Finding my Biological Mother

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In my last post I wrote about how I was researching my family tree, and found my biological mother. It took several days to contact her, and as I’m not a patient person, the waiting was difficult. Finally I was able to email her “the letter” telling her who I was. She was understandably shocked, and from her first response I suspected that the entire episode was one she had hoped to forget. She told me that only a handful of people knew about my birth, that she had never told her children because she was ashamed, and that she wanted to keep it that way.

I felt defensive about that at first. It was exciting to learn that I had a half-sister. She looked like me, and based on her Facebook profile she apparently shares my love of horses. I felt that, as an adult, she had a right to know about me. But I wasn’t in any rush, and I decided to take it slowly with my birth mother and see if she might warm up to the idea once she’d gotten over the shock.

She offered to answer any questions I might have, and over the next few days we emailed back and forth. Although I was enjoying the conversation, and she was being very polite and generous with the information, I could tell that she was not interested in going any further. She was glad to know I’d had a great life and wonderful parents, but she did not ask any questions about me or my children. She kept her answers on topic, and I began to suspect that this whole ordeal was something she was just trying to get through so she could close this chapter forever.

My last email to her that evening was to offer her an “out”. I could not think of any other questions, and I was conscious that this whole situation was stressful for her. I told her that if she wanted to continue the conversation, that would be okay, but otherwise I was done with my questions. As I went to bed that night, I realized that the thought of ending our correspondence brought with it sadness, but also a palpable sense of relief. Although the conversation with her is one I will cherish forever, the whole experience of finding her and learning the identity of my birth father (more on that in a subsequent post) was very emotional and even overwhelming at times. I felt I had effectively “checked out” of my normal life for the last several days, and the idea that I could close this door and get back to my life was appealing.

The next morning, her reply proved that my instincts were right – reading between the lines it was clear she was not looking for anything from me, and simply felt she had a duty to provide me with answers. She was gracious and kind, and I have so much respect for her. I’ve now changed my mind about my half-sister: I simply cannot contact her knowing it would cause my birth mother so much pain and distress. Besides, when I really had a chance to think about all of this, I realized that there was nothing I wanted from this person, anyway. In the end, I look at this entire experience as a gift to myself as I prepare for my 50th birthday this year. I know my story now, and I’m content with that.

 

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The True Meaning of Family

In my last post I talked about the results of my DNA ancestry test, and how it started me wondering about my family tree. I’ve tried researching my family tree before, but it didn’t feel right researching my adoptive family, and I could not really explain why. Then a friend who is adopted told me that most adoptees were given names by their birth mothers. It was a requirement, apparently (a rather cruel one, if you ask me). She said I could send away for a copy of my original birth certificate to find out, and so I did. My intention was to use the information to research my family tree, though I knew that finding my birth parents might also come out of this.

My certificate was waiting for me when we returned from a family holiday, and I learned my birth name and the name of my birth mother. I immediately searched her on the Internet, but found nothing, so I moved on to the family tree. I got an account on Ancestry and began my research. I found one record for my birth mother, a baptism record, which gave me the names of my biological grandparents. From there it was pretty easy work to trace back my grandfather’s line to 4 or 5 generations. I spent several days putting together a detailed family tree, and I was enjoying myself immensely. The process appeals to both my interest in history and my obsessive need to categorize things and place them in order.

What I found interesting was the immediate connection I felt to this family. I felt that this was my family, that these were my great-grandparents and great-great-Aunts and second cousins. This was my story, and I felt that I rightly belonged there regardless of the circumstances of my birth.

But I also understood that a family tree is a story: it does not capture the interpersonal relationships, the individual personalities, or their day to day lives. These are two different aspects of what it means to be a family – the story, and the actual people. I felt very strongly that I deserved my place in this family tree, that this was my story as much as anybody else’s in the tree. But that was not the same thing as feeling part of a family, the people who raise you and with whom you develop relationships based on blood ties. That lesson was to become more clear to me as time went on.

But it did explain why I had been unable to get emotionally invested in creating a family tree for my adoptive parents. I would have this nagging sensation that these were not my people. That puzzled me, because I have never felt disconnected from my family in any way. I have never felt any holes in my life as a result of being adopted. The whole thing just didn’t make much sense to me at the time, but now I understood. Because a family tree is just one kind of story, and I did not really belong in that story for my adoptive family. And that was okay.

Going back through my maternal grandfather’s line was pretty easy, but my grandmother’s line proved a bit more difficult because the first record I found for her turned out to be for a different person (same name, same year of birth). I spent a few days researching the wrong ancestors until I realized that some of the information didn’t fit. Once I’d found my real great-grandparents on her side, I very quickly discovered a family tree with my birth mother on it. There was no identifying information other than her name, but it did show that she had married someone with a first initial “S” and a last name. Once I knew her married name, I very quickly found her on Facebook. And that’s when things went from family tree research, to actually reaching out to my birth mother.

