26.2.20

Let's talk Lent.

Today marks the first day of Lent, the 40 day season preceding Easter Sunday. A completely optional exercise that was never commanded in Scripture, isn't practiced in most Evangelical churches, and won't at all make you a better Christian if you take part - and I love it. The liturgical calendar is something I've become reacquainted with in recent years and has been a great encouragement to my faith and the way I disciple my children. 


I want to make one thing excruciatingly clear as I have great fear of this post creating a burden or obligation among you, dear readers. It is that God won't love you more or less if you participate in Lent or abstain from Lent or any "church calendar" activities. With that said, would you permit me to share why I've grown to love these liturgical seasons so much? I'll start at the beginning.

I didn't grow up celebrating Lent. In high school I heard about people giving up chocolate or TV for Lent, but it was more of a fun exercise in will power than anything spiritual. As a new Christian I began to see Christmas and Easter with completely different eyes; eyes of worship, expectation and deeper beauty than a bunny or gift-laden tree could ever conjure, yet still the holidays snuck up on me year after year. In university I was writing exams until right before both major Christian holidays and once I had children life felt so full that I never seemed to arrive "ready" to celebrate with a full heart the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus. If you ever feel that tension when the holidays roll around, where you're glad for the four day weekend and time with family but your heart isn't quite prepared to worship then you understand exactly how I've felt in years past. Celebrating Advent and Lent have essentially freed me from those experiences and prepared my heart to celebrate in spirit and in truth. I've written a lot about Advent, so here I'll focus on Lent.

Lent gives Christians a concentrated season for grieving our sin and reflecting on the brokenness in our world that necessitated the cross. Life is hard and we are all sinners and sinned against. I believe taking the time to focus on this, to grieve and mourn what we've done and what has been done to us is incredibly meaningful and healthy. Lent is by nature a heavy season. If Advent stirs our hearts for an upcoming birth, Lent grieves our hearts for an approaching death - one that we played a role in causing - and it's right and good to feel sadness, regret, and grief. But we know our grief will end in the Resurrection on Easter Sunday, so there's always a limit to our grief that allows us to grieve with hope and not give in to despair. Some people choose to give up something during this season to share in the sufferings of Christ, to fast or challenge themselves in some way. I don't typically give up something for Lent, because I'm wary of my tendency to be legalistic (Enneagram 1 over here!), but I strongly encourage anyone who is giving up something for Lent to be sure to also add something in it's place that will fill up your affections for Jesus. Example: If you're giving up social media, add reading Scripture. The way I choose to practice Lent is not simply depriving myself of any one thing but truly orienting my heart towards Jesus and the Gospel. 

How are we practicing Lent this year? 

Pancake Tuesday + Explaining Lent

This is the first year I'm walking my kids through Lent though I've done it myself in recent years. We started last night with a big pancake supper feast which made our hearts merry, and then we transitioned into a time of reflection and confession. On the way home from school we had talked about the difference between Advent and Lent - Advent being an anticipatory celebration of an upcoming birth and Lent being a grieving season of an approaching death, lined with the precious hope of Resurrection Sunday. 

Confession + Forgiveness

After explaining the differences and answering any of their questions, I lead us in a time of confession. Simply admitting some of my sins from the day to my family. After each person repented of something, the family would respond, "your sins are forgiven!" It was such a sweet time. I don't know that we'll do this every day of Lent, but it represents the theme of Lent and how we'll be aiming to observe it. Grieving the wrong we've done and the wrong done to us, thanking Jesus for his forgiveness, and encouraging one another that all of those sins were nailed to the cross. The kids also wrote out or drew some of their sins which we put in a jar and lit the jar on fire (don't worry, we quickly moved the jar out onto our balcony - we were safe!)  The kids absolutely loved this and encouraged one another that "it feels so good to repent!" 

Scripture + Song

Like Advent, I'd like to be extra intentional this Lent about reading scripture daily with the kids and singing a hymn each night. We always have morning devotions and often sing praise songs in the car, but for Lent the songs and scripture will be focused on Good Friday and Easter Sunday particularly. Our hymn list includes Jesus Paid it All, There is a Fountain, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, Hallelujah! What a Saviour! and on the last week of Lent, Christ the Lord is Risen Today

For scripture reading I'd recommend some Old Testament prophecies of Jesus death (Isaiah 53 being a beautiful example), the Gospel accounts of Jesus' death (Mark 15 being my favourite), or any part of the Bible you find pointing you to Jesus paying the price for sin. I may change halfway through Lent this year, but we'll start out with Romans 5:12-15

12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men[a] because all sinned— 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.

Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday - the first day of Lent. With the ashes we made in burning up our confessions last night, we had a fresh jar of ashes with which to put small crosses on our hands this morning at breakfast. I got this idea from Asheritah Ciuciu on Monica Swanson's Boy Mom Podcast. The kids found it really moving  - honestly at ages 6, 8, and 9, they were absolutely able to understand that those ashes were a symbol of forgiven sin. I wish I'd started this years ago with them! Kids really are able to understand so much more than we often give them credit for, and symbolic activities like this help them learn and understand. I know some people put an ash cross on their forehead, so this is a version of that. Traditionally the ashes come from burned up palm branches used from the previous year's Palm Sunday, but ash from burned up confessions to sins we know are forgiven felt pretty beautiful too. 



