Balance

The last month has been a whirlwind of finding a new routine between Kindergarten drop-offs, work, programs, social events and school involvement. Throw in some of H’s business travel and organizing the accounting exams, weekend family visits, with a good measure of sleep deprivation (with C waking nightly multiple times) – which left me exhausted at the beginning of this week. Which meant this week the house stayed a mess and I focused more on recharging batteries and less on tackling the to-do list.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about balance…and how once one thing changes in your life, it impacts other areas in your life – whether or not you realize it.

I often say yes to programs/activities the girls enjoy doing (most of them we do together which is great fun and great bonding), but I forget that that means I have less time to stay caught up at home. Clearly, time with the girls is my priority, but as I’ve mentioned before – too much of a good thing is too much.

Tonight I tried something different – a massive bulk cook-off.

When I say massive I’m talking 1 lasagna, 36 mini pizzas, 1 pumpkin loaf, 1 banana loaf and 12 banana chocolate chip muffins. Truth – the only reason I’m writing this blog post at 11:38pm instead of getting ready for bed is because the last banana loaf needs 14 min more.

I know I just said “too much of a good thing is too much” – but I partially did it because I had food that needed to be used up, partly because I (for once) had energy to do so, after taking an afternoon nap; and partially because I wanted to see if this new method would let me have my cake (being with the girls) and eat it too (literally…eating the food and staying on top of things). Also, I’m hosting 2 things over the next 2 weeks so it’ll be nice to have the loaves already made that I can just take them out of the freezer the night before to defrost – and ta da! “fresh” baking. 🙂

I casually roped H into doing it as well which was great for a few reasons:

  1. It was a fun, cheap, and productive way to spend time together (I considered it a date night).
  2. It gave him an appreciation for what goes into our food “WHAT? This loaf needs 1 cup of sugar? Talk about diabetes!” (almost verbatim what he said).
  3. It gave him a chance to step into my shoes for a bit and see how much time and effort it takes to “kinda” feel like you’re on top of meals. He looked a bit bemused when it was 10pm and I realized I forgot to put in some laundry that’s needed for tomorrow.
  4. It gave him a chance to feel the same pride I feel when I serve my family a meal or when J says “I want to eat this every day!”, and to know that when J is at school eating her mini pizzas that it’s like she’s taking a little part of him with her.

This post has been written without a specific message in mind – but I think when it comes down to it I’m coming to terms with the fact that a life that is balanced will always come out of balance if you are continually trying new things…and that’s okay. Trying new things is a good thing. The important thing is to continue to keep a pulse on your health & well-being and not being afraid to make decisions to adjust things so they work well (or even better than expected) for you and your family.

 

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The Wedding Speech

Seven years ago, my husband and I got married. We splurged and hired a videographer to capture videos of the day and every so often we’ll pull out the DVD to show the kids or reminisce over the joy of the day. Within our “wedding movie” there is a section that has each of the wedding speeches fully recorded. The one I find the hardest to watch is my dad’s.

My dad enjoys public speaking and in his later years would often perform in community theater – he wrote an eloquent speech and he spoke very well…but as he spoke on our wedding day I remember feeling slightly mortified. First, because his speech ended up being about 20 minutes long (it took up 2 chapters on the DVD :)), and second, because it contained a detailed history of my accomplishments. From the science awards to the piano accomplishments, to the statement (word-for-word) “Tiffany obtained her Master’s of Accounting at the age of 23” I was embarrassed to have dozens of my achievements listed off like it was a verbal CV.

Yes, my dad was proud of me and my accomplishments, and, in a room full of his friends, I could see how he might want to shine a light on them…but in the last year I realized there was another reason why I found it difficult to watch.

I realized that the speech said nothing about me as a person, or who I had become.

There was no mention of those funny childhood anecdotes that give you a sense for the person’s passions/humor. Nor were there any descriptions of my personality.

I could be the biggest bitch in the world who stabbed people in the back, lived my life in vain and greed, & only respected people who had something to offer me in return…and my father could have read the same speech. Because all of the facts he read would still be true.