It’s an odd experience to take a first look at a person’s photo and try to see yourself in them. Other than my skin tone, I could see no resemblance between myself and this woman in her profile picture. However, when I clicked on her daughter’s profile, I definitely saw myself in that face. I spent the next several days trying to contact my birth mother, but older people and Facebook Messenger don’t always mix, and the message was not getting through. Finally, I tracked down an email address for the daughter. I did not say why I was looking, but the daughter confirmed that her mother was the same person I was looking for, and she gave me her email address. So I wrote her “the letter”.

I will write more about our communication in a subsequent post. But what I wanted to share today is how much this process cemented my earlier feelings around the family tree. Yes, this woman and her ancestors are part of my family tree, and I still feel strongly that I belong in that schema, that those ancestors are as much mine as they are hers. But in communicating with her, and learning a bit about her family, it soon became clear to me that historical records on a family tree are not the same as the relationships we have with our family. I did not feel like I belonged with her or her children. I did not feel as though she was “the mother I was supposed to have”. If anything, it made me feel even more connected to my own family.

Yesterday, I spent the day visiting with first my father and then my mother (my adoptive parents, or my “real” parents, as I like to call them). Talking with them, hearing about my cousins and Aunts and Uncles, sharing news with them about my kids (their grandchildren)…those were the stories of family. Not the family tree kind of stories, but the real relationship stories, the personal histories of events and memories, of trials and tribulations, joys and losses that are what makes family come to life. It drove home the fact that my connection to my biological family could never match the connections I have with the family who raised me. And confirmed my lifelong sense that I did not even want to try to have that sort of connection with them.

Thankfully, I don’t think my birth mother wanted that either, and so for now we have closed this chapter. My interaction with her was kind and pleasant and wonderful in many ways, but I have the answers I wanted, and I feel at peace with how this all went. I’m relieved in a sense to get back to my own life, to my real family, as this has all been a rather wild emotional ride. With my 50th birthday looming around the corner, I feel that I have given myself a gift: the gift of knowing my story, and of claiming my place in the history that is my family tree. But now it’s time to move on, and I’m happy to do so.

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DNA Ancestry

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I was adopted as a 10-day-old infant, and so genetic relatedness has never been a part of my concept of family. I have never taken any real interest in my birth story, although my parents have always been open about my adoption and supportive of any interest I might develop in learning more about my birth parents. I think it’s because I do not consider myself as having been “abandoned” or unwanted in any way and so there has not been any sense of loss or having missed out on something. I always assumed that my birth mother had good reasons for not wanting to raise a child, and the family who adopted me gave me a wonderful life. I also don’t like complicated relationships: I’m one of those people who take time to develop friendships and bring people into my inner circle – mostly because I’m extremely uncomfortable with getting rid of those same people if things don’t work out! There are bound to be complications in terms of what sort of relationship I would have with such people if I ever met them, and I’m not sure I want to bring that into my life. Finally, I had lots of aunts, uncles, and cousins growing up and both my parents remarried after their divorce so I had numerous step-siblings as well. I guess I felt I had enough family already.

However, I’m turning 50 soon, and perhaps that explains why now I have developed some interest in learning more about my “back story”. It started when my husband did one of those DNA testing kits that claim to provide answers about your ancestry. I already knew enough about genetics to understand that what they tell you is extremely broad and non-specific, so I really had no interest. But I got bugged to do one so I finally caved and did it. I joked that being a white-skinned, blue-eyed person living in North America, the results would not be very surprising…”Congrats, you come from northwestern Europe!”…what a surprise (not!). But I was curious if there was anything else thrown in there. I was also secretly hoping for lots of British heritage since my Dad and his side of the family are all English (my mum’s side has a bit as well), and I grew up with a good dose of British culture. The results came quite quickly and the results were pleasing but not surprising. I’m 99.1% northwestern european, with the other 0.9% being more generalized european (those genes that can’t be traced to anything more specific). Of that 99.1%, I’m 65% British/Irish and about 20% French/German with the rest being non-specific. Again, that doesn’t really mean anything since those populations mixed a lot over the last millennium or so. But although it’s silly I did give a silent cheer that I was “mostly British”. I’m guessing my genetic family has lived in Britain for a long time before someone emigrated to the New World.

These sites also have the ability to identify genetic relatives, although they are generally limited to those who have been customers of the same service you choose. I was especially nervous when I clicked on that link, worried that a cousin or closer might show up and wondering how I would handle that information. But it turns out that the nearest genetic relative shares about 1% of my DNA, and may be a third or fourth cousin (I also used a sharing site that allows you to test against people from other DNA kit providers, but nobody closer than that appeared there either). I share great-great-grandparents with my third cousins, and given how many kids people had in those days, this person could be one of dozens and dozens of them.

So all in all, it was not a surprise, but it is cool to know. And since British historical records go back centuries it has started me getting interested in learning more about my ancestors. I’m thinking about doing a family tree, but that is a bit more complicated when you are adopted…my next post will tackle that subject.

