November. Living in Ontario, I acknowledge solemnly that this typically grey month is my least favourite time of the year. I call it the in-between phase when the trees stand bare, having been disrobed of their fiery leaves, awaiting the coming snow. This year, however, I’m choosing to acquiesce to the changes. Instead of resisting the transitions of nature, I welcome them. I retreat into the cosy comfort of the interior of my home, with its warm blankets on the sofa, the aroma of chicken broth steaming on the stove, bottomless mugs of tea and thick books, and laughter-infused living room dance parties with Wanderlust Juniors before the quiet of story time snuggles in the ‘big bed.’ I choose to delight in the in-between time as the sun continues to wane, remembering that soon enough, it will reawaken again and a new cycle of its year-long journey will begin just before Christmas. That idea in itself is heartwarming for me.
If you live in the northern hemisphere, how do you feel about November? Do you have a strategy for making the most of this time of the year?
Last week, during a drive to and from cottage country for a work-related event, I listened to The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at Itby Kelly McGonigal. The idea that stress is not dangerous is relatively new to me. Ten years ago, I used to avoid difficult situations and experiences because of the stress and anxiety that they most often connote. Since then, I have learned that when we try to avoid potentially challenging situations, we often do so to our own detriment. Instead, by accepting each scenario as it comes, responding to it accordingly while keeping a focused and calm mindset, we can deal with stress in a mature and mindful manner. Our response to a situation determines our experience.
Yet, our mindset is only one piece of the puzzle. As a yoga and meditation practitioner and guide, I have learned that the state of the mind influences our physical and emotional states. As a student of Ayurveda, I have also learned that our physical energy and the energy of our environment have a tremendous influence on our emotional and mental wellness. If I spend a quiet evening at home, by 9 p.m., I feel blissfully tired, both in my mind and body. If, instead, I spend several hours before bedtime running errands and doing housework, my mind is abuzz due to my physiological state.
September has been a busy time for our family. I typically avoid the use of that ubiquitous word because of its myriad convoluted meanings. For most of us, life moves fast and we must prioritize. The autumn Vata season is a time when we tend to start new projects, take on too much, and generally run ourselves off our feet, feeling spaced out and far from grounded. For me, whose dominant dosha is Vata, this is a time of year when I especially must make self-care a priority, eating warm and unctuous foods, keeping up with my daily warm oil massages, drinking hot liquids, moving slower, and enjoying plenty of rest. Yet, over the past few weeks, with changes to our family’s routines, I have not had many chances to slow down. Instead of going to bed earlier, I catch myself loading the washer and cleaning the kitchen at a late hour. We have been working diligently to avoid over-scheduling, paying no mind to the expectations of our fast-moving society and the priorities of the people who surround us. It has not been easy to completely isolate ourselves from those expectations, to heed only to our own directions. Yet, we remind ourselves that we know ourselves best and must continue to prioritize self-care, creating a schedule that feels intuitive and logical to us, whenever possible setting aside less important tasks for another time.
Here is today’s lesson: Stress is real and inevitable, and to avoid feeling overwhelmed, we must continue to approach life with a lighter attitude. Nevertheless, we must also make space for ourselves to slow down and pay closer attention to our own physical and emotional signals, instead of trusting the power of the mind to get us through challenging situations. Self-care must always remain a priority.
At 11 o’clock on Sunday, the stands at the local farmers’ market are abuzz not only with the greedy wasps that land on the juiciest ripe peaches. Shoppers with large cloth bags tucked under their elbows stroll leisurely along the lane, their eyes lit with pleasure as they inhale the fresh, colourful scents that surround them. Late summer’s harvest bounty is on full display. There is nothing demure about it. The plump eggplants and oversized zucchini are sensually bathed in light in golden straw baskets, the vendor knowing all too well that before long, they will be picked up gently by large warm hands that will appreciate their weight. The vegetables will be admired by eyes that will grow hungry at the sight of the deep velvet aubergine and green colours. They will feed many a mouth at today’s dinner.
“Mommy, can we buy strawberries?” the eldest Wanderlust Junior’s eyes smile at mine as we pass the perfectly shaped heaps of shiny berries glistening in the sun. It occurs to me that I can actually smell them from several feet away in the open air. I yearn to taste those berries.
The next moment, my gaze darts to the florist’s stand with its smorgasbord of colours, and I am inevitably pulled toward them. Beautiful food and flowers are two of my beloved simple pleasures.
“Sunflowers! I want to buy sunflowers!” they are the youngest Wanderlust Junior’s favourite. Amidst scarlet gerbera daisies, they will be the perfect delicate decoration for our small round dinner table.
