Thursday, November 20, 2014

7 Things I Would Tell My 20-year-old Self

As a 40-year-old wife and mother of two young boys, I sometimes look back at photos of my 20-year-old self and feel like I’m staring at another person. Back then, there was excitement and worry about the future. Many decisions held a lot of weight, whether they were about jobs, boyfriends, education or money. At times, it felt like a single decision could change my life’s path. Talk about putting pressure on myself! Don’t get me wrong, I had a lot of fun in my 20’s too. But it was also such a critical time for self-awareness and self-definition. I wish my 40-year-old self could have sat down with my 20-year old self over a glass of wine to have a good heart-to-heart.

Here are some of the things I would tell myself ….
  1. Be true to yourself. This is my most valuable piece of advice, but also the hardest since you’re still trying to figure out who exactly is that self.  Trust your gut. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Don’t compromise your ethics. Own your decisions. Be strong. Have pride in who you are.
  2. Focus on experiences, you won’t remember the rest. Seriously, you’ll be amazed at how little you remember of the people you met and the routines you had. What you will remember are experiences that take you out of your day-to-day routine, especially travel! So don’t sweat the small stuff, even if it doesn’t feel that small at the time.
  3. Spend less, save more. The price of homes will appreciate … a lot! When I look around at the people who are financially secure in their 40’s, many of them started building a financial base in their 20’s. Have fun and treat yourself, but make sure you’re socking away part of every pay cheque. You’ll never have as much disposable cash again.
  4. Relationships shouldn’t be hard. This one is a tough one, especially when you love someone. But communication isn’t difficult in a healthy relationship. You shouldn’t have to change who you are to please someone. Dating should be fun. If it’s not, then move on. He’s not worth it, but you are. When you meet the right guy, you WILL know he’s the one … really!
  5. True friends will stick with you. In your 20’s, forming friendships seems like a priority. By 40, the friends you STILL have from those earlier years will be your true friends. They will stick with you through triumphs, heartbreak, life changes and losses. Let go of the friends who are weighing you down or never give back as much as they take. Life is short; spend it with family and friends who are loyal to you.
  6. Specialize in something you’re good at. I know that variety can be the spice of life, but find something you’re good at and specialize in it. Do a deep dive and become the best you can in that field, whether it’s your hobby or career. Again, when I look around at the most successful people I know today, they are (usually) specialists who love what they do.
  7. Enjoy your sleep. You will never sleep so well, so long and so much as you do now. For that matter, enjoy everything you do. Take pleasure in the company of others, the fun in a night out, the calmness of solitude and the enjoyment of a good meal. The days are long, but the years are short.
In the spirit of this post, I would love some advice from people in their 60's (or older) about what advice they would give their 40-year-old selves?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

5 Tips for Tackling Your Paper Clutter

Image courtesy of nuttakit
I remember the concept of the paperless office being touted 15 years ago when I worked as a PR executive for a large printer manufacturer. I wrote countless articles about how technology was going to revolutionize offices, minimizing the bothersome and costly need for paper. Well things didn’t quite go that route, did they?

While many of us are actively turning to online billing and payment, and prefer to read our news online, the flyers at our door never cease. The forms sent home from school are unending, our receipts are piling and the general paper trail of life continues.

