Personal Growth

Bullet Journal Tour


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.


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.


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).


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


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):


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


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.


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.


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.


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).


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.


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



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.


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 | 2 Comments

Staying Organized with a Bullet Journal

ORGANIZE word cloud, business concept

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.


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.


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).


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:


Or as complex as this:


There are also monthly spreads:



And weekly spreads:




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:



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


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.


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 | 2 Comments

Eat Well

Aspen Thanksgiving

Like many adults, my weight has slowly increased with age. Over the last three decades, I have lost and regained the same 10 to 20 pounds. And while I have never been significantly overweight, I have tried a few of the more popular diet and eating regimes, which I can sum up in relatively few words:

Slim-Fast: the bars and shakes lose their appeal fast, they are nowhere near as enjoyable as real food, and the “sensible dinner” soon turns into a pigout followed by endless second helpings and sinful desserts as you brace for the next round of starving through your day.


The Paleo Diet: if you were raised in a culture where rice, pasta, or bread is a staple (which pretty much covers all of them), you will eventually miss these foods desperately. In a pathetic attempt to recreate those delicious and satisfying foods, you will learn complex recipes using previously unheard of ingredients such as coconut oil and almond flour that contain twice the calories and cost five times as much, while being only a tragic substitute for the real thing. I love cauliflower, but making pizza crust out of it will never be as satisfying as sinking your teeth into a soft, chewy, gluten-y pizza pie. And if you should ever be interested in running a 10k or cycling over reasonable distances, you will soon discover, perhaps painfully, that “carb loading” really is a thing.


Calorie-Counting: perhaps the simplest of the weight-loss programs, this allows you to eat anything you want, with no forbidden foods, provided you log every single calorie you eat. Today’s calorie counting apps make this process fairly quick and easy, so long as you eat packaged foods and dine out at chain restaurants. If you like to cook or bake, be prepared to weigh every portion and recipe ingredient, and to do a lot of math. If you like to dine out at somewhere other than Boston Pizza or McDonalds, if you frequently attend potlucks, buffets, or have meals at a friend’s house, you will find this more difficult. On days when I run, I found it easy to meet my calorie goals, but on non-exercise days I frequently went hungry.


I haven’t been crazy enough to do the Slim-Fast diet since I was an undergrad at university, but I did do the Paleo diet a few years ago, and up until about a week ago I was still on the calorie-counting plan. The results of both were the same: Initially I had no trouble sticking to the plan, I easily lost weight, and figured I was set for life only to slowly regain the weight and fail the second (and third, and fourth) time around.

I understood missing bread and pasta, so I wasn’t too hard on myself when the Paleo Diet proved a bust for me.

Blog Photo

But my failure at calorie-counting was really frustrating. I couldn’t understand what was going on for me that I continually ate past my calorie goals, sometimes eating when I didn’t even feel hungry, or eating high-calorie foods that I didn’t even like all that much. Was I stressed? Was I unhappy? Was there some other psychological issue causing me to overeat? I couldn’t find any such reason. Day after day I would wake up thinking “this is the day I stick to it”, and within a couple of days I’d blown my count.

The solution, as solutions often do, came to me from a completely unexpected source. An appointment with a clinical nutritionist for my overweight son turned me on to an approach to eating that I’d never considered. As I read through the articles and books, I realized that so much of what the author was saying fit with my experience and explained my repeated failures at reproducing my previous weight-loss results. I’ll go into the book and the approach in much more detail in a subsequent post about Feeding the Family, but here I’ll talk about the issues that really hit home for me personally.

The problem with ANY kind of restrictive diet, whether it is not eating certain foods or controlling the portions of those foods, is that it leads to a cycle the author calls “restraint and disinhibition”. After controlling your food for so long, your body eventually rebels and drives you to seek out high-calorie, high-fat foods. Nothing less seems to suffice, and you are led to believe that you actually hate vegetables and will never be satisfied without a steady intake of potato chips and cookies. This cycle, which is described in great detail by the author and backed up with references to numerous studies, described my experiences perfectly. I saw myself in that pattern, and it explained my experiences with every diet I’d tried.


