Vlog: Making Space for Rest

Today on the Crafting my Life Vlog, I’m trying to embrace the winter and the change of rest it provides.

Rest for my Garden, Rest for Me

I am working to become a better gardener, and one of the things I’m doing is winterizing my garden. I did some research, and one of the things I’m supposed to do is mulch. And apparently, leaves make excellent mulch. Plus – bonus points – they’re free. For a number of days earlier this week I brought nylon bags with me when I walked my daughter to school and back, and filled them with leaves to spread on my garden. Fingers crossed that my effort pays off, and my garden is better than ever next year.

Crafting my Life Vlog: Making Space for a Season of RestAs I worked to put my garden to bed for the season, and as the days get shorter and colder, there’s no denying that winter is on its way. In fact, it feels very much as if it’s already here, the date on the calendar notwithstanding. I have to admit I’m not terribly thrilled about the arrival of the season. I prefer warm weather, fresh fruit and lots of daylight to cold, root vegetables and sunset coming well before I’m ready to cook dinner. My first impulse, when presented with the undeniable signs that summer is over, is to dig in my heels. But that wouldn’t accomplish anything.

A Vlog About Winter and Making Space for Rest

Today on the vlog, I talk about the opportunity for rest that comes with the winter. Whether I like it or not, we all need seasons when we spend less time doing and more time being. Cold, dark days provide the perfect opportunity to do just that. So, rather than being angry with the winter, this year I’m trying to embrace it. If you could use a little rest yourself, take a minute or two to watch the vlog and then brew yourself a nice cup of hot tea and curl up with a good book:

Making Space for the Coming Season

With Halloween – and in Canada, Remembrance Day – behind us, and with Thanksgiving rapidly approaching in the US, there’s no denying that the holiday season is coming. And when it arrives in full force, it usually brings a lot of stuff with it. Gifts from relatives. Toys for the kids. Holiday food and music and decorations. Wrapping paper and ribbons and bows. The Grinch might have discovered that Christmas doesn’t come from a store, but that hasn’t stopped the onslaught of stuff into my house at all.

The stuff that comes into your space over the holiday season isn’t all bad, just as making space in your life isn’t all about getting rid of things. Making space is about choosing the things that enhance your life, and letting go of the things that don’t. It can be just as much about decorating as it is about decluttering. A nice piece of art, a lovely blanket to wrap around your shoulders, or the perfect mug for your tea can make you every bit as happy as getting rid of a clunky old chair you’ve always hated. In order to make a space that enhances your life, though, mindfulness is in order.

Amber and Hannah work together

As you gear up for the holiday season, and the stuff it brings with it, it may serve you to take a little bit of time to consider how you’ll make space for the celebration in your life. Are there things you can let go of now, whether they’re physical objects, time commitments or mindsets, that will better allow you to enjoy the festivities to come? Are there things that you can bring into your life, to make everything run more smoothly? The more time that you take to mindfully prepare, the better the holiday season will be.

One of the things that rings true, during November and December, and all year long, is that less is more. This is something to remember as you mindfully prepare. Many people have a tendency to take on too much over the holiday season, which can leave you feeling far from festive. Whether you’re trying to make all your gifts from scratch, cook three different holiday feasts for the different branches of your complicated family, direct the church Christmas pageant, make every gift a perfectly-wrapped work of art, or send holiday cards to everyone you’ve ever met, things can get out of hand quickly.

Tree and stockings

As you mindfully prepare, consider what you are and are not willing and able to take on this holiday season. And if the guilt gets to you because you can’t do it all, remember that everyone else will enjoy being around you more when you’re not running yourself ragged. You’re not just making space for yourself to enjoy the holiday season, you’re making space for everyone around you to enjoy it, too.

Many of us are not quite ready to start decking the halls, myself included. I’m not saying you need to set up that tree quite yet. And yet, by thinking ahead and making space for all the seasons of your life, you will likely find that your holiday season is a whole lot happier.

