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The Return of #The100DayProject

So today marks the start of this year’s #The100DayProject – 100 days of doing something creative – and posting about it on Instagram.  I LOVED this project last year.  And I am pretty excited to start it again this year.

Just like last year, my plan is to take a photo of the sky every day for the next 100 days.  Last year, I found this practice profoundly enlightening; even on the greyest days, I was forced to find beauty in the clouds.  And on the days with the clearest of blue skies, I was forced to find something interesting to capture.  All of which, of course, is oh so applicable to real life . . . that even in the worst of situations, there is a little bit of good (you just have to search for it).  And that things are never truly interesting if they are completely “perfect”.

So . . . without further ado, I’m kicking this year’s project off . . . with a photo of the stormy skies we’ve had all day today.

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“Without rain, nothing grows.”

Even though I was hoping (kind of like last year) for a spectacular sunrise, I am not disappointed to have had grey skies all day today.  100 days from now, these same trees will all be covered in brilliant green leaves.  The flowers will be in bloom.  And the birds will be happily chirping.  Or, to put it differently, within the span of the next 100 days, we will be out of the grey rainy days of April and into the sunny, verdant days of summer.  A metaphor for life if ever there was one . . . out of grey, difficult times, we emerge, a brighter, more interesting version of ourselves.

The Gift Of March Break

Like most of my stories, this one begins a few weeks ago.  It was early on an unseasonably warm Monday morning, the kids, the Husband and I were heading off to our favourite playground in Central Park, the sun was rising over the buildings on the Upper East Side, and my son looked up at me and asked “Can we move to New York?”, before taking off with his sister to beat the adults to the playground.

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Last week, we were fortunate enough to spend a week in the Dominican.  As I waded out into the ocean with my kids to watch the sun rise, I silently wondered “When can we move to the Dominican?” (or anywhere else where I can wander out in bare feet, put my toes in the ocean and watch the sun rise?)

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But as we are now firmly back in Canada, (where there will be no wandering outside in bare feet for at least another few weeks), and preparing to get back into our routines with school starting tomorrow, I’m realizing that my desire to stay in the sunny warmth of the Dominican was rooted in something much deeper than the enjoyment I get out of this particular routine.

Travel, and this trip to the Dominican, in particular, allows each of us to follow our “must” and, for the most part, to forget about our “shoulds” (please check out this amazing article that I just can’t seem to reference enough to understand the idea of must and should).  For me, on this particular trip, I MUST start each day with a wander out to see the sun rise, with camera in one hand, espresso in the other, and preferably in the company of my little ones, and/or the Husband.  (I also MUST end each day with a (large) glass of bubbly, preferably in the company of several amazing new girlfriends, while the husbands chat and the kids play with their new friends).

But more importantly, in the absence of the million and one little “shoulds” that I have in my normal everyday life at home, the endless to-do lists, the pinging of incoming texts and emails, the urgent ring of the phone, there is time to breathe, and respond to the “musts” of others.  Whether that was curling up with a book to read to the little one, or venturing into the cool water of the pool to play catch with the older one.  There was unhurried time to listen, to respond, and to engage with each of the kids (and the Husband).

What made this experience all the more poignant for me, though, was in the moment, right after taking a series of photos of the kids, in their rings, watching the sunrise, when I put my camera down, and went to float with the kids; as we watched, and quietly chatted to each other, it struck me just how grown up my kids were becoming.  And just how little time I have left with them like this.  Normally, in moments like these, I start to reminisce about the past, to romanticize what was, and to do my best to will time to stop marching forward.  But this time, I simply enjoyed the moment for what it was; and after the sun had risen, and we floated back to shore, I allowed myself to look forward to what the future might hold.

I entitled this post “The Gift of March Break”.  In all honesty, this break provided us with several gifts including the gift of new friends, of good times, happy memories . . .But the gift I’m referring to, is the gift of perspective.

While there will always be “shoulds” in my everyday life, how I deal with those “shoulds” will allow me the opportunity to follow my “must” and allow the kids, and the Husband, to follow their “musts” too.  I don’t want to get so caught up in what I should be doing, that I let this precious time I have with the kids fly by unnoticed; unsavored.  When my son innocently asked if we could move to New York, it wasn’t just because he loves the City so much, or because he is the world’s biggest Rangers fan, I think it’s because I think he felt there, what I felt in the Dominican.

