Everything Changed

On January 21, 2015 I held a small plastic stick in my hand. I held my breath and waited to see if a plus sign would appear and turn my life, and my husband’s, towards a new path.

Little did I know then, that as soon as I saw that plus sign, I should have put down the pregnancy test and immediately picked up my phone to call midwives’ offices.

Throughout my first pregnancy I had all the naïve expectations for a completely “natural” pregnancy and birth. I believed that somehow my body, strong as it is, would know what to do. I absolutely did not believe that my baby or I would need medical intervention for what I thought of as “the most natural thing in the world.” I was never against medical intervention if needed, but right from the beginning, I wanted my pregnancy to be supported by people who shared my views and had the training and sense to support us through a healthy pregnancy, and call in the doctors if needed.

And so, in late January I set about finding a midwife. Not as easy a task as I had imagined,  especially not in the month following the most festive time of the year. I called midwifery clinics in New West, Coquitlam, and then Burnaby. Each time I was put on a waitlist or was told they were full for late September/early October arrivals. I didn’t know what to do.

Midwifery care is covered by BC’s Medical Services Plan. Many pregnant women choose not to follow the “traditional” care path of an obstetrician or delivering GP and—unless there is a medical reason to be with a doctor from the beginning—will  seek out a midwife for the same reasons as I. With only 322 midwives registered in BC and nearly 45,000 live births in the Province annually—not to mention supporting mothers whose babies die in utero—midwifery care is in huge demand. Midwives are also limited in the number of clients they may take on at any one time.

Ganga Jolicoeur, CEO of the Midwives Association of BC (MABC), says: “BC leads the country when it comes to midwife assisted births,” and notes they are well on their way to reaching their goal of having 35% of all births midwife-assisted.

“MABC believes that an increase in maternity care services across the province will improve health outcomes for expectant families.”

The association is also an advocate for both the International Bridging Program—to allow midwives from other countries to be registered to practise in BC—and the doubling of seats in the midwifery program at UBC.

In my case, I visited my family doctor to begin my prenatal care and we talked about the differences between doctor and midwife support. I shared my preference for the midwifery model, but said I hadn’t been able to find one with space. She highly recommended Pomegranate Community Midwives in East Vancouver, who also service clients from New Westminster. I called their office, and was able to book an appointment. From our first meeting Rob and I felt confident we had made the right decision and that we, and baby to be, were in very capable hands.

During our time with Pomegranate, my family’s wishes were respected and we felt heard. We also felt we were given enough information to make informed decisions about optional testing or screening and we discussed where and how we wanted to deliver our baby. Also, they were available to us by phone 24/7!

We had monthly appointments until my eighth month of pregnancy. Each appointment lasted 45 minutes to an hour and began with our midwife asking Rob and me if we had questions or concerns. It impressed me that they asked questions about possible stresses in my life—financial security, the baby’s and my safety, the availability of a support network, my work, and how was I feeling about pregnancy, about labour, and about becoming a mother. Our midwives understood that this pregnancy affected all areas of our life, in good and in challenging ways, and wanted to make sure we were managing these changes as best we could. They took my blood pressure and felt and measured my growing belly. The very best part was listening to baby’s heartbeat. I always felt they shared in our excitement for our little one.  

My pregnancy progressed beautifully. Smudge (our baby’s nickname) was hitting all her prenatal milestones and I was in excellent health. Rob and I went to prenatal and breastfeeding classes and toured the hospital’s labour and delivery ward. Things were going so well we began to talk to our midwives about about birthing at home or even a water birth. During labour, I wanted to remain home for as long as I felt comfortable, and possibly for the entire birth. The option to go to the hospital was always there, but as long as everything was okay we could stay put under the care of our midwives.

 Towards the end of my pregnancy, we saw our midwives weekly. Our due date came and went, but everything seemed just fine. Until week 40, day four. During this appointment, my midwife was concerned that I was developing preeclampsia—a serious condition marked by high blood pressure and swelling of the hands and feet.

