15.5.20

Transitioning from a shared kid's room to a shared tween room *plans*

Our kid's shared room has always been my favourite room in the house, from when it hosted two under two, to a trundle bed and a crib, to the triple bunk they've enjoyed for the past several years. I know many of you visit this blog for tips on room sharing, co-ed decor ideas, and toy organization, which are all things I have in mind as we enter into this next chapter: a shared tween room.

Tweens, by definition aren't quite teenagers (in no rush, thank you!), but aren't little kids anymore either. Children, ages 9-12 fall into this tween category, and while only Lily is the only official tween, Oli is entering into tweenhood in October and Chloe just always does everything the olders do. My point is, my kids are growing up and slowly outgrowing their space. 

We don't have the option to give them separate rooms, so that's not what I'm talking about here. I'm talking about the layout, style, furniture, and general theme of their room. Recently, it's been feeling a little too kid-ish. My plan is to give their room a mini makeover to usher them into the tween years. 

Transitioning from a shared kid's room to a shared tween room for us means a few key changes:

  • Sorting through all of their toys and stuffed animals and deciding what to keep and what to donate.

    Thanks to Covid-19, we've cleared out all of our closets, toys, and bookshelves and are just waiting for the thrift stores to re-open so we can donate our bags full. The kids have outgrown a lot of things that we'll be selling (Calico Critters, Lego), too. I love that at their ages my kids still love imaginative play with stuffed animals, Lego, and Playmobil so we'll still be keeping a good amount, but definitely less than we've had in past years.
  • Giving the room a fresh start by painting the walls and baseboards all white

    We painted the entire interior of our condo when we moved in, almost nine years ago, but many rooms are ready for a fresh coat, and none more than the kids' room! I have loved the grey and white stripes we did, but there are endless scuffs and stains on their walls from nine years of life. Since I'm considering some more colour in the kids' bedding, I will definitely paint the walls bright white so keep is from being too busy.

  • New bedding for the two main bunks

    Since our floor bunk (the mattress under the bottom bunk) is never seen in the day, we won't spring for new bedding for that bed as a way to save money. We alternate who sleeps where regularly, so no one will feel left out not getting new bedding, don't worry! With all of the furniture and the walls being white, I'd love to get some duvet covers and pillow cases with a pop of colour (until now we've always had white bedding, but in the past have had pops of colour in painted rocking chairs, art, etc). I really love the combination of amber and dusty rose and I think it can work well with a co-ed shared space.

  • Larger toy and book storage

    This will make a big difference! With little ones, I love using baskets everywhere for storage. We have baskets of books literally all over our kid's room, but they're becoming annoying and aren't putting much of a dent in our massive library. With kids who read as much as mine do, I need more book storage and it's time to ditch the little baskets everywhere.

  • Personal spaces for each kid

    Personal space is obviously not our highest value with five people living in a tiny two bedroom condo, but I still think it's important. I believe in any space you can have personal space, and I'll be looking to add some personal touches to different areas of the room for each kid. Bulletin boards are a great place to start! I definitely don't believe every child needs their own bedroom (I'm an adult and I don't have my own room!), but would like to find ways to make this shared space feel like theirs for each of my kids.
This will be a very gradual project so don't expect a reveal any time soon. I can't do much until Ikea opens up again (or at least until their curbside pickup opens again, because shipping is quite expensive for a large bookshelf) and the weather suits to have our windows all open for a paint job. Hopefully this summer we'll be able to tackle it all!

7.5.20

What I've Learned Homeschooling in a Pandemic

If you'd asked me before March 12th what I'd rather avoid, homeschooling might have topped living through a pandemic. At the very least, both ideas gave a similarly negative notion. From the beginning of my parenting journey, which is approaching a decade, I've felt passionate about our family being active members in the community, and teaching this value to our children early on, beginning with public education.

Before COVID-19, all three of our kids were in public schools in Montreal (to my European friends, this means free, government-funded); our girls were in grades one and four at our neighbourhood catchment school, and our son was in grade two at a "gifted" school a couple of neighbourhoods away. There we befriended the neighbourhood kids, teachers and parents. We invited teachers over for lunch, got to know dozens of families, and had friendships go from saying "bonjour!" at school drop off to crying together over the death of a parent or being the last ones in a restaraunt nearing midnight. 

Long story short, we love our local school! We love that our neighbours all send their children there, and that most of the teachers also live locally. We've spent hundreds of hours as classroom volunteers, field trip parents, and special guests in the classrooms of our kids and have placed a very high value on our own friendships with fellow school parents. These are our people and we love them and this is exactly the place where we see our children and our family. 

Had the pandemic not have forced our hand, we would not have homeschooled our children, but still, I'm grateful for the opportunity. I understand that homeschooling in a pandemic is different in many ways than regular homeschooling - the confinement being the largest aspect - but what I have learned during this season will stay with me as a parent and has informed future decisions. 

photo by @camdgenereux

We typically start homeschooling right after breakfast and I teach for one to two hours per child. Some days this can happen simultaneously, which makes our "school day" really short and sweet. Other days, it's a six hour day of running frantically from child to child constantly reorienting myself between subject matter and learning style. 

