My Favourite Reusable Grocery Bag Solution

Hi friends! This is a super-quick post I’ve been meaning to share since the spring.

I just wanted to tell you about a cool product I’ve been loving. No one asked me to write it or gave me anything for it. I just bought something I loved and wanted to tell you about it.

In my quest to live simpler and produce less waste, I’ve switched to reusable products as much as possible. One of the first and easiest transitions I made was to get reusable grocery bags instead of using single-use plastic bags.

Reusable grocery bags and tote bags have become very popular, at least where I’m from. Most stores sell them for a dollar or two, and some even give them away for free occasionally. Everyone has a stack of these totes by now. I collected a good stash a couple of years ago. It takes a bit of effort to remember to take them into the store with you every time you shop, but after a few months I was pretty good at remembering.

But the problem with these cheap totes is that they are extremely bulky. And ugly. They take up a bunch of space in your trunk or your mudroom or wherever you keep them. And you have to keep them handy so you can easily grab them before you walk into a store. So they’re always laying all over the place. They’re usually a bunch of different sizes and styles so they’re hard to consolidate into a tidy stack. Am I right? Do you struggle with this, too?

My stash looked like the pile on the left:

grocery bags, before and after(OK, you can already guess from the photos where this is going.)

That big ugly pile had to be moved from the trunk of the van to the kitchen to the front room, and back to van. It was always in transition. Always in the way.

I kinda hated it.

But I owned one really cool little bag. I’d received it as a Christmas gift a few years back. It was attractively designed, durable, and best of all, it folded neatly into a cute little package that fit in my purse. I always had it with me, because after I emptied it I could just fold it up and tuck it back into my purse.

All of a sudden it hit me that I could replace all my mismatched tote bags with a small collection of these little foldable bags.

They’re quite a bit more expensive, of course. I bought mine at a local gift shop for $7 each. But they’ve been so worth the investment.

Look at the difference:

grocery bags, old vs newWould you rather have that pile of assorted tote bags scattered all over the trunk of your car, or that little handful of cute bags in your purse? The latter makes my minimalist heart happy.

You only need a few because they hold so much. They’re so strong and roomy. I can fit my entire week’s grocery haul in four bags. See?

grocery-bags-in-cart

As soon as I’ve emptied the bags and put away my groceries at home, I take a minute to fold them all back up and stick them in my purse. It literally takes about 60 seconds and they’re ready to go, no matter how spontaneous the shopping trip. I almost never get plastic grocery bags anymore.

The bags I have are made by Envirosax. You can get a set of 5 from Amazon for about $30-35. Take a gander at all the adorable patterns you can get. Sweet, right? I especially love this set. I’ve had my first bag for at least five years and it gets used at least once a week — usually stuffed with heavy groceries — and it’s still in perfect condition.

I highly recommend them!

(PS: The links are affilate links, so if you click through and make a purchase I get a small commission. Thanks for your support!)

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What I’m Into: September 2016

beach

I didn’t write a What I’m Into Post for the last two months because I wasn’t into much.

I’ve been so busy with appointments with Felix, grappling with more and more diagnoses, struggling against depression, and, to make matters worse, our libraries have been closed due to a labour disruption. For over three months. Yeah. It sucks. That has meant very little reading and very few movies for us.

We went to the thrift store a couple of times and took home armfuls of mediocre children’s books. We’ve also had to rent movies from the local movie rental store (Yes! We still have on of those in our town!).

Homeschooling is going just fine.  Lydia is enjoying tap dance lessons. I started seeing a therapist. Which is good, but it’s yet another thing to schedule in.

So today’s post is brief. But I figured I’d share the couple of things I enjoyed this month.

Books

books sep 2016

How Children Learn by John Holt. For those who aren’t familiar, this book is one of the original classics in unschooling. In it, the author recounts his many years of personal observations of children, both in their homes and in classrooms. The intro was a little hard to get through, but after that it was a fun and inspiring read. I love John Holt. He strikes me as one of the nicest people who ever lived. He has profound respect for children and it shows in the way he interacts with them. I loved the experience of sitting at his feet and soaking up his wisdom.

Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer by Richard Rohr. After hearing Rob Bell’s breathtakingly awesome interview with Rohr on his podcast, I decided that what my life needed more of was a 75-year-old Franciscan priest. I’ll read a few pages before bed each night to help ground me. I can’t wait to be old and wise like Richard Rohr.

