal Retreat Day has three main purposes:

  1. Do a Life Assessment and make a Personal Life Plan (the focus of the day)
  2. Deal with my To Sort Notebook
  3. Cull other Notes and Notebooks, if time

I have a ton of ideas and things I want to-do. Personal Retreat Day is when I evaluate those and try to figure out what's realistic for this season.

Getting out of the house

Before I get into the nitty gritty process of managing, organizing and evaluating ideas, let's talk about creating the space, routines and atmosphere for the day.

The retreat starts when I leave the house. As a homeschool mom of three teenagers, who is used to 24/7 parenting, it still pleasantly surprises me how well my family can function without me. School, chores, making lunch, etc. My crew can do all this without me. Not every day mind you, but occasionally, no problem.

My intention is to be gone all day and I'm usually out of the house from 10am till 5pm or something like that. I will pack snacks and water but I treat myself to lunch and afternoon tea.

I walk, bike or take transit to get where I'm going. I pack my backpack with my computer, charge-cord (don't forget that!), phone, food, etc. I generally don't bring a book or knitting or anything like that. I leave the car at home and set out on my own two feet. I don't want to think about driving, parking or details like that.

I go to cafes and libraries. Usually one place in the morning, and a different venue in the afternoon. The physical activity of getting somewhere in the morning, even if it's a five minute walk to our local library, and the mid-day break with a walk to a nearby cafe are perfect activities to help clear my mind and keep me fresh for the brain-intense work ahead of the day.

The value of a set aside time

Having a day set aside for Ideas and planning brings me peace of mind. I compare it to our once a week cleaning routine.

The kids clean the house once a week, sometimes they miss a week because of other plans, but 3 out of 4 weeks it's a given the house will be cleaned on Sunday afternoon. We sweep and tidy things throughout the week but as I look around the house and see the grime starting to build and the dust bunnies gathering just knowing that cleaning will happen on a schedule gives me peace of mind. I don't have to clean "right this moment", hijacking other plans, because I'm anxious with the question, "when will this ever be done?"

It's the same thing with my Personal Retreat Day. As I mentioned in my first post I am a write it down person. I'm generating ideas all the time. Some of these ideas need time to ruminate to see if they are things I still value, care about, want to pursue. Some are "bucket list" material. Some of these ideas need further reflection. Some of these ideas will require action in the coming year.

Taking a PRD to look at all those ideas, evaluate them and add them to my life plan, or not, brings me the same peace of mind as knowing I have a time in the week set aside for cleaning. I don't have to fret in the moment about how to plan for all the things I hope to accomplish and Ideas I need to sort through. I have a day set aside to do that.

And then in between those days I do the work, I work the plan I set out for myself on my Personal Retreat Day.

So, let's review the main purposes of the day:

  1. Do a Life Assessment and make a Personal Life Plan (the focus of the day)
  2. Deal with my To Sort Notebook
  3. Cull Notes and Notebooks, if time
Doing a Life Assessment

Last year I was encouraged (tasked) by my husband to "find myself". Those were the exact words spoken. Of course, he said this lovingly. I say of course because Damien speaks with honesty and kindness. And he backed up those words by giving me time and space in our relationship to re-connect with myself. This was all part of Project Home and Healing.

Out of this intention, I defined eight compass points for my life:

  1. creative
  2. intellectual
  3. work
  4. body
  5. spirit
  6. relationships
  7. home
  8. adventure/travel

I've seen similar ideas in other places. This is where a fancy pie-chart graphic would be lovely. I don't have one. I have a list.

In case you're curious, homeschooling fits under my work category. And homeschooling has its own planning sessions, apart from Personal Retreat Days. But work also includes the vocation I hope to grow (and discover) and income-earning projects I'm doing, which are not big enough at this point to warrant their own day-long planning sessions.

Sixteen months ago, in January 2015, I wrote my first six month life plan, I called it my Personal Life Plan, using those eight compass points.

It's not that I didn't plan before that. I've always been a planner but I've never done it this way before, with attention to each area of my life. These areas of my life have always existed but naming them and planning for them individually within the context of the whole was new.

I made those first plans from a big jumble of ideas I had been carrying around inside me and written in mostly unorganized Notes and lists in Evernote.

Last summer I had my first Personal Retreat Day and I started a one, three, five and ten year plan. At that time I also evaluated my six month Life Plan from January of that year.

I called this evaluation of my current Life Plan a Life Assessment; look back at what you wanted to accomplish, assess your progress in those goals, look forward to what you want to do next.

The day was such a success I decided to make it a regular occurrence. And my regular Personal Retreat Days were born.

I only make a six month plan twice a year, winter and summer. On the Personal Retreat Days in-between I assess my progress on the current six month Life Plan, honestly evaluate the do-ability of the original plan and remove things that just aren't going to happen. I also work on other areas of personal growth and development. E.g., I'm currently re-writing my mission statement according to my eight compass points, I'm making a list of my life accomplishments, writing my personal manifesto, etc.

This is part of what my six month Personal Life Plan from January 2015 looks like.

You'll notice it's simple. It doesn't include everything I do. It doesn't need to. My six month Life Plan only needs to highlight mindsets I'm working on developing or activities and ideas beyond the usual routine of my life: new things I want to try, books that are a priority to read, appointments I need to make, habits I'm working on.

You'll also notice everything is checked! That's because this is a screen shot of my list from the end of the six month period, at the assessment last summer. I checked off what I completed and moved the undone things to the end of the list. Some of these undone things were transferred to the next six month plan, others were scrapped all together.

Dealing with my To Sort Notebook

The first time I made a six month Life Plan I had a big jumble of ideas I needed to sort through. I no longer have a big jumble or a long list, I have a To Sort Notebook in Evernote. My last post explained how those Notes were generated.

Remember what I said about keeping some Notes in the To Sort Notebook?

If a Note requires a non-immediate action on my part, something I want to try or should follow-up on in the short term or long term, I leave it in To Sort.

I compare this process to a "brain-dump" or "brain-drain", whatever you want to call it. Some people will regularly make a mind map, a long list, a page with a bunch of notes of all the Ideas going on in their heads. And then they process those Ideas. Schedule some, scrap others, file some for later. That approach keeps the Ideas in your head until you "let it all out", hence the words drain or dump.

I prefer to get the Ideas out of my head in a fairly steady stream. I find the mental energy of carrying all those Ideas is tiresome. Which is the point of writing Notes and keeping them in my To Sort Notebook.

On my Personal Retreat Day I go through through the Notes in the To Sort Notebook.

Some of those Ideas will be added to the current six month plan, others will be put into the one or three year plan, sometimes with a question mark, planning specifics that far out is kind of iffy. All of the Notes get dealt with in one way or another, the information or idea gets moved to where it belongs, which is sometimes the trash.

To recap my Personal Retreat Day:

  • I evaluate where I'm at in eight compass points. I will either draft my six month Life Plan or I assess my progress on the current six month Life Plan.
  • I think about my future in those eight compass points and consider possible ideas for the next year, three, five and ten years.
  • I sort all the unsorted Notes in Evernote. I clear out the clutter and I will add any relevant Ideas to my current plans.

Updating my Bullet Journal

Currently, I don't spend a lot of time with my Bullet Journal on a PRD.

My Bullet Journal is where I manage the details of my week and month, it functions as my to-do list. (As well as spiritual field notes and seasonal inspiration, but I'll explain that in my next post.)

On a PRD I will add action items to the monthly calendar or weekly planner in my Bullet Journal, based on my six month plan.

The best way to explain this is with an illustration.

One of the items on my current six month Life Plan is to sew large throw pillows for our living room and our beds using the fabric I cut off the bottom of all our curtains when I hemmed them last fall. They were long curtains, there is enough fabric left for making pillow covers.

Here is my Home compass from last fall's six month Life Plan:

You'll notice I said last fall. You see how sewing pillows is not checked off the list? That's because I didn't get it done, notice October: make pillows, winter project is italicized. That means that line item got transferred into the next six month list. As did every other italicized item. If something doesn't get done and doesn't get transferred I strike a line through the item, like this:

This is a change from moving all the undone ideas to the bottom of the list, as I was doing previously.

Sewing curtain pillows (shorthand for pillows made out of the bottom of our curtains) is on my current six month Life Plan. But it requires certain action steps:

  • Measure fabric
  • Buy large pillow forms, to fit the amount of fabric I have, at IKEA
  • Buy zippers
  • Find a tutorial online for making pillow covers with zippers (I have a vague idea but I'd like some visual aids to assist me)
  • Sew covers (this will happen over several sewing sessions since I don't sew in large blocks of time)

"Make curtain pillows" requires a lot of action steps, earmarking funds for the project, and coordinating my shopping list so I'm making one seasonal trip to IKEA. (I have an IKEA shopping list Note for that purpose.)

All of these steps are what go into my Bullet Journal, though not quite so detailed. My Bullet Journal is where I make the lists of what must be done in order to complete a goal or Idea in the six month Personal Life Plan that I create on my Personal Retreat Days.

Follow that?

Personal Retreat Day → Making six month Personal Life Plan → which informs the tasks and to-do's that get written in my Bullet Journal on a monthly and weekly basis

In-between the Personal Retreat Days

All the planning in the world is no good if it isn't put into action. On the other hand, a Personal Retreat Day is not about generating a big list of overly optimistic to-do's.

My goal is not to increase my productivity, so I can "get more done". Cringe.

My goal is to live with intention, to take time to evaluate and assess. To craft a vision for my days and my life from a place of reflection, not reaction.

In the periods between my Personal Retreat Days I refer to my plans once every couple weeks. Just a brief look to remind myself what I had prioritized for this season. I don't need to refer to all the plans, all the ideas, all the Notes (that's the purpose of the PRD). I only need to check the six month Life Plan to see how I'm doing and to add items to my weekly to-do list as required.

As I described above, items on the Personal Life Plan that require action steps, which take time and must be scheduled somewhere in my week, go into my Bullet Journal.

Some items on the Personal Life Plan require slow and steady progress and are just a part of my weekly routine, e.g., recording all the expenses from last year in our accounting software for our 2015 taxes. Others require an appointment, a book from the library, an Amazon order, time with my sewing machine. I just need to check-in from time to time to remind myself of the priorities.

Can I change the priorities? Of course, it's my life! But I also need the gentle nudge of these lists to remind me to stay on track when I'm prone to wander and get distracted by bright shiny objects. The items on the six month Personal Life Plan arrived there via a thorough process. I don't want to abandon them willy-nilly.

I use my Personal Retreat Day as a personal growth and development day, with a current focus on creative, intellectual, and spiritual development. The Personal Life Plans that come out of my PRD encompass all areas of my life though I pay particular attention to home tasks that I need to schedule or take care of in the coming months.

You could use the strategies and format of a Personal Retreat Day for any type of personal development or personal management. You could use this model for homeschool planning, or maybe even for small business planning.

The next post in this series is about how I use a Bullet Journal for managing my weekly calendar and daily to-do's. And also how I love my Bullet Journal as a place for spiritual growth field notes, creative inspiration, and keeper of other good Ideas.


Using Evernote to manage ideas

When I first started writing this post it was going to be about my Personal Retreat Days.

Since last summer I've been taking a personal retreat and planning day every 6 weeks. Every time I mention it, mostly on Instagram (because I'll usually post a photo of my doings), I've gotten a lot of interest asking me to share what that looks like.

When I started to write about my Personal Retreat Day I realized it was more in-depth than one post, so I've split it up into three posts.

  • Using Evernote to Manage Ideas
  • A Personal Retreat Day for Personal Growth & Development
  • How I use my Bullet Journal

Evernote, regular retreats, and my Bullet Journal are the three key tools I'm using right now to manage life: all the thoughts and ideas of homeschooling, my writing ideas, the to-do's and planning of making a home, the insights, dreaming and scheming that accompanies my personal growth, and more, it's all managed by these three.

Homeschooling is an idea beast in and of itself and I'm not going to explain in-depth my management workflow in that realm, though I will briefly mention it.

I am a thinker, writer, and reader. I homeschool three teenagers, I manage our home and our family schedule, and I'm actively finding my way into as-of-yet unknown vocation (you could say I'm finding myself). I like to learn, make stuff, and go places.

All of these activities, and more, generate a lot of "ideas" in my life. I'm not an "idea" person in the personality trait sense, but I still have a lot of ideas I need to manage.

Everything from find a family doctor, go to the museum of fine arts, to a writing lists of personal dreams and goals and the notes I write when I listen to podcasts. Updating the IKEA shopping list, making garden plans, taking stock of the kids clothing needs, developing my homeschool philosophy, writing blog post ideas, quotes, the list of TED talks to watch. You get the picture.

I've always been this way, writing lists of what needs to be done, things to remember, journaling what I'm learning. And as I've spent more time on personal development and self-awareness that's just another note and idea generator in my life.

Years ago, a couple personal journals, a homeschool binder and homemaking binder sufficed to keep these things organized in my life. But times change and technology improves and as we simplified our household in general I decided to digitize some of these ideas into Evernote instead of maintaining binders and sheets of paper.

Now, because it is so easy to make digital notes and write down thoughts while I listen to podcasts etc. I write way more than I ever did using paper and pen. The potential exists for too much digital clutter.

I am a write it down person. I don't keep things in my head. Anytime something comes to mind that I don't want to forget or lose, something I need to capture, I write it down.

If the idea is an action item related to my day or week it lands in my Bullet Journal. Out of my head, onto paper.

All other ideas get written down in Evernote. (Items will sometimes get transferred from Evernote to my journal and vice versa but I'll explain that in my Bullet Journal post.)

What kind of ideas am I writing down in Evernote?
  1. random ideas to file, I don't need to act on them, necessarily, I just need it out of my head
  2. something I want to remember and will be important to me but I'm not dealing with it right now
  3. things to consider and ponder further, action might be required
  4. ideas requiring action, eventually (probably this year), not in the next day, week or month

These ideas could be related to any aspect of my life: homeschooling, managing our home, travel, creativity, personal growth, blog management, spirituality.

(I don't use Evernote to keep track of the books I've read and want to read. I do that in Goodreads. I also don't do grocery lists or menu planning in Evernote.)

I record all my writing ideas in Evernote, for both my blog and other writing projects. These are the seeds of what I want to write. The actionable step is the process of writing, possibly researching, editing and publishing. I do my actual writing, fleshing out those ideas, e.g., a post like this one, using different apps. Everything you've read on the blog for the past few years started as an idea in Evernote.

