family life

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

How Living Space Affects Parenting

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You might not think that how you parent and the space you live in are related, but as I wait for our new house to be built I’m anticipating aspects of my parenting that will be positively affected by the change. Having separate rooms for the kids and having a proper dining area are just two of the important changes from our current situation that will help me as I guide my two spectrum-kids through adolescence.

The feeding therapy program for Mr. Boo is going well. His weight has stabilized and he’s eating a well-rounded diet, but I have been unable to make meals at the table happen regularly. Even just doing dinner has been difficult, due to the fact that the one space we have for eating serves as my desk and home office. To prepare the space for a family meal, I need to clear off the table (which means finding space to put all my stuff), pull the table out from the corner, and then gather chairs from various locations around the home.

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Having a proper dining table, a dedicated space for eating, will be a huge help with that. I plan to have ALL meals take place either at the dining table (family meals) or at the eating bar (kids’ meals and snack time). Not only will this help expose them to a wider variety of foods, but it will provide some much-needed family time…yes, despite being homeschoolers with mostly-work-at-home parents, older kids means less time spent interacting with each other. The few times we’ve had family dinners, I have really enjoyed the conversation and the sharing that goes on.

Having separate bedrooms is also going to help me address some parenting issues. My brother and I shared a room for the first 12 years of my life, and I have very pleasant memories of playing with him and whispered conversations after the lights were turned out. My kids have enjoyed the same relationship, for which I am very grateful. But now that they are entering their teen years, certain issues are coming up around privacy and needing a space of one’s own. They get moody, and when they are together each provides an easy target. Personal space and personal stuff is becoming increasingly more important. But bedtime is also an ongoing issue, and that’s what will change for the better when they have separate rooms.

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Miss Em has been independent in regard to bedtime for a couple of years now. Hard to remember now that I had to put her to bed until she was 10 years old! Now she puts herself to bed, and at a reasonable time. When she knows she needs to get up early, she goes to bed early.

Not so for Mr. Boo. He still lacks the maturity and self-regulation to forgo the pleasures of whatever-he’s-doing-at-the-time in order to get a good night’s sleep – even though he knows that having to get up when you haven’t slept enough really sucks and makes your whole day lousy. Up until fairly recently, I was putting him to bed, ensuring that lights got turned out and computers put away at a reasonable hour. He always hated being told it was bedtime, and I always hated having an argument when I was at my most tired.

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There were other reasons to hate bedtime: I couldn’t go to bed early if I was really tired or sick (Hubby is often away for work). Miss Em couldn’t enter the room while I was putting him to bed, because she was too much of a distraction for him. It didn’t seem fair to boot her out of her space at a time of day when she was winding down herself and wanting to relax in bed. Mr. Boo was also chafing at being “treated like a baby”, but a few trials over the holidays showed that he just didn’t have the self-discipline to pull it off on his own.

So we came up with a compromise: I would no longer put him to bed, but when his sister said “lights out”, he had to obey. Miss Em is naturally a “take-charge” kind of gal, and doesn’t find it difficult to enforce bedtime (most of the time). She also somewhat enjoys being able to set bedtime for the both of them. They have even developed a routine where she reads to him before lights out (bad fan fiction and not-so-creepy pastas* are favourites). But on occasion, he gets resistant and she has to deal with his antics. And sometimes she just doesn’t feel like taking on that responsibility. That’s when I feel guilty; it bothers me that I have essentially pawned off my parenting duties onto my daughter. But it was the best solution we could come up with, and all agreed it was their preferred choice, if not an ideal one.

But…when the kids have their own rooms, Miss Em will finally be absolved of bedtime parenting duty. She can go to her room whenever she pleases, independent of her brother’s needs or moods at the time. Hubby and I will be able to enforce a lights-out time that meets his needs, while still leaving Miss Em with the freedom to set her own hours. She will be able to get away from her brother and claim a space of her own, which is increasingly important as she gets older.

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As I dream about moving into our new home and how that will change our day-to-day lives, I see a connection between the spaces we live in and our ability to find solutions that meet everyone’s needs. Our current house was never meant to be permanent, but with the kids getting older I’m finding myself increasingly hampered when it comes to implementing new parenting strategies. Perhaps that has made the relationship between parenting and living space more apparent to me. It was certainly on my mind while I was designing our new house, and I can’t wait for it to be done!

