The number 7 and the number 21 have always had a very significant impact on my life. Call it coincidence or call it fate, I don't know, but anyone who loves numbers (and a little bit of craziness) can appreciate this.

I was born on the 7th day of the month and Chris was born on the 21st. We started dating on the 21st of June, married on the 21st of July and if you add up all the letters in his name, my married name AND my maiden name, guess what you get? Yep...21!

Joleigh was born on the 7th of the month as well. And I was sure as sure could be that if Carson ended up being born on the 21st of the month, that I would probably have to submit this info to some crazy scientists somewhere so they could explain the trend to me. He ended up being born on the 25th though so it didn't work out quite the way I thought it would, however, the numerology nut in me did find it interesting that, at the very least, the two numbers in the day he was born (25), added up to 7...ok, but that's just me being weird. :)

ANYwho...while he may be the odd man out, Carson does still have a special correlation with the number 21 in our family.

Sadly, two years ago today on December 21, our family suffered a tremendous loss when we said goodbye to one of the most caring, generous and kind-hearted souls you could meet. At just 33 years young, we said goodbye to our dear cousin Kurt. One of the last times I had seen him was when I was pregnant with Joleigh. He knew my office was at the River City Center so he popped in one afternoon to say hi and drop me off a [decaf] double-double from Tim Hortons. "I bought you a muffin, too" he said. "Cuz you need to take care of that little cousin of mine in your belly." Then he gave me a big hug and went off on his merry way. I hadn't seen him for months (which wasn't unusual) and sadly, did not hear any news of him until I found out about his passing.

Fast forward to exactly one short year later and I'm staring at a home pregnancy test that just showed me two lines and I feel like I'm going to faint. Could it really be?! But we weren't really trying?! Oh my GAWD I'm going to be a mom to "2 under 2"! After the dust settled and the reality of our newest circumstance kicked in, I realized that it was Decemberi 21st - a very special day in our hearts. So while Carson may not have been born on the 21st, he clearly has a connection to that number and to the cousin he'll never meet on this human earth that I think only I g can truly appreciate.

Today is a bittersweet day for me. And while the rest of the world is going on about the end of earth as we know it, I'm keeping my thoughts in check and being as "minimal" as possible by simply reliving the memories!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone


A letter to my baby...

It's nearly midnight on December 14th and I'm cuddling with you on the couch. You just finished nursing and you're passed out cold on my chest. The only light in the living room right now is from the Christmas tree and I seriously can't fathom that in just 10 short days, you will be exactly four months old.

Four months may not seem like a long time to you...and it's not. And it most definitely has flown by for me...which is why I wanted to write you this letter.

Sometimes the world works in mysterious ways and things happen that we cannot control nor can we understand. I won't go in to details because they don't matter but something like that happened today. It's hit home for a lot of people I know...especially those with young kids. And while your Daddy and Big Sis are tucked tightly in bed, I am here on this couch with you. Breathing in your sweet baby smell that keeps fading and fading. Listening to nothing but your quiet breaths by my ear. Telling myself that I should go throw those diapers in the dryer and that we should get to bed but I don't want to move...not one inch.

You have brought such a wholeness to our lives and I hope you know, Carson, how much you are truly loved. I will be the first to admit that there are not nearly as many pictures of you as there is of your sister. This is not because we love her is simply because we are so busy LIVING our lives with you now in it that we've let that important task slip. I promise to take more pictures...starting today. And I hope when you look back at baby books and photo albums that you don't feel slighted or any less loved than what you are. I promise, you are very loved.

Your sister surprises me with how much she loves you. She is only two years old but always wants to hold you and kiss you and make you smile.

Your Daddy...well, he has a sparkle in his eye when he looks at you that very few people have produced before...I saw it on our wedding day and I see it every time he looks at your sister, too.

And I love you. Oh how can I even begin to describe how much I love you. So incredibly much. You came into our lives so powerfully and peacefully. You allowed me the opportunity to trust my strength as a woman and you have made caring for you and nourishing you so incredibly effortless. We just work so well together, you and I, and I love that too.

So thank you little man for being such an amazing blessing in our lives. As I sit here with you quietly sleeping on my chest, I am trying my absolute hardest to absorb all that is you in this very moment. Because I know that all too soon you will be running and jumping and getting into trouble with your sis and these sacred, peaceful moments (that I shared with her, too) will be but a memory in my mind and my heart. A memory that no one will truly ever understand until they become a parent. A memory that you may not consciously remember but I hope is forever ingrained into your heart and soul as it is mine.

