The Year of Frugal Living - Part One: Housing

On January 6th of this year, I was scheduled to return to work from my year of maternity leave (yes, we get a whole year in Canada - one more reason I love this country). Instead of going back, I told the wonderful organization with whom I had worked for five years, that, this time around, I was cutting the chain to my desk chair. I was going to be a full-time, stay-at-home parent... Eeeep!

This is not all that unusual. Stay at home parents do still exist...even if I have a hard time finding them at the park at 8 am. Our situation is a bit tricky, however, because Luke is still a full-time, stay-at-school student. The guy loves learning. So, unlike four years ago when we were full fledged DINK's (dual income, no kids), we are now NIKE's (No income, kids everywhere). 

Luke graduates next May and better become gainfully employed in his dream job, in the field of wind energy, in the few months following. In the meantime, ie. for 18 months, we are living with neither of us working. 

How are we going to do it?
Excellent question.  I'm hoping I'll discover a lot of change in the couch.

Just kidding.

We actually budgeted our plan out fairly thoroughly during the past few years. That is to say, when both of us were working during the summer months and the like, we'd continue to live just on my income and to save Luke's. We also put aside a bit of my wage too, giving us a nice little nest egg for the 18+ months of no working. It's nowhere near what we would have made before, however. In fact, it's under 50%.

So we're having to get creative.

The absolute biggest expense for the average adult is housing. We were renters up until three years ago. A lot of people think renting is a waste of money, because you aren't building equity in a property. If, however, you have a house with a huge mortgage and little money down, you're actually just paying a heck of a lot of interest and not a lot of principle. Not to mention the additional costs of taxes, utilities and home maintenance (which can be huge). It pays to lay it all out on paper before you leap. All that being said, we had saved up enough to buy a house with 25% down payment (thus saving the hefty cost of CMHC loan insurance) and we were in the market for an income property.

I have to admit, I wasn't big on the idea of buying a duplex...
"Ugh. Now someone's going to know that I can't garden and my kids run around pant-less in the backyard all day."

Luke, on the other hand, was totally mad about the idea of the "du-per".

So our first home purchase is a duplex. What this means for us is that we have no back door on our house. Instead there is a fully contained, private-entry apartment at the back. We can't hear anything front to back and the only time I really notice they are there, is when I want to have a hot shower and the water isn't all that hot because they've beat me to it (a bigger hot water heater may be in our future and let's be serious, I rarely shower). All this to say, it's had a very minimal impact on our lifestyle.

The best thing about the apartment is that is brings in 600 dollars a month. 600 bucks that requires us to do very little to earn. The apartment covers the bulk of our mortgage payment leaving us with utilities, taxes and maintenance. All in all, we're paying almost exactly what we were to rent, except we can enjoy the space and lifestyle a home can offer while paying down a significant chunk of our principle each year (thank you low interest rates!).

The location of our house is also a big money-saver. We bought in an area which is only a few kilometers from downtown. It has had a bad reputation in the past, but is really burgeoning into an activist-filled walkable neighbourhood. We love it. Best of all, it offers us a farmer's market, library branch, coffee shops, theatre, community center, my lovely in-laws and a sketchy karaoke bar all within a ten- minute walking radius. It's also on a major bus route and allows Luke the ability to always bike or take public transit to school. Less driving = money in the bank and time to do what we care about.

Utilities are another area where we've been trying to focus our savings. Our house is pretty small. Our portion is only 800 square feet. My bedroom is pretty much all bed. It's cool though. It's cozy, it's open and bright and best of all it's pretty cheap to run!

We have a gas furnace and A/C, which are quite economical, but even so we try and keep the house at a reasonable temperature. In the winter we wear slippers, in the summer we don't expect to sleep under a duvet. We try to turn off lights when we leave the room (I hear my father's pleading voice in my head if I don't), we run the dishwasher with the entire day's dishes after 7 pm, we make our kids share the bath, we rarely change the fish bowl, if it's yellow we let it ...You get the drift.

We thought we were saving pretty much all we could in the utility department and then we had an epiphany. We could hang our laundry to dry in our basement.

I know, I know, this isn't like the discovery of stem cells. People have been hanging laundry to dry for eons. But the stuff from the dryer is just so snuggly and smooth and lintless. And honestly, our basement is TEENY TINY, like, smaller than that font was.