 

 

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Long Overdue Update

update conceptOver the past 18 months I have taken up community activism in the form of joining our newly formed neighbourhood organization as a director and treasurer. A development set up shop in our neighbourhood that is creating a lot of noise, and the neighbouring municipality (we live right near the border between two local government jurisdictions) was partly at fault for not paying close enough attention when the offenders were applying for their permits. Not only has the business taken an antagonistic attitude towards the local residents (they are based in a nearby large city and don’t know nor appreciate the local culture), but Mayor and Council have decided on a strategy of covering their collective a$$e$ rather than dealing openly with the situation, so it has been quite frustrating. We ended up having to file a lawsuit, which is a long slow process in itself.

On the bright side, our community has come together as never before, and I have met so many of my neighbours. I have developed some strong friendships in the process of working with these people, and it has made my sense of home feel that much stronger. I feel settled in this place as nowhere else since I was a child, and that feels good. The situation has also caused me to start paying more attention to planning and development in our area, and I’ve joined my local area planning committee, which I’m enjoying very much. It’s so important to take advantage of opportunities to have a say in what goes on, and I’m very grateful to be able to do so.

I had an extremely busy fall season, with lots of teaching and some big consulting projects. I finally got to the point where hiring a biweekly cleaning service made sense, and I’m very pleased to have that load off my plate. Meanwhile, Husband started an AgTech company with a farmer/software designer friend and it has really taken off. He spent 3 months in New York with an accelerator/investment program, and the kids and I arrived here yesterday for a 2 week visit. With Mum in New Zealand taking care of an ailing sister, we had the opportunity to go away for Xmas, and I appreciate not having to do too much this year. We are planning to watch the ball drop at Times Square on New Year’s Eve, definitely a bucket list experience!

Both kids are doing well. Miss Em is in the new high school program with our homeschooling program (the same one we’ve been in for years) and seems to be handling the increased work load really well. I’m surprised at how well she has adapted, and I can also see how well she responds to a more structured program. I think this will be a very good fit for her, and I like that she can take as long as she needs to complete her high school education (advantages of being in the Special Ed program). She still attends the therapeutic day program she’s been in for over a year, and she enjoys it because there is dedicated time for academics (she says she finds it hard to get motivated when left to her own devices to schedule and implement homework time).

Mr Boo attends the same day program, but I think he is ready for more social activity and more academics. He’s become much more interested in having friends and inviting them over, but he only has 2 friends and neither is a great fit, IMO. Unfortunately there do not seem to be any good options here since the local Walford high school closed – that school was a very small private school which would have been perfect for him. The public schools here are huge and have the usual issues, and I just don’t think it would be a good fit for him. We have three elite private schools here but they aren’t interested in special ed students (you’d think if you were willing to pay their exorbitant fees that they would be willing to accommodate such kids, but they are all about the high achievers). He doesn’t do sports or clubs so meeting kids that way isn’t going to work. So for now he stays where he is, but we are keeping our eyes open. Perhaps if Husband’s company takes off we will have more opportunities to travel, and as that fits much better with homeschooling perhaps we can broaden his horizons that way.

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Daughter Update

Given how many posts I devoted to my daughter’s anxiety issues, I figured it was time for a brief update on the situation. After pulling out of the high school experiment, she eventually decided to go back to the day-program she had been attending in the previous term (a therapeutic program for kids with autism that includes light academic work and social experiences).

At first, I was adamant that she embark on a program of therapy for her anxiety. I made her commit to 2 sessions per month with her clinical counsellor, and when her doctor suggested adding psychiatry to the team I went ahead with the referral process.

We have been seeing our counsellor for a few years now, and Miss Em has a good relationship with her. She trusts the counsellor, and has no problem opening up about her feelings. When she has a situation that she is struggling with, she will sometimes ask for a session to work things out. But she was resisting the mandatory every-other-week plan, and one day she asked if I could sit out in the lobby while she had her session. I had no problem with that, and was pleased that she was taking more ownership over her therapy.

When she emerged from the session it was obvious she had been crying pretty hard. But she gave her counsellor a big hug as we left, and said “It felt good to get that out”. Eventually I learned what “that” was (she told me, and then I had a session with the counsellor myself) – my daughter was getting increasingly upset with the “medicalization” of her condition. She did not want to start seeing a psychiatrist and having to open up to a stranger about deeply personal feelings and experiences, especially when she felt her clinical counsellor already filled that role adequately. She was upset that I was pushing her into this, as if she did not already appreciate the effect her anxiety was having on her own life and goals. Finally, she let me know that talking about this stuff was not the way she wanted to handle it, and that it actually created more anxiety for her. Instead, she wanted to tackle the problem by “doing” rather than “talking” – coming up with plans for addressing situations as they arose.