Surely, my parents wanted me to grow up to be a kind and compassionate person…but I sometimes reflect on how my parents would feel if I had more academic/career success but with a less kind personality. I don’t think they would mind the trade off.

You can’t change others and you can’t change your past…but you can write the past you want to remember and write the future you want for yourself. Here are snippets of a wedding speech I wish he would have read:

As a young girl Tiffany was equal parts creative as she was defiant. After a trip to Universal Studios we asked the kids to each write a 2 page report on the experience. Tiffany, who was 7 yrs old, didn’t love the assignment and instead created an exciting 2 page brochure marketing the thrills of the amusement park – complete with pictures and exciting captions littered with exclamation points. Getting the job done, but on her own terms.

(6 years later she did something similar in school when the class was tasked with writing a report on anything related to baseball and while some suggested topics were “Women in baseball” and “The History of Baseball”, she asked if she could write about “Halitosis & The Effects of Chewing Tobacco on Baseball Players”.)

Her brother nicknamed her “Chippy Monster” as she had an overwhelming love for chips. So much so, that she named her favorite stuffed dog “Ruffles” after the chip brand.

Tiffany had a special empathy for her stuffed animals and would often admonish her mother for tossing them in the corner exclaiming “You hurt her! Say you’re sorry and give her a hug!”. Along with “Ruffles”, her favorite stuffed animals were “Raccoon” (a stuffed raccoon), “You’re the greatest” (a teddy bear won at the CNE that wore a pink shirt that said “You’re the greatest”) and “Mouse-y” (an adorable white mouse with a red flowered dress). Creative names weren’t her specialty.

Our nickname for Tiffany at home was “Little Mommy” – partially because she tried to take care of everyone from the time she was 8 years old, and partially because she was so bossy.

As a teen, Tiffany had an undeniable & obsessive love for the band Hanson. Her bedroom walls are still wall-papered with sun-faded Teen Beat, Bop!, and Tiger Beat Hanson pin-ups. She was also smugly proud that she shared the same birthday as Zac Hanson.

Tiffany’s love for volunteering grew out of her early experiences. She first started volunteering at the hospital doing super boring things like folding towels and refilling glove boxes. But her favorite part was delivering meals to the patients because she could see her young presence brought a smile to the elderly patients’ faces. She also enjoyed the free Drumstick ice cream cones at break time.

A few years later she volunteered at Pathways to teach swimming to children with special needs which was an incredibly rewarding experience. A decade later this would influence her to both advocate for accessibility and provide feedback on the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (she gets a kick out of doing employee AODA training, knowing she played a small part in its creation) and eventually volunteering with her church’s Friendship group where she felt privileged to build friendships with adult’s with special needs.

Sometimes people write their own eulogies, and perhaps this is a start to what I’d like to write in mine.

I hope that as my daughters grow older that I remember that their successes need not be measured by trophies or letters behind their name, and to appreciate them for all the things that make them them. Big or small, good or bad, publishable or private.

Potential

It wasn’t until recently that I really paid attention to the word “potential”, what I thought it meant, and how it made me feel.

Growing up I was encouraged when I heard a teacher say “You’ve got potential for a great future.” My mother used to half-joke that I was so good at arguing with her that I had the potential to be a lawyer (subliminal influence at it’s finest ;)). At one of my earlier employers, someone I respected once shared a flattering, yet daunting comment that they felt I had the potential to be “the next ____ ____” (the name of a female VP who was my mentor, whom I enjoyed working with and also respected).

Potential is one of those things that is nice to hear when people think you have it, but (in my mind) was also tied with expectations and pressure to live up to that potential. To not fulfil it meant you were disappointing someone. And that scared me.

I still feel like not becoming a lawyer means I haven’t fully lived up to my parents’ idea of what my potential is/was, and with every career choice I’ve made that was different from the path of that VP I felt like I was disappointing these wonderful people who had spent time and energy mentoring me (though realistically, they’ve got enough going on in their own lives and probably haven’t thought much about me as my career/life evolves). And I’ve only recently learned to tell myself that that’s okay.