"Too bad," we told our past selves, "give it up!"

Instead, we purchased a solid 30 dollar drying rack from Home Hardware, Luke strung up a rope from one end of the basement to the other, and we started drying. Our shirts are so stiff they stand on their own and our towels can double as drywall sanders, but we're so pleased with ourselves, we don't care.

Our quest for more housing related cash continues. Someday, we dream of buying a triplex, or maybe even a six-plex... a girl's gotta dream after all.

Our house - 2010

Now that I'm done my blathering, any tips from you?


Nia Vardalos: Instant Mom

Nothing prepared me for the love I would feel for my child. Nothing prepared me for how quickly it happened for me. And here’s what I just figure out now: no one is ever prepared.” Nia Vardalos, Instant Mom

Nia Vardalos is warm, funny and engaging. I am nervous for our conversation, but she immediately sets me at ease by assuring me that if I could see her, I wouldn’t be so nervous. At the moment, I’m just thrilled she can’t see me. I have not brushed my hair in 48 hours. I am wearing a ski cap. I slept in my sweatshirt. I take some comfort in knowing, this kind of unkemptness is familiar ground for her. Like myself, Nia is a mom. Unlike myself, who had 9 months and 2 weeks to prepare for each of my children, she had a mere 14 hours.

Instant Mom is Nia’s hilarious and emotive new book. In it, Nia, first made famous for satirizing her Greek family in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, chronicles her experience with infertility and finally her long journey through the adoption system; a journey which culminated in being matched with an energetic and, at times, right-hook-throwing, toddler.

Instant Mom is both guidebook and cheerleader for parents (and parents-to-be) considering adoption. She makes no judgments as to whether foreign or domestic, open or closed, public or private, adoption is preferable; saying only that every child deserves to be loved.

When I ask her what advice she can offer to people thinking of pursuing this path to parenthood, she says, “Read as much as you can and then decide what’s right for you. Just listen to that inner voice.”

Nia assures me that the biggest myth about adoption is that it is expensive and difficult, and that there is something wrong with the children who are adoptable. She refutes all of these claims, but especially the last. All the vast majority of these children need, is a loving home.

What strikes me most, however, is that Nia’s story isn’t just one of the adoptive parent, it’s one of every parent. Not one of us knows what we are doing. Each parent is an instant parent, whether we were handed our child from a midwife, obstetrician or social worker. In a single moment, our lives are transformed.

Nia shares moments of pure terror in this journey, like watching her daughter choke on a hard candy or realizing the stray dog living in her home is, in fact, half coyote (ok, as a reader, that was more hilarious than terrifying), but there are also moments of transcendent beauty – the first utterance of “mom” and “dad”, hands held in the night, kisses given and received – moments every parent can recognize.   

When it comes to control, parents don’t get a safety bar to grip on this ride. I just have to grin through my chattering teeth and lean into every gut-churning dip. I see it all around me right now- I’m in a room of adults who know that sharp pang of nostalgia when we look at a picture of our child taken just yesterday.”

Now that her daughter is in school, I ask her if she has any advice for surviving the toddler years. “Don’t buy anything new,” she says. “It’s like having a puppy around.” I look over as I type, to see my daughter peeing on the floor.

Nia is so wise.

Instant Mom will officially be released on April 2, but you can win a copy here! Simply comment below with your favourite bit of parenting advice (non-parents can participate too)! One winner will be randomly selected on Monday, April 1.

Find out more:
Instant Mom - read the goods, straight from the publisher and buy a copy near you!

Adoption in Canada
– a great resource about where to start. “Of the more than 78,000 children in Canada’s child welfare system, approximately 30,000 are legally free or eligible for adoption.”


Dear Spring

I see now this is all my fault.

Last year, I thought you had left because Summer had moved in again,

And Summer is so loud and flamboyant and demanding.

I presumed you'd come back like you always had,

Right when I couldn't stand one more moment of winter;

With a snowdrop and a rain drop and a chickadee call.

But winter is still here, emboldened by your absence,

Nibbling at my fingertips and ears and perspective,

Ready to enfold the whole calendar in his toothy mouth.

