Tea in the Forest

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

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

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

I loved it.

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

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

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


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

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A new plan for our girl


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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Bullet Journal Tour


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

New House, New Cleaning Routine


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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Categories: Homemaking | 2 Comments

Transitioning to High School (Part 2 of 2)


In my last post I described the rocky start we’ve been having as my daughter transitions to a “real” high school. It was her idea, and it is part of the larger goals she has set for herself, but her anxiety has been worse than expected. She’d had a good week previously, and I thought we were over the worst of it, but then this past week her anxiety resurfaced. It was terribly discouraging and she was beginning to doubt that she could get through this. I was worried for her: worried that if she quit she would never forgive herself, that she would lose confidence, and that it would take years for her to try again. I knew in my heart that she was ready for this step, I just had to figure out where the anxiety was coming from. So I thought about what had transpired over the last couple of weeks.

The week before had been great, but it was also rather unique. It marked the start of a new semester, a week where the school comes together for team-building exercises and lectures on basic skills (e.g., inquiry, logic, rhetoric); there are no formal classes. Each day began with a morning ritual that included a drumming circle (which she enjoyed) followed by a series of games and exercises that she found easy and fun. Importantly, the week had a predictable routine and required little from her in terms of knowing where to be next or what she should be doing because the whole school participated in the exercises together. The rules and expectations were new to everyone and clearly laid out to the group for each activity. And although she came home pleasantly exhausted, she made it through each 4-hour half-day without any trouble.

The following week, classes began. She had Mondays off, and on Tuesday she left after the first class, but she seemed mostly okay, just a bit confused (see below) and tired. On Wednesday she asked me to come get her after the first class, and she broke down as soon as she got in the car. She was terribly upset, and she refused to go back the next day. The next night she told me she didn’t want to go Friday either. I’m afraid I tried pushing her (gah! I know better than that – it never works!!) as my own feelings of worry and anxiety overcame me, which of course was the wrong move (pro tip: increasing anxiety in someone who is already anxious does NOT help!). She broke down and started saying maybe she had made a mistake, maybe she was not ready for this. That got me really worried so (after I apologized) I went to bed and thought long and hard about the situation. By the next morning my thoughts began to settle on a coherent explanation for what was going on.


I know from years of dealing with my son (who has more severe autism than his sister) that one of the most effective ways to reduce anxiety is through routine and predictability.  When faced with a new situation, we engage in a process our therapist calls “front-loading”. We let our son know exactly what he can expect, which helps ease the transition to the new activity or environment. I realized that my daughter was not getting any front-loading. It’s tricky because the things you explain in the front-loading process are usually so “obvious” to neurotypical people that it can be difficult to even identify them. I thought about her first week, and how front-loading might have helped.

Her first class on Tuesday was Math. She came home not even knowing if she had been in the right classroom (and was too embarrassed to ask). She told me later she felt “stupid” because she was certain that she was far behind everybody else, which she based on the fact that everybody else seemed to “know what they were doing”. She felt utterly lost, but nobody knew it because she is so good at hiding her feelings in front of strangers (a typical trait of Aspie girls).

The next day was science class, which she was so looking forward to, but which turned out to be a review of lab safety procedures followed by a pantomime exercise which she didn’t understand. To make it so much worse, she became convinced that she had embarrassed herself in front of everybody. After that was lunch, which she had been excited about because she and her new friend were going to walk to the nearby convenience store. But she got so worked up about “making a fool of herself in class” (which I am quite certain she did not do) that she was “too terrified” to enjoy the outing (interpretation: she was a wreck thinking about how she had embarrassed herself in front of everyone).



After lunch was teacher-supported study block, but when one of the kids told her that it was a time to work on projects, she got anxious because she didn’t have a project, and the idea of sitting through an hour of not-knowing-what-to-do was just too much for her. By then she had reached the breaking point and needed to come home.

