The 12 Days of Getting Through the Holidays in a Mindful Way

As parents we have a love-hate relationship with the holidays. December is a full month of visits, errands, chores, schedules, and to-do lists. Let alone the fun and joy we are supposed to be having. It can be hard pressed to find time to relax and truly have fun over the holidays.

This year, i plan to be a bit more gentle to myself. Most of the presents are done, i’m eating chocolate every night, and my partner and i are busy elves in the our workshop from 8:30 – 11:00 each night. I actually like that part of my day as it’s a guaranteed time where i get to be crafty and creative, and not thinking about ANYthing else. I’m reminded that sewing and knitting are activities that i do for myself as much as for my kids – the act of sewing is so methodical and meditative. And i’m sure any readers who are knitters can agree to this as well.

In our family we do an Advent calendar where we fill each day with a fun or meaningful activity. Today, for example we are reading some new Winter and holiday books we picked up at the library. Yesterday was our kids’ Winter Concert at school so that was the Advent activity. Sounds easy enough, right? Since we are literally incorporating what we are doing in real life, i made the decision to make our Advent activities a bit more simple and streamlined. And still festive, so it’s a win-win.

I’ve been thinking about how to take pause each day so i can allow the holidays to linger. Similarly to how i wanted the summer to never end back in August. Since my Donut Donut is a seasonal thing, i noticed that my love for Hygge is a close second in the Winter months.

In honour of the 12 days tradition, i’m sharing something with you each day to help you bring some joy, laughter, happiness, fun and rest in a mindful way – to yourselves and not just the rascals we love so dearly. Today, for DAY ONE here are some sensual ways i bring hygge mindfully into my home for the holidays. Being mindful and incorporating hygge (Danish word for cozy) are great ways to slow down and take a moment to pause, and to breathe in what is literally right in front of you in the here and now.

Scent

We keep the Solstice tree up as long as possible – the smell of pine is such a relaxing and visceral response for me. The photo of the horses above is from the tree farm we got our tree farm at. While my kids were screaming in the car to go because we were NOT EXPECTING snow, i took a serene self-ful moment to myself. I also added 4 new candles to my evening ritual. I especially love these ones as there is a gift at the end of the candle. We also bake cookies for our neighbours each year for Solstice, and the smell of baked goods lingers for a few days.

Vision

Besides the aforementioned tree, we also add other festive decorations all over the house. The only rooms that are spared are the bedrooms. For me, i like the sacredness of my bedroom being grounded in itself. But, otherwise, i have fresh flowers, garlands, Nutcrackers, and other decorations all over. And i take pause to intentionally notice them, so that i’m not just rushing by each day.

My kids and i play a version of I Spy when we are out. I do it to help them understand mindfulness a bit better. When we are going to school, we look at the neighbourhood decorations. Our favourite version now is looking for 5 Santas, 4 pine trees, 3 holiday lights, 2 wreaths and 1 winter bird.

Sound

It could go without saying that holiday music can be the worst genre ever, but it also can bring up some sentimental and warm feelings. I did not grow up singing carols with my family, but music has always been a big part of my life. Now as an adult, there are definitely songs and artists that i can hear (and sing along with) daily. For me, Joni Mitchell’s River is a standard on my playlist.

Touch

I’m all about the fuzzy sweaters, warm beds, cozy blankets and scarves that this time of year calls for. Since i don’t have a fireplace at home, i jump at the chance when i can to feel the warm fire on my face. I guess that’s why i’m constantly knitting – i like that feeling in my hands too.

Taste

I have a rule to eat at least 1 chocolate each day, and this time of you the selection is bountiful, or limitless, depending on if you are a glass half-full gal like me. My kids live for hot cocoa, and we always add a few new teas to our repertoire. And stock up on warm adult drinks like port and hot toddies.

So, take a moment sometime today to see if you can connect with your 5 senses in a fun, festive and mindful way. Enjoy and take a moment to pause for yourself.