How are you planning to make this holiday season more mindful and festive for yourself?

A Story About Potatoes and Persistence

I am a gardener, but I am very haphazard about it. Each spring I plant seeds, choosing which plants to grow mostly on a whim. I have about a 50/50 success rate, which is pretty good considering that I haven’t spent much time honing my skills. So this year, when I planted potatoes and all my potato plants died, I just shrugged and moved on. If I cried every time a crop failed, I’d be doing a lot of crying.

Recently, however, I decided to get more serious about gardening. Step one was properly winterizing my garden. Last Thursday, when the weather was good, I set outside to clear out debris and weeds. As I pulled up the buttercups that had taken over my potato bed, I discovered something: a potato! And then another, and another, and another. I kept on weeding and digging, and in the end I had a couple of dozen small potatoes. It wasn’t the healthiest crop, but it was a crop all the same. I was thrilled.

I thought all my potatoes failed. I was wrong.My potatoes form a tidy metaphor for living a more meaningful and purpose-filled life. Often we sow seeds, and then give up on them, only to find that while we weren’t looking they bore fruit. I can think of many times in my life when I wrote something off, and then later discovered I shouldn’t have. I was too impatient, I had an unrealistic idea of how long something would take, or I failed to calculate for how busy someone else was.

If you give up on something and then it works out anyway, it’s like a free lunch. In the case of my potatoes, in fact, it’s a literal free lunch. But sometimes you only find out about an opportunity much later, when the window has closed. If I hadn’t been out weeding on Thursday, I wouldn’t have known about those potatoes until they started putting up shoots in the spring, and I would have missed out on the chance to eat some of them. I also may have already planted something else in that spot, and then I would have been faced with a dilemma over how to handle the competing crops. Luckily for me, I discovered the tubers before that happened.

The lesson to take out of this is twofold. First of all, don’t be in a rush to write something off or give up on it. We don’t always know what’s happening, and sometimes persistence pays off. Second, know that whether you’re aware of it or not, the seeds you planted may be taking root and bearing fruit. So be sure to sow them well, and sow them widely.

Have you ever had a surprise garden crop, or an opportunity come through long after you’d written it off? I’d love to hear!

Vlog: Working With What You Have

Today on the Crafting my Life Vlog, I’m trying to work with what I have to create a better routine. You see, each month I’m making two changes to my daily or weekly rhythm, to help my life run a little smoother. One is a change for myself, and one is a change for my family. My change for my family this month is targeting and streamlining our morning routine. I’m tired of feeling stressed out and crunched for time as I rush to get my kids out the door each weekday.

Showering at Night and Disliking It

crafting my life vlog

My cat wishes she were a lion, but sadly she is not.

One of the changes I’ve made to help our mornings go a little more smoothly is to start showering at night. It’s definitely helping, but the truth is that I don’t like it. I enjoy the little pick-me-up that comes with getting up in the morning and having a good, hot shower to wash away the night. I don’t enjoy having to deal with my wet hair at bedtime. But, like every other parent in the history of the world, I don’t always get to do what I want, when I want. I need to be flexible if I want to make sure that everyone’s needs are met.

Before I made the switch to showering at night, most of my mornings involved a bit of a race with my husband to see who could end up in the shower first. If I lost, the rest of the morning would be rushed. At least once a week, I couldn’t even fit a shower in at all. If I won the race, then my husband was late for work and I felt kind of bad. And while I showered, inevitably, at least one of my kids would have some kind of emergency that required my attention just as I was trying to rinse out my hair. Fun stuff.