Objections to Lent 

There is good reason why many Evangelicals do not practice the liturgical calendar, and I understand those objections. One common objection is that the Bible doesn't teach Advent or Lent, and the first recorded occurrences of these is usually between 300 and 600 AD, meaning even the very early church didn't practice Lent, so why should we? I absolutely agree that it's not necessary or required for Christians, but that doesn't mean there isn't wisdom in it. Lent uses common, everyday aspects of the Christian life (repentance, confession, reading scripture, fasting, prayer, song) in a simple, repetitive way leading up to the most important days in our calendar year and allows us to approach Easter prepared, in heart and mind to worship the risen Lord. Not at all necessary, but absolutely helpful for many people. 

Another objection is that fasting (giving up something) for Lent can create legalism and I totally agree with this! You know your heart - are you prone to legalism and spiritual performance? Maybe avoid fasting and focus on feasting on the gospel. Are you in a season of life where you're making bad decisions that are leading you away from Jesus and you need more self control? Then maybe regular fasting from all manner of things would be good for you! The purpose is to create grief around our sin and hope and joy in the resurrection, not to tick off any spiritual boxes. 

Where I am, in Quebec, Lent is seen very much as a Catholic practice, and if you know any of the history of our province, you'll know that there is a great degree of mistrust and bitterness towards the Catholic church for past abuses of power as recent as the 1960's when virtually all of Quebec was Catholic. Here it's rare to find a Protestant who wants anything to do with the liturgical calendar because there's a great desire to distance themselves from Catholicism, but many Protestant denominations have historically observed the "church calendar" including Anglicans, Presbyterians, and Lutherns, and regardless of your affiliation, you may find it a helpful practice. 

Simple + Meaningful

As I've said over and over again for Advent, Lent can be simple and meaningful. I know you're busy - me too. Our life is full and I'm not necessarily looking for things to add to our schedule, but done simply, Lent doesn't need to take much planning or time to be meaningful. Take your eyes off of perfection and onto a few easy practices that you can guide your family through to prepare your hearts for Easter. It can be singing one Easter-themed hymn each day. Reciting the same cross-centred Bible verse every night before bed. Creating an environment of confession and repentance in your home by humbling leading by example. Asheritah Ciuciu has a lot of great activities and crafts on her website and in her book, if you're looking for more ideas. 

I hope this was helpful, and if you have any questions please feel free to ask them in the comments or over on Instagram. 

24.2.20

what I read Fall '19 and Winter '20


I'm woefully behind on a book roundup so I'm just going to throw them all at you at once. Not just a tad behind, we're talking this post will span two years and decades, my friends! I do want to get back into the monthly updates because I find it so much easier to gather my thoughts when the books I read are in my recent memory and not months back, but this time we'll have to do with a compilation of everything I've read (that I can remember!) from October, November, December of 2019 and onto January and February of 2020. Hope you're up to it!

Educated by Tara Westover

This was a more recent book from 2020 but I'm starting the non-chronological list with it because it was hands down my favourite book I've read in months. Absolutely spellbinding, deeply sad and frustating, but also a great David and Goliath underdog story that happens to be true. The author described her stranger than fiction life growing up in a hyper-conservative, far-right, doomsday-preparing Morman family. In short, she is an abuse survivor both of physical abuse from her pseudo-sadist older brother, emotional abuse from her mentally unstable parents, and general neglect, never being allowed medical care or an education. Through unimaginable effort on her part, the author passes a GED test, having taught herself algebra from a secondhand text book and gains admission to university. She goes on to study at Cambridge and Harvard and very slowly begins to heal from her abusive childhood. You cry and cringe and cheer your way through her story, which she writes in such beautiful prose. Can't recommend enough!

The Rosie Project, The Rosie Effect, The Rosie Result, all by Graeme Simsion.

These were fun, light reads that brought along a good heap of empathy and moral conviction for how we respond to difficult people, particularly those on the Autism spectrum. I listened to the audiobook version for two of these and read the paper copy for another and while I always enjoy both, the audio version really was entertaining as the books take place in Australia and the varied Aussie accents were such a treat. Don Tillman, the protagonist (who falls for a girl so opposite of himself, named Rosie) is excellently written and portrayed, but I have to say Rosie wasn't as well written at all. It's rare that men write romantic comedies and I wonder if it has to do with men not having an easy time writing female characters. Don was a star, Rosie was a dud, so the writing was fun but not ground breaking.

The Boy Mom by Monica Swanson

I've mentioned this book and the author's podcast in my Top Parenting Resources blog post, so I won't repeat much. I'll just say that I absolutely love Monica Swanson's approach to parenting, her wisdom, and the way she writes with a grand vision for parenting but also a ton of very practical help. Some parenting books are all help and no heart, others offer a lot of theological framework but nothing very practical or specific, but The Boy Mom is one of those rare Christian parenting books that delivers both. I read this book over Christmas and have already referred back to it several times. I'm also giving away a copy next week on my Instagram!

Triggers: Exchanging Parents' Angry Reactions for Gentle Biblical Responses by Amber Lia and Wendy Speake

I first heard about this book when Wendy Speake was a guest on the Boy Mom Podcast and I knew I had to read it. The glimpses of Speake's wisdom on the episode were nothing compared to the depths I'd find in her book, Triggers. If you've ever struggled with anger in your parenting (and who hasn't!?) you need to read this book! The audiobook is narrated by the author, which I love. Truly, this book is such a blessing. Some chapters didn't apply to my stage of life as my kids are past the toddler years, but there was plenty for my stage and the ones to come! This book helps identify what triggers your children and you towards anger and gives wise advice on how to diffuse and defeat it.

Victoria by Daisy Goodwin

This author is also a writer for the PBS series by the same name and as I'm a fan of the show, I recognizes many of the historical events and the way they were perceived and written. Even though I didn't learn anything new about the great Queen, I loved this book for light reading. The book follows a young Queen Victoria ascending to the throne, falling in love with Albert, and the earliest months of their marriage; essentially season one of Victoria on PBS.