I Write This Post for December 6

This week marks the anniversary of the the Montreal Massacre. On December 6, 1989 14 women were killed because they were attending school to be engineers. A lone gunman felt threatened by their presence and his misogyny lead to his decision to kill them and himself.

I write this after reading about a few more women and trans folk in Toronto who have been killed this year, this month even, or have gone missing. While we have made great strides to create change and lessen violence against women, it is still something that we are faced with on a regular basis.

I write this as someone who has worked in this field for 20 years, as a shelter worker, helpline staff, and now as a therapist for women who have experienced violence.

I write this as someone who sees so many forms of violence and unhealthy relationships in my own personal life. My own relationship with my partner is solid and happy, but like so many of us i have experienced harassment, abuse and unhealthy relationships in my past. Friends of mine still do.

I write this because some of the women i support are working on leaving their abusive partners, people that they have small children with and know that they deserve better. It’s such a complicated and courageous step to make – putting our own needs on the list means sometimes that we have to make a hard decision.

I write this because while we hope to change and help others, we cannot do it unless that is wanted. We can love ourselves more and trust that we when we fall, we will do so standing up with others around us for support.

I write this because we deserve to be safe, and happy, and feel valued.

I write this because i don’t think someone can be a good dad or parent if they are using violence on someone else. I also know that it’s ok to be angry and show all our emotions, but it’s never ok to have others afraid of us when doing so.

I write this because i support people who were raped and sexually violated in their lives, and that trauma impacts their life now. It’s hard to think about giving birth without connecting it to the pain and suffering of something that was taken from us.

I write this because there are communities of us that are disproportionately targeted – women of colour, Indigenous women, women with dis/abilities, and trans people. This is not okay. If violence is about feeling like you have power over someone, the intersections that we are labeled with seem to have even further oppressions.

I write this because sometimes abuse starts or escalates when we are pregnant. When we are already more vulnerable, and needing more support, love and understanding. This form of abuse happens when someone else is feeling or low or unneeded, and in order to make up for these feelings, they target their partner to feel more in control.

I write this because i’m angry that someone would be jealous of something that i feel like a Goddess for – being privileged to grow another being inside me. That someone would be jealous of this connection and feel like it means they don’t get the same attention.

I write this because i want to not have to write this again.

A Hallow’s Eve Exercise in Mindfulness

All Hallow’s Eve is my favourite holiday. I love it for more than the sweet little chocolates we get (though that counts a bit too). I love it because it honours community and being part of a village. What other day do we get to go to neighbours and get sweets from them? I also love it as we get to dress up and role play being a character that we admire or wish to become even for a day. I also love it as it celebrates magic, being brave, and has roots in Pagan spirituality and witchcraft – times before the patriarchy and medical model of care took over. But i digress.

What i really love is that kids teach us important lessons in mindfulness. Being able to see life through their eyes is a good reminder that staying in the present, being in the here and now moment is how we can take care of ourselves. It is also a great way to enjoy life and not let it slip away from us.

One of the rituals we do for All Hallow’s Eve is to carve the pumpkin a few days ahead of time. We brainstorm our ideas and we typically pick scenes or an image that resonates with us. It changes each year. This year, as my eldest is a diehard Harry Potter fan, that of course had to make an entry.

What i forgot was all the mess it makes. I was ready to see if my kids could carve their own pumpkins – thank goodness for child-friendly knives. So in my head i pictured we would all scoop out the seeds and insides of our own pumpkins and then work as a harmonious little team carving alongside each other. You can imagine where this is going.

Lesson One
Of course my son was disgusted by the mess of his pumpkin; he hates the feeling of slime and goo on him. Unless it’s fart sounding play doh and pretend slime of course. I noticed i had to bite back my anger for him not doing his work, and notice instead that i know that he doesn’t like this texture. I visited my Wise Mind and reminded myself that the point of this supposedly fun activity was to have Jack o Lanterns as a result. And that each of us play our part. My daughter, for instance, doesn’t mind getting dirty and her pumpkin in fact had hardly any insides to scoop out. My son kept us busy with a song and dance routine, and Harry Potter commentary.

