How We Stay Happy and Active in Winter

Winter has arrived in Winnipeg! With a crazy snow storm landing in early October, it feels like winter came and left and then came back again. After a little bit of seasonal confusion, I feel that I can safely say winter is here to stay, so let’s embrace it, friends!

This weekend, a few families from our street bundled up and walked over a couple of blocks to Omand’s Creek for some outdoor fun. We spent two hours removing ice from the footbridge, sliding down hills, checking out natural ice rinks, and drinking hot chocolate. All in all, an amazing day.

I’m the first to want to hibernate and hide from frigid temperatures, but I know that actually just makes it harder. I definitely feel the affects of winter on my mental wellness if I’m not being pro-active and embracing it. Here’s what I find helps:

  1. Exercise. This can be indoors or outdoors but incorporating some aerobic activity where I get my heartrate pumping a few times a week definitely keeps me feeling optimistic about life. My favourites ways to stay active throughout the winter are The Fitual, winter running, and Wheelhouse Cycle Club.
  2. Spending time outdoors. Even if it’s reeeeeeaaallly cold, which will happen, it’s still so important to spend time outdoors and breathe in that crisp, cold air. I’m prone to come up with all kinds of reasons to stay in when it’s bitterly cold, so if you see me do that this winter please just refer me back to this post.
  3. Dress warm! Layers, layers, layers. I love wrapping myself up in my MPG Sport Blizzard Down coat, it literally feels like a warm hug. Miles stays cozy in his bright red MEC Toaster Suit and Juliette is in year two with her Gapkids parka. She was very specific that she wanted a black coat with a fur hood just like mom’s.
  4. Make plans with friends. Last winter, we started a monthly pizza night with a couple of other families. It was such a great way to stay connected and enjoy a night out as a family. Making it a pizza night is extra helpful because then no one feels pressure to cook!
  5. Stock up on games and puzzles. Long hours spent indoors can wind up meaning long hours spent on screens if we’re not careful. Having a stack of puzzles and kid-friendly games will get us off our devices and enjoying time together. Some of our favourites are Telestrations, Headbanz and, the classic of classics, Monopoly (or Monopoly Jr.).

There you have it! A few fairly easy solutions to beat winter dulldrums and embrace what can be an unpopular time of year.

Thanks for popping in, friends!

Eliminating Comparisons and Finding Contentment

Me, finding joy in front of my messy/beautiful garden and my in-need-of-new-paint house.

You know the that old saying, right? Comparison is the thief of joy. Lately, I’ve been on a real comparison jag, and I can definitely attest to the joy thievery. It’s a nasty habit that just seems to subtly slip in the side door when I’m not vigilant. Next thing you know, I’m longingly looking at someone else’s reality assuming their grass is greener, their kids better “behaved” (whatever that actually means), their success more valuable, and their lives are just generally more charmed than mine.

And frankly, my life is pretty damned charmed. So what gives?

It all comes back to staying in my own lane. I have forever looked at other people’s successes, or perceived successes, and felt somehow inadeqate next to them. Even when what they have doesn’t line up with my own aspirations. Like the beautiful lawyer friend. Or the teacher with summers off to enjoy her family. Or the stay at home mom. The yogi. The athlete. The intellect. All have looked appealing to me over the years and had me wishing I could trade spots and live their life for a while, just to see how it fits. “Maybe if I had what they have, I’d be happier…?”

But then where would I be? I’d be trying to live someone else’s idea of happiness instead of forging my own. And that just won’t work.

I wrote about in a recent post that if I want to find fulfillment, I need to create it for myself each day. It doesn’t matter if I am bagging groceries, living that #momlife, or climbing the corporate ladder, if I’m always looking around at others and comparing my life to theirs, satisfaction will always be at arm’s length.

Sometimes I think I seem to just write about the same thing over and over in this little blog. How to practise gratitude. How to live a life free of fear. How to feel whole and happy. These themes are just so reoccurring in my life. It’s not that I actually have an authority on “how to” do any of these things. It’s more that I’m trying to figure it out as I go along. Writing about it seems to help.