I learned that midwives consult with obstetricians and gynecologists as needed. Our midwife referred me to a specialist where tests confirmed I was developing preeclampsia. Now that Smudge’s and my health were at risk a hospital birth was mandatory. My dream birth plan was not to be, but ultimately this was my ideal birth—no medical interventions unless needed. Now they were needed, and I will be forever grateful they were available to us.

The next day, we went to Burnaby General for a previously-scheduled 41 week check up to see how Smudge was coping. Tests showed that Smudge was doing fine, but as the preeclampsia progressed, we decided to begin procedures to induce labour.

everything-changed-35A team of doctors and nurses were now managing my health care, but Smudge was still with our midwives. I thought this was incredible. I was taken by the respect my entire team had for each other, and for us. Everyone knew my wishes for an intervention-free birth and supported me as much as possible. Smudge was continuously monitored and was never in any distress. That gave us time to talk with our team and, after many many hours of labour, Rob and I decided to go forward with a cesarean section. Our midwife was with us in the operating room.

At 4:37pm Saturday, October 10, 2015 our Mara was born.

After a quick stay in post-op, I was moved back to our room where I was assigned a nurse for 24 hours to monitor my high blood pressure. As ever, Mara was doing wonderfully and had no problems breastfeeding. Rob was quickly learning how to change teeny tiny diapers and to comfort our baby girl. A doctor saw me every day of our stay at hospital. Our team of midwives attended to Mara, and supported us, answering all of our questions and concerns about caring for our precious girl. Once I was deemed healthy again, we returned home. My next visit with my doctor was scheduled for six weeks later at her office. In the meantime, the midwives came to our home.


Our time together at home was perfect. Mara was in great health. She was feeding well, sleeping well, and gaining weight steadily. Our routine was completely focused on responding to our little girl’s needs. For us, this time was joyous despite  the exhaustion known to every new parent. Our midwives visited to check up on Mara and make sure my incision was healing well. We asked friends to hold off on visiting until we were more settled, but did spend time with both sets of grandparents. Our world was perfect.

Then one morning everything changed.

We awoke to discover that sometime during the night, our perfectly healthy baby had stopped breathing.

Mara died on October 21 at 8:37am. We had only ten days with our baby girl.

Mara’s cause of death was Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). This means it happened for no reason that anyone will ever understand. SIDS is the “sudden and unexpected death of an apparently healthy infant under the age of one which remains unexplained, even after a complete autopsy.” It is the term used when all known causes of death have been ruled out.

SIDS is not suffocation. It is a medical condition that is not yet understood by science. Though risk reduction strategies have helped lower the rate of SIDS in recent years, SIDS is not predictable or preventable.

I called our midwives as the paramedics worked on Mara. Our midwife met us at the hospital and stayed with us as we tried to make sense of what was happening. She was with us when we needed her, and also gave space for the three of us to be together to say our final goodbyes. Hours later, when we were ready, she drove us home.

img_8473We didn’t know what to expect in the blurry days that followed, but our midwives were a constant support to Rob and me. Even though Mara had died, they still came to our house to check on my health, and help us through this devastating time in any way they could.

 Our empty house was soon filled with flowers from friends and loved ones. We wondered if there was a longer-lasting way to honour our Mara. We learned of a holiday hamper project for vulnerable families in our midwives’ care, and asked that donations be made to this project, in lieu of flowers. This year we have again decided to honour Mara’s memory by supporting the Pomegranate Community Midwives Holiday Hamper Fund.  

fullsizerenderNow our midwives at Pomegranate, along with our doctor who delivered Mara, are caring for us through a second pregnancy. We look forward to the arrival of Mara’s younger sister in early 2017. While we’re cautiously optimistic that everything will be just fine, we know too well that sometimes life has other plans. For now we hold our breath, and hope.