The learning curve was incredibly steep at first, I don't mind admitting. I love change and yet also have a knack for structure so I welcomed the new season of homeschooling and quickly formed a routine. That first week was exciting and fairly smooth with all of us enjoying it. The seamless bliss was not to last, however. The second week I began to doubt myself and felt a lot of anxiety with three different teachers (at two different schools) e-mailing countless documents of ideas, suggestions, and instructions. There were more resources available than we could ever get through or benefit from, and sifting through it all was a very unpleasant task. Here in Quebec, homeschooling has technically been called "optional" during the confinement, yet the teachers have been sending countless documents, websites, apps, and new platforms for learning almost daily. I had to decipher what was necessary (numbers, words, and in our case, the French language) between what was optional (class Zoom meetings, interactive projects and activities) and then choose what I would prioritize for my three students. It was overwhelming.

On week three, I think I hit my groove, at least for a while (remember Brad and I's parenting motto? Nothing is too good, or too bad, for too long!) I'll share more specifics about our homeschooling days in another post, but briefly, I found a schedule that worked best for us (homeschooling from after breakfast until lunch, with the afternoon free for physical activities and reading) and narrowed in on what I wanted my kids to work on academically during this season. I bought some math workbooks online for the kids and have made up reading and writing projects for my older two, and focused on fluidity and ease in reading French with Chloe. 

What I've loved the most about homeschooling is the simplicity of schedule and quality time together. We are always intentional about our kids not being over-scheduled, and yet still life seems chaotic most days because of the school schedule. The girls leave the house at 8:10am for school, then I drive thirty minutes to Oli's school, drop him off, and drive 30 minutes home. In a few hours, the girls come home for lunch and an hour, then return. At 3:30pm I'm driving another thirty minutes to pick up Oli while the girls walk home to Brad. Oli and I are home at 4:30pm and then everyone does homework, most days until supper. Then it's the race to have time together, take showers and baths, and get to bed early enough so the early wake up isn't too painful. Educating them at home is so peaceful, so much less hurry and stress, and we're always together. 

Sounds glorious right? But that last bit about always being together can certainly fall into the category of challenges too. Having my three, who are so close in age, all home together means I'm not worried about "social interaction" one bit. It's not safe right now for them to play with their friends and none of them are really interested in Zoom calls, but the constant togetherness can pose challenges. I also find it hard to teach my kids things I'm not passionate about. All parents are teachers from day one, but the lessons and habits we instill in our children usually matter a great deal to us. We care about their character, their behaviour, and their worldviews. I also care a great deal about literature, so I love teaching them to read and helping them find books they'll love and characters they'll identify with. Am I passionate about science and math? Not so much. Thankfully Brad really loves those subjects, so when he's able to take a short break from work he'll often pop in and offer a lesson on electricity or fractions. But what if he weren't available, or neither of us were capable to teach those subjects well? Homeschooling is tricky in that respect. Thankfully at grades 1 and 4, and a gifted grade 2 (which is closer to grade 5), I can still handle their subjects and provide them with satisfactory teaching and help. Daily I think about how blessed we are to have kids in these fairly early grades during the Pandemic. They're old enough to learn independently (most of the time!) and young enough that if this semester doesn't go so well, they'll have plenty of time to bounce back from our mistakes! 

To close, I'll just add that I know it's a significant privilege that I've been able to be homeschooling my kids during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Though I do still take on some work from home, I've been able to be home with my kids and invest in their learning. We've had the money to buy extra school supplies and my mental health is strong enough to deal with the daily changing realities while teaching three grades. I know this is an enormous blessing and not one that every family has, and I'm thankful. I have made many mistakes, and most days I feel I've failed my kids in some way, but there have been more opportunities to invest in my kids' character and their relationships with one another than I ever could have dreamed. 

Back when I had a newborn, a two year old and a three year old, I was just surviving. We had two years of all three kids at home before Lily started Kindergarten at age five, and most of those years were a blur. These days homeschooling in a Pandemic have felt like a gift, and in some ways, like I'm getting back those years that felt lost, when we were all together but I was so dead tired I didn't enjoy them as much as I wish.  This season at home has been precious and I'm sure the sibling relationships of my kids are stronger for it, we're more connected as a family because of it, and I'm enjoying motherhood and homemaking more than ever as a direct result. The schools are set to open one week from today but remain optional as social distancing will be in full effect for the rest of the school year. We decided easily to keep them at home for the remainder of the school year, because though hard, it's been that lovely. I long for normalcy to return but I know I will grieve the end of this wild and unique season when it's over. 


9.4.20

HOME TOUR 2020 living + dining rooms

As we all heed the expert's advice during the Coronavirus pandemic and STAY HOME!, I've spent more time than usual in these two rooms, which really are one big room. Our home is "open concept" in that the living and dining rooms as well as the kitchen are all openly connected. There are no doors, which helps with limited natural light. Every room (besides bathrooms and bedrooms) being connected also helps our small space feel a bit larger. Over the past month of being mostly home I've thought a lot about the style of my home as I clean and organize and purge items we no longer love or use. What works in my home may not work in yours, or simply just not appeal to you, so I'm not pretending to give advice - simply sharing what I've done and why.