The Crown Companion Series Part I and Part II by Robert Lacey

You must know by now how much I love The Crown miniseries, so these books were a must for me. They are written by a bonafide royal historian who takes you episode by episode and tells you what The Crown got right, what was embellished or straight up created with artistic license, and what happened in a different sequence of time. It's fascinating! Both Part I and Part II were temporarily available on Scribd so I listened to them there for free, but I think they've been taken down. Worth checking, and if not, find them elsewhere or buy the paper copies because they are such a treat for any history geek or royal watcher (hi, I'm both!) The best part about the audio is that they're narrated by Alex Jennings who plays David, Elizabeth II's runaway would-be King uncle in The Crown.

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

This was a book club read and not one any of us really loved. It's a WWII historical fiction which is usually a guarenteed win for me, but I couldn't get excited about one of the two protagonists. The book follows two leading ladies, one young and looking for answers after WWII and the other a retired and embittered spy from WWI's famous Alice Network of female spies. Eve, the elder protagonist had a story that really drew me in (she was a spy after all, so you know she's seen some horrible things) but Charlie, the young girl looking for her missing cousin fell flat to me. I just didn't care enough about her character, so her victories didn't boon me and her searching didn't interest me.

Open Book: A Memoir by Jessica Simpson

I have to admit, in late high school and early university I was a closet Jessica Simpson fan. Never cared for her music, but I was really drawn to her persona. I was also a young Christian and was fascinated by a celebrity who also professed faith and remained a virgin until her wedding night (albeit to a non-Christian which soon after ended in divorce, etc, etc). I wouldn't say I saw her as a role model, but I just found her lovable and interesting. I probably hadn't thought of her in a decade when I read some press about her new book, and I was intrigued. Honestly, it's a great read (even better listen, as it's narrated by her) as her story is quite something. She shares about childhood sexual abuse, her longtime battle with body image, her faith (and at times, lack thereof), and gets pretty personal about the many people who have let her down (including all of her ex's and her parents). It's intimate and brave and funny and I'm glad I read it even if I'm not a current celebrity watcher or Jessica Simpson fan.

The Life-Giving Home by Sally and Sarah Clarkson

I read this for the second (or maybe third?) time this month and still found myself underlining new parts and taking new notes from Sally Clarkson's bottomless well of wisdom. I have always found her writing encouraging and the unique way she looks at everything as an opportunity to bless others and tell a story. I love her thoughts on beauty, hospitality, simplicity, and homemaking. She co-authors this book with her adult daughter Sarah and they each take turns writing chapters. Sarah writes more poetically than Sally, which was beautiful to read. Both women have such a huge vision for what the home can be and they walk you through a year, each chapter being another month, of how they invest in others by way of their space. It's not a book that champions materialism or tells you how to be the perfect hostess - far from it! It's a book that invites us to see how we can communicate love and welcome and faith and rest to those who cross our thresholds, and shares practical ideas for ways to try. This book has influenced the daily tea times I have with my kids after school, the sourdough-ish bread I make every week, and our practice of Advent and Lent. I will likely re-read it every few years because it's that inspiring and helpful!

I'm sure there were more books that I listened to or read in the last couple of months but that's all I can seem to remember for now. If more come to me, I'll add them to the list!





12.12.19

Our Nest Ready for Christmas 2019!

Every year I decorate a bit different from the year before, even though we use all the same decorations, so I figured I'd share another Christmas Home Tour! I really loved our home last Christmas and was planning to do everything the exact same but a few things changed my plan.


First of all, this year we got our first real Christmas tree! We have had years with no tree and years with a tiny Charlie Brown-style fake tree, but never a real tree. Our tiny tree always fit well in our little living room but finding a real tree in the exact size and shape would be tricky and I was already secretly dreaming of a real tree. We visited Jean-Talon market a few weeks ago and I saw the tree lots and was seriously coveting those gorgeous scented trees! They smell amazing and I love the uniqueness of a real tree (fake trees are too perfect!) So we went for it this year and gave our little fake tree to our church, who will use it every year for Christmas decor. 


 We named our real tree Trevor the Tree and the kids have already planned next year's to be named Thea (always using a T name, obviously!) haha! Trevor is a bit larger so couldn't fit in our living room but I love him tucked in the usually-dark corner of our dining nook. The mirror reflects him into the kitchen and our bedroom and we can see his lights from the whole house.

With the tree elsewhere I used the extra space in our living room for our growing Christmas book collection which is at 25 books! I've only ever bought them secondhand and patiently added to our collection for years and our kids love seeing them again every year. 


The overall look is wood, white, with pops of green and red. The red is mainly from our poinsettia which was a gift from our friends from the girl's school. I love it so much I'll have to buy one every December from now on! I love our eclectic bunch of candles on the mantle and our thrifted wooden nutcrackers with the Ikea garland. 


 Every year I love choosing my favourite carol lyrics for our quote board and this year I went with O Holy Night which I've learned this year was actually originally written in French! Minuit, Chretiens is a famous French Christmas carol and was translated to O Holy Night in the late 1800's. In celebrating Advent every December we're preparing our hearts to really grasp the Christmas message, so we sing songs and read scripture and pray prayers to that end every night, or as many nights as we're able. O Holy Night's lyrics capture that desire and anticipation so beautifully,

"Long lay the world, in sin and error pining, 'til he appeared and the soul felt it's worth"


 Decorating a home for five people in 1,000 square feet is definitely a challenge every year! After just a few weeks the added decor can feel like clutter so this year I cut back on decorating a lot. I didn't buy anything new, aside from a few ornaments for the tree, but I gave away a lot to really streamline my style and our possessions. We have a small countdown board in the kitchen and our dining table is Advent-central with our Advent cards from She Reads Truth, our candles (the brass holder was thrifted and I just love it!) and our basket of all of our French and English Bibles which stays there year round. There are some meaningful additions but not a ton.