People tell me all the time that they think of us often, but don’t know what to say. My advice: say Mara’s name to us. Even though it may feel uncomfortable, let us know that our girl is remembered. Mara’s arrival brought us more happiness than we ever thought possible. Her sudden death brought more pain and sorrow than anyone should ever have to endure. Rob and I are realizing that time doesn’t heal all wounds, but somehow, bit by bit, time helps soften the pain, and lets us breathe a little easier. We will never get over losing Mara, but we’re slowly learning to keep her memory alive in ways that bring us comfort. Our grief for the baby we no longer have now rests alongside the joy her memories bring, and the growing excitement for the arrival of her younger sister. It’s a bizarre journey…trying to figure out how to be parents to a child who is no longer here. But somehow, I think both our daughters would be proud of us.  

Street Safety in School Areas

A while back (in the sunny days in September), my friend Mike Folka wrote about his first impressions now that his oldest has started school. Mike pointed out the complete chaos that is dropping your kids off at school. “Why in god’s name do we not have car free zones around schools?” he asked. “*All* kids finish their journey to school as a pedestrian whether they walk, bike, or drive there, so why wouldn’t we want to make the place where we send them safe as possible to walk and exist?”

The madness that is Glenbrook dropoff. That is not how 4 way stops work.

Indeed. When my kid’s school was built in 1929, all the kids walked or perhaps bicycled to school. It was not feasible to drive them, for many reasons. Fuel was too expensive, kids lived nearby, moms generally all stayed home to raise their kids, and there were no Programs of Choice (at our school, there is a Montessori stream that takes kids from across the district). Now, drop off and pick up times are harried and crowded, with many adults making really, incredibly, poor choices about how to operate their cars.

Daily, I see: adults driving up the wrong side of the street, not yielding to pedestrians, stopping in the middle of the road, parking illegally and blocking crosswalks, not coming to a complete stop at stop signs, shouting expletives at one another, and opening the doors for kids to literally jump into traffic. It is an awful display of bad role modeling most days, and I don’t understand why people think it’s okay to behave this way. I am also at a loss to explain why no one has been hurt yet. Sidenote: Yesterday, I watched a daycare provider come out between two parked cars on a busy street, stroller-first, with a more visible crossing at the corner only a few metres away. Parents: please ask your daycare provider how they model good behaviour to your kids! Some are wonderful and do such a good job. Some might just not be thinking.

Relatively calm morning at drop off.
Relatively calm morning at drop off, waiting for the crowd to disperse.

I’m not alone, either. The Canadian Automobile Association says that in a poll they conducted, nearly two thirds of Canadians have witnessed a dangerous driving act near a school. Among other things, they suggest parents park a block away and walk in.

For the record, I drive too – we live just a bit too far away for us to walk comfortably with the time we have in the morning. I park a number of blocks away and walk in, or we arrive early and wait and then I usually wait till the rush passes before I leave. Soon, my son will be old enough to start riding a bicycle and we’re preparing for this.

I spoke with Constable Gerald Lau, the school liaison officer for the New Westminster Police Department and (in?)famous dance-party-bringer. He says that when he does traffic safety talks at schools, he tells students to “be in the moment when it comes to traffic safety, focus on what you are doing, and how to be safe.”

He teaches them to walk on sidewalks where available and to always cross at intersections, always wear a helmet when riding a bicycle, and always walk your bicycle across a roadway, and gives them different instructions depending upon the situation: whether they are crossing an intersection with the assistance of a crossing guard, crossing with signals, or crossing uncontrolled intersections.

“We encourage parents to review the rules of the road with their children and go over their daily route to and from school,” said Karon Trenaman, local ICBC road safety coordinator. “Drivers should allow extra travel time to avoid rushing and watch for children, especially in or around school zones.” ICBC provides free road safety educational materials to B.C. schools to help students learn about road safety using fun and interactive activities. The materials are unique to each grade level from kindergarten to grade 10.