And as we start back at school and into routines tomorrow, I will do my best to make sure that we can all feel that way, even though we’re not on vacation.

 

 

 

Practice Makes . . .

Having spent my formative years as a figure skater, the one adage that was drilled into me, and that I have consequently always held tightly to was . . . yup. . .”practice makes perfect”.  But events over the past month have had me questioning whether that’s always the case.

See, back in the middle of January, my son came home from school with a box of multiplication flash cards and a log sheet.  The note from the teacher accompanying these two items explained that each child in the class was to answer as many flash cards as they could in ONE minute (a new card could not be shown until the previous one had been answered correctly), and they were to repeat this exercise five time each day.

At first, we ALL thought this little exercise was awesome.  So awesome in fact, that even my daughter wanted in on the action, so we started a sight word card challenge for her.  Each time the exercise was repeated, the scores went up, and everyone was excited.

But as the days ticked by, and the improvements in the results started to slow, the enthusiasm started to wain.  In its place crept frustration and impatience.

Sound familiar???

How many times as adults have we started some new program, regime, diet, only to get frustrated and impatient as the results slowed, or stopped appearing altogether, at which point, as adults not necessarily held accountable to anyone but ourselves, we abandon our ambitions.

With my kids, it was easy to find ways to keep them excited with their practice – I started calculating daily average scores, which tended to increase daily, even if individual scores didn’t change too much, among numerous other things.

But as an astute girlfriend pointed out – once you hit a certain point, there were diminishing returns to this exercise.

Concurrently, through the month of February, I was engaged in “Practice February” with my One Little Word project – those of us in the course were encouraged to pick one thing and to “practice” it daily throughout the month of February.  And . . . I was also working through my daily, weekly and monthly goals in my PowerSheets.  And . . . I was trying to keep up with working out (in the event that I changed my mind and entered the CrossFit Open).  And . . .I was practicing running as much as I could in preparation for the Tinkerbell 10K.

And . . . at the end of the month, which happened to co-incide with my 40th birthday . . .I realized I wasn’t as happy with things as I thought I should/would be, given how well everything in my life was running.

Cue the concept of diminishing returns, the idea that maybe all this practice was running me into the ground, and a suggestion by the Coach to take a break from my regular workout regime . . .

And so I find myself here, embarking on a new month of practice – the practice of yoga, of stretching, of breathing, and of letting go of what I thought I NEEDED to do to feel the way I wanted to feel.  And you know what – this whole idea of NOT practicing what I have been doing for the last few years is helping me feel more the way I want to feel.  Oh the irony . . .

While I doubt I’ll ever completely abandon the “practice makes perfect” adage, I am realizing that practicing one thing till you’re absolutely perfect may well result in diminishing returns – to how you feel, physically and mentally and emotionally.  And if you find yourself at the point of diminishing returns, then it’s time to take a look at finding a new way, or something entirely new to practice.

 

My Most Ambitious Organization Project Yet (A Love/Hate Story – About Lego). And Also A New Nut-Free Breakfast/Snack the Kids Should Like

My kids love lego.  Well, at least in theory.  They love researching all the different sets, they love watching The Brick Show, they love receiving Lego, and they love to build their new Lego sets.  Once.

After which, completed sets are left forgotten, languishing in bins, or on shelves in their rooms, only to get bumped, jostled, and slowly, broken apart.

Lego, in our house, hasn’t held much lasting play value.  While that is changing a bit for my daughter – who is showing signs of treating her “girl” lego like a little village of dollhouses – for the most part, lego sets have been a one-shot deal in our house.

Which leads me to where I am today.  In the midst of my most daunting organizational challenge yet.

Of course, this is me, I have just one small digression before I get on with my story.

When Lego first came into our house, and a set was built, I immediately put any extra pieces into a plastic bag along with the instructions.  That system worked great.  Until things like birthdays and Christmas happened and my son received multiple Lego sets, that he seemed to build all at the same time.  I gave up trying to keep everything separate, and just put any extra pieces into one big bin and all the instructions into another.  But then the sets started to fall apart, losing a piece here and there.  As that happened, I just threw those pieces into the “spare part” bin too.  Last year, while the kids were home with a virus, I got super ambitious and actually sorted the spare part bin into colours, but that’s as far as my organization of the Lego went.