Movies

Man Up – I was eager to give this movie a try when I saw it featured two of my favourite actors, Simon Pegg and Lake Bell. Their characters meet when Pegg mistakes Bell for his blind date and she decides to go with it. This movie is WEIRD and HILARIOUS and I LOVED it. Pegg is adorable and Bell is just brilliant. Their performances knocked my socks off. Ben and I both laughed so hard when we weren’t groaning in pain from the awkwardness. I’m still thinking about it weeks later.

Anne of Green Gables – I’ve been interested in watching this movie since I read the book last year in the hospital and was surprised by how much I loved it. Can you believe I’d never read or seen the book or movie?! Megan Followes is perfectly charming. But I have to admit I found the movie a teeny bit boring. (Please don’t hate me! It seems like everybody on the internet loves it!!). It didn’t help that both kids whined and complained through the whole thing. (We watched it in three parts.) I’m kinda looking forward to the newer movie versions coming out to see how they compare.

That’s about it for now! Hope you are enjoying fall.

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How Selling Our Second Vehicle Changed Our Lives

How selling our second vehicle changed our livesI know this sounds hyperbolic, but I’m being completely serious: selling our second vehicle, and becoming a one-car family, has changed our lives in ways we never expected. (Mostly in terms of financial freedom we never believed possible on our tiny income.)

Here’s the story.

Our Financial History

Like many young people of our generation, Ben and I have always struggled with money. Not because we’re bad with money, but because we just can’t make any.

school-dayMy first day of school as a married woman.

We got married when I was still in university. For the first four years of our marriage, I was in school full-time. Ben went from working shift-work at a factory to working for my carpenter dad to starting his own carpentry business. We eventually had kids and I put my degrees to work by becoming a stay-at-home mom. (That’s what liberal arts degrees are for, right?)

So our household income has always been low. But we have always been frugal. We were raised by frugal Mennonites. We shop at thrift stores, buy used vehicles, cook from scratch, and DIY all our home renovations. Our idea of a fun, indulgent night out involves going to a local bookstore to flip through (but never buy) some books and share a venti frappuccino.

Despite our frugal lifestyle, though, we could never get ahead. We never got into debt, apart from our mortgage, but we could never make a savings, either. Our bank account always hovered around the zero mark.

We had no safety net in case of financial emergency, and absolutely nothing set aside for retirement. I felt constantly anxious and we fought about money often.

Month after month, year after year, we would look through our budget and wonder, where on earth can we cut back? We were already spending the minimum possible amount on everything. We almost never ate out; we didn’t go to the movies; we didn’t have satellite for our TV or data for our used smartphones. We biked instead of driving whenever we could. We didn’t buy each other Christmas gifts. All of our technology was outdated. We didn’t go on trips or buy new clothes. What else could we possibly do?

(I am leaving out the year we lived in the hospital with our son and were financially supported solely by our wonderful government and absolutely incredible community.)

The Vehicles

We owned two used vehicles, both for which we’d paid less than $10,000 (in cash). Ben needed a truck and trailer for his carpentry business, for picking up materials and for bringing cabinets to his installation sites. We needed a family vehicle for everything else. So we owned a 2003 Ford F150 and a 2003 Dodge Caravan.

But it felt like we were constantly pouring money into these vehicles. Repairs, gas, insurance, license plate stickers, maintenance . . . it never stopped. These inexpensive, used vehicles were sucking our bank account dry. They were like black holes for money.

But we thought that was just how it had to be. We needed the two vehicles.

Or did we?

Last summer we came across the blog Mr. Money Mustache. He promotes a frugal lifestyle similar to the one we were living, and writes about it in an engaging way. He calls it “baddasity,” and we thought it sounded exciting and life-enriching. But he had one interesting, new idea: ditch the second vehicle.  Even more interesting: ditch the work truck, even if you run a business like Ben’s.

After reading this fantastic article, Ben approached me with this shocking idea: what if he sold his truck and started using the family van as his work vehicle? The van would in fact work double-duty.

He only rarely needed to pull a trailer — less than once a week. The van could handle that. Most of the time, he could probably load his materials into the back of the van. The rest of the time, he was working from home.

And since I stayed home with the kids, I only rarely needed the van, too. There were usually two vehicles sitting in the driveway, sucking up money just by existing. Even with one vehicle between us, our transportation needs would rarely conflict. And when they did, one of us could bike.

Losing the Work Truck

see ya, work truck!

Within a matter of weeks Ben had sold his truck. And suddenly we had an extra $5200 in our bank account. For the first time, our bank account was well in the black, with no reason to go down any time soon.