 Decorating our home for Christmas has become a favourite ritual. I've had years with way more decorations and years without even a tree. My conscience has shifted on the matter but the basic desire to make this season meaningful and Christ-centred has never changed. I find these decorations warm my heart and help add the anticipation I already feel, but you don't need decorations for that! They're merry and bright, but Christ coming to save us is plenty enough to lift our spirits!

Oli's Birthday Party + Outside-The-Box Friendships

A couple of weeks ago we hosted Oli's birthday party and it was so much fun! We don't always have big birthday parties for our kids and there have been many years where we just did a smaller affair or even simply a family celebration, but this year being Oli's first year at a new school we wanted to meet as many of his friends as possible. Mad Science offered to come and provide the entertainment which was a dream come true for our STEM-loving boy!


Oli is now attending a school for children who are gifted in maths and science, but he's always been drawn to equations, potions, building, and electricity since he was very young. Living in a small urban condo makes hosting big parties really tricky, especially when the weather is too cold to have the party at the nearby park (which is what we have always done for our August and September born girls). When Mad Science reached out and offered to host his birthday party I was so thrilled! Not only are their parties the exact thing Oli and his friends are hugely interested in, but it provided educational entertainment for all of the kids for an hour and a half! The rest of the time was spent opening presents and eating (of course!) 


Oli invited 9 guests to his birthday party (two adult friends who he looks up to, two friends from church, a friend from his old school, and five friends from his new school). This year's birthday party was a big deal for Oli being the new kid, so we wanted him to be able to invite several kids from his class. But we also wanted him to feel free to invite anyone he loved and respected and not worry if they were from his new school specifically. When he suggested friends from his old school and our church we weren't surprised, but when he mentioned two adult friends (also friends of ours who we know from our church) we thought it was so neat! We have many friends who don't have kids of their own but who play a spiritual parental role in the lives of our kids and I think that's such a beautiful thing. We've also always encouraged our kids to think outside the box with friendship - you don't only have to be friends with kids who are the same gender or age, you can have faraway friends who you write letters to and friends at other schools, the important thing is that you love and respect your friends and choose friends who love and respect you. 


Having Mad Science come in freed Brad and I up to spend time getting to know the kids from Oli's new school whereas otherwise we would have been preoccupied with organizing the party, running games and activities and tidying up. Eric, our Mad Scientist, was incredible with the kids and learned all of their names throughout the course of the party. He held their attention for the entire time with fascinating experiments and activities and each child took home their self-made bouncy ball made from the chemical reaction of polymers.


In booking the party parents can select different scientific themes with the option to include an add-on activity such as dry ice or cotton candy. The kids (and frankly the adults too!) were mesmerized by the glasses we wore that cut the colour from any light and the dry ice was such a hit! You can see all of the experiments in the videos I took during the persentation by visiting the archived stories on my Instagram. Mad Science is available throughout North America and caters to science-loving kids ages 5-12. Thank you so much Mad Science for the unforgettable birthday party!


The post was written in collaboration 
All opinions are 100% my own.
To book a collab, contact me!

26.11.19

Travel Hacking 2.0

As some of you know, over the years our family has been able to take some pretty amazing trips with our kids through maximising Aeroplan points. Not a week goes by that I don’t receive an e-mail or DM about how our family manages to travel internationally on a budget so I’ve asked Brad (the master travel planner in our family!) to explain things in more detail. He did write up a post a couple of years ago that I know was helpful for so many of you (I love e-mails from strangers telling me they’ve made it to Madrid/Hong-Kong/Reykjavik/etc thanks to our points tricks!) but since the points program with Aeroplan has changed somewhat, here’s the updated version.



The Aeroplan points program isn’t *quite* what it used to be with the reward points and some of the advantages having been curtailed. While it’s no longer the free travel it used to be, it’s still nonetheless heavily discounted travel, which makes all the difference when you’re buying five plane tickets for every family trip!

Essentially, the trick is to sign up for certain credit cards which offer huge amounts of Aeroplan points as a sign-up bonus, which we then redeem for flights. All we end up paying is the credit card annual fee and the flight taxes. When done properly, it’s saved us tons of money on our flights. I know this can feel super complicated, so here are some concrete examples.  

Let’s say you wanted two return tickets to Europe, say from Toronto to Copenhagen next June. Google Flights says it would cost $1,888.  

Yet the Aeroplan points that you get from two Amex credit cards would bring that cost down to $1,028.92 ($499 and $250 in fees for the Amex Business Platinum and Business Gold credit cards + $279.92 in flight taxes).

Not a bad way to save $850!

Here’s a favourite travel hack of ours:  A little known fact about Aeroplan is that it allows you to add a second destination to your itinerary at no extra cost. That’s right, a completely different city in a completely different country – completely free! (more on that below).

So if you wanted to buy one ticket from Montreal to Tokyo next July, and spend a week in Taiwan on the way, with the Amex Business Platinum card the cost would only be $689 (the annual fee of $499 + $190 in flight taxes). If you had to book that with cash, however, according to Google Flights that ticket would cost $1,602. Here you’re saving $913!

Last example:  How about Edmonton to Hawaii in February, but first stopping in San Francisco for a week? $450 with Aeroplan points ($250 Amex Business Gold annual fee + $200 in flight taxes) vs $1,034 in cash.