A Vlog About Working With What You Have

No matter what you’re trying to find time for in your life, you’ll pretty much always have more success if you can embrace your reality and work with what you have, rather than what you wish you had. For me, that means showering after my kids are asleep. That’s only one example, though. You probably have some examples of your own, if you think about it. And while you’re thinking, take a couple of minutes to watch my latest vlog on this very subject:

Debt, Meaning and Creating Financial Space

For years my husband and I faithfully watch Gail Vaz-Oxlade‘s show, Til Debt do us Part. The premise was simple – every week Gail would visit a couple struggling with debt, and help them formulate a plan to get out of it. One of the things that I learned while watching that show is that debt actually has little to do with income level. There were couples earning $200,000 a year who were in serious debt, and couples who earned $30,000 a year who were in serious debt. While having a good income does simplify many things, if you just keep on spending your money, you can still find yourself in trouble.

If you’re working to create a more meaningful and purpose-filled life, money is almost definitely on your mind. For many people, their ideal lifestyle involves things like spending less time at work, and more time with their families. For many other people, their dreams involve quitting their day jobs altogether, and becoming professional artists or entrepreneurs or freelance writers. If you identify with one or both of these, you’ll likely be doing some financial juggling to make it a reality. Cutting expenses will probably be at least part of that juggling. Whether you’re thrift store shopping, eating less steak and more beans, driving less, turning down the thermostat or making your Christmas gifts, most of us find that there are a lot of ways to reduce our living expenses.

debt finding meaningAs I learned from Gail Vaz-Oxlade, one of the best ways to cut your living expenses is to reduce your debt. Debt servicing costs, over time, really add up. There’s an example here where someone buys a $2500 TV on their credit card. At 18% interest, if you only pay the minimum payment every month, it could take you up to 28 years to pay that TV off, and cost you an extra $5900 in interest on top of the $2500 you paid for the TV. Sure, it’s a small amount you’re forking over every month, but if you buy a lot of stuff this way, you’re paying a whole lot more in the long run. And if you’re doing this on a few credit cards, a line of credit, a car loan and your old student loans, you probably already know how much debt costs.

I’m not trying to be preachy. I’ve bought things I didn’t need on credit. I’ve taken out car loans, and lines of credit. I understand that sometimes you have a lot of expenses. I even understand that not all debt is bad. I’m not here to lecture you.

All the same, we’re about to head into the holiday season. This is a time when it’s really easy to give your credit cards more of a workout than you intended. We’ve all received the nasty surprise in the form of a hefty bill in our mailbox when January rolls around. If you do a little bit of planning now, though, you can avoid that outcome. You can set a budget, spend mindfully, and make sure that you’re not going into debt for a bunch of beepy toys that your kids will lose interest in within a few days’ time. Then you can use the money you saved for something that enhances your life, like sharing an experience with someone who matters to you, or socking it away to pay for that class you really want to take.

Crafting a life isn’t just about following your bliss and seeking joy. It’s also about having an eye on the bottom line, so that you have the freedom to create a more meaningful life. In the process, you’re creating financial space, which is every bit as important as space in your schedule or the physical space you live and work in. The more that you can avoid debt, the easier it will be to find the space you need for yourself and your dreams.

Conditioned Responses and a Life of Meaning

This past weekend I was at the mom inc MOVEMENT Tradeshow here in the Vancouver area, talking Crafting my Life. It was good – and if you had a chance to stop by my table and say hi, thank you so much. It was great to see you. But on the way home I had an interesting experience that made me think about conditioned responses, and how they impact our lives.

conditioned responses

Scenes from the tradeshow

While the tradeshow was good, the weather outside was not. As is typical for the Pacific Northwest at this time of year it was raining, and raining hard. By the time I headed home at around 4:20pm, it was dark and many large puddles were present in the roadways. You might even call it minor flooding. As I drove I had to slow down frequently as I splashed through what could only be described as a small lake. My wipers got a tremendous workout, as the other cars splashed water across my windshield, momentarily compromising my visibility.

