It has been a different kind of year


Some of you have told me (and it means so much to me), that you enjoy reading this blog because it is so introspective. Some of you have told me that you strive to have the level of self-awareness and self-reflection brought out by the posts on this blog.  I hadn’t realized it until you said it, but this is perhaps the value that this blog brings to you as a reader; the encouragement and inspiration to work through what’s on your mind in a way that may inform the next steps you may take.  I find that each time I write one of these types of blog posts I feel a little bit lighter after clicking “publish”.

Up until now, I have found this type of introspection to be a necessary part of my mental wellness, so to speak. Before I had a blog, I had a journal. Before I had that journal, I had another journal, and so on.

This year has been very different. There have been some major changes in my life which have forced this blog a little below where I would have liked to see it on my priority list.  Being a full time mom, and part-time lawyer/business owner has made it challenging for me to find my quiet and reflective space.  I’m just starting to find that place again.

Despite the busyness, 2015 has been an amazing year so far. Some highlights:

We’ve found a great community

As you may know, we relocated to Toronto almost one year ago from Halifax.  We’ve been living in the neighbourhood known as “Danforth East”, on what happens to be one of the most friendliest streets in the city.  Though it took us a while to find our “groove”, we have really fallen in love with the community.  M and I spent our days at the local library, mom/baby play places/coffee shops, and neighbourhood parks. We have come to see the same faces in all of these places, and many of these people have become a part of our daily lives. I found a group of moms who all made the decision to stay home from work for a second year after maternity leave, and it just so happens that all of their little ones are born within a month of M! With this group of moms and their little ones, we’ve enjoyed many dates of the park, coffee, and library class variety.  We’ve watched each others’ kids grow and develop over the span of this year, and it has been an amazing experience.

The other great thing about this community has been living on our super social street. J, M and I have enjoyed the daily front yard gatherings with the neighbours and their kids, in which the adults stand around and chat, while the kids play together and with whoever’s toys happen to be outside. The casualness of it all is what makes it so great; no need to commit ahead of time, just go outside whenever is good for you, and you will likely find someone to play/chat with. Leave whenever you need to get dinner ready or put  your kids to sleep. Fantastic! In an age where we plan gettogethers weeks and months ahead, and then send 5-6 texts on the day of the get together, confirming and re-confirming, and then letting the other one know our each and every step towards the get together, I find this sort of spontaneity to be so refreshing.

I feels so blessed to have found this little pocket in such a big city.

Family as neighbours

To add to the above, we have also been living across the street from my sister, my brother in law and their three children. We have become a part of each others’ weeks, and in many ways we’ve started to “do life” together. Some of my favorite moments have been the unplanned coming together of our lives. My niece and nephews walk by our house every day to and from school. I would often run into them when outside playing with M, or when getting into the car to go somewhere. I look back fondly on the time my niece stopped by unannounced on her way home from school to ask for a snack before her gymnastics class. It meant so much to me that I could be such a casual part of her day; so many family relationships these days are so formal, and I hadn’t realized how nice it can be to take away the formality of those visits.  Similarly, we have had many last minute dinners together, like the time we were going to be driving to Ottawa in two hours and I hadn’t yet started dinner prep and my sister (God bless her), texted me and said “instead of cooking and cleaning up, do you want to just come here for dinner?”. “Yes please!”. The stories go on, but suffice it to say, we’re so thankful for the way things worked out for us to be neighbours.

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Egypt

This year, the three of us took our first family visit to Egypt, my parents’ home country.  It was very special to me. I grew up visiting Egypt often, and as a result, I have a very strong connection to the land and the people.  I was so proud to show J and M the building where my mother grew up, and much of my family still lives. I was equally proud to introduce my husband and my daughter to my extended family and have all my worlds come together in that way.