There’s a few other advanced tricks I’ll mention later, but for now probably the only question is, So what’s the catch? (Because there’s always a catch!)

The catch is, you need to be able to spend significant amounts on these credit cards in the first three months. These cards require you to put between $5,000 and $7,000 worth in purchases on the cards in order to qualify for the bonus points.

For most of us, these are very large amounts of money. But with some strategic planning, we’ve been able to do it many times over the years without increasing our household budget. The easiest solution is to time your credit card application with an upcoming major expense, such as a home renovation, tuition costs, or new appliances. Combined with regular spending, this allows you to reach these minimum spending amounts pretty easily. However, even without these kinds of huge purchases, we’ve found some tricks that make it possible (see below for a list).

So if travel hacking sounds like something you’re up for, I’ve put together a handy step-by-step guide that simplifies the process.

FIRST THINGS FIRST

The first thing to do is to check your credit score. Every credit card application you make lowers your score by about 5-7 points. Now, that’s out of a total of 900 possible points, so it’s not a huge number, but it’s still something to keep in mind.

Some other quick thoughts on credit for those interested:
  • A score represents a moment in time and can change based on your behaviour.
  • Missed or late payments or lots of maxed out credit accounts will lower your score.
  • The best way to increase your score is to pay back debts on time and consistently.
  • Scores typically range from 400 to 900, and 'good' scores are usually 660 and higher; anything over 750 is considered 'excellent'. So whether it’s 750 or 850 doesn’t really make a difference. For an institution like a bank or credit union looking at your credit, anything over 725 is a no-brainer.

If it might help allay your fears, I don't know how many credit cards I've applied for in the past few years, and Equifax tells me my score is 761.

Here's two great ways to get your credit score for free:

www.borrowell.com/free-credit-score

Also, if you don't already have an Aeroplan membership you can get one here (it's free).

Ok, let's get started!



STEP 1 - GETTING YOUR POINTS

In order to rack up the necessary points for your dream trip, you have to follow these steps:


  1. Apply for a given card
  2. Meet the minimum spending requirements for the card
  3. Wait for the points to appear in your account (they say it can take up to 8 weeks but I usually see them within a few days)
  4. Cancel the card before the second year begins so you don’t pay the annual fee twice

These steps will lead you through applying for various American Express credit cards, whose points are transferable 1:1 to Aeroplan. (So when I use the term 'points', I'm referring to both Aeroplan points and Amex points, since they have the same value.)

Links to Credit Cards to Apply For:

Ok, start dreaming: where do you want to go? Figure out how many points you'll need, and then apply for the cards to make it happen.

In addition to the examples I mentioned above, here’s a brief list:

Anywhere in North America: 25,000 points
Mexico: 40,000 points
Hawaii: 45,000 points
Europe: 60,000 points

All for round-trip flights! (And don’t forget in every case you can add another destination on the way for free!)

(You can see the whole award chart here.)

Now let's take the first step: applying for cards!

Note: if you decide to sign up for a card, make sure you use the links below! You get thousands of extra points per card for doing so!

AMERICAN EXPRESS BUSINESS GOLD REWARDS CARD – 30,000 points (40,000 if you use this link!)
  • $250 annual fee 
  • You need to provide a business name - but it doesn't need to be an officially registered business. It can be anything that allows you to make money - even if it's not currently doing so.
  • For example, I have sold the odd used book on Amazon. So I used my Amazon selling name as my "business" name and it worked perfectly. An eBay seller account would work as well. Have a blog? You can use that. It's really flexible and still ethical, which is important to us!
  • When it asks for ‘Annual Business Revenue’, I just tell the truth: $50, $20, sometimes $0! They don’t seem to mind that my business isn’t very profitable :)
  • You also get 1 point per dollar spent on the card, so after meeting the minimum spending requirement (more on that below), you'll have 45,000 points, enough for Hawaii!

AMERICAN EXPRESS BUSINESS PLATINUM CARD - 40,000 points (75,000 if you use this link!)
  • $499 annual fee
  • Same as the above card for the business name
  • Except this card gives 1.25 points per dollar spent, meaning after meeting the minimum spending requirement, you’ll have 83,750 points, which is just shy of the 90,000 needed to get to Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Indonesia!!!


It’s fun to dream, but those fees (especially if you’re doing for both cards) are not insignificant.

So the key to travel hacking is to maximize the value of the flights you’re getting for free (spending $499 for a card that will give you enough points to book a free flight from Toronto to Dublin that you can buy with cash for $650 is obviously less than stellar value).

So what are some tricks we use to get the optimal value from these points?

The easiest one, as I already mentioned, is adding a free stopover (which I’ll explain how to do below). But here’s two more:

a) Sweet Spots

The Aeroplan points system is based on regions: a set number of points is required for travel within a large geographical area. But within a given area, the cities towards the periphery naturally yield the best value since they are furthest from your point of departure.

For example, Toronto and San Francisco couldn’t be further apart in North America and yet you can get to San Fran for only 25,000 points (the same that it would cost you to go from Toronto to Regina). So with the Amex Business Gold you can get a flight that usually costs upwards of $800 for only $320 ($250 + $70 tax) and leaving you only 5000 points shy of being able do the entire trip again.

If you are looking for something out of the ordinary, you could fly from Toronto to Whitehorse or Yellowknife, which despite being insanely far away (and costing $800+ for a ticket) is also available for only 25,000 points return.

