no-bake cookies from my Stockholm kitchen

While we were traveling this summer, we did everything we could to save money. Even with free flights and AirBNB, we still had to make every euro count. One way we did this was by cooking and baking almost exclusively at home. Restaurants were expensive, but so was buying groceries! We anticipated this and so we packed a whole hiking backpack full of non-perishable food items. Peanut butter, quick oats, brown sugar, containers of apple sauce, pasta, seasons and herbs, coffee, etc.

One of the things I love and hate about travel is cooking in a foreign kitchen. I have to learn how to use a new oven and get by with different or lacking kitchen tools. It's a great challenge if you like challenges (and cooking), but it can be really hard too. There are several flops when you're just figuring out a new kitchen, but it makes the successful recipes all the more awesome. These cookies were one such ray of hope.

I was sick of the temperamental oven, so I opted for no-bake cookies. These really hit the spot! Filling (thanks to the peanut butter and oats), sweet (especially thanks to the nutella), and a fabulous texture. They're best when eaten really cold, fresh from the freezer. At the very least you have to store them in the fridge because they'll get impossibly gooey if left at room temperature for long.

Every single ingredient came across the ocean in a hiking backpack (olive oil was in a tetra pack if you're wondering)!

4 TB peanut butter
2 TB nutella
1/4 C olive oil
1/2 C water
pinch of salt

Warm together in a sauce pan on medium heart. When all melted, add 1 C brown sugar + 3 C oats.

Stir all together, then on parchement paper drop spoonfuls of the mixture. Pop in the fridge to let them solidify, or if you want, the freezer.


my new favourite snack

I'm trying to eat less sugar after realizing that my energy levels had been crazy low. One day without any sugar (except natural sugar found in a banana) and I found myself much more energetic, I slept the best I had in months that night, and woke the next morning with my 6am alarm easily. Coincidence? Who knows, but I'm giving sugar a break for a while.

I definitely plan to reintroduce sugar after a while, fear not! Life is too short to abandon dessert! But I was in a place where six cookies was breakfast, sooooo ya. Changes.

This snack has become a favourite. Whole grain bread, toasted. Topped with mashed avocados (or if you have time, make guacamole, and top the toast with that). Then add sliced tomatoes, chia seeds ('cause apparently they're the best), cilantro, drizzle of olive oil, and salt. Hi, new favourite, filling, nutritious, not-sugar snack.


helicopter parenting, mama judgement + and three kids later

When you first have a baby it's pretty terrifying. Wasn't for you? Awesome. It was for me.

We were the definition of helicopter parents for the first while. We never left our baby's sight, never let her to cry even for a minute, feared constantly, hovered continuously, and enjoyed little. Eventually it wasn't new-found parental confidence, nor freedom from the judgements of others, but due to sheer exhaustion that we loosened up a bit. I was also pregnant with our second when our first was only 5 months old, so you know, letting things go.

With each additional little one we have gained confidence in our ability to parent, we've learned and grown a ton, and have feared less. But especially regarding other parents. Aside from the 1263572794 fears we had regarding our own parenting and the safety of our baby, there was also the perceived judgements coming from other parents. At the park, at the cafe, on the street, at church, online. And I say perceived because I'm sure a lot of it was in my head. Some people just want to chat, help, educate, and do so without an air of superiority or judgement. Some people. Not all.

But while we can't control the actions of others, we can control our response, and three kids later that is much easier! Today I was at a great local kid-friendly cafe, Village Cafe. It's a place where moms can enjoy a coffee and the kids can happily play. But every-single-mom there was down on the floor playing with their kids, correcting their kids (and others), and diffusing arguments while their coffees grew cold.

My coffee was hot.

My coffee was enjoyed.

My kids were not angelically playing the whole time, but I left them to work it out. Heck, I used their free wifi and checked instagram.

My coffee, five years ago, would have been cold. I would have felt like I needed to be there, on the floor. Never missing a second. Helping them play, because gosh, without adults, how will kids know how to play!? Sarcasm.

And I even had a mom make a couple of comments to me, regarding my lack of involvement. When Chloe couldn't figure out a puzzle and squawked as one-year-olds do, she quickly said in my direction, "I think someone over here needs some help!" and then later when I was reading with Oli across the cafe, Chloe had a minute of not knowing where I was so she cried. Seconds later she saw me and went back to playing, but again, that mom commented. "Someone needs her mama! She's afraid because she can't see you". 