I desperately needed a system for organizing the stacks of paper piled precariously on my filing cabinet.  The five principles outlined below helped me get started and can assist you too!
  1. Each piece of paper needs a home: For me, this principle is ground zero for organizing. Without designating a home for each type of paper (e.g., newspapers, bills, correspondences, coupons, and records), paper just gets shifted around. Different types of paper should have different homes depending on how easily and frequently you need to access that paper. I use baskets, filing cabinets, decorative paper sorters and shoe boxes to file and store my paper.
  2. Take three minutes a day: My paper clutter accumulated after not taking the time each day to sort. Once a home has been designated for each type of paper, it should take three minutes (or less) daily to organize. You may also choose to do this task weekly, but if you extend it longer than that, those dastardly piles start forming again.
  3. Sort at the source: I’ve developed three filing systems all located near my front door so that when paper enters the house is gets sorted before it can clutter my home.  You may choose to organize paper based on whether it requires action, recycling or filing. In my home, there is a cabinet for newspapers and magazines, a basket for flyers and non-urgent papers, and a decorative filing box for important mail requiring action (e.g., school papers, bills, health claims). Once that urgent mail has been addressed, it is stored away in a filing cabinet.
  4. Shred and recycle: If paper makes it into your house every day, ensure that paper also leaves it daily. Recycle flyers and newspapers regularly and shred personal mail frequently. We invested in an extra recycling bin since we found that our bin was overflowing each week. If you live in Toronto, it’s quick, easy and inexpensive to order your extra recycling bin online.
  5. Scan and save: This is the last step which I’m still working towards. With cheap scanning technology available on every multi-function printer, there is no reason why you can’t scan paper and store everything on your computer (and your back-up hard drive, of course). You can even outsource the scanning of your photos to a third-party, such as The Shoebox Services offered by Black’s Photo.  Rationally, it makes sense to digitize paper that gets stored away but, emotionally, there is still nothing like sorting through a box of photo memories.
So keep the paper coming! I now have a system in place that is helping me to tackle the paper onslaught head-on.

And that paperless office concept, it’s largely a myth. According to a 2013 United States Environmental Protection Agency study, the average office worker generates approximately two pounds of paper and paperboard products each day.[4]

Happy shredding!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Less Impatience, More Consideration: A Case for 'Courteous Driving Day'

Image courtesy of nipitphand
Every day, we witness drivers who are careless, distracted, aggressive or dangerous. Just this past week, I saw a dump truck sail through a solid red light. I used to find aggressive driving annoying and frustrating. Now, with two kids in the car, my protective instincts are on high alert.

For my part, I try to be a kind driver by giving people the right of way on crowded Toronto side streets. Sometimes, I get a friendly wave but most of the time drivers just speed on by, eager to make it home five seconds faster.

Whenever I encounter pedestrians at intersections, I make eye contact to let them know they can safely cross.  But then other cars often speed through the intersection, many jumping their turn at the stop sign.

Something has to change, yet the problem seems insurmountable.

Toronto’s ‘Slow Down, Kids at Play’ campaign, stemming from the tragic traffic death of a child this past summer, is a step in the right direction. I know that whenever I see one of those signs on a front lawn, I give my speedometer a check.

‘Drive it Forward Fridays’ is another interesting campaign devised by Safeco Insurance to try to reduce aggressive driving. The company asked drivers to visit their web site or use the hashtag #DIFF to pledge to be more courteous drivers, and to share what positive changes they were making in their driving habits.

What if we took this campaign a step further by instituting a Courteous Driving Day? What if we asked people – for just one day - to try to improve their driving skills? Slow down and stop whenever they encounter an orange traffic light. Give other drivers the right of way when given the opportunity. Maintain the speed limit and respect others who wish to drive 5 km/hour slower than them. Try not to take things so personally when behind the wheel.

It would only last 24 hours, but maybe it would get people thinking about their driving habits. Maybe people would see that by changing their mindset, they could feel less stressed behind the wheel.  And by giving a little they, in turn, would encounter more courteous drivers.

It’s a long shot but if International Bacon Day can get instituted, then maybe there’s hope for a day that would make our streets safer for our kids.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Musical Simplicity: Acoustic Covers That Will Give You the Chills

Image courtesy of Theeradech Sanin
‘Acoustic cover songs’ was the topic of a radio program I tuned into recently. A good acoustic cover tune will send shivers down my spine. I love the way a singer’s stark voice and simple instrumentation can zero in on the soul of a song.

The radio host commented that a good acoustic tune is like a good cup of coffee. Take away the cream, take away the sugar and other fixings and what’s left is still a solid cup of java.

This comment got me thinking about how simpler music is a good analogy for a simpler life. We all enjoy our possessions and have likely accumulated more than we need. If we stripped all that away, however, what would be left? Hopefully it’s a life with a meaningful and enduring core. If that’s the case, then all the other ‘fixings’ are secondary.

Take a listen to some of these acoustic covers. You'll hear how some classic songs have been stripped down and reimagined, yet still endure. Some may even be better than the original.