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Seeing M grow in general

Seeing M grow from a one year old to a two year old was just precious.  Over the course of this year she learned to walk and talk, which are such huge milestones! She has become such a funny and fun loving girl. Like many toddlers, she is shy at first with people she doesn’t know, and then all of a sudden transforms to a crazy and outgoing little thing.  This year, we took advantage of the many toddler classes being offered in our neighbourhood: art class, library class, and gymnastics class. It was such a privilege to be by her side in all her classes and see her grow and open up to new things. Every time we came home from art class, she couldn’t wait for J to get home so that she could show him her “art work”.IMG_4308IMG_4276

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I’m not too sure what to make about the fact that I somehow managed to go a whole year without being able to find the time to be introspective.  I feel that I lived life on the surface a little, had a ton of fun, and treasured every moment, and yet time just flew by so fast that I didn’t have time to think about it, and my mind feels so cluttered.  Perhaps there’s no conclusion to draw, other than the fact that I have missed blogging, and hope to be a little more regular in the coming year.  As people keep telling me, “it’s a season”.

Ps. Since starting this post, we have moved to Ottawa! Post coming soon about all of that…

Lawyer-Mommy-ing


Happy new year readers!

Looking back at my last post, it has been about 5 months. Some of you have emailed to check in and make sure I was coming back. I’m still here :)

M is now a busy walking and talking 17 month old toddler.  Around the time she turned one, I distinctly remember realizing that she now understands everything we say! It was quite an amazing leap to witness! It’s hard to describe the feeling, but the analogy that comes to mind is putting in money into a savings account over time, and then all of a sudden realizing that there is a ton of interest on it!  We spent the whole year talking to her without much of a response, and then all of a sudden, she gets it! It was more gradual than I am describing, but there really was such a huge and awe-inspiring leap at the one year mark.  Five months later, we continue to be amazed every day by the new things she picks up.

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On my end, I have been busy with some big changes. Some of you know that while I was on maternity leave, I started up my own business (as if I didn’t have enough going on, eh?). Leading up to the end of my maternity leave and Maddie turning one (in Canada we have a one year long maternity leave), I decided to push forward with my business on a part time basis, which would allow me to continue to be home with Maddie for most of the time. At the time, it just seemed like a continuation of what I was doing since I was already home with her and working a little, but looking back, it has been a huge change and transition.

I went from working full time outside of the home, to being home full time with my daughter and doing some side work projects, to now juggling lawyering and mommying with boundaries between these two vocations that are a little less clear then the typical 9-5 divide.  I’ve consciously and intentionally traded in these clear boundaries for the benefits of flexibility. Nonetheless, still a huge transition which has required a little bit of soul searching in the process. On the surface, I lead the life of a stay at home mom.  But if you look a little deeper, you’ll also find that I am a practicing lawyer/entrepreneur/teacher.  I have heard that the return to work for most moms after maternity leave is a huge transition, so I do not pretend that my experience is unique. However, what I do think is a little different is that each day, I wear two hats. In fact, I am often taking off and putting on these two hats throughout the same day. And that has been a blessing. But a challenge as well. I am still embracing the identity of a stay-at-home mom, and figuring out the skills that go along with that. At the same time, I am growing in my outside-the-home skill set. I like to call myself a “lawyer-mama”.

It has been an adventure so far. A few months ago, I had a court hearing scheduled one morning. I had arranged to have someone come take care of M for the day.  Half an hour before I needed to leave, the person who was going to be taking care of M called in sick. What a panic! I had no one to call, it was too last minute, and I needed to leave. Fortunately, J has some flexibility in his work hours, so he was able to help me out. The three of us piled into the car, and drove off to court together! I spent the time that I was going to spend rehearsing figuring out who would take care of M. All went well, and I succeeded on what I was in court for, but that was a little too close for comfort! Nonetheless, a story I will always remember.The first of many ‘lawyer mama’ stories, I’m sure.  Needless to say, I now always make sure I have one or two back up babysitters when I have something important going on. Here is my best attempt of capturing the moment on that day. Hey, at least it’s documented:

Home from court selfie!