We buy 250 g of freshly roasted coffee beans to bring home for Mr. Wanderlust. The after-lunch espresso fills our home with an irresistible aroma. I mean it! I rarely drink coffee these days, but I give into the temptation of a delicate cup after our lunch of freshly baked bread with smoked trout, soft chevre, and a salad of spinach and multicolour baby tomatoes drizzled with a dressing of olive oil, apple cider vinegar, coarse Hawaiian sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper, with those succulent strawberries for dessert. Simple. Delicious.
Last week, I read Elizabeth’s Bard 2010 memoir Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes, in which she documents her move to the city and exploration of its culinary delights, the recipes for many of which are also shared in the book. As a Francophile, this book had been on my To Read list for the past few years, and I was glad to finally pick up a copy from the local library. I was familiar with recipes for several of the French staples, and ratatouille is on my annual rotation for the harvest season.
For dinner, I slowly sauté coarsely chopped onions in a generous amount of olive oil, gently moving them around the skillet until they are translucent and their sweet aroma cascades through the kitchen. I add chunks of aubergine, red and yellow peppers, and beefsteak tomatoes. I omit the zucchini today, since my preference is for the more flavourful smaller varieties, which weren’t to be found at the market this time. I sprinkle the beautiful medley with sea salt, black pepper, and a couple of pinches of oregano. After a few more minutes, the ratatouille is ready, the vegetables simmering in a perfectly thickened sauce. I serve it alongside fresh young potatoes coated with melted butter and chopped chives from my garden, then add a few pieces of leftover chicken breast. For dessert, we enjoy a yogurt cake made with ripe local nectarines (see photo above). The yogurt cake is a staple in many French homes, easy and quick to bake with basic ingredients that are likely already waiting in the pantry of the fridge. I enjoyed Bard’s version of this classic and will return to it over and over again.
I have long been a fan of French cuisine, and not only for the recipes and variety of dishes. It’s the French attitude to food that inspires me, with an emphasis on slow cooking and eating, enjoying every bite. This style of food preparation and consumption celebrates each meal, whether it is a dinner served in honour of a special occasion or a simple lunch for one. I must say that weeknight dinners in our home tend of be rushed, but even then, I do my best to make every serving appear beautiful on the plate, presented with gratitude and tenderness. Weekend dinners are an opportunity for us to slow down, linger, and reconnect once again.
The weekend trip to the farmer’s market is itself an occasion, inviting us to browse, to caress, to close our eyes and smell the peaches, the tomatoes, to delight at the warmth of the corn nourished by the late August sunlight as an image forms in our minds of what we will prepare and serve for dinner. For me, a grocery shopping trip often feels like a chore, which is a perfect invitation to move slower, more mindfully, with complete presence as I purchase provisions for the school and work week. An excursion to the farmers’ market is different. It does not require coaxing. Later, after we return home, comes the meditation of stirring the onions in the skillet and observing their changing colour, listening closely for the subtle sizzle of the hot oil, breathing in the sweet scent. I smile as I adorn the table with flowers that tell their own story while eavesdropping on our pleasant dinner conversation. The entire experience is slow, intentional, inviting all our senses to join in the dance.
What’s not to celebrate?
Do you enjoy shopping at the farmers’ market? How do you cultivate presence while shopping for groceries and preparing meals at home?
Dinner must be prepared at 6 o’clock every evening, whether or not I want to step into the kitchen after a long day at work; after that, the dishes must be washed. During the work day, the report must be prepared. I’m not immune to the urge to procrastinate, but I have learned that matters only get worse when I attempt to battle procrastination by pretending that it is not really there, lurking beneath the surface, tempting me to follow the random thought that has just popped into my head that would lead me to the Google front page and the search field.
The chatter in my mind goes something like this:
I’m awfully curious about how to make crispy courgette fritters, instead of the soft and mushy ones that always materialize on my frying pan. So, Google to the rescue! What’s another five minutes of Googling? I’ll get back to my report in a moment.
I will just sit on the sofa for five minutes and quickly read a few pages of my book. After that, I will go straight into the kitchen and start preparing those fritters for our dinner.
You get the idea. It might sound familiar to you. We fool ourselves into thinking that somehow, a five-minute distraction will not make a big dent in our routine, that it might fine-tune our focus. Most often, what happens in my case is that the five minutes make me feel more reluctant to pursue the task. In fact, the seemingly insignificant break makes me resent the task before me. Those five minutes turn into 25 minutes and before we know it, everyone is starving and feeling irritable, and I don’t feel any more enthused about preparing dinner.