You have made me sorry for saying Autumn was my favourite.

Autumn with its flashy colours, rainy afternoons, gluttonous beauty.

How could I have forgotten you.

Verdant, fragrant, fleeting you.

You are a short season,

But you hold a long grudge.


Remember that time we were night weaning?

Well, we're entering night three of our night-weaning project.

I hoped this post was going to say:

It's going soooo great! She's sleeping, we're sleeping! Wow. So great. 

Instead it has to say:

It's going TERRIBLY! She loves boobs! No one is sleeping! Wow. So bad.

Night One

I nurse Neve to sleep as usual. I explain that I will nurse her now, but after this, the show's over until morning.
She replies with an emphatic, "Yep."

1:30 am - Neve wakes up. Luke goes to the floor bed in her room to comfort her. She takes this as an insult to her intelligence.

"You have no breasts. You do not lactate. Get the heck out!" She screams.

1:45 am - I can't take the angry screaming. I go in to help Luke. Neve is delighted to see her portable dairy factory is up and running. I explain that it is not nursing time, it is sleepy time. Neve becomes very angry at me. We had read about this. Anger is ok. She is not scared. She is not being abandoned. She is being snuggled and sung to by two lovely parents. She gets angrier.

2:00 am- We decide to take the party to our bed. It's bigger and we think she may sleep with a change of scenery. We are wrong

2:01-3:30 am - Neve is no longer angry, but she is wide awake. She thrashes about the bed. She cracks her forehead into my nose. She kicks the blankets off. She tries to find a boob in Luke's shirt. She realizes I either need a chest wax, or she has the wrong parent. She tries to find a boob in my shirt. She plays with a bottle full of water.

3:31 am - Judah wakes up and calls for Luke. Luke leaves to sleep in Judah's room. Tries to contain his happy dance as he does.

3:32-3:45 am - Neve continues to thrash about before finally falling asleep at the end of the bed, between my feet - butt in the air.

7:30 am - Judah, who has now slept for close to 12 hours, comes to wake us up for the day.

7:31 am- Night Two - I drag my butt around like a good zombie-mom.

11:25 pm- Neve wakes up, after being asleep for a few hours. I nurse her. This is technically cheating as I had committed to not nursing between 11-6. I don't care. I naively believe this will buy me a better night's sleep.

4:00 am- Neve wakes up again. Luke brings her from her floor bed to our room. I tell her it's sleepy time, not nursing time. She becomes angry once again. She thrashes around the bed. We offer her her bottle of water. She drinks some. She belches. She laughs. She turns the bottle upside down beside my back. My back becomes wet and cold. She thrashes around some more. We force ourselves to sleep, intermittently, through her horizontal zumba routine.

6:30 am- Judah wakes up and calls for Luke. Luke goes to get his one hour of uninterrupted sleep.

6:45 am- I wake to see Neve finally asleep, again at the foot of the bed.

7:20 am- Neve wakes up. It is light out. I tell Neve she can nurse now. She has a couple of swigs and then falls back asleep.

9:30 am- Mommy and Neve wake up. New record- latest sleep in with the least sleep.

As I said, It's going TERRIBLY! She loves boobs! No one is sleeping! Wow. So bad.

If tonight is a repeat performance, I may have to revert to the all-night nurseathon. I either sacrifice my boobs or my sanity. Long-term, I'll probably want my sanity... probably.


The Week That Was

Top to bottom - 1. Neve, as always, trying to grab the camera. 2. Judah visits the reptile show with Uncle Nico. 3. March- In like a lion....out like a lion. 4. Judah's flowers are sprouting.  5. My well-loved seed catalog. Having a hard time making decisions for the garden this year. 6. Bringing a little spring to our decorating, as it continues to snow outside.


Neve the Nocturnal Nurseavore

This week has culminated in the perfect no-sleep storm.

Both kids have had terrible colds, resulting in lots of hacking when they are horizontal. Good for daytime. Super crummy for nighttime.

Add to that, the time change, a few late nights and Neve's nocturnal nursing, and what do you get? No sleep!

