Monday, March 28, 2016

Taking steps toward career advancement

One of my goals for 2016 was to advance in my career. I love my work. Toward the end of 2015, I was feeling a bit stagnated in my role as I have been in the same level of position for just over 3 years. Over the past few months I've been taking definite steps toward advancement and while I don't have a new job or a promotion, just taking steps toward advancing my career by looking for ways to grow in my current role, taking advantage of professional development opportunities, networking, keeping my eye on opportunities in my field of work, and improving my work wardrobe has made a huge difference in my outlook. Here are some of the details on things I've done since Christmas:

Look for ways to grow in my current role
I've been trying to focus on the benefits of my current position. Seeing different tasks as opportunities to gain new experience, skills, and as opportunities to prove my capabilities to my manager and employer. I've been asking for and taking on new projects. I've also been taking advantage of all the opportunities I'm offered to attend workshops, meetings, and conferences.

Professional development
Earlier this month I wrote my professional exam! I likely won't hear back until June whether or not I passed but I'm feeling pretty optimistic. My manager also approached me about taking a one-day course this Spring which I'm looking forward to. I'm also interested in attending the annual conference put on by our association later this year. My employer only pays for a limited number of staff to attend this conference. I was fortunate to be able to attend for one day last year because others who committed weren't able to go. However, I've decided to pay my own way this year if that comes up as a barrier as I found it to be a valuable development and networking opportunity last year. I also volunteer in a capacity related to my field of work. I will have served the maximum volunteer term at the end of this year so I'm also trying to take advantage of all opportunities for development and to make connections through this avenue as well.

The biggest tool I've been using for networking has been LinkedIn. I've had a LinkedIn profile for a number of years but wasn't really using it until recently. I took advantage of the free premium membership for a month and grew my contacts from around 100 to over 400. I've been connecting with many people from previous jobs and those who I've met at workshops or conferences through work. I try to send personal messages thanking people for connecting me and in some cases, reminding them how I know them if it has been a while.  I receive connection requests somewhat frequently from people I don't know. If they are in my industry, I check out their profiles and our shared connections in deciding whether or not to accept the request. I've also been endorsing my connections for the skills I know they have. In turn, I have also been getting endorsements (win!).  At some point I'd like to get a professional head shot taken.

Keeping my eye out for job opportunities
Once or twice a week I check a couple of job boards for current opportunities. I've saved postings for jobs which sound appealing but that I am not yet qualified for. I do this for a couple of reasons.. 1) to identify experience gaps and try to find ways of developing those skills in my current role; and 2) to refer to when I'm preparing my resume in the future so I can use similar language to frame and highlight my experience and skills. While I'd prefer to stay and grow with my current employer, this may not be possible so I'm still keeping an eye out for other local opportunities. There seem to be a fair amount of opportunities, however, most of them would be a much farther commute than my current 15 minute commute. There are so many benefits to being close to home like reduced travel costs, time, opportunity to go to medical appointments on my lunch hour or pick up groceries, and to be close to the boys school to help out on occasion.  The limited increase in pay to move up to the next level wouldn't be worth the difference economically or convenience-wise, however, I may have to consider this option at least for a couple of years in order to advance.

Boosting my work wardrobe
I find I do my best work when I feel good about my appearance. Over the last year I've been growing my work wardrobe by shopping sales and consignment. A few times a year I've been evaluating my closet and taking clothing to the consignment store to sell at the same time as I look for a few new pieces of clothing to boost my work wardrobe. I was reading an article somewhere about business fashion which mentioned having clothing tailored for a perfect fit. After my first pregnancy, I took a bunch of clothing to a local seamstress to have them taken in. I had lost a fair amount of weight post-pregnancy. I spent about $50 and had several pieces of clothing done. I still wear a few of them! Post-babies it has been really difficult to find articles of clothing in the stores that fit nicely. There are some things in my wardrobe that I really like but that don't fit me quite the way I'd like. This Spring I'm planning on making a trip to have a few pieces tailored and a broken zipper fixed.

I'd love to hear any tips/experiences/resources on career advancement that others would be willing to share :)

Monday, February 1, 2016

January Re-Cap

A January Project - mid completion - reading nook!

I would be remiss if I didn't continue on with the trend of my monthly blog posts summarizing the month.

January was full of:

Sickness. Since December we've been battling non-stop sickness in our household. Friends invited us away for a weekend at a ski resort. At the last minute they couldn't make it due to a health issue but couldn't cancel on such short notice and told us to go without them anyway. We spent our family weekend away, all but one of us (the likely culprit who started the chain of sickness the weekend prior) battling a nasty stomach bug at different points throughout the weekend. There was only minimal time spent enjoying amenities. It was all sorts of terrible but on the plus side, I can check winter family vacation off our 2016 goals list.

