Unpacking Tips

I have been unfolding after the move – I feel like a wound spiral that is finally let go. I have my own place, where my decisions will be long-lived and I am free to make them, independent of any landlord. There are so many things I’d like to improve and touch up. But first I need to unpack everything and organize the necessities without significant impact to daily routines on which the children depend. So here is what worked for me:

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Unpacking tips

Unpack essentials first:

  1. Soap and towels need to be there even during the move, so that people can wash and dry their hands.
  2. Kitchen – food, freezer food, cutlery, plates, pots, openers, storage containers. It helps to cook and freeze a few meals in advance.
  3. Napkins, tissues, and toilet paper stashed in abundance everywhere they are likely to be needed, so you don’t have to go through boxes to find a roll of toilet paper or a napkin with a messy baby in your arms.
  4. Daily care essentials: toothpaste and toothbrushes, shampoo, combs.
  5. A few toys and children’s books
  6. Bedding

Easy way to determine essentials: go through your typical weekday and your typical weekend day, list everything each family member will definitely or likely need. Ensure to unpack those things first (ideally you’d pack them last and they are in an easily accessible location). Keys, wallet, documents, diapers, wipes, changes of clothes for the kids and adults, medication/supplements, lunch boxes, water bottles and whatever else will be needed on a daily basis.

On the day of the move, make beds and set out changes of clothes and bath supplies/toys — bath time and bed time are not going to wait. In our case, this meant setting up two change tables (one upstairs and one downstairs) for the baby with diapers, cloth wipes, spray bottle with wipe solution and clothing. For the older child, we put a dresser into his wardrobe and filled it with several pairs of pants, t-shirts, underwear and socks.

Determine where the large pieces of furniture, appliances and electronics will be and set them up as soon as you can. Until that’s done, tackling boxes is hard, since you have nowhere to unpack them into. It also helps to not be tripping over the furniture haphazardly strewn throughout the house.

Once essentials are unpacked, determine your priorities, taking into account any timelines. For example:

I work from home, so I needed my desk with the computer, printer, phone, and the Internet connection set up.

I run a handmade jewellery business from home, so I needed my beading and packaging supplies unpacked and set out for easy access in the first couple of days, to not disrupt filling Etsy orders. (Curiously enough, after a week with no orders prior to our move, the only day we did not have an Internet connection, 3 orders have come in and had to be filled right away.)

We have two busy children, so we needed to ensure the play room is one of the first things to be arranged and unpacked, letting them play. To be fair, the most enjoyment they seem to have is helping us open the boxes of books, but they are also engaged with their own space and the forgotten toys to explore in the play room.

I had a large area of my kitchen floor taken up by plant seedlings that needed to be transplanted (and the floor needed to be freed up for the dinner table), so getting the soil, building the permaculture garden towers and the permaculture herb spiral, creating beds for the remaining seedlings, and hardening off the plants have been a priority from the start. So shaping up the garden had to be done while the house was still in boxes. I did quite enjoy the process though — it made for a nice break from unpacking, letting us play outside in the fresh air and come back in with new energy to tackle more boxes.

Freeing up enough space in the living room to maneuver the furniture and fasten the book cases to walls gave us freedom to unpack our knowledge cube of over 60 boxes of books and the fragile china and glasses that occupied a large part of what shall be the zen room — a small den on the ground floor that got filled to the brim with all sorts of boxes. Kids got their books too, which made for a fun unpacking experience interrupted by lots of quiet time engrossed in whatever book their eyes happened to fall upon.

Once the big pieces and daily necessities are set up, the organization can take place with less stress.

Do laundry as you go — when you have piles of clothes to deal with, it’s easier to split things into whites, brights, woolens, etc. They’ll be easier to sort once they are clean as well. Don’t bother about ironing at this point. What matters is that things in your wardrobe are clean and can easily be found.

Take this opportunity to donate the items you no longer need. Sometimes it’s hard to do that before you move because you don’t know whether you might need something at your new house. For instance, until you spend a few nights there, you won’t know whether you would need to keep your small space heater (not so relevant in the summer, but you get the point) or whether it’s made obsolete by an excellent furnace (which will never break down, right?).

Make use of organizational aids such as baskets, bins, shoe and wardrobe containers, shelves, and whatever else will make sorting, storing, and finding things easier. We’ve taken a couple trips to Ikea and I’ve found a few of their closet organizing items very handy. All of my children’s shoes, from size 4 to size 10, have filled one and a half shoe organizer, whereas it took 3 boxes to move all of them. Here’s what I’ve done to organize all the children’s clothing, in about 3 hours.

Remember what needs to be done daily — watering indoor plants (and the garden), food preparation, laundry. Take care of those things first and follow with unpacking a few boxes at a time when you have a few minutes. Before you know it, you’ll be through.

Take time to consider the big picture as well. Do you need to change locks to ensure no one you don’t know has access to your house? Do you want to replace light bulbs to more efficient ones to save energy? Same goes for shower heads and toilets. Perhaps consider a water filter for the house, to get rid of pharmaceuticals and other unwanted chemicals in your drinking and bathing water. Check the furnace filter and replace it if needed. If the air quality is not great, consider cleaning the ducts. Figure out when garbage, recycling, and compost pick up happens in the new neighbourhood. Change your address by contacting all the relevant organizations. Get to know the place and its quirks. Ensure there is sufficient lighting. Hang up curtains to get some privacy. Replace batteries in fire and carbon monoxide alarms…

There is so much to do. Take it one room and one day at a time. Remember to step outside and breathe. You have lots of time to make this place yours. Be gentle to it and yourself in the process.

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Unpacking after a move

From the time I’ve first mentioned to people that we were moving, I got inundated with an intake of breath and some variation of “Oh, you’ll be living from boxes for the next year”. It’s like getting an exclamation to any issue you might bring up about your children to the effect of “Oh, that’s nothing — wait until X happens!”. Besides not really being helpful, such a response creates a sense of doom (as if somehow you are not in control of when this “living out of boxes” stage will be over), ramping up stress and seeming to suggest that you might as well give up and accept any lack of organization for months on end. As if making an effort to sort through your belongings in an efficient manner is way too stressful, whereas tripping over them and spending hours trying to find essentials is less so.

Well, I refuse to give in to this attitude. Some people are skeptical when I say it won’t take me longer than a month, but after 2 weeks at the new place, unpacking in the evenings and on weekends, I have organized most of the clothes, books, dishes, and toys. I have a functional kitchen which needs re-organization but is usable, I have a completely functional and organized master bedroom with the wardrobe, all the bathrooms, my studio workspace and beading desk, the library/living room with the book shelves, and the play room for the kids.

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Now I am working towards tidying up the studio, re-organizing the kitchen, making my son’s room more cozy, and putting up pictures and mirrors. The house is functional already. The garden is almost completed as well. We have welcomed guests from out of town during this time, and I have already hosted a Pathways Connect meeting and a Blessingway in my living room. The most of the remaining work is in the basement and the garage, but those items are not essential and they are starting to clear out already.

Don’t get fixated with organizing everything perfectly from the start. You are in a new home and your usage of various items might change as you adjust to the new environment. My kitchen is bigger than before and, after cooking in it for a few days, I have different ideas of where items would be more conveniently placed. The house will shape yourself around you, so focus first on sorting things out into different rooms. The activities you perform in each room will guide you. For example, all my beading, photography equipment, sewing machine and fabrics, various art and craft supplies have been taken to the studio and stashed in a corner, until I’m ready to unpack and sort them. All the musical instruments, yoga mat, singing bowl, contemplation books and art are going into the zen room. Pantry items and food preparation supplies belong in the kitchen, most of the books — in the living room, clothes — in appropriate bedroom closets. Once the generic sorting is done, it’s easy to tackle a box or two when you have a spare few minutes, making a visible dent in what might have seemed a mountain.

Don’t give in to the despair brought on by the sheer amount of things that need organizing. Instead, think logically, divide and conquer, and take it as an opportunity to arrange things the way you like them. Here are some more unpacking tips.

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How to organize children’s clothes

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Over the past five years, we have accumulated a collection of several garbage bags chock-full of children’s clothes, from newborn to size 5, three boxes of shoes and boots, and bulky winter coats of various sizes. This is the reality of a mother with more than one child, where the clothes are being used at two different sizes by two children. With the recent move, I have been faced with the need to arrange all of them into some semblance of order. One of our rooms has a large double-closet, and it seemed like a perfect place to organize everything.

I couldn’t take a picture of the initial pile of clothes since it came in so many bags and boxes that I just kept bringing them into the room in a conveyor fashion. Here is how I organized all of the children’s clothing, shoes, and coats. Quite a few got donated.

I used 9 bins, 3 shoe containers, and 20+ hangers.

Step 1. Rip up several pieces of painter tape, write the clothing sizes on them and stick them in a row on the floor to mark where to place clothes of each size. You can see the green painter tape in the picture near the blue cable that runs horizontally across the floor.

Step 2. Sort the pants, tops, dresses, sleepers, jackets in separate piles on the same vertical axis associated with a single size. This makes it easier to match the length of items that are listed as different sizes or use different country sizing (for instance, sleepers that are listed as 24-months and 2T are often of the same length). I chose to not have a “newborn” category since my babies are pretty tall, and I’ve picked the bottom size where a range is specified for the same reason (so, if it said 12-18 months, I put it into the 12-month pile, since that’s usually when my babies would start using it). I have also separated hats and winter accessories (scarves and mittens) from the rest of the clothes.

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Once all the sorting is done (the longest part of the process, best done to music or a podcast, such as Katy Says):

Step 3. Put the dresses, coats, and snow pants on hangers, arrange them from smallest to largest. I kept dresses separately from winter clothes, as they are needed during different seasons.

Step 4. Line up the bins at the top shelf of the closet if you have it, or wherever else you have convenient space for them.

Step 5. Collect the piles of clothing for the same size, put them into a single bin. If there are more than one bin can fit, split them logically: I had to split off warm sleepers for 3-month size into a separate bin, since I use quite a few of them. You can also use the space on top of the bin for the rarely-used items of that size (I’ve used it for warm sleepers of larger sizes). If there are not enough to fill a bin, you can combine two sizes together. I had to do that for the 18- and 24-month sizes.

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Step 6. Take the painter tape with size you’ve used to mark the floor areas and attach it to the inside of the bin, so you can see at a glance what size the clothes in that bin are.