In reviewing all this (most of which I didn’t know until she told me Thursday night) I could see the perfect storm that led to her anxiety overload. My suspicions were confirmed when I met with the math teacher the next morning. I learned that because math class involves kids at different grade levels and abilities, each child works on their own curriculum. The teacher goes around to the kids helping them with their workbooks and sometimes gives talks about new concepts if a group of them are working on that. I can see why my daughter was confused about whether she was in the right place, because she was expecting a teacher standing up in front of the class lecturing. Also, the teacher had given her a workbook but she didn’t understand what to do with it, and she felt too “stupid” to ask.

No wonder she felt so lost, confused, and insecure. Had all of this been explained to her ahead of time she would have known what to expect and what to do, and that would have greatly eased her anxiety. For the science class, if she had known ahead of time she could have thought about the pantomime, I could have helped her understand what the purpose was (they were supposed to act out what not to do in the lab; it was supposed to be funny), she could have rehearsed her bit, or practiced how to politely decline.

I began to mentally berate myself: how could I forget how important it is for my kids to be front-loaded? It’s the curse of her being so high-functioning, and so capable of masking her true feelings when out socially. But I was now certain that the key to reducing her anxiety was for her to know what to expect ahead of time to a much greater level of detail than was being provided up to this point. She had to feel competent and capable, and that meant knowing what to expect and knowing how to prepare for it.

The plan I came up with was to work with her at home before each class in order to ensure she was prepared for the day. And we would also review the materials after each class so she understood what was required of her. 


To pitch the idea to her, I framed it in the context of University (which she is excited about attending one day). I explained how at University (particularly in the early years of huge class sizes) you don’t really go to class to learn the material. You go to class to get the material. Then you take home your notes and handouts and you review it (i.e., you study the material). If you have questions, you book an appointment with the professor. And the really successful kids find out what the next lecture will be about, and they study the subject beforehand. So I suggested to her that we create those same habits at home. It would help ease her anxiety, and as a bonus it would help her develop good study habits.

When I told her my idea, she responded positively. Although the night before she had told me she didn’t want to go to school, she agreed to come that day for French class while I met with her math teacher to begin our new plan.

She had a great time! None of the kids have had much French (the school has been doing German as their second language for the last few years) and so she is not behind at all. The format was simple: the class reviewed words and phrases together, repeated them following an audio prompt, and they got a list of all the words and definitions. She told me that she was glad she’d gone to school, that she really liked the class, and she was invited to a get-together by her new friend and another girl! The class has a pretty straightforward format, she was able to follow along without any trouble, and she is not feeling anxious about going to the next French class on Monday (yay!). We are going to review her homework tomorrow (making flash cards using the words they learned that day – she is excited about illustrating her cards!), so that she comes prepared and confident.


For science, I’ve emailed her teacher to find out what subject will be covered next class. She and I will review the topic at home so that she has a basic understanding of the context when she arrives at class. This will help her feel less anxious and insecure. After class, she and I will review the material that was covered, research anything she doesn’t understand, and prepare for the next class.

As for Math, I brought home her workbook and explained what I’d learned at my meeting with her teacher. I could see how relieved she was when I explained the format of the class, and she was rather excited by the fact that she had her own workbook. She has the choice to work on it at home with me, or go to class and work on it there. Right now she wants to work at home, which is fine. We will go through it together until she feels more confident, and then she can attend math class at school. If she wants help with something, she can go to a math class or to the teacher-supported study block.

We are both feeling optimistic about this plan. This week she will attend for French and Science and work on her math at home. It’s only one (2-hour) class a day, four days a week, but after her big setback this past week it’s important to proceed slowly. I’m feeling confident that this new plan will go a long way to easing her anxiety levels. I promise I will keep you posted (thanks for all the lovely messages of support!), but for now both her and I are feeling very hopeful!


Categories: autism, Education, learning, Miss Em | 4 Comments

Transitioning to High School (Part 1 of 2)


In my last post I explained that my daughter, Miss Em, has begun attending a “real” school. We found a lovely little private school that seemed the perfect fit for her, and a great place to move forward with her social and academic development. Unfortunately, neither her nor I anticipated just what a huge change this would be for her, and it ended up triggering her anxiety to levels we haven’t seen in a long time.