Until this weekend.

When I started in earnest to fix the mess that our Lego collection had become.

See, as the kids are getting older, and the toys they play with are changing, I am finding that we are ready to switch up the way we organize our basement play room.  But in order to do that, I had to deal with the Lego . . . Also, I made cleaning out the play room and organizing the Lego two of my monthly goals in my PowerSheets this month too, so I do have some motivation to tackle this task.

 

I have now taken out ALL of the instruction books we have, sorted them by genre and am now slowly (VERY slowly) assembling all the pieces for each and every set we have.  As I collect the pieces, they go into a plastic bag, along with the instruction book, ready to be re-built.

Here’s the thing about this project – while my kids can build a set faster than you can say Lego, it takes an inordinate amount of time to dis-assemble what remains of those sets and find any/all of the missing pieces.  I’ve a good 4 days into this, and there is NO end in sight.

The Husband thinks I’ve lost my mind – and maybe he’s right.  But I am determined to to see this project through – if for no other reason than the satisfaction I will derive from completing it.  Although I am also harbouring dreams of the kids, and my son in particular, taking out these sets and building them again with his young cousins as they enter the age of fasciation with all things Lego.

It’s at this point where I should be offering some sort of advice as to how not to get yourself into this mess.  Sadly, I have none.  Kids will be kids, lego isn’t permanent, and I there isn’t an organizational system in the world (that I could come up with anyway) that would have prevented this mess.

But, I can offer some advice as to what you might want to fuel yourself with if you’re staring down a massive organizational project. . . or if you just want something different for breakfast.

I am continually on the hunt for foods the kids can eat for breakfast/snacks, that they LIKE, that are nut-free (so they can take them to school), and that are not filled with sugar.  I made these last week.  While I think they are fantastic, the kids were lukewarm on them.  If I’m being perfectly honest, they are better warmed up a bit . . .but for a recipe that has no sugar, no eggs, no milk, potentially no diary (if you use coconut oil in place of butter), they are GOOD.  In fact, I enjoyed 2 myself this morning with a strong coffee as I sat down to write this post . . .

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Oatmeal Muffins (Gluten, Dairy AND Nut-Free)

  • Servings: 24
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 5 cups rolled oats (gluten free)
  • 2 1/2 cups mashed ripe bananas (about 5)
  • 1/2 cup butter or coconut oil
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2/3 cup Enjoy Life chocolate chips (or any kind of fruit or nut that you want to add – these are totally versatile muffins – just note that if you use frozen berries, the cooking time will be longer!)

Directions

  1. Heat the oven to 350 and prepare 2 muffin tins with liners (or grease them well)
  2. Melt the butter in a small saucepan.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer using the paddle attachment, or in just a plain bowl, mix all the ingredients together until they are well combined.  At first it’s going to seem like the recipe calls for too much water – but it gets absorbed relatively quickly.
  4. Scoop the batter into the prepared muffin tins and bake for at least 30 minutes.  You may find you need more depending on what fruits/nuts you add in.

The Antithesis of Overwhelmed

How often have you heard your friends tell you, “I’m just so overwhelmed”.  How often have you been the one saying it?

How many mornings a week do you find yourself running around, desperately trying get everyone out the door with everything they need for the day?  (And how often do you end up making 2nd trips home/to schools/to work because something has been forgotten at home?)

How often do you end the day with a drink or a “treat” as your reward for making it through your crazy/hectic/stressful day?

I am guilty of all of the above.  Just not lately.

All because I’ve read, researched and experimented and come up with a few simple routines for me, and my family, that has made all of our lives a whole lot less “overwhelming” and a whole lot more enjoyable.

And I will get into just what those are if you allow me one little digression here . . .

When you’re faced with a crisis in life (in my case it was a brain tumour diagnosis 4 months after my 2nd baby was born), your outlook changes.  For me, the uncertainty around my tumour, the surgery, and the prognosis lead me down a path where I wanted every moment I had with my kids to be magical – so that they would have happy memories of me if the worst came to pass.  I’ve talked about this before – trying to make every minute of everyday life magical is kind of the opposite of fun.