If you’re located in Quebec you’re even more lucky, as everything in the Maritimes is considered ‘short-haul’, meaning those flights cost a mere 15,000 points. So to fly Montreal to St. John’s, instead of paying $600 per ticket, with the Amex Business Gold card you could get THREE tickets for just $771.31 (the annual fee of $250 + $173.77 in taxes per flight).


b) Living the High Life

But by far the best value with Aeroplan points is to redeem them for ridiculously expensive Business Class flights. If luxury travel is your thing (or you’d like it to be!) you can enjoy a luxury experience wining and dining in the sky (while the rest of us struggle for elbow room in coach!) that would normally be unaffordable.

So instead of forking out $4,079 (!) next June for a trip from Vancouver to Rome, you would only need to pay $915.83 ($499 and $250 for the two cards annual fees + $166.83 in flight taxes).

Whether you actually value that business class flight at $4,079 is another story, but the fact that there’s a way to save $3,000 on a flight is pretty unreal. With three kids, we’ve never done this before but it’s always been a dream! 



STEP 2 - MEETING THE SPENDING REQUIREMENT

As I mentioned, these cards require some significant spending before they'll dish out the points: $5000 for the Business Gold card, and $7000 for the Business Platinum card, all within the first three months of having the card.

These are huge amounts for us, but these are some tricks we’ve used to help accelerate the process without actually increasing our household spending:
  • You can overpay your utility bills (internet and cell phone, for example) and essentially pay for a year of service upfront. So a $720 cell phone payment will result in an account credit that will be used to pay your $60/month bill for a year.
  • Some businesses won't take Amex, but almost every online retailer will. Between Old Navy, Gap, Paypal, Airbnb, and Amazon, we can put a lot of money on our Amex cards just through regular spending.
  • Donations: if you give monthly to an organization, an option is to cancel the donations for a year and simply make a one-time donation. So you cancel your $100/month donation for six months and make a $600 donation. (But don’t forget to restart the monthly donations after!)
  • Offer to put big purchases for a group on your card. A friend of ours put some big costs for his brother's wedding on his card, his brother paid him back, and he was able to hit his minimum spend in one shot!
  • Some other great sources for our Amex spending: all gas stations, TD and RBC insurance, Home Depot, Walmart and Shoppers Drug Mart/Pharmaprix. 


STEP 3 - SPENDING YOUR POINTS

First, you convert your points:

Since you’re working towards an Aeroplan flight reward, you need to convert your American Express points to Aeroplan miles (they transfer 1:1). Thankfully, this is super easy. Go to the Rewards section after you log in to Amex, and find the link for "Rewards", and then “Transfer my points.”

The conversion from Amex points (called ‘Membership Rewards’ points) to Aeroplan is instantaneous – however, you must first register your Aeroplan account, and that can take a few days. So plan accordingly!

Then, the fun part: booking your flight!

But wait. You might have heard about the dreaded taxes that accompany a reward flight booking. It’s true. And really, it’s ridiculous that a “free” flight isn’t actually free. In particular, there is often a ‘fuel surcharge’ levied which can be $500-$600 alone. So the taxes can amount to almost the full price of the actual flight! Which would mean this was all a colossal waste of time.

But I learned of an ingenious workaround: different airlines charge different levels of fees and taxes. And some airlines charge very little!

Want to know which ones? Here is a list of some of the airlines that you can book with your Aeroplan points in order to avoid the most obscene of the reward flight surcharges:

United Airlines
Swiss Airlines
Brussels Airlines
TAP Airlines (great for Portugal)
EVA Air (great for South East Asia
Egypt Air
Aegean Air (for Greece!)
SAS (for Scandanavia)
Copa Airlines (for South America)
Avianca Arlines (also for South America)
Air New Zealand
Air India
Turkish Airlines
Ethiopian Airlines
Shenzhen Airlines
Singapore Airlines
South African Airways

When flying with these airlines, our flight taxes generally range from $70 to $150 per ticket. Considering the actual price of these flights I usually pay these taxes with a smile on my face :)


There are two ways to redeem your Aeroplan points for a flight:

  1. Online through your Aeroplan account page
  2. Over the phone with an Aeroplan agent

Most of the time, you should be able to find your preferred flight on the Aeroplan website. When booking, you have three choices: round trip, one way, and multi-city. If you’re looking to include a stopover, multi-city is what you want. (The Aeroplan website has great info on how to book this type of flight, but if you have any problems I would be happy to help.)

If your itinerary is quite complex there’s a chance you’ll need to call Aeroplan to book it. (Note that they charge $35 for this. Which is why it’s always preferable to find it on Aeroplan’s website if you can!)

STEP 4 - PROFIT!

That's it! It might sound complex but you get the hang of it real quick. If you have any questions I’d be happy to help, so just ask them below in the comments and I’ll reply there.

30.10.19

My Top Parenting Resources


I'm on my 10th year as a mom, and I've been in the learning process all ten of these years. Any honest parent will tell you they've never truly "arrived" as a parent. Every season of motherhood is different and brings new challenges and requires new knowledge and wisdom, so just as soon as you think you understand your kids well or have it figured out, don't worry, everything will change! This keeps us parents humble and always learning, and if we hope to be wise, it means being open to growing and learning.

I love this picture by my friend Camille!

I know I've often heard the advice that you don't need advice. Totally an oxymoron, haha! But also I don't agree. We all come into parenting with assumptions, habits, and baggage from our own childhood - some good and some bad. If we never seek advice from others, we're still heavily influenced by others because our upbringing influences us positively and negatively. Seeking advice is so important! Yes, there's something to be said for mother's intuition and your gut instincts, but I firmly believe that there's so much to be gained by asking for help and advice. For my part, I have devoured Parenting books, podcasts, sermons, and tools these ten years and I plan to continue doing so as long as I have children (and grandchildren). I've often been asked to share some favourite books or podcasts on Parenting so I thought I'd arrange everything into one post which I'll update as I discover new resources. If you want to find them on Amazon or to listen to them, click on the links I put in the text and you'll be directed there.