Our whole family was excited about her first day, and so was she. But only a couple hours into it she begged me to come pick her up. She was having a huge anxiety attack and was terrified of having a meltdown in front of all these strangers.

The next morning I met with the teacher support person who helps students both academically and with their social/emotional needs. Although Em took to her immediately and her presence was comforting, Em continued to suffer from anxiety. It was hard for her to put into words what the problem was, so it was hard for the rest of us (me and her teachers) to figure out how best to support her. I was blown away by the concern and desire to help that was expressed by the staff: I could not have asked for a kinder, more supportive environment for her.

For her part, Em remained positive and determined. She knew that the first little while would be tough, and she knew that eventually she would get to know the other students and teachers. She looked forward to feeling part of a family, as she had at her previous program. Still, she was struggling to make it through one class per day.

Last week was the start of the new semester, and they begin with a week of team-building and group exercises. She had a great week, and I honestly thought the worst was behind us. She even made friends with a girl who loves to draw. I really thought that was the final turning point, and from there on in, we would have smooth sailing. The following week (this past week) the new coursework began, and we were both feeling positive about it.

So it was with dismay that I found myself once again responding to a text message asking me to come and take her home. As soon as she got into the car she burst into tears, saying how hard this was, how she was beginning to doubt herself, etc. My heart ached for my daughter, and I recalled with sadness all the struggles she has faced in her short life.


I lay awake for a long time that night, thinking about the problem and what we could do to help her. I recalled the words she had said to me in anguish: how she felt so lost, how she felt she must be much less intelligent than these other kids, how she dreaded going to sleep at night because it would bring another day that much closer. Even though my own life was currently worry free, my heart was suffering for her.

But then early the next morning, as I was slowly waking up, I had a lightbulb moment. I felt I had finally figured out what the problems were and – most importantly – I came up with a solution.

Continued next post…




Categories: autism, Education, learning, Miss Em | 2 Comments

Big Changes for my Big Girl


A couple of weeks ago my 14-year old daughter, Miss Em (who has Asperger’s Syndrome), started attending school for the very first time since preschool.

For the past two years she has been attending a local learning centre for kids with autism and related challenges, as part of her overall homeschooling program. This provided a safe environment in which she could practice her social skills, improve her focus and attention skills, and build enough stamina to get through a full day of activities. And she did very well. As of last fall she was attending 4 days per week. She was excelling academically and socially but…she was starting to get bored. She wanted to dive deeper into her school subjects, engage with a mentor, and she was also starting to look ahead to her goals beyond school: University is definitely in her plans. She also wanted to expand her social horizons beyond the small group at the learning centre, and see how she fared in a more neurotypical crowd.

For all these reasons, she decided to give high school a try. I knew that a regular public school would be too much for her: way too many kids, not enough personal interaction with mentors, and I knew from hearing other families’ tales of woe that our local public schools fail pretty miserably when it comes to supporting special needs kids. Not to mention the social environment in a large high school can be positively toxic, especially for a child who struggles with social interactions.



Alternatively, we have several elite private schools here, and although I was sure that the hefty tuition fees we’d be paying would net us some serious special ed support, their academic schedules are very intensive and the kids are carrying the weight of some very big expectations placed on their shoulders by the adults around them. I didn’t think my daughter would do well in such a high pressure environment.

Fortunately, there was one little private school I’d discovered a few years ago that happens to be within a 5 minute drive of our house. I had thought back then that if she ever wanted to go to school, this might be a good place to start. We toured the school just before the Christmas holidays and fell in love. It’s a small building, and there are only about 30 students in the whole school (grades 9 – 12). There are 4 teachers, and classes are either split in two (Grade 9/10 and Grade 11/12) or done with the whole school. So you can imagine that the teachers develop close relationships with the students, and the students with each other. I’ve found through my experiences with homeschooling that bullying is far less likely to take place in small groups with lots of adults around, and in multi-age groups.  