And five years into parenting, I'm fine with it. I wasn't even mad. I felt completely free. If in that mom's heart, she thinks I'm a neglectful parent or not committed to my kids enough, that's fine. I know better, and I don't need to defend or correct her in return. But I also don't need to beck to her suggestions, which five years ago I might have.

One of the great things about having three kids so close in age is that it's  impossible to constantly be there, to meet their every need, to never leave their side. Even if I wanted to (which I once did), I can't help them with every problem, every conflict, or every skinned knee. And I think they're better for it.

Of course, I'm all for parents being present. I chose to stay at home with them so I could maximize the time with them and have a strong influence on them. But with a growing family, I still can't always be there, and they're stronger, more independent, more resourceful because of it.

My desire to helicopter parent was quickly squashed by exhaustion and human limitations, and I'm so glad it was. Today I'm still a mom in progress, but I feel free from judgements and outside expectations like never before. It might have taken five years, but it's good to be here.


saving ALL THE MONEY - necessities

For my first post on saving ALL THE MONEY (insert money bag emoji here) I want to talk about the things that you can't not spend money on. This will differ slightly from person to person, but in general necessities are true for everyone.

Here are necessities that come to mind:
vehicle/car insurance
cell phone

When we found our first home - a rental apartment with crazy character and even crazier neighbours - we knew we would be spending around $1,000/month on rent. That's par for the course when you're living in downtown Montreal, in a two bedroom apartment. Because we lived in a more affordable neighbourhood, our $1,000 went pretty far. Our apartment was really cool. Very Montreal. Picture high ceilings, wonky wooden floors that were crooked, crown mouldings, and awkward layouts. But it was a two bedroom, and we were newlyweds.

We didn't really need that second bedroom. Sure it was nice to have a place to put over night guests and offer them some extra privacy, and sure it was nice to have an office/junk room. But those things are luxuries. Luxuries that we believed were essentials, something that is so easy to do! If money is tight for you and you don't have a literal extra person literally sleeping in your home every literal night, then cross extra bedroom off your non-negotiable list when you're apartment/house-hunting. Literally! I'll wait while you draw a thick black line through the previously essential criteria.

A lot of the time we don't want to really do what it takes to save money because it will mean living outside of our comfort zone. An extra bedroom was something I couldn't imagine not having, but if I were willing, we could have saved $200+/month. What about an attached garage for you suburbanites? Or a big back yard? Or two bathrooms? Three bathrooms? These things are nice and most of us probably would deem them non-negotiable criteria when house hunting, BUT THEY ARE LUXURIES. If you have debt, or need to be saving much more than you are currently, they're luxuries. I know, I just blew your mind.

I think especially for Christians it's hard to scale back on home expenses because we have believed the lie that hospitality means having a nice home and a lot of space to welcome people in to. We tell ourselves, Oh I need that extra bedroom so I can practice hospitality, or we need to finish our basement because think of the hospitality possibilities! Even if it's out of our range financially. True hospitality is welcoming the stranger, and it's a heart matter, not a square footage issue. I've said this before (here and here), so I won't go on and on, but this is a big one.

Next up, cars. First tip to saving money: If you live anywhere remotely connected to public transit, CONSIDER GOING CAR-LESS. Crazy, right? We didn't own a car until we were pregnant with our second child. No car means no gas money and no car insurance, no upkeep and no winter tires. We've estimated that going car-less for our first two years of marriage probably saved us around $5,000 or more. Including the times we paid to rent a car and money we spent on public transit. Boom.

Not an option for you? Consider going down to one car. A common misconception is that two drivers must mean two vehicles. Yes it's inconvenient for you to arrange a car schedule, or for you to arrange carpooling with colleagues, or for you to use public transit when your partner is using the car. But how serious are you about saving money? I think for a lot of people going down to one car is possible, but not comfortable. Again, consider that two cars might be a luxury you need to pass up for a season to get serious about paying off debt or saving more.

Also, lets back track for a minute and talk about buying a car. Guys, it does not have to break the bank! Never ever ever buy a car new. It loses almost half it's value when you drive it off the lot. Next, never ever ever buy a car on a payment plan. Even with low interest rates, in the end you're paying much more than the original value of the car. I think in the majority of cases where people buy new cars or buy cars on payment plans it's because our hearts crave the newer and better, even if we can't afford the newer and better. If money is no object, buy whatever car you want, but if you're reading this wanting to know how we've saved so much money over the years, you've got to buy your car used and online.