My love to you, sweet baby.

~ Jen ~

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone


Understanding Hard Times and Making the Most of Them...

Has it seriously been a week since I last posted?!  In my quest to prepare for holidays and sell all of my unneeded things, time has slipped away from me...not good.

I read a really interesting article last week that struck a chord with me.  It's title: "Income Inequality And The Oil Sands: Fort McMurray's Rich 20-Somethings Find Hard Times Hard To Understand".  I'm glad that I can still call myself a "20-something" because I feel the need to add to the message that this article is giving.

I am one of the "young people living in Alberta's northern wilderness" but I can tell you that just because I was born here, does NOT mean I've never had to worry about economic uncertainty.  I feel like the story here is once again painting a picture of "streets paved with gold" and it gives an unrealistic view of the opportunities our community holds.  Opportunities are abound, most definitely, but that doesn't mean you should pack up your only belongings with a one-way ticket and expect to start making $150K a year.

I can also tell you that I do not find hard times hard to understand.  For those of us who grew up here in the 80's, it was not always rainbows and lollipops in terms of the job market and the average family income.  I remember a time growing up when Suncor was on strike, people were being laid off left, right and centre and people were desperate for work.  My mom was a letter carrier for Canada Post and my dad drove a taxi just to make ends meet.  When money seems like it's falling from the sky, people are quick to forget that with every boom, there could be a bust...especially if they don't plan well.

I believe that having these "hard times" have benefitted me in many ways and I think it's important that we don't downplay the uncertainty that any person faces when it comes to the economy and our general financial health.  I've done a lot of soul searching in these last few weeks as I strive to let go of so many of the material things that this "it could never happen to me" mentality has provided and I must say that I'm sometimes disgusted with just how much needless stuff has accumulated.

I've been able to sell nearly everything I no longer need on various "Fort McMurray Buy & Sell" pages on Facebook or the fail-proof Kijiji...within record time, too!  I'm not going to lie, there's nothing like making some extra cash and freeing space at the same time but I can't help but wonder what all the other people in this town are going to do with that stuff?  Who really needs their own chocolate fountain?  Who really needs four digital cable boxes?  Not I.  Interestingly enough, I came across a post the other day in one of those Facebook pages and I offered my blog as an "outreach" to those who are going through the same thing I am.  You can see by the question posed that I am definitely not the only one concerned about the increasing amount of stuff that was beginning to take over my life.

My only hope is that others will see the light and spend their hard-earned money and TIME on valuable things.  "Things" they can truly be thankful an ice-cream date with their four year old, a day of swimming at the waterpark or a grocery trip that ends with items being dropped off at the Food Bank instead of the depths of a pantry's uninhabited corners.

Up Next: Rex Murphy's Coming to Town!


Learning to Live with Less Stuff & Love the Process!

I received the following post from the Minimalist Mom and it really hit home for me.  I'll be the first to admit that attempting to live a minimalist lifestyle in what seems to be one of the wealthier cities in Canada, proves to be a challenge in more ways than one.

It's awfully hard to keep picking away at purging your things and "downsizing" your material posessions when it feels like everyone is racing to keep up with Mr. and Mrs. Jones.  Having instant access into the lives of others (via Facebook and Twitter) makes it even easier to see what others are doing, where they're going and what they're buying...constantly.  It's enough to make a person crazy...but only if I let it.

The post helped me the most by affirming the reasons why I've decided to venture down this road and included helpful tips to remember when faced with pangs of envy over a friend's awesome new kitchen reno or their latest and greatest vacation.

Live Your Values

This reminder is so incredibly important that I can't even begin to describe how much of an impact it makes in terms of remembering why I'm choosing this lifestyle and what I hope to gain from it.  Chris and I had a conversation while traveling down the highway the other day about choosing to only spend money on things that aligned with our passions.  For instance, he is a huge hockey fanatic and his collection of Pittsburgh Penguins Memorabilia is noteworthy.  To me, that's okay because he's passionate about it and some may think he goes overboard but they're the same people that would drop thousands on designer clothes where we would not.  To each their own, I say.

What doesn't fit with our values is going shopping and buying things just because: a) it was on sale, b) it was neat or cool or handy or c) because we had money burning in our pocket that most likely could have been put towards RRSP's or some other money-SAVING strategy.

