Tuesday, December 13, 2016


I'm a woman. That should come as no surprise. But recently I had yet another experience of being condescended to, ignored, and plainly pushed aside by a man who didn't consider me to be important enough to communicate with when it came to setting up for an event we were playing at.

I can't tell you how much this grates on me. How much this kind of treatment isn't acceptable. How much I have had to work through to put myself in the spotlight as a woman, leading a band of (excellent) guys, working to make a splash in an industry that shouldn't need to be, but is generally male dominated. I was shaken after the event - having been so surprised by and affected by the treatment I got that it threw off my performance.

I'm a woman.

And I'm also a mother to three girls.

Sometimes this is daunting, and not for the usual reasons. It's not because I worry about the teenage years, when everyone expects hormones raging, mood swings and rebellion. I worry for a different reason, and it's hard to verbalize how exactly to describe it.

I'm trying to write a song about it. It's coming along, but I'll admit that it has been in the works for many months. Some songs flow out of me in a week. Some in a few hours. Some, like this one, groan and writhe and complain and suffer their way into existence.

Initially I thought this song was about feminism.

This is going to sound wacky and oooo-doodly-wooo artsy fartsy, but I feel sometimes like songs have a bit of a life of their own. Or that the writing process is far more than just me making something up that makes sense. Sometimes it feels downright inspired, be it by GOD, or by my soul, or a mixture of things. Sometimes it feels like the song isn't satisfied with itself, and it's more my job to listen than it is to force it out. This is one of those songs.

It's not about feminism. It's not an indirect anger lashing out at Trump - that was another theory.

Our daughters are 5, 9 and 11 years old. Throughout their childhoods we've been working at teaching them as fiercely as we could about love of all people, acceptance of humans of all shapes, sizes, colours, creeds, leanings, orientations, levels of goodness or evil. We've talked about body shapes and abilities, and that no person is better or more beautiful than another based on their body. We've talked about evil characters in history, and how in spite of their horrible acts, that they were human, just like us, who had a mom and a dad. We've talked about being okay with not being able to tell if someone is a girl or a boy, or a woman or a man, because they're a human. There are so many things we've tried to teach them about love and acceptance and the way we should be in the world.

But the fact is, the world is not like this. And as much as we Canadians like to think we're above division and racism and gender bias, and all these ways we separate out the "lesser" ones and raise up the favourites, we're not. Growing up in East Vancouver, being one of the few white, Canadian-born kids in my class, many of my peers being immigrants from a rich mix of cultures from Filipino to Korean to Portuguese, First Nations to Taiwanese to South Asian, and wishing I had the beautiful, petite feet that my Japanese friends had, and wishing I could complain about having to go to Chinese School after regular school got out. These things made up my childhood, and it makes me beyond angry to stand waiting at my daughters' classroom door with the other suburban parents, seeing the exclusive way the moms interact, or don't, with certain other moms. Overhearing the comments made about the new immigrant family that speaks little English, or the way the Asian moms are just left out of the group chatter. It's unacceptable. But it's not new.

And I am walking on unknown paths as I try and figure out how to allow my girls to witness the way the world really is. It's pretty certain that parts of their hearts will break. I cringe at the thought of the first time they experience gender bias, or mansplaining. How dare anyone treat a girl as lesser than a boy? How dare they do that to my kids? And how will they deal with their own biases that will naturally exist because of the culture they're growing up in, or because of my own shortcomings? Surely I have my own ways of being prejudiced, and surely they rub off on the kids. How will they go forward in life? What will I feel if they are victimized? What will I feel if they victimize others?

At this point, I stand on the edge of their eyes being opened to the fact that girls and boys are not always treated the same. That depending on the paths they choose, they may encounter gender-specific pay differences, treatment, bias, and condescension. They may experience a tech guy treating them like children when they're actually the leader.

Sometimes, there is nothing that can be done to avoid the inevitable. Sometimes, all I can do is write about it. I can write a blog post. I can write a song. I can hope that the readers and listeners and audience members will hear my desperate cry, will understand it, will take up the torch with me and charge into the future with blazing eyes and a determination to do all we can to make it better.

I think I'm ready to listen now - to let the song tell me its story. And may I obediently and fiercely submit to it and pour it out for all who will listen.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

A day of sandal sorrow.

It hurt like the dickens. Yes, I was left for a few minutes with no breath and no words beyond some strong ones I don't like to type, unless I'm texting my husband midday with some menial frustration while he gingerly checks his phone during a meeting at work. But that only happens occasionally.