Lisa Leblanc, the Manager of Transportation for the City of New Westminster, says the City is committed to improving safety as well. “Every school has a school travel plan in place, that were developed with HASTe, the Hub for Active School Travel.” The City of New Westminster has actively focused on active modes of transportation. So far, the work to date has identified preferred modes of travel, and the barriers people experience to travel in those modes. HASTe has also made recommendation to overcome them, such as speed humps, curb extensions, and improvements to crosswalks. Over the summer, the City implemented some of those recommendations, though the area around the high school is not completed yet. These adjustments don’t eliminate driving to school,  but it does promote other modes of transportation such as cycling.

The City is now undertaking a bit of a policy exercise: looking at school traffic control as a whole, and looking at school zones and asking questions such as: “Are they big enough?” The City does have control over how big the school zones are, though it is in the public interest to be as consistent within the guidelines as possible. “The Motor Vehicle Act does have some stipulations about how to extend a school zone, but provided there is adequate and correct signage, some engineering analysis, and a well articulated rationale, the City is empowered to make changes in the name of safety,” says Leblanc. “Consistency from one school zone to the next within the city is very important, as well.”

You know those huge yellow signs in school areas that remind drivers what the school speed limit is? Those are not mandated signs, they are awareness or “PR” signs. They are also approaching the end of their useful life and could use some modernizing. Wouldn’t it be fun to see those signs be a bit more eye catching and refreshed. Perhaps a contest that involves students?

How can you get involved in road safety in school areas? Well, get involved in your PAC. Your school’s PAC can make requests and send information to the District Parents Advisory Council, and road safety is on the minds of DPAC. “Please parents, be mindful of road safety rules during pick up and drop off of children, and respectful of the school administrators in their  efforts to make the environment around the schools as safe and healthy as possible”, says Karon Trenaman, New West DPAC Chairperson. “ Please park your vehicle a couple blocks away and walk your children onto school property.”

All that said, one of the most effective things in promoting road safety and teaching kids great, safe behaviour is modelling great behaviour ourselves. So, when you find yourself driving around our community, especially in areas when you are likely to encounter kids walking, riding their bikes, and generally being present, SLOW DOWN, think about and look for other road users, and know that kids are watching and learning.

Support Family Place!

We’ve written about how great Family Place is, and the time has come when Family Place needs your help to continue to offer top notch programming to those who need it most.

On Tuesday, November 15, at the Paddlewheeler Pub, join in on the effort to raise funds for much needed expenses. It is a great cause and sounds like it will be lots of fun. The silent auction prizes are great – there are two TVs, a night at the fabulous Inn at the Quay, a week in a condo in Arizona, and other great goodies and baskets you can bid on.

Marjorie Staal, Executive Director, says that they are raising funds for “the day to day things like wages for our staff, rent so that we can keep doors open and have bright shining smiles for children to see when they arrive, and to keep buying consumable supplies for the programs.”

Family Place has over 450 families that joined us last year at the main site on Sixth Street, as well as at their Lord Kelvin hub, their Food Bank program, and their Parent Child Mother Goose program.  They also have a grandparent program at the new ELC at Qayqayt Elementary. All of these programs are done on a shoestring budget, and costs are going up and up! They are hoping that the community can rally behind them next Tuesday night. Doors at at 6pm. Call 604-520-3666 to get tickets put on hold for you to pick up at the door or stop by their main location to get them in advance at 93 Sixth Street.


Three Ways Anyone Can Preserve Their Cherished Memories Forever

We are the product of our experiences. Those we have shared with family, teachers, friends, colleagues & perfect strangers. The good, the bad and the ugly all rolled into one lifetime; all we’ve done and learned along the way. Our memories are so precious for that reason. What follows are our top suggestions to keep those memories alive so you can relive and enjoy them.

Get creative!

We love creating with our hands. Generally, these creations have a high failure rate, but that is part of the fun, right? In fact, if you want to laugh along with other crafters, check out this site. Well if getting creative and and little sticky is up your alley, we have a few projects to keep your memories alive.

preservememories-madewithalaserMaking a mini (read – adorable) matchstick album for special days, get togethers or holidays.  If you have an Instax or other instant camera, you are all set. If not, a simple extra step of ordering prints from your favourite print shop. Some glue, a marker and some simple craft paper mini albums and you will have shoe boxes full of short, visual, tactile memories to bring out from under the bed on a rainy day.

Get your hands on a laser! Yup. A laser. Maker Labs have courses to teach you to use their laser cutter. Using vector designs (they have classes for that too), you can etch or cut your design out of leather, wood or metal. Do this with your wedding logo, a special photo, or a family motto. Did we mention that you get to operate a laser?!

If getting your hands dirty isn’t for you, why not work with a local artist and have them sketch, paint or ink a place of significance for you? We spotted local artist @ManonGarritsen sketches of buildings on Twitter and loved this idea as an anniversary gift. Hang it on your wall or print it on a pillow.

Of course, there are hundreds of ways to preserve memories with craft. We’ve shared these ones as we love lasers, pillow fights and treasures tucked under the bed. We’d love to hear your favourites.

Create your own website to hold your memories for you

If you are even a little tech savvy, the ultimate way to keep your memories alive is to create a website dedicated to them. You can create the website, write your own stories, upload your photos and videos plus you can share easily with whomever you wish.

preservememories-weddingwebsiteOur co-founder Jen and her husband Simon did this for their wedding and used it to tell the story of their ten years together.  They shared travel information, fun photos and even had a page that was dedicated to photos uploaded to social media by their friends who used their wedding hashtag.

With all sorts of website building sites out there, you don’t need to have special training to be good at this! There are many free and pay website builders out there; Wix, Strikingly and Squarespace to name a few.

Having your own website allows you not only to immortalize your important, goofy, fun memories, but also to share them easily with family & friends.

Get your digital files organized!

Yeah, we know, this is probably sounds less fun than a trip to the dentist (sorry to all the amazing dentists out there ;). But organization is the key to enjoyment of your hundreds (and thousands?) of photo and video files.

Remember when you would have to be choosy about the photos and video you took because you were using film? The benefit of photography now is that you can shoot, re-shoot and shoot again until you get that perfect shot. The downside is that you have thousands of photos of the same thing from slightly different angles, lighting and quality stored on an SD card, your phone or your computer. With a bit of organization,  that number could easily be cut in half freeing up space and maximizing enjoyment.

You have a couple of options when it comes to consolidating and storing your digital memories. To keep things clear, let’s assume that you have average storage needs of  somewhere between 100 to 500GB of storage space.

Psst. If you have some old VHS tapes sitting around, we’ve got you! Check out our blog for 2 ways to convert your VHS tapes into current, useable digital files.

Hard Drive

A hard drive is an option to backup your photos if you will be disciplined enough to budget for a replacement between its third and fourth year. Studies show that besides random ‘lemon’ and ‘factory defect’ failures, the failure rate of hard drives is minimal in the first 35 months, but skyrockets after 36 months.

The great thing about external hard drive storage is that they are simple, you incur one cost per three years and you have lots of choices. Don’t get bogged down in the details however. Just make sure that is compatible with your computer and has enough storage for your media.  

Cloud storage

We love the cloud option mainly because we can access our media files on the go and cloud systems allow beautiful viewing options for your photos. Services like Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive, Google Drive, and more exist for the express purpose of storing your stuff. All services give you at least a little free storage to play around with to see if you like it. You can find a great comparison of cloud storage systems here.

Essentially, many options exist for both free and pay services. How much you pay is dependant mostly on your total size of files. If you are anything like us, you will pay more to start, but after you start going through your photos and videos, you will pair down and need smaller storage size.

preservememories-googlephotossearchfeatureHere at Clipsake, we use both Dropbox and Google drive for our various business documents. For us, Google drive is the hands down winner as our photo cloud storage because of its useful search function and beautiful way it displays our photos.