Lesson Two
We typically take turns as parents to go out for the door-to-door aspect of the night. This year, it was my turn to, and in fact i love it more than giving out candies (as a side note, we give out these amazing local cookies and i just love them). Our street is a small side street that most people forget about. But we know our neighbours and our children are loved by them. The lesson here is to follow the kid’s lead wit where they want to go – follow their map. I realized there was a reason behind the madness of zig-zagging around the street. My kids want to visit all the neighbours they know first. Sweet gesture, and the reason escapes me. I tried to reason that we can just go up one side of the street and down the other. But at one point i had to remind myself that this night, and the tradition of Trick or Treating is about and for children, not this party pooper mom.

Lesson Three
Speaking of party poopers, we decided to treat (pun intended) the kids to a walk to a much busier and more fun street. So, we put our cookies in a bowl and all 4 of us went. It was already pushing close to bedtime for our youngest. So my partner started to remind them after every house that we had to go quickly and get back home. How do you rush a kid who is getting free candy, and walking on a street after dark? You don’t. My partner and i quickly bickered debated on the street that we had to remember that this one night is about the children. And yes bedtime would be messy, and probably the next day. But it is a wonderful reminder that staying in the present and witnessing the kids’ joy and excitement (over candy, being out after dark, costumes, being with neighbours) is a great lesson.

Bonus Lesson
And yes, we did pay for it the next day – a Halloween Hangover was surely felt at our place. How about yours? Even the Good Witch couldn’t help the kid’s sluggishness. I take that back, my son was happy as a clam to get a much hoped for book and Harry Potter Lego figures – he just took forever to get ready. My daughter (the younger of the two) was a beast. Was it worth it, yes oh yes it was. Case in point – here she is later that day with her new unicorn stuff the Good Witch got her. The lesson here is to notice your sleeping babe, enjoy the silence and beauty in the cuddles. And know that you played a role in that.

(the sunflower pumpkin at the top of this post is from my friend’s porch – i love everything to do with sunflowers as the represent resiliency, strength and beauty)

Why Date Night is an Important Part of Postpartum Mental Health

(an earlier version of this article appears on the Date Night app blog). Lucky readers of my blog get 2 bonus tips shared below!

As the fog of new parenthood begins to lift, we are faced with the new reality of everyday life as parents. It may take longer than we expected (or want to admit) to get a good night’s sleep or a long bubble bath—let alone have a date night… without our babe in tow.

It may give you some comfort to know that having a date night with your partner is actually important – imperative even – for our mental healthAs a parent of 2 young kids myself, I’ve noticed that my once sacred weekly night out with my partner has been sacrificed for nights in, Netflix, and the occasional cuddle. We may be missing out on all the new movie releases and restaurants, but at least we are relaxed and well-rested, and taking some intentional time together. And that’s what really matters.

As social creatures that thrive off of connection and belonging, experiencing some intimate connections with our partners and friends is key to our mental health and resiliency. Brene Brown, a therapist and social scientist, writes in her latest book, Braving the Wilderness, about the importance of feeling a sense of belonging—with ourselves and then with others that help us feel connected, attached and valued. With this in mind, it may give you some comfort to know that having a date night with your partner is actually important—imperative even—for your mental health.

October began with Mental Health Awareness Week, so let that be your excuse to be mindful of the connection that mental health has on our potential to experience postpartum mood and anxiety disorders (PMAD), like postpartum anxiety or postpartum depression. While the symptoms for PMAD can range, one of the key things to look out for is a lack of motivation or energy to do things socially or intimately. The risk is that this can lead to further isolation, while intentionally seeking out connection with others can alleviate these negative feelings. Of course, it’s important to talk to a healthcare professional if you notice that your mood and energy are even lower than expected or linger on for several days.

If you’re looking to give your mental health a boost, here are some helpful strategies to give yourself a break from being a parent for a few hours, get you out that door, and have some adult-friendly fun.

