Decluttering and making a house a home: a family effort!

It is a blessing to have someone on your life who loves you enough to kindly tell you how you could do better…some one who loves you enough–as you already are–to help you grow even better. My big stepsister Dymphny is like that. Totally accepting, yet boldly courageous in proclaiming the truth with love.

She flew down to help me reorganize my home, because we have been fortunate enough to be able to rent the suite below us, and now have the whole house! Instead of 3 bedrooms for 9 people, we have 5 and a den, besides an extra little kitchen and bathroom. One of the most exciting parts is the large living room, which will be our new homeschool room, instead of the tiny, narrow dining room we’ve used for school till now.

Things have been rather quiet on my blog because they’ve been so packed here! The kids and I, with some help from Grandpa, my brother and my lovely landlord Joe, repainted the downstairs…transforming the pale, depressing, hospital-gown green suite into cute Bubblegum Pink bedrooms, a Thai Teal bedroom, and a English Daisy yellow schoolroom! 🙂

Everybody helped…

It was quite the fun project…home renovation and interior decorating 101! My 12 year daughter became an overnight IKEA expert and made a massive list of everything we needed to make our new space beautiful. Since I never usually buy many new things for our home, the list was huge, and we had a rather epic expedition involving a 5 hour shop and a U-Haul. Happily my sister and brother were there to help!

Of course my productivity manager came along as well…

We survived!! IKEA soft ice cream was a definite must in our way out the door.

But besides buying new things to make our space lovely…we had an even more important job to do: purging everything unnecessary, ugly, extra, etc, that was currently making our home cluttered, chaotic and well, rather resembling a ramshackle thrift store instead of a beautiful, intentional space. No more!

My daughter’s new bedroom

This is where having a loving big sister with an objective eye for crap came in so handy. She wasn’t going to let me hang on to anything that didn’t make my life better. Rather, she helped me dig out the precious things hiding under the clutter so I can display and enjoy them instead of having them tucked away and forgotten, like the fancy tea pot I bought for my birthday on my last IKEA trip last Advent…and still haven’t used, less than a month till my next birthday!

It’s a gift to have someone affirm that you’re better than some kind of recycling bin, and that you don’t need to hold on to everything that comes your way. Sometimes when trying to sort stuff alone it’s hard to cut the invisible strings of guilt that make you keep stuff for “one day” or because it’s from “so and so”…or because getting rid of stuff feels wasteful.

Sorting books

The minimalist mom Allie Casazza says that whatever takes up your space, takes up your time. You don’t need to lose time shuffling around odds and ends you don’t need. I’ve done this for years. And what’s really wasteful is harming your relationships because of unnecessary stress….not being able to find things, arriving late, not wanting to have people over because of mess, etc.

It’s so freeing to let go. Chuck those old shampoo bottles and extra creams into the recycling. Take pictures of all those kids drawings and then let them go. Let someone else enjoy those books and clothes you don’t need. Live with a lighter heart and be able to find things. A clear beautiful space is so calming. A study quoted on a Gretchen Rubin’s podcast Happier found that women’s cortisol levels, indicative of stress, were directly related to the amount of clutter in her home. No wonder I’ve been on edge!

I was so grateful to have Big Brothers to pick up our porch full of donations, and Half Price Rubbish Removal to come the next day. Seeing what we don’t need has opened our eyes to see how we could enjoy our home even better. Having space to do so more peacefully and enjoying the presence of family, including our IKEA expert building expert Opa, has been the best gift so far this season!

Love your Cake Maternity pjs and wear them, too! Or why busy moms deserve pretty pjs…

Today my new nursing chemise arrived from Cake Maternity. I was so excited to try it but I thought I’d wait for a special occasion and put on my regular bedtime attire…and old t-shirt and plaid pyjama pants.

This outfit lasted less than an hour as Miss Baby decided to decorate it with a rather generous helping of milk. This may not have been been the special occasion I was hoping for, being far too frequent to be deemed special in any way, but it was reason enough to change, so I decided to try my new nightie on.

I carefully snipped the Cake Maternity label off and put in on my bathroom shelf. I liked the motto: Love The Body You’re In. It was symbolic for me as a mom…love the body you’re in now, as it is, with all its changes, and similarly, love the life you’re in, now, as it is…embrace it and appreciate it…this time with tiny people running about and a chubby baby smiling on my hip or snuggling into my neck with her fuzzy peach head.

