10 Books by BIPOC Women Authors for Your Reading List

Every year I set a goal of reading at least two books per month, and if I happen to read more then, great. In deciding what books to read, I inevitably have no clue and end up taking one of two actions: (1) sending a text to a couple of friends who are avid readers and asking for suggestions, and (2) consulting the wise sage, Google for recommendations. I often select a random assortment of books and read, well, whatever. 

This time around, however, I’m now taking a different, more intentional approach to the books that I read. I’ve been thinking about how I can continue my commitment to supporting more BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) womxn writers. 

“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

So, if, like me, you have a desire to read more stories from diverse voices to support BIPOC writers, and you’re not really sure what type of book you want to read or where to start, I’m here to help. I’m sharing another curated list of books by BIPOC women authors you can add to your reading list right now. You’re welcome.

As the old saying goes, “variety is the spice of life”, and that truth also applies to this reading list. I wanted a reading list that includes stories by women from diverse backgrounds, including BIPOC Canadian voices and a range of genres – classic literary fiction, memoir and anti-black racism works. The books on this list represent a small selection of titles that I’m excited to read (and a few I want to read again). Hopefully, there is a title or two that gets you just as excited!

Save this post and share it with a friend or with folks in your book club. Let’s continue to show love to BIPOC authors, independent bookstores and our public libraries. 

10 Books by Women BIPOC Authors For Your Reading List

Butter Honey Pig Bread – Francesca Ekwuyasi

Butter Honey Pig Bread was longlisted for the 2020 Scotiabank Giller Prize and tells the stories of twin sisters, Kehinde and Taiye, and their mother, Kambirinachi. It is described as a “story of choices and their consequences, of motherhood, of the malleable line between the spirit and the mind, of finding new homes and mending old ones, of voracious appetites, of queer love, of friendship, faith, and above all, family.”

Washington Black – Esi Edugyan

Edugyan’s Washington Black won the 2018 Giller Prize and was one of the New York Times Book Review 10 Best Books of the Year. The novel tells the story of Washington Black, an 11-year-old field slave in Barbados and a wild travel adventure. The publisher’s synopsis describes this as “a story of self-invention and betrayal, of love and redemption, and of a world destroyed and made whole again.”

Birdie – Tracey Lindberg

Birdie tells the story of Bernice (Birdie) Meetoos, a Cree woman from British Columbia who travels in search of family and a place to call home while living with a dark secret from her past.

How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps the House – Cherie Jones

This story takes place in a resort town in Barbados. It’s the tale of Lala and her husband, a criminal, and the consequences that unfold from a burglary gone wrong. It’s a story about race, domestic violence, class and the interconnectedness of our lives. 

Beloved – Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for Beloved (she’s also held Nobel Prize in Literature and other accolades because she was brilliant). Beloved is the story of “Sethe, an escaped slave who has lost a husband and buried a child; who has withstood savagery and not gone mad. Sethe, who now lives in a small house on the edge of town with her daughter, Denver, her mother-in-law, Baby Suggs, and a disturbing, mesmerizing apparition who calls herself Beloved.” It is a complex story that can be a challenging read at times. 

Beloved was turned into a movie in the late 1990s starring Oprah, Thandie Newton and Danny Glover. You can read what Toni Morrison says about the origins of Beloved here.

Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston’s, Their Eyes Were Watching God was first published in 1937.  It is a classic of the Harlem Renaissance that tells a love story about Janie Crawford’s coming of age set in the southern US.

Brown Girl Dreaming – Jacqueline Woodson

This is Jacqueline Woodson’s memoir of growing up in South Carolina and New York in the 1960s and 1970s during Jim Crow and the Civil Rights movement.

Do Better: Spiritual Activism for Fighting and Healing from White Supremacy –  Rachel Ricketts

This book by Thought leader and racial justice educator, Rachel Ricketts was released in February 2021. Ricketts’ website states this book “offers mindful and practical steps for all humxns to dismantle white supremacy on a personal and collective level.” If you’ve ever heard Rickett’s speak, you’re in for some deep learning and awareness-raising.

Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in The Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race – Beverly Daniel Tatum

This is Beverly Daniel Tatum’s classic book on the psychology of racism and how to talk about our racial identities. 

So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo

Ijeoma Oluo’s book explores how to have honest conversations about race and racism and the impact on everyday life.

Final Thoughts

Looking for more books? Check out my previous list of 27 books for the year.

Feel free to follow me on Instagram @swaggerandgreys and let me know what books you’ve discovered that you’re loving!

This post first appeared on the Swell Made Co Blog.

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5 Easy Ways to Cultivate Gratitude in Your Daily Life

I recently finished a course on the Science of Wellbeing that talked about what we think will make us happy but doesn’t and what kinds of things we can do to actually make us happier. One of the takeaways from the course was about how important our social connections were for our overall happiness. Something many of us might have taken for granted in pre-pandemic times.

I did one of the exercises in the course that asked students to connect with people we care about. As we continue to deal with the global pandemic and the winter months have set in, isolation and loneliness can be real threats to our mental health and overall wellbeing. Although I was staying connected to some family and a few friends, I realized I could do more especially if that would help boast my mood. I reached out to five friends that I hadn’t seen or spoken to (besides the random text or DM) in over a year and set up some video chats.