I could remind myself to focus on the task at hand, to remember the big picture and why I’m doing what I’m doing (to feed myself and my hungry family; to clean the kitchen in order to ensure that it remains welcoming; to prepare the report because if I don’t do it now, the work will accumulate and weigh heavily on me). That sounds like a valid way of going about it. Yet, I’ve been trying a different approach: meeting myself where I am. I allow myself to sit with what I’m feeling for a few minutes, acknowledging my current state and being honest about the inner dialogue that takes place in my mind. I listen carefully to my justification about why, after five minutes, I might feel ready to finally approach the task. Then, I continue to sit and breathe. Sometimes, I take a walk around the office or our home, moving slowly, breathing deeply. In lieu of a five-minute Google or reading break, I give myself a breathing break.I must say, it is a much more effective way to re-centre my mind and recommit to my intention to stay kind to myself while continually bringing my focus back to the present moment.
Do you have a practice or tips that help you to stay focused and avoid distractions? Please leave a comment below.
We visited my parents in ‘cottage country’ and while there, lounged on three different beaches, went snorkeling, SUPing, and hiking. We watched glorious firey sunsets, sat by the bonfire and toasted marshmallows, then gazed at the stars sprinkled across the velvet sky. We ate freshly picked local blueberries, peaches, and corn. We fished a snake and crayfish out of the lake, observed them more closely, then released them. We rode on a mountain roller coaster and one of us even decided, on a whim, to go ziplining for the first time. We reveled in the tranquility of nature away from the city.
While away, I also celebrated my birthday and set a new intention for my personal new year:
I want to live with less noise and with focused intention, directing my attention to whom and what matters most.
Over the weekend, I picked up my phone once per day for a few minutes, quickly glancing at my email to ensure that there was nothing pressing to which I had to respond. In truth, I was reluctant to pick up the phone. I have grown tired of the noise and overload of information. In spite of the quick glances at my email, I enjoyed an extended break from technology and, specifically, social media. I did not miss it.
Maybe the fleeting, magical days of summer are to blame, or maybe it was the effect of getting away from the everyday routine, but the tech break sparked ideas in my mind: I could delete my social media accounts. Yet, I know that many people use Facebook to send private messages, and it’s good to keep in touch. It’s also a great way to communicate with the wonderful readers of this blog, for whose support I am always grateful. Perhaps I could take a sabbatical from social media for a few months?
For now, I have decided against taking a true sabbatical from social media. I will still be here, will continue to publish stories on a weekly basis, but social media posts from me will likely become less frequent. Time is precious, and I don’t want to waste it in front of a computer screen.
If you’re looking for me, I’ll be at the beach, on a forest trail, or hiking up a mountain.
I would like to know how you make space for intentional living with less noise. Please leave a comment below.
My goal is to maximize my time at home and be happier as I go about being the best mom and partner I can be. I stand behind research findings that state that our will powder is finite resource that depletes throughout the day after we have expended it on various task. This is precisely why I do my best to discern from among the many tasks on my list and choose the ones that most require my attention. For this reason, also, it is best to do our most important work in the morning. And yet, I also remind myself to conserve my energy for the evening in order to continue give it to those who matter most: my family. With that in mind, here is what I learned by tracking my time in the morning before work and in the evening:
I am in a much better mood if, after I arrive at home, I have 10 times to eat dinner without speaking with anyone. Typically, when I walk through the door, I feel tired after the commute. On most days, I do not have 10 minutes to recharge before having to step into ‘mommy mode.’ However, on the days when I do have that luxury, I am a happier, more efficient mom.
The more time I spend analyzing how tired I feel after work, the less I want to spend time on preparing dinner for the following day. For me, this is akin to decision fatigue. The more time I spend on thinking about how much I do not want to do something, the less energy or willpower I have to actually get up and tackle the task. The key is to get up and do it. If I can also have fun while preparing dinner, it’s a bonus.
I can make mundane tasks more enjoyable by singing as I go through the motions, or challenging myself to move a bit quicker as I clean the toilet and wipe the counter in the powder room. This might not be a good mindfulness technique; nevertheless, it allows me to get things done when I feel tired but must get through a few core tasks.
Often, there are not enough hours in the day to accomplish everything we need to or want to accomplish. However, I can always compartmentalize my ‘to do’ list, then pick and choose from those categories. Under the ‘Cleaning’ category, for instance, I list the powder room; the upstairs bathroom; the basement bathroom; and general dusting of the surfaces. Mr. Wanderlust takes care of washing the floors and vacuuming the carpets. Given that I have those four tasks on my list under the subtitle ‘Cleaning,’ I break them down into 15-minute time slots throughout the week. Monday is for dusting. Tuesday is for cleaning the powder room. Wednesday is for the upstairs bathroom. You get the idea.