As I hit the 5-year post-treatment milestone almost a year ago, the fear associated with my tumour started to subside.  And I started to look for better ways to live my life.  In the last year I’ve read a LOT of self-help books.  I’ve done a lot of work around my One Little Word each year (last year it was Joy – this year it’s Light).  And I’ve learned that while there is magic in the big exciting things in life (that’s why I’ll always love Disney), there’s just as much magic, if not more, in the small everyday moments in life.

One of the books that really affected me was The Desire Map.  The central thesis to this book/way of life is to start with how you want to FEEL.  And once you have identified how you want to feel as you move through life, you can then set up your life, and how you choose to live it, so that you can always feel that way.

I’ve also found myself dipping in and out of Gretchen Rubin’s world through both her books and her podcasts.  In particular, I’ve become completely enamoured with the concept of the “One Minute Rule” – if you can do it in a minute, get it done.

And then this summer, I discovered the Simplified Planner and PowerSheets.

Together, these resources (which I’ve also talked about here and here) have allowed me, and my family, to fall into the routines that have allowed us to lead our lives in a way that is the antithesis of overwhelmed.  So what are these routines exactly???  Well, here goes:

  1. At the start of each year, I pick my “One Little Word”.  This is a word that I help to guide how I want to feel in a given year, how I want my outlook to be for a given year, and what I want to focus on in a given year.  This year, working with the Desire Map, the One Little Word course, and Powersheets, I chose the word LIGHT; I want to be a light (to my kids, my family), I want to capture the light (hence my Instagram photos of the sky with the accompanying quotes), and most of all, I want to BE light – both physically AND emotionally.
  2. At the start of each year, I also contemplate what didn’t really work over the past year, or what’s really driving me crazy.  This is also an exercise that Powersheets takes you through as part of their goal planning process.  For me, doing this allowed me to see that there were things both inside my home, and things that we were doing outside our house that were driving us all nuts.  Specifically, the clutter, and design of parts of our house were getting to all of us.  And as a family, we were simply trying to fit in too many activities, some of which provided questionable benefit (and more importantly enjoyment), and not doing enough of the things that we really loved to do.

    So . . . I used my “Mom veto power” and simply didn’t sign the kids up for activities that they weren’t absolutely invested in.  Would they like to have a one hour tennis lesson on the weekend . . . sure . . . do they fanatically love the sport or is not taking a weekly lesson going to negatively affect their future in some horrible way?  No.  And thus tennis lessons were scrapped.
    Did my son want to stay after school a few more times a week to do different clubs that would expose him to new and exciting ideas?  Yes.  And the clubs got added.
    As for me – I have dabbled in skating lessons over the past few months.  But skating falls on the same day as my sewing class (which I REALLY want to take and to enjoy), making for a jam-packed day.  Do I enjoy skating?  Yes.  But not enough right now to pack my day so completely.  So skating’s been cut.

    And as for things around the house – the clutter is slowly being dealt with.  And a contractor has been enlisted to help us fix he issues we have with our house.

  3. Once the “skeleton” of our weeks has been laid out (and to be fair, I assess our involvement in extracurricular activities on a term-by-term basis), then I can start planning my goals/hopes/dreams for the coming months.

    This year, I have been thoroughly loving using Powersheets to keep me on track in terms of my monthly/weekly/daily actions supporting my desire to “Be Light”.  Because I can set new goals each month, and because goals can be set for different lengths of time, I can choose how I want to focus on getting the things done that are going to help me feel Light.

    For example, this month, I’ve set monthly goals to sort out the kids’ Lego, to clean out the play room and to clean out our craft storage.  I could have chosen to make that a daily goal – but I know that with each of these tasks, I’m far more likely to achieve them in bigger spurts once or twice a week.  Conversely, I’ve set things like drinking 5 glasses of water a day, ab / pull up work, and working out as daily goals to keep me motivated to work on those aspects of my life on a daily basis.  And then there are the weekly things which are things I tend to do once a week during my Sunday weekly planning session.

    Don’t worry – the Husband doesn’t get left out of this planning either.  A big priority for us both is making sure we get in a daily workout.  This means that we look at how we structure our days/weeks so that he will have the energy to get up at 4:30 to squeeze in a workout before work (the timing that works best for us all, as insane as it may sound).