Flinching at the Water

I’ve lived here all my life, and I’m used to driving in the deluge. None of this was overly alarming to me. However, as I drove I noticed something. When I could see a large splash approaching my windshield – and this happened many times – I automatically flinched. Of course, the water couldn’t touch me, and I knew that. But seeing it coming my way triggered a reaction in my brain that I couldn’t stop. Previous experience had taught me that when water is coming towards my face, I’d better turn my head and narrow my eyes to brace for impact. I reacted at an instinctual level, not an intellectual level, as the cars around me sprayed water my way.

My little flinches weren’t a big deal. However, they were an example of a larger pattern that many of us encounter in our daily lives in big and small ways. Our past experiences of pain and discomfort create instinctual reactions in us. Eventually, we find ourselves reacting automatically, flinching or running away or hiding, even when we know that something can’t hurt us. We’ve undergone a sort of Pavlovian conditioning, and we’re responding without thinking.

Conditioned Responses

Some of your conditioned responses to the circumstances that arise in your life may be helpful. Some may be neutral. Others may be harmful. It’s not always easy to see which is which, because you’re reacting without thinking. In order to actually see how your reactions to the events in your life help you or harm you, you really need to take a step back. That takes a fair bit of work and insight. However, if you’re able to identify some of your conditioned behaviour patterns, you can get a really useful window into why you do those things you do. So how do you do it?

One easy way to identify your conditioned responses is to switch up your normal routine. When you’re doing the same things you always do, you’re likely doing them without thinking or noticing. The classic example of this is how, when commuting to or from work, you can arrive at your destination without any memory of how you got there. You do it so often that you just go through the motions. When you do things differently, though, you bring more awareness to your actions. That awareness helps you to see what you’re doing and why a little more easily. Even little switches like taking a different way home, switching up the order of your morning routine, or moving things around in your workspace can help to shake things up a little and bring more awareness. With awareness, you can better see how your reactions are impacting your life.

When you can see your conditioned responses, you have a choice to make. Is this helping or hurting? And if it’s hurting, is it worth changing? Awareness gives you power, and allows you to decide what to do, instead of responding without thinking.

Vlog: Halloween, Candy and a Scarcity Mindset

Today on the Crafting my Life Vlog, I’m talking about my habit of buying way too much Halloween candy, for fear of running out, and how it betrays a scarcity mindset.

Telling Myself a Story

Crafting my Life Vlog Halloween Candy and ScarcityI have this story I tell myself. The story is that running out of a food item – especially when that food item is meant to be shared – is a terrible thing. This story prompts me to serve way too much food at Thanksgiving, order birthday cakes that would be too much for twice the number of guests at the party, and stock up on Halloween candy like it’s going out of style. After all, I don’t want to run out. It would be terrible to run out. So I buy way more than I need, because I can’t identify when enough is enough.

A Scarcity Mindset

The way I hoard Halloween candy betrays a scarcity mindset. On some level, I clearly believe that there’s just not enough Halloween, and there never could be enough Halloween candy. My scarcity mindset doesn’t only apply to Halloween candy, though, it applies to many areas of my life. It probably applies to many areas of yours, too. When you find yourself hoarding something, doling it out sparingly, or hiding it from view to keep it safe, you’re in a scarcity mindset.

The problem with a scarcity mindset is that it can stop you from seeing the good things that you have in your life. When you’re busy stocking up on Halloween candy for fear of running out, you’re not enjoying what the season has to offer, and you’re not seeing what’s abundant in your life. When you’re not writing because you’re afraid of using up all your ideas, you’re not flexing your creative muscles. When you’re hiding your gifts from the world, you’re depriving others (and yourself) of the beautiful things that can come of them. This is what I’m talking about today on the vlog.

