“Do more things that make you forget to check your phone.”  Author unknown


One of the fringe benefits of this pandemic is that it has significantly reduced the frenzy that ruled our pre-pandemic lives. One of the downsides? An increase in screen-time!

Online video meetings have replaced many of our previous in-person gatherings: doctor’s appointments, family events, birthday parties, book clubs, dance and sports classes, playdates for our kids, and even school continues to be at least partly on-line.

Ya’ll know my opinions on screen-time. Of course our devices aren’t inherently evil, but the overwhelming majority of apps and software ARE designed with the intent to get us seriously hooked. One line from The Social Dilemma sums this up perfectly: “There are only two industries that call their customers ‘users’: illegal drugs and software.” So it’s not a stretch when I say to my kids, in exasperation, that they’re acting like they’re on crack when I threaten to take away their iPad or phone.

The vast majority of our family’s conflicts revolve around devices. At times I think it would be so much easier if I just let them gorge on their addiction. My mom even gently questioned me recently, “What’s the harm? At least they’re at home and you know they’re safe.”

Except they’re not safe, and there is a lot of harm. Let’s skip the whole issue of dangerous online predators, and consider how detrimental the digital world can be. Time ON our devices means time AWAY from rich, meaningful activities. This means less time to exercise, invest in our relationships, read, engage in rich conversations, give undivided attention to our loved ones or to be outdoors.

Which is why I went on a quiet retreat with my girls last weekend. Tiana and Chelsea knew there would be no screen time, and WOW did I meet some powerful resistance. But the result of our 47-hour retreat? Sweet, simple success!!!

We went for walks, played games, enjoyed creative time journaling and painting, read by the fire (they even asked me to read my book aloud to them!), roasted marshmallows, listened to our favourite Christmas music, and had lots of cuddles. We ate simple, delicious yet nourishing meals. When they saw that I brought a string of Christmas lights to drape over the mantle, they both actually squealed with joy. We enjoyed every beautiful present moment for the whole weekend, since we weren’t waiting for the next digital fix.

As I write this, my girls’ screen-time has returned to business as usual. Sigh. But I’ve booked our next retreat in 9 weeks, and my goal is to reserve one day a week to device-free-family-time, starting next Sunday.

I look forward to forgetting to check our phones again.


Purely Practical

Watch The Social Dilemma. It’s disheartening, enlightening and empowering all at once, and I bet you’ll be inspired to make changes to your and your family’s current consumption of screen-time.

Want to go on your own family retreat? Rivendell Retreat Centre on Bowen Island generously lets guests pay by donation. It is Christian-based yet open to all, regardless of faith.

Join the Conversation

What screen-time issues or solutions have you experienced? What works, and what doesn’t? If you could go back in time, would you do anything differently about your or your kids’ use of devices?

Here’s where you’ll find random tips that don’t quite fit in the other categories.

Consider this an eclectic collection 🙂


A Key way to remember… When you’re out and need to remember to bring something home with you, leave your keys with it. For example, if you’re visiting friends after doing groceries and need to put some yogurt in their fridge, put your keys in the fridge with it. You may get some strange looks, but it’s very effective. You definitely won’t leave without the yogurt!


Keep reusable bags in the passenger seat (not the trunk) of your car. That way they’re a visual reminder, making it more likely you’ll bring them into the store, versus realizing when you’re at the checkout that you forgot them in the car.


Ask “for here” next time you’re in Starbucks if you’ll be drinking your beverage in their restaurant. Otherwise, they automatically put drinks in their disposable to go cups. They don’t ask, even though Starbucks sent 3.85 BILLION cups to the landfill in 2017 alone. And nope, they can’t be recycled.


Save money when online shopping by starting the checkout process, but not completing the sale. A lot of online stores will email coupons within a day or two as incentive to return to your virtual shopping cart and pay for your items. Even if it’s only 10-15%, it’s easy money saved. Of course this works if you’re not desperate to order your item right away, and doesn’t work with Amazon.


When you need to remember something and you’re about to fall asleep… Don’t worry about finding pen and paper. Just throw a pillow (or anything else “throwable” that’s within reach) towards your door. A tissue box, magazine, brush, or bottle of lube all work too! It’s the equivalent of tying a string around your finger until the next morning. Hopefully you just remember what it is you’re reminding yourself of!


This driving tip could save your life. When waiting to turn left, most of us pull into the intersection and begin turning our wheels to the left in anticipation of completing the turn. This is so dangerous: if we’re rear-ended, we go flying directly into oncoming traffic! Instead, we need to point our wheels straight ahead, greatly reducing the chance that we’ll hit—or be hit by—another vehicle.