We have owned three cars as a married couple, and they've all been purchased on kijiji. Don't freak out. Our first car, a Volkswagen Gulf, was $600. Yep, our stroller was more expensive than our first car. And you know what? It was a great car. It was rusty and ugly but the mechanic gave it the go ahead, so we bought it in cash and drove it hard for over a year. We sold it for $200, so in the end it only cost us $400! Our second car, a Hyundai Elantra we bought after Oli was born when we needed a bit more space than a two-door with no trunk was offering. We were tempted to go for an SUV or van, because hey, family of four and all, right? No. A compact car gave us the extra space we needed and was really cheap on gas. It was $1,500 and we sold it for $900 right after Chloe was born. So in the end, it only cost us $600. Our final car, a Hyundai Santa Fe (SUV) was around $3,000 and we really love it. We will probably stick with this car for a long time, as it's perfect for a family of five.

A lot of people are totally creeped out by buying a car online, but there are ways to do it safely. We've bought and sold all of our cars from kijiji and it's been really profitable and easy. There are mobile mechanic services you can use for a small fee and a mechanic will go with you to check out the vehicle before you buy it. We've always used this to guarantee we don't end up with a car that needs a lot of work, or buying from a dishonest seller. Buying online also means you pay in cash and don't pay taxes, plus it forces you to stick to a tight budget since you only spend the money you have available in the bank, not on credit.

Food is another necessity that I'll explain more in a few weeks, so sit tight!

Internet and cell phones are necessities these days, like it or not. We would have so much more money in the pockets of our parachute pants if we just lived in 1981, but alas, it's 2015.

With cell phones our rule of thumb has always been stick with the base model, don't give in to the temptation of having the latest thing, and don't pay for data! Our cell phone bills have always been around $25/month because of this. We use wifi at home and free-wifi any time we're out, so the only time we're disconnected is if we're traveling from one place to another. It would be nice to instagram from the car or use google maps on the fly, but since we have no data we can't. But having a bare-bones cell phone package with no data saves us $25+/month, so I'm good with that! If you shop around to find the best deal for internet (hint: it's rarely cheaper going with the big companies, even with their bundle options), and then have internet at home, there's really no need for data. The majority of public spaces have free-wifi nowadays, and certainly all schools and work places have internet.

I hope this has been helpful so far! Feel free to ask me any questions you have. Next time we'll talk about one of my favourite things: FOOD. xo


moms with hands full need the church (TGC post)

Occasionally, I'll write on The Gospel Coalition blog. It's nice to have an alternative place to share my heart, and have a broader reach on matters that might be beyond the scope of this blog. While I blog about Faith from time to time on this blog, TGC allows me to go a bit deeper as it's predominantly a theology blog and resource for the church.

Last month I wrote a post titled, Moms With Hands Full Need The Church. The motivation behind the post was my concern for families in the local church. I've noticed a similar trend over the past several years, in every church context I've been in, and that is families being less involved in the local church. And because children are a blessing, I think we as a body (and those of us in leadership) are slow to encourage and correct, though we wouldn't do the same for anyone else if church attendance and participation suddenly dropped and remained dismal.

Of course, any time we call people to a high standard or encourage obedience to scripture, the accusation of legalism is not far behind. Our obedience doesn't save us, Jesus saves us! Yes, amen, and true. But God's word encourages and commands many things of us, and to ignore them or to take them lightly in the name of grace is not honouring to God or good for us.

Full disclosure: the week my post was published on TGC, we missed church.
There are reasons that I will miss church, and unfortunately for me, they are frequent. Sick children who may be contagious and traveling are among such reasons, and we do find ourselves away from church around 25% of the time as a result.

Because getting to church can be impossible for many families due to sickness, post-partum healing, or travel, we don't allow for other things to take us away from worshiping with our church family on Sundays (or other church involvement). Extra-curricular activities that fall on Sunday mornings, won't be ones our kids will participate in. Grumpy toddlers will miss naps when naptime is during worship time. If one member is sick, we won't all miss church. One parent will stay home with the sick child(ren) and the healthy ones will go to church. There are so many things that families could let stand in the way of corporate worship and participation in the local church. We must fight against the busy schedules and packed calendars and easy excuses!

Head over to The Gospel Coalition blog to read my article!