 

* creepy pastas is the Internet term for what we used to call “urban legends”; some of them are written badly enough that they end up being funny, and those are the ones my kids enjoy reading

 

Categories: family life, Feeding Therapy, lifestyle, Miss Em, Mr Boo, New House Build, parenting | Leave a comment

On the Road to Eating Competence

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In the last two posts in this Feeding Therapy series, I outlined the feeding and eating program developed by the Ellyn Satter Institute and provided some background to explain how I became a “feeding failure”. Today, I discuss our goals and our plan for getting there.

The ultimate goal of this program is to get my children to the point of Eating Competence, which is a model developed by the Ellyn Satter Institute. As described by the model, eating competent children:

  • feel good about eating, and have the drive to eat
  • naturally eat as much as they need, and grow in the way that is right for them
  • learn to eat the foods their parents eat
  • enjoy a variety of foods, and enjoy learning to like new foods
  • enjoy family meals, and learn to behave well at mealtimes

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In the case of our family, there was a lot of overeating going on, virtually nothing that the adults ate was eaten by the children, the kids had a very limited variety of foods they would eat, and an intense dislike for anything new. Family meals did not happen in our household, and the kids actively resisted the idea of doing so (and frankly, so did I, for reasons outlined in my last post).

Achieving the goal of Eating Competence requires me, the parent in charge of feeding, to follow the Division of Responsibility, which is:

  • provide regular meals and snacks
  • choose and prepare the food
  • serve food at the table, without TV or other distractions
  • make eating times pleasant
  • show children by example how to behave at mealtimes
  • be considerate of your child’s lack of food experience without catering to their likes and dislikes
  • don’t serve foods between meal and snacktimes
  • let children enjoy the body size and shape that is right for them

I know from past experience that, when starting any new lifestyle plan, it’s important to take baby steps towards the end goal: do the first step until it feels normal and natural, and then add the next. So, as recommended by the program guidelines, I broke the process down based on where we were starting from and the particular eating issues that our family was facing.

  1. the parent is responsible for providing food
  2. implement regular meal and snacktimes
  3. eat one meal at the table together as a family
  4. gradually have more meals and snacks at the table
  5. gradually reduce the “extra foods” added to the table to accommodate specific likes and dislikes

In my next few posts, I’ll talk about how it is going, the steps we have implemented, and any difficulties or results we are seeing. Thank you for following along!

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Categories: autism, family life, Feeding Therapy, parenting, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

How I Failed at Feeding my Children

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About 2 and a half years ago, I wrote this post about giving up on the feeding therapy program I’d tried to institute. Not much has changed since I surrendered to convenience foods and making three different recipes at every meal…until now, that is.

In the last two posts in this Feeding Therapy series, I describe the Ellyn Satter Institute approach to eating and how it shed light onto my own struggles with eating and weight loss, and I outline their program for feeding children. In learning about the program, I came to realize that I was responsible for my son’s weight problem in ways that had never occurred to me.

I had started with such lofty ideals as a new mother: How did I get to be a Feeding Failure?

It starts, as eating issues usually do, with my own childhood. My mother was a war survivor who suffered through hunger and food scarcity as a young child. She used to make us stay at the table until our plates were cleaned. It made for many an unpleasant evening as I tried to force myself to eat foods that made me gag and sat alone for what felt like hours after everybody else had left. I vowed that I would never do the same to my own children.

My kids started out as great eaters, but they soon dropped one food after another until their diet was startlingly limited. It’s called food jagging, and it creeps up on you slowly and unexpectedly until you suddenly realize that they’ve backed themselves (and you) into a food corner that is now making it difficult to provide balanced nutrition for them.

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At first, I tried to fix this by following the advice of others to make them “try a bite” of vegetables and other foods that we all thought they should be eating. This, combined with their sensory issues and attention deficits – none of which were recognized by us at the time – made for some really horrid mealtimes. Lots of crying, screaming, arguing, cajoling, and full-on body tantrums.

I tried…I really did…pressured by my husband, my mother, and my own ideas about what feeding children should look like. But my gut told me that so much stress for everyone could not possibly be good for the kids or our family. So I gave up, and began cooking and serving separate meals to the kids and the adults. Lots of work for me, but at least it was peaceful.