My baby toe, on my left foot, sat at an odd angle, jutting out sideways from my foot instead of lying in peaceful harmony parallel to my other toes. In vain I grabbed it and pushed it back straight, only to have it bounce back out to freedom as soon as I released it.

I had broken my toe for sure. Yes, and the next day I had the bruising to show it. It was quite impressive actually. Purple and blue and red faded into orange and yellow and green over the course of the next few weeks, reflecting the colours of the sunset sky I was looking at when I smashed it into that chair leg. 

Now, I'm not overly vain in general, but I had to feel a bit of pride in that I had recently painted my toe nails a fine silvery colour which I felt really complimented the rainbow that was emerging on my foot. I also think that I could have been a foot model, since I find my feet rather handsome, but that's another thought for another day. Suffice it to say that it was almost a pleasure taking photos of the progress of this injury.

That said, I was faced with a problem. The summer was ending and the cooler temperatures were upon us, and as my multicoloured foot was too swollen and painful to squeeze into a shoe, I was left with only my cheap $7 flip flops that were steadily breaking down. 

After a few days, my feet and legs had had enough, and I knew I needed to find some better, more comfortable, and fancy sandals to wear until my toe was small enough again to fit into shoes.

I went to the shop and looked around, but found nothing but ugly sporty flashy flip-flops, obviously the stock that no one had wanted all summer. They were on sale and looked desperate to get off those shelves. No thank you! As you may have guessed, I like a bit of style, and as I turned to leave I caught sight of the rack I had missed on my way in. The SANUK rack.

Once upon a time I had a pair of Sanuk flip flops and let me tell you, those babies lasted me about 4 years and were my favourite pair to date. And so I looked through the rack, and behold, found me a very splendid pair of size 9 sandals. 

They were wonderful. Both fashionable and open enough to not bother my toe at all. (FYI - those are not my feet in the picture... mine are far more handsome.) I wore them proudly and even loved them enough to wear them on stage!

Can you see them? Seriously. Best sandals ever. I can't speak enough about Sanuks. They're comfortable, they're lovely to look at, and you can wear them all day without complaint. And I did!

Okay, brace yourselves, friends. This is the hard part of the story.

We, as in my family, as in my husband, myself, and our three daughters, made the educated decision about a year and a half ago to get ourselves a furry friend. We got a puppy. His name is Oscar. This is what he looked like when we got him.

Cute, right? So cute. He was just so super duper fuzzy wuzzy adorable.

However, in typical puppy fashion, he caused some trouble as well.

But honestly, he's been a good friend so far. And he has grown!

He often sits in weird ways.

But he's been through a lot with us now. Through the rigorous days of recording our first album...

 To helping model our craigslist for-sale items.

He's a big, lovely dog.

Here he is sleeping at my.....(GASP)..... feet clad in my new sandals!

Well this is a convenient way to connect the two parts of the story together, isn't it? Here is goes.

It was Wednesday morning. I worked hard to get our three girls up and out of bed, showered and dressed, fed, lunches and bags packed, and out the door on time. My sandals were left up in my room accidentally while we closed Oscar up there and headed out. (He isn't totally trustworthy in the open house yet.)

Upon my return home, and upon walking into my bedroom, I found the dog, lying gingerly beside one of my sandals, having freshly chewed off the toes.

To say I was angry would be an understatement. So, so, so beyond angry. I wished I could have had the calm attitude that the owner of "Denver the guilty dog", but alas, I didn't. I was livid. And horribly disappointed that my lovely new sandals had so easily been tossed aside by this so-called "man's best friend". Perhaps he was jealous.

Sigh. And now I am standing here in bare feet, having only just started to test out wearing shoes again, with some pain but a manageable amount, and now with no alternative to rest my feet.

These are low times, friends. Low times.

SO, I'm here to ask SANUK, the wonderful makers of these marvellous sandals, if they would consider healing my heart and replacing this pair of beloved shoes. With all hope, I promise I'll love them and wear them for now and forevermore (on warm days) and tell all the people of the world (that I meet) about the wonders of their footwear.

Will you? Will you heal my heart, Sanuk?

And do you want a dog? I've got one you can have. Great guy. No problems. Never chews.


Wednesday, August 10, 2016

A Quiet Day

I thought I'd be twiddling my thumbs or something. I thought I'd be sitting around feeling anxious about all the errands I should be getting out and doing, but instead, this day in which I have no car and am stranded at home has been nothing short of wonderful. 

I've spent the day cleaning up my daughter's birthday party debris, sweeping out our storage area, cleaning up the back yard, and generally putzing around the house getting things done. It's menial, brainless work, and it's just what I've been needing.