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To sort the kids’ footwear, I’ve done pretty much the same thing, lining them up by size. This makes it easier to see which sizes are lacking and which shoes you can donate. Once they were sorted, I put them into the shoe containers, going from smaller to larger, two pairs per each compartment, so that the two different shoes (one from each pair) are visible from the front. This way I don’t have to worry about what size they are (I never remember what size my kids are wearing, since as soon as I start remembering, they grow out of it) — I can just try the next size up. The bottom compartments are larger, so I put the rain boots and snow boots there — there are not many of them, so keeping them by size is not as critical.

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This way of storage for the footwear is extremely efficient: I haven’t even used up 2 out of my 3 shoe organizers. The hats and winter accessories went into the second shoe organizer — the small size of the compartment is perfect to keep them in one place.

I still have lots of space in the closet which I’ll likely use for grown-up winter coats and footwear. The whole process took maybe 3 hours (and I’ve been interrupted a number of times), and now I have all the kids’ clothes readily accessible. Moreover, I can see at a glance what we have and can add more clothes into an appropriate size without a need to sort through lots of existing items.

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Ride the uncertainty

waveTo be resilient in the face of changes, one must let go of the need to cling to familiar and give in to uncertainty of life. Just as with good sex or a good birth, feel the rhythm, follow it, listen to your senses, and ride that wave. Let go and you’ll be more in control and feel more pleasure from the process than if you try to resist the flow. You cannot control life circumstances. You can control how you respond to changes and integrate them into your life.

Those of us who have experienced birth know that you cannot control what your body does to birth the baby. You prepare and plan as much as you can, and when the baby is ready, you let your body take over and guide you. For me, birth has been the ultimate surrender — I have embraced the loss of uncertainty and have focused on riding the waves that brought me to the shores of motherhood. The two days I birthed my two children are the days I’ve felt the most alive in my entire life.

Not surprisingly, the willow tree, with its ability to bend with the wind, without breaking, often serves as an empowering image for weathering the storm of uncertainty and changes. Women often recite the following poem at Blessingways to share with the mama the need for flexibility during labour:

I am a willow tree,
Strong, yet fluid
graceful.
I can bend with the wind,
but my roots are tough,
indestructible.
Opening to birth my child
is flowing with the wind:
from a soft and gentle breeze
to a stormy gale
back to a soft and gentle breeze.
My body is strong, but flexible.
It is my friend, it knows how to open.
I am a friend to my body
eating well, walking, and loving myself.
I shall birth safely, freely, openly…
among my loved and trusted ones.
I am the willow, flexible
beautiful resilient
endowed with the power of surrender
to the wind rustling through my leaves,
my branches.
My roots reach deep into Mother Earth
Anchored in Her strength
I bring forth life
In joy!

(I do not know the author)

In Terry Pratchett’s Witches Abroad, one of the senior witches, Granny Weatherwax speaks about the importance of knowing exactly who and where you are. “She [granny] was also, by the standards of other people, lost. She would not see it like that. She knew where she was, it was just that everywhere else didn’t.” She enters the realm of Death and, surrounded by a multitude of mirror reflections of her, faces a question — which one is the real Granny Weatherwax. She pauses to ask “Is that a trick question?” and, looking down at herself, confidently states, “This one.”

If you know who you are with solid certainty, once you find your centre within the new reality, you can then build more supports to get established anew. You can find your comfort zone and enjoy the calm, keeping in mind the need for flexibility, come the new gale. A good balance of comfort and certainty on one hand, and flexibility and uncertainty on the other, is essential for an exciting journey that does not result in the mountain of stress crushing you, or in the loss of interest in life that has become a rigid routine.

As a personal example, my family is currently going through several major changes at once: we are moving (which, with two small children, is not for faint-hearted), switching jobs and office locations, nurturing a teething baby and a child with a cold, welcoming guests from out of town, and planning and planting a garden.

To weather this with minimal stress while remaining a strong family unit, we have focused on what we can control:

  • leaving plenty of time for packing and moving fragile items and books before the main furniture move;
  • setting a separate day to move the garden soil, permaculture towers, and shrubs that need replanting;
  • making sure to spend lots of time with the children to alleviate their stress and involve them in the move;
  • planning a menu, cooking and freezing meals in advance to ensure we do not fall back on poor food choices due to lack of cooking time or supplies.

For the unknown factors, we leave ourselves open to improvisation, pull in resources as needed, and make sure to breathe deeply when things don’t go as expected, to find solutions from a calm state of mind.

Take care of what you can control, bend like a willow with the wind, and embrace the uncertainty.

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Be flexible

Many people are under the impression that, once you have children, the days become a never-breaking routine, leaving no space for adventure in your life. In my experience, with children around, the routine can turn into an adventure at any moment. The dynamic is quite different, true, but I find that interspersing established patterns and free-form experimentation can work quite well to keep our days interesting and get things done.

We are in a process of moving, switching office locations and jobs, with the baby teething and breastfeeding lots at night, and the older child being in turns excited and apprehensive at the chaos. The cat is getting more bewildered by the day, renovations are taking place in the new house, relatives and friends are coming to visit from out of town and we are planning a new garden remotely. Any one of these factors would significantly affect our routine. Together they send any semblance of order tumbling down, and this is where free-form organization shines.

There are a few key points I usually focus on when unexpected things happen:

  • Keep some patterns stable as much as possible: bed time routines, dinner, reading with kids.
  • Lock in important dates, equipment rental times, and childcare.
  • Avoid planning too much in a single day, instead keep a running list of tasks with due dates, prioritized by urgency.
  • Seize every opportune moment to complete one of the more urgent tasks off the list, inching (or leaping) closer to the goal.
  • Remember to rest, get adequate nourishment, and have fun.

The events around our house purchase and the weekend following it had thrown a few spokes into our wheels. Our moving adventure is full of good examples of how one could adapt to changing circumstances.

We knew we were getting the keys to the new house on Friday, May 15th, and the timing had to be flexible, depending on when all the paperwork from both lawyer offices got submitted. There was about a 5% chance that the purchase would not get registered by the end of business on the closing day (why this has to wait until the day in question boggles me — it would be so much more logical to do this in advance), but we were hoping for the best, as we needed to start moving boxes the next day, and the contractors would have to start on Monday.

The house purchase is a big step for us, so I also wanted to properly acknowledge it. I have planned a lovely celebration at the new place, and have loaded the supplies into the car in advance: toys and books to occupy the kids in the empty house, spare clothing if they get messy playing outside, cushions to sit on, cutlery, napkins, sarong for a tablecloth, a box to serve as a table, a delicious Thai take-out dinner that I have acquired during lunchtime, and a bottle of Veuve Clicquot with the champagne glasses from our wedding. Advance planning is great for surprise evenings.

We ended up receiving the keys 15 minutes before the close of business, on Friday before the long weekend (I had to make a dash downtown during rush hour to acquire them), making the timing really tight to gather everyone from work and childcare and head off to the new house. Flexibility and mobility on the closing day, combined with advance planning, made for a lovely celebration.

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To make the move efficient, my partner and I have decided to move fragile items and various boxes by ourselves, so that we had more space to pack the rest of the items and didn’t waste time of our friends who would come to help us move the furniture on the following weekend. To this end, we have lined up childcare for the Saturday following the closing date, and have rented a cargo van. The rental has been locked in weeks before, and I made sure to have lunch for us at the new place, to keep up the energy.

The box move went well — there were two of us and we made three trips between 10am and 7pm, moving books (our “knowledge cube” of over 60 boxes at this point), clothing, most toys, pantry and kitchen items, puzzles, transformers, paintings, posters, fragile items, most of my beading studio, and various odds and ends. The puzzles alone (boxes of undone puzzles and stacks of completed puzzles) filled an entire van. Yes, I know I’m an addict. I can stop at any time I want. I just don’t want to. The puzzles had to be stacked up in the living room, as by the time we moved them we had to return the van. We planned to move the puzzles to the basement the next day, so that they were out of the contractors’ way on Monday.

We have also met the contractors at the new house in the morning — they were dropping off wood for the renovations taking place the following week: removing all carpet and replacing it with hardwood. It was an efficient move and a great workout, made possible by well-organized team work.

Straight from the move, we went back to my friend’s place. She had our kids for the day, playing with her kids, and was hosting a Blessingway in the evening, for which we stayed. Being at the Blessingway, surrounded by wonderful mamas, helped us shift the energy from the go-go-go all day to a contemplative pace. We were there to support a friend — a strong VBAC mama, to reconnect with the kids whom we haven’t seen all day, to replenish our energy with food, drink, and conversation.

Towards the end of the night, we have realized that the keys from our old place might have been dropped on the ground at the van rental parking lot, so we had to retrace our steps and, thankfully, there they were, on the ground. It was a lovely evening, and as we got home around midnight, we skipped the bath time for kids and all went straight to sleep.

We have accomplished what we needed for the day, the kids were happy to have company of their friends during the day and lots of attention in the evening from us, we took time to switch activities and enjoy an evening with friends before the next day’s challenges.

Sunday morning, after a late start and a delicious breakfast of bacon and eggs, we went to a landscaping center, to pick out river rocks for the permaculture herb spiral we are planning for the new garden. Despite the heat, our kids had lots of fun — the oldest was climbing all over the rock pile with me, picking the biggest and most beautiful rocks. The youngest was observing the proceedings and playing with smaller rocks. It gave our son a sense of accomplishment, helping us with useful work towards the garden project, and we made it fun, playing outside in the sunlight.

A few days before the closing date, the washing machine that was supposed to come with the house, gave out. After a discussion with the seller which uncovered previous issues with the machine, we have decided to get a new one, and so after the rock picking adventure we headed to an appliance store. Normally such shopping would have been tedious for kids, but we have done our research in advance and knew exactly the model we wanted, so the process didn’t take a long time. Opening appliance and drawer doors to inspect the insides made for a fun game for our son.

We had a filling lunch, followed by getting the kids to sleep, at which point my partner stayed home with them, and I went back to the house to paint quarter rounds that were going to go over top of our new floors and to be there for delivery of the soil for our new garden. This is where things went askew. The quarter rounds had stickers on them — at least three apiece — which needed to be peeled off before any painting could be done. That took me about an hour (and a few broken nails), during which time I have found out that the soil got delivered to a neighbour several doors down, across the street. The delivery company failed to call us in advance, as they promised, and had delivered to a wrong house. At this point, it was after 6pm. So, clearly, the painting was not even started, moving the puzzles had to be postponed as less critical, and we had to relocate the soil from our neighbour’s driveway.