Given that I have more energy in the morning, following my 5:30 a.m. workout, I squeeze in 15 minutes to quickly tidy the house in order to avoid having to do so in the evening. This also means that I do sometimes go to bed with the choice to ignore the mess until the morning, but I insist on having Wanderlust Juniors put away their games, toys, and books before the end of the day.
My parents are currently staying with us on weekdays and my mom serves dinner to Wanderlust Juniors before Mr. Wanderlust and I arrive at home from work. Immediately after we return from work, we are off to karate practice. After that, Mr. Wanderlust and I have dinner while Wanderlust Juniors enjoy a snack. The key, at that point, is for me to avoid procrastinating about getting the boys to brush their teeth, shower, and choose their books for bedtime reading. It’s easy for me to distract myself and the boys with something that seems much more fun than brushing one’s teeth, showering, and reading books. Yet. I also know that if I stay with our schedule, not only will I have more enthusiasm to read to the boys, but I also will have more time to chat with Mr. Wanderlust or knit, read, or write after they have gone to bed and before my own bedtime approaches.
Some nights, it’s more than okay to turn in early. I wasn’t feeling well earlier this week and went to bed at 9 p.m., immediately after Wanderlust Juniors. This means I did miss out on the opportunity to read or craft, but on that day, sleep was my top priority. In fact, it should be a top priority every day.
I could fill my entire day with activities that I love to do. The majority of those days would involve hiking, spending time on the beach, reading, or crafting. Hobbies are classified as ‘Me Time’ and the list is a long one. On most days, it’s not realistic for me to fill my time with these activities. So, I choose the one to which I am most drawn on that day. Again, there may not be enough hours in the day for everything, but there are enough hours in the day for everything if we choose from among the several items in one category.
Big time wasters for me are Googling — even if at times I do genuine research into yoga, meditation, Ayurveda, writing, literature, etc. — and social media. I have noticed that the only time I truly tend to ‘surf’ social media, scrolling through my newsfeed, is when I feel tired in the evenings. For that reason, I do my best to avoid technology in the evening. If I must use the computer for research or writing, I set that intention before flipping open my laptop, reminding myself to focus on the task at hand and not be swayed by something I might have suddenly remembered about what someone posted on Facebook.
I also have been tracking the time I spend on various tasks while at the office. Doing so has helped me to be more mindful of my approach to those various tasks, reminding me that I do my best work in the hours before noon, and that the more I procrastinate and analyze my procrastination, the less energy I have to jump into any task, including those about which I’m enthusiastic.
Have you tried to track your time at home, at work, or both? What were some of the most surprising lessons you learned as a result of logging your time? I invite you to leave a comment.
In 2015, we decluttered our house and currently are living only with what we use on a regular basis and what brings us joy. We continue to follow the ‘one in, one out’ rule by giving away the old equivalent of a new item. We continue to question everything we impulsively think we ‘want to get.’ Admittedly, we have become scrupulous when it comes to bringing any new items into our home. Yet, there is still plenty of work to do. This year, we are updating our home with DIY renovations. Our goal is to refresh our space and make it jive with our new simplified lifestyle. Paradoxically, the work itself is not simple, but minimalism doesn’t always equal minimal effort.
Two weekends ago, Mr. Wanderlust and I painted the living room / dining room, upstairs landing, and stairway from the living room and kitchen level to the bedrooms upstairs. My parents had graciously taken Wanderlust Juniors to their home for the weekend, leaving us with two days of uninterrupted work. Our time was limited and the original walls were a dark, deep raspberry colour to cover which we had to apply two coats of primer. We made a mental note to think twice next time before making the decision to paint a wall red.
By Saturday night, the living room was a labyrinth of furniture around which we had to tread carefully while moving paint cans, brushes, and other tools around the perimeter. As we were preparing for bed, having showered and washed the primer off our arms, determined to wake up early the following morning to resume our work, Mr. Wanderlust asked me to bring a thermometer to him. He was running a high fever, having come down with strep throat, as the doctor would advise two days later.
He spent Sunday morning migrating among the bedroom, where he attempted to sleep, his face a sad sickly grey shade, waiting for the pain killers to kick in; the bathroom, where he gargled with salt water; and the living room, where he joined me in painting for ten minutes at a time before feeling faint and needing to lie down again. Despite all this, he never complained. He did his best to assist me.