We received a warm and enthusiastic welcome, and they were happy to consider accepting my daughter on a part-time basis. As a bonus, our homeschool program is paying the tuition fees! She was due to start right after the Christmas holidays, and there was a great deal of excitement in our family as that time approached. The plan was for her to attend 4 days/week for half-days at first, moving to full days in a week or two. They were just finishing up the first semester, so this would be perfect timing.



However, it turns out that neither my daughter nor myself anticipated what a huge change this would be for her. It’s not just dealing with the social situation – being a stranger in a crowd of unfamiliar faces, worrying about every word she says in case she embarrasses herself, etc…


But I didn’t stop to think about all the things she wouldn’t know by virtue of having never gone to school. Little things like transitioning between classes, how to distinguish handouts from assignments or homework. How to organize materials from different classes, what to do during class (take notes? Just sit and listen?), what to do on a break (stay in the classroom? Go outside?), etc. We had a steep learning curve ahead of us.


To be continued…

Categories: Education, learning, Miss Em | 1 Comment

All Moved In (but still tons to do!)

Our first winter in the new house and Mother Nature gives us a white Xmas!

Our first winter in the new house and Mother Nature gives us a white Xmas!

I can’t believe it’s been over 3 months since I last posted. But I have certainly been busy, and I needed a break from blogging. Between moving, the kids starting up with their school programs, and Husband returning from a four-month stint in Seattle, there was much to contend with.

After I wrote my last post, I began packing for the move out of the old mobile home. It was a gruelling 4 days of work, aided only by my 80 year old mother (who put me to shame with her hard work). I had somehow been under the impression that since I was planning on getting rid of a ton of stuff, the packing would be relatively easy. How wrong I was. For four days we started early and finished late into the evening. It was stressful, and we were both very sore. Our stuff went into a small container that had been brought to the property, and the kids and I moved to my mother’s home for what we thought would be a few short days.

In the midst of moving hell.

In the midst of moving hell.

Then it turned out that we were missing paperwork for the demolition. The specialized container service that is licensed to remove and dispose of construction waste required some form that nobody else had heard of, and it took me a few days just to track down someone who knew what it was and how to get it. That delay meant we missed the window for the excavator who was set to demolish the mobile. We ended up having to wait a few more days before we found someone who could come.

The demolition bin arrives, but sits while we wait for last-minute paperwork.

The demolition bin arrives, but sits while we wait for last-minute paperwork.

The demolition itself was fun, cathartic, and oh so satisfying! That horrible little hovel, which was literally falling apart before our eyes over the last few weeks of its life, was finally smashed to pieces and hauled away. The excavator driver let me have the first smash! Then my son was allowed to have a turn. That was fun. The rest took only another day or so, and before we knew it, it was all gone.


Goodbye, world's ugliest master bedroom. I do not miss you one bit!!

Goodbye, world’s ugliest master bedroom. I do not miss you one bit!!

You could practically hear the unwanted houseguest critters fleeing the scene. Begone rodents!

You could practically hear the unwanted houseguest critters fleeing the scene. Begone rodents!





The change in the look of the property was significant. The mobile was situated near the driveway entrance to the road, and blocked the view of the rest of the property (not to mention the new house). With it gone, the place looks a lot larger. Now all we need to do is tear down the ugly pump house (in front of the new house, next to the tree) – but that’s a project for another time.

That nicely groomed earth is where the mobile home stood.

That nicely groomed earth is where the mobile home stood.

After 3 weeks of living at my mother’s house, bless her heart but in the end we were all wanting it to end, we finally got the go-ahead to move into our new house. First, I went to Seattle to visit Husband and escort him back home, then the whole family spent our first night there. It was Saturday, October 15, 2016. We all slept on a mattress on the floor in the master bedroom, as our bed had not arrived, nor had a huge Ikea shipment that would bring the kids’ beds and mattresses, as well as other miscellaneous items. Over the next few days we slowly settled in, but the chaos was far from over. As just one example, Ikea sent the wrong boxes for our dining table – we got an extra set of legs but only one half of the tabletop. It took 3 weeks for them to ship us another. Meanwhile, the place was still an active construction site…

First meal in the new house! Mum brought curry, and we ate on our half-table.