First of all, in such a small, yet open space I felt like we needed to go with one neutral, light colour throughout. I decided on light grey but sometimes wish it was white (and I'll probably choose white for our next home). Either way, the light neutral works and I'm happy with it! 


I also like keeping a decor theme or vibe the same for every room so it's more the style of my home and not room by room. It simplifies everything and I think makes the home seem more calm and organized, though especially these days it's rarely either for long! Pieces you'll find in both rooms often have a lot of white, black, beige, grey, and natural materials such as wild flowers, rocks, paper, and wood. 


Our home is a big mixture of old and new, and I love mixing the two. Some examples of old: my collection of vintage tea cups are all thrifted or were inherited, the 50 and 100 year old hymnals and books of common prayer were thrifted and adorn our shelves and the big thrifted basket on the dining table (which also holds our English and French Bibles), the teak mid-century modern side table in the living room that I bought off Craigslist several years ago, and the knit doily which adorns our round wooden table in the right corner of our dining nook. 


Of course, we do have some new items as well. The Structube metal mirror, our oval dining table and beech wishbone chairs from Montreal furniture store Prunelle (see more about that collaboration and learn more about them here), the white Eames-style chairs from Amazon, the glass hanging pendants in the dining room from West Elm, the Ikea lamps throughout, the round wooden table was a gift from Bois et Cuir, and our white rug in the living room from Rugs.ca


As much as I do aim to keep these spaces clean and I love an orderly home (gosh that was easier before the Pandemic brought us all home 24/7!), I want to fill these rooms with useful items. These rooms are for living after all! You'll always find tons of books in both rooms, and the basket of Bibles and hymals never leaves our dining table so we can always grab them. There's always a chess board nearby for Oli and Brad's duals, and the white metal cabinet (Ikea) which supports our TV is full of boardgames. There's also a black metal basket on the floor in the dining room that houses all of our family yearbooks and albums from our trips over the years, which someone always seems to be looking through. 


Let's talk about art. I've collected many pieces over the years, mainly from secondhand shops. My theory is that it takes years to have the art you love and best reflects you, so don't try to rush it. When we first got married I was in such a hurry to make our house put together and "finished" that I threw up anything - regardless of it was my style (what was my style anyway?) or reflected us. The longer I gave myself, the happier I am with the end result. We have never spent a ton on art (I'd love to, we just can't afford to), but I've found some real treasures over the years. The geometric watercolour above our TV was made by me, the South Pole map hanging in the dining room was a gift from Bold Tuesday, the black and white flower sketch on the shelf above my couch was a gift from Juniper Print Shop, as was the pink NYC buildings print, which I had printed by Photo Wall in a collaboration. Juniper Print Shop is a great budget-friendly option which I've used long after our collaboration. You download the prints that you buy, so you can print them to be whatever size you want. Every print is the same price (around $25) and there are so many gorgeous options! On the top shelf above the couch there's a framed book cover that reminded me so much of our neighbourhood. Do you ever buy books just for the cover? When thrifting, I love looking for beautiful old books that I can frame or use as decorations. There's also a print of Eve being comforted by a pregnant Mary that I gave to Brad for Christmas this year, by Scott Erickson.


Adding meaningful touches are what makes a home different from a hotel room, but it's not necessarily my style to have family photos on every wall or a lot of trinkets, so the way I aimed to do this was by adding a few meaningful pieces here and there. The teacups are heirlooms and speak to my deep love for all things British. The pussy willows on the fireplace were picked by my kids last March on a visit to Morgan's family farm. The Eve and Mary print is a remake or an older piece that Brad has loved for years. He's often pulled up the original image online at Christmas or Easter and it's always moved him greatly, so when I saw Scott Erickson's version which fit so well in our home, I knew it would be the perfect gift. The old books and hymnals speak to our faith and the various quotes on our letter board above the couch speaks to our values. I'll also rotate in some small pieces from recent vacations every few months, too. You can see a black sculpture from the Greek Island of Milos.


I do love the "open concept" though it poses some challenges, namely that we're always together and there isn't much alone space! From the front door you can see right through to the back door. From Brad's office, which is in our entryway, you can hear the TV. From the living room you can smell what's cooking in the kitchen. Noise and smells and chaos travel as fast as the children who tear through this home day after day. I'm not trying to complain, just being realistic about what a space like this means. I never want to paint a picture of perfection on here!


Despite the challenges, I do love our small home. We're five people in just over 1,000 square feet, sharing two bedrooms and two bathrooms with no garage or basement, and we truly use every centimeter of space. In 2-3 years we'll be hoping to move to a slightly bigger three bedroom condo in our neighbourhood and will miss this space enormously. Honestly, if we had just one more bedroom and maybe 500 square feet more, I'd want to live here forever!




Up next, a kitchen tour! Thanks for reading and looking!

1.4.20

let's bake Rugelach!

Rugelach is a delicious Jewish pastry and very easy to make at home! I first learned in the Smitten Kitchen cookbook, but have since made several modifications so thought it was time to post my version here. Where we live we have many Jewish bakeries, which is probably why I've rarely ventured to bake my own Jewish delicacies. The thought being, why bother making my own if theirs are so good? For that reason as well, you'll never catch me baking my own bagels. I live way too chose to Saint Viateur Bagels for that! (Technically closer to Fairmont Bagel, but if you know Montreal, you know we're split down the middle about which bagel joint is the true best). But back to rugelach.