Once I got past my initial panic that she was simply avoiding the things that made her anxious, and I was able to truly listen to what she was saying, I realized that she was on the right track. I was proud of her for taking ownership of her anxiety, and of wanting to handle it in the way she felt was best for her. It became apparent that she did have plans for how to progress and wasn’t just trying to avoid the situation. I couldn’t help but feel proud of her, and wonder at how much she is maturing. After confirming all of this with her counsellor, her father and I have decided to give her a chance to handle this her way. I cancelled the consultation with the psychiatrist, and she will just visit her counsellor when she feels the need to do so.

Around this time, it also seemed that her medication was finally starting to kick in. I’m not sure yet, but she handled two trips away from home (with a few social challenges thrown in for good measure) much better than she has in the past. I’ve also been noticing less resistance lately (her degree of resistance is directly proportional to the degree of anxiety she is experiencing), and so I’m feeling fairly good about this new plan.

I realized that in my panic at seeing her struggling so much with the high school experiment, that I may have over-reacted in terms of wanting to “do” something about it. I didn’t take into consideration that the “something” that would be my first choice might not be a good fit for her. I will continue to watch closely, but I’m also happy to let go a bit and allow her the opportunity to take greater ownership of this. After all, she is ultimately the one who is most affected by it and has the most to gain or lose.

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Tea in the Forest

IMG_3128I recently commented to my husband that we hadn’t gone camping in a long time – we don’t have camping gear anymore so getting back into it would be a commitment. He said he saw no need for such a trip because “I live in the forest already, and I can ‘camp’ right in my backyard with all the comforts of home”. I thought about this later and realized he was right, and that I could experience one of my favourite camping routines right here at home.

Every morning I indulge in a pot of tea. It is pretty much my favourite part of the day. I love the routine of preparing the tea, pouring mug after fresh mug of the fragrant blend (Cream of Earl Grey), and the sweet, milky flavour. The taste is a bridge that connects me to my childhood and our frequent visits with my English grandparents, who always served “milky tea”.

There is something about tea in the morning when camping that I particularly enjoy – sitting in a camping chair, listening to the birds, tasting the fresh summer air, and admiring the beautiful forest (growing up in the lower mainland of British Columbia, most of my camping experiences were in forested parks). I realized after talking to my husband that I could easily re-create that experience right here at home. And so it was that I first ventured out with my tea tray to sit on what-will-become our patio and enjoy the summer morning.

I loved it.

tanagerThis morning was a perfect example – after a wonderful 40-minute yoga session I prepared my tea and brought it out to the patio. The weather began with high overcast clouds, warm temperatures, and a lovely soft breeze. As I sat sipping my tea, I could hear the calls of the many birds who visit our neighbourhood. That prompted me to bring out my binoculars, and I returned just in time to see a beautiful western tanager. If you didn’t know these bright and colourful birds were native to our region, you’d think someone had lost their small parrot!

I also saw a doe and her two fawns wander out of the trees and head across the clearing to the forest bordering the western edge of our property. Suddenly, I heard a crashing sound through the undergrowth. At first, it was not the rhythmic crashing of a deer – deer run by taking big leaps, and the rhythm of that sound is unmistakable – but something else rushing through the undergrowth. Then I heard the deer fleeing. Next, something raced through some low-lying shrubbery on the edge of the trees, and my first thought was that it might be a cougar hunting one of the fawns. Eventually the sounds moved to the north and grew more silent. I can’t be sure of what I saw (and mostly heard) but it was an exciting example of the life all around us.

We haven’t done much landscaping since the house was completed last fall,IMG_3106 other than having the ground raked for rocks and planting some grass seed. The new lawn is still somewhat patchy, and I’ve let the distal section remain covered in whatever weeds take root there. Not being much of a gardener, perhaps I don’t have the same hatred of weeds that others may. And I know the weeds serve a purpose. Newly disturbed soil, especially rocky soil like ours, brings plants with deep taproots that bring nutrients up from below and begin the process of soil-building . Eventually the soil will become too rich for them, and a new cohort of species will take over. Whatever is flowering right now is attracting tons of butterflies, which provided me with some great viewing while I sipped my tea.

 

IMG_3104The rest of the pot of tea was consumed with no more drama other than our cat Wessex coming over for pats and snuggles. I saw a couple of large ravens, a rabbit, heard woodpeckers and spotted towhees, and just generally sat contemplating how lucky I was to live in such a beautiful place. I remembered living in the suburbs before we moved here, dreaming of a view without neighbours’ houses packed in all around us. It feels amazing to have finally realized a dream that was over 10 years in the making. I can’t think of a nicer way to spend time on a Sunday morning than to just be present in the moment, connect with nature, and practice gratitude.

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A new plan for our girl

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If you’ve been reading my blog of late, you’ll know that we recently enrolled our daughter part-time at a local high school, and that she’s been having some real struggles with the transition.