There are days that I feel like the latest bloomer who ever lived. Especially when I see women 10 or 15 years my junior out their KILLING IT in their careers. But then there I go again with comparisons… I wouldn’t be who I am today had I not taken the long scenic way around the mountain. And I wouldn’t trade my past, however difficult it was at times, for anything.

In this world of social media, it almost feels impossible some days NOT to make comparisons. There’s a saying I learned in recovery that goes, “I was comparing my insides to other people’s outsides.” There’s a lot of variability from most people’s insides to what they show you on the outside and even more variables when it comes to what they post on social media.

Practicing non-comparison is vigilant work in this day of Instagram and influencers. I am one who can be easily influenced, so it’s so important that I stay in my yard and admire my own messy, full-of-weeds garden. Otherwise I’m headed for trouble.

Maybe some of you can relate. Just a reminder that your garden is beautiful whether it’s manicured or overgrown with dandelions.

Thanks for popping on, friends.

What I’m eating: Snow Day Turkey Chili with a Side of Sassy Kids

Ah, family supper time. A time to come together and share stories about our day. A time to bond over food made with love. A time to bask in gratitude for our good fortune and enjoy one another’s company. Or, a time to be sass talked by your children as they don’t eat the bountiful food you’ve cooked them and wind up sending everyone to their rooms only after they leave their hot supper on the table in favour of a cheese sandwich they make themselves… Yeah, that sounds more accurate.

Today’s blustery weather had me wanting everything cozy and snuggly. I decided to cook up a nice big pot of turkey chili for supper. A pot of delicious homemade chili that my kids won’t touch with ten foot pole. I’m quite sure that I’ve done something wrong along the way on this parenting journey because my kids are the pickiest eaters you’ll ever meet. I swore they wouldn’t be. When they were babies, I was sure that my kids would eat everything because I knew that I would offer them everything and not become one of those ‘short order cook moms’ who makes 16 different dinners for four people. Yet, here I am, doing that exact thing.

So, to put things more accurately, when I say I made turkey chili for dinner, I mean I made it for me and Jason. I made the kids a quick and DELICIOUS batch of homemade macaroni and cheese. Macaroni and cheese that they also did. not. touch.

We’ve got a real problem with family dinners going sideways in this house. More often than not, Juliette and Miles are unhappy with what’s being served. Miles doesn’t sit still. Juliette wants us only to talk to her. I can’t even tell you how many times one or both of them leaves the table crying. The repetitive nature of this scene is absurd it’s so frequent.

As I sit here writing this, it’s becoming obvious that something’s gotta give. And I truly don’t think that my eight year old and four year old know how to do any better because, well, really how could they? We have to teach them to do better. I’m pretty sure that’s part of our job, right?

As predicted, tonight’s dinner went sideways. Parents yelled. Children cried. No one ate. (Well, that’s not true, Jason and I ate.) Blah blah blah.

What I’m coming to realize is that if I want the kids to sit and share a meal with Jason and me, I’m going to have to start trying a new approach. I’d like us to all eat the same meal while peacefully enjoying each other’s company. In order to make this work, I’ll have to keep a few things front and centre:

1. Make kid-friendly food that we will all like.
2. Strike a deal with them that they have to try at least one new food at suppertime. Maybe a new vegetable or side so that I can keep the rest of the meal pleasing to their pallette?
3. Ensure there is a reward in place so that when all goes well, they know they have something good coming their way.
4. Keep the convo child-centred and wait to have adult chat later in the evening.

I think if we can sit down and accomplish two successful family meals a week, I’ll call that a win. If anyone out there has tips n tricks on how to save the family supper, I would love to hear! Please comment below. 🙂 Also, if anyone is going through the same thing, solidarity.

I’ll keep you updated with what’s working and what’s not in case anyone else out there is interested.

As for the turkey chili recipe, I’d give it to you but let’s face it, if you’ve made one chili recipe you’ve made them all. I’m confident you can figure it out!

Summer Update

Miles and me on a boat this past weekend in Lac du Bonnet.