I’ve also realized a few other things:

  1. Over the past 30+ years I had learned to equate “potential” to “earning potential”  or “job status potential”. This is flawed. Those are 2 types of potentials in an ocean of possibilities.
  2. I don’t actually know what some people’s expectations are of me, and I’ve probably put some pressure on myself to live up to what I think others’ expectations are of me.
  3. Potential is something that you could be, or as dictionary.com defines it “having or showing the capacity to become or develop into something in the future”. It doesn’t mean you have to be that or that’s the only thing you can be. And “something in the future” is quite vague which, again, means there’s limitless “something’s” you could be.
  4. We only have so much time and energy in our lives. When you choose to fulfil your potential in certain areas of your life, inevitably you’ll have less resources to fulfil other areas. I see this now when I recognize the potential I’ve realized in the last few months as a mother, wife, friend, Deacon, and even cook(!) that was previously lacking when I focused the majority of my energy on fulfilling my career potential. Still lots of improvement/potential lies ahead, but I see the strides I’ve made.
  5. We each have unique gifts, priorities and circumstances – and there is no standard template or check list of what we should strive for and potentials we choose to fulfil.

When I think about my 4-year old daughter, who just started junior kindergarten, I think of all the potential that lays ahead of her. The potential she has to make a difference in this world in big and small ways. The potential to positively impact a classmate’s day by being kind to them or cheering them up. The potential to soak up classroom knowledge. The potential to learn just by observing nature and everyday life. The potential to strengthen her empathetic qualities and become aware of people’s feelings around her. The potential to face and overcome social challenges (inevitable fights with best friends, bullying, etc.). These aren’t earth-shattering attributes or goals…heck, they definitely aren’t “SMART” goals, but they’re still important and worth celebrating.

I now recognize that at 32 years old I still have loads of potential that lays ahead of me too.

Actually, I have the same potential that I see for my daughters.

I have the potential to make a difference in this world in big and small ways. The potential to positively impact a friend/co-worker/stranger/husband/daughter’s day by being kind to them or cheering them up. The potential to soak up knowledge with every job I take (whether it’s my paying job, my role as a Deacon, or volunteering roles I take on). The potential to learn just by observing nature and every day life. The potential to strengthen my empathetic qualities and become aware of people’s feelings around me. The potential to face and overcome social challenges (relationships change over time and with more responsibilities & less time we need to consciously determine how we spend our time and who it is with).

In fact, you could very well replace the word “potential” in that paragraph with the word “choice”. We have a choice to set priorities/goals (big or small), and the potential to improve ourselves and achieve them.

My husband and I joked a few years ago that it seemed like after having kids life was going to be mundane, with no exciting peaks (like graduation, wedding, first pregnancy, etc.). I realize now how short-sighted that was and how narrowly we were defining our purpose and goals and limiting our own potential. I can literally choose to do or be anything I want – whether it’s an attribute, attitude, or career. It may not be easy or it may not happen quickly…but I can do it.

(I should also note that I recognize that, once again, I am privileged to live in a country and time where it’s much easier for me to define and fulfil my own potential.)

My ask today is for you to take the time to see the potential that lays ahead of your life – whether you’re 9 years old or 90 years old.

Potential doesn’t have to be daunting and it doesn’t have to be for something headline- or facebook-post-worthy. Every day we have the potential to better ourselves and potential is as much a capacity/quality as it is a mind-frame.

Your potential is a limitless, delightfuly unattainable gift that continues to expand the more you achieve it.

More joy? Yes please!

In the past few months I’ve experienced more joy, calm and satisfaction in my life than I think I have at any other moment. It seems unreal to feel unburdened, and going about my day with more clarity and purpose than I have before.