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So, now you know how I work on the big-picture part of our lives.  Planning, cutting back, only doing those actives (and that applies to all of us in the family) that are either essential (swimming lessons for the kids, working out for the adults) or that we absolutely love (clubs for my son, skating for my daughter, sewing for me, guitar practice for the Husband) help ENORMOUSLY in all of us feeling less overwhelmed.

But what about the nitty-gritty stuff – how, on a daily basis do I keep things light in the family, do we get everything done, and still have fun?

  1. As I talked about here, I plan my week ahead in a few minutes on a Sunday morning.
  2. During the day, I try my best to observe the one minute rule.  If I can deal with something in under a minute, I try to get it done right then and there.  For example, when the credit card and bank statements arrive in the mail, I try to check them over immediately and then file them straight a way.  It takes less than a minute to file a few bills, but let those bills pile up . . . and you can end up spending a good hour sorting and filing it all – which is never the way I want to spend an afternoon.  The same applies to putting things away – from shopping to laundry to just the daily stuff of life – take a minute, put it away, and forget about it.  Far better than to let it all pile up and require huge chunks of time to sort it all out.
  3. We have routines for when we get home from school/activities; school bags are emptied and then re-packed with everything that will be needed for the next day (water bottles, snacks, gym clothes, dry outdoor gear, and shoes all go back into the bags).  If the school bags are fully packed and nothing more needs to be added, the bags are zipped closed.  If, however, something still needs to be added (outdoor gear that needs to dry over night, homework that needs to get done), we leave the zippers on the bags open as a sign that they’re not 100% packed for the next day.  As the kids are getting older, they are getting more involved in this process too – we often discuss what needs to go into the bags for the next day and then assemble it together.

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  4. I aim for the smoothest, best mornings possible.  I can’t even begin to explain how great the feeling is when you drop your kids off at school knowing that you’ve all had a happy stress free morning. For us, this means prepping breakfast items at the same time as dinner is being made (or as we’re doing the clean-up from dinner); fruits and veg are chopped for smoothies and omelettes, the coffee maker is filled and the timer turned on, and anything that needs defrosting can be put out to thaw (like when the kids have muffins for breakfast).
  5. With school bags packed the night before, activity bags prepped on the weekend, and breakfast items ready to go, we’ve found a lot more time in the mornings!  In this time, we’ve been able to “pre-do” homework – things that my son needs to do on a nightly basis (like practice his spelling words) can get done as soon as breakfast is finished.  Our daily 20 minutes of reading for both kids also often gets done before school.  And at that, we still often have time to play (my kids are early risers, though, which gives us an good extra hour in the morning).  If you kids are slow to wake in the morning, there is even more reason to pre-prepare everything – if you only need to focus on feeding and dressing them, and not also assembling everything they need for the day, how much smoother would your mornings be?
  6. While I make my breakfast (I usually eat an omelette of some sort), I also make my lunch (usually a salad of some sort).  If I have a busy day, my salad comes along with me.  But if I’m home for lunch, it’s there, waiting for me.  This not only ensures that I’m eating properly, it also lets me maximize the time I have while the kids are in school.  I also tend to pack a water bottle and a snack for me (a few nuts, a fruit) so that I’m never in a position where I am starving, and find myself looking longingly at treats at Starbucks!
  7. As I have had time to practice these rituals/routines over the past few weeks and months, I am finding I have more and more pockets of time in which to get things done.  This may mean errands or chores, or it may mean chipping away at things I’ve wanted to do for a long time (like organize our photos and get caught up on photo books), or it may involve trying out new recipes or working on this blog.  But more importantly, it also means that I have more and more enjoyable time with the kids; I no longer am constantly obsessing over what needs to get done, what I haven’t gotten done, or what I could be doing.

So that, in a nutshell, is how I’ve found a way to live a life that is the antithesis of overwhelmed!  The fact that we can plan to eat well, sleep an adequate amount of time each night, and make sure to prioritize exercise, we physically feel better living this way.  And by not inhabiting a life that makes me feel constantly overwhelmed, I feel far better emotionally too.

I hope that in some small way this post can help you to make your life just a little bit less overwhelming and maybe, just maybe, a little more magical.

 

 

30 Minutes on Sunday So I Can Have Weekday Sanity & Make Sure We’re All Eating to Nourish Ourselves

“I just don’t have time” is always the response I get when I talk about how easy it is to cook nourishing foods at home without relying on prepared, packaged, or processed foods.  And how it IS possible to find nourishing foods that even the pickiest eater will tuck into.