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I reasoned to myself that, since we were a homeschooling family with a husband who worked largely from home, we got enough “together” time that not having sit-down meals together wasn’t a problem. Feeding the kids separately from the grownups also offered us the only apparent hope for eating our own meals in peace. Every now and then we’d give it another try, and it always ended in misery and failure.

Then they were diagnosed with autism, which I took as further justification for giving up on family dinners and hopes of a varied diet. Cue the gummy vitamins.

We moved into a tiny mobile home, and the dining table quickly morphed into a workspace for me. The kids’ bedroom was right off the kitchen, and it was just easier to serve them in their room, rather than having them come into the already crowded kitchen to pick up their food.

My mother came to visit us one week and asked, as neutrally as she could (I give her credit for that), if I served the kids their meals on a tray every day or was this just because she was visiting? (nope, I did it every day, for every meal). It was then that I started to realize just how far into crazy-land we had come.

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I told myself that when our new house was built, I’d make them eat at the table or breakfast bar like normal children, and stop serving them like a waitress. But it’s unlikely we would have eaten together. I’d have served them first to get it out of the way so I could enjoy a peaceful dinner with my husband.

You can imagine that making so many meals, so many times a day, quickly became exhausting. When convenience foods no longer cut it, I moved to making them prepare their own meals. It started with me telling them I was no longer making lunches, then progressed to breakfast on weekends, and then I made the ultimate deal: in exchange for pizza twice a week, I created “make your own dinner night” twice a week. That was four nights a week I didn’t have to make a bunch of different dinners – win for me!

But despite the appeal of the pizza, the kids never embraced the concept of making their own meals (they eventually changed it to one night a week; that’s how much they hated making their own dinner). Miss Em simply didn’t make anything on those nights, and turned instead to her stash of junk food (she regularly cycles to the corner store, buys food with her own money, and saves it for just such an occasion). Mr. Boo made himself dinner (usually some double or triple stack salami sandwich creation), but he complained and stomped around every damn time. And he left a mess in the kitchen that I was loathe to make him clean up, since by then he had only just calmed down and would likely have had a full-on meltdown if I’d pushed it any further (by end of day, that is the last thing I feel like dealing with).

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So that is how I got to the point where I was able to say “yes” to every item on the following checklist for kids who are overweight (or have other eating issues):

  • meals and snacks occur at irregular and unpredictable times
  • meals are not eaten at the table, but in front of computer or TV
  • the kids tell the mother what they would like to eat and mum makes it (short order cook)
  • the kids are responsible for feeding themselves without having achieved Eating Competence (which is the end goal of the feeding program)
  • the kids binge on certain foods, sometimes even hiding the evidence (one day I discovered a stash of snack wrappers underneath my son’s bed)
  • the Division of Responsibility is not being followed

I was a Feeding Failure. And because of it, both my kids had diets that were severely limited and limiting (for example, visiting friends for dinner always meant I had to bring food for my kids). And worse, my son was obese.

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But now I have hope, because the information I’ve learned has given me the tools I need to make family dinners a success. I now understand that the family dinner is about so much more than just connecting as a family (which is nice anyway, even when you are a homeschooling family):

  • It exposes the kids to the presence of new foods, which is the first step in overcoming limited food preferences, and essential for kids with sensory issues around food.
  • Kids don’t tend to enjoy hanging around the table too long (especially if they have ADD), which gives them a motive to eat just enough, and not too much.
  • People tend to eat less when they focus on their eating than if they eat while performing other tasks (like being on the computer).
  • Having food in serving dishes means everybody can decide for themselves how much to eat, rather than being served a portion that tempts one to “not leave anything wasted” and thus eat beyond satiation.
  • Having food in serving dishes allows kids to pick and choose from the nutrients in front of them: research shows that kids will naturally choose foods their bodies need and, over a period of days, will naturally balance out their nutritional requirements.
  • Being at the table allows kids to learn the social norms and expectations around eating in their culture, which will allow them to function better when in restaurants or eating at other peoples’ homes (especially important for kids with social disabilities).
  • It’s less work for mum to have one place where eating and messes take place, and not have to collect dishes from all around the house.

