Sleep, wondrous sleep.

Sleep 2

I yawn as I type this, which is an irony in and of itself. If there’s one thing where our society has gone downhill, it’s in getting enough sleep. With the kajillion different ways we now have to stay up and the endless parade of more information and games and tasks, it’s easier than ever to stay up that extra hour and play another game of Facebook Scrabble.

Sleep 4

Prior to the late 1800s, adults got around 9 hours of sleep a night. That dropped by an entire hour within less than twenty five years. Why, you ask? The invention of the light bulb suddenly made it possible to finish that novel after dark without having to burn through your supply of candles. And that was just the beginning. The OECD had a report in 2006 which said that Canadians sleep an average of 8.5 hours/night, but no one I know actually gets that much. The US Center for Disease Control considered it an epidemic, according to a report they issued back in March.

Sleep 3

Sleep needs are made up of your basal sleep need, which is what you actually need every night, and your sleep debt, which is that massive wall of snoozing that you haven’t gotten because of that great new book/Candy Crush/watching too much late night TV.

What are the effects of all of these missing zzzzzzs? Lots. Here are just a couple:

Transport Canada estimates that 20% of fatal collisions are caused by fatigue, and that the most problematic times are around your body’s circadian rhythms (sleepy times, in laymen’s terms) of 2-4am and 2-4pm. So there’s that. Driving sleepy is apparently as dangerous as driving drunk.

Not getting enough sleep impairs your immune system, has been shown to have a correlation with weight gain, and is terrible for your skin. When you’re sleep deprived, your body releases more of the sleep hormone cortisol, which breaks down collagen and ages your skin.

Being tired makes me (and others that I know) crabby. Which affects not only people I work with who like me more when I’m not so tired, but also my relationships with family and friends. I find I have much more patience for K attempting to bring all four of her stuffed friends into the car (Donkey, Monkey, Teddy and Eeyore) with a full eight hours behind me than I do if I’ve tried to squeak by at 6.5.

Sleep 1

So what can we do to get more (and better quality) sleep? There are a million (and that may be literal) websites that have sleep tips, so I’m just going to tell you what’s worked for me personally.

1) Have a routine.

Humans are built on routine. If you do the same thing at roughly the same time every night, it will begin to trigger your brain to start thinking ‘zzzzz’. I have an evening shower, and the warm water cues my melatonin to start kicking in.

2) Stop checking the Internet and playing on your phone an hour before bed.

This is the hardest one, and I’m not always roaringly successful at it. The blue light that emits from all of our beloved gadgets also makes it harder for your body to get into sleep mode. I’ve found that the nights where I’m playing those last few games of Scramble right before bed are the nights when my sleep is the most choppy.

3) Wear pyjamas that are the right temperature.

It’s kind of a Goldilocks thing. Not too hot, not too cold. I can’t sleep unless I’m just the right temperature. This sometimes leads to midnight pyjama changes, to the bemusement of my husband.

4) Have a snack half an hour before bed.

Preferably something like cereal or toast with peanut butter. I Iike to think of it as a warmup for breakfast. That way, your tummy is full and you won’t wake up starving at 2am.

5) Swap off with the other parent.

This applies only if you have small people. You should each get a day where you get to sleep in and the other person takes over baby duties. It can be the same day each week or flexible based on job schedules, but everyone deserves at least one day where they can catch an extra hour or two.

6) If you can’t sleep, try one of these: listen to piano music. Recite the alphabet backwards. Count down from 100 – in French.

What do you do to get shut-eye, folks? Enquiring minds want to know!

What are your

On luck, and making your own.

Clover

(note that the clover is three and not four)

We’ve kind of had a string of unfortunate events around here. We had to get the roof fixed (at an astronomical cost), to find out the rafters were rotted (adding to astronomical cost). I made a poor furniture moving decision and my right wrist was completely out of commission for a week, which is a huge issue when you have a computer job as well as a 25 pound toddler who isn’t docile about diaper changes. Things at work have been less than fantastic, my purse got stolen, necessitating a huge hassle of getting new ID and rekeying the car and house, etc etc.

All of this has led me to think about luck. People have always told me that I’m naturally lucky. And generally speaking, things do tend to turn out the way I want them to. How much of that is luck and how much of that has its basis in personality traits?