It has been a few weeks since we had a gig of any kind, and while I know I have an ongoing and looming list of "to do" items that I need to continue work on to keep this music ball rolling, I am keeping it out of my focus today. (Okay, I may have done a FEW LITTLE THINGS music-related, but only a few!) I'm choosing a simple day. 


And okay, it's not just a choice I'm making for the enjoyment of it. If I'm honest with myself, today I'm feeling really, REALLY introverted. I'm wanting to just hide. Not perform. Not plan to perform. Not aim for the next recording, book the next gig, prep for the next show, plan for the next time I step on the stage. Aaaaack! Today, performing sounds like the last thing, the furthest thing from what I'd like to do! 

Isn't it funny? Through the past year and a bit, I've been working through so much of my own "stuff". Chipping away at my nervousness, my fear of expressing myself, my worries about how I'll be received, and while I've come so far, it's still so easy for me to fall back into this state of KEEP ME OUT OF THE SPOTLIGHT. 

Of course I'll climb back in. I'll clammer up onto that stage and most likely love every second of it, but it will take a regrouping. It will require some mental work. It will take some breathing and some courage and some determination. And I've proven to myself that I've got plenty of that stored away.

But that's for another day. Today I'm going to just sit and enjoy my little house and my nice neighbours and my daughters running in and out with their friends. I'll walk the dog and breathe fresh air, and make meals and clean them up, and maybe have a cup of tea on the patio. It's sunny, and it's warm, and heck, man. It's summer. This is a good life, whether I'm needing to hide away, or find myself climbing back up on stage. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Heart Pangs

On a day that I feel the weight of life's anxious unrest, the reality of the artist's struggle, and the longing for things I can't have, I find myself caught in a place between life at home with three kids, and my swimming head. 

If I were a boat on the sea, the water today would be black, with storm clouds above, and choppy waves pushing at me from all sides. What is this thing that I'm doing? What is my role here? What part do I play? And do I have it in me to play it?

Most days I would say yes. Yes, I know what I'm doing. I am determined. Yes, I have it in me, hard as it is. But today, while the rain pours down outside my window and my heart aches, I don't feel so sure. I go from writing these words to buttoning up a size 5 dress, to trying to recollect what I was feeling, to breaking up a fight between two daughters. Do I have it in me? I go from appointment to grocery store to delivering posters for an upcoming gig. I long for a quiet time with my guitar, or even just with my mind, to think, process, hide, overcome. 

Through wet eyes I drive and the rain runs down the windows. I stay my course, as I know I will and must. In spite of today's struggle, and the struggle that comes with being obedient to my choices, through my passionate need for creating and all my fears of failure, through my insecurities and tense shoulders and weak knees, I will fight back and keep on doing this thing. I'll remain determined. I'll talk myself down and find that Deep Love in my core, and I'll breathe. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Morning Gloom

It's winter, friends. Short days; lots of darkness.

I've felt that deep darkness more this winter than I believe I ever have in my life. Waking up with a feeling of dread, fielding an overwhelming sense of unrest, anxiety's cloud glooming around my head as I walk through the dark house to make school lunches, prepare for the day, try and make sense of the hundred things floating around in my head that I need to do.

I find myself hoping to be quiet enough that the kids won't wake up from my noise, so I can have just a little time to myself downstairs before the din of morning swells. The other side of my brain - I find the din of morning to be a welcome distraction from all the darkness, and so when they wake up, be it on the right or wrong side of the bed, the sleepy frustration and snuggly love and all that's wrapped up in parenting through the before-school hour creates a protective cage for me to keep the dark at bay.

If I can get through the first hour, the first hour and an half, I'll be okay. The light will come into the sky and the day will have arrived and the demons in my head subside. Light brings goodness, and neighbours emerge from their units, and smiles are attempted, and breathing softens. I trudge on into my day, tentatively ready to fill it with errands and cleaning and driving children and if I'm lucky, some down time.

It was a long, hard early winter. I'll speak in past tense now because the darkness is subsiding, quite decidedly. The beauty of Christmas and the girls and Ryan being home for two weeks, the lights and the peace that descended on our home as the last of the gigs was played and enjoyed, and the slow pace of a family that is just slightly under the weather insists upon....it resulted in peace. Deep, full peace in the middle of a raging ocean all around me.

The fall is normally my favourite season, and with such exciting changes in our household and life direction, particularly mine with the musical endeavours, it ought to have been one long gleeful dance of creativity and momentum and love. And there was some of that. I spent the summer and early fall writing music - it poured out of me, for better or worse, at an alarming rate. Songs about adventure and new directions and love and taking life by the horns. The days became shorter, and with the excitement about the music, and a timely and surprising opportunity for us to be doing a little fun music on a national commercial, we took on the huge job of marketing ourselves silly, with every spare moment filled with discussions and debates about better marketing strategies and new ways to get the music into peoples' ears. It quickly became too much, and after several weeks of overload, my body began to react, forcing a slow down. Faintness and nausea and strange heart rhythms and an increase in anxiety are not things to ignore.