The Wheel of Life
This is a great tool that reminds us that we are more than just parents, but also individuals with interests, passions, and hobbies separate from the other roles we play. When I look at this tool, I see areas that have been lacking in my life—maybe it’s that I haven’t taken the time for a hobby, or regular exercise, or to meet up with friends. Whatever it happens to be, you can find worksheets on this ancient Buddhist tool that will help bring balance to your life.

2) Make a Date with Reflective Self-Care
I’m a big fan of self-care and wellness activities. I also know how hard it can be to actually practice self-care with small children around, and how guilty we can feel when we take time for ourselves. While having a decadent bath is amazing, and a fresh coat of paint on our nails is luxurious, making time to be playful and laugh with your partner is something that is so much more nurturing. Maybe go on a show together, or a couples massage. Too intense? What about a double date mini-putting with friends (where you make a deal to not (only) talk about the kids)? Our bodies shift when we are active, and the mind/body connection is a great way to help us stay on top of our mental health needs.

3) Stay Connected with your Partner
Being a new parent is a life-changing event. It can be stressful, surprise us, and throw us for a loop. While there are some precursors to being more vulnerable to PMAD, sometimes the reality of new parenthood is a stand-alone indicator. Another reality of new parenthood is that conflict between couples both related to parenting issues and not (e.g., financial stress, work-life balance, a shift in lifestyle and priorities) can also lead to new or increased tension in the relationship.
So, when you are discussing bills to pay or what food to order for dinner, also take a moment to pause and reflect with your partner about what you can both do to stay in tune with each other. Take time to align your priorities as a couple, find creative ways to stay connected, and make sure to go out and enjoy a date. It’s win-win after all—for you and your mental health!

4) Use Your Spidey Senses
This is a quick tool using your 5 senses that can help you come back to the present moment, and especially helpful for new parents who just started to venture out once babe is asleep. Don’t sacrifice your sacred time out by worrying about things at home. If you are going to a yummy restaurant, make a point to locate 5 things you see around you, 4 things you can hear, 3 things that you can touch with your hands, 2 things to taste, and 1 thing to smell. You can mix it up for sure. This can definitely help boost your self-esteem, positive feelings, and be mindful in the here-and-now moment.

5) Build a Village
You are not alone. Truly. It takes a village to be a parent and raise children. Know that it is hard being a parent to young kids, and we don’t need to sacrifice our own mental health and self-care in the process. Build a village of like-minded parents and friends with whom you can balance this whole parenting thing.

Whatever it is you do, remember that taking care of yourself in important. As the saying goes, we cannot give from an empty cup. Taking time off for ourselves makes us more attentive and active parents and happier in our lives as well. So what are you waiting for? Go book that date night!

Dancing the Polka

I recently did the polka with a room-ful of strangers. It was not what i expected to do on a Saturday morning, but it proved to be just what i needed.

It all started with my daughter’s dance class. She has a new teacher this year, and i had a vague memory that it was a special parent-come-to-class day. There is already one in December, but this new teacher added an extra opportunity to meet her and see the dancers in action.

I was not planning to stay as it’s my only Saturday off work for a few weeks and i had a Million Things to Do day. I literally had a list with subheadings that i needed to do while she was in class. You can imagine that is not what happened. Instead, my daughter came running out of class in tears as i was the ‘only mommy’ not in the class watching. While i don’t think for sure i was the only one, it sure looked and felt that way for her. So, we made a deal that i would stay for a bit. I have to admit that i first tried to get out of it. But when i saw her face, i knew it was better to put my to-do list and only free hour aside.

I don’t regret it in the least. I got to see her dance her butt off, her pride in knowing dance moves and routines, and all the special kisses and hugs i got during the class. She would run up to me and steal a kiss before going to the next sequence.

And then at the end of class, the teacher shared with us the polka they have been learning as per the ballet curriculum. The students performed it first and then the teacher asked all the parents and adults to join in. We were NOT expecting that. But you know what, we all did it. All the different body types, awkward feelings, embarrassment and surprise was no match for excited little 5 and 6 year-olds who wanted to share this experience with their families. And so we had to partner up with strangers, and keep moving from person to person. I ended up laughing and giggling, and smiling ear to ear. It was such a humble, authentic and vulnerable experience. I’m so happy i chose to be present with my daughter as it allowed me to dance, to smile with my whole body and to feel connected to this roomful of strangers. It created a lovely community feeling. Most of us have been going to this same school for a couple of years, and i bet we will remember this special class for years to come.