On the home front, M has been a delight. As I said, what a joy to see her develop. But also, I read that this stage of her life is known as ‘early adolescence’. It’s so true. My little girl now has a strong will and a huge desire to be independent. She wants to do everything herself. So, we’ve been trying to encourage that as much as possible, within reason. We try to feed her foods that facilitate her feeding herself, and try to teach her skills that will quench that desire to be independent. Today, while giving her lunch, she was taking the sippy cup cover on and off. She wanted to drink straight out of the cup without the cover, but also wanted to show me that she new how to put the cover back on the cup (which she didn’t, by the way).  I said to her “can mommy help you?”, and she just looked back at me with her big brown eyes. She seemed to be open to the idea. So I continued talking, “I know you want to be independent, but you’re still Mommy’s baby, and you need to let me help you sometimes”. Quite literally as I said the words, something clicked. From now on, she will want to be more and more independent of me. There was a time, when she was born, where she could do nothing without help. And now, she is learning new skills every day, and already showing a sense of autonomy. It is a strange realization to see the being you once carried in your womb, want to be independent of you.  I feel so connected to her, and yet I now see that she is becoming her own person. I’m still not too sure how I feel about this, but it has become apparent to me that it’s happening, and that I’m gonna need to embrace it.

So there you have it. A little sampling of what my life has started to look like as a lawyer mama. More tales to come.

Our girl is ONE!


One year ago (plus a few days), our precious M came into the world. We celebrated her birthday by giving her a homemade mini banana cherry cake (read: sugar free loaf). I really wasn’t sure how to make her birthday special for her since she obviously didn’t know that it was a special day. BUT, once we started blowing up balloons she got very excited. It was her first time seeing balloons being blown up and she thought it was fascinating.  We also lit a candle and sang her happy birthday. The whole ordeal was very exciting and I was proven wrong. The pictures speak for themselves:

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As you can imagine, this year has been an unforgettable one. The transition into parenthood has been like no other. Becoming a mother has changed my perspective and truly added new meaning to my life. Whether M knew it was a special day or not doesn’t really matter – because it was a big day for us. It wasn’t just HER birthday. It was OUR birthday as parents. A huge milestone, and one that made me realize that birthday aren’t just about the birthday girl/boy, but very much about the parents too (not to make everything about myself!), because of all the beautiful changes and new responsibilities that began on that day.

I wrote about M’s big debut here, but there is one part of the story I did not share with you…

Prior to M’s birth, we asked our family and friends if they could light a candle when they received news that we were heading to the hospital. We thought it would be nice to one day share with our daughter that as she was entering this world, dozens of people were thinking of her and praying for her. Also, I must confess that I was terrified of labor and wanted every prayer and positive vibe that I could get. It worked – her arrival was so special, and it was made even more meaningful just knowing that our loved ones were involved in this way. Some of our friends took pictures of their candles and emailed or instagrammed them. Here are a few of the pictures we received:

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I love how people added their personal touch to their pictures. It was particularly neat that one friend took a picture in front of the clock which read 11:27 because M was actually born at 11:26! It was touching for us to know that friends near and far were with us in spirit.

Many of us have heard the phrase “it takes a village to raise a child”. One of the reasons we chose to ask people to light candles was because of our belief in this idea. We wanted those around us to know that because of their involvement in our lives, the would automatically have a role (should they want it), in our daughter’s life – right from the beginning. Now that a year has gone by, we can confirm that community is invaluable (more on this in another post!).

We’re thankful for a year in our daughter’s life, and can’t wait to see what the next one brings! Happy birthday M!

What I’ll miss about Halifax – Part I


A while back, I wrote this post about what I would miss most about Ottawa. We were on brink of beginning our Halifax Chapter, and I was already feeling nostalgic. Three years later, I am having similar thoughts about our Chapter in Halifax drawing to a close. Except that we have been here for three times as long as we were in Ottawa – so I have three times as much  to say (or maybe more due to economies of scale. Sorry, couldn’t pass up that econ joke!). In order not to get too long winded here, I’m going to split this up into a few posts. First up – my favorite dining locations:

FOOD: My top 10 in and around Halifax:

In Halifax:

1-The croissants/tea biscuits at Two if by sea (aka TIBS). There are two locations – one in Halifax and one in Dartmouth. I recommend the Dartmouth one. Better yet, I recommend taking the ferry across from Halifax and walking up to the cafe. It makes for a fun little activity. I also recommend chai lattes here.