After my post yesterday, in which I relayed my rather strong feelings on how we should be eating, and the consequences we can expect when we repeatedly subject our body (and that of every member of our family) to inflammation, I thought I should maybe try to tackle this “I don’t have time” issue . . .

Here’s the thing.  YOU DO HAVE TIME.  I promise!

I know.  You’re busy.  I get it.

So . . . . how do you make more time?

Start by blocking off half an hour on Sunday.  Preferably in the morning.  Preferably when the whole family is home (this of course depends on the ages of your kids).

Go through your fridge – toss out anything that needs to go.  And figure out what food you need to get you through the week.  It’s at this time that I menu plan for the week – my kids both have lunch programs at their school, and the Husband and I eat salads each day for lunch – so I plan breakfast and dinners for the week.  From there, I make a grocery list.  Depending on what we’re having in a given week, I may schedule in a mid-week grocery shop as well.  But since we’re in the dead of winter, there isn’t much exciting fresh produce in the stores, and I am happy to have frozen meat in the freezer for dinners (especially now that I have an InstantPot, but that’s a story for another day), I can go from Sunday night through Friday night with one grocery shop on Sunday.  It’s at this point that the Husband usually heads out to the grocery store, but if that isn’t in the plan for the day, I have my list ready to go for Monday morning.

Once I have taken care of the food planning side of things, I tackle the calendar for the week.  I make sure everyone knows if there’s something special going on that week – from field trips to appointments to nights the Husband will be working late.

Then I tackle the school bags.  Since my kids are still young, I make sure that both their bags are emptied of garbage and any other detrius that accumulated during the week.  I also make sure that they have everything in their bags that needs to be in there.  As my son is getting older, I have him check his school schedule and help pack any gym clothes, winter clothes, or homework that he needs for the next day.

Next up is the activity bags.  I get the dance, skating, swim and hockey bags ready for the week.

I also make sure that my purse is cleaned out, that my gym bag is ready to go, and that I have everything in order for my week.

I print out the charts for the week for the kids.  (Sure, this may seem a bit tiger-mom-ish – but, most of the things on the charts are things they have to do anyway, like homework and practice piano.  These charts simply transfer the responsibility to them to ensure that they get the work they need to get done, done.  And if we get extra work done . . . well, then that’s just a bonus!  I also sometimes add in incentives for them in case they want to do more work.)

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And then I sit down to plan out my week, what things I want to get done and when I’m going to do them.  I am absolutely LOVING using both my Powersheets and my Simplified Planner – between these two tools, I have been able to spend the last three weeks chipping away at my to-do’s and my goals, all without feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of my to-do list or my long-term goals.

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Ok . . . I know what you’re going to say . . . but . . . YES, you can do all this in THIRTY minutes!  You can take longer if you want . . . but it really can be done in just half an hour!

So, how does this save my sanity exactly?  Well, first off, come tomorrow morning, when we’re jolted back to the reality of the work/school week, I know that at a minimum, the whole family is on the same page with breakfast, and there will be no last minute running around trying to find/pack what we need for the day!  Repeat that for each day of the work week, and you’ll be amazed how much more relaxed you are!!  When the mornings go well, the rest of your day seems to magically go well too . . .

I also know, come Monday morning, exactly how my week is going to work.  I know that I won’t have to make unnecessary (and time-wasting) trips to the grocery store.  I know that there will be no last-minute panics with the kids needing something.  And I know what I can expect to get done each day.  Of course, I also know where I have pockets of time to fit in anything unexpected that might come up during the course of the week.

And how does this mean we’re all nourished properly?  Well, first off, by menu planning, I can see at a glance what our food intake for the week looks like – making sure we’re not eating too much of one thing, or too little of another.  Secondly, I know what to take out of the freezer in the morning so I’m never caught at 5:00 with nothing to feed the family, and I’m never in a situation where I have to resort to eating out / packaged / processed / prepared food.

Sure, we have nights where we don’t get home until 5:30, and the kids are still young enough to need dinner at around 6.  So on those nights, we have quick-to-prepare dinners – things like pasta sauce on quinoa pasta, or a meat that can be quickly grilled on the barbecue.  And on those nights when we have more time at home, we can have dinners that take longer to cook – things like roast chickens.