I began to recognize the tragic consequences of continuous attempts to “eat healthy”. I had stopped baking because I could never stop myself from eating more cookies than my count-for-the-day allowed, nor could I turn down a second or third slice of homemade bread fresh out of the oven. I stopped making homemade meals because they were more difficult to count, and many of the meals I used to enjoy cooking were not low-calorie enough for me to enjoy them on days other than my longest running days (leaving me to deal with leftovers that I wasn’t allowed to eat). I even began eating frozen low-calorie dinners, something I had never done in my life, and I somehow convinced myself that these foods were tasty. I even sometimes turned down visits with my mother because that usually meant either eating out, or being served delicious homemade cakes and pies that I was not supposed to eat!


It really hit home to me when the author asked us to perform a simple thought experiment. She asked us to make a list of the meals we would make if we had NO restrictions at all on our eating. As I dug through the cobwebs of my mind, I began to remember all the meals I had loved as a child, and the ones I had later learned to cook for myself. I was raised on stir-fries and rice (my mother was born in Hong Kong and lived there for many years) and roast beef and yorkshire pudding (my father is English), and fried rice was one of my go-to comfort foods. I recalled wonderful homemade soup recipes, pasta sauces, a fantastic tortiere made using my mum’s pastry recipe, sausages with mashed potatoes and mushroom gravy, and risotto to die for. I’d been raised on food like this, and was never overweight until I left home. Why? The book explained it to me.

The approach is two-part. The first relates to the what of eating, and the prescription is delightful: eat delicious, tasty meals. Discover (or rediscover) the joy of making yummy food. Eat until you are satisfied, and don’t bother with portion control or calorie counting. Make eating a pleasure, something enjoyable that satisfies our deepest cravings for variety, flavour, and satisfaction. Cook with fat, because it makes food taste delicious. Enjoy your vegetables by roasting (without holding back on the olive oil), by coating steamed veggies in melted butter and salt, by braising carrots in butter and brown sugar, by dipping celery sticks and raw pepper slices into ranch dressing, by doing whatever you do to make your favourite vegetable dishes shine. Don’t use substitutes (unless you have a medical condition that requires you to do so). Love the food you eat! Look forward to your next meal because it will taste delicious, not because you are starving and want food…any food.

The second part relates to the where and when of eating. Don’t graze, don’t eat mindlessly in front of your computer, the TV, or a book. Don’t wait until you are starving and then seek out whatever food will satisfy that urge quickly and deeply – such habits lead us to dispense with cooking (must…eat…now!) and to reach for high fat and high calorie foods that satiate without providing much in the way of nutrition. Trying to reach for a bowl of carrot sticks when you have made it through your whole day on a dry English muffin and a cup of coffee is fighting Mother Nature, and you know the old saying about doing that.

Instead, have regular snack and meal times throughout the day – and eat only then – so that you approach eating hungry, but not famished. When you are hungry, all sorts of delicious foods look appealing – from vegetables to succulent roast chicken – and you can take the time to enjoy the food rather than desperately shovelling it into your mouth. Pay attention to the food, savour it, have as much as you need to feel satisfied without stuffing yourself. Prepare a variety of foods so that you have a well-balanced table of delights from which to choose: fruits and vegetables, carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Make each of these dishes mouth-wateringly tasty, and you will ensure that you don’t fill up on the starch and fat while neglecting the veggies and protein (veggies help fill you up so you don’t overeat on the fats and carbs, and protein keeps you feeling full longer, but you won’t want either of these if they don’t taste delicious). Enjoy dessert, even go back for seconds if you like, but wait until you are done with your meal, and eat until you are full, knowing you can always have more at the next meal or snack if you want.

This is not a prescription for weight loss. Instead, it is a program designed to have you reconnect with your body’s natural drive to eat what it needs and stop eating when it is done. This instinct is something I taught as a breastfeeding counsellor – all babies are born with this ability – but we mess with it as we get older. We become adults who no longer pay attention to our body’s cues, and instead seek out intense flavour to make up for a bland diet of low-fat, low-flavour, low-enjoyment foods. We seek out quick, high-fat foods to halt the gnawing hunger that pushes us beyond caring about variety and nutritional composition. We eat on the run and pay little attention to the process of eating. We eat convenience foods because spending time to cook meals that aren’t awesome could be better spent elsewhere.