This also means embracing and appreciating myself. Not waiting for later to wear the smooth, comfortable chemise that had arrived wrapped so prettily in tissue paper as if it was a gift from a friend earlier that day. Saying, today is special enough, because everyone deserves to be treated with gentleness and love every day, even me, a mom…and perhaps, for mothers, who dedicate their lives to making others feel special, it is even more important that we fill our well and do things that make us feel special also...that we love the body that we are in…that we honour it as a place of generous creativity, a place of love and of life.

Yes, this is all a fancy way of saying that we moms deserve pretty pjs! But it’s because they symbolize something much greater…self-respect, feminine dignity, comfort…and the humility to know we are merely human and need to take care of ourselves in order to be able to serve our families.

While I pondered these things the baby began to squawk a bit and needed a snuggle dance to settle down. I discovered that the skirt flits about nicely just above the knees as I rocked the baby to sleep…and feels elegant and cheerful…as opposed to the tired old plaid pj pants which drag on the floor, in great danger of picking up stray Cheerios, dust bunnies or stickers.

With a sweet empire waist and easily adjustable shoulder straps, you can make it fit just right…whether you’re expecting a baby or already nursing one. And what makes this a nursing chemise is the fact that the straps have little hooks that open, just like a nursing bra, so you can nurse properly without having to stretch your pajamas out of shape…the sad fate of other non-nursing nighties.

The sporty back gives it a nice “I can do this!” feeling, which helps for night wakings or those endurance “please, go to sleep, baby” dances. Also, the straps can’t slide off your shoulders, so you never need extra hands to pull them back up, risking waking baby in the process.

It so helps that I could order the chemise online, rather than trying to buy clothes with my 7 kids in tow. Last time I bought pjs it was after about 2 hours of chasing kids through Value Village and another hour of waiting while they tried stuff on in the limited change rooms (my four eldest are girls!).

When it was “my turn” to find pajamas I just grabbed the first thing I thought could work and hurried to the cash, with my overflowing cart and procession of tired hungry kids. What I grabbed off the reject rack were soft orange and white striped capris joggers…or as the kids call them, my pirate pants. I usually wear them to bed with my black t-shirt that says, “Sarcasm loading…please wait.”

Charming right? So given that my options are looking like a sarcastic, washed up pirate or a sweet, elegant mother, I’m so glad to have my new chemise from Cake Maternity! Bed is my favourite place at the end of a long day–may as well dress up for it! 🙂

This lovely chemise was given to me in exchange for my honest review of it.

Thanks, Cake Maternity!

Mom-date…or princess for a day!

Today the baby and I had a date. Just the two of us…and a delicious salted caramel latté. We had lunch, she napped while I wrote poetry, we browsed thrift stores, bought a fancy teething necklace for her to chew on, and looked at pretty feminine things like flowery dresses and teacups.

Every now and then you gotta quit scrubbing floors and be a princess for a day. Call it a mom sanity date or shopping therapy or whatever, but that quiet time is gold! All I really wanted for Mother’s Day was a little quiet time, and I got it. I feel human again. Hurrah!

As for the rest of my crew, they had a awesome picnic at the park with our weekly babysitter. Happy meals at the park…oh, yeah, best day ever baby!

Happy Mother’s Day to all you awesome mamas out there…I hope you’re able to show yourselves some love and gentleness, and take care of yourselves as well as you do your families. It’s so important for everyone! 🙂

Mothers aren’t victims—they are warriors!

I get a lot of comments walking about with 7 kids. They’re usually not very original. “Oh, you’ve got your hands full!” “You must be busy!” “How do you do it, aren’t you tired?” “Do you have help?” etc. But one comment that stood out as a pleasant surprise was by a fellow mom who got on the bus after us one day. She had black spiky hair and tattoos and one young toddler in her stroller. I wasn’t sure what she’d think of me, taking up a quarter of the bus with my crew.

All yours?

Yeah.

You’re a warrior!

I have to say this really made my day. Yeah! A warrior is someone strong and brave, who is willing to make sacrifices for what they believe in. A warrior is to be admired, not pitied. Instead of thinking I was either crazy or some kind of poor victim, she honoured my decision to have children as an intentional life choice, and gave me a verbal thumbs up.

Moms are soldiers for love, fighting the battle against selfishness, affirming that life is worth living, that love is more precious that personal comfort, that heroes exist, that love is unconditional, that life is beautiful.