Rugelach, pronounced roo-guh-lack, is sometimes filled with chocolate, but I always choose fruity-filled sweets over chocolate. Am I weird? The dough is a mixture of cream cheese and butter, which makes it incredibly easy to roll out. This recipe makes two balls of dough, which roll out to make 12 rugelach each. Once your dough comes together, separate into two balls and roll each ball into a large circle. Once rolled thin, spread your favourite jam all over the top of the circle in a thin layer. Too thick of a jam layer will make your rugelach unravel in the oven and just explode with jam, so as tempting as it is, limit the jam layer to two tablespoons! 


Slice your jammed circle from top to bottom, left to right, and then twice more in equal portions in each quarter. This is hard to explain without a picture, I admit, but essentially, you're cutting to reveal 12 individual triangles. You'll then roll the triangles inward from the outer edge of the circle. They'll look like little croissants filled with jam and taste even better!


Rugelach

Dough

1 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
2 cups flour
pinch salt
  • Cream together the butter, cream cheese and sugar until well incorporated
  • Then add the flour and salt until a large ball of dough forms. 
  • Flatten each dough ball into a disc shape. Cut in two and individually wrap each dough disc for one hour or up to two days.

    You could also freeze the dough discs to use another day - just thaw them at room temperature when you're ready to bake your rugelach.
Filling

Whatever jam you like most! We used raspberry but my favourite is rhubarb or peach

Glaze

Whisk an egg and glaze each rugelach. This won't use the entire egg, but I suggest save it in a small jar in your fridge for the next baked good, because all pastries are best topped with an egg glaze! Especially scones, but I digress...

Top

Lastly, top with some raw sugar for an added crunch which is the best pairing with the super soft dough!

Bake at 350 for 20 minutes, let fully cool, and enjoy!

27.3.20

Meal Kit Deliveries to Recommend for Covid-19 Isolation (+ Big Savings!)

We've heard it everywhere and most of us are heading the expert's advice: STAY HOME. Don't see your friends, except on Zoom. Don't leave your home, except for essentials. And if you can have the essentials delivered, all the better.



Since Oli's Covid-19 scare, we've been in complete isolation. While we're now in the clear, we're more vigilant than ever and won't be doing any shopping that can't be done online and isn't essential. As in other hectic times, we're relying on meal kits. These aren't something I order ever week because they are expensive (incredibly convenient services typically are!) but right now they're a life saver. 

I wanted to share three with you today that I've tried and loved. I'm currently a client of all three meal kit services, though I order from them each only very occasionally. With the pandemic though, I've been ordering one box or two recipes every week. One week it will be Goodfood, the next Hello Fresh, and the next Cook It. Some weeks I'll order a family plan (two recipes, each one serving four) but most of the time it will just be for Brad and I to enjoy (three recipes, each meal serving two). They're all essentially the same in how they work (recipes and all the necessary ingredients are delivered to your door) but the pricing is a bit different. Cook It is the best price and is local to Montreal, so they're my top choice every time. The ingredients travel less to get to our plates and we're supporting a local business, plus it's the most budget friendly. Hello Fresh is the most expensive, but probably the best recipes and quality. They're an international company. Goodfood is a Canadian company with reliably good recipes and almost as affordable as Cook It.



Price for three meals/week for two (6 meals): $65
Price for three meals/week for four (12 meals): $112
Discount: 50% off your first two orders by entering EMILYT025 when you register


Price for three meals/week for two (6 meals): $79.99 
Price for three meals/week for four (12 meals): $129.99
Discount: $50 off your first order with THIS CODE.


Price for three meals/week for two (6 meals): $66.95
Price for three meals/week for four (12 meals): $118.45
Discount: $40 off your first order with THIS CODE

I hope these discount codes are helpful as you juggle working from home, homeschooling, and staying home as our communities require us to do for the greater good! 

26.3.20

Two Weeks In: Testing Oli for Covid-19, Quarantine, and the Goodness of God

What a week we've had! For the world, of course, it's been a week. But in our little nest, too.

On Saturday March 21, Oli developed a little dry cough. It was intermittent and didn't wake him at night, so we didn't think much of it. By afternoon the following day, his cough was constant and a fever developed. I called our province's COVID-19 line (18776444545  in case you need it!) and were advised to have him tested for Covid-19. 

A test was scheduled for later in the week and in the meantime Oli would need to be quarantined in our home to protect the rest of our family. Of course, we'd already been exposed to his virus, if it was Covid-19, as we've learned someone may be contagious for days before they present symptoms, but contagion increases once symptoms present, so he was more contagious now that he was sick. So, to protect ourselves and our girls (especially Chloe who had suffered pneumonia just last month), we made the impossible choice to section him off in our bedroom until further notice. The rest of us would be under strict quarantine, not leaving the house until test results came through.