Through the coming weeks I would carve out a safety cage around myself, not allowing myself to get swept up in new ideas and the pressure to implement them.

I was growing and learning, and that's not a bad thing. And then I grew and learned some more as we struggled to find a direction with our plans for recording an album. Decisions were made, things were shuffled and shifted, and another dip in my strength and ability to remain above the water ensued.

Have I mentioned this thing called "vulnerability"? This has been a huge theme of not only the past few years, but particularly this past fall and winter.

As a child, I was terrified of playing my music in front of anyone, even my family. As I've been experiencing new levels of vulnerability and being exposed this fall, I've been thinking about that part of myself, and why I was so scared to do it. Why did I need to stop playing the piano when someone came through the room? Why wasn't I able to continue the song for them to hear? I think I'm getting to the reason these days.... music has always been something that has connected with my heart. I'm talking about my deep, full, emotional and all-feeling heart. When I would play the piano as a kid, even when I was 6 or 7, I was connecting in with that heart, with a feeling that I can't describe as anything but the source of my being, where I was made, how I was intended to thrive in life. This connection that happens, that happened even when I was a child, was so intimate and deep for me that I just couldn't bear to expose it to anyone else. I wasn't able to separate the music from my soul, and so when I played for people, it felt as if I was completely laying myself bare, that there was nothing left that I could hide, and it was totally terrifying.

I don't know if I'm unique in this. Maybe everyone has something like this that makes them feel like they are connecting in with eternity, or God, or something that is so true to their essence that it causes them, like me, to break down and weep at one moment, and in another swell with an overwhelming sense of life that makes them feel like their heart might just burst out of their chest.

As I grew older, and grew into my early adult years, I managed to figure out a way to protect my heart from the music. That sounds sad as I write it, and I suppose it is. Throughout the past few decades I've been playing music in bands, or leading the music at church, and managing through with a sense of protection. I've learned, become more skilled, and had a great time, but rarely have I ever felt that raw sense of going deeper into the creativity and the raw expression. Only when I've been closed into a room by myself, my guitar or piano becoming an extension of my heart, have I really re-connected with that deep place.

This closing up has probably been the reason that I have often felt hesitant to perform much with Ryan. When we would perform, which we did do over the years, but only seldom, we were going a little deeper. I was approaching that place of connection and vulnerability. And so I hesitated. Ryan thought I was crazy to not want to do it. I didn't know how to explain why, or even understand all that I'm beginning to understand now. I just knew I was terrified to be pressured into performing, or to play any of my own music for others.

And so you see, friends, that this decision in the summer to make music my main occupation, to enter into the world of songwriting and performing, was a HUGE thing for me. I was deciding to face that terror head on. To open myself back up to the place I connected with as a child, that I connected with in the quiet of a room when I was alone, and flood all that out into everyone's ears and minds. I would need to stand up in front of people and pour it all out.

Can you picture that? Can you feel my terror? The word "vulnerability" doesn't even come close to how it has felt. Laid bare. Exposed. No words are adequate.

Yet, I have been surrounded by love and acceptance. I have been offered so many words of encouragement. I am constantly second guessing myself. I am acting under the belief that everyone is just being nice. And then I have a moment when I connect in with other musicians who I admire and they seem to like what I'm doing, and I think that maybe I'm not too bad after all. And then I think everyone is just being nice again. You know the impostor syndrome? This is a close cousin of it. I call it the "everyone's just super polite and lying to me" syndrome. It's a really frustrating place to be.

But in the end, the thing I keep telling myself is that this isn't about what others think of my music, not when I get down to the core of the thing. This is really about an act of courage on my part. And it's about doing something that I feel is what I was intended for. And it's about sharing, and offering, and doing what I can to bust some more light into the world. If my music is bad, well then bad it is. It's not really the point. The point is that I'm doing it, and in doing it, if I can show myself to be courageous, maybe, JUST MAYBE, I'll inspire someone else to search out their core calling. Or maybe I'll make someone happy. Or maybe I'll make someone laugh. Any of those things are worthy of the torture of this thing I'm doing.

So there you have it. It's a beautiful, wretched thing.

And I hate it.

And I love it.