Here are a few things that I think have contributed to this:

 

1. Getting rid of things that don’t add value to my life.  Whether it’s clothing, knick knacks, negative people, or e-mail subscriptions that I never open – I’ve become better at noticing the extraneous things in my life and taking action to build an intentional life around things I love and believe in.

2. Putting things back once I’m done with them. Our house is on Day 7 of putting everything back on a daily basis. It’s a record (which is a bit sad). But doing this rewards me with a fresh morning to start my day, or relaxing environment to come home to after work. Plus, everything now has a home and I can easily see what I have. Instead of dreading a clean-up I get excited to see what I can accomplish with my “free time” (or to relax in a clutter-free zone). Pro tip – if something takes 60 seconds or less to do – do it right away, don’t wait.

3. Cooking more…and cooking more nutritious foods.

It’s amazing how one change leads to the next. For many years, I lamented how I wanted to cook more and fuel my family’s bodies with more nutritious food – but I lacked the time and energy to do it. Plus it was often a feat just to access the appliances/ingredients, and an even bigger feat to clean up afterwards. After reducing my work commitments and dealing with #1 & #2 above, cooking no longer seems as daunting. I’ve tried new healthy homemade dishes including quinoa salad, zucchini noodles, cauliflower rice, spaghetti squash spaghetti & baked chicken burgers…and especially love serving my family Chinese dishes I grew up eating like wontons and congee.

Less work –> less discretionary income –> less restaurants/take-out –> more cooking –> healthier foods –> clearer mind, more energy (& clearer arteries). Winning!

Restaurants are now saved for special occasions and cravings instead of convenience when we’re (perpetually) exhausted.

4. Getting outside and getting active. Being outdoors helps ground & relax me and provides clarity in ways that television and surfing online could never accomplish. Whether its park time with the girls, trail walks with friends, hiking with hubby or even simple things like eating our dinner outside – being outside makes me happier and feel more human.

With keeping an eye on the budget I’m also starting to see if friends would like to spend time by going hiking/outdoors/picnic-ing, vs. the usual fallback of eating out.

5. Reading more. In February a few friends and I started a book club. It was a very “adult” thing to do and I always enjoy the delicious snacks, interesting conversations. A surprise benefit from book club is that it has re-ignited my love for reading which I didn’t have time to do before didn’t make time to do before. It’s been such a treat to read things I’m interested in such as Chris Hadfield’s “An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth“, “The Airbnb Story“, and my current read “If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?” (best. book. title. ever.).

6. Being more spiritual. It’s become more of a habit for me to reflect on my life and  (1) be thankful for the blessings God’s given me  (2) seek perspective for how difficult situations will shape my life for the better or prepare me for future challenges (3) read and learn from the Bible. There’s something very comforting in knowing billions of people have come before me and endured bigger challenges than I’ll ever face and to read how every event is part of God’s overall master plan.

7. Not sweating material losses. A few months ago we were about to go on a trip, when I heard that a family friend’s house was broken into and their jewelry & valuables were stolen. With that in mind I tried to think of an inconspicuous place to tuck away my 2 most sentimental pieces of jewelry, which were gifts from my parents and that I wore everyday. Ironically, I returned and couldn’t recall where I placed them. 😦 While super frustrating, it’s been a good lesson to teach me that material things (no matter how sentimental they are) are just stuff. It’s been 3 months since I’ve misplaced them and while I do check spots for them every now and again when I think I remember where they are, it’s not a worry or anxiety that burdens me day after day.

8. Taking on new challenges. Whether it’s choosing the steeper route when hiking, tackling a new pile of clutter, or trying a new recipe, I find there is nothing better than giving yourself a stretch goal, working hard towards it and building your confidence when you accomplish it. Sometimes it doesn’t work out, but the experience will always leave you with something to learn from or memories of your tenacity. Usually the hardest part is convincing ourselves to try.

Everyday I am in awe of how different and balanced my life is today compared to 5 years ago or even 5 months ago and I’m excited to look forward and see what will come next.