A Vlog About Candy and Scarcity

Of course, we have to be wise stewards of what we have. But there’s a difference between making the best decisions you can about where to invest your time and energy, and being afraid of not having enough. Take a couple of minutes to watch this week’s vlog, as I talk about a scarcity mindset:

Creating Routines: Managing Money and Mornings

Crafting my Life Creating RoutinesThis fall I started a new monthly series here at Crafting my Life, dedicated to creating routines to support a more purposeful life. The idea is to craft daily rhythms that support how you’d like to live your life. Each month I choose one goal for myself, and one goal for my family. By keeping the change small, it’s more manageable and sustainable. If you could use better routines in your life, I encourage you to join in.

Last Month’s Recap

My October goals were:

  • For my family – Daily tidy-up time
  • For me – Daily reading time

I’ll start with myself. My September routine change was meditation, and even two months later that still feels like something I have to make myself do. It’s kind of like exercise – you know it’s good for you, you know you’ll feel better after you do it, but it’s not always easy to motivate yourself. Reading, on the other hand, is something that I look forward to every day. I finished one book I’ve been working on for almost two years, and I’m most of the way through another book that I’ve been working on for even longer. I’m enjoying it, and I would really like to do more of it.

As for the daily tidy-up time, I’d call it a qualified success. I haven’t found a specific time each day to clean with the kids. Unlike a school, we don’t have regular playtimes when they take out all their toys, or scheduled art or reading times. I can’t necessarily predict when and what we’ll need to tidy. However, I have involved the kids more in cleaning, and taken a more proactive approach to clutter and so on myself. They’re doing more housework, I’m not feeling as overwhelmed by mess, and everyone’s happy. So while I didn’t establish a daily tidy-up time, I did meet the goal, and I’m happy with that.

Creating Routines for November

creating routines money and mornings

It took ages to get out of the house on this morning.

For November my goals are:

  • For my family – Work on the morning routine
  • For me – Weekly financial check-ins

Like many families, mine struggles with getting out the house. Everything can be going well, and then someone can’t find their shoe, the kids play around instead of putting on their coats, or we have to double back twice once we walk out the door to retrieve things we’ve forgotten. In the end we end up having to rush, I get stressed, and we’re still five minutes late. It’s not exactly super-fun. This month, I’m going to work on our morning routine, and see if I can smooth it out a little. I’m thinking of drawing up a chart with pictures showing what needs to happen each morning, for instance.

As for me, I’m looking to get back on financial track by having regular money meetings with my husband. This is something we’ve done before, but we fell off the wagon. This month I’d like to get back on. We’ve updated our financial management software, I’ve made a budget, and we’ll take time each week to check in with each other. If knowledge is power, then staying on top of your finances is financial power. This isn’t as much fun as reading every day, but managing your money is an important component to living with intention.

As I said, I encourage you to join in on creating routines. Would you like to pick one or two goals for yourself for this month? I’d love to hear. Also, if you’re joining in feel free to grab the button for your own blog. If you need help with the code, check out my buttons page.

Cutting Yourself Some Slack This Halloween

Last month I interviewed local artist Deb Chaney for an article, and at one point we were talking about combining work and motherhood. She said:

“I look back and think about hanging out in my moms’ groups, because I did a lot of moms’ groups when she was little. I remember all the other moms were so settled and they were so enjoying their children, and I think they’d had careers. I’d never really had the experience of career fulfillment. I had had this taste of this thing called being a professional artist that I wanted to badly. And yet this child needed so much. I felt torn.”

I think many of us can relate to feeling torn when we’re trying to combine raising children with pursuing our own interests, whether it’s paid or not. I think many moms can also relate to that feeling that every other mother somehow has it all together while you’re floundering. Earlier this year I interviewed Willow Yamauchi, the author of the book Bad Mommy. She had this to say:

“At every step along the way, I was struggling, and I thought I was the only one that was struggling because I’d go to these baby and mommy groups and everyone would just be like smiling and blissful and, ‘Oh, it’s so great.’ But I kind of played along, too. Finally I went to my grandmother and I was in tears, actually, because my child never slept. She said to me, and this is amazing, ‘Willow, those other mommies are lying.’ It turns out as I went back to mommy-group-land and I looked for the lie, I really didn’t have to look very hard.”