After trying different ideas to support her, including medication for her anxiety, we have come to the conclusion that this step was just too much, too soon. We all really wanted this to work, but it’s apparent that she was not ready for it. And once we were able to step back, look at the situation, and recognize it to be so, we also had to ask ourselves if a high-school classroom will ever be a suitable learning environment for her.

I’ll admit, there was a wee bit of grieving on my part. There always is when you put your heart and mind to something, only to realize it isn’t meant to be. But when I was ready to do so, I’m pleased to say the answer was obvious. I’ve seen it before, my girl put in situations she couldn’t handle – preschool being one of them, classes at the local community centre were another. At the time, I despaired over what to do and what it all meant. But I knew in my mother’s heart that these situations weren’t working for her, that she was not yet equipped to deal with them without more…more skills, more support, more understanding. Now we have a much better understanding of her unique challenges and needs, and it isn’t as difficult to say “that isn’t going to work for her”.

We have taken her out of high school and used Spring Break to rethink our options for her education. At first, we thought she might be able to go to school this fall with a private one-on-one support person to guide her through the day. But through discussions with her therapy team, we have come to recognize that this is likely not the best option for her. She would have only one year (Grade 10) in which to gain the skills and ability to take on a full university-track course load* for Grades 11 and 12, and given her current condition that is unlikely to happen. Her brain works so hard just navigating her environment that she exhausts easily. Also, she would be under a great deal of pressure to graduate with her class, and not doing so would likely deal a serious blow to her confidence.

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So we’re falling back on our wonderful homeschool program, which offers a special program for the Grade 10 year and options for high school that will allow her to take as long as she needs to earn her diploma while still maintaining her autism funding. She will soon start working with her counsellor on a specific program for managing social anxiety, and I’m looking for tutors and similar programs that might work for her. I’ve already found a local private math tutor who was recommended to me as someone who can work with kids on the spectrum. We’re going to meet her tomorrow and see if she will be a good fit for Miss Em.

This “experiment” with school has, in some ways, been a blessing. It has helped us to understand the severity of her social anxiety and her executive functioning deficits, which allows us to make informed choices for her. And the take-away message from this experience is one that shouldn’t surprise me: our daughter is unlikely to take the conventional path to education and career.

Thankfully there are so many paths one can take, so many options available to her. In the end, I come back to my homeschooling roots, and our family’s “outside the box” approach to life, learning, and personal fulfillment.

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  • I just want to emphasize that the goal of college/university is hers. Although I loved my university experience, I do not believe it is the right choice for everybody, nor do I believe that success depends on it. If my daughter chooses not to go, then we are fine with that. 

 

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Bullet Journal Tour

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In my last post I described the Bullet Journal system, which I use to keep myself organized and productive. In this post I’m going to explain how I use my BuJo, and I’ll give you a little tour of my notebook.

After reading blog articles and watching several YouTube videos, I knew I wanted to give Bullet Journalling a try. I started out with a cheap notebook from Staples and stole borrowed some of my daughter’s artist pens, then I began playing around with different layouts to figure out what was most useful for me. When I was feeling more confident about what I wanted to include in my BuJo, I treated myself to a lovely bright orange Leuchtterm1917 A5 notebook along with a set of Faber-Castell PITT artist pens (shown in this photo).

In setting up my BuJo, I knew right away that I didn’t need a Future Log, which is a 6-to-12 month view of appointments and events. I use a Google calendar to book all appointments, and it’s rare that I need to view my schedule more than a month in advance. My calendar is on every device I own, so it’s easily accessible, and I didn’t see the point of essentially writing out by hand what is already well documented.

The original BuJo system does not include weekly spreads, but many people do them. I can understand this might be helpful if your weeks are full of details, and especially if you have to-do items that have deadlines on a weekly time scale. Sometimes my weeks are pretty empty from a scheduled appointment perspective, and my to-do lists don’t often fit within weekly deadlines, so I don’t use a weekly spread.

Instead, I use a monthly spread with a simple, vertical layout.

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Here I record appointments or events that require me to do something ahead of time, such as my board meeting on the 21st (for which I need to prepare) or the fact that my Dad and stepmum are heading off on a long holiday (I should call them before they go). In my online calendar, such things can get lost among all the family appointments. By placing it here, it stands out more, and I can refer to it easily when I plan my days (more on that below).

I also use my monthly spread to keep track of things that I tend to forget. For example, we only get garbage pickup every other week, and sometimes I forget when the last pickup was. I also often forget to do the weekly reporting for my kids’ homelearning program (probably because it falls on a weekend), so I’ve noted it here.

But the part where the planning magic really happens is the Daily Spread. Each day I sit down to plan out the next day ahead. This includes scheduled appointments and events, daily tasks, and my to-do list.

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I’ve played around a lot with the layout of my daily spreads, not just for the fun of trying out new fonts and pen colours, but also to organize it in a way that is most helpful for me. At first, I had a pretty basic layout. Scheduled events were noted with an open circle and mixed in with to-dos which were noted by a bullet (then crossed with an X when completed, or with > if migrated).