Taking it one step further, I can also ensure that there are enough “intentional” leftovers that I have tasty things to throw in my lunchtime salads (I am quite certain that there is nothing better than left over roasted sweet potatoes in a salad . . . but that’s just my opinion).

We’re now so used to this routine, that the kids are taking part in the menu planning, and helping to cook the dinners as time allows.  This is adding yet another layer to my sanity as dinner is taking less time to prepare at night, the kids are FAR more willing to eat what they’ve cooked, and we all have more time to do the things that we need/want to get done.

So . .  . I know it’s now Sunday afternoon .  . . but maybe try even just packing your kids’s or your own bags for tomorrow and making sure that you have everything you need for the week.  See how even just that little change can make your weekdays go so much more smoothly . . .and if you can, add in the menu planning!

I promise, not only will you have some sanity back, you’ll also feel better from feeding yourself better!

(And of course . . . the real bonus . . . check out how your kids’ behaviour changes when they start eating more whole foods . . . yet another sanity saving tip!!)

Happy Sunday!

 

 

 

 

 

“We Are Creatures of Consequence”

Earlier this week I had the privilege of spending the day in the labs of the Krembil Discovery Tower at Toronto Western Hospital run by some of our country’s top researchers in the fields of Osteoarthritis and Alzheimers disease.  It was absolutely fascinating to meet with Dr. Kapoor and Dr. Weaver, the scientists in their labs, and to hear about the amazing research that is being carried out by these doctors and their respective teams.

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Fascinated by magnified images of cartilage – both healthy and diseased

As I have reflected back on my day in the labs, what strikes me most is the common thread in both osteoarthritis and Alzheimers disease, and in fact in most disease: inflammation.

I was quite literally shocked when I was shown an image of a knee affected by osteoarthritis.  Not just because of the extent of the deterioration of the cartilage (it’s no wonder people experience so much pain with osteoarthritis), but because of the damage that had also been done to the bone beneath the cartilage; the damage of this disease was not limited to just one joint, but the damage extended throughout the body.

And while these amazing and talented doctors and scientists are working hard to find ways to ease, or reverse the effects of these diseases, the single biggest way to influence the amount of chronic inflammation in our bodies, and therefore our risk of disease, is through what we eat.  Sugar and processed foods, in all their forms, have been directly linked to increased inflammation and in turn disease.  While conversely, whole, organic, “real” foods have been shown to decrease inflammation and ease disease.

I found it highly ironic, that after my day in the labs, the quote below would show up in my Pinterest feed.

“You must live with the full knowledge that your actions will remain.  We are creatures of consequence” – Zadie Smith

Every time we reach for that sugary treat, that soda, or pretty much any processed food, we are choosing inflammation, and ultimately we are choosing disease in some form.

Our daily food choices, for ourselves, our families, our kids, are not without consequences. Our actions will most certainly remain; and will be evidenced in our health and that of our families and our kids.

As we enter the third week of January, when the resolve to follow through on all those New Year’s resolutions to eat better, develop a healthier lifestyle, improve disease starts to wain, please remember that eating good, whole foods isn’t about loosing weight (although that can be a very pleasant side effect), it’s about preserving your health and vitality.  It’s about preventing inflammation and the cascade of effects that it will have on your body that eventually lead to disease.

And when we set a good example with our eating habits for our families and especially for our kids, we will most certainly have a tangible and positive effect on their long-term health prospects too.

 

 

When the Kids Take Over Dinner

Santa brought both kids knife sets this year.  They also each got cookbooks.  And since I had left the last week of their winter break largely unplanned, while I was menu planning at the start of the week, I suggested that the kids be in charge of dinner on Wednesday night. They thought this was the single BEST idea they had ever had and set to work choosing recipes they might make from their cookbooks.  Each armed with a fresh pad of post-it notes and a pencil, started to look through their books, and hour later, they had settled on what they wanted to cook.  The older one was to be the “chef” while the little one was to be the “pastry chef” – as in one would be in charge of the main course, and the other dessert.