Envy is a Choice

Why yes...yes it is.  A choice that is sometimes naturally thrust upon you as you skim through your news feed each morning.  Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating a little because soon all of you will think I'm some crazy loon who harbours nothing but hate for my Facebook friends.  That is simply not so.  It can be difficult at times though when you're constantly bombarded with people inadvertently "bragging" about what happened to them that day and consequently, what did not happen to you.  Let's be honest now...on any given day, please tell me you can't count on at least one hand a status update or tweet that boasts how quickly and awesomely someone's kid learned to roll, crawl, walk, poop, etc.  I admit, I do it too...I think that the beauty and the curse of such social media.  Or how about the posts about someone's new digs...or new ride...or new something...  When continuously plagued with such magnificent propaganda, it's hard not to get into comparative mode...because everyone's life is  Or is it?

Stuff Does Not = Contentment

Contentment.  A state of happiness and satisfaction.  I like this word.  And I think this is something I'm going to pursue further.  How does one get to be in this state on a semi-permanent basis?  Oprah would tell you to keep a gratitude journal.  Buddha would tell you  to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles.  And I just used Oprah and Buddha in the same paragraph.  Wow, she really is amazing isn't she?

Anyway, I'm not sure where this revelation will take me but I do know this:  I plan to take more time (immediately) to count my blessings every day and be truly thankful for what I do have.  For behind closed doors, everyone's perfect life is likely not so and better to be content with all that I know I have than to wish for something I may not actually want.

Up Next: What Am I Thankful For?  (Yeah, I'm dropping the project numbers...)


When Will We Reach the Top?

So it's nearly midnight and I can't seem to turn off my mind.  So what do I do?  Head out to the computer and start "writing"...not entirely sure that's a good idea but we'll see how this goes...

In my quest to reach the top of Mount Laundry, I've realized today what a daunting task I've set out for myself.  I feel like I've finally made it about halfway but as I stare back at base camp, I can't help but feel like the higher I go, the more difficult it's going to get.

You see, I'm doing much more than washing, drying and folding clothes.  Who really blogs about that anyway?  Okay, well, maybe I would but right now I'm not.  In addition to staring blankly at what could literally be hundreds of articles of clothing, I'm also purging and sorting and organizing so I can forever free myself of the black hole of chaos that has become my basement laundry room.  How can three people have so many clothes?  Especially considering a good portion of them never get worn and many of them don't even fit.  Hmmm....

Why I'm also finding this project so challenging is because, truthfully, I'm tackling much more than a laundry problem.  In my quest for personal enlightenment, I've been trying to dig deeper into the reason why we have so much bloody stuff in the first place and some of the reasons I'm coming up with seem a little unsettling to me.

What is really missing in our lives that creates this incessant need to purchase more things?  I'm only brainstorming right now but I'm going to throw out the possibility of boredom, greed, jealousy, competition, unhappiness, loneliness, plain stupidity?  I'm not quite sure the real reason yet but I do aim to find out eventually.  Maybe it's a combination of many of those things?

No matter where you live, life can become really lonely if you don't consistently reach out to those around you and confirm who and what really matters.  One day it could feel like all you have is your washer and dryer to keep you company and surely to God we can say that clothing really does not matter that much.  But what happens though when those you're reaching out to do not reach back?  Then what?  Do you fill the void with things?  And if so, how do you break that nasty spin cycle?

So I will reiterate, I'm most definitely tackling much more than a mountain of laundry here.  And as I said, the further I get from base camp, the scarier the top is looking.  But, nobody likes a coward so up we go.  You can guarantee I will let you know when we've made it to the summit - and hopefully by then I'll have some more answers, too.

Up Next: Project Five - The Green-Eyed Monster in All of Us


The Way Things Were...

Mere hours after I arrived at my Mom & Dad's place on Friday, the snow and wind started and virtually did not stop until late Sunday.  It was a really nice visit being holed up inside for the weekend, safe from the elements and warm with the modern luxuries that I no longer take for granted.

This is the third winter that Chris and I have been co-owners of 15 acres of mostly untouched, natural forest at the end of Babette Road...just outside of Athabasca, AB.  A joint purchase we made with my parents in the spring of 2009, we started out with a couple of campers and a small little clearing adjacent to a cutline that offered natural space to stretch out and be one with nature.  Fast forward a couple of years and my parent's "side" is now equipped with all of the modern niceties that a soon-to-be retired Grandma and Grandpa should have.  A beautiful home with power and water and HEAT...and satellite television to stay in touch with some of the more important things in my Dad's life: CTV News and Hockey Night in Canada of course.