So after an initial wave of guilt as I realized all the ways I’d gone wrong in feeding my kids over the years – and that this was directly related to my son’s weight issues – I took comfort in recognizing that I didn’t have the knowledge and guidelines I needed to be successful back then. And I was excited about this new information, because I believed it really could work with my children.

And once I believed that I could make this happen, that we could sit around the table together as a family and enjoy a meal, that my kids could learn to try new foods, that my son could return to the weight that is right for him…I realized how much I’d wanted this all along.

In my next post, I’ll talk about the baby steps needed to go from being a total Feeding Failure to the end goal of Eating Competence and happy family meals.

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Categories: autism, family life, Feeding Therapy, parenting | 3 Comments

Feeding Your Overweight Child

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In my last post, I spoke about the new feeding and eating plan that I discovered after taking my overweight son (who also has autism) to visit a clinical nutritionist. I discussed some of the principles of the plan, and how it shed light on my own struggles around eating and weight loss. Today, I’m going to discuss the plan in the context of feeding children.

The plan I’m referring to is based on the Feeding Dynamics and Eating Competence models developed by the Ellyn Satter Institute. I should point out that this plan is for ANY CHILD, not just the overweight child. But since that is the issue our family is dealing with, it’s the one I’m going to focus on here.

The basic premise of the program is that children are born hardwired to eat what they need: no more and no less. This immediately reminded me of my days as a La Leche League leader, when I would counsel anxious new breastfeeding mums to let their babies take the lead on when to eat, how much to eat, and how often. So I knew this premise to be true. What I didn’t appreciate was that it continues throughout childhood and into adulthood providing we (the people doing the feeding) don’t screw it up.

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We screw it up by imposing our own values and anxieties around food on our children. We fuss over the ones who don’t eat much, and we chide those who eat a lot. We try to force the picky ones to eat “just a bite” of new foods, while we deem a category of favourite foods to be “bad for you” for the overweight kids. We let them eat in front of computers or TVs, so they don’t focus on their body’s signals of satiety. Or we don’t feed them often enough, triggering anxiety about when they will next be fed and how long they will have to go hungry, which leads to overeating when they finally get some food (a smart evolutionary strategy gone awry). We don’t eat together as families much anymore, so our kids are not exposed to new foods (and here’s the part that nobody told me: sitting in front of food is the first step, a real honest-to-goodness step, in learning to like new foods. That “just one bite” that we were told to insist on? That is much further down the list of steps, and even further for kids with sensory issues).

So, here it is in a nutshell: Satter calls it “the division of responsibility”. I, the parent, am in charge of the what, where, and when of eating and my school-age children are responsible for the whether and how much.

I make sure they eat regularly (no more than 3 hours between offerings), that they sit at the table without distractions (other than my stimulating company, or that of the rest of the family), and that they are offered foods from each of the four groups Satter lists as essential for growing kids: protein, carbohydrate, fruit or vegetable, and dairy (that last one assumes, of course, that there are no dairy allergies, and the book gives details on how to accommodate those). And here’s the fun part: make the food delicious! Cook with fat, sprinkle butter or sugar on those veggies, make everything a joy to eat. Provide a well-balanced offering of delights, and watch mealtime become fun again, not just for those who eat it, but for the one who is preparing it too!

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Nobody wants to come to the table for this.

 

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A delicious, well-balanced meal that’s a pleasure to make and a joy to eat.

The kids are responsible for deciding whether or not to show up for the meal (understanding there is no eating in between meal and snacktimes), what foods on the table to eat, and how much of any food on the table to eat (the exception being dessert, the only rule for which is that there is only one serving per person at the table).

That’s it.

No rules about how long the kids must stay at the table – if they are wanting to get down from the table and/or they are starting to act up, then they are done eating and we need to respect that so they learn to understand what that feeling means.

No rules about eating vegetables before dessert – they can eat their dessert at any time during the meal. It’s only one serving, so it won’t “ruin their dinner”, and they may learn all on their own that it’s nicer to save the sweet stuff for last (or they may not, and that is okay).

No rules about “trying a bite”, no matter how picky your eater. The steps to getting to eat a new food are:

  1. look at the food,
  2. be close to the food,
  3. touch the food,
  4. play with or manipulate the food,
  5. touch the food to the mouth,
  6. taste the food,
  7. chew the food,
  8. swallow the food.