It’s no wonder that i love that my children are into dance – it isn’t just a great feeling for us and our bodies and emotions, but also a chance to connect with others over a shared experience. I carried this happy feeling for the remainder of the day, and it reminded me what dance therapy is such a great tool for me in my practice as well as everyday life.

When you are faced with this choice, i encourage you to also chose being present with your child instead of errands and to-do lists. It’s like that the saying after all – what children want is our presence not presents.

Oh and don’t worry, I got my list done. I did some of it with my daughter in tow and finished the rest when my son was in his dance class. And I think I already knew that was plan B.

Holding Space for Your Loss


Today is October 15. Besides being a windy, cool Fall day here in Toronto, it also marks a global day of remembrance for those families that have lost babies either during pregnancy or as a young infant. I’m sitting at home watching the evening sky come into view. After a day of rain, the hues outside are a very fitting shade of pink, blue and purple – the chosen colours of today.

I am one of those 1 in 4. And before i started this work, i didn’t share the info so openly. Now, it’s a part of life both as a quiet identity and one that knows i need not feel shame. In my own journey as someone who has lost a baby by miscarriage, and as a therapist now supporting families and women with their own loss, this past year is a very meaningful one for my own growth and healing. It seems fitting, then that i wanted to share with you some helpful ways we can hold space for others and companion them after experiencing a loss like this.

While i have found ways to heal from my own miscarriage, i still take time to acknowledge this loss. One thing that i do still is to keep this Desert Rose crystal near my bed. As my children who are alive Earthside sleep down the hall from me, this beautiful creation from nature is close to my bed. Desert Rose helps to support grief especially related to miscarriage. It is very grounding and i love how fragile and strong it is at the same time.

I took a course this past year that really confirmed for me what ‘holding space’ means. Amy Wright Glenn leads a very healing and comprehensive course that is open to anyone to participate in. She talks about how holding space means to deliberately check in with your friend, to not shy away from being direct and asking they are doing. Those of us that have lost do want you to ask about how we are coping with this loss, and to acknowledge our grief. This is a key tool as so many of us are afraid to go down that road, like asking may bring up feelings for the person experiencing grief that we ourselves are not sure how to support. It’s a good reminder that to truly companion someone, we may need to be a bit uncomfortable and step outside our small talk zone. it’s not about our comfort but rather their pain.

There are some amazing ways to hold space and heal, and still find a way to keep the baby we lost close to us. Molly Bears is a great example of this: you can order a teddy bear that is the exact same weight as your baby. To be able to feel and hold all over again, to be able to connect with this feeling in your body can be really healing and gratifying. You can plant a tree or garden, or have a special place in your home that your baby sits at. I know some women who have gotten a commemorative tattoo or beautiful necklace with their baby’s name on it. Carrrying something with you is a powerful way to feel connected.

We can hold space for others in so many ways too. For instance, i recently flew my favourite butterfly kite in honour of a couple i work with. They were acknowledging the anniversary of their child’s birth by flying kites with a group of family and friends. While i wasn’t there with them, i was definitely there in spirit. This can be done in so many ways – light a candle for someone else like the Wave of Light campaign, say hi to the sunrise, donate to a children’s charity of some kind in honour of a baby you never got to meet. Send your loved one a text or call them on an important anniversary or just to say you were thinking of their baby when you saw someone who would be the same age. The website October 15 has an amazing and thoughtful list of ways you can support someone who is grieving this devastating loss.

Finally, remember there are so many different ways to grieve, and it is not up to anyone else to decide when we have moved on or not. Grief and mourning are not as linear as the Stages of Loss proclaims. I like the idea of a river, that has ebb and flow and change. It can be quiet for a bit, but then a trigger (like a baby the same age yours would have been) can make the water turn into intense white rapids.