And I must do it.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Budget Cuts

As if life isn't completely exciting enough with all the changes we put ourselves through, we thought we'd challenge ourselves further. By now, you know we like to experiment with things. We love to see how far we can push ourselves, how much we can push the envelope before it's too much.


  • ...sell our van and go down to one car. Then we can put the sale money into the car loan, getting rid of that debt.
  • ...rent out our mostly unused basement thus making a bit of money off our space.
  • ...purge more!
  • ...cut our eating out budget way down and really appreciate it!
  • ...cut our grocery bill way down from around 1000-1200 to 600!
Where have you heard that before? Haha - right here!

So okay, some things didn't quite pan out as expected, but most did. Here's what we did, and more importantly, why.

"Let's sell our van and go down to one car, put the sale money into the car loan and get rid of that debt!"

So, great idea right? Yeah definitely! Okay, so the truth is, we are a family of five. Most people heard that and thought one of two things: (1) YOU ARE CRAZY. YOU NEED TWO CARS. or else (2) WE WANT YOUR VAN. Hmm. So after a few initial interested parties fell through, and craigslist inquiries weren't panning out, we finally had one guy who wanted to come see it. He showed up with his mom, both of them just lovely, and asked about the van. In was totally weak of me, in fact I am almost embarrassed to say it, but as I was telling them all about it, I started really wanting to keep it. "Man!" I thought to myself, "This IS an awesome vehicle!" Hahaha! Weak! I'm weak!

The van wasn't right for them anyway. And so our van remains ours, and as a perk it has received a really good scrub down and looks just fabulous. We still have yet to decide whether we are still going to pursue going down to one car, something we believe would be a wise decision for this time in life considering I am just wrapping up my life of being on call and needing a vehicle, and Ryan carpools most days with a co-worker, but that's another conversation for another day. Whenever it happens, it will be a happy money-saving move for us to enjoy.

"Let's rent out our mostly unused basement thus making a bit of money off our space!"

We have three levels - picture a typical rowhouse/townhouse and you have our place. It has about 1700 square feet, which sounds reasonable these days for a family of 5. But the thing is, we live on the main floor and sleep in our bedrooms upstairs. The way our home is set up, particularly in the middle of this co-housing community, we don't use our downstairs playroom or TV room much at all. That, and we have ample badly-used room upstairs in our bedroom. (Ryan and I have essentially a double room where two rooms were opened up into one.) So we decided, let's see if anyone wants to rent it out for (a) storage, (b) office space, (c) a space for their teen (without a kitchen), etc. And lo and behold, we struck up a nice deal to rent it out as storage. So while we're living in less space technically, it really doesn't feel like it, and we're able to make a bit of money off of it.

"Let's purge more!"

As you might imagine, clearing out our basement for the storage rental required a little shifting of "stuff". Thankfully we are practically purging experts now, so it wasn't too hard to give away a lot. And it hasn't been hard to see it go. As I said, it was under-used, that basement. And so out it went!

"Let's cut our eating out budget way down and really appreciate it more!"

We are already pretty stingy on this item here simply because we know it's not a good use of money. Really, why go to a restaurant and pay people to bring you food they cooked, when you can just do it at home? I mean, it begs the question... That said, IT'S FUN!! Which is why we kept a bit in the budget. We kept a whopping $200 per month. That comes down to a weekly $45. Not loads, especially because we consider ANY food or drink purchased out to be thrown into this category. Coffee, Timbits, restaurants, you name it. So needless to say, we are very choosy now, and you know what? We all enjoy going out to eat SO MUCH MORE than we ever did before. We didn't eat out all the time, by any means, but we did a lot of little "treats". Ice cream cones here, doughnuts and coffee there, you get the idea.

"Let's cut our grocery bill way down from around 1100 to 600 per month!"

This one is radical, and I feel like I can only now blog about it because we're going on four weeks and IT'S WORKING. 

Have I ever ranted about meal planning before? No? Well now it's time.

Meal planning: 
  • cuts spending down
  • keeps grocery trips short
  • simplifies my days
  • makes me healthier
  • makes me more disciplined
Here's the thing. When I walk into the grocery store, I get excited. If I'm hungry, I get actually emotional about food, but let's take that out of the equation. 

Imagine you walk into the grocery store, you've managed to do it at a time when you don't have kids with you, and you wander right into the deli section. Well look! Delicious smelling fries and chicken! Expensive cheeses! Ready-made guac, salsa, and hummus! Mmmmmm! So convenient! So delicious! SO EXPENSIVE.

Then you wander through the aisles and are bombarded with crackers, cookies, chips, flavour packets, cans of vegetables and beans, and all sorts of other goodies that you just can't live without...