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I soon decided it would be helpful to have the appointments in a separate list, so they stood out more.

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This worked better, but something was still missing for me. I realized that what I needed was a way to visualize the breakdown of time over the day, where the scheduled appointments fit into that, so I could plan to use the time in-between more effectively. Kara at Boho Berry uses a time bar to plan the layout of her day (she describes it in this YouTube video):

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…and so I used this idea to create something similar that was better suited to me.

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I love having a visual representation of the day. I colour code the segments so that I can see where the unscheduled time lies. For example, orange is the colour for anything kid-related (Mama Duty). Green is “me time”, and pink is for housework.

Based on this layout, I can see that I’ll need to be up around 7 am to get my daughter ready for school (for more on our adventures with transitioning to high school, see here, here, and here). After dropping my son off at his program (which is run by a wonderful guy named Bruce), I’ll go for a run. That leaves a block of time in between my run and picking up my daughter from school, and I knew I’d end up spending about an hour of that block eating breakfast and indulging in a large pot of tea, so I planned to do my housework after picking up my daughter. The bar takes me to 5 o’clock, which is when I typically start working on dinner prep. If I had an evening appointment, such as a meeting or dinner date, that would be written underneath the bar.

Items in red are meant for my attention. In the example above, I need to remember to pack my son’s workout bag and bring it to Bruce’s program in the morning, because on Friday afternoons he gets dropped off with his fitness coach.

Items in grey are my task list. I’m really liking this colour, as I find it stands out and doesn’t get lost among all the other black ink. If I know when I’d like to do the task, I place it by the time bar, but I can also add a list to the right if I have more tasks that day. I can look at the bar, see when I have free spaces of time, and “divide and conquer” the tasks in that way.

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I’ve recently started adding a meal plan to my daily lists.

Each day, often towards the evening, I sit down and plan out the next day. I check my online calendar and my monthly spread, and anything else I need (like my daughter’s ever-changing school schedule). I really enjoy this process; there is something very therapeutic about the act of writing things down, decorating with colours and fonts, and just making a pretty page!

Some people really geek out over this process: there are “plan with me” videos, where you watch someone laying out a daily or monthly spread in their journal. I enjoy watching them while I’m doing my own planning. Again, I have to put in a plug for Kara at Boho Berry…she’s just so cute and friendly, and I love her style. She does a “Plan With Me” video every month, but this month (February 2017) she is doing a video every day showing her daily planning routine.

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As I go through the day, I take great satisfaction in ticking those items off my list!

Since the idea is to plan one day at a time (the night before), I use a separate to-do list to track things that I don’t have time for right now (or they may not be due for some time) so that I don’t forget.

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Aside from daily planning, I also use my BuJo to house various “collections”. A collection is just a group of ideas, notes, or anything else you want to record and/or keep track of. For example, I have my house cleaning routines all laid out in my journal for easy reference (You can read more about my cleaning routine in this post).

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I also have a Pen Samples page (this is pretty common, actually, which you would understand if you love pen collections!): it’s useful to refer to this when I’m going back and wanting to use the same pen colour for something, or when I’m just deciding what colour to use next.

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Being a fan of books, I couldn’t resist starting some book lists:

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Trackers are a very popular collection item. People use them to track their moods, their habits, the weather…you name it. I created one to track my headaches. I’m pretty sure they are related to dehydration (running days where I don’t drink enough water), but I thought it might be helpful to see how frequent they really are.

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Other collections include a “Brain Dump” page, where I put random ideas and such, my daughter’s school schedule (she attends part time, and it changes about every month or so), and anything else I want to keep track of.

So that’s the tour of my Bullet Journal. It has definitely helped me get things done, and I find the fact that I have it all written down somewhere leaves a lot more room in my head for other things.

Note: lest you overestimate my artistic abilities, I want to point out that the fonts and designs you see here are virtually all copied from someone else – I have a large Pinterest board devoted to different layouts, headers, and doodles from which I take inspiration).

Categories: family life, Homemaking, parenting, Personal Growth | 1 Comment

Staying Organized with a Bullet Journal

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When people ask me what I do, I always pause because it’s not a simple answer. I am a stay-at-home-mum to two teenagers, and I run our household (including handling all the finances). I also do consulting work, and I sit on the board of directors for a couple of non-profit societies. In other words, I have lots to keep track of!

I use Google Calendar for all my appointments, and I share a calendar with my husband, which helps us coordinate the use of our one vehicle. But I really only ever use the month-at-a-glance view, which doesn’t leave a lot of room for detail. Try as I might, I could never get in the habit of flipping around between weekly and daily views, probably because I found them ugly and not an easy way to visualize the layout of my day or week. There was also no easy way to make a list of to-dos that weren’t date or time sensitive.