To pity a mother is disempowering and belittling. It acknowledges only the difficulty of her task while failing to see its sublime importance for society. Motherhood is the make or break place for people’s futures. The world 20 years from now depends on the mothers of today. This isn’t to put more pressure on mom’s who already always worry about doing enough. It’s to cheer them on, and say, “Hey, all these sacrifices are worth it! You truly make the world a better place!” A world without mothers would be cold and empty, literally and figuratively.

But we forget this. Sometimes at the end of a long day of caring for kids, worn out from all the giving, a mom can feel inadequate, and only focus on the things that went wrong, the things that didn’t get done, or how incredibly hard it was to do what was done. But finding a challenging job hard doesn’t mean you’re bad at it. Think of a soldier in the trenches, fighting all day to keep his ground, surrounded by chaotic noise, inching forward through the mud. If at the end of the day he is messy and exhausted, it’s because he has done his duty…and fought bravely without giving up. He should be, if he had the energy, happy and proud. It’s the same with a mom. If at night you’re tired from caring and feeding and cleaning your troops and your shirt is covered in milk the baby spat up, know you’re doing it right.

Perhaps the only medals you’ll receive are stickers the toddler decorated you with but you’re not in it for the glory. You arrive at the end of the day empty, but not because you’re poor or worthless, but because you’ve spent yourself so generously, and have given so much. Someone once said that the only things you truly keep are the ones you give away…so also in this irony of self-giving you find yourself, stronger and braver and more generous than you were before this adventure began.

But hopefully by having a better appreciation for the dignity of your task, you will also realize the importance of taking care of yourself as well. No one would think of telling a firefighter or a police officer to wear a dirty uniform and skip breakfast in order to focus more on saving people, for they need to be alert and properly equipped for their jobs. So do we! So hop in the shower, make your favourite meals, go for sanity dates with your mom buddies, and keep doing an awesome job bringing up the future citizens of the world.

Every “No” is also a “Yes”

Many people struggle with saying “no.” It is so hard to disappoint people, to imagine letting them down. It feels easier to take on added stress than to refuse someone and upset them. But this attitude can lead to burnout and resentment, and endanger the peace and well-being of the person giving. Boundaries are necessary to protect these things, and having healthy boundaries means being able to say “no” without excessive guilt or worry. 

Perhaps reframing things would be helpful to those who struggle with saying “no.” Within each situation where something is refused, another positive thing is chosen. Saying “no” to taking on an extra work project over the weekend means saying “yes” to quality time with your family. Saying “no” to joining an extra committee means saying “yes” to being able to take care of your own work and family, without getting so frazzled and stressed. Saying “no” to that late night movie means saying “yes” to gettting the rest you need. Every decision involves discerning and affirming your priorities. Decisions are a way to say “yes” to the life you wish to live…and that life requires the boundary of various “no’s” to maintain it. 

I think the key, which I am trying to learn myself, is to allow yourself to say “no” calmly, without the guilt or worry that can lead to harshness or sarcasm in order to protect the fragile boundaries around yourself. It is ok, and even necessary and good to take care of yourself and make sure that whatever you do give is given freely, with a cheerful and generous heart. We need to give this good example to our children and those around us. Love can only be given freely, and that means also having the freedom to say “no.”


Many of these helpful ideas are found in the book Boundaries: When to say Yes, How to say No, to take Control of your Life by psychologists Dr.’s Cloud and Townsend. I believe I have written about this book before because I found it so eye-opening and transformative. After discussing boundaries with various people– family, spouses, children, co-workers, etc– the book ends with various tips and questions to see how you are growing in your ability to maintain your boundaries. The best quick check for responding to a request was this: if you hesitate to say “yes,” the answer is “no.” You shouldn’t have to force yourself into things because of fear of disappointing others or appearing badly. 

Remember, every “no” is also a “yes”…a “yes” to what you are able to do, what you desire to do, what makes your life better, what helps you feel free. Of course we should practice generosity and strive to live affectionately with those around us, but in the security of knowing that their love for us doesn’t depend on our unconditional “yes” to every request. And hopefully by learning to say “no” with confidence, we will also greatly respect the “no’s” of others, and never receive them with bitterness or resentment. 

Coffee and Anger: Is there a link?

Have you ever noticed in the morning, after stumbling out of bed and hanging onto your steaming coffee cup as if it were a life saver, that this warm creature comfort has the undesired side effect of making you excessively irritable? I find this is especially the case if I get busy serving the kids breakfast and drink coffee before eating myself. What was meant to help me get going (a big adult soother really) can often make me much more wired and jangley than I would like, and about half hour after coffee, I find myself short-tempered and wound up, especially of we are trying to head out the door.