So say you want to find that picture of you and your best friend that time you went surfing in Australia. Just type the word ‘beach’ or Cottesloe’ into the search bar. Yeah, it is that easy.

Or maybe you are creating a family photo album and want to see all of your photos of Aunt Mildred. Simple, search the ‘people’ function, assign a name to the face of Aunt Mildred (all listed as icons) and Google Photos will find all photos of Aunt Mildred. In this way, accessing your memories is a breeze. You can upload photos and videos into folders and rename them to make them photo albums. That way they’re safely stored in the cloud and they’re organized!

So there you have it. 3 ways you can take what were once a big pile of random digital files and transform them into evenings of enjoyment, gifts for family, beautiful decor and video keepsakes. Here’s hoping we’ve made organizing and editing sexy enough that you grab your computer and get started! Whether you make a family photo wall, create albums for your family, or get in touch with us to make your random video clips into shareable video keepsakes we hope you have an awesome Autumn (and blow up at least one awkward photo of a sibling to stuff in their stocking this Christmas!)


Editor’s Note: This post by our friends at Clipsake, a local business doing some cool stuff helping you save memories and DIY video. This is not a paid placement:  they’re just cool people I asked to write about memory preserving.  

The AIDS Pandemic in Africa

Most Canadians have heard about AIDS in Africa but few fully grasp the scope of the pandemic. Over the past 30 years, nearly 30 million people have died of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa leaving 17 million orphan children – that’s almost twice the number of children in all of Canada – most of them living with their grandmothers.

Grandmothers in Africa have stepped up to provide the care that their grandchildren need. In the face of their own unbearable grief, they bury their beloved children, cope with their own deteriorating health and begin to parent again with few resources. They know what to do; they just need the resources to do it.

That’s why, in 2006, the Stephen Lewis Foundation invited 100 African grandmothers to meet with 200 Canadian grandmothers in Toronto for the first-ever Grandmothers Gathering. The African grandmothers shared their stories of hardship and determination and made clear their needs and priorities for the future. Canadian grandmothers listened, learned and organized … and the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign was born. Since then it has grown to encompass more than 10,000 women in 250 groups across Canada. Royal City Gogos (Gogo is a Zulu word for grandmother) is a grandmother group based in New Westminster.

Since 2006, the Grandmothers Campaign in Canada has raised more than $25 million dollars. Ninety percent of the money is sent by the Stephen Lewis Foundation directly to their community-based partners who work with grandmothers in 15 sub-Saharan countries. The impact of ongoing support at community level can be felt in wellness in every way.

Here are three examples (none of the names used are their real names):

Jacqueline lost seven children to AIDS. For years, she lived alone with her six grandchildren, feeling the stigma and pain of her loss. Then a community-based organization in Durban persuaded her to come to grief counseling, and helped her feed and clothe her grandchildren. Now Maria volunteers at a local AIDS centre, refers people to the health clinic, and works at a neighbourhood crèche. She enjoys her work and has re-established her status (and her dignity) as a leader in her community. Wellness begins with meeting basic needs.

Granny Support Groups run through Hillcrest AIDS Centre Trust in Kwa-Zulu-Natal, South Africa offer grandmothers psychosocial support, access to home-based care, testing, counselling, skill development and income generation activities, including sewing, gardening, nutrition, literacy and crafts.
Photo by Alexis MacDonald SLF staff. Granny Support Groups run through Hillcrest AIDS Centre Trust in Kwa-Zulu-Natal, South Africa offer grandmothers psychosocial support, access to home-based care, testing, counselling, skill development and income generation activities, including sewing, gardening, nutrition, literacy and crafts.

Suzanne works for a community-based project in Kenya that provides counseling to grief-stricken and isolated grandmothers who were in despair at the deaths of their children. With Suzanne’s support, many of these same grandmothers have gone on to form new grandmothers networks, reaching further into the community. As Suzanne reports, “First you stop their despair, then you help them find a reason to live. Once they’re on their feet again, they’ll develop among themselves a means to live better.” Wellness thrives with psychosocial support.