By 7 p.m., after resisting the urge to snap at each other due to fatigue (felt by us both) and sickness (that of Mr. Wanderlust), the living room furniture had been pushed back into place, the carpet had been vacuumed, the floors washed, and a few pieces of art hung on the walls. We were ready for the boys’ and my parents’ arrival.
If there is a lesson that Mr. Wanderlust and I have learned from our marathon painting experience, it’s this: Life’s plans are not always congruent with our plans, but when we are determined to make progress and are ready to work steadily together to create changes, we can usually come out on top. I’m grateful for my selfless and committed partner and his quirky sense of humour, even when not feeling well. I’m grateful for the antibiotics that brought him back to good health. I’m grateful that Wanderlust Juniors have a wonderful father who is a great role model for them, and we are looking forward to celebrating Father’s Day together.
Wishing a very happy Father’s Day to all who are celebrating this weekend!
I refrain from comparing myself to others; whenever I do tap into that samskara (see: an imprint from our past), the results are most often horrendous. Nothing takes me farther from mindfulness than the moment when I start to compare myself to others. Yet, sometimes, comparison sparks reflection.
On Sunday, while visiting the Toronto zoo with my family and waiting in line to see the new Giant Panda cubs, I naturally started watching the people around me. I love to people-watch, to study ‘strangers’ who intrigue me, then compose stories about them in my mind. I watched a beautiful woman with curly blond hair piled high, who wore her young baby in a carrier on the front of her body while pushing her toddler in a stroller before her. I looked at my own children, attempting to be patient while waiting our turn to see the pandas. Was it really that long ago that Wanderlust Juniors were six months and three years old, respectively? In a photograph on a wall in our home, taken about 3.5-years ago during another Sunday outing at the zoo, I’m wearing the youngest Wanderlust Junior in a carrier, facing me, while holding the hand of the eldest Wanderlust Junior, who looks remarkably young and small.
Time doesn’t often catch me off-guard. I start each day with yoga and the intention to live fully in each moment. I continue to remind myself of this intention throughout the day. I end each evening with meditation and express my gratitude for all the experiences of the day that has passed. I don’t wish to return to those infant and toddler days. I don’t wish to repeat it all. I do cherish all our wonderful memories from that time. Yet, I am in awe of the magic that lurks in the background while we move through our daily routines of work, school, clean-up, laundry, dishes, play time, books, and bedtime, working every day to simplify, to slow down, to allow ourselves to create space to breathe and revel in the beauty of these routines, sometimes organized, often chaotic.
May we remember to slow down, to sit back for a minute, and observe with gratitude the intricate miracles that weave themselves into each experience, however grand or mundane.
Once upon a time, Mr. Wanderlust and would roast our own coffee beans. However, this process fell by the wayside with various responsibilities that we acquired with the title and role of parenthood. In the recent years, I started to purchase whole and coarsely ground coffee beans from a few of my favourite cafes. We use our espresso machine at home on a regular basis, and the grinder attached to the machine is set to fine espresso grind. On the weekend, when using the french press, we need coarsely ground coffee. However, since we do not drink french press coffee on a daily basis, the beans I used to buy ground would lose their freshness after the first couple of weeks. And so, I contemplated purchasing a simple coffee grinder. However, given that we are working to simplify our lifestyle and choose to eliminate from our kitchen anything limited to one purpose, I was reluctant to spend the money.
About a month ago, a dear friend who, like me, is a devoted fan of Outlander (the book and the TV series) and who, in fact, introduced me to the book, gifted to me at Christmas a charming miniature Outlander mortar and pestle set. For about a week, I admired the pretty white ceramic dish, decorated with green Celtic knots, until one day, while buying whole coffee beans and thinking about how much I missed drinking french press coffee, the idea flashed swiftly before me. At home, reaching my hand into the paper bag filled with aromatic freshly roasted coffee beans, I scooped a small batch and gingerly started to grind them, one small bit at a time. It might have taken some arm strength, but the effect was excellent. I will never again need to buy ground beans.
Upon seeing my newly discovered interested in the mortar and pestle, Mr. Wanderlust reminded me that he has an heirloom metal set, designed to practical proportions for the same purpose. For now, I prefer to use my new favourite handy old-fashioned kitchen gadget with a whimsical modern flare. I continue to explore my capacity for domestic resourcefulness and have started grinding cumin seeds, coarse sea salt, and this morning ground a few peppercorns to sprinkle on top of the beef roast that is currently simmering inside the crock pot.
Do you have a similar story or a useful kitchen tip to share? Please leave a comment below!
P.S. If you are interested in obtaining your own pretty mortar and pestle set and would like to order it by clicking on this link, you would also help to support this website.