This is where flexibility was important — we had to mobilize. I have found a friend who was willing to come help, and together with my partner, with a wheelbarrow and a garbage can, they have moved 3 square yards of soil in about 4 hours. In the meantime, I was entertaining the kids — prowling the back yard, exploring the new house, playing with balloons, toys, books, and dancing to music. After dinner (I had cooked lots in advance of this busy weekend), I got both of them to help me unpack various kitchen and pantry boxes: the kids were occupied, playing and feeling helpful, while the kitchen was becoming more usable and we were acquiring empty boxes to bring back for packing other things.

The soil was moved by around 10pm. We all had dinner, kids had lots of play time, work got done, and kitchen boxes were unpacked. We were flexible to put aside the painting and moving of puzzle boxes for later. We were fortunate to have a good friend who was available that night. We were resolved to put in the energy to move the soil, to unpack the pantry, and to keep track of two children, one of whom was bouncing off the walls and another insisted to be walked everywhere (unable to walk by herself yet), especially up the stairs. We decided to skip the bath time once more, and go straight to sleep, once we got home.

The next morning (Monday of a long weekend) brought another surprise: despite our contractor’s reassurances that holidays were not relevant to his crew, none of them have shown up. We proceeded with moving the puzzles to the basement. The washing machine was delivered in the morning. Kids initially played outside with me, drawing an outline of the permaculture spiral with a piece of string tied to a stick, marking the spiral circumference with river rocks, discovering the lost toys in the dirt, and covering the grass with cardboard.

gardenSpiralCardboard

Later my son insisted on helping with the puzzle relocation which made for a fun game for them. My daughter calmly opened up a puzzle box and became very intent on watching puzzle pieces stream through her fingers. When they got tired, my partner took them out to explore a local park, while I finished up with the puzzles.

The park adventure didn’t last long, as desire for food and rest grew. We went home and had some lovely homemade soup for lunch. I have found an email from our contractor in my inbox, letting us know that — oops — his crew did think a statutory holiday was important (as I anticipated), and the work would start on Tuesday instead. This has, naturally, extended the timelines we had established, but because I had built in a buffer between the planned end of renovations and the furniture move, the impact has been minimized.

As the kids fell asleep, I went back to the new house, to attempt painting the quarter rounds once again. I have succeeded.

quarter roungs
It was a lovely quiet three hours, where I got to focus on the painting and got so inspired, I’ve also decided to paint three pillars inside the house, as their paint was peeling off. I loved the contemplative, uninterrupted time when I could be attentive to detail. With my kids being fed, happy, and asleep under a watchful eye of a loving caregiver, I could throw myself into a project to make our new home brighter.

 pillar pillars

I went back home, the kids were up, and we’ve decided to enjoy a family-centered evening. I’ve barbecued some farm-bought sausages, dodging an indecisive rain with my son under a huge umbrella. I’ve fried up some potatoes and steamed some veggies. We had a delicious dinner with refreshing sangria, followed by a leisurely bath time for the kids.

To look back at the weekend, despite all the factors outside of our control, we got everything planned done (although not in the order anticipated): all the packed boxes and lots of fragile items have been moved, we’ve attended the Blessingway, picked up rocks for the garden, got the wood and washing machine delivered, freed up space for the contractors, and painted the quarter rounds. Unplanned, extra things got done as well: pillars got painted, kitchen and pantry boxes got unpacked, soil ended up in our garden (as opposed to being on our driveway), permaculture spiral got started.

Through all this, we haven’t been missing meals, kids were happy, fed healthy meals, were playing lots with us and with friends, spending time outside and participating in the move, which made them feel helpful and appreciated. For my partner and myself, there was physical exertion, satisfaction from bringing our cozy home reality closer, time to relax and connect with each other and with friends. As a bonus, there is a more manageable environment at the old place for the following week, before we move the furniture and the existing garden equipment over. This could have been a stressful, frustrating weekend. Instead it was full of joy, connection, and productivity.

A bit of an extensive example, but I just want to show how powerful flexibility, combined with some advanced planning, can be. Lock in important times, arrange childcare, remember to take care of your needs for nourishment, sleep, relaxation, connection and appreciation, involve kids whenever possible, and be flexible about the rest.

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Make move less stressful for kids

castle_from_boxes, md We are moving, and this means that for the past month and for the next couple of weeks we are living among boxes, and in constantly changing surroundings. When you have children, adults with hobbies, a full-fledged beading studio, a large library, a network, and a pantry, it makes for quite a few things to pack. A minimalist friend of mine came to visit during the early stages of packing and exclaimed: “I don’t know how you can stand it, I’d go crazy having to live like this for even a week!” Any change in routine is stressful, full of unknowns, and can be downright scary for children. I have come up with ways to minimize everyone’s stress and make packing more fun.

For children that have been living in the same place their entire life (and in our case, born in that same place as well), moving is like starting a completely new life. They don’t know what is going to change and they fear everything changing, so they cling to the familiar. Verbal children try to understand what it means to move. They do not know why the move is happening and are often apprehensive about the changes they think it will bring.

We want to alleviate as many worries as possible, reassuring them about things that will stay the same and explaining why we are moving and what will be better at the new place. The more you connect with your children at this time, the easier the move will be on the entire family. Talking through the reasons and the expectations will also help you wrap your head around the move, figure out the logistics, spot gaps in your preparations, and calm your own worries about the move.

Keep daily routines whenever possible

Have meal times stay the same — reconnect, talk about the day, set expectations for what the next day will bring.

Reading time — even if your books have been packed, leave a few for the kids. Consider using the library — we go every two weeks, kids pick the books they like, and for the next little while we have new books for them to enjoy.

Bath time — leave the bath toys unpacked until the last days: knowing they can play with their favourites helps the children unwind before bed.

Bed time — with work, chores, errands, and packing, the time can be tight in the evenings. Try packing without moving the children’s bed time too much. Pack with the children while they are awake, by making it into a game; or (if you absolutely have to) pack after they’ve gone to bed, without moving their bed time too much. Missing sleep is a sure way to raise your stress levels and get sick, so don’t be too ambitious on the days you have a lot of work: pack a couple of boxes at a time. A little bit every day does add up.

Playing at home — do not forgo playing with your children for the sake of packing. They need to know you are still there for them.

Play dates — make an effort to get out so that the kids can play with their friends. On a weekend, one parent can take them to a play date, while the other takes care of moving preparations.

Going outside — if the weather is good, playing outside can do wonders to relieve the sense of being cooped up among boxes. Go as a family (you too need a time to breathe and get some sunlight) or, once again, split the responsibilities by having one parent watch the kids and the other pack.

Going to library, skating, soccer, yoga — whatever activities you usually enjoy with your children, try fitting a few outings in. A change of perspective helps us re-focus and come back into the challenging environment in a more resourceful state.

Involve the children in moving preparations

Boxing books and toys — even young children can help with packing books by handing them to you. Toys are a bit trickier, since kids want to play with every long-forgotten toy they see, but, looking on the bright side, you can keep packing other things while they are delightedly occupied. Book packing can be tricky if your children are just learning to read — my son insisted on reading the title of every book which did slow down the packing a little. I kept packing books from another shelf, however, and he loved the reading, so this arrangement ended up being quite effective.

Recycling and picking toys to donate — moving is a good opportunity to teach the kids about donating and to reinforce what can be recycled or reused. They might enjoy sorting recycling to determine whether it goes into the paper or plastic/metal/glass bin.

Going through clothes drawers — this is a great opportunity to play dress-up. My toddler loves pulling clothes out of bags and stuffing them back into bags, trying a few over her shoulders in the form of a cape. Providing strategically placed bags into which to place clothes can turn the clothes packing activity into a game.

Build forts and walls from non-fragile boxes — this is a winner at our place. The boxes with books are serving as walls of a castle, and in place of a baby gate, to prevent our toddler getting to the stairs. Both kids have a lot of fun sitting “in the castle” playing or reading. We keep the fragile boxes on the empty book shelves away from the children’s reach, and use the sturdy book boxes, maximum 3 high, as bricks for the castle wall. Be sure things are not going to topple onto the kids. We’ve had this setup for over a month — our box walls are very sturdy.

Decorate boxes — it gets quite daunting to be surrounded by boxes, especially if, like ours, they are a mismatch of colours and sizes. We pick up the free boxes liquor stores have after their shipments come in, and there are many coats of armour, patterns, logos, and large letters that are fun to colour. My son enjoys drawing on the boxes. And to make the room more pleasant to be in, I’ve used some of the Waldorf play silks to cover them up, giving the arrangement a more festive look. Any colourful fabrics — scarves, sarongs, curtains — could work for this purpose.

waldorf_box_decor, md

Walk-along boxes for toddlers — our toddler is also learning to walk, and since we don’t have sitting furniture (such as a couch) in our living room where we spend most of the time, being able to walk along the row of boxes (one box tall) is a fun activity for her.

Hide behind walls — playing hide-and-seek becomes a lot more fun when there are new elements in the environment to hide behind.

Writing labels — if your children are learning to write, this is a great opportunity to practice. I have purchased a collection of sticky notes, to colour-code boxes going into different rooms. My son loves writing the names of the rooms and box contents on the labels.

Applying labels to boxes — it’s very much like playing with stickers, with a bonus of being helpful. Children like meaningful activities where they play a helper role.

Counting boxes, books, bags, toys — moving preparations offer many opportunities for any child who likes counting. You can teach the kids to count in different languages — we count in Russian, English, and sometimes French. It can be helpful to know how many books can go into a box, how many boxes can stack under a desk, how many bags can fit into a closet, and so on.

Share the excitement

Find points to highlight — talk to the child frequently about why your new place will be better from the child’s perspective. This is a very useful exercise for everyone involved — finding a silver lining in any situation is a stress-relieving technique. This might include a bigger house to play in, a new neighbourhood to explore, a new room that the child can personalize.

Getting your own room — as someone who has grown up in a single room that served as a living room, a study room, a bedroom for the entire family, and a guest room for anyone visiting, I know this is a child’s dream. Our son is excited about getting his own room at the new place.