So, if you know someone who has lost a baby, take a moment for them today or this month to let them know you were thinking of them. You could send flowers, or a meal, or just hold space by being present with them and letting them know you were thinking of them.

Self-Care Rituals

As World Mental Health Day (October 10) is today, and Pregnancy and Infant Loss Day (October 15) is approaching later this week, i wanted to share with you a tool that can help you take intentional steps in take care of your emotional well-being.

I know that there is a lot of talk about self-care and it seems to be a trendy word. But being able to take time out for ourselves, to rest and recharge is so important to building post-traumatic resiliency as well as helping us put our needs down as a priority.

There are other similar tools that help us find a moment to do something for ourselves each day. I think that it helps to be able to find or steal a few moments for ourselves every day. Especially when we are busy with other things and are starting to feel overwhelmed.

I call this tool the Weekly Self-Care Routine. I put it together i noticed it is something i do in my own life and it helps me. It is a part of my Wellness Toolkit. Some activities can take a mere few minutes, and others are more indulgent. I put together this weekly routine as each day touches on key areas that can help boost our mood as well as distract us from what was causing us stress or anxiety. For instance, a few activities encourage you to connect with someone you love and trust (i.e. Motivate Me Monday). Having connection and belonging have been shown to help with our mental health – just ask Brene Brown and her great new book Braving the Wilderness.

Another activity i touch on is using the body to move and get feelings out (Tuesday Jam Session). Movement exercises like yoga and dance have been proven to help boost our moods. The brain geek in me is always telling people about how amazing and powerful the mind/body connection is.

As someone who uses expressive arts tools in my life, i also wanted to incorporate some here – the dance exercise above for example, as well as Woman in the Mirror Wednesday (who doesn’t *love* a good role play?!) and Thoughtful Thursday journal exercises. You can also do a fun art activity alone or with your family on Friday Family Fun Day or a class for yourself on Saturday Self-Care Day.

Feel free to download this worksheet as a starting point for yourself: you can tweak it to suit your needs and routine. Each week, i will share some suggestions on my Facebook page to help if you get stuck as well.

It may feel strange at first to do some of these exercises, and hard to convince ourselves to take this time out. But feel free to include family members in some of these activities, or do it when you have a moment alone after everyone is asleep. Remember, we can’t give from an empty cup so if we don’t take care of ourselves, who will?

All the Feelings – Part Two: Overwhelmed and Overworked

The kids are back to school, and now our routine is back to usual. It made me think of all the things i do as parent, both what i expect to do and what i put on myself. I also never knew just how busy my to-do lists would be. I think I’m going to add some new skills to my resume. Here is a good sample list, as a place to start:

Coordination of meetings – i.e. doctor, dentist, naturopath, osteopath, Fracture Clinic (just June-July alone)
Nurse and emergency response support, Health and Safety Committee
Mediation and Conflict Resolution
Budget allocation – enough said
Minutes/notetaker – for contact with teacher
Copy editing – of homework, budding reader practice
Art facilitation – craft supplies, doing crafts, organizing crafts and more
Curator – for all the above-mentioned art work
Anthropologist – finding all the things the kids lose (toy figure Light Saber, SMALL Lego pieces, lip balm?
Short-order cook – everyone wants eggs but different
Caterer
Party planner – ain’t no party like a kid’s birthday party these days
Librarian – book collector, reader, finder, fine payer, and more
Organizer – pack their school bags, put away all. the. things
Dry Cleaner – they leave their clothes out and it magically cleans itself, and then puts it away
Secretarial skills – book play dates, take messages, talk to teachers, talk to parents
Manage small groups – i.e. keep the kids alive when friends come visit
Life coach – helping kids be humans
Therapist – friendship support, frustrations at school, etc.
Teacher – music, dance, art, reading, math, gym, yoga, mediation, spelling
Tour guide – PA day fun, weekend plans, trips, summer vacay
Personal Buyer
Chauffeur

A local therapist and colleague, Olivia, shares about some great ‘buckets of work’ that parents have to do. I love this list – it unpacks the layers and also pinpoints all the areas of work that gets unnoticed but is so key to keeping things moving. Check it out for more on this never-ending list of things we do as parents.