Here is a screenshot of my current Notebooks. I regularly update, rename, and delete Notebooks. I love this digital flexibility.

This is what it looks like to write down an idea.

At this point I'm going to start capitalizing Idea as I discuss it with Notes and Notebooks in the Evernote context. An Idea may be brief or it could be long. The point is that it's usually discrete and specific: one thought, a list of related ideas, a writing prompt, etc.

These are the steps I take when I have an Idea.
  1. Idea pops into brain. Go to Evernote on laptop, phone or tablet.
  2. Quickly think, "does this Idea fit into a current Note?" E.g., the on-going list of kids' clothing needs which I keep in the Shopping Notebook. If I have an inkling that a Note exists with this kind of information, I'll do a search, find the Note, add the Idea there. Boom, done.
  3. Otherwise, I'll write a new Note. Alternately, if I'm capturing an Idea from something I read or watched online I'll copy the text or link or use Evernote's Web Clipper to create a Note. I also use the camera function on the phone app to save visual Ideas.
  4. Another quick think, "does this Idea fit into a current Notebook?" E.g., a homeschool thought, decorating inspiration, etc. If yes, I will write a Note and file it in the appropriate Notebook. Boom, done.
  5. If the Idea is novel (is new and doesn't belong somewhere else) or is not easily sortable in the moment I will file the Note in my default Notebook To Sort. I don't overthink in the Idea capture stage. Often I'm pressed for time, and the main goal is just to write the Idea down. I can properly sort the Note later.
  6. Important BUT: If the idea is of type 3 or 4 in my first list i.e.: requiring an action on my part, or possible action in the next calendar season or long term, I leave it in To Sort. I do this even if I know it fits in an established Notebook. I will explain the importance of this in my next post.

For homeschooling I use Evernote a little differently. I will capture homeschooling ideas the way I outlined above but I also do all my planning in Evernote, writing out the curriculum for the year, what resources we're using, etc. Documents I want to keep forever, e.g., a copy of our daily schedule, each child's curriculum for the year, etc. I export to my the permanent files on my computer hard drive.

I do all of this homeschool planning in Evernote, not a word processing document because:

  1. It looks nice and clean
  2. (don't laugh) I can make checkboxes and tables very easily
  3. I'm in Evernote all the time so it's easy to update and reference these documents through the school year (and also check the checkboxes)

I love managing Ideas digitally in Evernote because I can re-categorize, re-sort and re-organize to my heart's content. I am a organizing junkie.

Let's Recap:

My strategy for using Evernote is to capture my Ideas and turn them into Notes, which are filed in Notebooks. Ideas → Note → Notebooks.

Here's my process:

  • I have a bunch of Ideas that come to me during the day - to-do's, desires, writing prompts, homeschool stuff, the list is endless.
  • If the Idea needs action today, this week or this month (roughly) it goes in my Bullet Journal. If it's a calendar item it goes on Google Calendar.
  • All other Ideas are either added to existing Notes or written in a new Note in Evernote.
  • I file these Notes in a bunch of Notebooks that are pertinent to every part of my life.
  • These Notes and Notebooks get acted on (e.g., I keep a clothes shopping list in my Shopping Notebook. As we purchase those items the Note gets updated), moved around, added to, or deleted in the course of my everyday doings.
  • Ideas that require an action or a follow-up in the course of the season, or further and/or careful consideration, do not get sorted but remain in my To Sort Notebook.

So what do I do with these Notes in my To Sort Notebook? When do I make plans for the actionable steps? When do I give careful consideration to these Ideas?

That's the purpose of my Personal Retreat Day, which is my next post.


Small beauty

The Gaspe Peninsula is the most naturally beautiful place I've ever lived. We moved there for that very reason. It was rich in nature and outdoor opportunities.

It was a season in our life of big beauty. A season of mountains (albeit small eastern mountains), rushing rivers, and the ocean. We didn't have to make a big effort to get out into nature because we were surrounded by nature. That was why we chose to live there.

One of the gifts of choosing to move to a place vs. growing up there is that you see it through new eyes. I appreciated the beauty of our surroundings all the time. I was in awe. I didn't take it for granted.

In our everyday life the kids and I went for walks - along the river, through the woods and at the beach - and I experienced a sense of deep gratitude that we could live with all this beauty in our backyard. Many weekend days were spent as a family in the Chic Choc mountains. It was a gift.

I love the woods. I love the mountains. I love the ocean. I love rivers.

I crave big beauty.

I believe this desire to partake in the majesty of creation is a yearning for the Creator. And partaking in big beauty is as much a part of my spirituality as Bible reading, prayer, meditation, and church gatherings.

Now I live in a city.

Like many vibrant cities, Montreal has a big beauty quality. Architecture, large parks, cathedrals, old stone churches, the iconic and ubiquitous wrought iron staircases.

When we decided to move to Montreal I was pretty sure I'd like living here. Turns out I don't just like Montreal, I love it.

The vitality of the city inspires and energizes me.

I love so many things about the city: being able to walk to amazing places right from my door, biking in the summer, exploring new places with Damien or the kids, our neighborhood with its great "main street" with most everything you need, shopping at renowned markets, having access to amazing arts and culture, being part of a thriving and expanding multi-cultural, bilingual church and belonging to a homeschool group. I share a kinship with people here, a sense of community around shared core values, that I haven't experienced for a long time.

I love living here but my "nature" experiences in the city leave me wanting.

On the peninsula all three of the homes we lived in, from teensy chalet to large house on the hill, featured big windows to let the landscape in. Home was surrounded by nature and so home was a naturally beautiful place. Big beauty was simply part of the normal day.

I miss the quiet of unbroken woods, the awe-inspiring beauty of mountains, the purity of a mountain river, the repetitive rumble of surf on a beach. These experiences are a part of me. And I know they are also a part of my children and I am so grateful for that.

However, since living in the city I've been reminded it's not just big beauty that is an integral part of my spiritual wellbeing and self-care practices. It's beauty, period.

Yes, I need and crave big beauty.

But small beauty matters.

Montreal is a beautiful city, but my backyard is not big beauty. The city in general is gorgeous in the summer and fall, it shines. Finding the beauty in winter proved to be more challenging.

Instead, I turned my energies inward, creating beauty on a small scale. Drawing, knitting a small basket, bringing in flowers, making candles, organizing small spaces for function and beauty. (Thoughtful organization is an expression of beauty for me, a sense of rightness.)

I re-discovered something this winter, something I've always known about myself but can lose sight of when in the presence of big beauty.

Small beauty meets a spiritual need all its own.

It's not the worship experience of big beauty, it's not grandeur, it's not the arms-wide-open mountain top experience.

Small beauty is a comfort to my spirit, a quiet sense of co-creating. It's bringing light and life into small spaces and places, filling the nooks and crannies of my heart with gratitude and contentment.

Big beauty is awe-inspring, it is a fall-on-my-knees in worship posture. And sometimes, honestly, it's scary. Nature can be fierce, and I've experienced that.

I need mountain vistas and clear waters. I feel alive in those places.

I need comforts and small beauty. I feel contented in those spaces.

I need both.

As winter comes to an end I am hungering for big beauty again in my life. We all are, so we are making plans for a summer of hiking, camping, backpacking, and traveling to places of natural grandeur.

But I am soaking in the small beauty of flower bouquets, art on my walls, my son's watercolor paintings, colored gel pens for my journal, wearing my shawl, making soap, organizing and beautifying the tea and coffee cupboard, washing the kitchen window, drawing Zentangle, burning a homemade beeswax candle at supper.

A homeschooling high school math & science story

This post is part my Homeschooling Through High School series. I apologize for such a long delay in continuing that series. Writing my way through the challenges and exciting happenings of this last year has taken priority over homeschool writing. Which is too bad because homeschooling through the high school years is really worth writing about.

I left off in that series talking about a goal-driven curriculum. This is not the next post I planned to publish, that one is still in draft mode and it's basically an overview of Celine's 10th grade year. I still plan to publish that post. I'm aiming to write one comprehensive summary for each year of high school.

Celine is in her third year of high school, grade 11. This year has been very different from grade 10, which was different from grade 9. We continue, as we always have, to figure it out as we go.

This is a sidetrack from those "grade" year summaries.

Like all my homeschool posts, this is a story of our family's experience. And in sharing our experience I hope to provide potential answers and inspiration about the following questions.

Can students succeed at high school level science with delayed math education and without elementary and junior high science courses? Ie: Can they do high school science having not followed the system in their younger years?

To tell the story of our experience with delayed math and "life" science education this post will also wind its way through the territory marked "my high schooler doesn't know what she wants to do after graduating".

There's a lot packed into this post, so let's jump in.

Eight years ago, I published a post called Homeschooling Highschoolers. It was a tad ambitious perhaps as Celine was only nine years old, Laurent seven and Brienne was five. But it's amazing how many people ask "what about high school?" when they find out you're homeschooling. I wrote that post in response to that question.

Those were the Core Phase and Love of Learning Phase years. (Those links are to Simple Homeschool where Jamie Martin describes the phases of Leadership Education, a philosophy we loosely follow.)

my heart, eight years ago

One of my aims in homeschooling was to build a family culture and environment for learning in which we would all thrive and enjoy our days together. That's a tall order and so of course we don't always hit the mark, and life throws curve balls, but at least I know what I'm aiming for.

Homeschooling my young kids was especially enjoyable. The pace was relaxed, we had a lot of fun. We still have fun of course but we also work hard and have more outside-the-home obligations and commitments. The energy has shifted from relaxed and easy-going to more structured and intense.

I feel this shift is completely natural and right, but it's still a little disorientating for me sometimes.

None of that has to do with math and science except that, it kind of does, because I didn't do much of either with the kids when they were young.

Like I wrote in that post I published eight years ago,

At this point with young ones our preferred curriculum is living books and our community...The people, places, art, culture, industries, museums, nature preserves, music and history unique to our area. These offer a wealth of learning and growth so we'll continue to tap the amazing resources in our community as our curriculum base.

The main academic skills I focused on in the Love of Learning years were reading, writing and math. But these were low-key endeavors. Reading was reading aloud to my kids and also teaching them to read. Celine caught on quick and was a voracious reader. The other two took quite a bit longer to learn.

I didn't use any packaged resources to teach writing, other than handwriting practice I didn't use workbooks. I roughly followed the The Brave Writer principles, emphasis on roughly. The kids wrote to communicate things, but there were no writing assignments in our home.

Math was always on the homeschool schedule but not always done in practice, and when we did do math, the lessons were "short & sweet".

My goal was not to complete the page but rather establish a familiarity with the ideas and practice using that part of our brains. We used different tools over the years, predominantly Math-U-See for early elementary and then one year of Teaching Textbooks later on. Our kids now use Life of Fred, Key To, and Khan Academy. Three kids, three different approaches.

But I have to tell you something, and I do so without any shame or embarrassment, our kids were always behind grade level in their math.

It wasn't important to me for them to be at grade level. We didn't do "the system" at home. We didn't track with the system either. I made our own curriculum, based on our values and who my kids were.

What was important was that the kids loved learning and that overall we were experiencing math concepts in our everyday life. I wanted math to be something very practical during the elementary years. And we weren't going to have tears over math.

I've talked about this before. There is a time for tears and frustration in formal learning but that time is not the early elementary years. To clarify, learners are always moving through frustration, it's an integral part of the learning process. Frustration is often the impetus for learning. Students will naturally experience a lot of frustration in self-directed projects and interest-driven learning. But in the elementary years or Love of Learning phase, I do not believe intense frustration should not be attached to academic lessons, unless the student is driving that experience.

It wasn't just my no-tears policy that slowed us down in math, it was life.

We lived by the seasons and if we were tired of lessons, we stopped. Brienne's birthday and American Thanksgiving in late November heralded a six week holiday season. There was mid-winter break for my own sanity. And when spring arrived, well forget about it, we spent as much time outdoors as possible. I also had other responsibilities and interests.

You get the picture. I just wasn't going to stress about keeping up with math in the bigger picture of our lives.

My philosophy was, and is, when they need to learn it, they will.

As for science, that was optional and self-directed; consisting mostly of nature study and backyard mucking about.

In the late elementary and early middle school years, roughly ages 10 through 13, I tried to do more science lessons with the kids. And I thought for sure as Celine was getting close to high school we needed to kick it up a notch in science.

Those plans were good for about two months, roughly October through November. And then science shifted back again into the realm of random videos, general reading, supper table discussions, more nature study and mucking about, with an increased focus on hands-on technology literacy.

We never made styrofoam models of atoms and molecules or jello molds of a cell, no volcanoes either. I bought a set of science experiment books that were never used. I bought the Story of Science (these are gorgeous books, I really like them), which has sadly met the same fate as the science experiment books.

The one tool that has been used most regularly is our microscope.

I had good intentions but it turned out I wasn’t the kind of parent who could pull together any sort of consistency in science lessons. I could be consistent in other areas: setting up our home and schedule for interest-driven learning, being outdoors together, reading, teaching good habits, etc. but I couldn't pull off middle school science education.

Fast forward to high school.

I'm going to revisit my post from eight years ago, in which I cast a vision for homeschooling our high schoolers.

We plan to homeschool our kiddos till they graduate from high school. Our children can learn from home any subject taught in school and as they grow we have several options to choose from. Every subject imaginable is available to purchase as curriculum - math, sciences, art, music, second languages - you name it. And for those areas of study that you personally can't teach, like dance or calculus you can always find some person or program that can.

In their high school years we may mix in (depending on interest and need) some public school classes and first year college courses.

We fully expect that as they near teenager years they will have a better idea of types of work they would find meaningful as adults. As they identify those we will, as a family, tailor their education to prepare for a life of meaningful, industrious, satisfying and creative work. If their desires and interests require vigorous academics, so be it. Or maybe they'll be looking for apprenticeships and mentoring.

A lot of my student-motivated, interest-driven, parent-guided education philosophy ideas have played out pretty well for us. But not all my ideas have proven true.

We have a teenager, who is nearly seventeen, who does not have any solid ideas of the work she might want to do as an adult. Nor does she have post-secondary (Depth phase) education/work experience/travel goals yet.

This is actually a tall order for a lot of kids. I see that now. We don't emphasis or stress the importance of a college degree or post-secondary schooling. We feel there are many paths in life. We do not grill our kids about "what they want to be when they grow up".