There might even be some more in-between steps in the case of kids with sensory issues. The idea is that, if they are continually exposed to the variety of foods your family enjoys, and there is no pressure on them, they will slowly (or quickly, each child is unique) go through the steps and, when they are older, will learn that new foods are nothing to be afraid of.

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No rules about eating one of everything on the table: if they make an entire meal out of bread and butter, let it be. They will eventually round it out – maybe not that day, but most likely that week – and even fresh, white bread slathered in butter gets boring if that’s all you eat every day. Their bodies will soon crave what they need to balance it out, and you’ll make sure it is on the table when they do.

Finally, no forbidden foods. Regularly (reasonably often) offer cookies for a snack (with a glass of milk and some fruit on the table). Let your kid have as many cookies as they want, while they are at the table. Have potato chips on hot dog night, and make sure there is enough for everyone to get their fill. If your child has learned not to trust that these foods will be available, he or she may begin by scarfing down as many as can fit in their tummies…but eventually they will trust that such foods will be offered, and no limits will be imposed, and this can greatly reduce that chance of eating disorders, or even just the routine binge-and-guilt cycle that too many adults (including myself) get sucked into. It will also make these foods lose their “forbidden fruit” appeal, which goes a long way to healthy eating habits in the future.

I have to say, that when I first started reading I found myself sliding into a pit of guilt. My son was overweight, and to add to the guilt of having let him get that way, I was now faced with just how badly I had screwed up the feeding of my children over the years. On the checklist following “why is my child overweight?” I ticked off pretty much every single item. Regular mealtimes? nope. Eating at the table? nope. Division of responsibility? nope. I realized that I had basically tossed my kids into the deep end of the feeding and eating swimming pool without giving them the proper foundation. No wonder my kid was fat.

How did I get there? I’ll answer that in my next post. I’ll also be blogging about instituting the plan (which happens in stages) and discuss our challenges and triumphs. These posts will be tagged under “Feeding Therapy” if you wish to follow along (or read about some previous tried-and-failed plans).

For now, I would encourage anyone in charge of feeding kids, or anyone who is struggling with their own eating and weight issues, to visit the Ellyn Satter Institute website. I have bought and read two of their books: Your Child’s Weight: Helping Without Harming and Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family and I would recommend either of them.

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Categories: autism, family life, Feeding Therapy, parenting | 2 Comments

Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes

If David Bowie’s voice isn’t running through your head after reading that title, you’re probably a lot younger than I am!

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I’ve been thinking a lot about changes lately.

Over the past couple of months, I’ve come to realize that I’m entering a new phase in my life. The children are increasingly able to be left at home alone, and my mother has moved to our area and now serves as a handy (and free!) babysitter. This has opened up many possibilities that have been closed to us since we became parents almost 13 years ago, and I find myself marvelling at newfound freedoms after so many years of being needed at home with the children.

As I’ve thought about the changes this is bringing to my lifestyle, I’ve looked back on my life and realized that such changes have been occurring pretty regularly since the time I was very small. In fact, I can break it down rather accurately to a major lifestyle change approximately every 10 years. My goals, my responsibilities, and my level of freedom have changed with each decade and have brought with them a dramatically new lifestyle. I’m reminded of that saying “You can have it all, but not all at once“, and I’ve come to conclude that it describes my life quite well. This realization has brought a sense of deep gratitude and satisfaction. Each and every stage has been wonderful in its own way. Before I get tired of my life, I’m on to something completely different. It brings a colourful perspective to life, and a sense of adventure, too.

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My 50th birthday is less than 3 years away, and as I approach my sixth decade I’m enjoying thinking about the five that have come before it:

The first decade of my life was childhood, with its utter dependence on my parents. Luckily, I had good ones. I had a good home and a safe and happy life. My lifestyle revolved around elementary school; the rest was either play or following my parents’ agenda (music lessons, vacations, etc). The second decade of my life was high school and university undergrad. My freedom and independence slowly grew (not fast enough for me most of the time!). High school had a tangible goal (to get into University), and University undergrad meant freedom from parental rules and total ownership of my education.