Why don’t you be the judge?

Hit Me Baby One More Time by Travis
(original artist: Britney Spears)

Only You by Josh Radin (original artist: Yaz)

Thank You by Tori Amos (original artist: Led Zeppelin)

Fields of Gold by Eva Cassidy (original artist: Sting)

Hallelujah by Damien Rice (original artist: Leonard Cohen)

Fight for your Right by Coldplay (original artist: Beastie Boys)

Hurt by Johnny Cash (original artist: Nine Inch Nails)

Over The Rainbow & What A Wonderful World by Israel Kamakawiwo'ole (original artists: Judy Garland & Louis Armstrong)

Friday, November 7, 2014

Helicopter Parent Coming in for a Landing: Fostering Independence in Young Children

The greatest gifts you can give your children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence. - Denis Waitley

Don’t do it for me, do it with me. I heard this phrase recently in a parenting discussion about fostering independence in young children. Over the next few days, it really stuck with me.
While I don’t self-identify as a helicopter parent - one who ‘hovers’ over their children, assuming too much responsibility for their child’s successes and failures – I do walk that tightrope every day of encouraging independence versus doing things for my kids. Where safety is concerned, it makes sense to take over the reins. However, in more cases than I would like to admit, I’m doing things for them that they can likely do themselves, if given the opportunity.
The first time I came to this realization was when my eldest son had just turned three.  I was picking him up from his Montessori classroom and was told by his teacher that he would be a few minutes. HE WAS FINISHING UP THE DISHES. There he was on a step stool, rinsing dishes in the sink (very competently, too).  Never would I have let him wash dishes at home. The counter would get too wet. His shirt would get drenched. My sons would turn it into a water fight. But never in my thought process did I ever think, “what a great learning opportunity, even if the dishes aren’t done perfectly.”
That’s when I realized I need to change my inner monologue more than my son’s wet shirt.
The long-term benefits of raising an independent child far outweigh the short-term pain of messy efforts or schedules running a bit late. In his article on raising independent children in Psychology Today, psychology professor Dr. Jim Taylor lists the following traits of independent kids:
  • Intrinsically motivated because they are allowed to find their own reasons to achieve.
  • They were given the opportunity and guidance to explore achievement activities of their own choosing.
  • Parents use extrinsic rewards appropriately and sparingly.
  • Collaborative rather than a controlled relationship with their parents in which the children's ideas and wishes are solicited and considered.
  • Good decision makers because they were allowed to consider various options and, with the support and guidance of their parents, make their own decisions.
One thing I’ve learned as a parent is that our kids look to us to understand what expectations we have of them. If we consistently have low expectations, then that is the level to which they will rise. We also can’t minimize the intrinsic value of kids of taking on responsibility, whether it is in the form of chores, choices or self-management. It shows them they are capable, valued and skilled beings.
With that in mind, I plan to make a few simple, yet at the same time drastic, changes:
  • Adjust our routine: Identify one or two things I want to change in my routine to give the kids more autonomy. Unpacking their backpacks and cleaning up their toys before bed are two easy ones. Once those are mastered, I’ll select new goals.
  • Offer choices: Involve the children in making choices in their activities and schedules, even if it is a controlled choice between two options. Soccer was a bust this past fall, largely because we made assumptions about our son’s interests. Next time, he will have a role in the process.
  • Make a visual chore schedule: For our family, a schedule alone won’t cut it. Visual chore schedules aid children in seeing what is expected of them and gives them a greater sense of completion by marking off that their job is done.
  • Heap on the praise: Praise, when earned, helps to strengthen the child’s inner voice and establish confidence.
  • Be consistent: This is the toughest of all the changes I want to make. I have tried to implement some of these changes before, but have then gotten sidetracked along the way. My consistency will be the key to ensure that all the above points are accomplished and that real change is made.
For more inspiration and another perspective on raising independent children, check out this Montessori chart of “Age-Appropriate Chores for Children” published in The New York Times parenting blog.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Five Ways I’ll be Redefining My Family Christmas

Image courtesy of nuchylee at
Maybe Christmas, the Grinch thought, doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas ... perhaps ... means a little bit more! - Dr. Seuss, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas

The Christmas season is an incredibly special time for my family, especially now that my boys are old enough to have a deeper understanding of the holiday. Unfortunately, many of the holiday traditions they gravitate to are commercial ones: Santa at the mall, chocolate Advent calendars, and presents on Christmas morning.