As I read through the materials given to me by my son’s nutritionist, I realized that I had been sabotaging my own attempts at maintaining a healthy weight by falling into the cycle of restraint and disinhibition (and the guilt that follows).


Determined to follow this new plan, I made a list of meals I loved and began to make them.

I bought perogies for the first time in years, fried them up with onions, and ate them with sour cream. But I also made one of my favourite vegetable dishes: kale sauteed in coconut milk. I truly love this dish and ate so much of it that I didn’t need to pile up my plate with perogies, although I had given myself permission to eat as many perogies as I wanted (and I did).

I went to the grocery store and stocked up on staples I haven’t bought in way too long: chicken stock for homemade soups, tomato sauce for pasta sauces, rice of all kinds (wild, arborio, basmati). I dusted off recipe books and planned for curried vegetables, and beef and broccoli stir fry, with as much rice as I want.

I started baking again, and was reminded of how much I love baking! I made banana chocolate chip muffins, and toll house chocolate chip cookies. Now the leftover halloween candy holds no appeal for me, because the stuff tastes awful compared to my homemade treats. And since I eat them after a meal, when I’m already pretty full, I don’t eat very many of them. Then when I crave more of them, I make myself wait – because it won’t be for long – and by the time I’ve finished that meal or snack, I only want one or two because I’m full and satisfied again. I’m not going hungry, and I’m not depriving myself, and I’m not restricting myself so that cycle of restraint and disinhibition is halted in its tracks.

In my next post, I will present this program in full and discuss how it relates to the problem of my overweight son and the severe food restrictions and lack of variety in both my children’s diets.


Categories: Feeding Therapy, Personal Growth | 2 Comments


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


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.


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.


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!

goldfish jumping out of the water

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

Downtime for Mama: RPGing with Skyrim!

skyrim logo

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!


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!


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!


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

Project-Based Homeschooling: Master Class


Last year at this time I wanted to try Project-Based Homeschooling. I thought I would do it once a week, one hour for each child. But I didn’t really get it: I tried wrapping it up with my own agendas for their learning in a quid-pro-quo type of arrangement. Then Life got in the way: Husband’s career was in flux, I took on a lot more part-time work, and PBH kind of fell by the wayside.

Fast forward to this past Spring, and I’m having an attack of Periodic Unschooling Panic Disorder, or PUPD. Miss Em has about 10 projects on the go in various stages of completion, some of which have been gathering virtual dust for months, and I begin to despair that she will never learn how to finish anything. Top that off with her first paid assignment as a web designer, whereby her grandmother offers her an inflated hourly wage to create a simple website for a recent business venture and it only gets done as a result of constant nagging on my part, and I’m convinced my future adult child will never hold down a job. Just to put that in perspective, she was not even 12 years old at this point. And then there is Mr. Boo, who insists he wants to learn Java and start making his own computer games despite the fact that, as yet, he has nowhere near the kind of drive, perseverance, and patience for such a venture.

While wondering how I could help my kids manage and finish projects, I stumbled across the PBH website again, did some more reading, and realized that this might be just the thing we all needed to move forward. I bought the e-book, read it, and loved it. I liked the Facebook page, began following the discussion threads, lurked around in the forums, and became more convinced that I needed to do this. Not just for them, but for myself, too.

pbh kids

Having finally gotten a handle on that elusive work-life balance issue (not resolved by any means, but manageable) I decided this year I was going to do PBH and do it right. Three times a week, one hour per child, completely self-directed and no we-do-your-project-idea-and-then-you-do-mine. I was so enthusiastic and excited…and yet so worried that I would not be able to see it through. Forming new habits is hard, and I find schedules almost impossible to stick to when self-imposed. Enter the PBH Master Class.

Lori, founder and guru of PBH, announced that she would be offering another Master Class this fall and after mulling it over in my head for a few days, I decided I really needed to do this. The class delves deep into PBH over a period of six weeks. I wanted to go deeper into the subject myself, but I also knew that if I was immersed in the class there was a much greater chance that I would follow through with my new plans, and by the time the class was over it would hopefully be established as a new habit.