cutting yourself some slack on halloweenAs I’m typing it’s noon on Halloween. So far today I have gotten two kids dressed in their Halloween costumes, fed them breakfast, made their school lunches, and packed up snacks for two class Halloween parties. I kissed my son good-bye and walked my daughter to school. I came home, ate a quick breakfast myself, and went to the doctor for a minor prescription renewal. Then I got home, I plowed through my email, updated six different social media accounts using four different profiles, and updated my contributors on the website that I edit. But I’m not thinking about all that I’ve accomplished. I’m thinking about all that I haven’t accomplished. My to-do list is mighty, indeed.

Here’s the truth – most of us are way too hard on ourselves. Way too hard. We compare our behind-the-scenes to everyone else’s highlight reel (thanks to Steven Furtick for that one). We imagine that somehow everyone else has it together, and knows what they’re doing, and didn’t snap at their children while they furiously rushed to get everything done that needed to be done this morning. But if you actually listen to other people, and especially other mothers of young children who have a lot on their plates, we all struggle, at least some of the time.

So this Halloween, as you decorate and make last-minute costume alterations and get parties organized and hand out candy and take your kids trick-or-treating and try to get everyone to please, for the love of all that’s holy, eat at least one vegetable before you gorge on candy, cut yourself some slack. You’re doing a lot, and you deserve credit for it. Focus on what you have accomplished, rather than what you haven’t. And then take a moment to let the tension go, breathe, and let the knowledge that you are not alone wash over you. Because you absolutely, positively, are not the only one with too much to do, and not enough time to do it in.

Sometimes that knowledge that you’re not alone, and that you’re not the only one who can’t do it all, is enough to make a big difference. It’s a reminder that you’re not a failure, you’re just a human being. And you’re a human being who probably is doing a whole heck of a lot, if you can stop being so hard on yourself, and cut yourself a little slack.

Happy Halloween!

Vlog: Following Your Bliss

Today on the Crafting my Life Vlog, I’m talking about podcasts and finding your bliss, and how sometimes it’s hiding in unexpected places

A Surprising Discovery

Most Fridays over at Strocel.com I run an audio podcast, featuring an interview with someone I find interesting. These interviews are, at this point, my most favourite thing. It was podcasting that inspired me to start this vlog, in fact. However, if you’d asked me before I did my first one, I’d never have expected to feel that way.

Ever since I was a really young kid I’ve been afraid of the phone. I don’t mind calling people I know well. Indeed, like most teenagers in the olden days before the Internet and smart phones, I spent a number of years of my youth with a phone practically glued to my face, talking to my boyfriend or my friends about one thing or another. But when it comes to calling someone I don’t know well, I start feeling anxious and sweaty. I’ve been known to put off haircuts and dentist visits just because I didn’t want to call and make the appointment.

Creating a Class, Finding my Bliss

Crafting my Life vlog Podcast Finding my BlissWhen I created the first version of the Crafting my Life Online Class, I knew that I wanted to include interviews with other people, so that we would have the benefit of multiple perspectives. I sucked it up and got in touch with some cool people to ask if they would be interviewed. And then I sucked it up all over again and actually called and interviewed them. During that first interview, something unexpected happened. I realized that I love interviewing people. I mean, I really love it. It’s like having a free pass to ask nosy question. But mostly, sharing someone else’s story is an amazing privilege.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that I wanted to keep doing interviews, and so I started running the occasional podcast on my personal blog. It grew and grew, until now I do one every week. I also do podcasts on VancouverMom.ca, where I’m the Content Manager. If you visit that site, you’ll be able to hear my interview with Raffi – my personal highlight so far.

A Vlog About a Podcast

Today on the vlog I explore my podcasting history, and draw out some lessons about following your bliss. No matter where your dreams lie, I hope you’ll take a couple of minutes to watch: