Reclaiming Calm From Clutter

imagesMy boys don’t know that every three-year-old Valentine and half-torn colouring page has the same effect on me as dumping a pail of water on the Wicked Witch of the West.

I’m melting!  I’m melting!

Not literally of course, but scanning their rooms and their collections of Lego, Play Mobil and Skylanders strewn, albeit in “tidy” piles, on the floor amidst crumpled birthday party invitations, random stickers and favourite unshorn pencils all mixed together like some sort of bottom-of-the purse cornucopia induces in me an intense angst.

The heat rises.  It always starts in my chest and within seconds my neck and face are engulfed. The only remedy for my anxiety is covertly ransacking their rooms, opaque garbage bag in hand like a deranged anti-Santa, snatching up all the cheap, plastic-y toys that have found their way into our home by way of take-out boxes or loot bags.  Once I get started nothing is safe.  I have this ability of scanning a surface and determining with speed and efficiency what is junk.  Very few things escape my sticky fingers.  With each toss into the bag, I feel a sense of satisfaction.  I am gleeful.  I am restoring balance and order to this room, my house, my life.

The toy room and craft cupboard are where I go for my biggest fix.  I am an addict looking for my next high as I sort through the toys relocating Thomas the Train with his friend Spencer in the bucket clearly marked TRAINS.  The brightly painted wooden tomato and fry pan are tossed back into the bucket clearly marked, you guessed it, KITCHEN.  If only everyone else would follow this simple system maybe they’d be able to find that missing Lego guy instead of bursting into tears of frustration at the thought of pillaging the mash-up of toys that occupy 8 bins.

Like with the toys, I am ruthless when it comes to clothing.  I keep bags at the ready, tucked at the back of closets with donation inked in permanent marker next to another bag that contains the best of my boys’ clothing, ready to continue the hand-me-down cycle.

The kitchen counter and cupboards are at their best when they are stark, barren, neatly itemized.  Achieving this kundalini state is a thing of lore.  My kids always want to be fed.  They are always hungry.  They are always in the kitchen demanding more!  More!  More!  And all I want is to neatly group the applesauce beside the crackers.

I don’t discriminate.  I am not exempt from my own wrath.  I attack my own closets and collections with as much vigor and yes, accuracy.

It’s meaningful to note that I have rarely been called out, chastised, whined at or worse, hollered at, in the wake of my purges.  I count only one item, a denim dress with pearl-faced buttons as a casualty, a donation made in haste.  My lone regret.

If anything there is a sense of calm in our mostly chaotic home when “there is a place for everything and everything is in its place.”





At Issue: To Keep or Toss

It seems in the past few years there has been a “de-clutter movement”.  Perhaps it is the Oprah Effect.  In the final years of her eponymous show Australian organizational guru Peter Walsh was a regular and would routinely lecture on the benefits of a tidy living space without any extraneous clutter.  His 6 books, DVD and App help us, the lay people, turn the clutter and chaos of our homes, room by room, into a calm, peaceful place that promises to restore some balance to our lives.

TLC and various cable networks have added shows about hoarding, extreme collections and couponing to their line-up while countering with interior design programming and home makeovers.

The real question though is, what exactly constitutes clutter?  Is one person’s crap another’s precious memento?  Is there a dried corsage for every high school dance you attend 20 years ago buried away in your closet or do you quite happily toss the program from that Broadway show as you walk out of the theatre?

Kathryn Laskaris recently wrote, Why I can’t throw anything away: Days Like These for the Toronto Star.  Her witty and thought-provoking piece serves as inspiration for this week’s At Issue.

Our guest for this week is urban, green mom of two little boys, Sara Vartanian.  Sara is the founder of Green Moms Collective, where she helps moms to take simple steps to add green living practices into their family’s lives through eco-consulting and workshops. If she’s not on Twitter talking all things green, she can be found wandering the city’s green spaces and farmers markets with her family.

Join the conversation and let us know what you think!  Are you a mild hoarder?  Do you prefer the term “keeper of memories”?  Maybe you’re more inclined to break out in hives at the sight of a chotchkies?  Let us know!

Guest Blogger Sara Vartanian of Green Moms Collective: My best green tip? Saying “no” a little bit more in order to say “yes”!

In our on-demand world, I believe green living is slowing down enough to conscientiously connect to our choices.

It’s the decision to go back to my natural hair colour. Rather than quarterly visits to fix my roots, I’m only battling the few sneaky grey hairs that are starting to appear. I see my hairdresser less but luxuriate in the time spent much more.

It’s spending a messy afternoon in a sunlit kitchen with two small boys discovering the magic of making natural dye from beets, mixing up big bowls of colourful playdough.

It’s instituting a family bake day, making package free snacks for the school week.

Being green is asking for a reusable mug at the coffee shop, trusting I’ll spend enough time talking to my friend or simply sitting with my own thoughts, knowing that I’ll not need to take it to go.

It’s organizing myself to schedule waxing in advance at my favourite eco-beauty spa rather than wait until unruly eyebrows force me to comprise by going elsewhere.

It’s finding myself a local seamstress who patches our jeans, sews missing buttons, and repair snags preventing me from tossing out a favourite pair of pants and buying a new.

It’s deciding not to use conventional perfumes because of their questionable ingredients but rather crafting my very own scent with an aromatherapist in her little downtown studio.

It’s the anticipation of summer park nights. Where we choose produce at our favourite farmers market and eat “park pizza” made in brick ovens within the park and served on reusable plates. It’s sticky hands from fresh peaches before building bridges and moats in a watery mud pit with children who used to be strangers.

As I find myself a few years out from 40, speeding through a self-made checklist, I’ve come to know the unexpected gift that green living has brought me: the joy of decisions big on heart and easy on our earth.

My green tip? I encourage you to practice saying “No” a little bit more in order to say yes to the choices that matter to us all.




“The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

DSC_0431My best green tip?  It’s simple. Be more open-minded.  Being “green” isn’t a movement or a trend.  It’s not about not shaving your armpits and using a rock for deodorant.  Although I suppose it could be.

Being green is an act of social responsibility, being an adult, being a kind human.  It’s our duty to leave this world a better place than when we came into it.

Since my friendship with Carol has blossomed over the years, Carol has pushed me to consider how I live my life and raise my children.  She has encouraged me to be more conscious, more observant and more thoughtful.   She has shown me that’s possible to live a cleaner, calmer, healthier life.  That one size parenting, one size greening, one size simple living doesn’t fit all.  She doesn’t do this with an air of superiority rather she quietly encourages.

The changes that I have made to our day to day may be subtle but they are lasting and the result of thoughtfulness not a fleeting trend.

Theme Week: Favourite Green Tips

“Take care of the earth and she will take care of you.”

This week, in honour of the spring, the re-birth and earth day we share our favourite “green” tips.  We welcome Sara Vartanian, an urban, green mom of two little boys.  

Sara is the founder of Green Moms Collective, where she helps moms to take simple steps to add green living practices into their family’s lives through eco-consulting and workshops. If she’s not on Twitter talking all things green, she can be found wandering the city’s green spaces and farmers markets with her family.

As always we encourage you to join the conversation!  What are some of your green tips?  How have you made simple changes to your life to make it more eco-friendly?    

Favourite Springtime TV Binge: Call The Midwife

imagesI have been down and out with the flu, so forgive me if this post is less than inspired.  I have spent the past week living like a shut-in with hopes of containing this retched bug and smothering it with plenty of rest.

The result of a week confined to bed rest?  TV brain.

I am sure there is no need for me to lament the lack of quality television. The truth of it is even most commercials are painful to watch.  Who waves about a pregnancy stick, laden with URINE, in their friend’s face (husband’s face, okay) while proclaiming that they are 2 weeks pregnant?  I don’t know about you, but I tend to take my friend’s word for it when they tell me they are pregnant.

There are an abundant number of plot lines that focus on trying to get pregnant, looking good while pregnant, being pregnant, birthing babies, surviving baby . . . you’d think that babies were a relatively new phenomenon.

Most of these programs can’t hold my waning attention for more than a few minutes except for the BBC series, currently featured on Netflix, Call The Midwife.

Call The Midwife is based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth, whom worked as a midwife in the late 1950’s in London’s poorest quarter.  Upon starting work with the nuns of Nonnatus House, Jenny is confronted by the reality of life in the tenements, a far cry from her sheltered middle class childhood: soiled living conditions, infestations, condemned buildings.  With each birth she’s present, Jenny’s pre-existing ideas of love and family are challenged and in time she begins to see the women in her care not as charity cases but as heroines.  These women are raising broods of children, and trying to make the most of their pittance, sometimes while overcome by illness or heartache.

Call The Midwife is a reflection on post-war England, the start of the National Health Service and the changing role of women in society – so much more than getting pregnant/being pregnant/having babies!

I happily devoured the first season while nursing my aches and pains and judging by the response on Twitter, I am not the only one!


Fabulous Things For Spring

It’s spring and it’s time to welcome the warmer weather and longer days.  The budding flowers offer encouragement that new life after a long, bleak winter is not only a possibility but also a definite reality.  For many the spring, and these changes, mark a time of re-birth.  Emerging from the heavy clothes and mundane routine of winter, spring offers the perfect time to revitalize all aspects of our lives.  Get outside: enjoy the sunshine, reap the health benefits, get fit!  Pack away the winter coats and gear: purge the closets, donate to those in need, assess what it is your wardrobe really needs (if anything!).

Here’s a list of some treasures and troves that may make your spring just a little bit brighter!

For Her


Why not update your make-up for spring?  Make Up Forever sent me over their new HD Cream Blush that naturally sculpts and highlights the cheeks.  Easy to apply with just a sweep of a fingertip, this lightweight blush is long lasting and natural looking.  Mae Up Forever has quickly become one of my favourite make up brands.  The colour remains vibrant without fading throughout the day or smudging off. Their new blush is available in 16 shades and is available at Sephora stores across Canada.


Carol bought me a punchy box of tissues from Ann Taintor but now that the winter has gone by the wayside hopefully so to has my need for tissues but this lip balm would make for a great substitution.  How great is this to gift to your bestie?


With the warmer weather I notice more and more joggers taking to the streets.  4id Powerbudz sent me their ear buds that light up with movement.  If you’re so inclined to wear earbuds while exercising consider 4 id Powerbudz to help make you more noticeable in the early morning light and at under $15.00 they are worth the investment.

I won a contest for two tickets to the spring One of a Kind Show from The Homeslice (a fun and fabulous blog worth visiting) and as always I enjoyed taking in the sights of the show.  I am never less than amazed by the artisans, their talent and commitment, who make the show truly remarkable.  Here’s a round-up of some of my favourites:


These gorgeous hand crafted mugs from Mena Dragonfly.


This incredibly whimsical yet sophisticated dress from Aime.


Whiteout Workshop was my favourite artist at the show.  I walked away with this (in a dress!) but could have easily taken the entire lot!

For Them

I always seem to be buying lots of baby shower presents.  I found this via The World According to Jessica Claire (new mom of twins!) and think that I may just buy the large one for myself!  I am sucker for Love You Forever and Carlymegan has made it into a blanket!


And if you are buying for a new baby don’t forget about the big brother/sister too.  Two of my favourites for spring:


Melissa and Doug sticker faces from here and anywhere they sell Melissa and Doug.


Mealtime set from The Drake General Store.

Best of the Blogosphere

Grab a cup of coffee and enjoy these goodies!

Did you read Charlotte’s Web as a kid?  It was one of my favourites.  Last year, Letters of Note featured a letter written by E.B. White explaining why he wrote the book.  It’s a delightful letter and made me yearn for the days of typewriters and when the word “dandy” was used with more frequency.

If you’re a child of the 70’s or 80’s you may have been a latch-key kid or if you weren’t a latch-key kid, you were probably a child of the “laid back” parenting generation. Translation: your parents let you play with lawn darts, eat microwavable meals and watch pretty much anything on television. In today’s world people gasp and call child protective services if your toddler has a complete collection of Happy Meal toys, but in the olden days our parents were teaching us basic survival skills, like how to pour your own cereal.  Lady Goo Goo Gaga reminds us that those days are long gone in her blog post Pottery Barn Lunches.   If you are a mom that makes tic-tac-toe sandwiches or cheese into the shape of a daisy, you may be slightly offended.  If you’re like me and think that you’ve packed a killer lunch for the kids if it covers two of the food groups, then read on . . .read on!

This post by comedienne Kelly MacLean about Surviving Whole Foods made the rounds a few months ago but I recently re-read it and I can honestly say that after a good belly laugh about the craziness that is Whole Foods (even though I have only been to Whole Foods once), the gloomy, winter day was a bit brighter.  Best lines:

“Whole Foods is like Vegas.  You go there to feel good but you leave broke, disoriented, and with the newfound knowledge that you have a vaginal disease.”

“You know you’ve really made it in the world when you get Candida.”

And my favourite laugh-out-loud, snort your coffee line:

“I went on a cleanse once; it was a mixed blessing.  On the one hand, I detoxified, I purified, I lost weight.  On the other hand, I fell asleep on the highway, fantasized about eating a pigeon, and crapped my pants.  I think I’ll stick with the whole eating thing.”