Last Christmas, my husband and I introduced a new tradition of singing Christmas carols every night with the boys. We printed out lyrics and the boys each got to pick one carol every night to sing together. Afterwards, we talked about what we were thankful for that day, followed by the lighting of an advent wreath and the opening of an advent calendar window.

This Christmas, I hope to build on last year’s traditions by introducing some new customs while keeping my focus on five things that really matter to me.  
  1. An emphasis on non-toy gifts: I don’t intend to be a Christmas Scrooge, but I’ve observed that the more toys the kids get, the less appreciation for each gift.  I spotted this fantastic list of non-toy gifts for kids that I intend to draw upon this Christmas season.
  2. Focus on experiences: Do you remember the gifts you received last Christmas? Probably not. But you likely do remember picking out your Christmas tree or the fun you had decorating that tree. This Christmas, I plan to create more experiences together as a family: doing crafts, baking, going for walks in the snow, playing games. What a great opportunity to talk, share, laugh and have fun!
  3. Find ways to give back: In my view, charity should be a big part of the holidays. Not only does it offset the focus on presents, but it also helps children understand that they are in a fortunate position and, as such, have a duty to help others in need. Every year, we try to participate in food and toy drives. I’ll be looking for ways that the boys can take more ownership of their giving, perhaps by selecting a charity to support, donating toys or by contributing time to a good cause.
  4. Time for family: It is such a gift to get time off to be together over the holidays. I plan to make the most of this time by sharing it with my immediate and extended family. That may mean scaling down some meal preparation or other detractors from the scarce time we have together. It will be worth it just to witness my family sharing in my children’s joy for Christmas.
  5. Discuss the origins of Christmas: I’d like to introduce my kids to the story of Jesus’ birth and explain its connection to Christmas. My 5 year-old son half gets it, but wonders whether Jesus came before or after the dinosaurs. As a child, I was always fascinated by nativity scenes and now want one as part of our Christmas display at home. And while we do go to church on Christmas Day, I would now like to be a more active part of our church community, especially in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
By making a few changes and adding a few new traditions, I hope to make this Christmas a fun and memorable time for my family.

Any special traditions you have with your family?

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Five Great Hacks for Busy Moms

Who doesn’t love a good tip about how to make your life easier? Look no further than Pinterest for thousands of clever ideas, tips and shortcuts, otherwise known as ‘hacks.’
Here are some of my favorite hacks for busy moms:
1. Chore Enticement: Funny and clever! The kids get the WiFi password (reset daily) only after all the chores or homework have been completed.

2. Entranceway Organizer: I came up with this hack after moving into a house with no front closet. I purchased a Closetmaid 9 Cube Organizer to hold shoes and purses, a couple of dollar store baskets for scarves and mail and added hooks on the side of the organizer for my kids to hang their jackets. Now we have a tidy spot for all those items that would otherwise get discarded when my family enters the house.

3. Sheet Storage:  Without this hack, my linen closet would be a mess of mismatched sheet sets! Use your pillowcase to store folded sheet sets inside. I also write the sheet size on the tags of all of our sheets. With twin, double and king beds in our house, there are lots of sheets to organize!

4. Car Organization: I’m sure most moms can relate to what a struggle it is to keep your car clean, especially if your kids snack in the car en route to school or activities. Following the ‘everything needs a place’ organization philosophy, use car organizers to store trunk odd and ends, hide garbage and hold kids toys.

5. Label Electronics Cables: Who knew plastic bread tabs had so many uses? Write on the tabs and place on electronics cables to remember which plug belongs where. You can also use bread tabs to label keys, hold the end of a roll of tape and more.  

The possibilities for hacks are endless! Check out the Best Hacks for Moms page I’ve created on Pinterest.

Any great hacks which you’ve discovered?