Eight tips for achieving family life balance

elephant balancing on a ballForget work life balance. Some days I think the biggest challenge is family life balance.

In the past six weeks, we’ve had friends or family over three weekends, went to a friend’s cottage one weekend, attended two country fairs, one regatta, one baseball tournament, shuffled our work schedules so we could be home during the day for two service provider visits, and chauffeured kids to various camps, practices and friends’ houses.

Some days it’s exhausting, but most of the time it’s busy, fun and manageable. That’s because we learned the importance a long time ago of always scheduling in down time.

Here are eight tips that we’ve found helped our family maintain a healthy balance on the home front:

  1. Keep one weekend a month completely open. Dave made me promise this years ago and it’s been our saving grace ever since.
  2. Don’t feel pressured to spend time doing something you don’t want to do. If I don’t have the time or feel like baking for a potluck or school fundraiser or dinner party, I’ll just buy something. Same thing with our house—our friends and family know they are always welcome to drop by and there will be a cold beer for them, but we don’t spend hours cleaning or tidying up—they take us as we are.
  3. Keep things simple when you do entertain. I’d rather spend an extra hour with guests chatting on the dock than cooking and cleaning on a beautiful summer’s day, so we often serve what’s simplest and easiest.
  4. No matter how many chores or things need to get done, carve out one hour a day for down time.
  5. If your child asks you to play cards, read, or play a game, say yes. I remember when the kids were little, they would always want to curl up in our big green chair and read after supper. I’d leave the dishes in the sink and read with them. The dishes could wait.
  6. Know what time is most precious to you and protect it. For me, it’s the first few hours of the day on the weekends. I can face just about anything as long as I can enjoy my coffee and read the papers before jetting off somewhere.
  7. Say no sometimes. Where we live, our kids often want us to run them into Kingston for something. It can kill up to half a day since we live north of the city. If we’re really busy the rest of the weekend, and it’s not something important, I’ll just say no.
  8. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. When Dave had his knee replaced last fall and I was juggling kids, work and running him to appointments, I asked my neighbour to take him to one of his doctor’s appointments—it was a huge help.

This week’s #HappyAct is to share your tips for finding the right family life balance. What are some of the things you do to keep your non nine-to-five life in a happy state of equilibrium? Leave a comment.

Be a thermostat, not a thermometer

thermometerDave and I have a standing bet when we get back from vacation. Who has more emails sitting in our inbox and how many days will it take for each of us to go from feeling completely relaxed to stressed out and tired?

This time, we were really lucky. For two weeks, we were able to disconnect from work, which in today’s day and age is a luxury. But I did find by the end of the second day back in the office, I was thinking about work after hours, feeling tired again and feeling my stress levels rise.

In order to be successful and happy in today’s business world, we need to learn how to be a thermostat, not a thermometer. Last fall, I had the pleasure of attending Queen’s Leadership Course. One of the instructors was Peter Jensen who has made a name for himself coaching business people and Olympic athletes on how to manage stress to achieve high performance.

In his book, “Thriving in a 24-7 World”, Peter says we have to be thermostats not thermometers. What does this mean? Using the analogy of stress instead of the weather, a thermometer merely reacts to the stressors going on around it, dipping to severe lows or spiking high when things get heated. A thermostat sets an ideal setting, based on the conditions it finds itself in, and is able to regulate and manage stress, and further, harness it to achieve high performance.

Let’s take the case of the Olympic athlete since Rio is only days away. There are times when athletes need to increase their stress and performance levels—the days when they are slugging through endless hours of training. This can be a challenge, but the even greater challenge is during competition. Olympic athletes face incredible pressure and stress. They need to find ways to regulate that stress and channel it into their performance.

How? Peter offers up several strategies in the book on how you can turn your thermostat up or down to manage your energy levels and stress. Definitely read it, but I’ve summarized a few here:

Techniques for turning down your thermostat in times of stress:

  • Centring or breathing. Try inhaling, breathing in deeply through your nose then exhaling deeply, focusing on your diaphragm, then on your shoulders and upper body.
  • Never multi-task. Studies show people are not as productive when they multi-task. Focus on one key task at a time.
  • Learn different techniques to let it go.
  • Challenge negative thinking. Try to reframe the conversation or your thinking into what opportunities are available.
  • Break up big tasks into little tasks to create a sense of accomplishment

To turn up your thermostat when you’re feeling flat or lacking energy

  • Take a break, get sleep, go for a walk. All of these things will help you focus.
  • Try something new or different—it may just be what you need to create positive energy.
  • Remind yourself of your purpose or meaning.

The final word: Remember stress can be a positive. It can help you harness energy to achieve performance. The key is to recognize your stress levels, and set your own thermostat to help your body prepare for the challenge ahead.

This week’s #HappyAct is to be a thermostat, not a thermometer. And for those of you curious who won the bet—I had over 500 emails in two weeks (but a lot of mine are social media notifications, media alerts and newsletters) and Dave had 64.

Discover your Ultimate Attitude Adjuster

lillies at the lakeThere are some weeks when Friday can’t come fast enough. This was one of them.

That’s when you need to rely on your UAA: Ultimate Attitude Adjuster. I discovered mine 13 years ago when we moved to this house.