First meal in the new house! Mum brought curry, and we ate on our half-table.

After a relatively painless build process thus far, the last two months were insane. The industry in our area suddenly shifted into high gear and tradesmen were getting so booked up it was impossible to nail anybody down. All we heard was talk of guys having to turn away work for the first time in years, which was good for them but not so good for us. With things off schedule we’d lose our place and then have to scramble get people back again. We were lucky that our builder is so well-liked by the local contractors – many of them came just as a favour to him. One couple we knew had their whole project stuck on hold for two months waiting for crew to become available.

Corrugated metal siding going up on the downstairs room.

Corrugated metal siding going up on the downstairs room.

There were other delays, too. From the cabinet guy who had a mental health crises in the middle of installing our kitchen cabinets, to the siding and deck that took forever to finish, there were days when it felt like we would never enjoy peace and quiet. Everything had been on schedule to complete by the end of October, but it was the end of November before we finally got our occupancy permit. It didn’t help that October was a crazy busy month for me – I’d made travel plans (for work and for fun) much earlier in the year assuming things would be done by now but it all happened at the same time. Even now, there are little things that need to be finished up – they call them “deficiencies” in the business, apparently – but we decided to take a break until after the Xmas holidays. We all needed it.

In my next post I will talk more about what it has been like moving into my dream home after almost 10 years of planning, waiting, and imagining what it would all be like. It’s not so much that I’m constantly in a state of bliss – I mean, nobody is like that. Instead, it’s a steady stream of little bursts of pleasure that I get when living and working in my home. From tidying up the kitchen, to doing laundry, to waking up in the morning to a gorgeous view, the sunshine streaming in through the south-facing windows over these winter days…it’s like a little dopamine machine has been implanted in my brain!

Rock retaining walls going up.

Rock retaining walls going up.

Lots of earthmoving went on, big rock walls were added, siding was still being  trimmed and put up.

Even though we’d moved in, lots of earthmoving went on, big rock walls were added, and siding was still being trimmed and put up.

We still need to get more furniture, but decked out for Xmas the place looks not too bad, eh?

We still need to get more furniture, but decked out for Xmas the place looks not too bad, eh?

Categories: New House Build, the dream | 2 Comments

Step-by-step: we’re in the home stretch!

Since I last wrote, the vaulted ceilings have been finished in tongue-and-groove Douglas Fir planks that were milled from our own trees, as has the floor in the master bedroom and walk-in closet. The baseboards and trim are all in; the plumbers finished installing the taps, faucets, toilets, and shower heads; and the custom glass shower enclosure has been installed in the master bathroom along with pre-made shower doors for the other two bathrooms. The breakfast bar section of the countertop was installed, and the electricians have begun putting in the outlets and pendant lamps.

The wood ceilings went in pretty quickly, given they had to work around several holes for lights, smoke detectors, a ceiling fan, and a skylight.


Family room ceiling complete!

Living room ceiling before the edge trim and centre piece were installed.

Living room ceiling before the edge trim and centre piece were installed.

After the ceiling in the master bedroom was done, the flooring guys came and worked their magic. First, the fir planks were laid down…


Next, any variations in the surface were filled with wood filler.

It's like grouting, but for wood!

It’s like grouting, but for wood!

Then the floor was sanded to remove the excess filler and produce a smooth surface.


The dust was vaccummed up…


And finally, two coats of finish were applied. We chose SAICOS hardwax oil, because it leaves a natural finish to the flooring, penetrates deep into the wood, and is ecologically friendly.

Shiny floor, waiting to dry.

Shiny floor, waiting to dry.

The rich, red undertones of the fir are absolutely beautiful, and my whole bedroom glows with a warmth of colour that I absolutely love!


The master bathroom is just about finished: the tiles are all done and the glass shower enclosure has been installed.

Wiggly panoramic shot of master bathroom.