We do however help them identity their gifts ands strengths (that's nothing new) and discuss with them possible work and study options. And this year at co-op they are taking a Personal Finance course which also addresses goal setting with regards to careers/jobs/vocations.

In the high school years self-awareness and self-knowledge is an actual element of the Tougas family curriculum, along with math, literature, science & technology, Bible & religion, history, homemaking, etc...

It's not that we don't talk about this stuff.

Even so, "I want to study this, do this, go here, explore this... when I'm done homeschooling" has not yet been a reality in our homeschool.

This puts a kink in my original intention to build a high school curriculum around our kids' post-secondary goals.

My plan for high school was to help our kids prepare for whatever they wanted to do after high school. To tailor their high school experience for the next stage. But if there isn't a plan or goal for post-highschool, I felt I needed to create a guideline or default curriculum.

This may not be necessary for each of our kids, but it was necessary for Celine.

I created this guideline for my sake as much as Celine's sake.

I need to know when my homeschooling job is done with each of our children.

Of course we'll still be guiding and helping them through their young adult years, as they ask, but at some point I will no longer be homeschooling them. I needed to define when we've arrived at that point with Celine.

So last summer, between Celine's 10th and 11th grade years, I drafted the Tougas High School Graduation Requirements plan. (By the way, this does not grant our kids' an accredited high school diploma. That will be addressed, eventually, in my Homeschooling Through High School series, but I'm willing to discuss in the comments if you like.)

This plan takes into account the student, the work they've already accomplished (in this case, the studies of Celine's 9th and 10th grade years), their natural interests and strengths, as well as crucial areas they may neglect without guidance.

Over the years I've created an overarching curriculum we follow for all our kids but the specifics are different for each child. The same is true with the Tougas High School Graduation Requirements; which may not even be necessary for Laurent or Brienne if they devise a plan of their own for their high school years, based on what they want to do post-secondary.

And now we can return to the math and science story.

I don't believe all students need to study the full complement of natural sciences - physics, chemistry, and biology - in high school (or middle school for that matter).

But without a clear goal in mind I wanted Celine to choose at least one of these and complete a course of study.

I know my daughter. Celine is a technically-gifted person. One of her intelligence types is logical-mathematical and both Damien and I recognized that certain sciences, physics especially, would suit her quite well.

The Tougas High School Graduation Requirements does not lay out how the material must be learned. I don't require a certain program, textbook, or resource to be used, that's up to the student, in this case Celine.

This year we are part of a homeschool co-op. Every year this co-op offers a different high school level science class, taught by a knowledgeable tutor. They use the Apologia materials.

Last summer when I saw that the co-op would be offering Exploring Creation with Physics, I presented the option to Celine that she could take the course to fulfill her science requirement. It was completely optional, she could have chosen to work through a Khan course if she wanted, but the appeal of studying with other students and a ready-made program influenced her choice towards joining the course.

There are no high school level math requirements in the Tougas High School Graduation Requirements.

Our math requirements are these:

  • complete Pre-Algebra, which is approximately grade 8 level math
  • take a consumer/personal finance course
  • take the math you need to complete the science of your choosing

This doesn't mean the kids won't do more math, I just don't require it. It's their choice. If you're not going into a science or technology related field and if you're not going to university you don't need higher level math.

People who make their living using calculus, or who arrived at where they are having learned calculus may disagree with me. That's ok.

We all have different paths in life and I want my kids to spend their time in the pursuit of the things that inspire and intrigue them the most. And if math inspires them, fabulous. If dress making inspires them, that's fabulous also.

In the summer between her 10th and 11th grade years, Celine decided to take a college-prep level physics course to meet her science requirement.

At this point I will remind you what I said earlier about our Core and Love of Learning math and science studies. Non-rigorous is the best way to describe those years. Once Celine reached her Scholar phase there were large chunks of time when she didn't study math at all, including during our 6 month hike. Like I said, we've been behind "grade level" in math.

Having set her sights on a rigorous math-intense science course Celine got to work. In six weeks she used Khan Academy to bring her math from approximately grade 8 level to the level recommended by Apologia as the pre-requisite for their physics course - studying Algebra I and Geometry, and introduction to sine, cosine, and tangent.

Khan sends me weekly reports with how many minutes my students were on the site and what they were working on. In 2,486 minutes, or 41.43 hours, Celine moved through 2 "grades" of math, achieving grade level by working for 6.9 hours a week for 6 weeks.

That covers the math but what about all the science foundation that has to be laid before kids can study high school science?

Well, we didn't do it. At least not with any science lessons.

Our teaching method of videos, general reading, family discussions, nature study, talking about the scientific method, and as they got older, listening to science-heavy historical fiction and science-accurate science fiction (one of our favorite authors in this genre is Neal Stephenson) seemed to suffice.

Before her physics course this year Celine had never studied for a science test or written a science exam. She'd never heard many of the vocabulary terms in her textbook.

Has it been good grades and smooth sailing? Yes and no, respectively. Celine spent the first couple months "learning how to learn"; following a lecture once a week, how to use a textbook, and supplementing with Khan. We coached her on how to get the most out of her weekly class and how to manage her study time.

Like many homeschoolers Celine is motivated to master a subject, not just pass. She has excellent grades, even though we've never emphasized that as a family.

Celine experienced overwhelm. There were tears. And we re-assured her that learning how to work through those experiences was as important as the subject matter. We had complete confidence in her, we know this girl. But we can't take any credit, she does all the work. She figured out "the system" and now we don't hear much about physics.

Damien has been the go-to parent for this endeavor because I never did like physics, it was my least favorite science. I adored biology, and still do. I am looking forward to Laurent's high school science because I'm guessing this is the direction he'll go.

All homeschooling is non-standard to some degree or another; but not tracking with the grade mentality is a little further off the beaten track.

If you choose to step off the conveyer belt model of education there are always questions coming from within or without (or both) about how the kids will integrate into the system.

And really, what people want to know is will these kids have "what it takes"? Will they be too far "behind"? Can they "catch up"? Will it be too hard to catch up? If they don't learn to study as young children how will they build "study" skills? Oh, and my favorite, how will they develop discipline? A question I answer in this blog series.

I am not setting us up as the example. Every homeschool family does it differently.

We are behind, we are ahead, we are very average. My children are not precocious.

My point is simply this: you can choose to create your own system. A system based on phases of growth and development, not grades; a system defined by family values and learner needs; a system that allows for diversity and variation.

And this alternative way of doing things can raise learners who are competent and curious enough to take on challenging leaps in grade level.

Written with permission and editorial input from Céline.

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Spring colors and sick kids

This year, like I mentioned in this post I'm choosing two colors to represent the essence of each season. The calendar says spring so I've switched from my winter theme of icy blue and golden orange to lime/celery green and lilac purple.

April 2011, My garden, Maine

I've started using my new green and purple gel pens to highlight in my bullet journal.

When I bought my bouquet this week at the market (still using the gift money my mom gave me when I was sick, those flower dollars sure stretch at the market) I asked specifically for a green and purple inspired arrangement and I was thrilled to find ranunculus also.

This is the only spring color in my world right now. Yesterday's weather was snow and freezing rain.

I chose my spring colors not because these are the colors of mid-March in Montreal, they are the colors of hope in my heart.

Color is really important to me. I express my creativity in photographing color, decorating with color, and even wearing bright colors. Choosing colors for each season is something I'm playing around this year with as a creative exercise.

Late last week I went through my photo archives to find photos of green and purple from past spring seasons to brighten this post and to celebrate the arrival of spring, and look what I found in my search. Photos of the kids on a hike, wearing purple and green, taken on the first day of spring six years ago.

Where do I begin? The perfect pre-adolescent skin, Celine's middle part, the scowl on Brienne's face, Laurent's adult teeth in a child's mouth. These children are my heart.

These photos capture the essence of the woods in spring. Very bright, no leaf cover yet. Snow still on the ground, melting to reveal the dead leaves from last autumn. There are no pretty colors in the woods in early spring/late winter, but they are coming. The angle of the sun, the length of the day, years of experiences assures us it is so.

I know the woods in all seasons but something I am not familiar with is long bouts of winter sickness.

The kids are still sick from the flu they all got last month. This is the worst winter sickness season we've experienced as a family.

Sickness has moved through our family like waves, first the flu, starting with one person and moving to another. Then as the kids seemed to be getting better and started to resume their normal activities, as teenagers are very wont to do, another wave of sickness hit each child, a secondary infection or illness affecting eyes, ears, and upper respiratory (different for each child).

April 2010, the woods, Maine

Last year a friend asked me what we did when our kids were sick, we were having a discussion about alternative medicine and holistic health. I said we didn't do much because we didn't get sick that often. Fluids and rest were the main strategies, and herbal tinctures, garlic, and oregano oil if necessary.

I haven't had to use my herbal tinctures for years and through our successive moves I tossed some of the sketchier bottles and old dried herbs. I don't remember when the elderberry syrup ran dry, but I didn't replace it. That section of the cupboard dwindled in size over the last few years.

April 2010, Bates College Campus, Maine

My education in essential oils has been slow and mostly limited to good blends for soapmaking and body care products, which is an entirely different game than healing illness.

I know nothing about homeopathy and many other alternative medicines. I don't have experience with bone broth and all the "traditional diet" nutritional recommendations. I haven't needed to acquire that knowledge.

Till now.

It's been a sea of sickness for eight weeks, unprecedented.

May 2011, Bates College Campus, Maine

There are many possible reasons for this, including a change in our diet last year in which I've allowed more animal products and processed foods (granola bars, crackers, bread, some ready-made meals) into our house.

The traditional diet folks will not make a link between animal products and illness, but when those foods start to replace immune-system supporting and disease-reducing plant foods, something our family has eaten a lot of in previous years, a case can be made for a possible link. And no one thinks processed foods are healthy. And the same principle applies, if eating them reduces your consumption of health-supporting foods you compromise your immune system.

Is it possible that our plant-based, almost all homemade foods diet really did protect us so well all those years from flu and winter illness?

May 2015, Quebec

I don't think it's that simple though I do feel I've compromised our health with some of the changes to our diet.

We live in a new city, and we're in much closer contact than we've experienced before with a lot of germs. And the flu hit our social circle hard this year. Many people we know have struggled this winter through virulent illness.

Kind of creepy but also somewhat reassuring, we're not the only ones.

Once I got over my own illness, and thank God I didn't catch a secondary one, I was able to re-educate and newly educate myself on remedies and solutions, source the herbs I needed to start re-stocking our cupboards, make bone broth, do more research on essential oils and be introduced, albeit very reluctantly and skeptically, to homeopathy.

This is the part of the story where you might expect a "the successful protocol has been...", "how I've healed my family with herbs", or maybe even a sales pitch for a particular essential oil. None of that is forthcoming because it's not clear to me what, if anything, helped.

I am not convinced of anything at this point, except this: I didn't understand the possible implications of "getting the flu".

There has been no miracle cure in our family this winter. Some people swear by essential oils, other people say to use with extreme caution. My friends are convinced about homeopathy, I'm not. I am probably most familiar with herbs but I'm not used to treating long illnesses with herbal remedies.

May 2015, Quebec

This week we took two kids to the doctor. Our first sick doctor's visit in over a decade. In one child it was "just" congestion (which we're actively treating with all manner of remedies), not an ear infection, though I'm still holding onto the just-in-case prescription the doctor gave me.

In the other child it was acute bronchitis and sinusitis, and we are using the antibiotics prescribed, and we are so thankful for them.

I've been a parent for nearly seventeen years and I've never experienced anything like this, the flu followed by a secondary illness. Sickness that requires more vigilance, more remedies, more preventative measures than I am familiar with.

I can't go back but I wish I had been more prepared, more knowledgable.

This bout of illness shook my confidence but it also gave me experience, and showed me I definitely need to re-educate, re-stock, and learn new things.

I've had success in the past treating simple illnesses with basic herbs, healing foods (garlic, ginger, etc.) and topical essential oil applications. I have so much more to learn but I can't learn it all, it's overwhelming. We have to pick and choose what we invest our energies into. "Alternative" medicine and holistic healing is not my passion, though it is my preference.

May 2015, Quebec

Ultimately, I need to find my own mother-wisdom in these matters. But I can't gain that without the experience, and who wants the experience of being sick!

I hope with some meds and probiotics; and other foods, strategies and remedies to support healing, the recovery journey will continue, without new infections. God help us.

I would love simple recommendations in the comments, if you have any, for foods or herbs to support the healing process.

I have two courses picked out to educate myself on essential oils and herbal remedies for cold and flu specifically. They won't do me any good now but I don't want to be this ill-prepared again.

My goal is that by next winter I'll have a straightforward "at first sign of sniffles do this" protocol. Something along these lines. (Though I tried many of these things this year. I think I just didn't catch it soon enough.)

It's hard not to feel like a mother-failure when something like this happens. I felt that way, coming out of my own sickness, when I was mentally and emotionally drained.

But that kind of thinking does me and my family no good whatsoever.

June 2015, Quebec

Instead I am choosing to recognize that I have the resources I need: a healthy mind to make sound decisions and access to medicine and remedies. I can educate myself for the future. I can, and will, be better prepared next time. And I can be grateful for so many blessings, right now.

I am grateful that I am physically, mentally and emotionally well enough to take care of my family. This is no small feat for this time of the year. I am grateful Damien is well and we can tag-team parent our kids through this season. I am grateful our teenagers still seek the comfort of our bed in the middle of the night when they are unwell and needing comfort. (Of course one of us has to leave in that scenario, there is not room for three adult-sized people in our queen bed!) I am grateful for a car to drive to walk-in clinics nowhere near our neighborhood.

I am grateful for mother-wisdom and intuition. I am grateful for medicine of all sorts, knowledgeable doctors who say "let's wait and see", knowledgeable doctors who say "let's treat this", and caring friends who offer the remedies that worked for them.

I am grateful that though the kids are suffering through sickness right now the situation could be so much worse. We have a safe home. We have access to clean water, good food, health food stores, and medicine. And we have time. Time to recover and rest.

Spring is coming, there are flowers on my table and hope in my heart.

Spending time with my mom (and eagerly anticipating spring and summer adventures)

March is my least favorite month and each year I have to be very intentional about how I'm going to get through the end of the winter.

I get very antsy this time of year. Cabin fever I guess.