Mine goes something like this. I walk in the door around 6 p.m. The house is empty but I can hear squeals and laughter at the lake. I grab my bathing suit off the back deck railing, a bag of chips and a cold beer or cooler from the fridge. I head straight to the lake and after three or four sips, dive head first into the cold water. Within minutes, the stressors of the week wash off of me and dissipate in the ripples of the water, and life is good again.

Living on a lake has become a huge part of my work life balance. No matter how bad a work day we’ve had, Dave and I know we can always come home to our Ultimate Attitude Adjuster, a plunge into our beautiful spring-fed lake.

This week’s #HappyAct is to find or share your UAA. How do you destress after a busy week? Leave a comment.

Ed. note: Even though we live on a lake, I’ve discovered we have a sad lack of fish and dock pictures in our archive, so I’m sharing two shots I took at the lake this weekend that I like. The frog was cool–he was kind of a mutant and looked like he was half frog with green on the top and half toad, with brown on the bottom. I’ll save the snake videos for another week, just for you Jessica Schonewille!


Pamper yourself

The magn
The magnificent stone fireplace at the Chateau Montebello

As I shared last week, lately my batteries have been running dangerously low. Luckily, after two Fridays off and some precious down time, I’m now feeling a bit more like my old self again.

This weekend, Dave and I splurged and went for an overnight getaway, sans kids to the Chateau Montebello, in Montebello, Quebec. The largest log lodge in North America, the glory days of the Chateau are clearly in its past, but it was still charming in all its grandeur and brimming with history.

Built in only three months in the 1930’s, the Chateau has hosted world leaders and celebrities. Adjacent to its grounds is the Manoir Papineau, home to Louis-Joseph Papineau, the leader of the rebellion in Lower Canada in 1837. Both the Chateau and the Manoir are on the banks of the Ottawa river, a quiet oasis from the hubbub of Montreal and Gatineau.

Chateau MontebelloWe NEVER do this, but for the first time ever, Dave and I booked spa treatments on a weekend getaway. I had a facial and a rice body polish. Dave had his first massage ever.

After 90 minutes of pure heaven, I sat on the balcony of the spa overlooking the river trying to remember the last time I felt this way. I was so relaxed, I literally couldn’t get up–it felt like my bum was glued to the seat. I pried my newly polished torso from the chair and headed back to our room to meet Dave for dinner.

It turned out being pampered was a family affair this weekend. When we arrived the next day to pick up the kids from Dave’s sisters in Westport, I found Clare on her massage table. Maryanne, a registered esthetician who runs The Pampered Ladybug out of her house, gave both the girls pedicures and Clare a manicure.

This week’s #HappyAct is to pamper yourself—get away for a night, book a massage (check your health insurance—if you go to a registered massage therapist, there’s a good chance your benefits might cover the cost) or treat yourself to something you normally never would do. You deserve it.

girl getting a pedicure
Clare getting a pedicure from The Pampered Ladybug
painted toenails
The final results

Puzzle and colour therapy

colouring sheetOne of the hot gift trends this holiday season was adult colouring books. Yes, you heard me right, adult colouring books. The idea is you de-stress from life by sitting down and colouring, just like you did when you were a kid. I had several friends who received these books as gifts this year.

It scares me a bit that we need adult colouring books as a society, but as I started thinking about it more, I can see why they’ve become such a craze. We also love to do puzzles in our house, which is along the same lines.

There are many therapeutic benefits of colouring and doing puzzles. In a world where pens and pencils have been replaced by computer keys, the tactile enjoyment of picking up a crayon and creating beautiful combinations of colours and artful designs is immediate. And while puzzles don’t give you the same creative fulfillment, they do give you an incredible sense of satisfaction as each piece takes you one step closer to finishing the darn thing and seeing the big picture.

I think what makes colouring and doing puzzles so therapeutic is you can literally shut off your brain when you do them. We need this. We suffer from information overload. We need to take time to free our minds and let our brains zone out.

It’s an unusual rainy day in January. Look at it as a gift. A gift to give yourself permission to do nothing, be still and enjoy down time.

This week’s #HappyAct is to turn off the TV or computer today, forage into the back of that closet, and get a puzzle out or colouring book and start puzzling or colouring. Enjoy your lazy Sunday. Here are two mindless creations from our house this past week.



Soak out the stress

woman in hot tubA couple of weeks ago, I had a really bad week. I mean really bad. One of those weeks where you wonder why you’re slogging away at what you do and where Friday can’t come soon enough. On those weeks, I turn to the love of my life for comfort, solace and rejuvenation: I turn to my hot tub.

I love my hot tub. Yeah, yeah, I know. I’m the happy act blogger. I write about what’s really important, like the people in your life, precious moments, having purpose and being confident in who you are.

I know I’m not supposed to love material things. I believe there is an exception to every rule, and my exception is my hot tub.

I love that moment when I slip into my hot tub, and the steamy water sends tingling sensations through my spine. I sink deeper and deeper into the hot bubbling water until I can feel the jets pounding on my back, working their magic as they massage my tired limbs. I close my eyes, and become lulled by the tones of the water: the high-pitched hissing of the bubbles on the surface, the alto sounds of the gurgling jets and the rumbling of the water pounding below the surface.

Yes, just when I think I can’t love my hot tub any more, we take our relationship to a whole new level.

This week’s #HappyAct is to soak out the stress and get yourself in some hot water. If you don’t have a hot tub, try a long hot bath, or why not treat yourself to a day spa, like the Nordic Spa outside of Ottawa? I’ve heard people say it’s wonderful.