 

We’re all just a bunch of grown 5 year olds

Last week I volunteered with our church’s Vacation Bible School – and I loved it. It was my second year leading a group and with a few “repeat customers” from my group last year it was great to see how they had matured and grown over the past year.

As I observed the kids, saw when they had insecurities and shyly raise their hand then quickly put it down it reminded me a lot of myself at their age…and now. It reminded me that when I often wanted to say “Go ahead – say what you think the answer is! What’s the worst that can happen?” I could see me telling my 30-something year old self the same thing. Things I would tell a 5 year-old (or even my own 4-year old) that I should tell myself…

  1. Don’t be afraid to speak up and ask a question. We’re all learning. The odd time someone might think something negative about it, but that’s more their problem than yours…most of the time others have the same question.
  2. You don’t need to carry/treasure so many possessions. Some things hold special meaning and bring distinct joy or beauty to our lives…but don’t mistake material possessions for self-value or self-worth, and don’t make obtaining them your goal.
  3. It’s human nature for us to feel like we want to fit in, that we want to have the same things as others or look the same as others…but we are all unique and have gifts, talents, and things to offer the world that are specific to us. Don’t hide or discount those in an effort to be like others. Honour the person you are to the fullest.
  4. There are a million and one things that seem fun, interesting, important, and exciting, that make us want to stay up at night instead of going to sleep. Sleep is probably the most important thing that will make the rest of your life feel more fun, interesting and exciting. Go to bed.
  5. Everyone’s scared when they try something new – you just have to have faith in yourself and courage to give it a go, and you’ll probably end up having an amazing time. Don’t miss out on opportunities because you’re scared.

In reality, at the end of the day we’re all just a bunch of grown 5-year olds…give yourself the same encouragement to be courageous and move out of your comfort zone, as you would to those kids.

When we’re tired…

Today was a busy day. As I did my 10 min walk to my car I reflected on the day’s events, thinking about how exhausted I was but grateful for the opportunity to have flexible daycare and work arrangements so I can seize opportunities that I’m passionate about and that fit my priorities.

In a nutshell, the day consisted of teaching at our church’s Vacation Bible School, going to work, swim lessons, and a massage appointment. Pretty simple, right?

But in between you had the 4 year old who had anxiety about new people at VBS, the 1 year old who was not a fan of the VBS nursery and cried every time she saw you or heard you in the halls. You had the terrible hand-off to the daycare sitter at church where children were screaming in the building and parking lot. The crying hand-off of the 1 year old at the Y for her program so you can get the 4 year old to her swim lessons. The innocent idea to drop in to the library with the 4 year old for a few minutes (since there were 20 min until the swim lessons) which somehow turned into her rolling around on the floor, you literally dragging her out of the library…twice…as she screamed “I’m not fussing!” (while heads turned and you avoided eye contact with everyone). Bringing her into her swimming lesson where she was hesitant to meet a new teacher (but luckily came around fairly quickly). Dinner, massage, ran a few errands.

Prior to today you hosted the parent and sibling in-laws for the weekend, which included a day-long trip to an amusement park on Saturday, overnight stay, church nursery on Sunday morning, and cooking/entertaining Sunday afternoon.

And prior to that wakings from about 2am-4am most nights for the last 2-3 weeks as the 1 year old’s teething.

I don’t share all this to say “look at me, I’m busy!” I share this because tonight I got into a minor car accident. A minor car accident where I was paying attention, and was completely confused as to how this happened.

It would be one thing if I wasn’t paying attention, looking down, singing to the radio, etc. but the fact that I was concentrating and still made a mistake befuddled me.

Was it because I was wearing flip flops instead of my usual loafers? Was it because I had a massage so was a bit too relaxed? Was it because I hadn’t noticed something on the floor of the driver’s seat that was potentially under my foot without realizing?

Probably a piece of all of the above…but everytime something happens I think “What is God trying to teach me from this?”. It wasn’t to “pay closer attention”, because I was bloody concentrating the whole time…

After thinking it over, I realized that one of the contributing factors was also likely the lack of/interrupted sleep and the go-go-go of the last few days/weeks.