So how does this run of bad luck play into all of this? How have I managed to keep from having a ‘my luck is so bad’ breakdown? I tend to reframe a lot…the thief took my purse, but we managed to get our locks changed before they used the housekeys. I had enough ID in a different location to replace my ID and the baby’s ID. We paid a zillion dollars for our new roof, but it was in time for the CRAZY torrential rain that we’re getting right now, so we prevented a house leak, which would have been disasterous and far more financially damaging. My wrist was functional again after a week of not being able to use it AT ALL (which was maddening), but I managed through a combination of daycare and help from family and friends. SO yeah. All about the silver linings over here.

I’m of the opinion that luck is preparation meeting opportunity. Opportunity often knocks softly, so I take a lot of calculated risks, and I’m always looking for new and interesting things. I’ll throw an application in for a job that I don’t have all of the exact qualifications for, just in case they end up needed to go a little further afield. I enter every contest I see – someone has to be the winner, and at least I’m in the running. I volunteer to help in random situations, have a variety of weird hobbies, and am very good at staying in touch.  I’m always open to meeting new people and making new friends. This is both endearing and maddening, depending on your viewpoint. I ‘adopt’ people who are new in town and introduce them to my friends, because I’ve been in places where I knew noone, and know how much a friendly face to contact ‘just in case’ is worth. I’ve also, however, been known to bring a random new person I met on Skytrain to a birthday party at a pub, which might verge on the slightly weird. I meet a lot of people and keep in touch , so have a larger social circle than most. This, in turn, means that when I post about looking for something or wanting to get in touch with someone in a given field, a much bigger and more varied batch of people respond, and I tend to find a way to acheive my outcome  How much of that is ‘luck’ and how much of it is personality and knowing a lot of folks?

horseshoe

I do win. A LOT. But I enter 70 contests a day, every day. So with an average of 2100 contests a month, it seems realistic that I would win fairly often. Is that actual luck, or just opening myself up to lots of opportunities for luck?

Genuinely going into a situation expecting the best result has also always been something I do…and I think that because I tend to be pretty open minded going in, I don’t start out defensive and negative, which has better results. There’s an old proverb somewhere about how you get the behaviour you expect. I expect good things and tend to get them, but whether that’s due to my expectations or not is hard to quantify.

And then there are lucky charms…

I don’t have one in particular, but research has shown that lucky charms do work, in a placebo kind of way. Believing that you’re lucky (due to your four leaf clover or what-have-you) makes you happier and more optimistic, which makes you more aware of new possibilities and more likely to act on information when you come across it. So while that stuffed bunny may not be lucky in and of itself, it could genuinely cause you to have better results.

In a completely and delightfully ego-centric way, I also consider the new year beginning on my birthday…so in my world, the year resets at the end of June. And a brand new year is going to be lucky!

In summary:

*believe that the outcome will be how you want it

*meet lots of people and have a large social network

*do what you can to help other people, just because it’s a nice thing to do.

*find the positive, even if it takes some looking

*say yes instead of no every once in awhile … it can lead you to some interesting places.

*open yourself to opportunities

What’s your take on luck, readers? Are some people just ‘luckier’ than others, or do they have personality traits or habits that make things go their way?

 

Some interesting articles about luck:

http://www.pickthebrain.com/blog/7-ways-to-make-your-own-good-luck/

http://www.rd.com/advice/how-to-get-lucky/

http://www.qimacros.com/lean-six-sigma-blog/how-to-increase-your-luck/

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-science-luck/201301/how-increase-your-luck-qa-frans-johansson

http://www.howtodesign.com.au/uncategorized/does-being-present-in-the-moment-increase-your-luck-factor/

http://www.earlytorise.com/3-simple-strategies-for-increasing-your-luck/

5 things that are always worth the money!

freedigitalphotos.net

freedigitalphotos.net

I’m all about finding things for a lower price, although I have some parameters – I try to buy Canadian or in Canada as much as possible, and quality is a large factor. There are a few items, though, where I recognize that you should buy the absolute best you can afford. These are items where you know you’re going to use them regularly, they will genuinely make your day better, and you’ll have then for a fairly long time.

1) Bedding.

freedigitalphotos.net

freedigitalphotos.net

You are going to be sleeping for (roughly) 7-9 hours a night. Every night. For the next who-knows-how-many years. That works out to 56 hours a week on average, roughly 5912 hours a year. Good sheets matter. Make your bed into a sanctuary where you can climb into cool, comfortable sheets and let the worries of the day slide off you and go to Snooze Land. Get the best mattress you can afford. A good night’s sleep impacts your general day to day mood and energy level in a way that very few other things do. Make it as good as you can.

2) Shoes.

freedigitalphotos.net

freedigitalphotos.net

Want to forget any problems on your mind? Go for a walk in uncomfortable shoes. Enough said.

3) Skin care that you genuinely like, with SPF.

Take care of your skin now. Start wearing SPF as soon as possible, day in, day out, and your lack of wrinkles later will be the result. If you like the texture, smell and consistency of your moisturizer, you’ll be much more likely to use it.

4) Health treatments

spa towel

Spa days, massages and general physical wellness activities will make you feel better and be a better use of dollars than new clothes or yet another batch of DVDs. Torn between a shopping trip or a spa day? Research shows that the spa day will make you happier for longer than the ‘buyer’s high’ that comes with a spending splurge.

5) Quality tea and coffee.

Unless you’re far more awake than I first thing in the morning (which with the baby has gotten MUCH earlier than before), one of the starts to your day is some kind of caffeinated beverage. Be nice to yourself first thing and start your day off well. Choose tea or coffee that you genuinely enjoy drinking – it will start your day on a much nicer note!

What would you add to the list? What’s worth the money?

The yearly wardrobe update – 6 ways to jazz it up on a budget

shoes!

Photo credit to Sunshine Gudlaugson

A new year, a new series of spring fashions…what’s a girl to do? Stay stylish on budget, of course!

My clothing allowance has taken a plunge since the advent of grown-up-ness…which is kind of ironic, since now I have grown-uppy sorst of jobs and the occasional requirement to look all fancy.  We also have a space crunch, since our adorable turn of the century house is more than a little lacking in the closet department. The combination of these has led me to a variety of creative options to find some new outfits.

1) Option 1, because it’s my favourite annual clothing related activity, is the yearly swap party. For those of you who are new to this, the drill is that everyone goes through their closets and finds the stuff they don’t wear/don’t fit into/hold a deep and abiding dislike for/reminds you of your least favourite cousin, and bring it over to my place, washed and folded. Clothes, accessories, books, CDs etc. It all gets piled in the middle of the living room, and then at the appointed time, everyone dives in and starts trying stuff on and swapping.  Many of my friends have kidlets, as do I, making it an excellent opportunity to get some new(ish) baby clothes and items that are in good shape (only a reasonable amount of teeth marks :) ). I usually make mine a potluck, for sanity’s sake as well as for fun, and there’s wine and food and general good times. Whatever’s left goes to charity

2) The old fashioned route: dye!

This pertains in particular to clothing trends in a particular colour. If you have something that’s white/beige/light grey, and you love love love it but it is just past its prime, this is a solution that can bring new life. Remember those old boxed dyes? I had a white satiny dress that I loved in the store, and loved on, in the slightly dim lights of the dressing room, but became a bit of a show once I tried it on at home in regular light. I hadn’t kept the receipt, and had taken the tags off. My Mom (who is known for keeping *everything*) had an old box of blue dye, and I thought ‘hey, why not?’ And you know what? It turned a lovely sky blue, and was a favourite for years afterwards. There are lots of sites that have DIY advice on the actual process of how to do it, but usually an old wash basin (that you aren’t attached to in any way, since dye stains are not really easy to remove!), some hot water, and a couple of hours are required. If you’re particularly creative, you can put elastics around bunches of the fabric to create cool circle designs, or draw on it in thick crayon to create pictures of slogans.

3) Accessorize! Accessorize! Accessorize! Accessories are cheap. They’re fun. Scarves, bangles, bracelets, chandelier earrings – they even sound fun! A really colourful scarf can do wonders to change an outfit, or a funky hat and boots can give it a completely new look.  And places like Ardene and Claire’s and even some of the dollar stores have a variety of items that are interesting and can jazz up something boring quite cheaply.

The hat makes the outfit! Photo credit to Sunshine Gudlaugson

The hat makes the outfit!
Photo credit to Sunshine Gudlaugson

4) Actually go through your closet. As my coworker Gina pointed out recently, she had a bunch of things that hadn’t seen the light of day in a veeeerrry long time that she genuinely likes. Particularly if your closet is as coffin-like as mine, it’s easy for things to get mired back in the dim recesses and forgotten about. So take an afternoon and spend it on a trip down the clothing version of memory lane. And with the stuff that you just don’t wear anymore or don’t really like, see bullet point #1 and hold your first swap party!

5) The humble t-shirt. My colleague Maureen pointed out that the t-shirt is really an underrated creature. You can get very well made ones cheaply, and a colourful t-shirt can be paired with everything from jeans to blazers to make an outfit come together. And if colour is your thing, it’s far cheaper to pair a trendy coloured t-shirt with a skirt or jeans than to invest in an item when you haven’t really come to a decision about whether you actually genuinely like this season’s ‘it’ shade.

More on swap parties can be found over with Lindsey, another fabulous Canadian blogger:

http://centsandsensibility.ca/2013/03/16/money-saving-thursdays-swap-party/

6) Winners, outlet stores and sales sales sales.

When it is time to buy something new, keep an eye out for sales. If there’s a particular store you enjoy shopping at, join their e-club – they will often offer sales and discounts to email subscribers that aren’t available in the store. Do a web search for coupons and discounts before you head to the mall, and print out the coupons before you leave. And if you are going to choose just one thing to buy, make it something you’ll wear and love. A fabulous spring jacket will have a much lower cost per wear than a turtleneck in emerald green if you’re not a turtleneck person. Try places like Winners, which encompass all labels but at a far cheaper price, and if you wait until seasonal sales  you can score huge discounts on already low prices. Always check the clearance rack first!  (But go on a Tuesday morning so that it’s not a zoo!).

There are a number of other ways to jazz up your wardrobe on a budget – thrift stores, vintage and estate sales are a whole other post!

What’s your favourite item of clothing? Where (or who) did it come from?

Wake up and smell the energy!

Courtesy of Ambro & freedigitalphotos.net

Courtesy of Ambro & freedigitalphotos.net

One of the things that is always a challenge when juggling a large list of want-to-dos with parenting, working and other commitments, is actually making things happen. It’s hard to motivate yourself to productivity when the baby was up at 3am or you have to get up at the crack of dawn to make the kids’ lunches before everyone can go off to their day. You find yourself, at 2pm, staring blankly into space or reading the same sentence over and over again. How do you manage to get your butt in gear?

Here’s a list of nine ways to dredge up some get up and go, when it’s gotten up and went.

1)      Go for a five minute walk.

It’s surprising how much energy you’ll get from a quick schlep around the block. There have been research studies on immediate energy boosts, but I’m going with personal experience here. The rain (if you’re in Vancouver in the fall) or biting winter breeze or sunny May morning air will get you out of comatose-ville faster than you can say ‘Starbucks triple shot venti latte’.

2)      Have a coffee.

Speaking of Starbucks, sometimes a midafternoon latte will be just the ticket to get everything coming together again.

3)      Put the alarm clock on the other side of the room.

This prevents the use of the dreaded ‘snooze’ button, my husband’s best friend. The hard part about getting up is actually launching your body out of your nice, warm bed. If the alarm clock is on the other side of the room, or, even better, outside the room entirely, you’ll have to get up. And once you’re in a vertical position, you’re more likely to stay that way.

4)      Get up and stretch.

Often, just the act of getting your body moving again will get the blood flow reaching your brain. Do some shoulder rolls, kick your legs in your chair, do some wrist stretches. Stand up and get a glass of water. And speaking of water…

5)      Hydrate. Hydrate. Hydrate.

Your body, like Earth itself, is comprised mainly of water. Not Pepsi. Not lemonade. And most definitely not Red Bull. Sometimes sleepy and hungry are just disguises for plain ordinary thirst. So add another glass or four of water into your day-to-day.

6)      Snack selectively.

I’m a snacker. I eat lots of small meals throughout the day, and when I get hungry, my blood sugar dips and crabby approaches at a rapid rate. Bring on the almonds and cranberries! Sometimes a quick burst of healthy energy will get you back in the proverbial saddle.

7)      Breakfast, breakfast, breakfast.

Eat breakfast like a queen, lunch like a princess and dinner like a pauper. Breakfast eaters tend to be slimmer and have more energy. Your body has been in starvation mode since bedtime…cut it some slack and throw some eggs and toast in there!

8)      Call a friend.

Take ten minutes (set a timer so you don’t get sidetracked!) and call your best friend or partner and give yourself time to recharge. Diverting your brain to a different activity can get those synapses to fire up again.

9)      Zzzzzzzz.

And finally, get more sleep. If your body is screaming for rest, it’s going to be hard to marshall your brain into gear. Try starting a wind-down process an hour before bed, with no screen time (that includes the all powerful iPhone!) for half an hour before you shut your eyes. After a week of an additional hour or two of sleep, you’ll just generally feel better, and that will show itself in how you perform in every other way. And you won’t walk into things quite as often, nor fall asleep with your nose on the keyboard!