I’m loving the course so far. We’ve begun with journaling as a way to be more mindful of our children’s interests, to observe their learning, to document what they are doing. While I am not yet mastering the art of journaling every day, I have created some entries, begun using a sticky-note system (on my smartphone, and with actual sticky notes on my desk), and am generally just being more conscious about talking to my kids about their interests. When you have older kids who do much of their work alone or in their room, it’s easy to miss out on so much of what they are working on, exploring, thinking about, wanting to learn. By regularly checking in with them I am not only getting a better feel for what they are up to, but they are responding to my interest, being the focus of my attention, and my efforts to help without interfering.

I will be posting about my own progress in the class and what I’m learning, as well as posting about the kids’ projects. We’re only one week into it, but I’m feeling pretty good about it all, and excited about where we can go with this.


Categories: Homeschooling, Personal Growth, Project Based Homeschooling | 1 Comment

The Calorie Economy


I’m a few days away from 8 weeks since I started my fitness and weight loss plan. I’ve lost 9 lbs as of today and am still really, really happy with the plan. I feel that this is something I will be able to sustain over the long term, and even if I slip up a bit I will have the tools and the know-how to correct that.

It has become interesting to see how my approach to food has changed. Tracking calories seems to naturally result in the development of a “calorie economy”, where choices are made based on your daily budget, much as you might choose how to spend money. You consider 1) whether you can afford it, 2) how long it will take to “pay if off”, and 3) whether the price is worth the reward.

Sticking to a budget and having a goal really helps with the first point. If the calories aren’t available, I don’t eat. Of course, you have to make sure that you are not starving yourself or hungry at the end of the day. With practice I have learned what meals are satisfying and what leaves me hungry soon afterwards. I generally eat a light breakfast and lunch so that I can enjoy a filling dinner and I usually have room for a small treat in the evening. By divvying up my calories this way I don’t “run out of money before the end of the month” and still have room for what I want.


With regard to the second point, it is possible to overindulge one day if you are willing to underindulge the next. For example, on a couple of occasions I’ve gone out and eaten rich meals at restaurants (we had relatives visiting from overseas) and had a high calorie day as a result. But the next day I found that I wasn’t very hungry and it was easy to eat lighter. How long you have to eat lighter will depend, of course, on how much you overindulged. But by tracking calories it is easy to figure this out. Of course, it is not easy to sustain a lighter-than-usual intake so I make sure that my overindulgence can be made up for within a day or two at the most. As with credit cards, you can pay it off in installments if it only takes a month or two, but eventually you will want to buy something else and if you are still paying off the first item it will lead to trouble (note: this is just an analogy; I don’t believe in carrying a balance on my credit cards!).

In terms of the third point, like every savvy shopper you make a decision as to whether the purchased item is worth the price. I was in Starbucks the other day. I just had tea with a bit of milk and sugar, but I grabbed a couple of “nutritional information” pamphlets and perused them while I sipped. I was floored, absolutely floored, by how calorie-laden their food is. And it’s not even  tasty! I find their food dry and stale most of the time, which is why I rarely eat there. I do, however, like their ginger molasses cookies and have, on occasion, indulged in one thinking “how bad can one cookie be?”. I could not believe that it was almost 400 calories for one of those!!! I eat less than that at breakfast or lunch! Imagine trading an entire meal for one cookie, and not even being the best cookie you’ve ever tasted! Definitely not worth it. I will likely never eat one of those cookies again. I’d rather bake my own – far more tasty and far less calories!


Sometimes the treat is worth the price. In another example, I love chocolate covered almonds. Every now and then I would treat myself to a bag. A couple of weeks ago I was in the grocery store craving them so I decided to buy a bag – I’d been good and reached a new low that week. I ended up eating the whole bag, and yes it was quite delicious and satisfying. But it was also over 1000 calories, which is about 2/3 of my daily goal. Over the next couple of days my weight went up a bit and then back down – it took me about a week to recover from that indulgence. I don’t regret eating them, but I know that it will be a rare occasion when I will indulge in such a treat again.