Wiggly panoramic shot of master bathroom.

However, I am changing the paint colour on the walls. I didn’t like how the off-white paint brought out the creamy undertones of the tiles, making them look dingy and not the warm off-white I was hoping for. I have to give a big shout out to Kylie of Kylie M Interiors. She gave me an online paint consultation and suggested Benjamin Moore’s Revere Pewter, a half-tint of that same colour (if I wanted something lighter), or Benjamin Moore Classic Grey if I wanted something even more low contrast. I ended up choosing full-strength Revere Pewter. It’s a lovely warm grey that won’t make an already-dark room feel colder, and it brings out the white undertones of the tiles, making them seem brighter. The grey also complements the titanium Schluter trim around the tiles, and goes with the flooring. The wood baseboards and trim around the door will be in Classic Grey, which was the perfect complement to the Revere Pewter.

Canvas painted in Revere Pewter propped up against the bathroom corner. See how much whiter the tiles look?

Canvas painted in Revere Pewter propped up against the bathroom corner. See how much whiter the tiles look?


I cannot wait to take a shower in here – the rainhead looks so inviting!

I've always wanted a rainhead shower head.

I’ve always wanted a rainhead shower head.

Moving on, the baseboards are also finished. Our design was a bit tricky because, if you recall from my earlier posts, our concrete slab is surrounded on all sides (except the top, of course!) by rigid foam insulation. So the sides were exposed along the perimeter edge of the slab, and we had to come up with a way to hide that. I didn’t want thick, complex baseboards, so after a few trials and errors we came up with using strips of galvalume – the same material as our roof, gutters, downspouts, soffit vents, and even my exterior sconce lights! I think they look very nice, and the raw-looking material works well against the concrete flooring.

Example of baseboard and galvalume trim on the inside of an exterior wall (slab perimeter), this photo is taken inside a closet.

Example of baseboard and galvalume trim on the inside of an exterior wall (slab perimeter), this photo is taken inside a closet.

The baseboard heaters were installed. The ones in the kids’ bedrooms ended up being too long to fit their beds against the wall, so I had them replaced with shorter ones. It’s doubtful that they will be used much, since we have a good heating system and a well-insulated home (and my kids never seem to feel the cold), but it’s so inexpensive to put them during a build that you might as well just in case. I, however, do feel the cold and just may use this on a particularly chilly winter night!

Baseboard heater in the master bedroom.

Baseboard heater in the master bedroom.

Things in the kitchen are slowing moving forward. The cabinet guy wanted to wait until the flooring folks were out of his way before putting in the doors and drawers. In retrospect, I wish he’d done that earlier because now the shelves are coated with dust. But the whole house will need a good cleaning before we move in (our builder has a cleaning team for that!), so it will get done.

Looking more and more like a real kitchen.

Looking more and more like a real kitchen.

I mentioned last time that the countertop guys couldn’t install the breakfast bar because the supports I bought were too flimsy. Our lovely neighbour is a talented maker, and used his machine shop to make us some skookum supports – these are a solid 1/4 inch of steel, and will have no trouble supporting the weight of the quartz counter.


And here’s the installed breakfast bar….


With the ceilings finished and all the dirty, dust-generating work complete, it was time for a big cleanup. And although they are still a bit dusty, I’m so happy to see my beautiful polished concrete floors!


Yes, that’s the refrigerator waiting to be installed.

This week the electricians are installing the lights (ceiling, pendant, vanity, and pot lights), the electrical outlets, and the ceiling fan. And work has moved back outside to the siding and deck.

In my next post I will tell you what it took to get rid of our old, decrepit mobile home, which is being demolished in 4 days! We’ll have to store our stuff for a few days (we brought in another shipping container for that) and stay with my mother until the new house is ready. The painters are coming back this Monday to finish the walls, and to do the trim, windows, and doors and we can’t move in until it’s all dry. But at least we now have a move-in date!

Drumroll please…….

Saturday, September 24th!!!! I cannot wait!!!


Categories: New House Build, Step by Step series | 1 Comment

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