2-Heartwood – a great vegetarian eatery/place to hang out. Everything I have had there was great – my favs: the pizza with vegan garlic cheese; the vegan cookies made sans refined sugars; the spelt sourdough, which I would buy regularly and freeze at home to be consumed at my leisure.

3-Envie – a great vegan spot – more trendy than Heartwood, but the food just as delicious. Located in the “up and coming” North end of Hali.

4-The Wooden Monkey – a great spot for locally sourced/organic eats. Lots of allergen friendly options.

5-Lion and Bright: A recent addition to the North end. A hipster style coffee shop during the day and a classy yet trendy bar at night. Love the concept. Really great breakfast/lunch/dinner foods and very reasonably priced.

6-Mercato – they used to have a location on Spring garden and another in Bedford, but now they only have the Bedford one. I think it’s worth the drive. Delicious Italian food. I recommend the warm cabbage salad that comes with bacon and parmesan. Yum.

7-Salvatores – easily one of the best pizza places I have tried in my life. Will be greatly missed. I recommend the Pomodoro pizza.

Around Halifax:

8-The Port pub – Located in the beautiful Annapolis Valley, the food here is fresh and mostly local and also has a great ambiance and beautiful view of the valley. It is also located right on a river and the tide looks very different at different times of the day. For those who enjoy beer, there is a microbrewery on site and I am told they have many interesting types of beer. J and I would sometimes drive out to the valley (about an hour outside of Halifax, just to go to this place).

9-The Kiwi Cafe – Located in Chester. So much more than a cafe! They serve delicious brunches and lunches. Great salads, homemade soups, breads and pastries. I love the friendly atmosphere as well as the magazine collections and trivia cards at each table! I also enjoy the chai latte here!

10-The Dancing Goat Cafe: Located in Margaree – on the the Cabot Trail (Cape Breton). AWESOME pastries but also a great selection of brunch and lunch foods and a sweet atmosphere.

A 9 month photo shoot


I seem to be posting photos of M at a frequency of every 3 months – so here are some pictures from M’s 9 month photo shoot. We were privileged to have our friend Emma, from Emma Poliquin Photography come over and spend the morning with us taking these pictures. We had so much fun! M loved the attention, and we were thrilled – no – OBSESSED with the results! Thank you Emma!ImageImageImageImageImage

 

3rd year anniversary and family culture


Since starting this blog, I have been writing a post every year after our wedding anniversary. This one comes a little late, as we have just celebrated our FOURTH wedding anniversary, but I still want to take some time to sit down to reflect on some of the things that I learned in our third year of marriage.

As our third anniversary approached, J and I felt ready to bring a baby into the family because we felt that over the past few years we had created a strong identity as a couple, and one in which we would feel comfortable adding a new little member; a “family culture” if you will. Though having a baby at any time would have been a blessing, having had a few years to “find ourselves” as a family really made a difference; we needed the time to get to know who we were, what we stood for, and how we wanted to live our lives.

3 year anniversary dinner at Luma in Toronto

Though J and I come from families with similar cultural backgrounds and values, we have discovered over the years that we and our families are actually quite different. For example, I grew up in Toronto, and my family immigrated from Cairo; both bustling metropolises. J, on the other hand, grew up in Ottawa (a much smaller city) and immigrated from a small village in Lebanon. We realized that while my family and I are used to big city life, J and his family are used to a slower pace. This alone actually impacted a lot of the ways that J and I would run our lives, and it took a few years for us to find a common pace that both of us were comfortable with.  I wouldn’t have thought of it at the outset, but it took a while to find a happy balance as to how we schedule our days and our weeks, how much social time we need with friends vs. how much time we need to ourselves as a couple. Some other questions that came up were: how do we spend our money and organize our finances as a couple? We knew how we liked to do this individually, but we had to find our way together – and this involved figuring out our family values in this area. How much time do we spend with family and friends? How often do we go out for dinner? How much time do we let work take? How do we serve our Church, charities and our communities? What foods does our family like to eat? (I will need to write a whole other post on this).