The following have heavily influenced my parenting over the years and I strongly recommend them to you!

This series of talks has influenced my parenting more than all of the following books combined. I first discovered this resource when we were travelling in France with two babies under age two. I was desperate for some wisdom as our sweet babies were growing into defiant toddlers before our eyes and the added element of being abroad seemed to multiply the stress of it all. One night I did a deep dive into googling all the church websites that I knew of who might have Parenting sermons or talks and I found this series by Jen Wilkin and her husband. This was before Jen Wilkin was a best selling author and national speaker and I didn't know her from anyone, but just a few minutes into the first talk Brad and I knew this would be a foundational resource for us. I have listened to every talk so many times I've lost count and they have taught me so much from disciplining and training a toddler to discussing sex with my kids as they grew older. Like every resource I'll be listing here I am not saying it's infallible. On a personal level, we didn't do everything they did or agree with every bit of advice (example: we didn't spank our kids and we didn't do Santa Claus), but even so I strongly recommend it as one of the very best Parenting resources! The six talks are Shared Faith, Shared Affection & Time, Shared Language, Shared Expectations - Responsibility, Shared Expectations - Obedience, and The Big Picture. Clear your schedule and listen to these talks! 


If I could choose one book to give to a mom or dad, this would be it. I love Paul Tripp (not to be confused with his brother Ted who also writes on parenting but isn't my favourite) and his constant focus on the gospel. Parenting can easily become moralism and a power struggle without this focus! In Parenting, Paul Tripp uses humble, honest examples from his own life and casts a hope-filled vision for the task before us. He brings us back again and again to the grace God lavishly bestows on us and sets the reader on the right path for parenting.


The Risen Motherhood Podcast

I so badly wish this podcast existed when I was a new mom! It is only a couple of years old but I've been listening to it since the beginning and have loved every episode. Laura and Emily are sisters-in-law and friends and between them have eight kids, including children with special needs. You might remember Laura as a guest writer in my A Day In HER Life series! These women are wise beyond their years and teach on every aspect of parenting from postpartum body image to potty training to marriage struggles all with an eye for the redeeming grace and love of Christ. I have found these 20 minute episodes so helpful and refreshing, and their new book is like a best of compilation of my favourite episodes in written form. Such a great thing to pop on if you're driving or doing chores and the book makes a lovely gift to a first-time mom! My favourite podcast episodes have been the interview with Ruth Chou Simmons, Coffee, Wine & Social Media: Mom, What's Your Crutch?, and the interview with Sally Clarkson.


Sally Clarkson - The Ministry of Motherhood and The Mission of Motherhood

I really love Sally Clarkson! I was given these two books as a young mom and found them so encouraging and helpful both in seeing the important role I had as a mother and the potential and hope for my kid's future. I find Sally Clarkson so wise - she was a missionary in Communist Europe before having four kids in her 30s and 40s. She wrote her first book at 40 as she wanted to really live and learn before writing which I really respect. She's a woman who deeply values tradition, place, and ritual. She reads widely and it shows in her writings. She also has a podcast that I listen to occasionally but these two are my favourite Parenting books of hers.



Gloria Furman is a mom of five and church-planter's wife in Dubai, UAE. She studied at the same seminary as Brad and really knows her theology along with being a passionate primary caregiver to her children. She's such a hero to me, honestly! Missional Motherhood is for all women, even those not yet moms and those who mentor younger women and Treasuring Christ is particularly helpful when you're in the "little years" and needing a nudge to focus on what matters.


Gary Ezzo - Becoming Babywise

This resource is a bit controversial because it's essentially a sleep training manual, which I know some people are not a fan of, but for us we saw this method and this book as such a gift! Having three kids within three years, I would never have survived without sleep and Becoming Babywise gives both babies and their parents the gift of sleep. I've written a lot about what I learned from this book so I'll just share those links here or you can just enter "babywise" in the search engine at the bottom left side of my blog. Babywise had all three of our kids sleeping twelve hours a night without waking by four months old. TWELVE HOURS. In addition to sleeping from 7-7, Babywise helps babies nap very consistently for two hours each nap. The predictability and stability that this brings gave us the energy to keep having babies and to thrive as parents so I can't say enough about it. Of course, it's not for everyone and is really hard (you need to leave your baby to cry it out for nap times, though never at night), but it's well worth it!


The Jesus Storybook Bible

This is the best children's Bible out there! Unlike many kid's Bibles that focus on the moralism, The Jesus Storybook Bible points kids to Jesus in every story from Genesis to Revelation. We started reading this Bible together when I was pregnant with Lily and several times the stories brought tears to both me and Brad's eyes. Ten years on and we're still reading it with out kids and they're still reading it themselves. Our English copy is patched together with tape and the French copy is starting to fall apart too! Our church gives a French copy to every new family at the birth of their first child and I recommend it to every Christian family!



The New City Catechism

This is such a great book and app to help your kid's memorize truths from scripture! We use the app form and put it on the "kids" setting, which has the same questions as the "adult" setting but has more concise answers. Our kids really enjoy doing the questions and answers and I love what they've learned through them. The app is really ideal for on the go teaching moments like when you're stuck in traffic or in a long line at the grocery store.