I’ve tried using planners in the past, but the page layouts didn’t seem to fit my life very well. I don’t have a regular routine – each day is a bit different. I found I either ran out of room on the paper or I had entire pages wasted because there was nothing scheduled for those days. In the end, I’d always ditch the planner and go back to my default method: a TON of to-do lists, written down on various pieces of scrap paper and scattered all over my desk…needless to say it was a bit chaotic.

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The other problem I wanted to solve, aside from keeping track of appointments and to-dos, was how to better organize my time. I often have large blocks of time at home, and making the best use of that was a challenge. I’d start working on one thing (or more often, get sucked into Pinterest or Facebook) and next thing I knew half the day would be gone. I also had trouble tackling my long to-do lists – I knew it would be helpful if I could divide them up and schedule them for specific days, otherwise the giant list just sat there feeling too big to tackle. Anything with a due date ended up getting put off until the last possible minute, which would throw off the next couple of days while I frantically tried to catch up. And then there was my housecleaning routine (or lack thereof), which I talked about in my last post.

So, with all of this in the back of my mind, one day while browsing Pinterest I stumbled across a reference to something called a Bullet Journal. Intrigued, I Googled the term and saw that, whatever it was, it was trending big time! I was soon directed to this website belonging to Ryder Carroll, who is accredited with creating the Bullet Journal system (or BuJo as it’s known by its fans). It’s basically a fully customizable planner system that uses a few simple techniques to help people stay organized, track their time, and improve their productivity.

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The concept is pretty simple, but the potential for indulging one’s creative side has not been lost on the Internet. It wasn’t long before various online communities (and by communities I mean people united by a particular obsession) began creating fabulous BuJo page spreads and sharing them all over Pinterest and Instagram. There are blogs and entire YouTube channels devoted to all things BuJo. It has brought together planner/organizer geeks, OCD list-maker types, and art supply nerds (who doesn’t love a set of coloured artist pencils or markers?)…and I would say I feel right at home in the last two camps! The BuJo trend has created a renewed interest in calligraphy and handwriting, doodling and sketching, and all sorts of stationary supplies, much to the benefit of companies such as Leuchtterm (makers of one of the most popular BuJo notebooks), Goulet (makers of fine fountain pens), and Tombow (makers of coloured artist pens).

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So what exactly is a bullet journal?

Basically, a BuJo is a blank notebook that you fill with schedules and to-do lists to suit your needs. The basic elements are:

  1. an index;
  2.  yearly, monthly, or weekly views;
  3. bulleted lists using specific symbols;
  4. task migration; and
  5. collections.

The index is placed at the beginning of your notebook and is basically a table of contents that you create as you go along. This allows you to put anything anywhere in the notebook and be able to easily find it.

The views, or spreads as they are often called, are pages showing appointments and scheduled events. Some people do a “future log” which shows several calendar months. It can be as simple as this:

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Or as complex as this:

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There are also monthly spreads:

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And weekly spreads:

 

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People use different combinations of these spreads depending on their needs.

Finally, there is the daily task list. Here is where to-dos are written down in bullet format:

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The bullets have symbols, often described in a Key, as follows:

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An important element of using the bulleted lists is the concept of “migration”. If a task does not get completed, you “migrate” it to the next day (or week, depending on your layout). This allows you to make a big list of tasks, perhaps even knowing that you won’t get to all of them that day, but at least it is written down. It sounds simple, but I have found migrating to be a really useful element for staying organized.

Finally, there are “collections”. A collection can be anything really: notes from a meeting, ideas for a new project, lists of birthdays to remember. People have come up with all kinds of idea for collections, which of course are shared all over the Internet: habit trackers, gratitude logs, meal planning, and book lists just to name a few.

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The nice thing about the Bullet Journal system is you can put a collection anywhere because you have an Index. Once you create a collection – for example, a packing list for an upcoming vacation – you simply note it in your Index with the page number. Now you can easily find that list any time you want, and it really doesn’t matter if it was squeezed in somewhere between your weekly schedule and your list of tasks for a particular day.

Bullet journalling can be used by anyone. In fact it turns out my husband has been using his own version of bulleted lists in a little notebook for years. But if you are the kind of person who benefits from the act of writing something down, and perhaps taking time to make it pretty and colourful, or if you find drawing and colouring meditative, then a BuJo is particularly appealing. In my next post, I’ll show you my own Bullet Journal and how I use it to stay organized.

Meanwhile, below are some videos about Bullet Journalling. The first is by Ryder Carroll, the creator of the Bullet Journal system. It shows the original concept, which is very simple. Fans refer to this as a “minimalist” BuJo.

The second video is by my favourite BuJo guru, Kara Benz of Boho Berry. Not only is she an inspiring young lady who turned her artistic talents into a successful business, but her videos are well produced and enjoyable to watch. Her video is the first in her “Bullet Journal 101” series.

 

 

 

Categories: career, family life, Homemaking, lifestyle, Personal Growth | 1 Comment

New House, New Cleaning Routine

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I have to confess that I was not a very good housekeeper during the last year or so in our mobile home. It’s really hard to get motivated to clean a place that is ugly, cluttered, and falling apart. I tried to do the very basics necessary for hygiene purposes, but I got no satisfaction out of doing it and in fact it usually just made me depressed.