Our "side" in mostly untouched as of right now with the exception of a small clearing about twice the size of a campground at Gregoire Lake.  It currently houses our camper and a firepit...simplicity at its finest.  Really simple life would find a tent instead of the travel trailer but propane heat and insulated walls allowed far more "camping" time with a young infant last spring, summer and fall.  Chris and I have had many discussions about what we wanted to do with our 7.5 acres of paradise and we used to think we wanted to build our dream home - complete with country kitchen, sunlit porch and all the toys to go along with life in the country.  Our definition of "dream home" has slowly been evolving lately and by this fall our ideas were transforming from big and awesome to simple and cozy.  When I think of the summer cabin I'd now like to have, I think of my Great-Granny's old house in Owl River.  I aspire to be as strong as my Great Grandmother was and if I can live half as long as she was alive (103 years), I'd consider myself blessed.  Only until the last year or so of her life, she lived in the most simple, quaint little house in pretty much the middle of nowhere and without electricity or running water.  The funny thing I learned after her passing was that her house was always wired and ready to be hooked up to the grid but she just never felt the need for it.  Her infamous wood stove was her only source of warmth on some very cold, cold nights and she lived happily and peacefully...a strong relationship with her daughter and her God.

She really is my inspiration and when I now think of my dream home, I envision the fun we had at her house camping every summer when we were younger and the memories I'll always have because of it.  Far more than any material things could ever give me.

In the wisdom of The Minimalist Mom, "Do we want our children to grow up in a home where it’s always about the next thing to buy or the next thing to upgrade?  Or, do we want them to grow up in a home where being good citizens and spending time with each other are the focus?"

I think it's safe to say we all know what the answer should be.

Up Next: Project Four - Mount Laundry


Mindful in McMurray?!

According to Wikipedia, several definitions of mindfulness have been used in modern psychology.  My favourite one being:

"Mindfulness refers to a psychological quality that involves a kind of non-elaborative, non-judgmental, present-centered awareness in which each thought, feeling, or sensation that arises in the attentional field is acknowledged and accepted as it is."

Wow.  That last bit...  Yeah, I can't say I've been following much of that lately...much to my dismay.

I'm heading out on the road in a couple of hours to visit my brother in Athabasca.  Today is his birthday!  Since I won't be home for the next three days, I decided I would focus my minimalist efforts inward and reflect on some of the ways I can de-clutter my mind.  After a very nice, "zenned-out" sleep last night, I woke up thinking about what I've been missing  Right before the holidays, I was really getting into defining what my own practice looked like and now that I've been cleared for physical activity (damned babies once again), I can't wait to get back into the downward dog of things...lord knows my tight hamstrings and constant headaches could use a little TLC.

One thing yoga always reminded me to do was be mindful.  To be aware of all of the awesomeness around me.  To enjoy my drive home across "the dreaded bridge" after every class because I was alive - and able to drive.  And driving across said bridge would enable me a better glimpse of the beautiful Athabasca river as it began freezing for the winter...and if I stretched my neck...just enough...I could catch a glimpse of the nicest hole at Miskanaw Golf Course.

I've stopped doing that lately.  I usually recognize my lack of mindfulness when I find myself getting sucked into that negative mentality that rears its ugly head all too often here.  It's a domino effect really and one that I must always be aware of...always.  Otherwise, I find myself bashing my hometown with the rest of them and grasping at ways to "move to the country" and live in Athabasca - something my family did and something I've been finding myself itching to do whenever I get's a great excuse really.

It's no wonder so many people have a hard time getting settled in Fort McMurray and why you hear so many complaints at first.  I believe wholeheartedly in the premise that "home is where your heart is" and many who have just moved here haven't yet found that heart.  So we need to give them time.  Most of my "heart" moved down the highway and out of town last a 4th Generation McMurrayite, that is something I didn't think I'd ever see happen.  So I can relate...but I can also push through and accept my new situation as it is and not let it get me down.  My hope is that all the newcomers to town realize that, for whatever reason they want/need to be here, it is a good place.  You just need to be aware of all the beauty around you (in the nature, in the people and in the opportunity) and know that you'll find that heart real soon.

My goal for the next three days is to get back to that place.  That awareness.  To start practicing yoga again and remind myself daily why it's great to be alive and well with a roof over my head.  To be thankful for the many opportunities at my fingertips and to seize them with an open heart and focused mind.