Then you get to the dairy section... yogurt, cheese, milk, chocolate milk, cream cheese, sour cream, etc. SO MUCH STUFF TO SPEND MONEY ON.

Now, I'm not arguing that we should stop eating. No no. I love eating as much as the next ravenous bear, but what we have done is simply shop and eat differently.

Do you know how much food used to go bad in my fridge? So much. SO MUCH. It was truly wasteful and a horrible use of our money and the work it takes to produce food. Now, after making the changes we have made, we waste almost nothing. 

So here is what we did, and why.

We were aware that our grocery bill was high-ish, although depending on who you talk to, it might seem completely reasonable. That wasn't good enough for us though, of course! We had to test out cutting it way back. We settled on 600 per month. This was somewhat arbitrary, to be honest. We just chose a number that sounded like a huge challenge but that might be still possible on some level.

We multiplied that by 12 months, then divided it by 52 weeks to find out how much we'd have per week to spend. It was 138 and change, so we rounded it up to 140. One hundred and forty dollars per week. In order to test it fully, we decided to do cash only. When the cash was gone, it was gone. No more food purchases.

The next step was to plan meals, meticulously. METICULOUSLY. This means planning meals that didn't ask for expensive ingredients. Less cheesy meals, more bean meals, less meat, more rice. We actually made up a list of enough meals to last us 2 weeks, and decided to just rotate these meals through our weeks, at least for now. We have only a few meals with meat, and we tried to keep them pretty kid-friendly.

Here is our list:
Chicken pasta salad (pre-BBQ'd chicken from the store, bulk pasta, veg, and home-made dressing)
Lentil Soup (with dried lentils, vegetables, and stock made from the rotisserie chicken)
Goulash (family recipe - it's not the soup. It's macaroni and ground beef in a tomato-curry sauce)
Baked Potatoes (potatoes, home-made yogurt, cheese, tomatoes, peppers, black beans with cumin)
Taco Salad (lettuce, veg, leftover black beans, tortilla chips, home-made yogurt, home-made salsa)
Pizza (home-made crusts, home-made sauce, pepperoni, cheese, vegetables, raisins, anything around)
Pesto Pasta (bulk pasta, frozen peas, home-made walnut pesto, lemons)
Chicken Kiev, Rice & Salad (this is an indulgent night, buying the pre-made frozen chicken!) 
Tortilla Pie (pretty much a mexican lasagna, using tortillas, beans, and salsa)
Latkes, bacon & fruit salad (using up extra potatoes - and who doesn't love breakfast for dinner?)
Fancy Beet Salad & garlic toast (Lettuce, roasted beets, pears, goat cheese, candied walnuts)
Rice & Bean Casserole (a leftover kind of casserole)
Corn Chowder & Cornbread (a favourite!)
Pancakes & Fruit (another favourite thing to have every once in a while for dinner!)

So, here are the meals. Not too hoity-toity, but there is a good variety, and the whole family can enjoy pretty much everything on the list. The girls even get excited when they can see the meals planned for the week (I post them on a whiteboard in the kitchen for my own brain). 

The next step was to make the list. I wrote out the produce and other foods that we needed for each of the recipes, plus a few staple items like milk, bread, coffee, oats and eggs. 

The first week, I was scared stiff to go to the store. Thankfully we had a lot of random leftover stuff from previous shopping trips - some potatoes, some other vegetables, some pasta, etc. We made good use of all of it. 

I went to the produce market (where produce is cheaper than the grocery stores) and with each item I chose, I compared each "kind" and chose the cheapest. (i.e. 6 types of apples, I chose the least expensive.) I didn't over-buy, but produce, particularly fruit, is one of our HUGE staples, and so I did buy a lot. It had to last the week after all. Oranges, apples, bananas, melons, pears, nectarines, plums, plus all the vegetables I had on my list. Success! I spent under $50. Could hardly believe it! 

Then I went to the grocery store, and honestly, this was the big question mark! I wasn't going to be bringing a calculator around, so as much as I tried to add things up as I put them in the buggy, it was really hard to know how much it would really come out to. 