My original goal was to lose 15 lbs. I am past the halfway mark now and am fitting into clothes I couldn’t comfortably wear before (I also had a pair of shorts almost fall right down in the grocery store; I now need a belt with them). I could have lost more weight by now if I had never “overindulged” at all, but because I don’t have much to lose, relatively speaking, it’s not slowing things down too badly, and it’s a price I’m willing to pay for the right occasion (Dim Sum!). Mostly I feel like I have control over my eating and my weight, and it is very much like the control one feels when one is budgeting their money. You can indulge in the occasional treat knowing you have accounted for it and the lack of guilt makes it that much more enjoyable!

My weight over the last 30 days.

My weight over the last 30 days.

Categories: Personal Growth | Leave a comment

Fitness Update


I am on day 11 of my new fitness program, whereby I log my food intake and exercise using My Fitness Pal. To determine the precise number of calories burned on my workouts (running and cycling) I am using the Map My Ride cellphone app. I am pleased to announce that I have already lost almost 5 lbs (4.5 lbs as of this morning, to be precise)!

I’m really happy with this program, because it allows me to eat whatever foods I want. No more guilt over bagels or hitting the drive-through on those days where I just don’t feel like cooking. I just track my calories throughout the day – made very easy with the websites’s huge database – and make choices based on that. I can eat cereal for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, and even indulge in dessert. It all depends on what else I’ve eaten that day and I make choices based on that. Want a high-calorie dinner (homemade guacamole and tortilla chips, one of my fave comfort meals)? Make sure I have a light lunch that day. Went out for lunch and ate a lot? Choose a light dinner option (I would like to emphasize that I am not doing “low fat” either; if the Paleo diet taught me anything it’s the value of good, healthy fats).

According to the website, my daily caloric requirement for maintenance is 1800 calories. To attain my goal of losing 2 lbs a week I am supposed to eat 1200 calories per day. I really thought that I would have to go hungry to achieve that, but surprisingly that isn’t so. I have not once felt hungry.


Another benefit, which I did not envision before, was the way it allows me to bring “forbidden foods” into the house. Yesterday I bought a case of ginger ale for the first time in years. On days when I have the room in my caloric intake, I enjoy a cold one. But I have not felt tempted to have one every day, and especially on days when I want the extra room to eat something more nutritious or satisfying. There has been ice cream in the house as well and I only indulged once, at the end of a day when I had some calories to spare. It’s nice to think I might even be able to get back into baking, something I enjoy but had to give up because I would eat all the goodies.

I’m also surprised at the rate of weight loss. Now, mind you, I have greatly increased the frequency of regular exercise, and that is bound to have an immediate effect. If I was needing to lose a lot of weight I would not expect that rate to continue. I may even see a slowdown as I approach my goal (I want to lose 15 lbs). But in the ten days for which I have complete food logs I have exceeded 1200 calories only five times. Mind you, four of those times I was still under 1500 calories, and the other time I was at 1800.

Right now my main sources of exercise are cycling and running. I have just started the Learn to Run 10K program. I did this program back in 2008, and in 2009 I ran the 10 km Sun Run in Vancouver. So I know it works and I’m excited to be doing it again.


It remains to be seen how easy it will be to continue this program into winter, when one tends to eat more and eat heavier, heartier foods to compensate for the cold. It is also not as easy to stick with regular exercise when it is cold and wet outside (unless you go to a gym, which I have no interest in doing). However, while I’m not sure whether I will want to ride my bike through the winter, I know I can continue running because I have done so in the past and I don’t mind it. Hopefully, by the time the weather changes for the worse, I will have reached my goal weight and can indulge in “maintenance eating”, which will allow me to eat more calories with less exercise, which will hopefully compensate for the challenges of winter.

I feel like I have finally found a system that is sustainable. When I indulge through the holidays, I will know how to compensate for that on other days. There are no “banned foods”. And going over your caloric intake can be compensated for by simply going out for a brisk walk or run, or by reducing intake the next day. Eventually I will possibly get a good feel for caloric intake and not need to log food every day. But honestly it takes such a short amount of time to do so I don’t see that becoming an issue.



Categories: Personal Growth | 2 Comments

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