I definitely experience a transformation through the winter season. In January, right after the energy and resource expenditure of the holidays, all I want to do is retreat, rest and hibernate. I want to hunker down. So I make every effort to honor that desire.

But as the days slowly lengthen and winter's magic wanes (early winter is magical but the magic doesn't last forever) I am itching for a change.

By March I want to start making plans for the summer and I want to go places, right now. This seasonal shift in me has helped fuel our moves over the last few years. It wasn't the reason for our moves, they were necessary for other reasons - short-term rentals, hiking the AT, housing availability etc. But this natural change in "energy" helped us pull it off, for at least four of our last five moves (one move was in autumn).

This year no moving. Hallelujah!! So I can instead plan summer camping, backpacking/hiking, and roadtrip adventures. I am so relieved I want to start planning those again. After our hike I thought I lost my travel and adventure desires all together. All I wanted to do was to nest and make home. Thank goodness that was just part of my post-trail experience and recovery.

I'm ready to go places again, both in terms of the March "itch" and in the bigger picture of my life in which I am both a homebody and an adventurer.

That's the big story, the more immediate story is that back in January, anticipating my need in March to go somewhere I made a plan with my mom to meet up in March, roughly halfway between Nova Scotia and Montreal.

This weekend was that meet-up. We called it a retreat. We did this once before, six years ago when I still lived in Maine. We met in New Brunswick that time.

For this retreat my mom made a big effort in driving all the way to Riviere-du-Loup and I arrived by bus from Montreal. There are not a lot great places to meet, in March, in central New Brunswick, which is truly the halfway point between us. My mom graciously agreed to "go the distance" to meet me in Riviere-du-Loup, which offers more culture and outdoors opportunities than small-town New Brunswick.

I had such a wonderful time with my mom. We connect on many levels, and share multiple interests. And we respect and love the differences in each other. I feel safe with my mom, at ease.

Sometimes I get so caught up in our current friendship that I forget my whole history and being is dependent on her. There is no part of my life she does not know, she has not been witness to.

She knows me in one of the most intimate ways possible, more intimately than I can ever know her. My mom had a life before me, a childhood I wasn't a part of and an early adult life that I was largely oblivious to. As a child I didn't think of my mom as a person to know, she was just "my mom". It wasn't until my adulthood that I appreciated my mom as a person unique from me.

My mom does not offer unsolicited advice and she does not smother. She has always given me plenty of space to become independent, to be my own person, the daughter of Derryl and Karen Toews.

From the time I was little my mom has been the parent that I got along with most easily. It is my Dad, who shares many of my personality traits and ways of looking at the world, with whom the sparks flew in my teenaged years.

Now there are no sparks, except those that ignite the love in my heart for these two people in the world who know me so well and have loved me unconditionally all my life.

Most of the time my mom and I are together we are with other family - husbands/fathers, kids/grandkids. Our attentions are divided, conversations shortened by things we must do. But this weekend was one long, uninterrupted, conversation and connect time.

It was winter in Riviere-du-Loup but that didn't dampen our enthusiasm to get outdoors and walk, something we both love to do. We even dress the same for the outdoors. That's years of Damien's influence, helping equip our family and my parents to be comfortably active outdoors year round.

We drank red wine at the end of the day and ate our meals out. Nothing as tasty as my mom's cooking, but I sure enjoyed the break from the kitchen.

We talked a lot but we enjoyed companionable silences and personal time. I napped and did Zentangle. We read.

My mom loved on me with an AromaTouch Technique experience.

We talked about our passions and our dreams for the future. Of course I talked about my kids. My mom is the one person in my life, other than Damien, that does not tire to hear the stories and struggles of Celine, Laurent and Brienne, my life's pride and joy (and the cause sometimes of heartache and concern).

My joy is her joy and my pain is her pain. And as a grown adult, the empathy goes both ways. She is no longer just "my mom", the way she was when I was a kid, she's my friend.

We filled our adult relationship mother-daughter well, and agreed we should make this an annual activity.

Driving back to Montreal on the bus, watching the snow disappear as we travelled south, it feels like spring is just around the corner. I'm happy to leave the snow in Riviere-du-Loup.

March has turned. We reached the equinox, and winter is truly waning. The magic of spring will start soon, and summer, a season for traveling and adventures, will follow shortly.

A personal experience with anxiety and positive solutions

I don't know exactly how long I've struggled with anxiety.

When I first started working on this post I thought it must have been sometime in the fall of 2014, post thru-hike, when I named my struggle with anxiety. But I recently found a journal entry from the summer of 2013 in which I wrote that one of the things I hoped to accomplish in hiking the AT was to "learn how to master my mind, to gain the upper hand on my anxiety tendencies".

Sure enough, when I do a search on the blog for "anxiety" that word starts showing up with some frequency in 2013. I was pretty anxious about our hike and all the many unknowns that accompanied that adventure.

I forgot I wrote that in my journal. I didn't accomplish my goal of "mastering my mind" on the AT or gaining the upper hand on anxiety. It was almost the opposite.

Like many people with anxiety I am a really good manager and if I can manage things "just so" and control situations to my liking the anxiety is less prevalent in my life. Generally, I think I "managed" things really well till about five years ago and then things started to go a little off the rails in terms of my sense of security and I was pretty much destined to come face to face with my anxiety.

I know over the years I've recognized times of fear in myself, and of course doubt, but I didn't recognize the underlying anxiety in my life. I'm pretty sure it wasn't as bad when I was a young woman and young mother. I just don't remember it being an issue. I felt fairly secure and confident at that point in my life and that would have definitely helped to ameliorate any underlying anxiety.

One of the tricky things about identifying something in yourself is that you have no idea other people are different. Doesn't everyone always think of the worst case scenario, anticipate the worst? Isn't everyone hypervigilant about danger and risk? Doesn't everyone catastrophize and ruminate? Etc.

I'm pretty sure that the three short episodes of situational depression in my life - late-winter 2012, March 2013 and my trail depression were due to unrecognized and unresolved anxiety.

I have family members who have struggled with anxiety and depression. This isn't particularly special, it feels like in modern society these are common afflictions. My point is, I probably have a genetic pre-disposition to this struggle.

I'm going to share my experience of identifying and dealing with anxiety in my life. I am not a professional, though I've gotten some recommendations from mental health professionals in my family. I'm not in therapy (but I have people to talk to) and I'm not taking medication.

What I share is my own experience and what I've learned from my reading, research, personal practice and disciplines.

My dear friend and wise woman Krista at A Life in Progress is also writing about anxiety over the next couple weeks. I will update this post as she publishes her posts. I highly encourage you to read her wisdom and experience.

In addition, last year Rachel Wolf published Ten tips to quiet anxiety. Her ideas, though brief, are very useful.

This is a very long post because I want all this information and the story in one place. There are eight sections and you can jump down directly with the following links:

What does anxiety feel like to me?
  • an overwhelming negative outlook on a situation
  • fear about unfamiliar situations and the future
  • the belief that a negative situation I'm currently experiencing is my future
  • a deep insecurity about belonging (or not belonging)
  • worry
  • overly sensitive reactions to unexpected stimuli (I freak out easily)
  • the belief that I do not have the resources I need to cope with a particular situation

The first thing I recognized when I came to accept that I struggle with anxiety, is that over many years I had developed a pattern of negative thinking, and I was so used to this way of thinking I wasn't even aware of it. I did this automatically.

This was one of the big lessons I learned on the trail, my thoughts could be faulty and toxic.

When I came home from the trail I knew I had to change my thinking. My thoughts were sabotoging me.

I recognized I had a problem, big time, but I also asked myself why the anxiety erupted in my life now. I've always been high strung, "anxious", a worrier, and tend towards pessimism over optimism, but none of that had derailed me the way I experienced on the trail and in the few years leading there.

At that point, in fall 2014/winter 2015, to help me answer the why question, I returned to studying my personality and increasing my self-knowledge. And what was glaringly obvious was that I was deeply insecure. I was crumbling. Some of these insecurities were "real" - the financial instability of our on-line business and self-employment. Others were things I perceived as insecure, and because perceptions are powerful and thoughts can create our reality, these were just as real.

I'm still pretty insecure in a lot of ways, not just related to finances or stability. I'm working on it.

Security & Stability

Security and stability are hugely important to me. I used to be ashamed of this since these traits make me less likely to take risks and more resistant to change. Mindsets that modern people are supposed to embrace in order to keep up with the times.

Years ago, when I met Damien and was assessing if he was "the one", one of the things I looked for was his ability to provide security and stability. These are core needs of mine and we didn't pay much attention to these core needs of mine for a few years. There was a lot of change and what I perceived as risk, and I slowly become less emotionally healthy because of it. (Core needs can also express themselves as core fears and this definitely happened to me but I'm not going into that right now. I talk a little bit about that in the personality section below.)

The perfect storm had brewed in which anxiety brought me to my knees. Toxic thoughts and ingrained negative thought patterns, an eroded of my sense of security, and a lot of things happening in my life that I couldn't control.

Anxiety is a personal issue but it's also a marital and family issue. How can it not be? So the first steps we took to deal with my anxiety and insecurity were to shift Damien's career back to full-time technology work, increasing our income; and we decided to move to Montreal, and stay here, for the remainder of our active child-raising years. Being able to adequately meet the kids social and intellectual needs greatly reduced my overall anxiety.

It's almost embarrassing to admit that Damien needed to make changes to his career to help with my anxiety, that we needed more money, that we had to change the circumstances, that I wasn't able to rise above this all on my own simply by changing my mindset. These changes haven't been the cure by any means, but it was a step in the right direction.

But that's just the reality, sometimes you have to change circumstances, make shifts in your relationships, etc. to provide the structural support you need so you can make the changes to your thinking. I'm just extremely grateful for a loving husband who recognized what needed to be done, I didn't at the time, and was willing to make those sacrifices for me.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

While I was on the trail a friend and trail angel (and one of the most positive thinking people I've met) told me about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. I filed the idea away and came back to it the winter of 2015. I started slow (as I do with all new ideas) with some books from the library and then when we moved to Montreal last summer I got serious with The Cognitive Behavioral Workbook for Anxiety.

What is Cognitive Behavioralal Therapy, or CBT? Basically, it's re-training your brain and your conscious thought patterns and changing your behavior as a result.

The Cognitive Behavioral Workbook for Anxiety is a packed workbook, and the ideas repeat themselves throughout but are presented different ways and with different exercises.

I've been working in this book for 6 months and I'm not quite halfway through. You don't have to do the whole book, you can pick the chapters most applicable to you.

There is so much to say about CBT that I just don't have the time to go into here. CBT has shown me that I've lacked emotional resilience and that has gotten me into anxiety-producing mindsets and situations. It has shown me my faulty thinking. It's helped me identity my big anxiety triggers. It's shown me how my behaviors are a direct result of my thinking. This seems obvious but sometimes we think we're stuck in our behaviors, but the truth is we're only stuck if our minds are stuck.

The hardest part for me of CBT is doing it, putting into action what I've learned; re-routing my negative thoughts, being present in the moment of a reaction and choosing to re-direct that reaction.

Some days I'd rather crawl in a cave, where I won't have to interact with anyone or any situations and therefore can "control" my responses that way. And many times I just wish the the world change to my liking and save me all the effort of re-wiring my brain, but that's unlikely to happen.

CBT is hard work. The ideas are not hard, they make perfect sense. I love thinking about those ideas, reading, making notes, but putting them into practice is difficult.

Faulty thinking is a deadly threat to emotional and spiritual health... (and is) even more dangerous because it operates, for the most part, beyond our conscious awareness. Eradicating this deadly disease requires such radical surgery that it can almost be compared to getting a brain transplant.
Geri Scazzero from the Emotionally Healthy Woman

Another book I read last year and am nearly finished is Emotionally Healthy Woman. My mom gifted this to me and it has been hugely helpful for me. It's not about anxiety, per se, but many of the ideas in this book are straight up CBT strategies and self-awareness principles. I've learned a lot from this book and I love its liberated Christian woman perspective. I highly recommend it.

Diet & Exercise

I have not focused on diet in addressing my anxiety. My diet has changed a bit over the past year, not in response to anxiety, but in response to some life realities: I don't like cooking very much, I have three hungry teenagers to feed, I live in a city with a lot of food options. I'm familiar, on the surface level, with gut mind theories, that what's going on in our gut affects our thinking. I just haven't been able to "go there" yet in my research and experimentation. And I don't know that I will. I'm trying these other strategies first.

And I simply can't imagine giving up my one cup of coffee a day. I'm happy to try every other strategy in the book before that one!

Daily outdoor exercise has been a part of my life for a few years now. I walk, bike, downhill and x-country ski. I recognize the importance of this discipline in my overall health and wellbeing. But I take exception to the idea that all a person needs to do is "get outside for some fresh air" and her anxiety will be resolved.

Things aren't that simple. I disagree with the adage that:

A vigorous five-mile walk will do more good for an unhappy but otherwise healthy adult than all the medicine and psychology in the world.

This is a popular quote that appears as an image on the web, usually superimposed over a woman running on a beautiful sunny day. I experienced my most intense anxiety, shame, and depression while living in the great outdoors and vigorously walking many miles a day. I didn't need more exercise, I needed psychology, and maybe medicine.

All that to say diet and exercise were not the solutions to my anxiety. They play a role but they are not the answers, for me.

Amygdala & Supplements

In the process of reading The Cognitive Behavioral Workbook for Anxiety I learned about my amygdala, which was a lightbulb moment. For years I have called myself a panic mom, not in that I get panic attacks (I've never experienced that), but I react and over-react to simple things. The kids know this about me. I freak out easily.

If you have a sensitive amygdala, you'll have lots of false alarms. You are more likely to overreact to things when they are not where you expect them to be, as well as to strange sounds, quick movements, or unexpected changes in emotions.
from The Cognitive Behavioral Workbook for Anxiety


The amygdala contributes to negative feelings by increasing your perceptual sensitivity for negative stimuli.
from The Cognitive Behavioral Workbook for Anxiety

As I've gone through the journey of understanding my anxiety I have experienced many "aha" moments when I realize I'm not the only person like this. Learning about my amygdala was one of these moments.

I'm fairly certain I have a sensitive amygdala.

I did a bunch of reading about the amygdala, mostly online, and started taking supplements for the treatment of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). I hate that label, I don't consider myself to have a disorder, I prefer "imbalances in my limbic system".