And the money kept piling up. We got a $1200 refund on car insurance for the year. We saved about $1000 on fuel and $500 on maintenance by not using a truck. Ben had planned to replace the tires that year, which would have cost another $1500.

That first year, we earned/saved $9000 by not owning and operating a work truck.

It was mildly inconvenient for Ben to do all his work with the family minivan, but definitely not $9000 worth of inconvenience.

What To Do With All This Money?

It was thrilling, for once, to have extra money. What should we do with it??

The first thing we did was create an emergency fund. We’re not big fans of Dave Ramsey in general, but we felt this was a first good step. It lifted a huge burden from my mind to know that money was there in case of emergency.

And beyond that, we knew we ought to invest some of our money. But how?

Investment planning is not our forte. There are likely better ways to invest extra money than the route we chose. But one thing felt like a safe bet: to use it towards our mortgage.

The amount of money you can save in interest by putting cash towards your mortgage is mind-blowing.

We figured out that by putting down an extra $8000 on our mortgage, we would be saving almost double that in the long run on interest (i.e. close to $16,000.)  (The savings on extra mortgage payments for you will, of course, vary depending on your interest rate, amortization and size of mortgage. But for some, it could mean doubling your money, as it did for us.)

Another bonus? The sooner our mortgage is paid off, the sooner all of our income becomes pure spending money, with which we can do whatever we want — from investing and saving to just plain old spending on things we want (including donating to good causes). We estimate that our first extra payment alone shaved off almost two years from that goal. We are eager to enjoy that freedom as soon as possible!

And there’s more!vacation

In addition to putting down all that money towards our mortgage, in the second year we were also able to do the following:

  • buy some good used bikes and a bike trailer for getting around town
  • visit the dentist without guilt or worry (first time in six years!)
  • experience general freedom to purchase things we needed, and get the best quality
  • start saving up for our next mortgage payment!

We plan to continue putting extra money down on our mortgage every year — ideally at least $5000 — until it’s paid off in full. In doing this we hope to shave off more interest and more years to reach financial independence.

All that freedom from getting rid of the work truck that we thought we “needed.”

In Sum:

So, basically, a $5000 clunker we were maintaining to mostly sit in our driveway had the potential to suck up $20,000 of our hard earned money and life energy over the years. Once we got rid of it, all that money slowly trickled back into our lives to go towards smarter things.

We feel more relaxed about our financial situation and we have more freedom to choose where our money goes.

We’re not promising we’ll never buy a second vehicle, but the benefits of going without for a few years have already been enormous.

If you have more than one vehicle, maybe you’d benefit from giving one up, too? Just something to consider!

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Felix in the News (Again)

Photo credit: Dale Molnar

 

Hi friends!I just wanted to pop in briefly to let you know about some recent news coverage Felix has gotten.

The local chapter of CBC did a story on Felix a few months ago while he was still in isolation (I shared those links here.) They contacted us a while ago to ask if they could do a follow-up story, now that Felix is out in the world. We were happy to welcome them into our home and share our story.

So if you’d like to read, hear or watch a condensed version of Felix’s story, here you go! They did a wonderful job. We had all had a crappy night and none of us were at the top of our game. But the folks at CBC did their magic and made us sound totally coherent.

  • There was a really great TV story, but as I went to link to it, I found that it seems to be gone. Bummer! You would have loved it!

That’s it for now. Hope everyone had a great summer. Hope to be back in this space with some of my own words soon!

 

Our (Super-Relaxed) Kindergarten Homeschool Plans

Resources and inspiration for a relaxed homeschool kindergarten year

Lydia is turning five this month, so I’ve decided to add a bit of “schooling” in our lives, starting this September.

(Last year I explored the reasons we didn’t send her to preschool or do “homeschool preschool” with her.)

Our plan is to be super-relaxed. We’re not buying any curriculum, and in fact plan on doing very little formal instruction (if any). I lean towards the unschooling model, which assumes that children learn everything they need from the world around them as long as they’re given a rich environment and an an enthusiastic adult guide/facilitator. I tend to believe that kids learn best when they’re led by their own interests, and when “subjects” are intermixed and tied to real life.

I’m just not too worried about kindergarten. As long as she has some basic pre-reading and math skills and gets a chance to hear lots of stories and play with friends, I’m happy with that. I want to spend lots of time working on practical life and self-care skills, creating art, and maybe introduce some handcrafts. And I’m psyched to learn stuff with her!

I do want our home to be stocked with helpful resources. And I plan on putting a bit of effort into guiding her learning. I’ll be satisfied if we spend an hour a day doing “educational” stuff together, even if it’s just one subject on a given day.