You see, I mixed up the pedals – which sounds (and feels) like the stupidest mistake. It does happen to people……………………………….but typically to those that are new drivers or elderly. Not people in their early 30’s. Luckily it was in our garage so it was a single-vehicle and no one was hurt.

I find this incredibly embarrassing, but feel the need to share because I often worried so much about my husband’s lack of sleep, that I tried to find ways to extend his sleep (i.e. getting up in the middle of the night and for those early 6am wake-ups). Thing is – I need sleep just as much as he does.

Lessons learned:

  1. Make 8 hours of sleep the biggest priority. Your brain just doesn’t function the same without sleep (and when you know your 1 yr old is often waking in the night, anticipate that and go to bed even earlier)…and neither does the rest of your body.
  2. Don’t overcommit. VBS is 1 week of the year and a true joy for me to be a part of…but maybe we could have done without the library trip, or even the swim lesson (though I already had guilt from missing last week, due to our anniversary).
  3. If it’s just the season for lots of things going on, step by, recognize it, and plan in extra rest (…like for the upcoming weekend when you’re on your own with thekids ;)).
  4. Everything in moderation. I recently borrowed 3 books from the library. I’ve been wanting to read them and squeezing in time where I can (which is often before bed). Thing is, it’s easy for me to read for 1hr instead of 20 min – especially when the due dates are coming up. I went from reading 0 books to 3 or 4 in a month…but perhaps now is not the time in my life for that. Next time make a list if you see books you want to read and focus on 1 book at a time.

I hope that by sharing my experience that it encourages others to both prioritize sleep/rest high on their list and to also continue to be very careful while driving.

If that doesn’t sound like mom advice, I don’t know what does. 🙂

Daily Snapshots – Day #26

“…life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it.” – Charles Swindoll

I am grateful for … living in a neighborhood within a 10 min car ride of grocery stores, church, work, our doctor’s office and J’s school (it just makes my little Sarnian heart give a contented sigh).

I am hopeful that… I don’t get discouraged when unimportant setbacks happen (unimportant like when the house goes from tidy to tornado). And challenge myself to … celebrate the small wins. Instead of focusing on all that hasn’t been done or won’t get done or “wants” to get done, focus on setting small goals and knowing that the accomplishment of each small goal gets me closer and closer to achieving my bigger goal. Don’t be complacent, but don’t beat yourself up because you haven’t perfected everything.

I enjoyed … eating healthier over a girl’s weekend (where the host is a dietician and magically made food that was both super nutritious and super delicious), which has inspired me to take small steps to eating healthier. There wasn’t a mass change, but over the past month I’ve made gradual changes – swapping chips for bean crisps, peanut butter to natural peanut butter, yogurt to greek yogurt…..last night I made Portobello mushroom burgers for the first time. Too bad the response was a “Ya, they’re good…but you’re never going to turn a mushroom into meat.” 🙂

I’m also enjoying reading books again – something I enjoyed as a child, but got away from as high school and university had enough mandatory reading…and until now I hadn’t prioritized it, or even remembered how much I enjoyed reading. I used to make excuses to myself that I read lots of articles online…but there’s a difference between pulling a book where the topic interests you, and getting articles pushed to you through buzzy/bait-click titles and article summaries that begin by essentially asking “are you a good enough parent?”

Previous Challenge: I am hopeful that… I get more sleep. And challenge myself to … get to bed by 10pm each day (meaning, I need to head upstairs by 9:30pm…like the 9:30pm that happened 40 minutes ago).

Update on Previous Challenge: This happened! I ended up in bed around 7:30pm last night, reading until about 9:30pm. There were dirty dishes in the kitchen, unfolded laundry that laid crumpled in the basket…but I felt like my body and mind just needed to rest…and it’s a good thing I did because lo and behold I was awake from 2am-4:30am with a teething baby. Still tired, but much better off than I would’ve otherwise been!