Over the course of the first few days of the week, this little adventure turned into a full-on production with our house slowly being turned into a restaurant.  Menus were printed.  And re-printed.  Drawings of how each course is going to be plated were completed and hung on the fridge.  Designs of what the cake that was decided on for dessert should look like were similarly been completed.  And without asking permission, guests, in the form of my parents, were invited to eat at this very special eatery.

There was great excitement when we got to grocery shop for this dinner.  And even greater excitement when I announced that we would be baking the cake after lunch on Tuesday.

As I put the kids to bed the night before the dinner was to take place, I noted that they had even assembled the “fancy” clothes they planned to wear for the occasion.

They awoke the morning of the dinner to a level of excitement that almost rivalled that of Christmas morning.  While I was cleaning up from breakfast I heard them set up a “reservations desk” at the front door (a little Ikea table adorned with toy cash registers and phones) pretending to answer the phone and accept and turn down “reservations” for their restaurant.

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And then the preparations began in earnest.

The table was set, complete with flowers arranged by the little one.  The cake was frosted and decorated.  Everything that could be prepared ahead of time, was prepped.  So we took a break, had a quick visit to the ROM and a “treat” lunch out, and came back in time to finish up getting ready for the dinner.

The kids made excellent hosts, serving drinks, appetizers, dinner, and then dessert, clearing the plates between each course, and in true restaurant style, presented us each with a “bill” at the end of the meal (play money was used to settle our tabs!).  The food was fantastic (they did have some help from the Husband cooking the main dish which was pan-fried fish), and the entire experience, as a mom, was so wonderful to watch.

I hesitated to share this experience on the blog – this little anecdote is almost too much.  But in the end I opted to write about it because I wanted to share a story to show what kids are capable of when they’re given free time to pursue their interests.  Sure, I could have signed them up for camps, put them in activities, where they may or may not have had much fun or learned something.  But by letting them “hang out” at home, they were able to make a little dream they had a reality.  They got to work together.  And they go to produce something that they were both extremely proud of.  As summer camp registration season is almost here – as tempted as I may be to sign the kids up for any number of the multitude of camps that are available to us – this experience will serve as a stark reminder to give the kids lots of free time this summer – time to follow their interests, time to play alone, or with each other, and time to just be.  Maybe you can do the same???

 

Spreading Light With a Little Project for Brain Tumour Patients

Late yesterday afternoon, in a small boardroom within the Neurology department of Toronto Western Hospital, I was privileged to see the culmination of a project that almost three years ago was little more than a glimmer of an idea shared between three like-minded ladies, all touched by harsh reality that is life with a brain tumour.

Let me explain.

We are beyond fortunate to have the amazing healthcare system that we do in Canada.  We have some of the best doctors in the world performing some of the most advanced surgical procedures in the world.  And everyone in the country has equal access to these doctors and the phenomenal work that they do.

We are also fortunate in this country to have some truly wonderful support services, that are also often offered free of charge, for patients and caregivers affected by a host of illnesses and diseases.

But what can be missing in our healthcare system is a way to match patients and their caregivers with the myriad of support services that are available to them.

I found this out first hand as I made my way through my brain tumour journey.  I wasn’t sure who or where to turn to when I had questions.  And so, after meeting a woman who had just travelled the brain tumour journey with her husband also under the care of my neurosurgeon (and who is now a good friend), and along with my mom, and idea was born.

Starting today, all new patients of my neurosurgeon will receive a small bag.  Inside, they will find a pamphlet, co-authored by my friend, my mom, and myself, outlining all the pertinent hospital information new brain tumour patients might need.  In it, you’ll find all the policies and procedures for the doctor’s office, little things like the hours and locations of the blood labs in the hospital, and BIG things, like where to go when you need help – medical or emotional, regardless of where you are in your brain tumour journey.

Also included is a brochure for an absolutely amazing support centre called Wellspring where all cancer patients and their caregivers, including patients with either benign or malignant brain tumours, can go for support.

And lastly we’ve included the Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada’s handbook.  So patients will have, at their fingertips, the most accurate information about brain tumours, of all kids, at their fingertips (eliminating, we hope, the need for endless google searches that may or may not yield accurate information).

I know this doesn’t sound like much, but it is our sincerest hope that this little project will  be a little beacon of light for other patients, that in looking through this information, they may find a spark of inspiration to seek support, and that maybe this might help brighten the path along this journey for new brain tumour patients.

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