It’s been a hot minute since I sat down to write a blog post. I’ve been living that #momlife 24/7 this summer and wouldn’t you know kids just seem to want all of you all the time! So, the rest of my life took a backseat while I played on the beach with my two littles all summer. Now we are back to city living and starting to find routine again. Hallelujah!

As mentioned, we spent the greater part of the summer at the beach – and by beach, I mean Victoria Beach where both my and Jason’s families have summer cottages. (It’s actually where we first met each other about a million years ago!)

For so many years, basically since I’ve become a mom, I have wanted to have summers off so that I could move out to the lake with the kids and enjoy that VB life all summer long. Well folks, this was my summer. I had such high expectations of carefree beach days and glorious evenings watching sunsets while the kids played. And we did enjoy beach days and sunsets, but I also solo parented two very rambunxious kids for most of the summer and they didn’t receive my serene summer memo…

I’m sure from the outside looking in, anyone who saw my Instagram page probably thought I was living the dream. And don’t get me wrong, in so many ways I was, but there were also many moments where I felt driven to tears, where I completely lost myself in anger and frustration, where I made choices that I wish I could take back, and where I wished things were all just different then they were. (I touched on it in this post.)

In so many instances (and please don’t misunderstand this as me laying blame), Miles was at the centre of all the fire and fury. Let me just tell you, this kid came out of the womb with fire in his belly. He’s had big vocals since day one and so often he uses his voice to tell me how much he loves me or to ask the sweetest little four-year-old questions. But if you try to tell this kid not to do something or correct his behaviour – LOOK OUT! He’ll come at you (well, me actually), and he won’t back down.

Over the course of the summer it became exhausting putting out emotional fires every day. Until one night my mom sent me an article that touched on WHY a kid like Miles gets so upset and acts out. Miles is definitely a strong-willed child, a characteristic that could (and hopefully will) serve him well in life. Our problem is that we wind up having power struggles when he is behaving irrationally or doing something he’s not supposed to and I then try correct that behaviour. This is when things go sideways for us and tempers (his and mine) wind up flaring.

Essentially, the article (and I have ordered her book, too) tells parents how to help kids navigate their feelings so they can understand them instead of fighting or fleeing from them. Okay, so this is where things REALLY hit home for me. As a (now recovering) alcoholic, I spent years of my life fleeing from my feelings. Burying them with drugs and alcohol and “fun.” If it was difficult and painful, I wanted no part in it.

Here’s the clincher that we all know to be true: suffering is part of the human experience. It just is. There’s no escaping that we will suffer in life. So if I can teach my kids handle suffering as children and equip them with that life skill NOW, then maybe they won’t have to hide from it later. This doesn’t mean I MAKE them suffer but rather help them see why they are hurting and then guide them handle it in a healthy way.

What I have learned is that yelling doesn’t work with my kids. Shocker, right? Yelling is just an ineffective tool that does no good for anyone. Trouble is, it was my only lame-ass tool for a long time. Time-outs don’t do much good either and separating them from the rest of the family as a punishment just reinforces feelings that they are ‘bad.’ To turn the behaviour around, I need to understand and then help THEM understand why they are acting out.

This is particularly true for Miles because at four years old, he can’t really understand without some help why he is behaving the way he is. If we can start to talk through what heppened immediately prior to whatever ‘incident’ we are dealing with at the time then things usually start to come together. Usually he’s feeling left out from something or isn’t getting his way on an issue and doesn’t understand why. So, we have made some inroads in this area and this new approach really seems to be helping. Turns out, being a parent can also help you be a better person. (And here I thought I was a good person all along!)

I am by NO MEANS a parenting expert and have no claims on what is right for anyone else’s family. I can barely figure out my own! (<– Truest statement I’ve ever written.) I am merely in this place because I basically felt like a failure as a parent for a good chunk of the summer and then I read this article and something started to click. I have yet to start the book but am looking forward to more nuggets of parenting wisdom.

I may not be able to ease all their suffering in life but maybe I can help them grow into people who are okay feeling their feelings. That is my hope, anyway…

What kind of parenting tools have you found useful? I’d love to hear – leave a comment below!