List some familiar objects that the child can take with them: toys, pictures, books. My son loves two puzzles that he helped me put together (Shell Game and Tropical Flowers) — they currently hang on the wall beside his bed. I’ve suggested that he puts those up above the bed in his new room, and he is delighted at the prospect. We’ve also talked about having his bed, his desk, and his chair in his room, and getting his own bookshelf. Now he is looking forward to all the control he will have over his environment.

Create anchors now — make the children picture the new place and where familiar things will be. Take them there before the move, if possible. If not, draw the plan and show them where their room will be, where they will play, eat, sleep, bathe. Have their imagination help calm their fears and make this move exciting.

Share what things will stay the same

Parents will still be present — reassure the child that moving to a new place does not mean moving away from a parent (unless, of course, it does, in which case a lot more positive anchoring needs to be done).

Parents’ love for the children will remain unchanged — this is the time to express your love for the children even more than usual. They need reassurance that you will still love them, even in an unknown place, and that you are the steady presence in their life. There will still be lots of hugs, attention, and playing together as a family, in the new home.

Same breakfast rituals — my partner often makes oat-banana pancakes for a weekend breakfast, and my weekend special is eggs and bacon. The kids love both, and we have reassured them that we will still have those weekend breakfasts after we move.

Going to the park nearby to play — our children love playing at a park. So we were sure to let them know there shall be a park near the new place (in fact, there are several) — so we can still go to a park.

Going to a library — we are not moving far from our current place, so the library location we visit will stay the same. This is another anchor for the children.

Reading books, listening to music, playing with a balloon — we made sure the children know that there is no need to give up these favourite activities after the move.

Keep the pictures on the walls — I know some people choose to remove the easiest items first, which includes pictures and photographs from the walls. For us, our place would not be the same without the walls being covered in puzzles, photos, and paintings. If we removed them two months before moving out, the place would feel cold, empty, and unfamiliar, so I have chosen to keep them up until the last week. As a bonus, they take up less space this way, and it’s unlikely a frame or glass will get broken if someone accidentally stumbles into a stack of paintings in our already-tight place.

Keep positive and calm about the move yourself. Children pick up on your anxiety and feel strained atmosphere at home when you are not happy. Manage your own stress by getting plenty of sleep, eating well, getting enough downtime, and settling your own discomforts about the move.

Take it slow – if you have to give two months’ notice at your old place, it’s a good period of time to get the children accustomed to the idea of a new home (as well as get used to the idea yourself). Make packing exciting — make it a game.

Help your children pace the change — take it one day at a time, let them be a part of it, and they will welcome it more readily. Give them a calendar to cross off a day at a time before the move — even a month is too long for a child to comprehend.

Do you have any tips for making a move with children less stressful? Please share!

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Spring garden start — sprouting seeds

pepperLeaves-md

We are moving to a new place this year, which means that I have a challenge and a pleasure to start a new garden. Since early March, I have been sprouting seeds in the basement, under growing lights, so that once we are in our new place in late May, I can start hardening them off and transplanting them into the garden.

It is always such a wonder to watch a tiny dormant seed sprout rich green leaves. The way the little plant turns to the light and starts lengthening and becoming stronger makes me reflect on the life force that drives it.

I have saved quite a few seeds from last year — a few types of tomatoes and squashes, some beans and peppers — and whatever I had remaining in the seed packets purchased last spring. So I went to a seed swap in early March to exchange my abundance of squashes for kale, cucumbers, different peppers, herbs, and so on. There were several organic farm booths selling heritage seeds as well, so I have picked out a few I was missing. This gave me a variety of seeds to plant — way more than my two shelving units in the basement can possibly fit.

cantaloupeLeaves-md

The more I learn about seeds, the more I realize that seed saving is not just a hobby. With all the seeds out there that are genetically modified to not reproduce, the diversity of the crops is dwindling and one plant disease can wipe out humanity’s entire supply of a particular crop. It is becoming more important to save and propagate seeds, in different locations, so that plants adapt to a given climate. There is a good film about seed saving, Open Sesame, that goes in depth into the scale and consequences of this drop in diversity. Another film, Bullsh*t!, with Vandana Shiva, brings to light the social and economic consequences of introducing patented seeds into agriculture. All this gives more meaning to gardening, by itself a grounding and meditative activity.

This spring, I have started in small seed cells, reusing the organic soil from my permaculture towers that will have to be dismantled for the move. This means that there is some weeding to do, since some weed seeds have been hiding in that soil and in the organic straw I used for mulch last year. The weed sprouts are tiny though and easily distinguishable from the vegetable and herb seeds. I did manage to get stung while removing a stinging nettle that has happily grown in a few cells, and that’s no picnic. Flicking off the stinging hairs without rubbing the area, washing the affected finger with soap and water, and applying a freshly-cut aloe leaf to it in the evening has helped. In the morning, the spot just felt a bit numb, and the numbness was gone by mid-day.

When the seedlings become stronger, I move each one to a larger pot, to let the root system grow and the plant to become stronger. I add crushed egg shells into each pot to supply calcium carbonate. I also water the plants with a mixture of 2 tablespoons of molasses in a liter of water, which acts as a fertilizer.

It’s the end of April, and quite a few things have been happily growing in the basement. It took the beans just two weeks to grow to the point at which they needed to be propped and tied to wooden sticks. A week later, they started climbing all over the shelving.

beanLeaves-md

The cucumbers, tomatoes, and peppers are happily developing. Herbs are coming through. I had to transplant quite a few lettuce and kale seedlings into larger pots, and despite them being quite fragile to begin with, they have survived the shock and have since grown more leaves.

cucumberLeaves-md

Watching a new life unfold and express its potential in shades of deep and bright green brings with it a hope of spring, in the midst of cold winds and thick clouds outside. May the gardens bloom this year, with the bees buzzing busily among the flowers. May the autumn bring with it a bountiful harvest.

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Zen Transition to Motherhood for Kindle

Stress is bombarding us every day in the form of external demands and internal pressures, and unless we learn to control the way we respond to stress, it can seriously affect our mental, emotional, and physical health. There are many aspects of family life that compete for our attention, and introduction of a new dependent human being into the mix tends to throw us off balance. Productive Zen Mama approach is to help women enjoy their time with the new baby, while efficiently running a household, having time to rest, exploring personal projects, and feeling fulfilled.

Zen Transition to MotherhoodMy book Zen Transition to Motherhood is now available on Amazon. It looks in detail into the early weeks after the baby’s birth, with resources to let the new mama rest and recover after the birth, and tips on how to set up a meal train, address mama’s and baby’s health challenges, good supplies to have on hand, and ways to relax and enjoy this time. The second part of the book goes into practical matters of harnessing the new routine, getting chores under control, mastering errands with the baby, and handling commitments. The book also includes many ideas for entertainment and rest.

You might pick up this book while you are pregnant or shortly after you give birth. At its core there are gentle parenting principles and a common sense approach to reality.

Read it on Kindle:

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Welcoming spring and fertility

It has been a lovely day this Friday before Easter. The weather has been unusually warm, with a light refreshing breeze, soft sunshine, and birds hesitantly picking at the sunflower seeds in the bird feeder under the watchful eye of our cat. I’ve spent some time replanting potted aloe and various other house greenery and collecting soil from the towers to start various seeds. The kids have been having lots of fun outside for the first time this spring, playing ball, creating Knight of the Realm stories, rescuing available neighbourhood ladybug princesses, and remembering how to shoot a bow.

In between planting seeds and playing football, I’ve gathered a few leaves and evergreen branch tips to attempt an egg-colouring experiment under the category of “why not?”. The procedure required minimum preparation and produced pleasant results with minimum effort. Last year, we’ve used turmeric, blueberries, beets, and onion skins to colour eggs. This year, I’ve decided to stick to onion skins only and try creating patterns using leaves and evergreen needles.

Dyeing eggs - eggs with leaves, md

Supplies required

  • 12 eggs
  • Small leaves – one or two for each egg, cilantro/parsley/dill soft leaves work best
  • Skins of 6 onions
  • Approximately 4 cups of water
  • 2 teaspoons of salt
  • 1 tablespoon of white vinegar
  • An old pair of stockings, a pantyhose, or cheesecloth, cut up into 12 pieces
  • Hair elastics or another way of tying up the fabric

Steps:

  • Soak the raw eggs in room temperature water for 20-30 minutes to bring them to room temperature to lower the probability of them bursting during boiling
  • Rinse the eggs to make the surface clean of oils and thus more receptive to absorbing colour
  • Put the onion skins, salt and vinegar into water and boil it for 30-40 minutes (can be done in parallel with step 1)
    Dyeing eggs - onion skins boiling, md
  • Apply a wet leaf to each egg, slip the egg into a piece of pantyhose/cheesecloth in such a way that the leaf is undisturbed, tie up the fabric
    Dyeing eggs - eggs in fabric, md
  • Once the onion skins have boiled for the designated amount of time, lower the eggs into the boiling liquid, boil for 15-20 minutes
    Dyeing eggs - eggs boiling, md
  • Drain the boiling water and fill the pot with cold water, letting the eggs cool
  • Remove the eggs from the fabric and observe the results
  • If you like the eggs to be shiny, wipe them with coconut or olive oil

For this minimal amount of effort, those eggs that had cilantro leaves applied to them came out with lovely leaf patterns. The evergreen needles were too stiff and did not adhere well to eggs, as was the dried kale leaf and the ivy leaf — they have produced a lighter area without any distinct pattern. Even without patterns though, I keep marveling at the rich golden brown colour of the eggs dyed with onion skins. Most of the eggs were on the darker brown side to begin with, and they have turned out beautifully.

Dyeing eggs - results, md

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How to transition to better nutrition

Over the last few months, I have been asked several times to help with transitioning a family to a healthier lifestyle, especially as it relates to nutrition. Generally, the considerations of healthy choices for parents and young children, as well as budget and possible food sensitivities, shape the solution. Below are a few things that have worked for my family.

Transition to better nutrition

Just to give you a clear picture of our nutritional parameters at this point, one person in our family needs to stay free of gluten, cow dairy, and amaranth (which is present in many manufactured gluten-free foods and recipes). Another person is sensitive to beans and legumes, excluding green beans. These few sensitivities already eliminate so many possibilities from a standard American diet that they would seem daunting to most people. Thankfully, even before these food sensitivities showed up in tests, we have already chosen to follow a primal/paleo-style diet, making the additional adjustments a lot easier.