Up Next:  Project 3 - Back to Nature


Helpful Hint: Reserve the Bedroom for Sleep & Sex Only

I watched an episode of Dr. Oz many moons ago and was thankful that I followed almost all of his tips for getting a restful night's sleep.  Anyone who knows me, also knows that I have NEVER had a problem sleeping...that was, of course, until Joleigh came into my life.

Realistically though, I can't blame the state of affairs of my bedroom on my dear daughter...although that would be really easy.  When Chris and I were married in 2007 (yep, five years this summer), we made the choice to remove the television, cell phones and other electronic distractions from our bedroom.  It has served us well and I was proud to say we still hadn't had a TV in our room until about August last month of pregnancy.  With my blood pressure rising, an increasingly sore tailbone that I could no longer sit on and an order of bedrest...I caved and proceeded to have a Criminal Minds marathon complete with a/c, pillows and blankets to get me through to the bitter end.

Unfortunately, nearly TWO years later, the stupid thing never left.  Until today that is!

The Minimalist Mom recommends going through your house one room at a time as a way to decrease your chances of getting overwhelmed.  I think that was my problem so many times before.  Have you ever decided you were going to "spring clean" and, at the end of the day, your house looked messier than when you started?  I vowed to focus only on our bedroom and attached bathroom and I did just that.  The TV is gone.  The cell phone chargers are gone.  The extra movie cases and Canadian Tire money and old Oil Barons game stubs have found new homes as well.  All that's left is our bed, our night tables, our dresser and the two electronic devices that we unfortunately cannot part with - the baby monitor and the alarm clock (I'm not sure which one I hate more).

I can already feel a small weight lifted off my shoulders when I walk in there and smell the fresh linens...and I'd be willing to bet the $131 American dollars that I found that I will be sleeping like a baby tonight with nothing but peace and love around me...not junk.

Disclaimer: To those who think sleeping like a baby means long, lavish hours of undisturbed sleep...think again...and don't have kids if you can't accept that.

Up Next: Project 2 - Making Time for Mindfulness

Giving Up Stuff!

I finished reading this blog post from Russell Thomas and sat there on my couch, scanning the corners of my living room and taking inventory of all of my own electronic rat's nests.  "Gross!" I thought to myself as this has long been a battle I've been losing.  So I turned to my trusty friend google to seek help in solving the problem.

My first search, computer cable organizers, returned over 2.5 Million results and I soon realized that this is obviously a global problem.

So I decided to dig a little deeper (knowing what my real problem was anyway).  "How to declutter your life?" was the first question I posed.  Then I got brave.  "How to simplify your life?"  Eventually, I came across this blog, The Minimalist Mom, and I finally felt like I hit the jackpot.

The Minimalist Mom's slogan at the forefront of her blog is what really resonated with me.  A rich life with less stuff.  This is a concept that I've been talking with Chris about for a few months now (I have yoga and, ironically, Russell's wife Heather to thank for that).  I made my first attempt at minimalism this past fall by clearing out my kitchen cupboards and donating half of my unused dishes and cutlery to a college student.  I thought to myself, "Why have 16 of everything when we NEVER have dinner parties?!"  Unfortunately, that was about as far as I made it but I have a sneaking suspicion that the entire journey that I am now embarking on may be a series of baby steps...especially where my husband (aka King Pack Rat) is concerned.

I had to propose this idea in such a way that Chris would be on board, supportive and maybe even participative.  I started by roughly tallying up all of the STUFF we could sell on Kijiji and Ebay and various other consignment stores and he liked the sound of the extra money he could make out of this.  Then...after work this evening he asks, as he's rummaging through one of many junk drawers in our house, "You know that big pack of playing cards I bought from Costco last time?  Do you have any idea where they are?"  Really?  Reeaalllly?!  That statement alone proves that we have a problem.  First of all, who buys playing cards in bulk when they go to Costco?  Oh, oh, and who would likely go buy another pack because he can't find the current ones he owns and he really, really needs them for lunch break tomorrow.  Yes, I feel like I just finished my interview for A&E's Hoarders but that's why I'm here...haha!

So while ideas and announcements were made all over facebook today about who was giving up what for the Lent season this year, I decided that I was going to give up STUFF...and laziness, too, but that's an entirely different post.  I'll be using The Minimalist Mom's website as my bible/instruction manual and I'll be keeping track of it all here so friends and family can call me on it.  So when Easter rolls around in 40 days, all of you should be able to visit my very simple, streamlined house with zen-like qualities that I know will make our lives better for the long haul...even if we are eating Easter dinner on paper plates!

Up Next: Project 1 - The Master Bedroom