So here are a few things I’ve looked into and/or purchased to help enhance her learning this year and beyond.

Of course these subjects and materials all overlap . . . which is kind of the point.

Math

Math is the subject I’ve spent the most time thinking about because school ruined it for me. Early on, I got the sense that I was “bad” at math and that it was boring and too abstract. I’ve hated it ever since.

So I’ve been totally surprised that in all of Lydia’s early encounters with math, she’s been enthusiastic and quick to pick it up. I want her experience with math to be vibrant, exciting, and vitally practical.

spielgaben

The first resource I sought out, then, was a Spielgaben set. (It just arrived in the mail this last week. Squee!) Spielgaben is a gorgeous set of all-natural (mostly wood with some cotton) manipulatives that encourages hands-on learning. They can be used for creative play, but I’m most excited for their potential for learning mathematical concepts. Speilgaben is expensive (we’re talking in the $400-500 range), but I believe it will be an invaluable resource for many years to come. (And we’re saving so much by not buying a curriculum.)

spielgaben - symmetry gameLearning about symmetry

(I first got introduced to Spielgaben through the blog Happiness is here. Check it out and get inspired!)

Bedtime Math - Laura Overdeck

I recently took out the first Bedtime Math book (Laura Overdeck) from the library, and Lydia LOVED it. Every page offers fun, silly math problems in a range of difficulties. I was stunned by her enthusiasm. She loved doing Bedtime Math more than reading story books. I could bribe her to get ready for bed by reminder her that we would get to do Bedtime Math. It was amazing to me. I look forward to going through the rest of the books.

I also purchased the digital book Moebius Noodles, which I confess I haven’t read a page of, but looks super-exciting.  I learned about it from this exciting article, entitled “5-Year-Olds Can Learn Calculus: Why playing with algebraic and calculus concepts—rather than doing arithmetic drills—may be a better way to introduce children to math.” Yes, please!

In the future, I want to explore Life of Fred for math, but I think Lydia’s still a little young. We’ll probably try it in the spring.

Language

For reading, I plan to try Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons by Siegfried Engelmann. I know it’s not very unschooly, but it would help me feel more confident that I was teaching her the right skills in the right order. I’ve read the intro and it looks solid. I’m just waiting for her to show an interest in learning how to read, because I’m sure as soon as she wants to learn she will take off.

Otherwise, I plan to just do LOTS of reading aloud together. The more I learn, the more I realize that this might be the most valuable thing you can do for a child’s literacy.

If you can instill in your child a love of reading, you will unleash unlimited learning potential. And what better way to encourage that love than by reading together? If nothing else, I’ll continue to read to her before bed every night.

Arts

For visual art, I plan to do the obvious: lots regular art time together! I love painting and drawing and experimenting with new materials, and look forward to explore these things together.

For music, I enrolled her in dance lessons at the local dance studio, which will be once a week. In addition to dance instruction, I hope this will also give her a chance to interact with other kids and get instruction from another adult besides me.

Science

My only plan here is to make sure we occasionally get science-y books out of the library. She’s really interested in the human body lately, so I think we’re going to be taking out lots of books on the skeletal system and the like. I can probably get her interested in books on birds and butterflies, too.

Other

museum

I want to place a strong emphasis on learning practical life skills (baking together, caring for herself and her environment, etc). I dream of doing lessons on folding laundry, preparing snacks, tying knots, and stuff like that.

I’m also interested in Waldorf-inspired handcrafts (things like knitting, felting, embroidery, etc). But I haven’t put too much thought into this yet. I don’t want to get ahead of myself!

And that’s about it. I’m sure I’ll come across more resources as we head into the “school season,” but I’m not in a rush.

I can’t wait to learn together!

*Post contains affiliate links. Thanks for your support!

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Six Reasons I Still Love the No-Poo Method, Five Years Later

I Still Love the No-Poo Method, 5 years later

Five years later, I still use and love the no-poo method.

(The no-poo method, if you’re new to it, is a method of cleaning your hair without shampoo, a.k.a. “poo.” Instead, you typically clean your hair with a baking soda rinse followed by an apple cider vinegar rinse. I first wrote about it here. I wrote an update a year later, and offered additional tips for people interested in giving it a try.)

I seem to be an anomaly. In the years since I published my first post on going shampoo-free, there have been many posts from other no-poo bloggers who have changed their minds on the method. They have had experiences with their hair being damaged and getting broken. They have written long, detailed explanations as to why the no-poo method is scientifically bad for your hair. Apparently the strong alkalinity of the baking soda can strip your hair of its natural oils, leading to porous, fragile hair. (This article from Empowered Sustenance is one of them. Beth from Red and Honey also had a bad experience.)