Our focus is on health. We do not restrict portions — in fact, since I’m nursing, I need extra nutrition to ensure that my own resources are not depleted. We do not obsess over weight. The results of the food sensitivity testing have given us a clearer view of our gut health. Via modifying our diet a bit further, we are looking to heal the gut. Once that’s done, we can try re-introducing some offending foods on a limited basis to see if (a) they cause any issues, and (b) we still enjoy them.

We do avoid

  • processed foods, even if marked gluten-free
  • sugary foods
  • cow dairy
  • non-fermented soy
  • GMO-containing foods

We do embrace

  • organic vegetables, greens, fruit and berries
  • antibiotic- and hormone-free meat
  • free-range eggs
  • occasional seafood, preferably wild
  • occasional goat yogurt and soft or hard goat cheese
  • buckwheat, quinoa, rice (including rice noodles and rice pizza crust)
  • healthy fats (coconut oil, good-quality olive oil, and avocados)
  • bone broth
  • green smoothies
  • organ meats (liver, kidneys, oxtail, pig legs, etc.)
  • nuts and seeds
  • quality spices
  • fermented foods (kimchi, sourkraut)

Budget considerations

We buy beef in bulk once a year in the fall from a local farmer and store it in the chest freezer. Throughout the year, we buy the rest of the meat and eggs from a local farm that does not use antibiotics or hormones, with a large part of animal food coming from grazing. We place an order about every 3 weeks when we are running out of eggs. Fish we buy on occasion and prefer wild Alaskan sockeye salmon that has a short life span (doesn’t have time to accumulate lots of contaminants), is not a predator (doesn’t consume other fish incorporating their contaminants), and is not subject to farming practices.

For the vegetables and fruit, we get a weekly all-organic vegetable and fruit box delivered, with mostly local seasonal produce. We can adjust the contents of the box online to include more of what we need. Ordering online and/or on sale allows for tighter budget control — if you don’t enter a grocery store often, you are less likely to buy things you don’t need. If we do shop at a grocery store, we stick to food that can go bad and rarely venture into the inner isles. In summer, we also have a garden that provides us with lots of greens, herbs, and fresh vegetables.

We get coconut oil and a few other staples at Costco or online. Whatever additional produce we need to pick up during a week, we aim to buy organic at Loblaws or local health stores like Rainbow Foods or Herb & Spice.

A simple approach to daily meals

Breakfasts are easy:

  • Eggs with variations. You can add chopped up veggies, ground meat, sausage, bacon, fish. You can make a scramble with paprika, coriander, fresh-ground black pepper, sea salt, or try cinnamon for a sweeter option. Lots of opportunities to integrate leftovers into an egg-based breakfast, you can bring in broccoli, mushrooms, peppers, etc. The variations are endless. Eggs are a powerhouse of nutrients, and there are recipes (such as egg muffins or egg zucchini loaf) where you can replace grains with eggs).
  • Buckwheat with raisins, berries or nuts and coconut oil.
  • Quinoa with chopped up veggies and greens, or with berries and fruit pieces.
  • Goat milk yogurt with berries or nuts and a sprinkle of cinnamon.
  • Oat-banana pancakes.

All of these are popular with our kids. We also give them a daily dose of probiotics by mixing it in water (for the baby) or in apple sauce (for older child). They also get vitamin D daily (a higher dose during the long Canadian winter) and the older child gets an EFA supplement and vitamin C.

For lunch, we often do pureed soups from sweet potato, beets, turnips, squashes – whatever is in season. The chest freezer comes in handy for storing these — in the morning, I pull out portions of whatever soup strikes our fancy on a particular day.

Lots of times lunch consists of leftovers from dinner. I often cook in advance, which means we have a variety of protein and veggie options in the fridge ready to be combined for whatever meal we want. I generally base each meal on a protein: eggs, meat, seafood. Then I add lots of veggies – stir-fried, steamed, roasted, fresh. Our staples are sweet potatoes, beets, green beans, mushrooms, bell peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage.

Dinners often include roast meat or fish, or ground meat cooked with spices, stir-fries, salads, stews, steamed veggies. I love Thai cuisine, so curries and rice noodle dishes make an appearance often. We use olive oil, vinegar, avocado, sesame oil, lime and lemon juice for salad dressing, instead of buying store-based ones. Sometimes I venture into recreating a staple such as pizza by using rice or cauliflower crust, organic tomato sauce, fresh veggies, ground meat or sausage pieces, and shredded goat cheese, or remember one of my Russian recipes, such as borsch or marinated eggplants, to add more variation.

We always have lots of different nuts and seeds on hand for snacking and adding to salads, stir-fries, yogurt. Mark’s Daily Apple has great guides to nutritional content of nuts and seeds.

Some of our usual snacks

  • We make smoothies with kale, spinach, other greens, adding in an apple or a banana to sweeten, frozen berries, and hemp, chia or ground flax seed for additional nutrition.
  • Cut up veggies (carrots, bell peppers, celery, cucumbers, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.) with hummus.
  • Apple or pear slices with almond butter.
  • Olives and pickles.
  • Fresh and dried fruit and berries.
  • Avocados with freshly-ground black pepper.
  • Nuts and seeds.
  • Dark chocolate.

Habit creation

One of the first steps to transitioning to better nutrition is to stop buying junk food. If it’s not in your house when you are hungry, you are not going to eat it. Another step is not to succumb to convenience of getting pizza or fast food delivery – instead, keep your freezer stocked with ready-to-heat healthy prepared meals. All you have to do is make a bit extra whenever you cook and freeze it. It comes in very helpful if you or the children are sick and you have less time to cook — feeding your family nutritious meals instead of conveniently-available junk will speed up their recovery. Eating out often or impulsively getting food delivered is also a sure way to go over budget.

People are creatures of habit. When you create the habits of healthy eating, you would have mastered the transition. People are also lazy creatures, in that we are looking for the most efficient and least time-consuming way to do things. Make it easy for yourself to not eat junk food or order in, by having healthy, quick and easy meal options in your fridge or freezer instead.

There are books written on this subject and it’s easy to keep going, but I think I’ll stop here. There are lots of organizational and budgeting nuances and culinary possibilities, but my formula is to start with non-contaminated ingredients, cook them lovingly, share them with my loved ones, and save some for the future.

What are your strategies for better nutrition?

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Do not do work twice

Reduce the time spent on maintenance tasks by avoiding doing the work twice.

We often tend to overestimate how much we can do in a few hours and underestimate how much we can do in, say, a week. This is because throughout the week there are opportunities to shave the time off things we tend to do regularly. One of the ways to do that is not doing the work more than once. Here are a few examples of what I mean:

Productive Zen Mama - Do not do work twiceIf you bring something home, put it away immediately.

Don’t drop the mail on the floor or table where it would accumulate — instead, spend a minute to recycle junk mail and divide the (usually very few) remaining envelopes into stacks for each family member. (And make a mental note to add a sign to your door requesting that no flyers make their way into your mailbox.)

Designate a place for your wallet, keys, cell phone, purse, gloves, sunglasses, lip balm — whatever you need every time you go out the door. A set of pockets (one for each family member) or a shelf near the door works well. That way you will not be looking for your keys all over the house when you are rushing out the door.

Keep a place to charge your devices – cell phone, music player, tablet, camera, etc. For devices that need frequent charging, it’s best to develop a habit of plugging them in at the same time every day (such as a cell phone or a music player), to avoid running out of power when you need it. Keep the tablet plugged in when you can, so that when you need to be mobile you can count on several hours of battery power remaining. For the camera, it’s best to charge it before any significant event where you’d like to take pictures, as well as right after such an event. Since I use mine quite regularly, I prefer setting a once-a-week reminder in my calendar to charge the camera.

I’ve been taught to remove street clothing as I enter my home and change into home clothes. It helps keep the street dust and dirt from spreading throughout your home, prevent spills and stains on work clothes (and you get plenty of both with the kids), and the joy of slipping into something more comfortable so that your skin can breathe — this is of immense importance to me now, in Canadian winter, when I’m engulfed in several layers of thick fabrics for even a brief venture outside. Sort your clothes as you take them off — straight to laundry if dirty or to a designated hanger or chair if it is to be reused. Don’t leave clothes lying around all over the floor so that kids end up painting it or the cat decides to sleep on it leaving half of his fir spread evenly over your work clothes. This will make it easier to keep up with laundry and to find clothes to wear the next time you go out. It will also take the guess work out of the cleanliness state of any given garment and lessen the number of mismatched socks.

When you bring home groceries, sort them right away:

  • non-perishable foods into the pantry so they don’t clutter up the fridge or the kitchen floor;
  • bulk items into appropriate containers so that you can easily find them and keep track of the quantities remaining;
  • frozen items into the freezer;
  • meat and dairy into the fridge.

Ideally, I like to do some food preparation right after I get groceries: I wash fruit, wash and chop veggies for snacking, put root vegetables into the oven to roast. It helps to have your meals planned for the week before you go grocery shopping, so that you know which ingredients you will need in the next couple of days.

Sort and wash dirty dishes right after the meal — either by hand or in a dishwasher, soak pots right away if needed. It’s extremely unpleasant to face a dirty, disordered kitchen when you want to cook dinner, or having it as the first sight of your day. All your desire for a healthy breakfast might evaporate and lead to a trip to the nearest coffee joint.

When you are done a project, clean up so that unnecessary items do not accumulate on work surfaces, making it harder to set a workspace for the next project. The more things accumulate in one space, the more insurmountable the task of clearing them out becomes, leading to a sense of dread and procrastination on other activities you could be enjoying.

Put things away to where they belong — there is no sense in having temporary storage locations, they’ll only irritate you and you will have to sort through them sooner or later. One of the keys to de-cluttering is to not create clutter in the first place. Generally, if something takes less than 2 minutes to do and you have all the supplies required for it — do it as soon as you discover it. The overhead of coming back to it and figuring out what needs to be done will take you at least another 2 minutes.

Make these quick tips into a habit and save your time for what you really enjoy doing.

Are there any strategies you use on a regular basis to streamline your day? Please share!

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Resolutions? Try something new!

January is the month for the New Year resolutions. This year, resolve to try something new, often.