How Practising Active Gratitide Can Help Your Kids

Sometimes the lengthy #momlife list can feel never-ending and overwhelming. There’s not enough time in the day for the duties of a parent and, every once in a while, resentment can sneak its unwanted little head into the mix all the to-dos.  

I’ve found that practising active gratitude always sets me back into the right frame of mind and reminds me of all my many gifts in this life. Those pesky lunches that need to be packed every day? Those are to feed my two beautiful kids. The after-school chaos between pick-up and rushing off to the soccer field? That’s so we can enjoy a beautiful spring evening outdoors with our friends in the community while the kids get active. Yet another birthday party present to buy for a classmate? A representation of healthy social interactions for my kids.

Knowing how active gratitude has helped me, it only makes sense that it’s a tool my daughter, Juliette, can apply when her feelings become too overwhelming to manage. At seven and a half, she is old enough to reason with and encourage logical discussion when emotions run high. And trust me, her emotions have a tendency to take over.

Just a couple of weeks ago, we were having our regular Saturday morning conflict over getting ready for gymnastics. Here’s how it goes: Saturday mornings we make a pancake breakfast as a family and sit around the kitchen with kids “helping,” music playing, and just the right amount of chaos. At around 9:00 am, the kids move into the living room to watch some cartoons as Jason and I start to get ready for the rest of our day. About 30 to 45 minutes later it’s time for Juliette to get ready for gymnastics. This is when things go sideways. The transition is always difficult and, no matter how many times  I remind her of how much fun she has at her weekly gymnastics class, she more often than not full of resistance.

We inevitably get into a fight. I sometimes lose my cool or, I sometimes handle it calmly (always try for the latter, however). Recently, I tried out something new to try to de-escalate Juliette’s overwhelming frustration and anger.

First, I gave her a hug and, while I was embracing her, I took a few deep inhalations and exhalations so she could feel the rise and fall of my breath. Then I looked at her and asked her to take three deep breaths with me. Already things were starting to settle down, and I could see that she really did want to be calm.

After our deep breaths, I hugged her again and started listing all the things I was grateful for in that moment.

“I am grateful for my beautiful daughter, who made me a mother.
I am grateful that I was able to give you a little brother, Miles.
I am grateful that we get to have a barbecue with our friends later today.
I’m grateful that we get to eat pancakes every Saturday morning.
I’m grateful for Victoria Beach, where we get to enjoy summer holidays…”

I went on like that for a little while and listed everything that popped into my head. When I was finished, and without prompting her, she began to list all the things that she was grateful for.

“I’m grateful for a mommy that loves me and a daddy that loves to play with me.
I’m grateful for my little brother.
I’m grateful that I get to do active things like play soccer and go to gymnastics.
I’m grateful for our cat, Murphy.”

And so on and so forth. The whole exercise took less than five minutes and once we were finished, it was like a whole new child sitting in front of me. She was calm, happy and ready to head out the door to gymnastics class.

Now, it is certainly not groundbreaking news that practising active gratitude can help us feel more connected to the world around us and less angry and resentful. As Brenė Brown, research professor at the University of Houston and published author says, “I don’t have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness – it’s right in front of me if I’m paying attention and practising gratitude.”

Brown links gratitude to wholehearted living which “is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means waking up in the morning and thinking no matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough.

The values that Brown speaks of are exactly what I want to instil in my children. Creating healthy, gratitude-building habits for our kids now could mean a lifetime of healthier habits later, too. Active gratitude has been linked to improving overall mental and physical health by boosting self-esteem, lowering blood pressure, improving relationships, increasing energy, and improving sleep.

When I take a few moments out of my day to reflect on all the many things I have to be grateful for, somehow my fears, anxiety and material desires shrink and my sense of contentment and joy increases. It only makes sense that these simple yet effective tools that work in my life will also work for my children. And just like anything, the more we practise, the easier it becomes.

Postscript: as I sat here re-reading this and making final edits this morning, I felt calmer at the end than I did in the beginning. It would appear that even reading about gratitude helps ease the mind and relieve worrisome thoughts.