With a focus on correcting neurotransmitter imbalances in the limbic system, as well as hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis dysfunction, clinicians can choose from several scientifically supported nutrients and herbs the ones that are most appropriate for each patient to modulate these pathways and change the course of this disorder.
from Natural Medicine Journal Treatment Considerations for Generalized Anxiety Disorder

I'm currently taking magnesium and ashwagandha specifically for anxiety. And just recently I added St. John's Wort to help me get through winter. I also take a multi-vitamin which includes 2,000 IU's of vitamin D and 1250 mg (750 mg EPA and 500 mg DHA) of omega-3 fatty acids daily.

Supplements and dietary aids for anxiety is not my area of expertise or research. For that I direct you specifically to Krista's blog, she will be posting about this shortly and I'll update this post with the link when it publishes. Or you can start following her blog. Krista is a certified holistic nutritionist who lives and breathes this kind of knowledge, I can't wait to read what she has to say.


Last winter as I read, researched, and listened to podcasts (and interviews like this one on CBC with Dan Harris) it become clear to me that meditation would probably be really helpful. So last June I asked my friend to teach me how to meditate.

Not surprisingly, meditation and mindfulness shows up everywhere in my "how to deal with anxiety" research and reading.

I started meditating because I recognized the power of my mind and my thoughts. And I could see that my reaction to situations, my anxious responses, were driven by my subconscious.

I'm still learning how to meditate but the most important part is just showing up and making it part my routine.

My intention in meditating is to drive down truth into my subconscious. I want to react and respond from beliefs that are fundamentally different than the negativity and fear that drives me. I want to respond instinctively from a place of freedom and truth. This feels like a very tall order.

I don't do an "emptying of my mind" type of meditation. I'm very purposeful in my meditation.

Meditation for me looks something like this:

  • Focus on my breathing (and bring my focus back to my breath over and over again throughout the 10 minute session).
  • Clear my mind by focusing on my breathing.
  • Choose an image, phrase or mantra to "meditate" on. This is the part about driving down truth into my subconscious. I usually meditate on a Biblical truth, last fall I mostly focused on my identity and I come back to this often. Sometimes I will meditate on a few simple verses from my daily/weekly Bible reading. Sometimes I will take myself to a place in nature and "be there" in my meditation.

This is my goal in meditation (and CBT in general):

It’s creating the conditions whereby we can embark on a way of life that is not dictated by our instinctive reactivity, our habits, our fears, and so forth and so on, but stems from an openness, an inner openness, that is unconditioned by those forces, and that allows the freedom to think differently, to act differently, to respond more fully. And in doing so, to allow the human person to flourish. To realize more fully the potentials that each one of us has.
from OnBeing interview with Stephen Batchelor, The Limits of Belief, The Massiveness of the Questions

Learning how to breathe and relax my belly is part of my morning meditation, but I do those things throughout the day also to release anxiety and tension in my body. Deep breathing and relaxing your belly are very easy strategies to implement.

Personality & The Enneagram

I've been studying my personality since I was thirty-five. In fact, thirty-five was a threshold of self-discovery for me, when I started to want to deeply know and understand myself. It was very exciting.

My introduction to personality typing was Myers-Briggs, and oh how I do love that system. It was thrilling for me to read descriptions about my personality. It was a very validating experience, but also puzzling in some ways because I couldn't make sense of my rebellious, non-conforming behaviors within the structure of my personality type, which is ESTJ/ISTJ.

I really like Myers-Briggs and all it has taught me, and recently I've been learning about the cognitive functions of my personality type - how I learn and make decisions - and that has been fascinating and again, validating (yes, I need lots of validation).

MBTI has helped me understand my anxiety by validating the importance of tradition, security, and structures to my wellbeing (when those feel threatened, my anxiety increases), but I found the Enneagram provided greater clarity to understand the root of my anxiety.

The two systems are quite different. One of the main differences, that I see, is that the Enneagram provides a very honest assessment of your weaknesses and explains the unhealthy expressions of your type, but then also provides a path to healing and psychological and spiritual growth.

I don't want to spend too much time talking about the Enneagram here but I do want to say this. I'm a Type 6 and after all the soul-searching I've done the past year it was pretty easy for me to type myself.

All three personality types of the Thinking Center have a problem with anxiety, but Sixes, as the primary type, have the greatest problem with it. They are the type which is most conscious of anxiety—"anxious that they are anxious"—unlike other personality types who are either unaware of their anxiety or who unconsciously convert it into other symptoms..... Even though they belong to the Thinking Center, Sixes are also emotional because their feelings are affected by anxiety.
The Enneagram Institute Overview of Type 6

I could go on and on with quotes and links. "Sixes want to have security, to feel supported by others, to have certitude and reassurance, to test the attitudes of others toward them, to fight against anxiety and insecurity", etc. etc.

I could talk about how my personality type - my loyalty, my anxiety, my desire to be under trusted authorities, my fear of being unsupported - a complex stew - affected our marriage in unhealthy ways, which then increased my anxiety. But all that will have to wait. I do plan to publish that someday.

Suffice to say, looking back through the lens of the Enneagram and MBTI has given me a lot of insight into why my anxiety exploded the way it did.

A lot of people are initially discouraged or disappointed with Enneagram typing. It's not pretty to see your faults, weaknesses and your emotional unhealthiness in black and white. But for me, it was liberating. I'd already identified my junk. I've written it. I've journaled it. Cried it, prayed it, talked to Damien about it.

I wasn't ashamed to see it in a book, I was relieved.

I've looked into my heart and mind and observed things about myself that are not pleasant. I understand how people can do dark and evil things because I saw how in a really unhealthy place I could do the same.

What the Enneagram did for me was shine a light on what I already knew about myself and provide a path forward.

Understanding my type within that framework has given me great hope in my quest to overcome my anxiety.

One of the key features to the Enneagram is what is called integration, which I'm not going to explain here. But what was really cool for me to discover was that the activities I've been engaging in for the last six to eight months in attempting to address my anxiety are the behaviors and attitudes of my type moving in the direction of integration.

In other words, I've been instinctively moving towards mental and emotional health. The Enneagram is giving me language to understand that process and a vision for what it looks like to be a healthy individual with my personality type. And honestly, that vision excites me. I just wish I could be there, now.

Truth & Identity

For a while in my life, perhaps a long while, I had lost sight of my true identity. And I don't mean my personality. That's not my identity. My personality helps explain the way I think, interact with the world, make decisions, my weaknesses and strengths but it is not my true self, or my Essence.

When we are willing to say, "I want to be who I really am, and I want to live in the truth," the process of recovering ourselves has already begun. Riso and Hudson, The Wisdom of the Enneagram

Last year I found my true self again in Jesus Christ. My true self is not a role: "mom, homemaker, wife, writer". It's not my personality type, preferences, or issues: "anxious, traditional, beauty-seeking, etc."

Who I am in Christ is none of those things.

The list of my true identity is vast, but there are certain truths that have really resonated with me over the past year. These are the things I meditate on, as they speak to my particular need, at this point in my life.

Here are two truths that have really impacted me since last summer:

I am hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3) - For me, this feels like the ultimate position of safety and security.

I am free forever from condemnation (Rom. 8:1) - I felt so much shame at the height of my anxiety and I needed to cling to this truth.

Jesus is setting me free from my anxiety because my identity is in him. He died and then conquered death to set me free. This my birthright as a child of God.

I wish I could say I don't struggle with anxiety and insecurity because I've kicked it to the curb with Ninja-like CBT practices, Tibetan monk meditation discipline, and continually living (and acting accordingly) in the knowledge of my true identity.

Not so.

I fall, fail, and trip up a lot but I am confident I have the tools, resources, and knowledge I need to fight this. Anxiety made me feel broken and that there was a problem with my essential self. But I know that's not true.

I have a vision now for what it looks like to be an emotionally and psychologically healthy person of "my type": she's self-confident and self-affirming because she recognizes and trusts her inner guidance. Her faith in God and God living in her manifests as outstanding courage and leadership. She leads from a deep understanding of people's insecurities and frailties. She is filled with the presence of God and feels solid, steady, and supported, as if she were standing on a massive bed of granite. She knows that this rootedness in the presence of God is the only real security in life, and this is what gives her great courage.

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Almost through

I got sick last month. I'm pretty sure it was the flu, the same thing Laurent got in early February. The girls also got sick.

Damien escaped the worst of it. Thank God. As a self-employed person there are no sick days and to have Damien not working right now would be a real financial stretch/stress.

What I experienced last month is the sickest I've been in my whole adult life. I tend to forget bad things, this is actually a healthy thing so I don't mind too much this tendency of mine. But I'm sure I've never been that sick before. I could not function for a week and for the week following I could barely function and when our kids were really little that would have been awful. I'm sure I would remember something like that.

I speculate we got hit so hard because we're new to the city (public transit, homeschool co-op, church that meets in a theatre, etc.) so we were exposed to a lot of new germs this winter. And I wasn't ready for it, at all. I was low on herbal remedies and I didn't really know what to do with the essential oils I had, nothing seemed to work. Was my timing wrong? Did I not use enough?

I'm working to change that situation for next year. I felt helpless. I need to get educated and stock the cupboard. Remedies are already brewing and I'm considering this course. Do you know of an exhaustive "do this in the case of flu" resource? Please recommend in comments. (I'm not looking for vague, internet-search stuff. I did that myself. I want to be taught specifics and I want protocols, not "try a little of this, little of that". I don't want to experiment. I want effective solutions.)

Damien's mom came to visit in the thick of it, not because we were sick, it was a visit that had been planned for months. She lives in Edmonton, Alberta and we haven't seen her for two years. She helped cook and brought a motherly/grandmotherly vibe to a house of sickies. She also bought us a few small kitchen appliances while she was here. God bless her.

Laurent's birthday happened during this time and we were too sick to celebrate. With grandma's help we managed to pull together our traditional birthday breakfast before we crashed back into bed.

I spent so much time in bed that I developed muscle and joint aches from sitting and laying down. Within a couple days I had maxed out on Netflix and social media. Getting sick actually helped me reset my social media consumption, which had been getting a little out of hand. When I emerged from the fog after two weeks it felt like I had restart my whole life (that first grocery shopping trip was monumental) so I restarted with much less Facebook and Instagram.

Being sick was awful, and recovering hasn't been a cake walk either. Physically I was weak and have been more tired than usual but the real struggle has been in my mind.

This season of late February and March is the hardest time of year for me. It is not spring where I live, it is the end of winter, and it is not pretty. At this time of year, I am at my lowest point emotionally and mentally; getting so sick felt like a low blow, like someone kicking you when you're down.

I've been foggy brained in my recovery. And because I have a history of March malaise or situational depression I feared that in my weakened, post-sickness state I was fast-tracking down that path again.

And so I've had to fight.

I know now how my mind works, the paths I can and cannot let it go down. I know the principles of CBT. I'm very self-aware at this point. I know the importance of exercise and the outdoors. I know the importance of music. I know the importance of meditation and prayer. I know the importance of reaching out.

But I tell you, doing these things is hard work. I'm not asking for kudos, the reward is in the fact that I am not depressed. I am uninspired about this time of year, I am still tired from being sick, but I'm not crying every day. I'm not dwelling in negative spaces mentally or emotionally. My mind wants to go there but I am holding fast and firm against that.

Here's the hardest part about self-awareness and fighting the dark places: you still have to do the work.

It's not enough to have head knowledge and understanding.

I love book learning. I love to read things, nod my head, underline, make notes in the margin, and say "this is good". I love to listen to lectures and podcasts that teach me how to understand myself. But none of this is doing the work.

Doing the work:

  • Going outside even in these grey uninspiring days. (Ski season has probably come to an end, after a pitiful winter, and we missed a couple weeks because of sickness. I was so sad about this, skiing is my favorite part of winter.)
  • Forcing my thoughts in more positive directions. My thoughts are like misbehaving children who need continual correction and discipline. Just like training my toddlers, it can be exhausting to re-train my mind.
  • Meditating.
  • Overcoming my nesting/homebody urges to explore things that I know will give me a boost but that require the initial effort of changing the schedule, leaving the house, etc. (Made more difficult because the weather has been so yucky.)
  • Working on my income earning and writing projects even when I want to procrastinate and do other stuff around the house instead. There's always some other homemaking or homeschooling work I can do, but I have this tendency to self-sabatoge my personal income earning projects and this is something I must push through. (Sometimes you don't push, you rest, but trust me, this is something I must push through.)

Getting through this hardest part of the year and recovering from being sick is not all "work". This is probably the ugliest time of year outdoors. It's melting dog poop season in the city, beauty is really hard to find, so I must make it and find it where I can.

I've been drawing again, mostly in the evenings. I'm working on a tangle for Lent called "Hidden in Christ" and I'm also learning new tangles.

Something I did this winter was to choose a color theme for each season. I started a bullet journal in January, I'll probably blog more about that later.

My bullet journal is my weekly to-do lists, but it's also full of spiritual wisdom and insights, self-awareness stuff, things I want to meditate on during my days, seasonal menu plans, and some other stuff. This journal is a record of my year, not just what I did week-by-week but what I am thinking and how I am growing and changing.

I use a black pen to write but I wanted to use colored pens to underline and highlight. I decided on gel pens and chose two colors for each season to be used in my journaling, drawing, and miscellaneous stuff (all the little notes of encouragement I write to myself).

My winter colors are icy blue and sparkling orange. They are inspired by the colors of January. For me, the essence of winter, its most beautiful expression, is sparkly snow, crystalline clear blue skies paired with the warm and golden light of early afternoon sunsets and candlelight. This collage of images express the essence of winter that I love.

All of that is to explain that using my blue and orange gel pens (the blue isn't the same tone as the blue of winter's essence, truthfully, I was just using what I had on hand) has brought me a lot of pleasure this winter, even now. And I'm working on a little Zentangle that incorporates these colors.

My spring colors are lime/celery green and lilac purple. And the essence I want to capture is "fresh, pretty and clean". Last weekend I bought my pens and I'm not using them yet but I've been playing around a little.

I finally hung these photos and art in our bedroom. My first Power Hour project and it didn't even take an hour. And this brings a bit more beauty into my days.

While I was sick my mom sent some money to buy flowers. Damien was unable to get out to purchase them for me, so it wasn't till post-sickness that I was able to buy some. The bonus of this is that I can choose my own arrangements and if I buy them at the market my flower dollars go farther and I'm aiming to get three bouquets, enough to see me through the end of March.