Activity. Between skating once/week in addition to extra time gearing up for a competition at the end of the month (we won a medal!) and learning to snowboard, I was out at least 2-3 times/week doing fairly rigorous physical activity. I haven't been so active (nor felt so in shape) since I was in my early teens. I'm really loving it. 4 of us, minus a sweet baby, were also able to sneak away for an evening at the ski hill. So awesome! Can't wait until next year when we can get Noah on skis. Our oldest son has also been enjoying Improv lessons!

Relaxation. There was a bit of a lull at work which was so nice. We also made some library trips. I swapped off taking each of the older boys. I've been consistently reading before bed most nights. I'm a non-fiction lover for the most part but I'm trying to force myself to pick up some fiction too. At one point, I had a whole week without any evening commitments aside from one evening of snowboarding lessons and it was nice. We ate good healthy dinners and got to bed in good time.

Giving our home attention. We splurged and made a number of changes around our house. Moved furniture, bought some new furniture, sorted and hung pictures. This is going to be a priority in February too. Once the nice weather comes, our weekends are mostly spent away so winter is the perfect time to make changes at home.

Career development. I met another milestone on my path to certification in my field of work. I should be fully certified by this summer. I'm just waiting on confirmation of eligibility to write my final professional exam - hopefully this Spring. I was able to meet with my boss in early January to discuss 2016 work plan goals and professional development goals. This month I also got back into using LinkedIn which I hadn't really used much in the past and have been growing my connections there.

Competition dressing room selfie! Loving being involved in sports again! 

3 brothers fort building on a dreary winter day

Monday, January 18, 2016

When parenting is tough..and you get help.

I don't quite know how to jot down all of these thoughts or whether anyone even reads what has really become more like a family journal of sorts rather than the earlier years of this blog where I posted more and on more varied topics. 

In my reflection on 2015, I wrote about how last year was more of a down year of us settling into life as a family of five. However, 2015 was a pivotal year in parenting for us.  

Peaceful isn't a word I'd use to describe most days in our house. We've raised our voices more than we'd like to admit, lacked patience, and consistency. Sometimes giving in seems worth it when you just can't muster the energy anymore and you have a particularly strong-willed child. Last year we started to get phone calls and notes home from school. We've always had challenges at home (more often than not, when I'm solo parenting) but until recently, they never flowed over into school or other settings. There were so many different things it is hard to even remember them all. Recess incidents, not following classroom instructions, being silly, acting out. "We'll talk to him", was our standard response. While we were looking to the school for suggestions or answers, they were looking to us. We didn't have them. 

We did what many parents are afraid to do for fear of labelling their child, or labelling themselves, we  looked for help. We got on a waiting list for behaviour counselling services. These services are free through our local social services department. While we waited, we attended some parenting workshops that were offered where we met many other parents who were just like us, facing the same sort of challenges, and some with children who have been diagnosed with developmental disabilities (our son has not been diagnosed as having a developmental disability). After 5 months, we had our first appointment with a specialist. She did not meet with our son but rather has supported us in our parenting by listening and providing us with tools and suggestions. I also started reading anything I could get my hands on about boys, education and parenting, from the library and online. More than 80% of our counsellor's caseload are parents of boys. 

Slowly we have been adjusting our parenting approaches and our expectations. We're learning that our number one priority is to set our son up for success and that means looking for opportunities where he can thrive and be successful based on his strengths, personality, etc.  We look for opportunities to catch him demonstrating good behaviours and to praise and acknowledge his efforts. We're signing him up for more activities (we previously tried to keep him less programmed with all the talk of over programming kids these days but he is a kid that needs more stimulation and some of the challenges were coming from boredom). Things at home have been much easier and far more positive lately and things have improved significantly at school. A lot of the things we've learned through this experience have been useful for parenting all of our sons. Our two older sons are very different in personalities, strengths, and interests (we're still watching our youngest grow into his personality each day). Prior to getting help, we had a singular parenting approach mindset. We wanted to be consistent with our approach for all of our children. We now know that our parenting approaches will be different for each child based on their unique needs and that is okay and that is what will work best for our family. 

I think in many ways, we've grown and begun to overcome our own insecurities about being judged for seeking help or around others thinking his actions are a reflection of our parenting or lack of parenting skills. In all other areas of life, some of the strategies I've learned in order to become successful have been to seek out help through lessons or mentors, to read up, and to keep on practicing. I felt much more at ease and confident having an infant the third time around than I did the first. Two big picture things have stuck with me from sessions with our counsellor: 1) Our son has a lot of really exceptional qualities 2) So many parents don't seek out help at all, especially if they don't have a diagnosis, or when they finally do seek help, it is much more difficult because they've waited so long. 