We get so bogged down in routine that on a rare occasion we surface for air (during holidays or a vacation), we often realize how monotone our life is. We work, we take care of children, we cook, clean, run errands, and manage to get out for an evening once in a blue moon. In all these chores and commitments, we often lose the sense of being alive. I absolutely love the following picture, not sure who to credit for it:

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This time of year when you think on what is important to you, ask yourself whether you have become caught up in the drudgery of existence. Have you lost the sense of wonder you had as a child? How adventurous are you in your day-to-day life?

There is a great song in the Russian version of The Three Musketeers called Pourquoi pas? (Why not?). When someone suggests a seemingly-outlandish activity, don’t ask yourself “Why would I do it?”, ask “Why not?”  Why not try something new? The longer we are entrenched in our routines, the more reluctant we become to step away from the familiar and into an experience that might lead us in an unknown and exciting direction.

I can hear someone say, “What if the activity is risky? Say, someone is inviting me to jump off a plane or do something else that is far out of my comfort zone.” Realize that everything in life has risks — stepping outside is risky, getting behind the wheel of a car is risky. Nothing is risk-free. What we need to consider is the trade-offs and the level of risk we are comfortable with. For some people, jumping off a plane is hardly more adventurous than the bungee jump they did last week. For others, having a spicy Thai dish for dinner is too far outside of their comfort zone. Yet for others, taking a vacation abroad is new, unknown, and fraught with risks. Think of the possible consequences of your choice, weigh the probabilities, and make your decision accordingly. You don’t have to place your life in significant danger to have fun.

bamboo-bridge
Start small – try making a new dish for dinner or a new craft project with the kids. Try a new way home, a new yoga routine, a new dance. Never ice-skated? Try it this winter — even if you don’t end up doing flawless pirouettes on the ice, you might enjoy the exhilaration, and your kids will love the family experience. Come play at a drum circle, try a jigsaw puzzle, pick up a new musical instrument, or try painting. Try a new position in sex, pick up a new hobby, discover a new band, make an effort to meet someone new or get to know one of your acquaintances better. As a baby setting out on their first wobbly-legged exciting and frightening three-step journey, let go of the well-known stable reality and experiment. You always have a safe base with its comforting routine to return to.

Challenge your identity. If you think of yourself as a housewife, you will behave differently than if you think of yourself as a career woman or a stay-at-home-mom, a goddess or a fitness guru. Try things that lie outside of “your main role” and see how your perception of yourself changes. Even if you don’t end up particularly enjoying the experience, you will learn more about your world and about yourself.

In addition to trying out a new activity, consider the tasks you complete day after day. Can you find new and better ways to accomplish what you need while having fun, or ways to optimize your actions leaving more time for you to do what you would rather be doing? Break the mould and seek a new approach. After all, you can always go back if there is no way to improve on your current process. If you are struggling with changing specific habits, you might discover it’s easier to change the undesirable patterns in your life by introducing small changes.

Part of the New Year’s resolutions is making changes in your routine — to spend more time with the people who matter, to take care of your body, to complete planned household projects. Don’t throw away the routine, just resolve to try something new, say, once a week. Seemingly a little change, it will give you over 50 opportunities over the next year to discover new possibilities. How many new things have you learned this past year? Life is short — spice it up with new experiences.

Pourquoi pas?

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Stay zen this holiday season

Holidays tend to be overwhelming, as new responsibilities and chores seem to rapidly pile up on top of the everyday ones. Suddenly, we are expected to attend multiple events, create or purchase a variety of thoughtful gifts, bake delicious treats, decorate the house, and still manage to keep the kids alive, the work done, the house clean, the food made, and stay somehow looking vibrant, beautiful, and non-disheveled after all this. If you are fortunate to have little ones in your life, this pile of to-dos get topped with fewer than desired hours of sleep, combined with frequent colds and short tempers when outside time is less available due to capricious weather. No wonder we end up tired, sick and stressed during this time that is supposed to be full of joy.

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Here are a few strategies to make this time less stressful and more enjoyable:

1. Say no to anything you do not see yourself enjoying. There are so many invitations in December coming at us from every organization, friend, and acquaintance. Consider these invitations from the following angles:

  • Picture yourself being present at the occasion. Where are your children? Are you comfortable leaving them with childcare or bringing them with you to the event?
  • Do you see yourself enjoying the event or are you feeling obligated to attend?
  • Do you see your children enjoying the event or can you plan something pleasant for them during that time? (A date with a relative or a familiar babysitter might be fun while you enjoy your outing.)
  • Are there additional responsibilities the event entails? If it’s a potluck, you will be expected to bring a dish (often with accompanying restrictions of it being paleo/vegetarian/vegan/gluten-free, depending on the company). Do you have time and desire to cook or funds to purchase something to bring? Some events might require a gift exchange, others expect you to pay an entry fee, yet others request a donation to a charity or the food bank. If you are not willing to deal with the logistics, perhaps you’d be happier to skip the event.
  • Would you enjoy yourself more just having a date with your partner, having a dinner out, going to the movies, or doing something else? If so, consider declining the invitation, booking a babysitter, and enjoying what you would like to do instead.

2. Plan ahead. Every year many people get caught up in the urgency to send postcards, host holiday parties, bake treats, and purchase gifts. Yet if you start doing some of that throughout the year, you can have a lot more leisure time over the holidays.

  • Many treats can be baked in advance and frozen, like my recently-discovered favourite – gluten- and dairy-free cocoa balls.
  • You can compose the list of people for whom you would like to find gifts or send postcards ahead of time, including their addresses and gift ideas. The cards can even be written over several weeks leading up to the holidays, so that your wrist does not feel like it’s falling off after three hours of non-stop writing. Envelopes and stamps can be purchased in advance, to save money and time at the post office during the days when the line-ups are the longest.
  • Gifts can be purchased throughout the year, on sale. If you are getting closer to the holidays, take advantage of Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and many holiday sales. Doing this in advance will help you keep within the budget and find the most thoughtful and fun gifts.
  • Make the gifts yourself — and if you are feeling adventurous, involve your kids. You can make simple jewelry, greeting cards, various craft projects, baked treats, drawings — even if they do not end up being gifts, kids will cherish the time you spend with them.
  • Hosting holiday parties is not hard. Aside from sending out invitations, making the house presentable, and having a few decorations, it’s easy to host a potluck. Forget fancy dinners and formal parties, unless, of course you enjoy planning those. If you cook for your holiday parties (for instance, I usually have quite a spread, following the Russian tradition of hostess cooking everything), record the list of ingredients and your favourite set of holiday dishes and refer to it in the future, so you don’t have to repeat all the planning steps. I find that a few favourites make their appearance year after year, and it’s easy to swap the main dish and dessert while keeping most of the appetizers the same. Fewer surprises lead to fewer missing ingredients and unfortunate culinary experiments, which in turn means less stress for the hostess.

3. Simplify. You do not have to get everyone multiple gifts and stocking stuffers. Especially with children, the fewer the gifts, the more they are cherished. Giving a child fifteen toys means that only two or three will be played with, leaving the rest to clutter up the floor or the basement. Purchase one or two toys and skip stocking stuffers — most of them are cheap items made without thought and not fulfilling any need or desire, adding to more clutter. You can follow the idea of getting one thing a child needs, one thing they want, one thing to wear, and one thing to read. This way they get clothing which needs to be purchased anyway, another needed item, one item they truly would like, and a book, which is great.

For adults, focus on one item, perhaps two for your partner. Choose it with love and thought. You will likely share a meal as a family, which is a gift in itself, and watching your kids unwrap and play with their presents brings its own joy.

4. Slow down and rest. Prioritize sleep and relaxation, and make the holiday to-dos an extra, not a necessity. Take care of yourself, don’t skip meals, take your supplements, keep up with the exercise. It’s ok to switch it up and do more stretching or dancing instead of, say, weight lifting or cardio. Take a bath, get a massage, diffuse some cinnamon and citrus essential oils. Nourish your body with hot tea, bone broth, vitamins, minerals, love, and attention. It will help you stay healthy throughout this indulgent time of many sweets and sumptuous meals.

5. Do not stress over your choices. Holidays are full with temptations — make your choices and do not regret them. If you feel it is hard to stick to your convictions, take steps in advance:

  • Eat a protein-rich snack before you leave for a gathering with a lot of heavy foods or alcohol.
  • Take a few deep breaths before tasting your food and savour each forkful — you will enjoy it more and likely eat less.
  • Sample sweets in small amounts, it’s only the first few mouthfuls that give us pleasure, by the law of diminishing returns. Don’t feel the obligation to finish up everything on your plate.
  • Drink lots of water, whether you consume alcohol or not.

If you do overindulge, be philosophical about it. Think on the enjoyable aspects of the occasion. This does not happen every day, the discomfort will pass, and there is no need to load up the guilt on top of it. Tomorrow is another day.

6. Overall, cherish the time you get together as a family, when everyone is spending these few lazy slow winter days at home, and life can be taken slowly and thoughtfully. Play games, cook and share delicious meals, read, do puzzles, watch films, rest, listen to music, and remember to breathe. Winter brings out the need for warmth, love, and comfort, and holidays are a perfect time to satisfy that need if we take care not to drown in self-imposed obligations and embrace the flow.

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Much love and light to you and your family this festive season.

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Vary the intensity

Vary the intensity of activities to maximize productivity and balance out work and rest.

Productive Zen Mama - Vary the IntensityJust as effective exercise alternates short bursts of intensity with periods of rest to achieve the best results, so does alternating quiet and intense, mental and physical, prescribed and free-form activities result in higher overall productivity and satisfaction with your reality. How often have you felt that after 4-6 hours of doing the same thing your mind and body are exhausted and yearning for being engaged in a different task? Your problem solving ability plummets, your irritation threshold becomes very small, and your entire being protests the monotony. When I was growing up, I was told: “Switch up the type of activity, and it will feel like rest”. I’m finding this very true as I have to juggle work, childcare, cooking, running a business, and completing various types of projects. When you’ve been programming for 8 hours, an hour of cooking or beading might feel like rest, and vice versa.