The Boy Mom Podcast

This is a new discovery for me and I'm absolutely loving the wisdom and helpfulness in each episode! Monica Swanson is a mom of four boys from ages 9-21 who lives in Hawaii and wrote the book Boy Mom. I started following Monica's blog years ago and always appreciated her musings on motherhood, especially since she's a step ahead of me with older kids. It's called The Boy Mom Podcast but it's definitely for all parents! 99% of the content is applicable to my daughters too.  I especially loved the episodes Raising Sons with Boundaries and Freedoms and Raising Boys in a Digital World with Ruth Chou Simons. Monica talks in a laid back way with a lifetime of experience and a deep love for God. She's a mom who I admire so much, and listening to her podcast honestly feels like listening to a friend over coffee!


16.10.19

Re-making Traditions + the *PERFECT* Roast Chicken

Thanksgiving just behind us and Christmas on it's way means traditions are swirling around in my mind, both the warm fuzzy feelings associated with the familiar and the fond as well as the slightly negative aspects of tradition. Negative traditions? Can there really be such a thing? Aren't traditions something we continue doing because we love them and want to mark our lives by such cornerstones? In theory. However traditions can also be laden with guilt or leave us feeling un-creative. We might do the same thing year after year because we feel we must or can't think of any alternative. Breaking away from traditions can potentially cause hurt feelings of other family members who wish to continue. I'm by nature a traditional person but not necessarily a sentimental one, so I love the idea of annual traditions and rhythms that I can predict and look forward to, but I don't necessarily feel I must continue with what we've done in the past, especially if it doesn't feel special. When Brad and I got married and moved eight hours away from my family we were given the perfect scenario to re-think all of the traditions we've grown up with and decide which we'd keep for ourselves and which we'd re-think as a married couple. We both brought some traditions into our marriage and left many too. In recent years as our babies have grown up into children we've honed in on traditions, making some new ones each year as they can now remember for themselves what they loved from the years prior. For example, Brad and I both grew up with turkey with all the trimmings on Thanksgiving and Santa Claus at Christmas and our kids are being raised with neither.


At first we felt a bit rebellious and strange stepping out of the traditions we've grown up with, especially given our happy childhoods, but we realized that continuing with traditions simply because they've always been done without thought to our personal beliefs, tastes, interests didn't make any sense. This past Thanksgiving when I said on Instagram that we weren't doing a turkey and indeed that we didn't enjoy turkey dinner, I received a barrage of comments insisting that we go ahead with the meal, including many comments listing the benefits of the leftovers (the soups! the sandwiches!) None of which were convincing as we don't like turkey. I wasn't offended by the comments at all, but I do find it interesting how the tradition of turkey at Thanksgiving is so ingrained that it's noteworthy when a family opts for an irregular meal during the October long weekend.


This Thanksgiving, and in fact typically once a week in the colder months, we enjoyed a whole roast chicken, which I have to say is a million times tastier than turkey. Cooking a whole bird was very intimidating to me as a new cook, but after years and years it's become one of my favourite comfort foods. I love the small size compared to turkey (very conducive to condo life!). A roast chicken is one of my favourite meals to bring to a new mom or a friend who's in need of a hand. It's just the perfect meal! Le Creuset generously sent me their new Oblong Casserole to try out this Fall and though countless dishes can be made and served in this dish, to me it's life calling is to be a vessel for roast chicken!


I've tried tons of recipes over the years but I've finally settled on what I think is *the best*. This recipe cooks low and slow for starters. 300 degrees for 2.5 hours! But the oven time is completely hands off (no basting as with turkey). Also you'll create the most amazing butter and herb spread and place it beneath the skin, directly on the chicken meat. You'll fill the cavity with a pierced lemon and herbs and cook your bird atop whatever root vegetables you fancy (raddishes, potatoes, carrots). I promise you, the result is incredible!
  1. Clean your bird with water, including inside the cavity, and dry it with a paper towel.
  2. Preheat oven to 300 and clean and chop vegetables
  3. Toss vegetables in olive oil or knobs of butter, lemon zest, and salt then place at the bottom of your roasting dish (I used the Le Creuset oblong casserole which is the perfect size!)
  4. Make your herb butter spread: in a blender or by hand, combine 1/4 c room temperature butter and a few glugs of olive oil with salt, pepper, lemon zest from one lemon, 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint and 1/4 cup chopped parsley or basil. 
5. Spread the herb butter mixture all over the bird, including underneath the skin of the breasts (see picture below) This will guarantee the strongest flavouring on the meat and not just on the skin. If you gently pull the skin at the entrance of the cavity, you'll see that it seperates easily and without tearing from the meat beneath. Push the herb butter mixture all the way to the back of the bird, covering the whole top (breasts) of the bird. 
6. Stuff the bird's cavity with a lemon that's been pierced a few times with a sharp knife, which will allow more juice to come out, and whatever herbs you have leftover from your herb butter mixture. 
7. Top with a final sprinkling of salt and pepper and put in the oven for 2.5 hours, or until meat thermometer reads cooked. 

I hope you try this recipe! The meat will be falling off the bone and so infused with flavour and your vegetables will be perfectly seasoned and ready to serve. 


One chicken typically serves 3-4 people, depending on how much meat you're serving. If we're eating with the kids we'll make two which leaves leftovers for curry chicken salad sandwiches. I save the drippings in the fridge to use instead of oil when cooking vegetables the week afterwards, and make bone broth with the carcass. Maybe I'll have tempted you to re-think turkey with this recipe, or maybe not, but I hope you enjoy it and also feel the freedom to create your own family rhythms! 

This post was written in collaboration with 
Le Creuset Canadaa brand I've admired  years. 
All opinions are 100% my own.
To book a collaboration, contact me!