What would you add?

It’s no wonder that more articles and press is being given to the concepts of ‘mama brain’ and ‘mental load.’ While i know my partner does a fair share of work in the house and for the family, it is me that wakes up at any sound. I have heard my kids fall out of bed, throwing up, calling for me. I have been the first call the school makes when my kids are hurt. It’s me that tracks down the things the kids lose (just recently that includes 2 library books, a purse, water bottle, hat, and another water bottle. It’s me that looks at sales for clothes and gets hand-me-downs to save money for things we really need.

And yet folks complain about the mama brain and assume we are tired from not sleeping enough, but actually it’s the opposite – just look at this list. It’s because we are thinking about all the things all the time. And yes, i still typically turn my bedside light off after my partner, and yes it takes me forever to fall asleep, while he’s snoring in 2 minutes flat. I’m not exaggerating. But gees, that’s the best time i’ve got for just me stuff. I close my day with stuff i actually like and do just for me. It helps me get to bed and ready for the next day. That’s a little tool i use to help me start the whole Groundhog Day of life all over again. Wanna read more about this, and have something else to do? Here’s a good article about why we stay up past our bedtime.

How to Hold On to Summer

The summer break is about to end. While here in Toronto it was a bit of an anti-summer weather wise, i’m sad to see it go. We filled it with a lot of exciting and fun events, trips, and activities. It was also filled with sibling fights and mosquito bites. That said, i know it’s so easy to move into Fall and the usual routine and forget all to quickly about the lovely memories we built over the summer.

In my work as well as home life, i work on ways to hold on to the good stuff. I don’t know about you, but i so rarely print photographs, and my annual photo book is done in December. So, in a time where we don’t have the traditional way to hold onto memories (photographs), i wanted to share with you some simple but helpful ways to hold onto summer.

Draw a PostCard
As someone who uses expressive arts therapy in my work, i really love this first exercise. My daughter is the crafter in our house and she can go through pages and pages of papers with her drawing. I have a collection of postcard size canvases. You can get them at a local arts and craft store or even a Dollar store.

Think if a symbol or image that you especially loved or resonated with this summer. It could be a slice of watermelon, an umbrella, tent, ice cream cone, sunflower. Spend some time recalling a specific event or day that connects to this image. For instance, here are some of my examples: As a family, we spent a few Sunday afternoons last year creating this communal painting of our trip to New York. My daughter drew a scene of our week at the cottage (top right). Get out your crayons, pencil crayons, markers, pastels or paints. Pause so you can capture the feeling in your body and then draw to your heart’s content. The time we spend creating this image and using our hands to draw can help send a message back to our brain to really capture the memory. It’s like when we have to learn something new or study for a test – if we actually practice, we can really hold onto the info.

Remember this is not art class and no one will judge your work. After you feel happy with your work, find a place that you can notice it over the next few weeks or month. It will help you take pause in the day when you feel that life is moving on and away from that lovely day in summer.

Phone Selfie
I love how you can take a photo of your phone – if you have an iPhone like i do. I also love changing my wallpaper on my cell phone and computer. I update it it seasonaly, to find another way to hold onto something i especially loved. It’s a good way to sneak a peak of something that was a good and positive time in your life. I’ve done this with my donut donut – remember my last post where i spoke about it? You can do it with updating your social media photo too – not for anyone else but as a way to help you recall a memory that you want to hold onto. So, right now on my phone, i have my beloved donut donut and legs floating in the water.

This is a great way to take pause in the busy day-to-day. Most of us have our cell phones with us, or access a computer. Why not make it personal and add a photo or an inspirational quote that really speaks to you? When life seems to be overwhelming, this is a great tool where you can regroup how you are feeling and can help slow down life just enough to help take care of you. I love that this simple activity can be a tool to help you be in control of your emotions, as easy as clicking on your phone to see this helpful image!