So the method certainly doesn’t seem to be for everyone.

But after all this time, it’s still working for me. My hair and scalp are as healthy as they’ve ever been. I haven’t noticed any damage after five solid years of using this method. My hair is shiny and strong, I don’t have the dandruff of my youth, and my hair doesn’t get as oily as it used to. I also don’t battle the static and flyaways that I did for most of my life.

So I thought I’d explore that a little bit, and then talk about why I still love it.

Wait, How Does This Method Work?

no poo method materials(My super-classy tools)

My method has slowly evolved over the years. Here’s how I do it now.

Once a week, I make my rinses.

I make my baking soda rinse in a plastic cup. I dump in 1 Tbsp baking soda and then fill it up to the 1-cup mark with hot water (to dissolve it). Then I keep it in the shower. When it’s shower time, I just pour a small amount of it on my head and gently massage it in my scalp then rinse with water.

I keep my ACV rinse in a high-quality spray bottle in the shower. I pour in 4 Tbsp vinegar and then fill up to the 2-cup mark with water. After the baking soda rinse, I very thoroughly spray my whole head with the ACV, then rinse with water.

Who Are the Best Candidates for the No-Poo Method?hair after no-poo

I can only speak from my own experiences, but I have a few suspicions why the no-poo method works for me and not for others.

I think the primary factor is hair type.

I have straight, slippery hair that leans towards oiliness. It’s also never been dyed or permed. Virgin hair, this. My greatest hair woes have always been lack of volume and a tendency to get greasy. (As a teen, I used to have to wash my hair up to twice a day to battle the greasies.) So “stripping” my hair of its “natural oils” doesn’t seem to be a problem. See ya later, “natural oils,” and good riddance!

You might be a good candidate for the no-poo method if you’re like me — you have naturally smooth hair with an abundance of natural oils.

The folks who seem to fare the worst when it comes to the no-poo method are be women with dry, coarse, frizzy, and/or brittle hair. It also seems to be incompatible with coloured hair. So if you belong to this group, you might think twice before using the no-poo method.

But hey, I’m no expert, so do what you want. And if you belong to the second group and have had great, long-term success with no-poo, let me know!

And now…

Why I (Still) Love the No-Poo Method

no-poo method, five years later

  • It is SO CHEAP.

I just emptied out the last of my baking soda box that I bought in January. (I wrote the date on the box when I bought it.) It’s the beginning of August. That’s almost seven months. So I only use about two boxes a year — for me and my husband. That’s about $3 a year in baking soda for the two of us.

I get my apple cider vinegar from my mom, who makes it from discarded apple cores and peels. So it’s free for me. But even if I bought 2-3 jugs a year, that’s only an additional $6-9. Bringing the grand total to about $12 a year for the adults in this house.

There are some natural shampoos that cost that much per bottle. And they’re teeny-tiny.

(Side note: I don’t use baking soda and ACV on the kids. Too messy and complicated. Wanna know what I use? Water. Turns out, kids who haven’t reached puberty don’t really need shampoo. I just rinse their hair with water a couple of times a week for regular maintenance. If there’s food in their hair I use a squirt of this natural shampoo which you can get at Whole Foods. I think I bought our last bottle two years ago.)

If I didn’t have the no-poo method I would probably use some kind of natural, organic, fair-trade shampoo and conditioner like I occasionally use on my kids, and that ish is expensive.

  • It’s so environmentally friendly.

waterfall

Like I said above, I use about two boxes of baking soda and two jugs of apple cider vinegar a year. Both of those things come in minimal, recyclable packaging. And the production of these natural food products uses a lot fewer resources than conventional shampoo and conditioner. Ben and I use about 1 Tbsp of baking soda and 4 Tbsp of vinegar a week between the two of us. Plus there are no toxic ingredients that get leached into the environment.

You’re welcome, planet.

  • It has no smell.

Some people like their body care products artificially perfumed. I’m not one of them.

You can use essential oils, of course, but that gets expensive over time, too.

My favourite scent, then, is no scent.

When we had to suddenly move into the Ronald McDonald House in another city so that our son could receive treatment at the hospital, we had to use the shampoo they provided for a while until we got settled. I couldn’t stand that strong, artificial smell. I tried to buy some unscented shampoo at the nearest drugstore but it was almost impossible to find.