Here were a few rules of thumb I went by:
1 - Buy as much from the bulk bins as possible. This means if I needed black beans for a recipe, I'd be getting them dry, not canned. Yes, they need to be soaked for a couple hours beforehand. No big deal.
2 - Buy as little meat as possible (this truly comes into play in the meal planning). Have you seen the price of beef lately? The drought has driven the prices up!
3 - Buy cheaper bread. Because there's a difference between $5 and $1.50 per loaf.
4 - Avoid the middle aisles unless completely necessary. Need soy sauce? Okay, go in. But except for those few important items, keep out of the centre of the store. Aisles are where all the packaged, expensive food is, and you want to avoid it! 
5 - When it comes to dairy, keep it simple. I'm a serious cheese lover, and it is SO expensive to buy cheese in Canada! I know people who cross the border just for cheese! But I don't. I just keep it simple. I have a neighbour who sometimes gets me reasonably-priced cheese at Costco. I also buy nice cheeses here and there to eat slowly and carefully. Yogurt? Don't buy it. Make it. Way cheaper. Way more delicious. (This is Ryan's specialty.) Sour cream? Use your home-made yogurt instead. Cream cheese? Don't. Just don't. Butter is one thing I won't skimp on. No margarine for me. I just go for the cheapest salted butter blocks I can find, and only get one because it's only for a week.
6 - No extras! Don't buy the pack of gum! You don't need it! Don't bother with the crackers, or the chips, or the chocolate bar! These things just cost so much to add, and they cost your happy, healthy body something too. 

And what happened on that first shopping trip? I was, wait for it, $40 under budget. No joke! Now, I attribute some of this to the food we had left over from before, but it still felt really, really good! We have done it twice more since then and have stayed under budget by 5 or 10 dollars each time. This week we spent every penny, but no more! So it's possible! SO exciting!

Of Note: 
- Ryan makes home-made yogurt. We use it on all sorts of things from oatmeal to baked potatoes to just on it's own with a bit of honey mixed in. It's delicious!
- Sometimes basic items are needing re-stocking (flour, sugar, etc) and this is just part of reality. Choose cheap, and don't stress over it.
- It's hard for me to remember that I need to shop ONLY for a week. I'll see the black beans at a good bulk price and want to load up on 3 weeks' worth. It's not necessary, and it skews my weekly spending.

Some questions that have arisen are - what about breakfast and lunch? Do you just plan for dinner?
Answer: well yes, technically, but the basic items I mentioned kind of cover our other meals. We have simple breakfasts (toast, eggs, oatmeal, fruit), and fairly simple lunches (leftovers from last dinner, sandwiches, etc), so dinner is our main meal. That said, we are just starting a new Sunday tradition that came out of our church having such a late-morning start (11:15). We were finding ourselves grumpy and famished on the way home, so we're starting to bring sandwiches to eat on the drive, then coming home and having dessert. YUM! So that will be added to the weekly plan - a dessert recipe. 

And in all this, what have we gained? We figure we are gaining a pretty penny in savings, a little more in rental of our basement, and we've reduced my stress at 4:30pm when I need to come up with a dinner plan. We have gotten more "stuff" out of our house, and we are only occasionally going out to eat, and enjoying it so much more than before! I have to also add that I feel more disciplined. It's a good feeling to deprive yourself, to feel a desire and deal with the frustration. I would LOVE a nice big piece of chocolate cake every night, but that's not realistic, nor is it in the budget. I live with that frustration. :)


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

You're just a big QUITTER

I sat with a tissue in my hand, half wiped tears wetting my cheeks, feeling a mixture of emotions.

There was guilt, brought on by the reality that I wasn't as able to take care of the two kids I had signed up to be a nanny for. I was 24, had no children of my own, and gosh, I hadn't expected it to be quite as intense as it ended up being. Two weeks of 11 hour days as a nanny for these children who were lovely, but very demanding. An active one year old who continually climbed up and threw himself off things (stairs, couch, anything), backwards, expecting to be caught in mid-air. A three year old, lovely as pie, but needing a companion in the most extreme way, and hardly able to entertain herself for more than 5 minutes at a time. It was just too much.

There was dismay. What would I do now? Coming back from our two years of living in Japan, I was the one who managed to get a job - this nannying position, and a place for us to live - in the windowless basement suite underneath the family I'd be working for. Okay, there were a few small windows, but waking up in a dead black room at 6am because a certain toddler is rolling his push toys on the hard floor above you, sounding like a jumbo jet, wasn't exactly pleasant. But what would I do now? Where could I get another job? 

There was disbelief. Why did these people, as they sat, both looking at me, having called down and asked me to come up for a discussion about my quitting, not understand that I was feeling incapable of caring adequately for their children? I didn't understand, even then, how parents could not hear the words, "I don't feel like I can keep your children safe. I don't feel like I'm a good enough nanny to really care for them. It's too much." Instead, the father looked at me and said, eyebrows up and through a long, condescending sigh, "I just don't get it. I guess it's because in my family we were taught NOT to be quitters." 

And then there was anger. Yes, I was angry and being talked to like I was sub-human, a youngling who just didn't understand these peoples' plight, who didn't care for their difficult situation, who was young and reckless and just wanted something different, apparently. Sigh.