Grandmothers supported by Tateni Home Care Nursing Services receive access to home-based care, psychosocial support through bereavement counselling and well-being programmes for caregivers, and are supported financially in caring for children and adolescents who have been orphaned by HIV & AIDS.
Photo by Alexis MacDonald SLF staff. Grandmothers supported by Tateni Home Care Nursing Services receive access to home-based care, psychosocial support through bereavement counselling and well-being programmes for caregivers, and are supported financially in caring for children and adolescents who have been orphaned by HIV & AIDS

Thanda is a grandmother living with HIV, who lost countless family members to AIDS. Like many grandmothers in sub-Saharan Africa, Thanda realized something had to be done. With the help of a community-based organization in Swaziland, she started a feeding programme for orphaned and vulnerable children from her home. In addition, Thanda goes out into the community as a trained caregiver to visit terminally ill community members. Despite her grief, she does her best to bring nutritious food and healthcare to her family and her community. Wellness continues when community members work together.

And that’s not all. With sustained funding from the Grandmothers Campaign, African grandmothers are now recognized as agents of change – getting elected to represent grandmothers on property disputes, lobbying the government for better pensions and child support, working to end gender-based violence. Wellness enables empowerment.

Grandmothers gather in a mutual support group facilitated by the Phoebe Educational Fund for Orphans and Vulnerable Children (PEFO), an organization dedicated to helping grandmothers and children affected by HIV/AIDS in eastern and central Uganda claim their human rights.
Photo by Alexis MacDonald SLF staff. Grandmothers gather in a mutual support group facilitated by the Phoebe Educational Fund for Orphans and Vulnerable Children (PEFO), an organization dedicated to helping grandmothers and children affected by HIV/AIDS in eastern and central Uganda claim their human rights.

After decades of living at the epicentre of the AIDS pandemic, African grandmothers have developed the resilience and expertise to overcome stigma, protect their grandchildren, bring hope to their communities and advocate for change. They are the backbone of the healthcare system, the lynchpins of their communities, and the guardians of their country’s future.

The Royal City Gogos’ are privileged to stand in solidarity with the grandmothers of Africa and the wellness work they undertake every day.

You can help African grandmothers by supporting events in your community. Royal City Gogos is hosting Artisan Crafts for Africa on Friday November 4, 4pm to 8pm and Saturday November 5, 10am – 4pm at Unifor Hall, 326 Twelfth Street, New Westminster.

For more about Royal City Gogos head here.  For the Lower Mainland group head here. And to learn more about the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign see www.grandmotherscampaign.org.




Living the Full Catastrophe

living-the-full-catastrophe-24I’m self-employed alongside my husband, and together we are hands-on running a busy restaurant at the Quay. We have a two-bedroom B&B in our house, built in 1892, and in need of constant upgrades. Our daughter, born in that very home, is now four. People ask, “are you guys all right?”

It’s a good question. I’ve grappled with it for a while. Our business and lifestyle mean we go through prolonged periods of extreme stress, joy, guilt, doubt, regret, and physical hardship. A better question to ask us might be, “why are you guys ok?”

These days, it’s trendy to talk about ‘work-life balance’ and take a ‘work hard, play hard’ ethos, but I beg to differ. This catchphrase implies that work and life are a dichotomy—when work is done for the day, you can start living life.

This is a problem.

When you’re self-employed, the boundaries between work and life are blurred by working from home or being a master of your own schedule. One freeing realization that can come from being your own boss is that work is really just a part of life, not separate from it. My journey from having no life, always working and having too many unattended chores, into enjoying work as part of life, had three major turning points.

Seek Counsel

During the craziest and most stressful period in the last five years, my husband Michael and I decided that relationship counselling was probably a good idea. We were with each other 24/7 and not communicating at all about work. Most conversations were arguments. We blocked each other constantly with stubborn bickering.  