Eventually we were able to get everything arranged so that we could use the no-poo method again, and it was so nice to not have to pour unidentified smelly chemicals onto my head.

  • There are no toxic ingredients.

I don’t want to belabour this point, but we all know most shampoos contains ingredients that are harmful to our bodies. (Read this article from the David Suzuki Foundation if you want to learn more.) As I’ve mentioned, there are natural shampoo alternatives, but they are tricky (many still contain troubling ingredients, and others don’t work very well) as well as expensive.

So if I can use ingredients from my pantry to clean my hair, I’m going to do it.

  • I can find the ingredients anywhere.

As I mentioned above, when we unexpectedly found ourselves in the Ronald McDonald House in another city I scoured the drugstore shelves for an acceptable shampoo alternative. I couldn’t find one.

If you use a special natural shampoo, odds are you can’t get it just anywhere. It probably comes from a special store or website.

But baking soda and apple cider can be purchased just about anywhere you can buy food. I’m pretty sure they’re both available all over the world. So if I travel to other countries, I know I’ll be able to pick up my trusty hair-cleaning products at the local grocery store, no problem. That’s a real comfort!

  • It works for me.

no poo method - result after 5 years

Like I said in my opening, the no-poo method has made me happy. My hair is healthy. I couldn’t be more pleased with the results. Why change it?

 

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Happy Life Day, Felix!

This weekend we celebrated the one-year anniversary of Felix’s transplant — often known in the transplant community as his “Life Day.”

One year ago, this happened:

gene therapy - transplantAnd now a year later, here he is! Completely out of isolation. He is a happy, healthy little boy.

We celebrated with a big old shindig in my parents’ back yard, complete with bouncy castle. We tried to invite as many local friends as we could who’d helped support us through Felix’s awful first year, about 80 guests (wishing we could invite more!).

Our son, who was supposed to die, is alive and well!

It was a perfect day, too — sunny and warm, but not hot, with just a wisp of a breeze.

Here’s a quick photo dump for you:

tent(Friends made that awesome banner)

tea lydia

 

boucy castle

Felix bouncy castle

Happy Life Day

I think he liked the balloons.

balloonsballoons2We feel so incredibly blessed.

Thank you, God, for letting us keep our boy.

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What I’m Into: June 2016

laundry

Happy Canada Day, friends!

I have never been more grateful to be a Canadian. I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the way my government and community cared for us during Felix’s hospitalization. And while I watch in horror as xenophobia and hatred grip so many other parts of the world, I am so comforted that my home country has continued to be a welcoming place for immigrants from all over the world.

(And I kind of love that our biggest political scandal of the year was when our Prime Minister accidentally elbowed a woman in the House of Commons, and he spent the next week apologizing profusely at every opportunity. #soCanadian)

We live in an amazing country. I am so, so fortunate.

Anyway, June has been pretty okay. The warm weather and long days fill my heart with joy. Felix’s health continues to be good, but we continue to deal with some sleeping, eating, and developmental issues which exert constant stress on my mama heart.

asleep(Asleep in his favourite place)

Also: Ben and I are a twelve days into a Whole30. We both have a couple of minor healthy issues we would like to improve upon, and we thought it was worth giving it a try. I’m really impressed Ben has been able to hold up. It hasn’t been a big deal. It’s just a ton of work, keeping on top of all those vegetables.

Anyway, here’s what I’ve been into!

Books

whole 30 cookbooksAm I allowed to talk about cookbooks? These two have been my constant companions over the last two weeks as I’ve been preparing and cooking for our Whole30.

Melissa and Dallas Hartwig’s cookbook is indispensable for the program — it’s full of tips and ideas for getting through the Whole30, plus it’s loaded with simple, delicious, customizable recipes. Lots of pictures, too.

Nom Nom Paleo has been great, too. It’s a beautiful book all around. Lots of mouthwatering recipes accompanied by full-page photos, and the cartoons add a charming touch. Tam’s writing style is fun and entertaining, and really inspires you to get in the kitchen. But the recipes are time-consuming. I feel like cooking this way has to be a full-time job.

booksBefore starting the Whole30, I also read the Hartwigs’ first book on the subject, It Starts with Food. This book explains the reasoning behind the Whole30 in a really accessible way. I read a new book on food and nutrition nearly every month, and I still managed to learn quite a bit from this one.

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. This is a wonderfully practical book on how to talk with children in a respectful way that encourages two-way communication. I am delighted with the new tools and inspiration I’ve gained to engage with my children better and build a stronger relationship. And I actually really appreciated the cheesy cartoons that help illustrate what this kind of conversation looks like. Highly recommend.