Running away: Vacations

Image courtesy of Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Who doesn’t dream of lying on a white-sandy beach,  with a pink drink with an umbrella floating in it in one hand, and the latest sci fi compendium in the other? (While the former is nearly universal, I recognize that the latter may not be – insert your literary poison of choice).

The question is, how do you manage to dovetail the urge to run for sunnier, less-responsibility filled hills for a week or two, once or twice a year, and still pay the rent/mortgage/groceries/iPhone data plan?

Here are a few suggestions to making those sunny shores less a dream and more a reality:

Here’s the big one: Plan ahead

If there’s a dream destination that you’ve always wanted to go to, make it happen. You aren’t going to look back in ten years and regret making the dream a reality. But I guarantee you’ll sigh wistfully and wish you could go back in time and actually do it. So pick a date, and spend an hour researching how much time you would need and what an actual budget would look like. If the Eiffel Tower is your must-see, start with airfare.

The best time to go is usually ‘shoulder season’ , which is right before or right after the busy season. Oftentimes, it will be spring and fall. My favourite time to travel is usually May or October – weather is generally nice, things are cheaper and there aren’t hordes of people. Pick some rough dates, and search a couple of airlines directly, and before you calculate the airfare, open a second browser window and type in ‘coupon codes Air Canada’ (insert airline of choice) and see what pops up. You’d be surprised how often you can save 10% in less than five minutes – and 10% of a $1000 bill is a substantial amount of croissants in a patisserie!

Once you’ve narrowed down your airfare costs, then you can mull over your lodging choices. There are more options than you think, from online apartment rentals such as airbnb.com or vrbo.com, to couch surfing, hostels, house swapping, and of course, the usual charming little French hotel. The fastest way to stretch your dollar is to have cooking facilities available. If you’re staying for more than a few days, it’s worth the extra money to get an apartment or a room with a kitchenette.

In addition to giving you more flexibility in terms of what to have for breakfast and being able to pack a proper lunch so that you don’t have to duck out of the Louvre at a crucial moment only to stand in line to buy a $15 baguette (true story), it also means that you don’t have to go out if you are temporarily travelled out and just want toast. There’s also the fun of wandering around a foreign grocery store attempting to identify the vegetables and thinking ahead about what to make.

Some of my best travel memories are of making dinner together with my husband when we were one place or another, in the little apartment kitchen in Budapest, or the kitchenette in the castle in Tuscany where we had rented a suite. The additional cost of the kitchenette was made by staying in for only one dinner, and over the five nights we were there, it was a financial boon. The money we didn’t spend on a breakfast that was just a matter of meeting a need was money that we splashed out on a dinner in the little bistro that was slightly out of our budget.

Once you’ve gotten your airfare and transportation divvied up, make a list of five major sightsthat you want to see, whether that’s the Louvre or the Sacre Couer, or a side trip out to Versailles. Spend half an hour and go to the websites and see how much the train will cost, what the admission rates are, and if there are any discounts for being a student, or youth under 26. Note those numbers.

Next, add in your spending money. Here’s where you need to prioritize. Figure out what your true love is, and concentrate your funds on that. If you’re a huge art fan and your dream is to bring back a little oil original of the Seine, painted by a man in a beret on a sunny Tuesday morning, great! Be aware that you will need to make allowances elsewhere. You can absolutely meet your priorities for your trip, with a little give and take. If you’re a huge foodie, figure in for one or two truly fabulous meals and do a lot more walking than taking the Metro. To continue with our example of France, most French cafes will note the price of the price fixe outside the restaurant. It’s usually a set meal and comes with no real substitutions, which is something that takes some adjustment from our North American mindset. They’re usually quite good value, though, and if you go for your main meal as lunch rather than dinner, you can do quite well. Figure for 50 euros or so a day, providing that you’ll skip the madly overpriced hotel breakfast and go to a local patisserie or cook your own, and that you’ll make lunch or dinner at least once or twice in the five to seven days that you’ll be there.

Once you’ve spent some time dreaming and getting your trip priorities aligned, add it all up. Add 15% for the ‘just in case’ fund. Divide that number by 52, and that’s how much money you need to set aside every week. Now, that money can be money you’ve pulled from other spending (David Bach’s ‘latte factor’ springs to mind), or additional money that you’re bringing in (more on that topic later).

Pin a picture of the Eiffel Tower by your bed or beside your computer screen…somewhere where you’ll see it and remember often that you’d rather be sitting at a streetside café in Montmartre than buy another pair of ballerina flats or another video game involving tanks (depending on your priorities).

Happy travels!