If you look at it on a daily scale, alternate cooking, work, taking a walk (to get lunch, to run an errand, to get fresh air, to distract the baby, to get up and move), doing home chores, gardening, tidying up, taking a shower, having a snack, doing a yoga or exercise routine, playing with kids, reading, and sleep. As an example, if you have the flexibility, grab a shower and have breakfast, do a couple of hours of work, followed by tidying up the kitchen and stretching or dancing for 10 minutes, followed by another hour of work, followed by a brisk walk outside, have something to eat, do more work, set dinner to cooking, followed by work, playing with kids, etc. You can tweak it as your time, schedule, appointments, and time with children allows, but let yourself stop doing whatever it is you are doing if you are mentally or physically tired of it. You are not producing optimal results at that stage, and your time is better spent elsewhere. While cooking, playing, or sleeping, you might come up with a solution to a problem that has baffled you when you were staring at it at your workplace.

There is, however, one exception to the switching up the activities: if you are in the state of flow (or “the zone”), you won’t want to stop. The flow happens when we are immersed in solving a problem or performing a task and everything comes naturally, the solution just flows through us and materializes. Poets refer to it as their Muse visiting. Do not interrupt the flow — you won’t want to anyway, likely you won’t even notice the time passing. If you have appointments, make sure you do set alarms that will (unfortunately) pull you out of the flow, otherwise you might miss them, being so engrossed in the task at hand. For most mothers with children at home, the flow is a very rare state, however, so clearing out the distractions and using up short intervals of time available are key.

Where varying the intensity becomes even more powerful, is a weekly scale. During a typical week, try to alternate periods of work, socializing, quiet rest and contemplation, play time with the kids, cooking and family dinners, time to garden, exercise, bathe, read, spend time with your partner, regroup and plan. All of these have different levels or mental and physical involvement, allowing you to vary the extent to which your body and mind are engaged.

I like doing the following mental exercise: imagine comfortably sitting cross-legged on a cushion, in the middle of circle of singing bowls, with sunlight streaming through the window beside you. Each bowl is a part of your life: work, relationship with your partner, relationships with your children, relationships with your parents and siblings, relationships with friends, your mind’s peace, your body and health, your business, and so on. If you have spent some time with your children recently, the note played by your “relationships with children” bowl is clearly ringing, filling your universe with joy. If you have not spent much time with your partner lately, the note from that bowl is barely audible. Listen to each bowl in turn and see which sounds are fading. Over the week, try playing each bowl so that it sings pure and strong in your universe, and so that together all the notes are sounding in beautiful harmony.

We all know that we need a day of quiet rest after a loud party filled with people, music, and interaction. We enjoy lazy weekends after a long week filled with work. And we often long for some adult time after spending many hours with children, only to realize when we  come home that we need to hold the baby right now! At any point during your day when you are not feeling fulfilled or productive, stop and think whether your time would be better spent elsewhere, and if you can — switch the intensity or type of activity, even if for fifteen minutes. You can come back refreshed and with better ideas on how to approach your initial task.

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How to make Waldorf-inspired play silks

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Before my son’s fourth birthday, I searched around for Waldorf-style play silks and found, to my astonishment, that they cost about $15/piece. As I wanted to get him a few silks in different colours, this seemed an exorbitant expense, so I have set out to find a way to make those myself. By the time the supplies have arrived, his birthday was over and I was swamped with getting back to work while taking care of the baby who’s been ill on and off, and trying to recover my system after a drive crashed and took with it not only data but two operating systems as well. This past weekend, I have decided to undertake the silk dyeing project in hopes to get my son excited about making our own toys and to create something that my upset and exhausted from illness baby would enjoy as well. The silks were a success.

Silks

The online instructions differed in amounts of ingredients needed, so after reading everything I could find, I have decided to improvise, and it worked out well. You can get the white 8mm scarves at Dharma Trading Co. I had’t ordered from them before and they have sent me a gift of a while silk 8″ by 54″ scarf with my first order which I thought was a very nice gesture. I bought seven 35″ by 35″ silk shawls and have left the narrower scarf white, to get eight colours in total. With shipping, the order cost me around $50.

Colour

To my astonishment, I was unable to find powdered Kool-Aid in any variety of colours. Normally I wouldn’t touch this stuff with a ten-foot pole, but all the online tutorials called for it and it did seem to present a variety of colours. Surprisingly, now that I actually needed some, I could not find any! Not even at Wal-mart that had an entire isle called “Powedered drinks”! Trying to find some at Loblaws, I have asked a clerk for help. “What do you need it for?”, he asked, and I had to hold my tongue to not say I was planning to start a cult. It ended up residing in the isle with bottled water and only two colours were available. Apparently, since Kool-Aid switched to making liquid concoctions, the powdered stuff is hard to come by. I found a dealer on e-Bay and got an assortment pack of 20 different ones. I have considered using the liquid variant, but reasoned that I would not need an entire bottle, and there is no way I’d be ingesting any of the remainder, so that would have been a waste of money.

In the variety pack the shades of red prevailed, but I was able to come by groups of seven different colours, picking two or three similar colour packets for each shawl. The pack contained only one purple and only one orange, so the two packets are picked up from Loblaws ended up filling that gap.

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Containers

The more even you want your colour to absorb, the larger the container you’d want, to the maximum of the width and length of the size of the fabric. As an extreme, think of a bath tub filled with water enough for the fully-unfolded silk to lay flat and be submerged. This is a scenario to achieve the most uniform colour. However, as you can imagine, a bath tub would require quite a few packets of Kool-Aid to achieve a vibrant colour, a long time to boil and change water for each colour, and involve attempts to remove the stains from tub walls after the fact.

Thus our choices are whatever the kitchen provides, preferably metal or glass so it does not stain (although one of my metal bowls has acquired a faint purple tinge), and the larger the better. If you can keep several containers going in parallel, it will cut down on your dyeing time. The smaller the container, the harder it is to get all parts of the fabric exposed to a colour evenly, so be prepared for some tie-dye like variations. I found it didn’t take away from the lovely colours that resulted.

Vinegar

Vinegar is used to get the colour absorbed well. Some tutorials stated that 2 cups of vinegar are needed for each shawl, yet when I pulled out all the vinegar I had in the house, it was not enough. I ended up putting a cup into each and all the colour got absorbed beautifully. In fact, I have run out of vinegar towards the end and had to split the last cup between two pieces of fabric. The corresponding orange and red shawls came out vibrant anyway. I did soak all the shawls in water with 3 cups of vinegar prior to dyeing each separately, as one tutorial indicated, so I suggest getting lots of vinegar, accounting for 3 cups for the initial soak and a cup for each colour.

Water

Keep the kettle going and a large pot on the stove. As a kettle boiled, I would pour it either into the tubs with the colour that I was preparing, or into a pot of boiling water on the stove if all the receptacles were already containing a dyeing piece of fabric. Have your sink clear so you can rinse the coloured silks and free up containers for the next colour.

Place to dry the silks

I have pulled out a small foldable drying rack from downstairs. Presumably you can hang the fabric anywhere to dry as once all the colour has absorbed it should not stain, and this was the most practical solution for me.

Gloves and large wooden spoons

I suggest wearing gloves while mixing the colour and rinsing the coloured silks (and be prepared to inhale quite a bit of artificial flavour). I got my fingertips blue while mixing, but it washed off in a day or so. I found wooden spoons good for swirling the fabric around in the metal bowls while trying to get all the parts of the silk exposed to the dye as evenly as possible. I didn’t want to use metal to avoid potential tears from sharp edges.

So, here are the steps I used:

Step 1. Soak all the unfolded silks in a pot with cold water and 3 cups of white vinegar while you get things set up. Be sure to unfold each scarf or shawl before dyeing it — it’s easiest to do before soaking, while they are dry.

Ingredients (for one piece of silk fabric):

  • 2-3 Kool-Aid packets of same or similar colour
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 3-4 cups of boiling hot water, adjust quantity to fully submerge the fabric in whatever container you are using
  • a deep bowl, preferably metal or glass

Step 2. Empty Kool-Aid packets into the container, add vinegar and hot water, stir to dissolve.

Step 3. Submerge the silk in the mixture, spreading and swirling it around.

Step 4.Wait until all the colour is leached from the water into the silk – the water should be almost transparent.

Step 5. Dump the water out, rinse the silk under cold water, wring it, smooth it out and hang to dry.

Repeat steps 2 to 6 for however many silks you wish to dye.

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The dyeing itself was not difficult or very time-consuming. I had four bowls going in parallel, so I only needed to do two batches for 7 scarves. The blue, green, and orange came out very vibrant. Yellow and pink resulted in softer shades. (The pink photo did not come out so well as my camera decided to die at that time, and I had to switch to a toy one.) The red is bright and reminds me of a Soviet pioneer tie (oh, the childhood memories). The purple is a little too uneven, but that’s just because it was dyed in the smallest bowl. I’m not a huge fan of this shade – perhaps next time I would mix blue and red to see if a move vibrant colour would result.

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The silks came out lovely. My son enjoyed watching the process and couldn’t wait until they were dry so he could play with them. The baby loved them too — it’s her favourite game these days to pull every piece of fabric over her head and settle it on her shoulders like a cape. She’s also been draping the coloured silk over her head, pulling it off in a peek-a-boo manner and giggling profusely.

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Only a couple of days later the blue shawl has become a river with a bridge across it, the green — a forest, and the pink — a flower meadow. These silks do make great toys.

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Seven-year wedding anniversary

This past week has marked the seventh wedding anniversary for me and my partner. It came just a few days after our second baby turned a year old. To my surprise, most people reacted strangely to me saying that I feel a strong need to acknowledge and celebrate this milestone. They either congratulated us on avoiding relationship problems so far or mentioned a “seven-year itch” with a knowing smirk.

We did not wait to pass this specific milestone to let out a sigh of relief and say — well, we made it to seven years! Everything from now on is going to be peachy, because we managed to avoid this mystical “seven-year itch” of which everyone is so terrified. We celebrate every year on this day. We celebrate our family frequently and independently of the calendar, but it feels good to have a day set aside every year which we dedicate to each other and reflect on our relationship and all the wonderful things it brings into our lives. The number seven has always resonated with me for whatever reason: there are seven notes of the musical scale, seven chakras in the body, seven colours of the spectrum. I felt that celebrating this anniversary was important to me, and I think that is the best reason to celebrate anything. We need to create ceremonies meaningful to us for events that matter in our lives, not anyone else’s. And so we have planned this day in a way that nurtured our relationship.