We delivered his meals wearing masks, we passed him notes under the door, we wore gloves to take his temperature, we washed the door knob and our hands dozens of times a day, and we desperately missed our boy. Meanwhile, Oli was sick and suffering all alone. It was the most counter-intuitive thing, keeping such distance from our boy when he needed us the most. Absolutely heartbreaking leaving him alone when all I wanted to do was hug him, stroke his hair, rub his back.

The next day (Monday), we learned of a walk-in testing clinic that had just opened downtown with absolutely enormous capacity. Run by 300 nurses, the clinic could test up to 3,000 people a day and they would test anyone presenting symptoms or who had travelled. I drove down with Oli and we were seen and tested all within thirty minutes. Quick, clean, efficient, and free. I know other provinces in Canada are only testing people who have travelled internationally and there's a severe shortage of tests in the USA and other countries, so we felt incredibly lucky. We were promised results in 24-72 hours, and headed back to our quarantined home hopeful.

Oli was often up in the night with coughing fits this week, and since Brad was sleeping on the couch, he was closest to him and spent some truly special moments with him in the wee hours. Donning his mask, Brad would go in to offer Oli some Tylenol, honey for his throat, and prayer and at one point Oli even said to Brad that he felt so close to God as he was suffering. He said he'd never prayed so much in his entire life! Being all alone had driven him to God. As a parent, I felt I was doing the very worst thing, even as I understood it best for the rest of the family, and yet even in that, God was doing a good work in Oli's heart. God was teaching Oli of his comfort, his presence, and his friendship when we couldn't give ours.

On Wednesday morning we still had no results, but thankfully a friend who works in healthcare was able to look up Oli's information and read his test results for us - negative. Negative! Our sick boy does not have Covid-19, but even if he did, God is good. 

Oli is still sick, but no longer in strict isolation. Brad and I can move back into our bedroom (hallelujah!) and the girls have their brother back. We've just been on the phone with Oli's pediatrician and a prescription for antibiotics has been sent to our pharmacy to treat probable bronchitis.  Our strict quarantine is over, and if needed, Brad or I can go to the store to get supplies or go on a run for fresh air. Glorious! What freedoms we'd taken for granted just a week ago!

We will still be intensely social-distancing, now more than ever, after this scare, but we aren't prisoners in our own home. We won't be seeing any other people except a meter apart, and only if necessary. We won't be allowing the kids outside except in a nature-context like hiking in Bois de Liesse (more on that soon!) and we'll continue catching up with friends and family on Whatsapp and Zoom. The pandemic is just ramping up in most parts of the world and it's far from over here in Canada, but this personal crisis is thankfully over.

Thank you everyone for your concern, prayers, thoughts, and porch deliveries this past week! Let's continue to take care of one another. 

One Week In: Social-Isolation, Home-school, Home-church and Life in a Covid-19 World

It's only been a week of officially homeschooling and two Sundays of worshiping with our church family via Youtube, and I've already felt the gamut of emotions; some holy, most utterly depraved. My motto, as March 12, when the schools officially announced their closure to prevent the spread of Covid-19, has been "these are hard days, and sweet moments", and indeed, they have been.



After the announcement of the school closure, Brad and the elders at our church had a scrappy 48 hours to make the decision to likewise cancel church and move it online. That weekend was slightly overwhelming but also kind of exciting. I love change (weird, maybe) so I saw this all as a fun challenge and one I was eager to adapt to. That enthusiasm lasted all of three days before I was yelling at my kids, weeping "I'm not a teacher and I don't want to be!", fearing the very worst for our finances, our health, our kid's education, the longevity of our church, and the security of our nation. I told you I ran the gamut!

I'm not proud of how I've reacted at times. Of my temper towards my unwilling students/kids, of my lack of faith as if God were not still on the throne, of my clear excessive love of material goods, vacations, etc., only visible when they're taken away. And yet, this has drawn me closer to God, who never asked for perfection in his followers. Jesus said, "it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick", and this pandemic is revealing new layers of sickness in me that I didn't know existed. My deep love of control, my self-reliance, my lack of trust in Him. 

I've also seen this pandemic bring out beauty that I would have missed. The things we have taken for granted all of our lives are now precious. Visiting grandparents, healthy kids, fresh groceries, Whatsapp, the Psalms. Receiving news from a friend, or visiting grandparents in isolation through the window, our favourite local cafe delivering milk to our porch, or the hope in Psalm 91... they're almost too beautiful to be true. 

Oh, how I crave a pint at the local pub with my friends, or a long walk with my family in the neighbourhood, stopping every few steps to greet neighbours with hugs and lively chat. Oh how I'd love to hug my relatives, especially the older ones. I think with tears in my eyes about how glorious it would be to stand and sing with our congregation at Eglise du Plateau and listen to sound teaching shoulder to shoulder with the church I love - and instead we can only connect online through videos, words and pictures (though we are still under sound teaching and joyful worship, I must add, simply via Youtube). 