So what about quitting? We do indeed hear it a lot in our culture - it's bad to quit. Don't be a quitter! Quitters never win! Quitters never succeed!

But what about the times when quitting is actually a good thing to do? Ryan was reading a book recently, in fact during the last few days of our trip, called "Think Like a Freak" by Steven Levitt & Stephen Dubner, and wrote this synopsis:

Are you a quitter?
According to “Think Like A Freak”, there are three forces that make us think of quitting as a bad word:
  1. We equate quitting with failure
  2. We think of quitting and get stuck at our sunk costs – believing that once we’ve heavily invested in something, it’s counterproductive to quit
  3. We focus on concrete costs rather than looking at opportunity costs – In other words, we fail to see that by not quitting, there are opportunities we are missing out on. 
What if being a quitter wasn’t such a bad thing? What if more of us had the courage to quit the things we probably know in our gut already?
If you want to live intentionally, be a quitter. Let go of things that are in your way of pursuing what you really want and make sure you look at the opportunity costs.

Interesting, eh? Number two often gets me. What if you've sunk some money into the thing you know it would be best to quit? What if you've invested precious time and energy? What if?

It has been 5 years since I started attending births and supporting couples through the labour and birth world. I've loved it, and I've gotten GOOD at it. I can say that because I feel it. I know it. I can walk into a room with a woman writhing in pain, look her in the eye, and gain her trust, calm her down within a few contractions, and have her managing much better within a few short minutes. I can read a woman by her noises and movements, see where in her body she holds her tension, and with gentle touch or words, release it. I can listen to her sounds and know when she's getting close to giving birth, suggesting a good time to go in to the hospital. I can read the room, the mood of the nurse, the doctors, the midwives. I can connect gently with staff who are tense at the end of a long shift, or who have met other pushy, domineering doulas that have put them off. I can empower a woman to find her inner strength. I can validate her decision to get an epidural so that she feels no guilt if she had planned or hoped otherwise. I can guide a new mother in latching her baby onto her breast for the first time. I can counsel the couple days after the birth when they're reeling from the experience, the fatigue, the challenge of the early postpartum period. 

I can do all this, and well. And I'm quitting.

This may sound weird to many. It sounds weird to me when I write it out! But it's a good thing. You see, I have this passion deeeeeeep inside. It burns with immense strength. It has been there, burning, for years, since I was a child. And it's time to let it out.

When I was a kid, maybe 8 or so, I started composing on the piano. I would think of a song I loved, and create a way to play it while singing. I would listen to my dad playing through his list of "usuals", then plop down on the bench after he left and try to work out what I had heard. Chariots of Fire, the Entertainer, Fur Elise. As I got older, I would listen to artists who played insanely good piano (Elton John, Keith Green) and imitate it. I'd play the cd, then stop it and play the piano, then play some more, then stop it and play the piano. Back and forth a million times until I had worked out some version of what I was hearing. 

When I was a teenager I picked up a guitar that hung around in my house, fashioned a pick out of a bread tag, and borrowed a chord chart from my brother-in-law. For the next three days I locked myself in my room and practiced practiced practiced, and came out able to play through some three chord songs.

Later I was a part of a band as a singer and mandolin player. Later yet I began leading music at our small church, and I do that still today.

So music. It has a deep spot. Deep. The last few days of our time in Europe were spent in conversation with my sister, her husband and Ryan. The subject was music, and why I haven't pursued it yet. Why was I holding back? Was this birth thing an excuse? Was admin that I was doing before an avoidance? What was holding me back?

Ohhhhhh there were things holding me back - mental things - emotional things. I could get into them here, but suffice it to say I didn't believe it was OKAY to do music. I didn't believe it was a valid thing to pursue. Throughout my highschool years, conversations with teachers and counsellors, with people who I considered to be practical and wise, I managed to convince myself that my life passion....MY LIFE PASSION....was not okay to pursue. And so I didn't. Or not really.

I've always played and dabbled in writing. I've always had this deep love for creating music. I will sometimes sit down at the piano and well up at the experience.

And so, I've decided to quit birth and take on music. With utmost excitement and support, Ryan backs me up. With a feeling of both terror and excitement, I step out into the world of creating, and then (gulp) sharing my art with others. This takes a LOT of courage, friends. A lot.

So, if you would like to encourage, or help, or support in some way, I would love it. A word of kindness when I put myself out there, or a "like" of my facebook music page, or coming out to a show - all ways that I would love to have your support. This is big!

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Website (definitely under construction): www.laurakoch.ca