Children’s Books

children's books

I was thrilled to find three smart, fun books that everyone enjoyed and that were (for a change of pace) completely gender-neutral. No glittery princesses here!

Press Here – Herve Tullet. This fun, interactive book got lots of play. Over and over again, Lydia delighted in following the instructions on the pages to make the dots do different things (knowing full well that it was all in fun). It was neat to see her so thoroughly enjoy engaging with painted dots on a plain white page.

The Book with No Pictures by B. J. Novak. I’m not exaggerating: this book is a work of genius. Lydia howls with laughter when I read it. (And I’m not a particularly comical reader.) Not only is the premise brilliant — this book makes the grown-up reading it say ridiculous things against her will — but Novak knows his audience amazingly well: he knows just the right words to make little people giggle. “Blueberry pizza,” “Boo Boo Butt” and “BADOONGY-FACE” crack Lydia up every time. The varied fonts and colours of the text subtly direct the reader how to deliver the lines.  I haven’t heard of a kid who wasn’t tickled by this book.

The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt. When I first showed Lydia the cover of this book she announced, “I’m not interested in that.” I told her we’d give it a try. After reading it once she declared, “This is my favourite book!” and requested a re-read the following two nights.

Each of Duncan’s crayons gets a full page to express its frustrations about how it is used. Gray complains that he gets tired colouring such huge animals like elephants and hippos. Pink complains that it never gets used at all except by Duncan’s little sister. It’s full of personality and charm. And Duncan’s final drawing is a delightful work of art.

apple-pip princessApple-Pip Princess by Jane Ray. I still can’t pass up a good princess when I find one, knowing Lydia will love it.  This lovely, original fairy tale features three sisters who are instructed to demonstrate their skills so their father, the king, can decide which is most fit to be the next ruler. The youngest, unsurprisingly, makes the greatest impression through her selflessness and dedication to her community and the environment. The illustrations are opulent, the story is lively and well-paced, and I love seeing women of colour represented as competent, interesting, complex humans who are perfectly suited to rule the land. Five stars.

Movies

Of course we went and saw Finding Dory opening weekend (with Lydia). By now you probably know me well enough to know I love just about everything Disney/Pixar puts out. Finding Dory was no exception. Full of laughs and nonsense, it was also heart-wrenching at times. It was a visual wonder, and Ellen Degeneres voiced the lovable fish brilliantly. Also, young Dory is the most adorable thing to come out of the Pixar lab since Boo from Monsters Inc.

Ben and I watched Edge of Tomorrow on Netflix and let me tell you, it was neat. I love a smart action sci-fi movie, and I was riveted to the end.

We also watched The Martian, which was a thrilling, heartwarming, feel-good flick we both enjoyed thoroughly.

All right, that’s about it for now! Hope you’re having a lovely summer!

Linking up with Leigh Kramer.

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2 Keys to Keeping Your Young Child’s Art Supplies From Taking Over Your House

2 tips for keeping your toddler's art supplies from taking over the house

My Lydia is an artist.

It was apparent from the start. She knew all her colours names before she was two. From the day she figured out she could make marks on paper she has been producing artwork like it’s her job. Sheets and sheets of paper, every single day.

drawing

The girl loves to draw. And paint. And sculpt. And colour.

But like many artists — especially those under four feet tall — she’s messy. She’s careless.

It used to drive me insane to find all her markers and their caps scattered all over the floor every day. I’d pick them up and return their caps — making sure the colours matched, tossing the ones that had dried out — just to turn around and find they were all over the floor again.

Crayons, markers, coloured pencils, pens, paintbrushes, printer paper, construction paper, ALL OVER THE PLACE, ALL THE TIME.

Finally, I decided to make some changes.

Here are my two main tips for keeping your toddler’s and preschooler’s art supplies under control.

1. Strictly limit colour options.

marker holder made with plaster of paris. Keep markers off the floor and capped!Kids three and under don’t need that many colours. They don’t need the four different shades of purple that come in many packs of markers or crayons. (Why always so many shades of purple??)

For kids aged 2-3, I find that limiting colours to the primary and secondary colours (i.e. the six colours of the rainbow), plus black and brown, is sufficient. That’s 8 colours total.

Add pink and grey if you want to be generous and you’ve got an even 10.

One of each. No duplicates.

When you limit the number of crayons that are available, I believe you give yourself and your child a certain amount of freedom. Neither of you will feel overwhelmed by the prospect of tidying up the art supplies after a vigorous art session.