I'm really glad we decided to get help. We've become more open and honest around other parents and have found that we aren't alone. I'm also so fortunate for the advice of many of my colleagues at work who have boys similar in age and older and who have shared their stories, strategies, experiences, and knowingly sympathetic acknowledgements. We don't have to do it alone. 

Sunday, January 10, 2016

2016 Goals

In 2016 I've discovered adult colouring books
Between Christmas and New Years I took vacation time. It was the longest stretch of vacation I had taken since I started in my new job a year and a half ago. Right now, I get 11 days of vacation each year. Any overtime or evening meetings give me some extra lieu time I can use for additional time off which I've used to attend the boys school events or other appointments. I can also use a few accumulated sick days for medical appointments but I tend not to use them unless absolutely necessary since I haven't accumulated all that many and I'd like to bank enough in case anything unexpected were to come up.

Coming up to Christmas I was starting to feel burned out. I'd only really taken off a few days here and there aside from my 5-day Chicago trip in September and I've had a steady increase in responsibilities and workload at work. I found taking a day off here and there required just as much preparation as longer vacations like ensuring tasks were wrapped up, letting people know I'd be away, and getting back up to speed on anything I'd missed.

Originally we were planning on going on a vacation to visit my mom in Florida for Christmas but when my mother-in-law passed away in October, we decided this Christmas wasn't the best time. So most of my vacation was spent at home decompressing. I plowed through a stack of library books on parenting (mostly on parenting boys - separate blog post on that) and work/life balance, worked on one or two projects around the house per day, ate glorious and slowly prepared dinners each night, watched tv and movies with R after the boys were in bed, slept in a few days, and spent lots of time with family. I also gathered inspiration from reading other people's 2016 goals. A big influencer of my own goals this year was the book the Power of Less. I found myself going back to it over and over again. It was a quick, easy read. In particular, it made me think of some overall guiding principles for my 2016 goals:

Less multi-tasking, more single tasking.
Having less big "goals" but working harder and smarter to accomplish them.
Focus on doing the things that only I can do and delegate or streamline the rest (i.e. cleaning) - this idea actually came from Anne-Marie Slaughter's Unfinished Business.
Keep our finances under control.

2016 Goals

Aim for 8 hours of sleep consistently - no ifs, ands, or buts.

Take time to transition and unwind before bed. It can be so hard to switch off at night. The boys have a routine and I'd like to implement one myself. Taking a hot bath or reading a book immediately before bed improves my sleep.

Keep on going for monthly massage sessions. 

Prioritize eating and drinking. I know this sounds crazy as a goal but I'm often so busy multi-tasking that I'll put off eating or drinking or eat while doing something else. A lot of people eat more when they're stressed out but I actually eat less. I felt so much better over the holidays when we were preparing good home cooked meals. Single tasking should help with this.

Find ways to nurture our individual and collective family interests. Some examples, B's best subject at school is Drama so we signed him up for an Improv class, I'm a skier but I'm taking snowboarding lessons this winter so we can snowboard together as a family, R is going on a fishing trip with his dad this Spring, and we're taking a whole week off this summer to spend as a family at our trailer.

Celebrate more and work on being empathetic.  I've been trying very hard to listen, acknowledge, and give praise and encouragement more as a parent, wife, friend, and colleague. Even little things like celebrating the boys having a good day at school or stopping what I'm doing when one of the boys has something to show me or tell me and taking the time to acknowledge has made a big difference in how smooth and positive our days have been.

Progress in my career. I've been at the same level in my career for the past three years. I've been taking on more responsibilities at work for a while now and in 2016, I would like to advance.

Go on a weekend trip as a family this winter. 

Go on a weekend trip without the kids. 

Blog more than 2015 :) 

Learning how to snowboard! Bring it on 2016!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

A reflection on 2015

In keeping with my trend of late and sparse posts in 2015, I've finally gotten around to reflecting on last year and typing my reflections out. 

2015 was a year of settling down for us. We settled into our first full year of life as a family of five. I settled into my first full year of my new job too. I blogged less than any other year since I started blogging in 2008. 

My broad goals for 2015 were:
* Nurturing my marriage
* Getting back to myself
* Making emotional and physical health a priority
* Making our house a home; and 
* Continuing to pay off debt but not in a stressful, overwhelming way

I was less accountable this year, I think, to my annual goals I set out in January - likely in large part to my decrease in blogging - but I think I a made a lot of progress. It is amazing the changes or things that can be accomplished in twelve short months. 