And yes, I long for my kids to be back at their excellent public school instead of in my constant pedagogy and care. Sure, we're doing fine with homeschooling, but I'm not a teacher, nor have I been trained as one. Not to mention, our kids attend an all-French school and my French is nowhere near their Francophone teachers. Imagine me, an Anglophone who has learned French only by ear, struggling through teaching my six year old to read in French. I, myself, have never learned to read in French. I am able, but it's not a strength of mine, and certainly not to the point of teaching another, but here we are. Lily is writing thousand word English book reports, Oli is learning multiplication ahead of his grade-level and teaching himself Arabic on Youtube, and by Jove, Chloe is reading in French! It's not a disaster, God is gracious and kind, and we are afloat. 

Through this week I've seen my heart attach to temporal, fleeting things and am reminded regularly why those things make terrible gods. Control, comfort, money. I'm grateful to believe in a God who is worthy of my respect and my worship and my trust, especially in times of great peril and fear. As Christians, we don't believe terror will never befall us - Jesus was the most moral, perfect being who ever lived and look at how hard his life was - ending in a brutal death! But we believe that in it all, God is good and with us, and one day, a perfect life does await us if we trust in him. 

I guess you could say that this week I re-learned the gospel, so thank you Covid-19.

19.3.20

Redeeming the Time: 20 Things to do While Social Distancing

We're into our first week of homeschooling and social distancing and I have to be honest - I don't hate it
These are very frightening times to be sure, yet the increased and even mandated time at home with those we love is one heck of a silver lining. 



Certainly not everyone has the ability to work from home and hunker down in the way I'm describing - especially health care and essential service workers who are absolute heroes - but for those who are restricted to a work-from-home or simple be home capacity, my hope is we'll spend the time well. One day this will be over (hopefully soon!), and we'll look back on how we spent these days. I really hope to look back on them with fondness, knowing that I followed expert's advice in staying inside, but also that I used the time wisely and fruitfully. 

Here's a simple list of 20 things to do while you're social distancing. For many of us, the time at home is not optional, but the way we spend it is completely in our hands. 

  1. Sleep more - even if you're working from home, you'll likely work somewhat reduced hours and choose your hours unlike the typical 9-5. Kids aren't rushing off to school so why not catch up on an hour or two per night? 1 in 3 adults aren't getting enough sleep, but now is likely the best chance you'll get to allow yourself to sleep a full 8 hours (or more!).
  2. Master a new skill - I suggest you perfect my sour dough-ish bread recipe! But other ideas are to try out a new instrument or start knitting. 
  3. Read the entire New Testament - I have the David Suchet NIV audio version on Scribd and it's 20 hours. Thanks to social distancing you have 20 hours. This is well worth your while! Here's a link for your first two months free on Scribd, fyi!
  4. Learn a new language - As someone living in her second language, I assure you it's worth the time to invest in language learning! Oli is trying to learn a third language (Arabic!) on Youtube during the time off school, too.
  5. Clean out your closet - I did this to my upcoming summer wardrobe and the kid's too and it was so satisfying. I sell my quality kid's pieces to Boutique Mini-Cycle and give the rest away to charity. 
  6. Wash weird things and places - Now, if ever, is the time to deep clean. Not only are you going to be home (and it's much more preferable to be in a clean home, no?), but you also have the time. Today we washed the walls and baseboards. Seriously. It was oddly satisfying.
  7. Do facials and hair masks and all the things - self-care alert! Those time-consuming and totally optional beauty activities are really fun when there's nothing else to do.
  8. Learn to cook new things - Social distancing means we aren't rushing to the store every time we're out of one ingredient, so use up everything you have first and along the way, stretch yourself with cooking. I plan to explore some of my lesser-used cookbooks and focus on my pantry ingredients.
  9. Get back to family dinners - I know my family has a lot of evening work and engagements normally so we are loving the chance to all be home for 6pm supper each night. I light a candle and dust off my secondhand English china and it feels very Norman Rockwell in the best way. 
  10. For the married couples out there: have sex every day! Seriously, why not? Didn't see that suggestion coming, did ya? ;-)
  11. Read good books - You will eventually get tired of Netflix, and if you don't, well, trust me, it's good to take a break. Favourites I've read in the past year include Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, Educated by Tara Westover, Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Simonson, Women and God by Kathleen Nielson, and Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas
  12. Don't wear makeup! You're not going out anyway, give your skin a break!
  13. Workout at home - Even a simple workout like 10 burpees followed by 10 pushups x 3 will get your heart pumping and muscles awakened
  14. Ask questions - of your roomates, spouse, kids, anyone you're stuck inside with, or even friends elsewhere online. Get to know people. 
  15. Help a health-care professional - these people are truly on the front lines and we ought to do our best to serve them in any way right now. For my part, I've offered to make lunches for a nurse friend. Anything you can do to ease their stress, give them a bit of respite, and say "thank you".
  16. Shop online - I usually love browsing thrift stores and I miss it already, but I've done my shopping online and plan to continue to. My favourite online shop for secondhand and quality clothes is Boutique Mini-Cycle, which satisfies my desire to thrift a bit! I've also bought books from Indigo for the kids, and a new kettle from Canadian Tire. There's no need to be in stores right now!
  17. Clean out all of the kitchen drawers - toss that utensil or small appliance you never use, wash the drawers and cupboards, because wow they got disgusting over the years! It's a task you'd probably never do under normal circumstances but feels great to have done.
  18. Order takeout - restaurants are being hit very hard financially right now so why not order takeout from your favourite local place? Most restaurants are running at a reduced capacity to comply with the new limits for people gathering in one space but almost every restaurant offers takeaway.
  19. Watch your film bucket list - this is the time to re-watch your very favourites (BBC Pride & Prejudice, The Holiday, Count of Monte Cristo), to introduce your kids to the classics (The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter), and to lessen those screen rules. I'm preaching to myself here!
  20. Keep calm and carry on - this too shall pass, and God is still on the throne.