Next weekend is my retreat with my mom, a plan I made in January because I knew I would need to go somewhere this month.

This week I bought our family pass for the Montreal Botanical Gardens, which is fabulous in summer, but also has greenhouses to explore this time of year. This afternoon the kids and I went to experience the Butterflies Go Free exhibit.

And we're starting to make our summer travel and camping plans. Last summer I didn't want to go anywhere. Tired of hiking and moving I just wanted to stay put and explore our new city. This year I am so anxious to travel and explore out of the city.

I am longing to sleep in a tent, be by a lake, hike in the mountains. Vermont, Ontario, and "out west" are calling. Some ideas are becoming reality with reservations and squirreled away funds, others are dreams that need a few things to align to make them reality. But either way, we're going places this summer.

March is now a third over and I know I'm going to make it. I'm being proactive (making summer plans, getting out of the house, going away next weekend), I'm doing the work, and I'm finding the beauty.

Showing up and Better Than Before, a short book review

This is the last post in my Heart of the home series.

I've been really sick (very sick) during the period of time in which these posts were published. They were already written before I was sick so it wasn't too onerous to get them published. And showing up here made me feel human. But I have no more photos. My photography dried up in the middle of February.

Very rarely will I apologize on my blog or in life for a "state of being". Apologies should be reserved for when you do something unkind, etc. But I am apologizing for the state of the photography in the last few posts and this one, because I actually want readers to have a certain experience when they visit my blog, and the photos are part of that. Oh well. I'm sick, life and this blog are far from perfect.

In a lot of areas of my life, I'm noticing it's more helpful to focus on showing up vs. doing something right or good or even making progress.

At first glance that sounds kind of lame. Like showing up but not actively participating, or even trying to improve, which is not what I'm talking about.

Some of the habits I've been working on in my life over the past year and the mindsets I'm trying to establish do not lend themselves to easy evaluation and assessment against a metric. It's hard to measure progress because I don't see immediate improvement.

Learning how to manage my anxiety, meditating, writing, exercising, and even relationships - I've applied the principle of showing up to all of these.

Take writing for example. I used to sit down to write a blog post and I would be frustrated if I didn't publish those thoughts within a couple days. The hike writing sabbatical changed all of that.

And when I came back from the hike and simply could not publish my thoughts within a couple days and everything needed hours and hours of processing, I had to shift my focus from publishing to simply showing up.

Am I writing? Ok, good. Showing up to do the work became more important than finishing the work. This was a huge change for me in focus. And in showing up, over and over, I naturally progressed, very slowly.

Meditation is another example. I'm not a "good" meditator. I am monkey-mind all over the place. This can be discouraging so I don't focus on getting better, or being "good". I focus on showing up. Just making it happen in my day. Looking back I'm able to see that when I consistently show up I make improvement. I love meditating and truly feel it's made a difference in my life and my overall state of being.

My exercise/movement goal is to simply get outdoors every day. Once I'm out there I know I'll be moving somewhere - to the library, a walk around the neighborhood, etc. I'm not looking for progress in this area, I'm not training for anything. What's most important in this season is to just do it. Showing up, moving my legs, enjoying the fresh air - that's all I'm hoping to achieve.

In my relationships, I'm trying to not to get so hung up on finding resolution to problems. I am a resolution seeker and don't like ambiguity and unresolved issues, but in life with three teenagers, and a husband fundamentally different from me, there are tensions and unresolved issues. So I've shifted my focus from resolution to showing up, listening and being present for the hard stuff. We may not find the answer to the problem in that discussion, or the next, or the next but we actually do make progress in understanding each other and learning to listen.

Most of the habits I'm trying to work on seem do-able if I focus on showing up and take my eyes off "measurable progress". Progress is happening, but often it's only apparent in retrospect.

Better Than Before, a book about habits

As an anxiety-prone, perfectionist-tendency person I very rarely read self-improvement books. Anything that hints at doing more, or being more efficient, being "better", improving your productivity, working smarter, I stay away from. I'm highly responsible but also very critical of myself (working on this) and deeply insecure at times, so that last thing I need is more pressure to improve.

I'm wired to optimize so I need to learn the skills of being, not doing: which is why I love writing so much, and quiet contemplation, and slowing down, meditating, and even watching TV.

I have spent most of my adult life eschewing the time-suck of television, not because I was worried about addiction but because I don't like to squander time, it's inefficient. But enjoying a television show with my teenaged daughters is hardly a waste of time or resources. It's actually an investment in our relationship. Go figure.

(Of course my quality-time husband has been trying to communicate this to me for years. But unfortunately our media tastes are so different it's a space in which it's hard for us connect. )

I recently read Gretchen Rubin's Better Than Before, even though the title grates me the wrong way. Which is one reason I avoided it for months.

The copy I got from my library is Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of our Everyday Lives which is a huge improvement over Better Than Before: What I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits--to Sleep More, Quit Sugar, Procrastinate Less, and Generally Build a Happier Life. Maybe it's the Canadian publication, because Canadians have more refined and less "flashy" tastes. :)

I had pretty much dismissed reading the book but when I learned it was about self-knowledge as the key to understanding habits and motivation I was keen to read it: self-awareness and motivation are two of my very favorite subjects.

My main motivation in reading this book was to gain insight about my learners, aka my kids. Habit formation is a huge part of homeschooling and Damien and I place a bigger priority on the development of healthy life habits than we do the learning of specific facts and data. Habits, like character formation, are an important part of the foundation that life-long learning is built upon.

Learning good habits is a big focus in how we raise and educate our kids. So I'm really keen to understand how different "types" of people acquire habits. Basically, I'm always trying to understand what makes my children tick and how I can come alongside that to help them be successful in learning and in life.

I can't give a blanket endorsement to the book mostly because there's no angst, really no personal struggle at all. Gretchen is quite clinical in her pursuit of better habits (to help reach goals): she sets a goal, she determines a strategy to acquire that habit and then she does it, or she determines matter-of-factly she didn't need really want to reach that goal in the first place. The only person who seems to struggle with her habits is Gretchen's sister Elizabeth, whom Gretchen tests her ideas on.

I don't jive with that sense of emotional detachment because a lot of things are angsty and emotional for me. I wrestle with things I'm not good at, wondering if I should be. That's a lack of self-confidence I guess.

Also, I'm an Upholder with strong Questioning tendencies so I don't need someone telling me what to do or keeping me accountable, and a self-improvement book can feel this way to me. "What do you know about what I need? I can manage myself, thank you very much."

But once I got over these insecurities (and some others that I won't get into) I started to really enjoy the book and gained insight about how I can help my kids with habit formation and goal setting. And I'm also learning a bunch of stuff applicable to myself. I think the Power Hour could be a great tool to help me get done some of the tasks I just keep procrastinating. I think I'll start, next week (ha, if you've read the book you'll catch the irony).

My concluding thoughts about self-improvement projects, including habit formation, is that if you feel better about yourself doing those things, if your health improves and you have more energy, you feel more capable, you feel "better" than before, than those seem like worthy pursuits. And if you keep running into a wall with the things you want to change in your life, you just can't make it happen, Rubin's book might help you understand why.

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Personal Care & Seasonal Shifts

Post three in my Heart of the home series.

Again, the photos in this post are all from instagram, not my favorite for blog posts and only a pathetic few, but they're all I've got right now.

Self care is almost cliche. In my daily living I don't call the activities I do for me "self care" anymore than I call cooking "family care". These are just "things I do".

I hope I'm taking care of myself all day. Except for regular exercise, meeting my basic physical needs isn't hard for me to do. Those are habits.

But I like to reserve time each day for personal growth and development and just pure enjoyment.

I feel very strongly about guarding my personal time in the full-ness of our family life. I don't mean any disrespect to my family, but the only person who really advocates for what I need is me. As an adult, I am responsible to make sure my needs are met by meeting those I'm able to meet and expressing where I need help. Hand in hand with this is teaching my kids to know themselves, identify their needs, and help them advocate for those. And respecting the individuality of every person in this family.

This sounds like I have to withstand my family's objections to me taking care of myself. Which is comical, they never give me grief for the time I'm doing my things. They're big, which helps. (Though my youngest doesn't "like" when I spend the whole day out of the house, "doing my own thing".) But everything else in my day wants to encroach on this time. Most everything in my life feels in-progress, undone, half finished. When I was a younger woman it was harder for me to look past all that and "be still" (which is a big part of my personal care) because I think I was holding out hope it might get "finished" one day.

Deep in my heart I knew that wasn't the case but I was hoping I could do better than most.

Self care or personal care for me includes tending to my intellectual, spiritual, emotional, and physical self. Taking care of myself physically is quite ingrained in me at this point. Damien and I value physical health and this has been an area I've attended to decently for many years. I'm not as experienced with tending to my emotional and cognitive wellbeing, so that's where most of my personal care energies are focused these days.

For me, self care is not so much about doing, a list of things I check off. I've had years and years of doing, I'm a good do-er. I don't need to grow in "doing". I need to grow in the opposite direction, in practices of "being", learning how to be comfortable with the light and dark parts of self and others, learning how to sit with the full range of emotions and not wrestle, or "do" my out of that place. I have a preference to squeeze myself out of the emotional discomfort I feel when people I love are navigating through difficult personal terrain through managing, doing, and working to resolve issues that aren't mine to resolve. It's not healthy though it appears to be very helpful.

I've been physically healthy for years. I've eaten well, been physically active, more so in the last five years. I don't struggle with body image. I actually love my body. That's a real gift I know. But there is more to health and wellbeing than our physical selves, it's so much more than what we eat and if we exercise. I have learned this lesson, it seems like all important lessons, the hard way.

For years I focused on a healthy diet and regular outdoor exercise as the path to wellbeing. In this life season I'm focusing less on diet and more on the whole picture of wellness, with special attention to my emotional and cognitive health and resiliency.

I have three points in the day where I specifically focus on my personal needs. Early morning, mid-day lunch, and evening.


Early mornings are my time to take care of those essential "me" things before I start my day.

I aim to get up at 6:30. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. When I get up early I have enough time for the following list, when I get up later (7:00-7:30) I have less time. And I have always envied those rare birds who get up really early, naturally. 6:30 is my consistently earliest natural wake up time. I haven't used a morning alarm since I was a university student.

Mornings are my time to:

  • Drink a Klean Kanteen of water, get out my supplements for the day (I actually have to pay special attention to this or I don't take my supplements that day), and brew a cup of coffee. I'm trying to tweak this a bit to have some food in my belly before I drink my morning coffee.
  • Writing. My writing anxiety is over and I'm usually chomping at the bit each morning to put something "on paper" to post here.
  • Self-therapy and spiritual care. This is some combination of working through my CBT workbook, devotional material, Bible reading, prayer, journaling and general pondering. I can only do one, maybe two of these on any given morning. It's like a bag of tricks or prizes and I choose the one I want to do, or feel led to do.
  • Drawing. Before Christmas I had been drawing nearly every day in the morning, instead of writing (which I was fitting in other places, usually around lunchtime). At Christmas I completely got out of the morning habit of drawing and haven't resumed since. I am wondering how drawing will fit in my life but like I noted to myself in my journal: "I can't knit, draw, write and photograph every day or every season, choose my focus..." This month/season my focus is writing.
  • Meditating. I was doing really good with this until Christmas and then, like drawing, I lost the habit after the holiday. In February I resolved to make this a "check it off the list" morning activity. It needs to happen, so I do it. And it only takes ten minutes. This is the last "me thing" I do before I enter the fray of family life.
  • I use my Happy Light while doing most of these activities.

I aim to wrap all this up by 9:00. In reality, it wraps up by 9:30, especially if I got up late. Then I grab a quick breakfast and eat while I start the morning's work.

Exceptions to the rule: Wednesday and Friday. Two days out of five is a big exception, but it's reality, and again, part of the season's priorities. Wednesday night I can usually recoup my morning time with personal reading and writing when we get home from skiing and the family disperses, happy and physically exhausted, to their personal interests.

Noon (ish)

Lunchtime is when I read personal growth, other self-help, and classic non-fiction books. Book examples: Daring Bravely, Life Together, Bird by Bird, Better Than Before. If I was reading a marriage, parenting, or homeschool book, it would fit in here. I read those types of books very rarely.

I am a fast reader but I take my time to digest ideas and I like to write down my thoughts so overall, reading these types of books is a slow and steady endeavor. All of those books I listed above I've only half finished, and some of them, I've been reading for years!

In this season, I structure my daily reading like this:

  • spiritual & deep self care - morning
  • personal growth - lunchtime
  • fiction, memoir, great stories, poetry - evening

Do I always follow this, no? Especially if I'm really "into" something. But I like the structure of this to help guide me through the myriad of books I want to read.

After lunch is when I try to get out the house for a quick walk.

I am most successful with this goal if I have a destination or purpose to fulfill. Neighborhood errand runs work really well for me: picking up last minute supper ingredients, cat food, a walk to the post office/pharmacy, picking up a book at the library, etc. If I have a task to complete I am good at getting out the door. If I have no task it is much more difficult to accomplish my goal to get outside every day.


On the nights I cook supper I like to listen to podcasts and video presentations. I gravitate to talks, lectures, interviews about: education, philosophy, Christian theology, democracy, sociology, psychology, spirituality, creativity, and health.

I like substantive material.

(I'd love to have a podcast discussion in the comments: what I'm listening to and what you're listening to.)

After supper, my family likes to do some combination of retreating into personal media and sharing media with each other in the evenings.

Our fall and winter evenings look like reading, listening, and watching on our own devices and watching favorite shows or gaming together. Usually a combination of both. I don't game but the rest of my family does.

Last fall I started watching Gilmore Girls with my girls (and Laurent). It's the only TV show, since Downton Abbey that the three of us like. In the evenings I like to write/do blog stuff or draw, watch an episode, or two, of Gilmore Girls. (If it's a 2 episode night of GG I'm probably getting up late the next morning).

Then I go to bed and read. Lights out by 10:00/10:30, sometimes 11:00. That's a late morning for sure. I'm an 8 hours of sleep person, at least.

A lot of people have asked about my Personal Retreats days that I take every 6 weeks. As you can see, there is no space in this post for that. I hope to write about that sometime before summer.

Seasonal Shifts

My weekly schedule is always subject to interruptions and situations out of my control. A week never looks like the plan on paper, but the plan provides the guideline.