Some highlights from 2015 were:
> Good health! 2015 was a much better year health-wise for me than 2014 and for that I am most greatful
> Reducing my screen time dramatically and not missing it. These days I check in to Instagram, Facebook, and personal email only a couple of times per day. 
> Competing in two skating competitions and a few festival skates with my adult synchronized skating team 
> Getting up on the water skis behind our brand new boat for the first time in almost 10 years in July and then going for a water ski every weekend after until mid-September and even making a few good attempts at wake boarding. 
> Going on a trip to Chicago with my girlfriend in September and enjoying adult time! 
> Starting to build a wardrobe I feel good in with thrift store finds and new purchases after seriously neglecting this area of my life for the past 7 years
> Redoing our kitchen, replacing our worn out sofas and switching our downstairs layout to make better use of the space, and organizing a small area in our unfinished basement where the kids can watch TV, movies, or play video games with their friends. 
> Eliminating all credit card debt and seeing the benefits of using a rewards credit card properly (i.e. paying it off in full every month!)
> Rediscovering my love of the library and reading and watching our 7 year old, who struggled with reading since starting school, blossom into a competent reader right before my eyes
> Going for regular massages to help my body recover from years of pregnancies, nursing, and lifting little boys and soaking in occasional hot baths with epsom salts at night when everyone is in bed.
> Spending more time together as a couple and family and not being afraid to seek out help and support when we needed it

None seem like extraordinary or monumental feats that have made my list most of the last almost 7 years I've been blogging, like getting married, having a baby, graduating, or new houses or cars or jobs,  but I think 2015 was just what we needed to have the time to reflect on and appreciate all of the greatness that we are blessed with in our lives. 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015


November was filled with home renovations, family gatherings, and busyness.

We had a late Thanksgiving with my mom's side of the family in Wasaga Beach. I finished my Christmas shopping and we celebrated the first of our family Christmas' at our house with my family before my mom left for Florida for the winter. We finally did a ton of work in our kitchen and have all new appliances, new flooring, a new faucet, refaced cabinets, and new track lighting over the preparation area. We also switched our dining room to our family room and are now using our combined living room/dining room as a larger family room space. The house is finally starting to feel more like home after 4.5 years!

Volunteer activities took up a lot of my time in November. For one of my activities, I took the afternoon off work and attended an alumni/student networking event at the university where I did my undergraduate degree. I loved being back on campus (so nostalgic!) and speaking with all the students who are in the same program I took. The very next week I attended another alumni event held in Toronto geared toward women and leadership in careers. I had the opportunity to meet many astounding women at the event and left feeling so inspired. Until recently, I had never really engaged much with the Alumni community, but I'm very happy I did. I'm actually a graduate of two universities but preferred my undergraduate experience to my graduate experience and feel far more of a connection there. If you went to college or university, are you at all involved with the alumni association?

We attended parent-teacher interviews for both boys and were delighted to hear that they are doing very well academically. We were especially proud of our biggest guy who up until this year was quite behind in reading and has made such significant strides, he is at the appropriate level now! We've really been trying at home to find reading materials that interest him by letting him choose materials from the Scholastic book order at school and getting a variety of books from the second hand store to try out different series.

Noah also learned to scooter (in the house) and it has been the cutest thing ever! We had our first little bit of snow too but so far none has stuck around which is a bummer because this year we bought passes to the ski hill!

A few from November.. though I didn't take many since my phone camera is so terrible now:

Wednesday, November 11, 2015


Days spent on the lake in the boat with warm weather seem so far behind us now. We closed the trailer and boat up at the beginning of October for the year.

Toward the end of October we lost my mother-in-law to Alzheimers. She was only 64 and it progressed quickly. I knew her a few years before the disease really took hold and was fortunate to have had that time. Unfortunately, the boys didn't really have a chance to get to know her well. I hope we will find opportunities to be able to talk to them more about her as time goes on. This year was their first real exposure to death. They lost a great-grandfather and a grandmother. B&N sat quietly and were very respectful during the service. I was a proud mama. Quiet and respectful aren't often words I use to describe them but it is nice to know they understand when it is important that they try to be on their best behaviour.

Consequently, I was solo parenting a lot in October. Weekends were spent - apple picking (there happened to be pumpkins there too!), having backyard adventures, and making many trips to the playground. We also had a couple of special outings with just the big boys. I took them skating one afternoon and the four of us went to a local hockey game another evening. For the latter, we had a girl in our neighbourhood baby sit for the first time while Noah was sleeping. It is something we plan on doing more often now that the boys are getting older.

Halloween was a hit this year, we had an Iron Man, Batman, and Dragon. Two of which were hand-me-down costumes from previous years.  Noah even learned to say trick-or-treat, visited a couple of houses, and helped me hand out candy in his dragon costume. He was the sweetest little dragon there ever was.

My camera on my iPhone is getting so terrible. It may be time for a new one soon...