Here are some of my favourite tips to slow down, be mindfully present, and create serenity.

Remember to share your tips too!


Breathe. Slowly. Consciously. It’s harder than it sounds. Our attention is so scattered, our environment so full of visual and auditory clutter, that even focusing our minds on a few attentive breaths can be a challenge. Try to get to 10 mindful breaths. It’s harder than you think, but well worth the effort: you’ll feel more calm, less stress, and an overall enhanced experience of the present moment.


Turn off text message and email alert sounds on your phone. Each little “ding” is a distraction, taking your attention away from your kid, your spouse, your friend, or just your lunch. Your friends can wait, and if it’s really important, they can give you an old-fashioned phone call to get your attention. (You can allow alert sounds for specific people only, like your kids/spouse etc. if you wish.)


A peaceful drive. I have a personal rule when I’m in the car without kids. If I can’t find a song I absolutely love, I turn off the radio. The peaceful silence feels way better than listening to crappy music or invasive radio commercials. Even Chelsea now requests quiet drives: quite the feat for my little talker!!!


Set multiple daily reminders on your smart phone. During the day, set a few reminders to be mindful. You can call it “Breathe” or “Be Present” or whatever message works for you.


Put visual reminders everywhere. I printed “Breathe” in a couple of lovely fonts, cut them out and taped them around the house. Derek’s uneasy about publicly displaying them (um, in the privacy of our home!) as guests may think it’s weird, so I hide the reminders in cupboards, drawers, and our bathroom. Way I figure, if people in my home are comfortable opening cupboards and gingo in my bathroom, they know me well enough to not think it’s weird! I’ve also put balloon stickers (representing air and breath, but you pick any sticker you want) in the car and around the house. Stickers invite fewer questions, if you’re worried about that sort of thing 🙂


Sit down to eat. While you’re at it, take a few deep breaths. Slowing down like this lets us enjoy our food a lot more. An extra bonus is “sitters” eat healthier portion sizes and tend not to snack as much during the day. When we stand, our minds don’t seem to register the food as a real meal, so we eat more at the next meal or in the form of snacks throughout the day. Source: http://www.healthline.com/nutrition/eating-while-standing-up


Get more “free time.” Just wake up earlier than the rest of the family. You can read, exercise, meditate, or sip your coffee in total peace before the morning chaos begins. If you’re like me and the thought of waking up EARLIER and getting LESS SLEEP sounds crazy, then go to bed earlier so you end up with the same amount of sleep. Whenever I do this, I’m able to be a more peaceful, less-harried mom (read, no yelling) as I help get the family fed, ready and out the door.


Leave a few minutes early rather than right “on-time” (or a few minutes late). I have a bad habit of waiting till the last minute before I leave the house. I wash a few dishes, return an email, or throw in just one load of laundry before heading out the door. But whenever I wait until the last minute to leave, I end up freaking out cause I’m running late, and then rushing the kids, snapping at them to hurry up, and kicking myself for the stress I’ve created for all of us. But when I leave a few minutes EARLY, it’s a much more peaceful experience getting to our destination. It’s also a lot safer to drive when we’re not rushed. There’s no temptation to speed, run the yellow light, or tailgate the super slow driver in front of us.


Create serenity in the kitchen by keeping the kitchen table attractive and clutter-free. A messy table = stress and mental chaos. But when it’s cleared and I’ve added bright placemats and flowers, the table becomes a serene centre-piece in the kitchen. It’s fun to involve the kids too, collecting pine cones, stones, shells, wildflowers or long grasses to use instead of traditional flowers in a vase.

Practical tips to get the most out of what you eat and drink.

Reduce food waste, and save money.


Want to chill a bottle of wine, fast? Wrap a wet paper towel around your bottle and put it in the freezer. In about 15 minutes you’ll have a nice chilled bottle.


Keep a pretty pitcher of water or herbal tea on the table or counter. Add a touch of spa flavour with slices of lemons, cucumbers, strawberries or other fruit for that extra incentive to drink and stay hydrated all day.


Reheating pizza? Do it in a pan on the stove at medium-low heat, with a lid on. The crust stays crisp and the rest of the pizza becomes all wonderful gooey delicious again. 


Keep the bubbles in your Champagne (or soda, anything carbonated) for days. Pop a teaspoon, handle end first into the bottle. Better than any stopper or cork.