Life changes and most of my routines work best for a given calendar season, and sometimes they only work for a month, and then I have to adjust. This took me a few years to learn.

We had a good groove last fall, it changed this winter and I'm already anticipating the change when ski season ends and again when co-op/homeschool year finishes. Which will free up time for other pursuits. I'm already excited about the changes I'm planning for that season. But the point is, that's next season, not now, and I need to work with what I've got right now.

I've come to see that although I love routines, I also thrive on the change in routine, different seasons. Like my family will be quick to tell you, I DO NOT like the transition period itself, that bumpy time of "figuring it out". I feel stretched thin during those times. But I like knowing that a shift will come and I can re-direct my energies at that time. Because I actually get bored of doing the same thing over and over.

Once I've identified the practices, habits, routines I really need to work on/achieve/pursue in a given season I do my best to focus on those things. I can't "focus" on whole bunch of goals. One or two at the most.

While focusing on those changes or shifts, I rely on the other well-oiled habits and systems that have become routine to our family to move us through our days. I don't have to make decisions about those things, they just are.

Last October/November my focus was working with the kids to get used to the rhythms and expectations of the co-op. Teaching time management was the big goal for me.

In January I focused on supper on the table by 6:30, making ski day work in our schedule, and getting back into the groove after the holiday.

This month I'm focusing on re-establishing morning meditation and butt-in-chair writing. After a year of anxiety/midlife crisis/moving to Montreal I need to re-establish the habit.

I am not going to live my life beating myself up for things I'm not accomplishing and I'm not going to live under the burden of self-improvement, "if you just do this one more thing you'll be a better person", because the trap is there is always one more thing.

I want to be content with who I am right now, while recognizing I am working on things that will help me be more connected to people, have better health and wellbeing, and further my personal and professional goals. But in that striving and changing I need to be content with myself and my family, in this life season.

Which is why you'll notice I use the word try because it's true: I try. I have intentions and usually, not always I meet them. Always is a hard burden to bear, so I don't do always.

These systems of self-management and home management work for me because of how I'm wired. It will not work everyone, so this isn't an advice post, just a "this is how I do it" post.

And now I'm going to get spiritual and then subjective. And I take back what I just said, there are a couple sentences of advice.

Firstly, I was not called to give my life to my family, I was called to give my life to Jesus. Of course family life is one working out of that, but it is not the sum total. And having re-discovered this truth in my life my personal time is really about resting in that knowledge. And learning more about myself to serve and love people in healthy ways.

I think a lot of women are way too busy caring for everyone else but themselves. I recognize right from the get-go of this argument that I only know the reality of a two-parent household. I have access to time that many people simply do not.

In the same way you prioritize your family's needs and wants, you need to put yourself on the radar. And if you're like me, that means you won't do everything to the standard you had hoped, because there simply isn't enough time. But I keep showing up for the slow journey. And that's the next post.


A homeschool and family life schedule with three teenagers

This is my second post in Heart of the home series.

A lot of the blogs I read and instagram feeds I follow are all spring, spring, spring these days. As a northerner, I'm used to early spring "down south". But a February spring in New England is disheartening to me.

I loved the mild November but it seems for some people that winter never happened and that makes me sad. I know that for people who don't enjoy winter sports or work outdoors a mild winter is a blessing, for us, it just ain't so.

The schedule I share below is our winter schedule, because that's the season we're in. We hope winter stays till the end of March, at least at the ski hill (they make snow) because we really enjoy skiing and snowboarding.

This schedule is quite similar to last fall, except for Monday, which I explain below, and Wednesday's ski day. It will remain our weekly schedule till co-op ends in May.

A note about the photos (because I care about that kind of thing). I haven't taken a lot of photos this winter. For me, the city in the winter is not as beautiful or inspiring as the city in the summer. Maybe in future years I'll see things differently. And with less natural light in our home I don't take as many indoor photos either. So I'm pulling some photos from my instagram feed and my phone to "illustrate" and beautify this post.

Monday - Co-op day

We belong to a homeschool co-op that meets on Mondays and Fridays.

Last October when co-op started I took the kids both days. I attempted to do other work while I was there, email and other correspondence/management tasks. It was too hard. Committing two of my days to co-op was getting very difficult for me emotionally. I was frustrated with the lack of momentum in my life in other areas.

The co-op requires parents to be present, it's not a drop-off center. So, as of December Damien started taking the kids to co-op on Mondays. The family leaves the house around 10:15 and returns around 6pm. On Monday the kids take personal finance, English literature, French conversation and drama class.

I am so grateful for Damien's ability to work anywhere. What I mean by this is that he can tune out everything to focus on something. Of course, this gift also drives me nuts sometimes, but for working in less-than-ideal environments, it's a self-employment win.

I can't do this, I'm very much a creature of habit when it comes to my work - homemaking, homeschooling, writing, etc. I'm sensitive to my environment and I work best with specific routines and rituals.

a picture from a walk in my neighborhood

I work on taxes or family finances in the morning (I help Damien with bookkeeping for our self-employed income) and try to take a walk at lunch usually to a neighborhood store to pick up what I need for supper. In the afternoon I work on a writing project that is still under wraps.

Mondays are one of my favorite days of the week. I love that weekday space to myself and the slow progress I'm making on a project that is near and dear to me.

Supper: I cook a double portion of supper: one to eat and one to freeze.

Tuesday - School & Grocery shopping day

Tuesday morning Brienne (13) and Laurent (almost 15) and I have our weekly school meeting. The homeschool co-op offers classes in all kinds of subjects, from "life skills" to academics. Most classes my kids are taking have homework. I use this homework to teach the critical thinking, communication, self-confidence, etc. skills that are fundamental to the Tougas family homeschool curriculum. Tuesday morning we take a look at each class and see what is required for the next class and the kids then work on that during the week.

I'm a co-op newbie and the kids and I were interested in a lot of the classes (FOMO), so we signed up for a lot of classes. Little did I realize we wouldn't have time for some of my own homeschooling intentions for the year, working in weak areas mostly. I plan to pick those up this summer when co-op is out of session and carefully consider my options next year to make sure we have enough time for the things we deem most important.

But overall, what they've gained from the co-op outweighs adjusting my homeschool expectations for this year.

Celine (16) manages her own schooling and I will check in with her throughout the week and offer to lighten her household load if she's having a particularly intense week, but otherwise, she's pretty much independent. Damien is a great assistance to Celine's technical and computer education and work experience. Her part-time job is working for one of Damien's clients.

On Tuesday mornings Celine goes with Damien to a coffee shop to work till lunch.

I try to walk at lunch time. In the afternoon I go grocery shopping and hit a couple different places depending on the week: farmers market, Costco, health food store, large grocery store, the neighborhood shops. This is my least favorite part of the week.

I often treat myself to a croissant on shopping afternoons

Supper: We eat a meal from the freezer.

Wednesday - Ski Day

Mid-week skiing has restored our family's one day a week outdoors together ritual/intention.

Damien and I realized that between Sunday church (which we all love), socially active teenagers with friend gatherings on weekends and our kids' desire to sleep long and hard on Saturday, setting aside a family day on the weekend just wasn't going to happen. Wednesday ski day has been our answer to this dilemma. And it works for our self-employed/homeschooling family.

This is a favorite day of the week for all of us.

Supper: Freezer meal.

Thursday - School & Family finance day

Thursday morning, like Tuesday, I am available for homeschool help. I also use this dedicated homeschool time to work on my co-op contributions, I occasionally teach the junior high science labs, in a rotation of other parents.

I try to walk at lunch time. In the afternoon I work on finances.

Damien and I set our family financial goals together but I'm the one who manages the budget to meet those goals. I pay bills, keep track of expenses, make the yes and no calls on routine financial decisions. Our self-employed cash flow is unpredictable, the billing is good (Damien earns enough to support us) but the rate of inflow is not yet steady because clients pay on different schedules.

Our cash flow problem has been a source of considerable stress for me over the last few years. It's high, it's low... not steady. I feel secure in systems and consistency. This part of self-employment is not necessarily the "best" fit for me. But we're working this out because self-employment works for our family on many other levels. Not the least of which is that it provides Damien the freedom he needs.

Finances is one of my anxiety triggers. And at the root of this trigger is the fear I will be destitute and without support. One of the ways I'm working to improve that situtation is to be really proactive about resolving the issue, instead of feeling helpless. Things don't have to just "happen to you" (except when they do, says my inner skeptic).

This is one of many areas that Damien and I really diverge in our thinking. He almost always feels capable and competent that his intellect, skill set, and relationships will help him solve problems. When I am outside of the familiar, outside of my comfort zone, I doubt my abilities to create the systems and support I need to find solutions.

This was one of the big things we learned on the trail. And for a few years prior, basically in moving back to Canada, I had been relying on Damien's sense of self-competence and the belief that if it "feels good for him" it's ok for me. Wow, did that ever cause some strain in our marriage when the shit hit the fan, which was on the trail and in the period right after.

As for the financial problem, it's not rocket science, you have to save a fund from which you draw your "paycheck". This is tricky when we need most of what comes in each month to meet our financial obligations.

This year our financial focus is to resolve this problem, which means less money spent elsewhere - travel, household purchases (we don't have a couch, for example), extra educational stuff, etc.

Last November I started using YNAB. I started with their new app. I've always used our own spreadsheet system for tracking all our expenses and preparing monthly budgets but I wanted a more "modern", app-friendly tool.

My first go at it was fairly awful and resulted in a complete YNAB meltdown in January. I decided to start fresh in February. And low and behold, as my education philosophy supports, by making a bunch of mistakes the first time I learned what not to do the next time around. I'm doing much better with our Fresh Start (it's actually called that). What I really like are the easy bank record imports and the reconcile feature, something I couldn't do with my spreadsheet system.

I don't know that it will be the life changer it is for people who aren't used to budgeting, but I think it will be an improvement on my old system once I master it. That's my sweet spot and when I get there, watch out, I'll be a YNAB ninja.

We still own our house in Maine (anyone want to buy a house in Central Maine?) and I manage the just-enough finances for that and work with our property manager, this is another one of my family finance responsibilities.

Supper: I cook a double portion of supper: one to eat and one to freeze.

Friday - Co-op day

We leave at 9:30 and return home between 7:00 or 8:00 pm. This is a long day but a good day.

The kids have science classes (Physics for Celine, Physical Science experiments for B & L), Canadian History, Painting (Laurent), and Phys. Ed with an honest-to-goodness gym teacher who teaches actual team sports skills, which our kids love.

I help facilitate Physical Science (parents rotate) and volunteer for little jobs around the co-op, mostly organizational tasks, since that's what I enjoy doing. I sometimes assist in classes. I try to take a walk in the afternoon.

The co-op is run by an executive committee, they use the member fees to pay teachers (homeschooling moms, community members, professional tutors) to teach the classes. The classes are offered as enrichment to the teaching/facilitating/overseeing that the parents do at home. This is not a private school.

The co-op is an amazing group of people (40 families) who come together to offer our kids more than we could do on our own. It's a community, and we help each other and watch out for each other. I have been so encouraged by these families.

The co-op meets in a space we rent from a Christian youth organization. The location is a 30 minute drive from our house, with no traffic.1 hr+ drive with bad traffic from our home.

Supper: A friend in cooking class at the co-op prepares supper for our family (for real, I told you these people were amazing). Or if that doesn't work I'll bring frozen pizza to prepare so the kids can continue their pick-up soccer game that is the continuation of gym class. Plus, at that time of the day, it's better to leave after 6:30, the traffic isn't so bad.

Weekends - Homemaking, R&R, Church, Hospitality

I try not to schedule things for myself on the weekends. One of the kids, usually Brienne but sometimes all three, will have a social engagement and need chauffeuring. Most of the kids' friends don't live near us. Damien and I make a good team in this regard. I usually do the drop-off and he does late night pick ups, or morning after pickups.

My favorite Saturday morning breakfast

Saturdays is my day for puttering. My goal is to work on creative homemaking projects: lotion and lip balm making, candle making, sewing, organizing, prettifying.

Because we ski on Wednesday the kids often have more homework/studies to do on the weekend.

Saturday Supper: Frozen store-bought food, something easy homemade, impromptu pizza with friends, etc.

Sunday mornings we go to church.

Sunday afternoons I like to nap and do little homemaking-creative projects. Once or twice a month, Damien and I will go on a long walking date to explore our city, an activity we both love. (A dating win!)

The kids clean the house after lunch, it takes less than 1 1/2 hours to completely clean our home: vacuum, mop floors, and scrubbed bathroom.

Sometimes we'll have friends over in the evening, almost always that works best impromptu since I don't like to schedule myself on the weekends (outside of driving the kids places). This is not a heavy hospitality season for our family, because of our full week schedule, especially with skiing. Most of my relationship-building happens at co-op and thankfully I've made some wonderful friends there, just as the kids have.

We all enjoy spending time with people in our home, playing games is a favorite activity, and when that happens it's a treat.

If our week was particularly busy or emotional for me (parenting teenagers can be emotionally taxing) I will take time on the weekend to completely relax, no agenda or projects unless doing it makes me feel great. Having no plans and no place to be a certain time makes me feel great (after a scheduled week). I might grab this time on Saturday or Sunday afternoon but sometimes I'll skip church and have a morning to myself. A divine experience of the non-church going variety.

Sunday Supper: Damien cooks

Chores, Cleaning, and Kitchen

The kids do garbages, recycling, cat litter, daily kitchen sweeping, folding and delivering laundry as part of their daily chore routine. I wash and dry the laundry, we average five loads a week. (I've never been hypervigilant about sheets.) Our stacked washer/dryer is in a closet right across from the bathroom, right around the corner from the kitchen, it's very easy to maintain a good system.

We clean the house once a week, usually the kids do it all but I will step in to help if someone is sick or if school/study/employment demands are especially heavy that week. There isn't any "deep cleaning" required in a small space like ours, except for keeping up with the fridge, which is my job.

This is a big perk to uncluttered, small-ish space living. Maintenance is really low. This includes routine cleaning and bigger stuff, that you generally don't do in an apartment rental anyway. This arrangement works very well for us since I don't want to do a lot of house maintenance or cleaning, and Damien's focus is on building a thriving business and doing fun stuff with his family.

Dishes. We don't have a dishwasher (as soon as we can afford one I definitely want to get one). People are responsible to wash their own dishes throughout the day. They don't always do this. I do most of the miscellaneous and food prep dishes. The kids do the supper dishes.