In the age of post-baby bikini bodies gracing the cover of every tabloid that line the grocery store check-out stand, it’s refreshing to see what a post-baby body really looks like for the majority of women.  Photographer, Ashlee Wells Jackson, documents several women in their 4th trimester for her intimate and evocative 4th Trimester Bodies Project.

The Truth about the Rainbow Loom by Kim Bongiorno for In the Powder Room had me thinking one thing: F’ing right!

I have spent years and years and years and spilled countless tears trying to get my husband to understand how to be there for me.  When I saw this video by Katy Davis and Dr. Brene Brown, I emailed it to him and do you want to know what he said?  Thank you, I get it now.

He said that he get’s it!

And the Heavens rejoiced.

And if you live somewhere that hasn’t experienced this ghastly winter, watch this video by Rick Mercer for a taste of what we’ve experienced.  I would like to say that it’s an exaggeration, but honestly he’s not that far off the truth.  Hang in there East Coasters!

The Ultimate Children’s Health Reference Book

Since the advent of Google, I have determined that I have a brain tumor, melanoma, viral pneumonia, seasonal affective disorder, and fifth’s disease.  Don’t even get me started on what ailments I have projected onto my kids.  Admit it, we are all guilty of self-diagnosing.  We think that we’re doctors never mind the years of schooling and practical experience under the tutelage of a mentor that we lack.  With the exception of the fifth’s disease I have been, shockingly, wrong with my doctoring (the jury is still out on the SAD).

Step away from the keyboard and pick up, The A to Z of Children’s Health: A parent’s guide from birth to 10 years.  It is without a doubt the best resource a parent can have at their fingertips. It’s a comprehensive guide written by Dr. Jeremy Friedman and Dr. Natasha Saunders of the world-renowned Hospital For Sick Children.

More than 235 childhood conditions and illnesses are arranged alphabetically and described clearly and concisely with full colour illustrations. The advice offered is practical and current, nothing superfluous or condescending.

In the past two months I have used The A to Z of Children’s Health more than any other parenting resource.  That’s either a rousing endorsement of its usefulness or a dismal reflection on the health and well-being of my family.

How to treat an ingrown toenail?  Is this a cough that I should be worried about?  What is the difference between primary enuresis (bed-wetting) and secondary enuresis?

All of these questions are answered.

Do you remember when you were new to this parenting thing, and you were more invested in your baby’s poo than you’d ever imagined was possible?  Well, they answer all of those questions too and pictures of the various types of diaper rashes accompany at-home treatments and explanations.

It’s rare that I come across a reference book I feel is worth spending money on but The A to Z of Children’s Health is the exception.  So much do I like it, I plan on adding it to my go-to list of gifts for first time parents.

A Dream Trip: a visit to the past


The summer after I graduated from university and my brother from high school, my parents realizing that a time of transition like this would likely never be repeated, took us on a three week family trip to Greece.

In the early 1950’s my grandparents emigrated from southern Greece to Toronto.  It is a typical immigrant story: leaving behind family and familiarity, with an infant in arms and a few coins in pocket, to escape a war-ravaged country for peace and opportunity.

Returning to Greece with my father, a first generation Greek-Canadian, and my grandparents proved to be a homecoming of sorts.  My grandmother proudly pointed out significant places of interest.  Interest to me, but nothing you’d find in a guidebook.

There was the church my grandparents were married, the rustic four-walls that housed them their first few years as newlyweds and the dirt-floor kitchen where my grandmother spent her childhood. There was the main street that was once lined with German soldiers and the fields abundant with food that proved crucial for their survival in the years after the war when famine devastated the entire country, killing hundreds of thousands.  Elderly men and women carefully navigated their porch steps to greet my grandparents and share stories from yesteryear.

But most welcoming was seeing my last name, nothing close to common in Toronto, on storefronts!  Butcher shops!

The trip was magical.  Sharing their early lives with me proved to be more revealing than I could have imagined.  My grandmother’s bossiness, unfaltering persistence coupled with her strong sense of family no longer seemed exasperating but formidable.  My grandfather’s shy, quiet demeanour was no sign of indifference but rather a testament to him being both assiduous and kind.

There was a sense of clarity after that trip.  I had a better sense of where I’d come from and who my family really was.

I will forever fondly remember that trip and spending time with my parents, my brother and grandparents.  Before life changed forever and jobs, weddings and children wove into the fabric of our family.  Before life itself ended for my grandfather.

My dream trip would be take my boys to Greece with their grandparents to learn about their family, experience their culture, be surrounded by their history and if nothing else, share a special moment in time with their grandparents.


image via pinterest