17.3.20

Why we always choose vacation rentals over hotels + a glimpse at The Prince Edward County Church Airbnb

From following our many travels over the years, you already know by now that we're typically Airbnb users. Before Airbnb, we rented vacation homes on other platforms or directly from owners, but we've always loved the freedom and flexibility that renting our own space brought over the constrictions and cost of hotels, especially in this season of life with three young kids.


With the current COVID-19 pandemic, I'm aware that writing on tourism of any kind may appear insensitive. I want to be very careful as I share these travel tips because I know many reading have had to cancel long awaited vacations, and that sting may remain for some time. As I write about vacation rentals over hotel stays, know that I'm speaking from past experience and in most cases, local travels. Many of the Airbnb stays we have enjoyed as a family have been in Quebec and Ontario, just short car journeys from home. Over the March Break we were invited to stay in the Prince Edward County Church, under four hours drive from Montreal and we had a really incredible time. For anyone re-thinking international travel in the upcoming months, I can't recommend vacation rentals in our own country enough, and the Prince Edward County Church in particular. Read on for why we love renting and a few pictures of the fabulous former church that hosted our family.


We have stayed at hotels as a family before, notably the Chateau Frontenac for Christmas when our kids were all age three and under and this past summer for a few days during the Bulgaria leg of our stay. If we've stayed in hotels in the past, we either had no other option for accommodation (as was the case in Bulgaria) or found a once-in-a-lifetime price and wanted the experience while it was temporarily in our budget (as was the case with the Chateau Frontenac, as they were undergoing some renovations and slashed their prices for a very short while). Renting homes has always been good to our family and I'd love to share why, nine times out of ten, we'll choose renting over a hotel. I also want to take a minute to share our recent March Break stay at the Prince Edward County Church, an Airbnb property that we were lucky enough to stay at for a few days. 


WHY WE RENT HOMES INSTEAD OF BOOKING HOTEL ROOMS
  1. The space

    As a family of five, hotel rooms are way too cramped for us. We live in an urban condo all year round, so we're not looking for a massive family home by any means, but we do want more space than essentially a large bedroom. Rental homes come in all shapes and sizes, of course, but I've yet to stay in one that was smaller than a basic hotel room! I like having a place to go before my family wakes or after the kids are down at the end of the day. That Christmas that we stayed in a hotel in Quebec City, Brad and I literally hung out in the closet so not to wake our sleeping babies! At the Prince Edward County Church we had so much space to ourselves - it was glorious. As a former Methodist church, you can imagine how unique the architecture was. One of the larger homes we've ever rented, it provided little nooks, balconies, and two living rooms.

     
  2. A fully functioning kitchen

    I love to cook and when travelling we still eat many of our meals at our rental space. Cooking your own meals is budget-friendly and provides comfort and routine for your kids, which is essential. It's also something nearly impossible to do when staying in a hotel. We love renting homes for the cooking possibility, and the Prince Edward County Church had such a great kitchen (including a Soda Stream, french press, tons of cookware, beautiful serve ware, etc). I ordered a Goodfood box ahead of time to be delivered to our Airbnb, which was so convenient! For anyone interested, I here's a code for $40 off your first order. I also brought some baked goods, easy snacks, and fun treats for the daytime. It's always worth asking your Airbnb host about what their kitchen does and does not have. Some rental homes have very little and others are really well stocked. Our March Break rental fell into the latter category, happily, but I have stayed in Airbnbs that didn't have can openers, cutting boards, or sharp knives, which made things tricky. Even if you're just using the kitchen for breakfast and snacks, rental space kitchens are preferable to a hotel's minibar.

     
  3. Separate bedrooms

    Unless you're splurging for a several suite hotel room, most hotel stays also mean sharing a bedroom with your kids. No thank you! I love how renting homes gives us all more privacy and comfort. The Prince Edward County Church actually had three bedrooms so my kids didn't all have to share, as they do at home, which was a major perk for them! Brad and I also had a king sized bed which we don't have at home, so everyone was spoiled :)

  4. Finances

    I've already mentioned this point so I won't drag it out any further. By and large, Airbnb rentals cost less than hotels stays and you get so much more. Plain and simple!
    Also, as an added incentive, book any Airbnb with this link and receive $60 off! (new users only)
  5. Getting the local experience

    Even if finances weren't in the equation, I think I'd always opt for renting a local home over a hotel for this exact reason. We love renting in small communities, off the tourist path, and really getting a feel for what life would be like living in that town/city/country. We love finding a local grocery store, markets and shops and moving right in, so to speak. Aside from renting a home, I'd recommend staying in fewer places and for longer to get this experience. I've seen European tours that boast covering five countries in five days and that's just not for me. We'd rather see fewer countries or cities but get to know the ones we do see really well
We have already planned an international trip this June which may or may not come to fruition. We'll be following the expert's advice and international laws when the time comes, but for now it's too early to tell if we'll need to cancel our trip or not. If we do cancel, we'll likely look at the Maritimes or Northern Quebec and definitely rent a home instead of booking a hotel. Staycations can still be adventurous and restful, so I'm not worried!