Cooking. I don't like cooking. I think I used to be ok with it, back when I would think nothing of spending the whole day in the kitchen preparing special occasion vegan, gluten-free foods for my family. I've lost that enthusiasm and I'm always looking for ways to manage/delegate/optimize my way out of my responsibilities in this domain.

Which is why I continue to sing the praises of Whole Foods Freezer Cooking.

For fall 2015/winter 2016 putting supper on the table is my responsibility. The kids are not cooking this season because of increased study requirements, part-time jobs, scheduling issues and other priorities we have as a family. And Damien is working so I'm responsible for suppers and I'm ok with this (because of freezer meals).

As for other meals, for breakfast everyone fends for themselves. Leftovers and sandwich type lunches are packed for co-op days and on Fridays the co-op serves soup. Tuesday and Thursday, Laurent and Brienne make lunch, usually salad. Wednesday we pack store-bought or homemade freezer foods that we can microwave for a hot lunch at the hill. Weekends is mostly fend for yourselves.

For snacks I've made peace with stocking store-bought convenience foods for when we're out the house; granola bars, trail mix, crackers and cheese. I have become a card-carrying Costco shopper and I love it. When kids are at home I require them to "prepare" something like popcorn, muffins, pasta, tortilla and salsa, smoothies, eggs, veggies and dip for snacks.

I'm the same mom I was to my littles but I have some different priorities at this stage of the game. Things that were so important to me then just don't matter much to me anymore.

Doing things I love and not running myself ragged with busyness is important to me and must be weighed in the balance of cooking everything from scratch. My cooking everything from scratch days are over, at least until the kids are gone. Also we don't have food allergies or intolerances these days like we did when the kids were little. Damien still avoids corn and wheat but our family diet doesn't rely on those foods very much and he prepares most of his daily food except supper.

I don't menu plan much these days. I hit repeat on easy winter meals. As it is, I only cook three meals a week. It's not hard to make a menu plan for three meals.

Some of you are interested specifically in how we organize our space. What does it look like for a family of five to live in an apartment? Although apartment living is the norm in the core of Montreal and many places the world-over, it's not the typical North American family living arrangement.

I hadn't intended to do a full apartment tour in this series but I feel it fits really well. The problem is that some of our spaces aren't "done" yet to my satisfaction. I still don't have the pictures on our bedroom walls, we don't have a couch, our dining room table is very ratty, so I haven't done the "house tour" photos.

However, if I wait for perfection, it won't ever happen so I'm going to get on that. I'm going to "stage" our space just a wee bit (I have some standards), take photos and walk you through our apartment. But that will have to wait. Because next up is Personal Care and Making and Breaking Habits Through Seasons.


Heart of the home

I miss blogging about schedules and household organization. The last post I wrote like this was published three years ago.

Organization and home management are two of my superpowers and I really enjoy planning and implementing systems. But I haven't been able to write much about these things for a few years because of:

  • the investment of many writing and living hours into our Appalachian Trail project (a huge change in routine and structure)
  • the burnout and breakdown that followed
  • the midlife crisis

Hiking, breakdown, crisis - all revealed a great deal about me, to me (and my family). Including re-affirming how much of a systems, management, and structure person I truly am.

The blogs I read these days don't talk too much about household schedules and routines. My blog reading tastes have shifted over the years from how-to's and DIY's to essay and memoir, so that partly explains the absence of the practical details in what I'm reading. But I wonder if this type of blogging, "this is how I do it", is now passe.

Talking about our household routines and the kind of homemaker I am feels a little vulnerable.

Over the past few years I have struggled with my self-worth in this area. Like a lot of women I wrestle with the demons of "too much" and "not enough". I am too much this and not enough that. Too much structure, not enough spontaneity, that kind of thing.

A tension exists for me in loving and accepting who I am, on one hand, and on the other, working on areas of weakness. But after a long season of pushing against and through weak areas, and feeling not stronger for the experience, but broken, I've planted myself on the loving and accepting side of this tension. And how I manage our home is a big part of that.

I thrive in a well-run home, and I'm the one who runs it around here. Home management and home making has supported my healing and recovery and is foundational to my overall health and wellbeing.

I'm the heart of our home.

I don't mean that in an idolatrous, "life revolves around me", kind of way. I say I'm the heart of our home because my main job is to love and care for my family by cultivating an environment that builds strong relationships, first and foremost. The heartbeat of our home is these relationships, and my primary job is to nurture and tend those.

I'm guessing many moms can identify with this mission, but the way we go about doing this can be vastly different. Home cooked meals, gardening, and clean floors are not the end aim, nor are they necessarily the means.

I love an organized, clean home and predictable household routines. Those are my means. I love well in those spaces. Which is not to say I don't love my family if life falls out of those parameters but we all have zones in which we really thrive, and that's mine.

I am at ease within structure.

Making systems, following them, tweaking them, and getting stressed out when I can't systemize something - this is just who I am.

Acknowledging and remembering to be Renee (borrowing from Gretchen Rubin here) has been a very affirming practice for me in the past few months. Of course I had to do a bit of soul-searching and coming back to center to find Renee, but I found her, puttering happily in her home, making order.

I love reading the details of other people's lives. I'm a detail person and highly practical, and I'm interested not just in what people do, but how they do it.

I started writing this post a couple weeks ago and it turned into five thousand words so I'm going to break it up.

Today, you get the introduction, the part you just read, and the Big Picture of our life these days.

In the following days you'll get:

  • Our Weekly Schedule (homeschooling three teenagers)
  • Personal Care
  • Making and breaking habits through seasons
  • The importance of showing up
  • Better Than Before (a very short book review)

Big Picture - what life looks like
  • Damien is the "income-earning" parent/partner. I'm the "manage home life and oversee kids" parent/partner. This has been the arrangement for most of our marriage, except for 2011-2014 when we were trying to merge these roles together and share both jobs. I'm starting to work on an income earning project and I have some writing on the go that may "become something", but my pace in that department is slow and steady.
  • Damien is self-employed and though he technically "works-from-home", he works both at home and at his favorite cafes. He "commutes" by bike, on foot or public transit.
  • We homeschool our three teenagers, two of whom are in high school. Most of their projects, studies and school work is done independent of my involvement. I am the curriculum master-mind. I gather and find resources. I create a home environment and schedule to support learning. And I listen and guide. Most of the "instruction" is outsourced. Damien is the primary go-to and support person for Celine's studies, by virtue of expertise and personality.
  • We live in Montreal. Location really does factor a lot into what your daily schedule looks like (commutes, shopping, access to nature, etc. )
  • We're members of a homeschool co-op this year that meets Mondays and Fridays. This is the first significant group learning situation our family has participated in, outside of occasional sports and extracurricular classes through the years. Two scheduled days out of the house is a big change for our family. A welcome change for the kids, but it was still an adjustment for all of us.
  • We live in an ~1,000 sq ft. apartment. We're not responsible for any maintenance and we don't have to spend a lot of time cleaning our house, and we've done a lot of downsizing so the space, though small-ish, doesn't feel cramped.
  • As we always have been, we're a one car family.

It feels a little strange to stop here but I must because the next section, Weekly Schedule is quite wordy and deserves its own post.

That's up next.

Lip Balm made easy

I've been making the same lip balm recipe for years. I made it up by reading the ingredients on a tube of Burt's Bee.

The recipe served us well, until... it didn't.

I've always put honey in the recipe, and fielded a ton of questions over the years about what kind of honey exactly I use. Maybe the honey here in Quebec is different than in Maine but I've noticed the honey separating out of the mix consistently now for the last few years. As much as I love the sweet taste on my lips I find that seperation irritating so I've changed my recipe.

It's worth sharing. And so is the secret tool I used to fill the tubes.

I make small batches of lip balm so I've resisted investing in a one of those special lip balm filling trays that allows you stand up the tubes and pour the mixture over the whole lot.

But with this recent recipe I tried a new trick I learned when researching how to make lip gloss (which we did for Brienne's birthday).

I used a syringe to fill the tubes.

Using a syringe worked really well. The trick is to keep the mixture liquid because you don't want it cooling and clogging your syringe. Keeping the pot on the just-turned-off electric burner worked well for me. (You might have to do something different for a gas burner.)

Below is the recipe I used this time. It is double the old recipe. Because I used a syringe I could easily measure the yield of the recipe and the amount that went in each tube.

Easy Peppermint Lip Balm recipe

Yield: approx. 125 mL (or 4.2 oz)

I filled 21 lip balm tubes with this recipe.


  • 1 oz beeswax
  • 1 oz coconut oil
  • 1 oz cocoa butter
  • 3 tsp lanolin
  • 1.5 tsp vitamin E oil
  • 1.5 tsp peppermint essential oil


  1. In a small pot over low heat melt beeswax, coconut oil, cocoa butter, lanolin, and vitamin E oil. (Many people recommend using a double boiler, I don’t have one and as long as I melt over a low heat I don’t have any problems with oils burning.)
  2. When the oils and wax are just melted, remove from heat and add the peppermint essential oil. Whisk well with a mini whisk; or my favorite tool, a chopstick designated for this purpose.
  3. Pour into jars or containers, use a syringe to easily fill lip balm tubes.

Click here to view and download→ a printable copy of this recipe. (You should click, I worked hard to make a nice printable for you.)

We have been using this batch of lip balm since last fall and I really like its consistency.

I made a bunch of tubes and I gave away some at Christmas. I also like being able to stash lip balm in the car, my handbags and backpack and to keep a tube of lip balm in all the places I regularly use in our home - kitchen, desk, bedside. Because you know, walking the 15 steps through our apartment to the bathroom from any of these places is just so inconvenient.

The cost of making your own lip balm is pennies per tube, the most expensive part is the cost of the tubes and jars which I wash, disinfect and reuse. Except for the lip balm I make for gifts. In that case (germophobes breathe easy) I use brand new tubes.


Now that I live in the big city I can find lip balm tubes locally. Here's a few places you buy lip balm tubes and those fancy filling trays online:

If you try this recipe I would really like to know, for personal and professional reasons, how it worked for you. I welcome your feedback.

This post has affiliate links.


In between the awful and amazing

February has been, how should I say it... uninspiring.

I've learned that until my chemistry, psychology or geography changes it's not wise to have high expectations for myself during the deepest heart of winter. My goal this time of year is to keep the show running (bare bones as necessary), deeply care for myself and attend to my needs, and do as much creative stuff as possible.

I suppose I have those same goals all year round but that's pretty much all I can realistically hope to do during February. Whereas in my "high seasons" I have the energy to do all that and more.

The weather was uncooperative for skiing last week. It rained. Plus, we had a sick kid, so, no skiing on all accounts.

There was a lice outbreak at homeschool co-op. We've been spared, so far. The co-op families are doing all they can to contain and not spread the little buggers; a co-op day was cancelled and the other classes this month have been sparsely attended, as all infected families are asked to stay home.

Laurent is sick. I'm pretty sure it's a mild case of the flu and not a run-of-the-mill cold. I've been watching, temperature-taking, and nursing with as much diligence as I can muster.

I don't like it when my kids get sick. (No one does.) I don't like the interruption, the unexpected-ness of it all. I don't like to see my kids suffer. And I really don't like the shame and blame game, feeling like I'm a bad mother because I didn't somehow prevent this through a) essential oils b) homemade bone broth (insert current nutritional wisdom here), or c) better mommy-ing skills in general.

This is the "if I was a really good mom my kids wouldn't get sick" train of thought. Totally a lie but one I can easily fall for.

I'm not a naturally nurturing person, I'm efficient. And sickness, like travel, is so inefficient. I never know exactly what's going on. I try a bunch of natural remedies but I'm not sure what, if anything (besides Ibuprofen and Buckley's), is working.

My main strategies for sickness are: stay home, rest and fluids, but I feel there is probably way more I could be doing. More herbs, more oils, more remedies, more something.

I've been taking care of my kiddos through winter sickness for years but it doesn't seem to get any easier for me. It's like I get out of practice between bouts of sickness. I forget what to watch for, I've let our supplies run low, and I don't seem to administer the right remedies at the right time. I miss the window of opportunity to nip it in the bud. It doesn't help that I used up all the elderberry extract when I was fighting an infection in December.

Getting sick, avoiding head lice and no skiing are like a forced at-home stay-cation, right? Or house arrest.

My problem is not that these interruptions slow life down or keep us at home. I love being home and I am all for slowing down. I'm the person who stands at the gate of our family life holding back the beast called busy. I regularly choose slow and less over fast and more.

What I don't like is when the patterns and systems that are comforting to me, my routines and rhythms, are interrupted. And when I feel inept at mothering.

But February hasn't been awful, inconveniencing yes, but not terrible. I can get myopic fairly easily. Writing helps me get a grip.

There is a hugely popular quote floating around on the internet, with good reason. I love these words.

Life isn't amazing right now but it's not awful, not even close.

Before the flu hit our home we hung out with friends when co-op was cancelled due to lice. We made popcorn and chili and shared knitting tutorials and life stories.

The interruption to my usual homeschool routine also opened a window of time to chat, completely spontaneously, with a dear friend on the phone. And there was that Wednesday I stayed in my pj's till mid-afternoon, which is nice to do, once in a while.

I function best in well-oiled routines and systems, yet I also find them a bit constricting and I imagine myself accomplishing so much when I don't have a schedule to keep. So when a day opens up, free, because of lice, a sick kid, or rain at the ski hill, I think "now's my day to do great things I don't usually have time for". A sewing project, a whack of writing, or hang art and photos on our walls (a job I haven't finished since our move last summer). But that just doesn't work for me. It turns out I get more accomplished, slow and steady, in the routines of life than in what feels like wide open spaces of a "free day".

This threw me off over the past couple weeks, days opened up, but then seemed to be swallowed whole by inefficiency and my non-characteristic flighty nature when out of my usual rhythms.

Currently, one kid lays on his bed all day watching copious quantities of Netflix, On Guard infusing the room, while the other two carry-on with a full schedule of school and social engagements, happy and healthy, for now.

Scratch that. Just as I prepared to hit publish it seems another one may be going down for the count. This time I'm ready. There is no wait and see, there is infuse, diffuse, decoct, apply and minister. I even found dregs in the bottle of the elderberry tincture, drink up baby.

And so February slows down to this: giving love and care to my people, love and care to myself.