You can look at your kid’s whole stash and go, “Hmm . . . where’s the blue?” And then go hunt for that one crayon. It’s very satisfying to know you’ve got every single one.

It can help encourage your child take responsibility for her supplies, too. She won’t want to lose track of her only blue crayon, because how will she draw Elsa without it??

drawing 2

Does it sound like I’m being anal, rationing out colours like a miserly crayon fairy? I don’t care. It feels great to be able to keep track of every single crayon in the house. And she never complained.

Note: when Lydia turned four, I found that she was interested in exploring different shades and hues, and she had become much more responsible with her art supplies. At that point I increased the number of colours available to her so she had at least one light and one dark shade of each colour, making a grand total of 12-15.

(Now that she’s almost five she has access to almost 20).

2. Have an exact place for every item.

As you can see from the marker holder at the top of this post and the crayon roll here, I made a system so that every item had its place and could be accounted for.

The plaster marker holder is a brilliant idea I got from Jean Van’t Hul of the Artful Parent (detailed DIY instructions come from her book of the same name). The lids are embedded in the holder and therefore can’t get scattered on the floor. It really encourages kids to put their markers right back where they belong. It also reduces the number of items you have to pick up by half.

Same with the simple felt pencil crayon holder. I would tell Lydia her pencil crayons all had to go to sleep for night in their own bed. (Of course she tried to bunk several pencils together at once but you do what you can.) When you notice one “bed” is empty, you know you have to hunt down one single crayon somewhere, and you can quickly narrow down which one it is.

When it came to wax crayons, I was delighted that my very favourite ones — Melissa and Doug’s jumbo triangular crayons — come in a beautiful, high-quality container with divided compartments for each of the crayons.

crayons

So there you go. With these two tips you can reduce the chaos that comes with raising a little artist.

Now go make some art!

5 Things I Learned After 6 Months in the Hospital

children's hospital

(This draft has been sitting around for close to a year. I finally decided to go ahead and publish it. These are reflections on the things I learned after living in the hospital for six months with my critically ill child. Forgive me that they’re a little gloomy.)

1.I’ve glimpsed hell. And I’ve learned that it’s possible to walk through it and come out alive.

Before you do it, it seems impossible. But you can survive it.

I didn’t have to walk into the darkest depths of the inferno — actually losing my child — but I did come very close, and I’ve seen other families do it.

And somehow, despite what it felt like at the time, we survived.

2. Hospitals are truly horrible places to spend any amount of time. But they are full to the brim with wonderful people.

I have never met so many smart, interesting, kind, devoted people in one place as I met in the hospital.

I want to give a special shout-out to nurses, who are some of the most superhumanly kind and selfless people on the planet. Turns out, you simply don’t go into nursing if you’re a crappy person. And we all benefit from that.

3. I can do things that I previously believed unfathomable.

I never could have guessed I could hold down my precious, innocent baby and allow people to hurt him.

Not only that, I can hold him down and hurt him myself.

Not only did I have to ignore his cries, I made him cry.

(Inserting Felix’s feeding tube, over and over and over again while he screamed in anguish, was and is the worst thing I have ever had to do in my life. I had to do it so many times. It goes against my every instinct, belief, and philosophy. My entire being is bent on protecting him from harm; and here I was, invading his body, working against his thrashing and screaming. Over and over again.)

If I can do these things, who knows what else I’m capable of — for good or for evil.

Could I sacrifice my own life for someone else? Could I kill a person? Maybe. Nothing seems impossible anymore, under the right circumstances. I now know that I’m capable of anything.

4. Six months in the hospital is not that long a time.

Before I lived it, I would have balked at the idea of staying in the hospital for one month. A whole month of my life spent in a sterile hospital room?

Then we did five. Then we got to go home for a few months; and after that, when we knew we were going in for one more month, we considered that a very short stay. Practically nothing. Just a couple of weeks.

In the long run, those six combined months were a short time in my life.

I know families who have been stuck in the hospital for a year or longer.

My whole perspective on time has changed: really, no amount of time on this finite earth is that long. Nothing we experience here is eternal.

A lifetime isn’t really even all that long.

5. All feelings have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

ALL feelings.

That current emotion that feels like it’s going to swallow you whole? It won’t. It will end. It will eventually be replaced by another one.

An emotion is an event. It will pass.

Any time I feel like my emotions are going to end me, I remind myself that I can practically put that feeling on a timer: the seconds are ticking away, and that emotion will come to an end. In the end, I will still be standing, but that feeling won’t be.

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