The third decade of my life was filled with graduate school (Masters and PhD degrees). I no longer lived with my parents, and I spent a good deal of my free time socializing with friends (parties and night clubbing) and enjoying my hobbies (horseback riding and hanging out at the barn). I look back on fondly on this time: the world was my oyster, I had total freedom, and I had no responsibilities for anyone other than myself. It was the All About Me decade!

In the transition between the third and fourth decade of my life, I launched my career as a research scientist and got myself into a position where I was basically set. I had established myself and made good connections in my field. Had I continued, I would have enjoyed a solid and respectable career. But as the fourth decade rolled in I met my future husband, got married, and had two children. It’s a cliche, but a true one: having kids completely changed my life. From the moment my daughter was born my entire focus shifted to my children. I was no longer the centre of the universe and I didn’t even care. I experienced a love so profound, and a calling to motherhood that was so strong, that nothing else really mattered anymore. I’d had the All About Me decade, I’d achieved my goal of establishing a career, and I was ready to move on to something completely different.

Babies and toddlers are all-consuming. For a while, I forgot what it was like to walk around without the weight of a child on my back or in my arms. My purses became covered in dust; instead, I kept a full diaper bag ready to go at all times. Leaving the house was a massive exercise in project management, and my days were filled with other mothers and babies and child-centred activities. I didn’t sleep much, I was exhausted most of the time, but my heart was full of a joy I’d never known before.

As the kids became capable of dressing, feeding, toileting, and washing themselves and more independent in their learning, my time began to free up somewhat. As my fifth decade progressed, I was able to read books again and I took up hobbies such as knitting, quilting, and sewing. We bought our acreage and I began studying and planning for a small permaculture-based farm. I even took on a part-time job but, as with all my newfound activities, it was based from home.

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I’m now approaching my sixth decade, and I’m seeing some big changes ahead. Miss Em is completely independent at home and can babysit her brother during the day; at night they can go to my mother’s house. Mr. Boo is attending the learning centre 2 full days per week. This means that my free time can now encompass things that take place outside the home. I’ve been volunteering with a local non-profit organization and have recently taken on a leadership role. I’m really enjoying the interactions with other adults and working together for a common goal. I’ve started hanging out at our office one day a week to assist with tasks and sit in on a number of meetings that my role requires me to attend. I’ve been able to spend more time with Husband, sans enfants, which is also a pretty new experience for us. This newfound freedom is set to grow even further this fall, when Mr. Boo will be joined at the learning centre by his sister, and both will attend 3 days per week. For the first time since becoming a mother, I will experience what it’s like to not have children at home during the day (thankfully, they will still be around most of the week!).

I’m pretty excited about the possibilities for myself, and my changing role as a mother. Homeschooling has been such a big part of my job for the last 12 years, but I’m beginning to view myself as the mother of children who attend school part-time. I’ve enjoyed our homeschooling journey immensely, and I feel my children have been given a unique and wonderful first decade, full of unstructured learning, unconditional love, and emotional security. The next decade brings changes for all of us. But as with each new decade of change, I greet this one with excitement, enthusiasm, and gratitude. Bring on the next adventure!

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Categories: family life, lifestyle, Personal Growth | Leave a comment

Good Times with my Big Girl

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The positive effects of Mr. Boo attending his new learning centre twice a week continue to ripple throughout our family. One of the many great things is that now I have two full days a week to spend alone with Miss Em. We’ve been making the most of it, especially with this wonderful weather we’ve been having.

First, we set out for a walk and some geocaching. I used to go on woods walks with the kids when they were little, but when they got a bit older the whining started and I soon learned that if I wanted to enjoy myself and not come home drained and frazzled, I’d best go by myself! But lately she has decided that maybe walking isn’t so bad, and with geocaching she gets to enjoy the thrill of the hunt as well. One of the things I like about geocaching is that you get to see places you probably wouldn’t know about or go to otherwise. We found some lovely trails not too far from here, and logged 4 cache finds that day. Here she is perched on a large stump, tucked into the side of which was one of the caches we found.