Waste not! Speaking of ice cubes, freeze leftover tomato paste (I rarely use the whole can) into ice cubes and then store in airtight container in the freezer. When a recipe only calls for a tablespoon or so, voila! No waste. This also works for leftover broth or pesto sauce, even wine (perfect when need to add a splash to sauces, soups or stews).


If cheese is about to expire, just grate & put in the freezer to use in cheese sauce, pizza, nachos, or casseroles. 


Freeze leftover coffee in ice cube trays. Makes a great frappe (blend with your favourite milk and sweetener), or chill your iced coffee without diluting with ice cubes that just melt into water.

Purely practical ways to clean and organize around the house.

Remember to share your favourite tips!


Don’t cry over spilled wax. Get candle wax drippings out of your carpet by putting a paper towel over the wax, then gently running a hot iron over it. The heat melts the wax and immediately gets absorbed by the paper towel.


Get rid of that gunky mess in the microwave. Heat a clean, wet cloth in the microwave for 2 minutes. Let it sit for a few minutes to cool off and let the steam do its trick, then squeeze excess water out of the cloth and wipe microwave clean. The steam makes it easy to wipe away the food guck without any elbow grease or chemicals.


Get your dishwasher cleaning more than dishes. Dishwashers make it easy to clean and disinfect can openers, scissors, plastic hair brushes and combs, your dish scrubber, soap dishes, toothbrush holders and more. Just don’t put wood, copper, crystal, cast iron, hand-painted ceramics and antiques or other delicate items that common-sense dictates should be hand-washed.


Clean your can opener. Can openers are often neglected, accumulating gross bacteria gunk under the blades. Ewww. Rinse after each use, or if it needs a deep clean, put in the dishwasher. If there’s rust, soak rusty parts overnight in a small bowl of white or apple cider vinegar. Brush residue with an old toothbrush, then rinse well. Dry by shaking water out and/or drying with a cloth or paper towel, and leave in open position so any remaining moisture can air dry.


Re-use paper towels. When I’ve used paper towels and they’re not too soiled, I dampen them and wipe the grimiest parts of my floors and window tracks before tossing them in the green waste bin. Think of those gross places under your fridge and stove, or the dirty tracks of sliding doors or windows. Or if you’ve cleaned your mirrors in the bathroom, dampen the barely soiled paper towels and give your floor a quick wipe, especially corners and edges where the hair and dust bunnies tend to accumulate. Then voila! The bulk of the disgusting-ness is gone.


Clean residual wax out candle holders by popping them in the freezer for a few hours. Then, it can pop out (sometimes with a little help from a dull knife). Any stubborn residue can be rinsed with steaming hot water and wiped off with a paper towel—and you know how to re-use that paper towel! 🙂


Make your own glass cleaner. A simple solution of dish soap, a splash of vinegar and warm water will get your windows absolutely streak free. Put in a dollar-store spray bottle and wipe clean with a good microfibre cloth, newspaper or coffee filter.


Get rid of moldy spots on your shower curtain. Just throw that plastic or vinyl curtain in the washing machine! Add a couple of towels for extra cleaning agitation, then hang it back up to dry or put in the dryer on low heat. To keep it clean longer, stretch the curtain out after each shower to help moisture evaporate.


Get rid of stink! Baking soda is the BEST at eliminating odours. Sprinkle in stinky shoes, let it sit for a day, and tap it out well before wearing again. Also works great in stinky garbage bins, garbage disposals, or anywhere you want to get rid of stink.


Clean roasting pans by soaking them with a bit of dish soap, hot water and a generous sprinkle of baking soda. The burnt-on food will slip off easily an hour later (let soak overnight if really bad).


Freshen any fabric that can’t be put in the laundry. Generously sprinkle with baking soda, rub it in, let sit for a half hour, then vacuum up the residue. Think stinky pet beds, or after you’ve cleaned the cat pee out of the carpet or kid’s puke off the couch, etc. 


Swap household chores with your spouse. Dad gets more one-on-one time with the kids while mom does jobs unrelated to childcare. I sincerely welcome the change of mowing the lawn after dinner while Derek washes dishes and gets the kids ready for bed.


Negotiate a rate with your babysitter/local teen to do simple household chores when the kids are asleep. For a totally worthwhile extra fee, our babysitter would empty the dishwasher, sweep the floor, fold laundry, dust, wipe baseboards, etc.  Alternatively, hire and train a local teen to do these housekeeping chores at a fraction of the cost of professional cleaners.