“Mom!” the kids complain, “Why are you being so grumpy? We are not even being bad!” It’s true…my reactions become disproportionate, and it’s hard to calm down and be cheerful. Why is this?

In his article Why does coffee make some people irritable and others not? Will Wister explains the stress-inducing effects of caffeine.

By stimulating your adrenal glands to produce adrenalin, caffeine puts your body in this “fight-or-flight” state, which is useless while you’re just sitting at your desk. When this adrenal high wears off later, you feel the drop in terms of fatigue, irritability, headache or confusion.

How many of us in our busy world push ourselves beyond our natural abilities by using stimulants like caffeine? “Oh, I’m exhausted but gotta keep truckin’. Guess I’ll have another coffee.” It’s a quick fix…but at what cost? Rather than trying to take a power nap, or eat a healthy meal to give us long-term energy, we grab a cuppa joe and keep racing around. We ignore exhaustion and mask fatigue, ramping up our adrenals as if to deal with constant emergencies.

If I fail to take little breaks to read, pray or put my feet up, I end up frazzled and impatient. Having another coffee to “make it until bedtime” is just a bandaide solution. Real self-care takes more work and more discipline. It is hard to stop and rest when your revolving to-do list is endless. You feel you can’t. The world might fall apart! Or at least the house!

I guess the important question is, do we really get more done by constantly multitasking– never stopping for a break? Or would we benefit from quiet moments of reflection, where we can calmly plan our day, reflect on our life, and redirect it when we are veering off course? I remember a famous doctor saying that his productivity trick was taking quick cat-naps between patients. He knew the magic of doing one thing at a time. There is such a peaceful feeling in focussing on just one thing…and as a mom this is rare unless you’re really intentional about it. Yet it is so necessary to slow down, and get out of panic mode.

Wister’s article describes the long-term effects of stress:

When you are exposed to long periods of stress, your body gives warning signs that something is wrong. These physical, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral signs of stress should not be ignored. They tell you that you need to slow down. If you continue to be stressed and you don’t give your body a break, you are likely to develop health problems. You could also worsen an existing illness. Below are some common warning signs of stress….Anger, anxiety, crying, depression, feeling powerless, frequent mood swings, irritability, loneliness, negative thinking, nervousness, sadness[7]

These are pretty serious!! We are talking crisis level emotions…constantly!

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If we don’t break down the stress chemicals (e.g. through physical activity) they stay in the blood, preventing us from relaxing. Eventually this results in a permanent state of stress. That initial buzz turns to worry, irritability or panic. Challenges become threats; we doubt our ability to do even simple things and problems appear insurmountable. [8]

My Dad, who is a master herbalist, reminded me that caffeine depletes B vitamins, which are essential for stress management, brain function and a hormone regulation. So we had better replace them! This morning I drank Oasis Green Smoothie (full of B vitamins) and ate my porridge before I had a cup of coffee. Perhaps for long-term depletion, a B vitamin supplement could help, or adding more B vitamin rich foods to your diet. I also like to take the omega-three Evening Primrose oil, which contains fatty acids helpful for mood regulation.

But my Irish temper still matches my red hair far too well! So I think–shocking as this may be for coffee lovers–that I should try to switch to tea for a bit, and see if it helps. My kids are worth it…I don’t want to snap at them so much. Someone said that having a house full of young kids is like living in a constant state of emergency, but I don’t need to make my body think its an even greater emergency than it is by pumping up my adrenals with too much coffee!4-up-on-2016-11-07-at-9-53-am-5-compiled

The other day I got my favorite ever penance in confession. I was mentioning how I get too busy running after the kids sometimes to eat enough, and I know it makes me more prone to grumpiness. So Father advised me to make a point of eating a good lunch, and offering up the sacrifice of taking time to do so. Hurrah! what a great resolution, and one that will benefit everyone. When my step-dad visits and we have a nice early afternoon coffee with real cream, after a solid lunch, I am so much more calm than after a morning coffee with watery almond milk on an empty stomach. Yuck! Eating well makes a difference, and we have to be humble enough to acknowledge our basic needs, and to take care of them. Nobody else can–nobody else can eat, rest, take a nice bath or relax for us. All you moms out there, are you with me? No more surviving on coffee and peanut butter sandwich crusts the kids left behind!

K.I.S.S…keep it simple, sweetheart!