If any of you are looking at Prince Edward County, which is just over an hour from Toronto and under four hours from Montreal, you really must check out the Church. It's absolutely stunning and filled with history and unique touches around every corner. We were hosted by The Prince Edward County Church and did not pay for our stay, but I had been wanting to stay there for ages before the collaboration materialized and I know a few friends who have stayed there are raved about it. I can say with all honesty that their raving was well founded and our stay was something I'll never forget.

HELPFUL LINKS:

15.3.20

Pandemic Ponderings

In an effort to process these unprecedented times and hopefully process well, I thought I'd share a collection of my own thoughts and those I've found helpful in the recent days. Please share how you're processing too! There's been great discussion on my Instagram posts related to COVID-19 and I wanted to save them in a more permanent place, so here we are.   

On Friday, March 13 I wrote the following:
The world, or those who are able I should say, are hunkering down and hoping to ride out Coronavirus, which has been made considerably easier given that schools are now closed and many employees are being asked to stay home. Our Prime Minister's wife has just tested positive for it, which, for some reason, brought it all home for me.
Our living room is about to become our school room, gym, church, and work place. Part of me sees thrill in these changes and relishes an opportunity to stay home and hibernate and my family; like Christmas holidays Part II. 
But part of me is overwhelmed by the global panic, by the empty shelves I saw yesterday at a major grocery chain (just the toilet paper section, but what's next?), by the younger and younger people being diagnosed with a novel virus that we were told only affected elderly compromised immune systems, by all of it, really. I'm worried for my friends who work in healthcare and are on the front lines. I'm worried about the many times I've taken public transit this past week. I'm worried about those in our community who will run out of essentials. I'm worried about what social distancing will do for those with mental health concerns and for our economy. 
My church is studying Ecclesiastes right now and the timeliness is striking. This sermon series was planned eight months ago but lo, and behold, Coronavirus arrives at just the time were turning to God's word to remember that material things will not satisfy, that our earthly successes will not bring lasting joy, and that much of the things we turn to in this world for comfort are but a vapour. Smoke. Stockpiling toilet paper is smoke. The stock market rising and falling is smoke. That cancelled vacation is smoke. I don't say this lightly - we, too have lost savings in the market crash, and we may very well need to cancel our June trip.  But I need to remember that these things are not lasting joys. Maybe you need that reminder too?
Practically speaking, please don't forget to love your neighbour in this. Share instead of stockpile. Check in on those who are alone and vulnerable. And remember, perfect love casts out fear ♡
Today, Sunday, March 15, our church worshiped apart but together via a life-feed of our worship pastor leading praise and Brad expounding on Psalm 91. We were encouraged to watch the live fed service in small groups, so the kids and I tuned in with three others who live very close by. Afterwards, Brad led a Facebook live event and did Q&A for his sermon. As we watched dear soul after dear soul check in to the live event we were also treated to pictures of the dozens of other small groups worshiping alongside the live feed in their homes. It was truly so touching. When the event was over, my group opted for a few more songs a capella, just us seven. These are scary times, yet such sweet moments.



Below are other words that bolstered me this week in the unknown and anxious times. I hope they're as good to you as they were to me. 

Psalms or Headlines? That's the question and the choice laid out by Sarah Clarkson, a woman I've come to admire greatly. In this post she writes about picking up the pieces after a home invasion during the already overwhelming time of Coronavirus. She chooses the Psalms and we ought to as well.

I often turn to this newsletter by Matt Civico when I want to challenge myself and go deeper in thought. Matt writes about daily things that we all encounter but with such incredible insight and maturity. Of course, his gleanings on the global pandemic were helpful and beautiful. (log in to read)

Brad shared this Martin Luther quote with our church this week and I thought it was perfect.
" I will ask God out of mercy to protect us. Then I'm going to smoke, to help cleanse the air, give medicine and take them. I will avoid places, and people, where my presence is not necessary to not be contaminated and also inflict and affect others, not to cause their death as a result of my neglect. If God wants to take me, he will surely find me and I will have done what he expected of me, without being responsible neither for my own death nor for the death of others. If my neighbor needs me, I will not avoid any place or anyone, but I will go freely as mentioned above. See, it is such a faith that fears God because it is neither daring nor reckless and does not try God." 
Source: Works by Luther Volume 43 p. 132 the letter "May we escape from a deadly plague" written to the Rev. Dr. John Hess.
This excellent resource for taking to children about COVID-19 was really helpful.

This playlist will bring a lot of comfort to anxious souls.

I appreciate this articicle, which pointed to some incredibly wise words penned 70 years ago that could well be applied today in our Coronavirus time. C S Lewis, writing in 1948 said this:

In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. “How are we to live in an atomic age?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.”
 This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.