Now that we are living in our beautiful new home, I want to take great care of it. So I enthusiastically dove into the process of keeping it clean. I began watching YouTube videos and soon locked on to Melissa at Clean My Space. Her videos were fun, friendly, and full of good tips and ideas. I especially love her DIY cleaning product recipes.

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However, as the weeks went by I started to feel overwhelmed. There always seemed to be something to do, and I would often get sidetracked. Whatever task I was doing drew my attention to something else that needed doing, and there seemed to be no end to it all. If I took a couple of days off, I spent hours making up for it. So I decided what I needed was a good cleaning routine.

I started at MarthaStewart.com where I found comprehensive task lists for daily, weekly, monthly, and seasonal cleaning. I went through them and eliminated anything that didn’t apply to my situation. Then over the next couple of weeks I added anything I could think of that was unique to my situation. When my lists were complete it was time to divide and conquer!

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By this time I already had a daily routine established where I make the bed and empty the dishwasher in the morning, then in the evenings I clean the cooktop, the kitchen countertops, the sink, and I run the dishwasher. For the weekly tasks, I divided them over six days, taking care to ensure that things naturally followed. For example, I do dusting the day before vacuuming, because dusting can send dust down onto the floors (as @MelissaMaker says, work from the top down!).

I’ve been doing this for three weeks now and I couldn’t be happier. Every day I just check my list and do what is on it for that day. I don’t worry about what else needs doing because I know it is accounted for in the schedule. My home is constantly in a state of cleanliness, but I devote only an hour a day at most to keeping it that way. I am not afraid of people stopping by unexpectedly, of someone needing to use the guest bathroom (I lived in fear of that in our old place), of giving people tours of the new house…because it is always at an acceptable level of cleanliness.

But it’s not just about keeping the house clean and attractive for visitors (and myself of course – I honestly don’t think my kids or my husband really pay attention to such things), it’s about maintaining everything we have in good working condition. All the appliances are brand new, including my Dyson cordless, and I want to take really good care of them. So cleaning filters and wiping down surfaces inside and out is important.

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Another shameless plug for the Clean My Space channel. I follow Melissa’s advice and wipe my front-loader washing machine every evening, getting into the gasket folds and leaving it open overnight to dry thoroughly.

The best part about this method is that I no longer get sidetracked. For example, Thursday is dusting day. When I notice that tiny fur balls are beginning to form on the floor (we have two cats and a dog, so fur is an issue here), I don’t let it distract me because I know that Friday is vacuuming day, and they’ll be taken care of before they grow to epic proportions.

If I miss something on the day’s list, or even the whole list for that day, I just do it the next day. And if I’m really busy and simply cannot add it on to the next day, I leave it. Because there are few things that really, absolutely have to be done each week, and I know that if I just don’t get it done, it will get done next week. It is just so wonderful to have the place clean all the time, and I no longer spend 5 hours in one day trying to get everything done at once.

For the monthly tasks, some are small and can easily be tacked on to any day, such as giving the pets their flea treatments, or wiping down items that sit on the kitchen countertop. Otherwise Saturdays are for choosing a larger monthly task, such as mopping floors in the rooms that aren’t used heavily, or taking apart my beloved Dyson cordless vacuum to clean the parts and filters.

I also have some tasks that are tackled quarterly (every 3 months), such as replacing the baking soda in the fridge, running the washing machine through a self-clean cycle, or wiping down the kitchen ceilings (thank you, Martha Stewart, for making me realize that was even a thing). There are ten of these, and my plan is to add one to each week with a couple of weeks off if I’m really busy, so that they get done every 12 weeks (3 months).

I even have a list for spring and fall cleaning, which includes tasks such as putting up (or taking down) fly screens on the windows, vacuuming the refrigerator coils, and cleaning out the deep freezer. I’ll set aside one week twice a year to add these to my daily and weekly tasks.

So there you have it. If you are curious about my routine, below is a photo from my planner, which I use to keep track of it all. On the left are my weekly tasks, broken down over six days (you can’t see it, but at the very bottom on Saturdays I have “do one monthly task”).

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On the right side I use a “tracker” system to keep track of what gets done. You’ll see that I did not complete all my monthly tasks in January. For February, I have started to note the day that I did the task, so I know how long it has been since I last did that task. For the quarterly tasks, I note the month in which it was done. For example, deworming the pets was done in January (and btw, I must step up the pace on these!).

So that’s my new cleaning routine. I’m loving it, and loving the fact that I’m able to take such great care of my beautiful new home without exhausting myself in the process!

PS: if you are curious about my planner pages, I use the Bullet Journal system, which is a method for organizing your life. I’m mildly obsessed with it right now, and I plan to write a post on that topic soon. 

Categories: Homemaking | 2 Comments

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