We're big on co-sleeping with the kids. They sleep better when they aren't alone. We sleep better when we know our kids feel safe and secure. As a result, Neve, now 14 months, has always nursed or been walked in our arms to fall asleep and then joined us in our bed upon first waking around midnight. Judah, at three-and-a-half, still wakes up at least once, generally between 1-3 and calls for Luke, who then goes and sleeps in Jude's almost king sized bed.

Theoretically, this is all lovely. It has worked really wonderfully for us... in the past. Currently, we are running into an issue. A BIG, exhausting, brutal, awful, no-good, TIRING issue.

Neve is a major nocturnal nurser.

Although she likes the odd drink during the day, especially before her nap, she will accept food- not- from- a- boob during the waking hours. Her intake of said food is pretty small. She doesn't mind solids, but she definitely doesn't share her brother's penchant for devouring them. Instead, she likes to save up her points and nurse FOR HOURS during the night. As a result, I find myself inhaling food right before bedtime.

9 pm, my body is in full-out panic mode: "Woman, you need to ingest like 3000 calories, like right now! I can hear that kid starting to stir, and if you don't, we'll have no choice but to eat your brain tissue!" This happens. I don't even know what day of the week it is.

Last night, the old routine grew a little thin. It was 4:40. Neve had been nursing/ teething on me for almost three hours. I felt like a dog Kong. Chew-toy time was over. I told her the milk was "all gone". I was hoping she'd say, "ok", roll over and go to sleep. Instead, she totally lost her milk-loving mind.

It was the infant apocalypse.




She screamed.
I sang her a lullaby. She screamed.
 I tickled her back. She screamed.
I changed her diaper and snuggled her right beside me. She screamed.

We continued this little pattern for an hour, then I called in reinforcements. Daddy the Boobless, took the boob addict downstairs for a board book marathon until 7 am, when they both fell asleep on the couch.

How do you know it's time to night-wean?
When no one is sleeping anymore.
When you eat an entire bag of Doritos before bed - because you HAVE to.
When your one year old can go most of the day without eating anything, because they've eaten you- all. night. long.

So here we go- night one of the  Dr. Jay Gordon method for night weaning. If you have any advice to offer, we're all ears. I'll try to keep you updated with our progress. If not, just listen really hard around 4 am, you might just hear one of us screaming.


Birth Story - Ina May Gaskin and the Farm Midwives

A couple Fridays back, I went to an early screening of Birth Story, with my super-cool-hippy friend who I aspire to be like (Yes Kirston, that's your official title over here). Birth Story is a documentary, which chronicles the life's work of Ina May Gaskin, arguably the world's most famous midwife and a personal hero of mine.

It was beautiful! Both from a cinematographic standpoint and in its empowerment of women, birthing and otherwise, the world over. This movie made me want to give birth again...and that's saying something!

If you get an opportunity to see this film, do! Better yet, make an opportunity to see it!

Want to see the trailer?


No Praise - No Punishment

If there is one thing I've learned over the past four years of parenting, it's that parenting is a learning experience. Ideally, the more you do it, the better you get at it. In reality, however, we often start out trying to be the best parents the world has ever seen- "I hand wove all the babies diapers" - and somehow fall into bad habits and parenting pitfalls that we swore would never befall us - "If you don't stop bothering your sister, Halloween will never come again".

A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to attend an afternoon class with Carol Peat, an amazing childbirth and parenting educator. The "Calm Mum" session has challenged us to work towards some exciting changes to our daily parenting. The biggest change we're working towards is a no praise- no punishment approach. That's right folks, no praise - no punishment. *Cue the screaming of gold stars as they meet their doom*.

But guys-  you're thinking - don't we need to praise our kids? Won't they have low self esteem if I don't tell them that everything they do is amazing?

I like to think of it like this...

Situation a: Jude builds a really tall block tower. My first impulse is to say, "Good job, Judah!"
Situation b: Neve is hitting Judah because she wants a toy Judah has. My first impulse is to say, "No hitting. You can use another toy."

In both instances, I've made a judgement about my child's actions, I've imposed that judgement on what they've done and I've left him out of the equation completely, except to say that the only thing that matters here is what I think.

In these situations we are communicating to our child that a.) you are dependent on another person's praise of your actions to feel you've accomplished something. This is where actions get their value. Or b.) that what we are feeling isn't valid, unless someone tells us it is.