Resource Anchor Work
In therapy work, there is some great information about how using these images as symbols to help us create a state of being that is our desired state. Here’s one example: Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). You can find out more about it here – it’s a great tool that talks about how to send a message to your brain by doing some repetitive touch and tapping work, and using a part of your body to help connect to it.

Message in a Bottle
I have collected sand, shells, and rocks for years now. For major trips, the kids and i make a scene in a pretty glass jar and keep it in our dining room. We have several jars now and a large bowl of rocks. I notice the kids sometimes sit by the nature table and look at the rocks. I can see them touch it, and connect to the place where they found it. It’s a great exercise to help recall a happy memory for sure, as the relationship of the sense of touch and sight can really help boost our mood.

These are just some of the ways we hold on to summer. What are some ways you do it?

My Camping Village

I grew up camping with my family when a kid myself. To be honest, i don’t remember a lot of memories, but i do recall the campgrounds, my beach hair, the white lotion that covered my mosquito bites, and everything covered in sand. I do remember that i loved it, and i want to share this experience with my own family now. So this week, we went camping for our annual vacation. It was our longest time camping. As usual, it was a full trip filled with some highs and lows. The weather was mainly on our side, minus the epic storm that we woke up to at 2AM one night. Our sturdy tent lived through it and so did we.

One thing that i noticed was how i struggled with finding the right balance with how to be with my family, and have time to myself. I have learned over the years that going away with kids is not truly a vacation but rather a trip away from home. It’s work nonetheless. Doing it camping style is that much more so. Given that, i know i need to steal moments of time to myself in order to gather my thoughts, stretch, eat the last marshmallow (shhh, don’t tell them), and also to regroup in general.

So, this week i noticed a new shift that may re-define how we travel. My kids are getting older and for the most part, they can play by themselves. This self-sufficiency comes in handy when us adults are needing to set up the tent, build a fire, put away wet swim gear – you get it. This week, their play was amplified by the sheer presence of other kids. So many other kids their age. We have learned that it’s beneficial to us all to have a camp site by the playground, and it looks like other families have caught on to this as well. We shared our week at the camp and beach with at least 4 other families that we saw every day. The kids played with them at the playground, at our sites, and for the hours we spent at the beach. We joined forces in the water and shared water toys like a massive, awesome inflatable swan, and my beloved donut donut. We shared stories of parenthood. We commiserated about the work of being a parent. We took turns watching the whole gaggle of kids.

This is the epiphany i experienced: I at first felt guilty for being ‘that mom’ who lets her kids wander and bother other families: i worried that i would be judged and scrutinized for my lack of good parenting skills. I even worried that my daughter is too peer-attached and that it’s a sign that she is not securely attached to me. I felt bad for other parents who had my kids to tend with. And then i took my turn being the resident adult while they played. And you know what? I wasn’t needed at all. I was active in their play and not as a parent, but as a person. I got to float on my donut donut (it’s a donut painted like a chocolate donut) and still have an eye on the kids. Win win.

I realized that it only hurts me if i am afraid of the judgment of others. My kids were happy, and i was able to read a whole novel while camping and that was glorious. I got to work through my own version of feeling worried that i was not as good as another mom. Looking back, the parents all had a role to play and we did it our own way. I know i won’t see these families again and so i remained the best parent i could be for my kids. That’s what matters. It felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders when i realized this.

On the last day, we were all a bit sad to leave. Even though a storm was brewing, we lingered. I didn’t even learn the other moms’ names. I knew all 10 kids names though. One parent, when saying goodbye, reassured me that that boundaries don’t exist at campgrounds. I had thanked them for watching my kids and they reminded me that we literally are airing out our laundry for all to see, so why not also keep on eye out on our children too?

So, i left feeling like i was able to see both the benefit to attachment-based parenting as well as knowing that the village i cherish can also be rebuilt while away from home. It’s okay that my kids want to play with other kids. They also want to cuddle with me during a storm, play in the water together, and build our own memories.

We can be our worst critic sometimes, and fall prey to the comparison game. When we do that, it takes away from the joy of what counts most – our time with our family and being in the moment.