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The next day I took her to see a special concert by the Victoria Symphony that was put on for school-aged children. We arrived at the theatre to see about half a dozen huge school buses unloading hordes of kids. It was chaos! We homeschoolers also had a section reserved, and it was great fun to pass through the yelling teachers and children marching in line to get to our group. We were well represented, with two rows of seats taken up by homeschoolers! The concert was themed on Nature. Miss Em recognized Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and Greig’s Peer Gynt (“that morning song”), and we especially enjoyed the final number: John Williams’ theme to Jurassic Park.

The day after that, Mr. Boo was back at “school” (despite the negative connotations that word has for homeschoolers, it’s the simplest way to refer to it) and me and Miss Em took a field trip to the Royal Museum of BC in Victoria. We went with a mother-and-son duo: I’m great friends with the mum and Miss Em is great friends with the son, so much fun was had! The kids wandered through the galleries, and the grownups followed – it’s the first time I’ve been there and been able to look at exhibits I’m interested in, even if my kids aren’t!

The photo below shows the kids at a photographic exhibit – this station asked them to come up with thoughts about what happened before or after the photo was taken. Miss Em ignored their instructions and drew a picture of a lion (since the photo had lions). I noticed that a few other kids had skipped the instructions and done their own thing on the papers provided. I thought it was funny: I think these “educational” activities are often rather contrived, and the kids saw right through it. It was fun to see a few other rebel souls doing their own thing with the exhibit!

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After seeing the exhibits we watched an IMAX movie about the Mars Mission, then headed to a nearby Board Game cafe. I’ve never been to one before and it was very cool. They had hundreds of board games, many that were relatively new and modern, and for a flat rate you can stay and play as long as you want. It’s a great way to try out a game before you buy it, and there is a small cafe too. We dropped the kids off there and went to a nearby Oyster Bar for a “buck a shuck” special. I absolutely love raw oysters and it was a very special treat to indulge (another bonus of not bringing the younger child)! When we got back to the cafe, we decided to play Cards Against Humanity with the kids. Fortunately, both our families are very open with our kids about sexuality (as in, we answer any and all questions matter-of-factly) and while a few of the cards drew some blushes, we had a great time and many laughs (and Miss Em won!).

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I have to confess that the respite earned by having Mr. Boo at the learning centre has shown me just how difficult a task I was faced with trying to homeschool both kids. His limitations in terms of what he can tolerate, and my tendency to shy away from situations where he might act out in public, have affected our homeschooling in ways I probably wasn’t ready to admit. For Miss Em and myself, it has meant more time together, and more outings doing things that I would not normally be able to do with him in tow. This past week has been really wonderful, and I’m so happy to have these opportunities.

 

Categories: family life, Homeschooling, Miss Em | Leave a comment

Catching Up

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It has been a while since I last posted. Mostly I have not had time to blog, but I’m hoping that will change. In fact, I’m hoping a lot of things change this year!

2014 was an interesting, challenging, and somewhat difficult year for our family. There was a real slowdown for Husband in terms of paid work, and he decided to devote his time to learning a new trade, in a manner of speaking, by developing extensive networks in our community through volunteering, attending meetings, etc. It meant he received virtually no income last year and I took on a lot of the breadwinning with my work-from-home editing job. I really loved the work, but the deadlines began to take their toll on me and the pay was not great. I actually pulled a few all-nighters, which is not much fun at my age! I also began to really miss the kids (and their complaints about my frequent non-availability tugged hard at my heart), the state of the house teetered precariously on the border of chaos, and I grew more and more unhappy.

Fortunately, things have begun to pick up for Husband, and last month I was able to quit my editing job. I do miss working for my boss, who was a good guy, but I really do not miss the stress of having to drop everything to meet a deadline. And I’m loving being a full time homemaker again! With the holidays it took me some time but my house is now back in order. Today was my weekly housecleaning and it is amazing how much less time it takes when I’m not decluttering at the same time!

2015 is shaping up to be a great year for us. Last year was very difficult due to our income being dramatically reduced, but Husband has secured a great contract for the next few months, and there is talk of it being renewed after this project. To top it off, the time he devoted to networking looks like it may have paid off – he is the top candidate right now for a local job with our district that pays very well. If all goes as hoped and planned, we will be able to seriously consider building the (very much needed) new house on our property some time this year.