If we approach this with a no praise- no punishment mindset, the focus shifts from telling them they are loved (or making them feel unloved), to showing them they are loved, no matter the situation. We can change these situations to look something like this...

Jude builds a really tall block tower. I say, "Wow. That tower is as tall as you and you used so many different colours!"
Neve is screaming, and wailing on her big brother. I get down to her eye level and say, "I hear you, but I won't let you hurt your brother."

In both instances I am withholding my personal lens on the situation. Instead, I am recognizing what they have done and validating their experience. Judah can now think, "My mom cares enough to really notice what I've done here." And Neve can hear, "What I'm feeling is okay," while we also validate Judah's experience as the victim of her frustration.

So far, the results of this approach have been amazing. I feel like the attachment between us and the kids has only grown deeper. They don't have to worry about our reactions being conditional based on our view of their behaviour. Instead, they have parents who are armed with the skills to remain calm and consistent, regardless of the decibel level of a meltdown.

The benefits are huge, but setting the pattern is hard. It's easier to just tell our child that everything they do is amazing. It's easier to give in to our own frustrations and shout or give time-outs when they are "bad."

It's harder to stay calm, to step back, to say "this isn't about me".

Not praising or rewarding or bribing kids for everything they do will eventually allow them to do and enjoy things for their intrinsic value. Not punishing our kids for everything we perceive as a deviation from the perfect child, allows us to step back and see that our kids, especially the little ones, are only acting in a developmentally- appropriate way for their current situation; and allows them to understand that their emotions are okay and they can be processed and translated in healthy ways.

When children feel heard, understood, and unconditionally assured that their parents will remain a calm, loving, presence they can be calmer and happier too.

Want to learn more? Check out the Babies Naturally blog and read it direct from the expert.


The Week That Was

pictured, top to bottom:
1. dress up - criminal M&M meets the russian police
2. a rose from jude and morai
3. summer sewing for neve
4. thrift store treasures
5. a trip to IKEA means a frame for my valentine's gift
6. bouncy balls remain this week's hottest toy
7. new play kitchen!
8. a visit to the sugar shack
9. the olden day maple syrup way
10. still winter


One to Two

When you welcome your first child, everyone warns you about how much your life is about to change, 
"I hope you've had lots of sleep, because you won't have much for the next 25 years!" 
"Well, your days of showering in private are over."
"How do you feel about pee soaked mattresses? That's too bad, because you're going to have one."
And so on. 

What society doesn't prepare you for, is the life flip that happens when you go from having one child to having two. 

Perhaps it was just me... Maybe it was our birth spacing... Could be that we went from having one really easy going kid, to having one really easy going kid with a feisty sister. More likely though, I think that the first year with a second child is just BRUTAL. 

One child is a PANTLOAD of work (literally and figuratively), but the first year with two is like treading water (and doing laundry, and making breakfast, and climbing the stairs), with a toddler clinging to your ankles and a baby in your arms... 

It was like Neve was born and on her first night at home, she and Judah met in his bedroom closet and made a secret treatise along these lines:

We solemnly swear,
1. That we will never nap simultaneously.
2. That we will always lick each other's toys and faces when we are ill, to ensure one of us is sick at all times. 
3. That one of us will always be in mom and dad's bed. 
4. That mom will never use the bathroom unattended. 
5. That dad will always be awoken by one of us before dawn and that we will ensure he reads 10 Sandra Boynton books before breakfast.
6. That one of us will always attempt escape at the library.
7. That no trip to the grandparents shall go without a screaming finale. 
8. That we will never willingly share anything with each other, and that whatever you are playing with is exactly what I need, right now. 
9. That any moment we accidentally get along, should end with us banging foreheads. 
10. That the only music we will agree on will be nauseating, third-rate, nursery rhymes sung by puppets. 

 For the next 12 months, they obeyed their own laws. Then, one day without notice, they started to play together. We pretended not to see. We avoided direct eye contact. We hid in a closet and wept with relief. 

Now, Judah insists on being the one to run upstairs when Neve wakes from a nap. 
Now, Neve calls for Judah when she wants someone to play in the couch fort. 
Now, Mom has tiny moments of reprieve. A chance to sit back and watch... and imagine what it might be like to have three.