It puzzles and saddens me that a healthy desire to acknowledge and honour a relationship is somehow perceived as a declaration that we “managed” to stay together thus far. This trend to state things from a negative point of view is rampant in our culture. “So, you’ve survived to seven years – congratulations, many do not.” Why bring that up? Should it make me feel superior to those who do not? Should I dwell on all the dysfunctional relationships and broken families, instead of focusing on celebrating my relationship?

“Are you pregnant? I had the worst labour imaginable!”, followed by a lengthy horror birth story. Why on Earth would a pregnant mama dwell on someone else’s negative experience instead of preparing herself for her own birth positively. We do this with regards to children’s milestones too. “Is the baby breastfeeding well? Wait until she gets teeth!” Why cannot I be happy that the baby is breastfeeding well now? Why would I rather dwell on possible challenges that might arise in the future when she starts teething?

No wonder we are so stressed all the time! Many of us are so engrossed in imagining all the terrible alternative realities and future difficulties (usually making them out to be much worse than anything realistic) that any feeling of happiness in the present gets drowned out. We keep hauling around this negative baggage and don’t miss an opportunity to load it onto someone else. And we walk away from these conversations with a sense of fulfilment of our duty to enlighten and warn others of all the possible negative repercussions of their situation.

We are the narrators of our lives and of the lives of the people we know. We evaluate and judge each event, and whatever label we put on it will colour our memory of the event and help shape our perception of the event’s participants, the society at large, and, in the end, our perception of ourselves. If I keep thinking of myself as someone who cannot dance, I will convince myself that I cannot dance and will never try, because my inability to dance will become a part of my identity. If I keep thinking all people are out to take advantage of me, that will become the world in which I live. If we keep telling our child they cannot draw, they will become convinced that is the case and might never let their creative side unfold fully.

If I keep telling myself I’m insignificant, I will be making decisions that always put other people’s wishes before mine, eventually causing other people to do that too. This latter train of thought is a dangerous one, as women who get trapped in abusive relationships can be convinced that they are not worthy of any other treatment, which enables the abuser to keep up the physical or emotional violence. We define who we are. When we cannot control the circumstances, we can still control how we perceive them and react to them.

If your life experience tells you that most relationships do not last past a certain number of years or break up from difficulties of early childrearing, you will perceive your relationships and those of the people around you through the lens of suspicion and with an expectation of failure. Partners celebrating their relationship would translate to you into people trying to save a family that is falling apart or congratulating each other on surviving the years together. From that vantage point, it is very hard to see a wedding anniversary celebration as honouring the relationship, recalling the good times, acknowledging the challenges, and appreciating the other person for walking this road with you.

It is not always a smooth road — life rarely is — but we can focus on the positive aspects of it and strengthen the relationship. It is too easy to take things for granted in a relationship — meaningful ceremonies remind us of all the wonderful things we bring into each other’s reality. So let us celebrate! And the next time a friend shares with you news of something good happening in their life — hold off your warnings and just be happy for them.

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Shift your pattern by changing one thing

If you feel you are stuck in a routine you do not enjoy, try altering it in small ways. Before you know it, small changes might carry you into a more enjoyable reality.

We are so entrenched in our routines, often doing the same thing day after day or following the same steps (not always the most effective) in order to complete a particular task. We are firing the same neurons and reinforcing the same neural pathways. Yet we can gain much from altering some of our habits, removing or changing steps, or dropping certain habits altogether.

The patterns into which we fall take many shapes, as each of us has different indulgences, dislikes, and experiences. Some people cannot fathom starting their day without a cup of coffee, others have a sugary snack every time they need an energy boost. Some frequently order unhealthy take-out, others stay up late even when they know they need to be up early, yet others use shopping as therapy. Some turn to pharmaceuticals, street drugs, or alcohol every time they need to alter their state. Some drop their things in random places when they walk through the door, resulting in frantic search for keys or wallet as they are running late the next day. We all know our less-than-optimal habits.

Yet it is at times so hard to break out of our routines. It is daunting to do things differently – change brings with it the unknowns. What if this doesn’t work? What if there are unexpected consequences? What if this takes longer? What if I don’t have everything I need, since this is a new way of doing things? Change is hard. That’s why societies keep trudging along for years under poor leadership, reluctant to attempt changing the known evil/inefficiency for an unknown hazy possibility of a better reality.

Unfamiliar is uncomfortable, often due to our perception of its difficulty and ease of sticking to what we know. Yet the only way for us to learn better ways of doing things, to expand our skill set, and to grow intellectually and emotionally is to change our patterns and try new approaches.

Try starting small and change one thing about your day:

  • drive a different route to explore your surroundings;
  • move furniture around to change your spacial perception;
  • try a new cuisine to expand your palate;
  • go to bed early to change your morning outlook;
  • dress differently to explore a different aesthetic and observe how other people’s perception of you changes;
  • step onto a yoga mat and be present, even for 5 minutes, to see how that alters how you feel in your body;
  • listen to a new song to alter your mood (try an upbeat one if you tend to listen to quiet pensive melodies, or vice-versa);
  • exchange your coffee for a tea or your sugary snack for scrambled eggs and see how your energy levels are;
  • don’t check your email or social networks before you go to bed and see if your sleep is more restful.

If you tend to explode at your children’s noisy pursuits, try taking a deep breath before you let a scream out. You might find that you don’t need to respond in an irritated manner. Perhaps you might even feel that approaching the situation with curiosity instead of anger would help you find out what’s so fascinating about jumping on the bed while holding onto a curtain and singing “London bridge is falling down” in a piercing falsetto.

Change of established routines is recommended as prevention and mitigation for people with multiple sclerosis and dementia: driving a different route, learning words in a new language, doing puzzles, solving riddles, memorizing new things. All of these activities build new neural pathways, keeping the brain active. Looking at your reality from a different vantage point is also a way to alleviate depression and can help when feeling anxious.

What you will often discover is that once you change one small part of your pattern, it becomes easier to do it in another area. This means that in a situation where change is necessary, you will be less stressed, more willing to try new things, and more inspired to find alternative solutions to a problem that might seem unsolvable at first glance. You can feel liberated from artificial constraints that guide your daily routines and shape a better reality.

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Lemongrass, comfrey, lemon verbena harvest and preservation

Kale towers

Kale towers

My November garden still produces kale and Swiss chard, so lots of smoothies are happening in addition to blanching and freezing kale for the winter. I have harvested more tomatoes, my huge lemongrass and lemon verbena plants, comfrey, and butternut squash. Below are some resources I have found useful in the process.

Lemon verbena and lemongrass

Lemon verbena and lemongrass plants before harvest

Lemongrass

I have harvested lemongrass, peeled and froze the stems chopped into 2-3 inch pieces. The leaves I have hung out to dry and then cut them with scissors into smaller pieces to preserve them for making tea. I have transplanted the remaining plant into a pot, from which it was even growing new shoots for a few days. It seems to have gone dormant, however, so I’ll see whether it will survive the winter.

Lemon Verbena

I have collected lots of lemon verbena leaves – the plant has grown huge. I’ve frozen quite a few leaves and hung the remaining ones to dry for a week or so, at which point I have collected the leaves and stored them crushed to make tea in winter. I have transplanted the verbena into a pot as well. It instantly went into a defensive state and dropped all the remaining leaves which I have also collected for tea. A few days later young leaves have appeared in few places, but then dried off again. I shall see what happens with it over the winter. There is an interesting recipe for a glass cleaner that I might want to try next year.

Comfrey

In the manner similar to drying lemon verbena and lemongrass, I have hung the comfrey leaves up to dry as well. After about a week, I’ve collected and crushed them. Comfrey can be used in poultices and perineum baths.

Tomato

I have collected a few tomatoes for seeds and have followed the GardenWeb directions. The seeds are now dry and stored in small envelopes with a moisture-whisking packet.

Butternut squash

Only one squash has matured in the shade of my tomato forest, but it has made a delicious curried butternut soup. I have washed and dried the seeds to save them for next year.

Butternut squash

Butternut squash

Basil and hot Thai peppers

The other two plants I have moved into pots and brought inside were basil and hot Thai peppers. Unfortunately, both of them are rather unhappy about it. The basil plant promptly dried up (which always happens with basil in my house) and I’ve collected the leaves for cooking. The Thai pepper plant went into shock ripening many of the little peppers that were previously green and drying up the leaves. I’m unsure whether it will survive.

The birds are loving the bird feeder – it seems there’s little else for them to eat but our sunflower seeds. My son and I refill the feeder at least once a week, and the birds make quite a flurry of activity in the garden, which our cat intently watches. It has been fun gardening this year. I shall probably harvest another large batch of kale to blanch and freeze, collect the green tomatoes to be ripened inside, cover the grape vines, and will leave the towers standing for the winter. More permaculture adventures next year.

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Zen Transition to Motherhood – Is there life after birth?

The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.
— William Ross Wallace

Zen Transition to MotherhoodFor over three years, I have attempted to consolidate the bits of knowledge pertaining to the first year of the baby’s life: the challenges faced by the mama after birth, the baby care tips, the profound shift in perception of reality, coming into the new identity, and rebuilding daily routines around the new family structure. This year I have finally decided to put it into the form of an e-book, in hopes to help other mamas transition into this new phase of their life in a peaceful, loving way.

You might pick up this book while you are pregnant or shortly after you give birth. At its core there are gentle parenting principles and a common sense approach to reality. The key to productive zen is being present and enjoying the journey, and the book covers a variety of strategies for a smooth, peaceful babymoon and fourth trimester.

Stress has been shown to impact our health and ability to enjoy life. Stress is bombarding us every day in the form of external demands and internal pressures, and unless we learn to control the way we respond to stress, it can seriously affect our mental, emotional, and physical health. With the changing hormones and powerful emotions around the time of birth, we are so very vulnerable as new mamas — we need to find a way to get centered, to be present in each moment for ourselves, our babies, and our families.

In the book, I look in detail into the early postpartum weeks and discuss resources to let mama rest and recover after the birth, how to set up a meal train, address mama’s and baby’s health challenges, good supplies to have on hand, and ways to relax and find your center. The second part of the book goes into practical matters of harnessing the new routine, getting chores under control, mastering errands with the baby, and handling commitments. I also suggest many gentle ideas for entertainment and rest, so that we do not only feed our body, but feed our creative selves as well.

I hope that this book serves as a grounding, centering companion for new mamas. The book Zen Transition to Motherhood – Is there life after birth? is available for free at ProductiveZenMama.com.

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