Our counselor said one thing that really stuck. I paraphrase: “figure out who is in your tribe, find your goal, and unite in achieving it.”

Be ok with achieving your goal…and check in with your people about it

Our tribe ended up being pretty vanilla: myself, Michael, and our daughter.  A tribe can be anyone: you and your three cats or 12 of your closest relatives—it doesn’t matter. Our team of three decided we wanted to be free from financial obligations to other people and organizations. Now we had a goal and, all of a sudden, things that I had seen as sacrifices and regrets suddenly became ok. They were now problems to solve, challenges—full-contact, augmented-reality Sudoku if you will. Just my cup of tea.

United, we went forward. I stopped beating myself up over our finances and life choices. I stopped punishing my husband for going to work at 7am and coming home at midnight. I took on home economics like I was balancing Canada’s national budget. Whatever I was doing at the time was fulfilling, because there was purpose.

It wasn’t a gendered division. Michael and I often switched roles at home and in the restaurant. We found that having a singular goal and regularly checking in on our progress meant we could get rid of what wasn’t working and ‘finesse’ our lives in the right direction. Every week, relieved of the anxieties and arguments over ‘not doing it right,’ we found more free time to exercise, be with friends, and go on family outings (you know, the ‘life’ part of the balance).

Do a full Marie Kondo on your monthly budget (if you don’t know who I’m talking about, Google her!)

So much of ‘life’ is a financial puzzle, and it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that if you just work harder and get that raise or promotion, you’ll make enough money to buy your way into doing life better. Not so. We found our balance by slashing our home expenses.

Another self-employment superpower manifests from being forced to live on zero income while building one’s business. So, we had the “advantage” of having to cut our monthly home budget by more than half. With some effort, we shaved $3000 per month from our cost of living, and stayed this lean for about 12 months. Our plan—if you can call it that—included not getting haircuts for 16 months, shopping exclusively at thrift stores, ditching cell phones, planting kale in the yard, and eating nothing but rice, leafy greens, and scraps from work for an entire winter. Seriously.

Once there was a hint of stability in the restaurant, we were able to make unified, thoughtful decisions about spending. A year in, we still spend far less than we used to, having removed the financial clutter.

Post clean-up, we made a few lifestyle decisions that cost some money. They sound an awful lot like the traditional fixes to work-life balance, except that we came to them from the ground up as a team.

We wanted to drink better coffee at home and at work, so we invested in a decent coffee grinder and two Chemex systems from Canteen and Supply at the River Market.

We decided to start going to the gym and took out memberships at The Strong Side Conditioning Gym.

We bought a picnic cooler and three day packs from MEC so we could go on hikes or picnics on weekends.

We love cooking and friends (who doesn’t?), so we spend some money every week on food and drink and have someone over for a meal.

That’s really all we have time for while each working more than 50 hours a week, putting a four year old to bed, and paying debt down fast, but unity in the decision-making process has made the little pleasures seem all the more sweet when paired with hard work.

Just to make sure we’re on the same page, I’ll let my husband conclude my train of thought. Here is Michael’s perspective:

living-the-full-catastrophe-25‘Work-life balance’ is a poor phrase because it categorizes work as a pejorative term when, at its best, work can infuse life with interesting goals and strong discipline. ‘Life’ is euphemistic because it fails to account for emptying the dishwasher and toddler tantrums. American author and and mindfulness teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn says it best when he speaks about life as “the full catastrophe.” Joy and sorrow, work and play; we can’t have some of one without plenty of the other.

Can you do this too? Probably. The transition is difficult, and involves many long conversations, some which sound an awful lot like arguments. You have to decide what you want as a person and harmonize this with your tribe. Neither are easy. Once you have done this, the only essential step, as I see it, is to get to poverty and rebuild from there. Otherwise, your ‘things’ and accounts will own you—you will not feel ok with making changes. It is not equal unless you all give up everything and start fresh as a team