With my house in order and the kids back into a good homeschooling routine, I’ve freed up some time for myself during the evenings and on weekends. I’ve already knitted myself a new pair of socks and am working on another pair. I’m also making a quilt for my mother that I am really excited about. I’ll post more on those creations later. Plus I’m volunteering with my local Green Party of Canada riding as we gear up for a federal election this year. I’m really enjoying meeting new people in my community! I’m also hoping to now devote some time to this blog again and provide more regular posts. So stay tuned!

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Categories: family life | 1 Comment

Downtime for Mama: RPGing with Skyrim!

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I learned early on that my kids need plenty of downtime built into their day, especially after we’ve been out running errands or doing activities. I, too, need downtime, albeit not as often. One of the advantages of having older children is having more opportunities to do things just for myself. I run three times a week, take my dog for walks in the forest, and pursue other interests such as sewing and knitting on evenings when I don’t have work to do. Sometimes I binge-watch a TV series via Netflix, or online, and I read books while I’m snuggling with Mr. Boo at bedtime, waiting for him to fall asleep. It’s really important for me to make sure I carve some downtime for myself out of my week. As they say, if Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!

Lately I’ve discovered a new pastime, playing a role-playing game called The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Now, while I do like video games, it’s not really my thing. Yes, I played through the Legend of Zelda, Ocarina of Time and loved it, and also enjoyed playing Banjo-Kazooie while my kids watched (they were toddlers back then), but after a while those types of games all seemed pretty much the same. My husband likes to play games like Battlefield and Far Cry, which are too testosterone-laden for my liking, and Miss Em and I enjoyed watching him play through The Last of Us (great storylines), but I hadn’t found any games that made me want to come back and keep playing when other opportunities beckoned.

About a year ago, my husband came home with a copy of Skyrim that he’d bought from a sale bin and thought the kids might like. We are a Mac family and Skyrim only runs on PC. We did have a PC hack going on our Mac, but as it wasn’t legit, it crashed a lot. Last month we finally bought a copy of Windows so Mr. Boo could take his programming course from Youth Digital, and installed it on our Mac using Bootcamp. Mr. Boo pointed out that now I’d be able to play Skyrim (neither kid was interested in doing so themselves), but I really didn’t know much about it. So he showed me a YouTube trailer for the game, and I thought it looked pretty intriguing. I was definitely blown away by the scenery!

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I was big into the fantasy genre of books when I was a teen and young adult. I read Piers Anthony, David Eddings, Terry Brooks, Steven R. Donaldson, etc. I still have my complete collection of The Belgariad and The Mallorean – which I re-read about every 5 – 10 years – and I own all the Shannara books (incredible series: 13+ books and they are all awesome!). And yes, I dabbled in Dungeons and Dragons when I was in high school (the early ’80s). But I just couldn’t get into it. Frankly, it required way too much imagination, and the action moved a bit too slowly for my liking. But this…Skyrim is everything I’d wished D&D was back then. I am loving this game!

I had no idea how much fun I would have creating, playing, and developing my character. The graphics are amazing, the experience is rich and varied, and I’m quite certain I can get a whole lot of game play out of this before I get tired of it: there is just so much to do!

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Being one who doesn’t read the manual, I jumped in with both feet, but after playing a few hours I realized there was probably a lot here I was missing. So I headed on over to YouTube and found this amazing complete walkthrough playlist by Culveyhouse. As a narrator, his voice is pleasant to listen to (something that is seriously lacking in many YouTube videos and especially important if you have 400+ videos to watch!) and he does a great job of balancing information on all the little things you can do with not making it boring to watch. The first 25 or so videos, which take you from the opening scene up to learning your first Shout words, taught me SO much about all the things you can do in the game and really upped the experience for me.

In order to ensure I don’t encounter any spoilers, I started skipping around after episode 32 and I only watch videos for quests I’ve already done. If I see anything really important I missed, I can always go back to that area, and I just really enjoy seeing the strategies he employs and reliving the quest experience from a slightly different perspective. If you are a fan of Skyrim, or want to see what it is all about, I highly recommend his walkthrough playlist.

I’ve been fairly busy and haven’t had a chance to play for a couple of days now, and I miss it! But once I get started, I like to play for at least a couple of hours, so I save it for my evenings off – it gives me something to look forward to!

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Categories: family life, lifestyle, Personal Growth | Leave a comment

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