Now that I look back, I realize that our time in Halifax has really given us the time and space to answer these questions. We didn’t necessarily do it on purpose, but having some time across the country, away from our families and friends, gave us the time to figure out who we are as a family, enough so, that it prepared us to welcome a new member into the culture that we created. This is not to say that our culture won’t change or evolve, but just that we went from being two individuals, to one family, and it didn’t happen over night. Have you intentionally thought about your family culture? If so, what type of culture have you created. For those interested in reading a little more on this, here is an excellent blog post.

 

How to support a loved one who is grieving


I have been meaning to write this post for a while now. This week marks two years since my beloved mother went to heaven, so I figure now is a good time to share my thoughts on this topic. While these are very much my own thoughts, I have spoken with others on this topic and have found that they tend to agree with me on what is helpful and what is not. A lot of what I have to say applies to people with whom you have a close relationship.

The first thing I would say is that if you want to support a loved one who is grieving, do not be afraid to bring up their loss. Many people feel awkward bringing up my mom because they worry it will make me sad. Little do they know that even now, two years later, I am constantly thinking of my mom. She forms the backdrop of my thoughts, and there is really no need for anyone to worry that they will be “reminding” me of my loss if they bring her up.  In fact, it is often a relief for me when people bring up the topic because I am already thinking about it and have plenty to say about it, but often keep my thoughts to myself unless asked.

Next, don’t be afraid to be “proactive” in your support. After my mom passed away, many well-intentioned people would say things like “let me know if you need anything at all” or “call me if you want to talk”.  While these words were of course well received, I was just not in a place to reach out to others. These types of phrases are passive, and what those who are grieving often need, are more active forms of support. For example: my friend Shannon dropped by uninvited a few days before my mom passed away.  We were all sitting on my mom’s bed chatting together when the door bell rang. When I opened the door, expecting to see another family member, my heart warmed to see Shannon’s smiling face holding a bag of home made cookies. Needless to say, I was touched, and although she did not stay long, I felt her support.  Many (including myself), would not think to take such a forward move as to drop by someone’s house when their mother is about to pass and tensions are high, but this is why this gesture meant so much. It also meant a lot to see a face who was outside of the situation. A connection with the outside world at a time where it seemed like I had none. After my mom passed away, it was those who made similar gestures that ended up being able to provide the most support. The lesson here I guess is not to be afraid to “impose” – don’t wait until you’re invited.

Third, if you knew the person who passed away, share your memories. I did not realize how much this helps, until I went through it myself. At the funeral and during the days and months that followed, many people relayed stories to my family and I about my mother. Personally, this validated my grief. It was like people were saying “I understand why you are so sad because I know what a wonderful person she because of this, this, this”. It is also validating because seeing someone pass away is so surreal, that your mind almost doesn’t believe that they were ever there in the first place (if that makes any sense). Hearing other people’s memories confirms that your lost loved one really did exist, and really did leave behind lasting memories and a legacy. In my own experience, I was also touched to hear stories that I had never heard about my mother before. It helped to know the way that she had touched other people’s lives.

This article about surviving trauma was recently published on the Sojourners blog.  I found the discussion on “firefighters” and “builders” to be right on point, and have pasted it below:

Surviving trauma takes “firefighters” and “builders.” Very few people are both.

This is a tough one. In times of crisis, we want our family, partner, or dearest friends to be everything for us. But surviving trauma requires at least two types of people: the crisis team — those friends who can drop everything and jump into the fray by your side, and the reconstruction crew — those whose calm, steady care will help nudge you out the door into regaining your footing in the world. In my experience, it is extremely rare for any individual to be both a firefighter and a builder. 

If you have any other suggestions or thoughts, I’d love for you to share them in the comments below.

On becoming a parent


This week we celebrated M’s 6 month birthday. Before I was a parent, I never really understood why parents made such a big deal about their babies’ monthly milestones. But now, I get it. I haven’t written much about it, but every month that passes in a baby’s life is such a miracle. It is such a gift to watch a life and a brain develop, literally day by day.