Sometimes as a mom it can be easy to get drawn in a million directions, until you find yourself stretched thin, as Bilbo Baggins says, like butter spread over too much toast. It could be million good things…family, friends, hobbies, writing, work, reaching out to those in need…all things you’re passionate about, but–when added up–require more than you can reasonably give.

When this happens my mother-in-law, who happily is a great friend, reminds me to K.I.S.S.: Keep It Simple, Sweetheart (or stupid…whatever works!). Time to step back, re-evaluate priorities, and see how things can be simplified so the most important things don’t suffer. What really matters most? Which things are too important to mess up? As my friend Monique told her teenage son when he was feeling overwhelmed: “You can’t do everything well. You can do a few things well or everything badly.”

It’s hard to step back from the frenzy of constant multitasking to quietly reflect. But it is also essential. Socrates said that the unexamined life was not worth living. Can we really say that we are living intentionally, that is with passion and purpose, if we don’t periodically stop to reflect on life?


This rhythm of action, rest, and reflection can help bring more harmony to our lives and help us to be more present to the around us who matter most. This is why we need a special day each week to rest, pray and play (and not just soccer tournaments!). But we also need these moments every day. Tiny moments to gather ourselves and be recollected, so we can better face the chaos. I’m primarily writing this for myself. The other day I was texting two separate people at the same time while looking up something online and feeding my baby. Crazy…

In a recent talk I watched (in an online conference for moms) by a psychologist specializing in eating disorders, the speaker said that one of the things that drains our willpower and saps our strength (besides lack of sleep) is making many decisions.. . This could be in tricky meetings, in navigating traffic, making dinner while juggling kids, or even the many tiny decisions of how and when to respond to the beeps and bells on our phone. So I’m pretty sure that constant multitasking, and all the decision-making it involves, is something that drains our will power and makes us susceptible to impatience and exhaustion. This does not help us be the best mom, spouse, friend etc, we can be.

Dr. Susan Pierce Thompson said there are a few things studies have found will restore our will power, and recharge it like a battery pack getting plugged in. These things make us more able to calmly cope with life’s challenges. These were:

1. Sleep (I’ve heard of it…😉) Without sufficient sleep our will power is seriously compromised. Rather than trying to ruthlessly carry on, Dr. Susan recommends becoming a “sleep-seeking missile.” Get a nap in or get to bed ASAP. So many emotional struggles are simply signs of sleep deprivation. 
2.Temporal, sensory contact with friends…that is social time that is face to face or at least on the phone to hear a friendly voice and get an immediate response to our words. Online interaction doesn’t have this restorative function. 
3. Meditation. Even 3-5 minutes of quiet, deep breathing. In your office…or even bathroom (till the hoards of toddlers find you!) or on a walk outside.
4. Prayer. Brain scans show our bio-rhythms become more calm and we are better able to cope.
5. Gratitude. Make a little list of things you’re grateful for. Take a moment to reflect and give thanks.
6. Acts of service. Doing things for others out of love. Freely making efforts to help another person be happy, instead of feeling sorry for yourself. Trying to do your duties cheerfully. 

If we find ourselves too busy for these things…for taking care of our own need for sleep, prayer and friendship, we should realize we are too busy and that something has to go, for our sake and that of those we love most, who may be getting the short end of the stick. We need to take care of ourselves, or we will run out of fuel to take care of others. This means even finding moments for our passions and hobbies. Things that take us outside of time and make us forget everything else…dance, writing, skating, playing music or whatever makes you really happy. Dr. Susan referred to these kinds of activities as “flow:” things that make you feel like a kid again for a moment, and let everything else fade away, even just for a short time.


So stop, reflect, be grateful, and see what you can let go of so you have more time to play. And with a joyful heart you’ll also be better able to serve and to love.

humble offering

Sometimes when life is hardest

and we feel the need to draw our swords

and brandish a flaming torch

it is precisely the moment

we need to put them away

and instead wrap our hearts

in silken handkerchiefs

to cushion their fall

They may be broken

but with gentleness

perhaps they won’t shatter

With no words

to really console 

your broken heart

I can only offer

mine 

 

 

The Art of Eating Brownies

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Or should I say the sport?!

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Yummy recipe from spiceupthecurry.com:

Eggless Cocoa Brownie Recipe

We added apple sauce to make them extra gooey, and a crushed peppermint chocolate Ritter Sport bar for some fun minty freshness….definitely worth a try! And great with of cream of course!

Gotta love St. Valentine for giving us all another holiday which involves chocolate, every mother’s love language. My husband cleverly pointed out that I love brownies, too…but hey, self-care is also important, no? 😉