ImageA few years into my marriage, I suddenly woke up one day with the realization that being a wife felt more natural than not being a wife. I realised at that point that though I had been married for a while, it took time for me to grow into the role. Over the last 6 months, I realised that the same can be said of growing into the role of a parent. It is the passage of time that shapes us into the roles we take on in life. We celebrate the traditional milestone celebrations like birthdays, marriages, graduations, etc., but from my experience, it is rare that we have fully entered into those roles on those dates. Rather, we grow into them.  The day I got called to the bar, I didn’t feel like a lawyer, but slowly, over the passage of time, at some point when I wasn’t looking, I became a lawyer. Similarly, the journey into parenthood has been gradual, and is still very much a work in progress. Maybe one day I’ll wake up feeling that it feels more natural to be a parent, than not to be one.

ImageOver the last six months, I have marveled in awe at our little miracle. I have also been stretched and challenged in various directions. Sleep has been hard, yes. But more than that, I feel challenged when I think about the responsibility I now have to raise and shape a PERSON. I can’t help but look ahead to the time when my daughter will display our character traits, good and bad – and most frightening – those I intentionally taught her, and those I didn’t.  More than anything else, I feel the burden (in a positive way) of refining my character so that this new life can be imbibed with the very best character traits that I can offer to her.

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On a lighter note, the past six months have also been very fun. Some of my favorite moments have been the first time I heard M laugh (as well as every subsequent time I heard her laugh), the first time she stretched her arms out towards me signalling that she wanted me to pick her up and the time that she stretched one arm out to me and the other out to J, showing that she loved both of us and didn’t want to choose. Other highlights have included bath times, waking up next to her happy self every morning (yes, we co-sleep, that will be for another post), as well her most recent experience trying solids for the first time (a banana, in case you were curious).

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Happy six months, M! We love you :)

Picture of the Week: Madeleine at 3 months


 

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Madeleine’s Closet Nursery


When we first moved into our place, we made sure to get an extra room.  Being able to host family and friends has always been very important to us, so a guest room was a must. We also thought that we could use this spare room as an office for the majority of the year where we don’t have guests. But at the back of our minds, we were also thinking that if we had a baby, we would most definitely require an extra room.  Over the past couple of years, we’ve enjoyed many seeing many guests come and go, and I also ended up working a full time job from home, so the extra room was definitely a smart move.

Then, when we found out that we were expecting a baby, we realised we wanted to keep our spare room as an guest room/office, rather than convert it into a nursery. It is with this thought that J and I both separately had the same brain wave: Why not convert our walk-in closet into a nursery for our soon-to-be baby?

We started working on the nursery-closet (now known as Madeleine’s room) back in April before we left for Toronto for a few months. This is what it looked like before we started:

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As you can see, it was in pretty rough shape.

At the time, J was finishing up his exams, so this project was basically mine. I started by sanding down all the peeling paint, and then continued by filling up the cracks with “crack fill”.  I then painted the top of the wall (above the shelves) a pale yellow, which I thought would be a perfect colour for a baby room, but would also work well as a closet colour for anyone using this space after us.

Here is how it looked after the sanding, filling and painting:

ImageThe next step was to put up some white wood paneling which we picked up from Home Depot (Side note: I never realised how much I could learn from chatting with people working in hardware stores. I knew absolutely nothing before starting this project, and learned so much just by asking questions to the people who worked at Home Depot and Home Hardware. Who knew!). By this point, J was finished with his exams and was able  to join me – thankfully :)

ImageHere’s how the room looked after all the paneling was put up:

ImageAnd here is how it looks now:

ImageWe were super blessed to have M’s curtains sewn by my friend Emma, over at Emma Poliquin Photography (whose pictures I highly recommend you check out!). We picked up the dresser at Wicker Emporium, and it worked perfectly as a dresser/change table. Overall, we are super happy with the space! It is a perfect size for a little baby, and it is also very convenient to have M so close by during the night, while still allowing her to have her “own room”.  The only downside of course, was that we had to sacrifice our closet space, but we were able to be a bit creative with storage for our clothes, and in the end it all worked out :) We are pretty proud of ourselves for turning our 2 bedroom place into a 3 bedroom place!

 

 

 

 

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