Finding Gratitude in Difficult Times

During those conversations when we shared how we were coping with being in lockdown and the many restrictions to our lives that Covid-19 has brought, I noticed a consistent theme. Everyone, in their own way, expressed immense gratitude for all they had. We all had our own unique challenges, from working from home with young children or teenagers, to being at home with entire families – parents, siblings and nieces and nephews, to being home alone, yet my friends found many things, even the little things we once took for granted, to be grateful for. 

Some were grateful for big things like, having enough space in their homes to accommodate everyone, to work from home, or to still be employed because they knew people who had lost their jobs. Still, others were grateful for the ability to connect on the phone or virtually with friends and family, to be able stand in the driveway so their kids to see their grandparents at a safe distance, the ability to take daily walks, or for video games to keep the kids entertained and having access to online delivery services. We were all very grateful for our health and the health of our families and friends.

In his new book, Think Like a Monk, author and former monk, Jay Shetty says that gratitude is “the world’s most powerful drug”.  The research supports the fact that the benefits of gratitude are abundant and touch aspects of our lives, the lives of others and the world around us. Shetty says, “imagine what the world would be like we all started our day giving thanks for the most basic and essential gifts of life all around us.” Gratitude is good for our mental and physical health and wellbeing and our relationships with others.

Cultivating Gratitude Daily

Shetty suggests that if we train in the daily practice of gratitude, making it a habit, it will transform our mindset so that we can focus on our abundance and not on what we are lacking. So, when setbacks happen, we should try to consciously practice gratitude for the opportunity that was presented. This doesn’t mean that we don’t feel bad about the situation. It means we train our minds to not dwell on the negative and sit in that place but instead appreciate the possibility that other proverbial doors may open in our lives. He suggests you look for those opportunities in the failures and when you find them, you take advantage of it.  He calls this ‘grateful living’.

According to Dr. Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., the world’s most leading scientific expert on gratitude, in one of his books on the subject, cultivating gratitude involves a conscious daily discipline where you choose to focus on the things that are working for you in your everyday life, the extraordinary and the ordinary. 

Now, I cannot say that I practice grateful living daily nor am I able to think like a monk, but gratitude has been the anchor that has kept me grounded, calm and humble in this time of such uncertainty and fear that we find ourselves living in for coming into a year now. 

In addition to staying connected with friends, family and coworkers, I’ve made it a habit to take time out each night to reflect on a few good things in my day. This daily gratitude practice has helped me to reflect often on the ordinary, mundane things in my day that made me feel good like, waking up that morning, the feel of the sun on my face on a particularly sunny day or dancing to Missy Elliott’s Get Ur Freak On while doing the dishes. It allows me to pause for a few minutes before bed to genuinely reflect, show appreciation, maybe even smile or laugh, and to acknowledge how very fortunate I am. 

Here are a few simple ways to begin to cultivate gratitude in your daily life, especially if you are super busy and finding time to do all the things is a challenge. As Emmons says, gratitude shouldn’t be a burden that weighs us down as yet another thing on our to-do list. Gratitude should uplift us.

5 Easy Ways to Practice Gratitude Daily

1. Start each morning being grateful – Before you pick up your phone (unless it’s to turn the alarm off) begin every day, the minute you wake up, by giving thanks. It can be as simple as being thankful for waking up to another day, the sunshine or that cup of morning coffee. Oprah says, “thank you” every morning before getting out of bed to express how grateful she is for being awake, being alive and being present another day.

2. Savour one meal each day – Pick one meal out of your day to take a few seconds to truly appreciate and give thanks for it, every day you sit down to have it (e.g., breakfast, lunch or dinner). 

This doesn’t have to be limited to a meal. You can do this for any routine daily activity like taking a shower – pause, close your eyes and savour the experience – feel the water on your skin, the heat, the wetness, then give thanks for this experience that not everyone gets to have.

How do you feel afterward? Was your experience of the activity enhanced? Keep it up!

3. Count your blessings before bed – before you go to sleep deliberately focus on pleasant thoughts, the good things. This may help you fall asleep with happier thoughts which in turn, may help you get better sleep. 

4. Say “Thank You” to someone – Say “Thank you” to a loved one has done something kind for you, including small acts like bringing you tea in bed. Emmons says make it a mindful thank you; be specific when you give thanks, comment on the effort the person has taken and costs. Keep the focus on that person.

You can also send a note (or email/text) of thanks letting a person know how much you appreciate them or something they have done for you. Again, be specific in what it is that you appreciate about them.

5. Write it down in a gratitude Journal – Although this gratitude activity is a bit more time consuming, the act of journaling can have positive health benefits [link back to previous blog post on Journaling]. Journaling is also a great way to cultivate a habit of daily gratitude. 

Take 5-10 minutes to write down up to five things you are grateful for (small or big things) and acknowledge the source of the good thing you are thankful for.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. I hope it inspires you to find moments in your day to feel uplifted by gratitude. I’ll leave you with these words about gratitude by author Melody Beattie: “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.”

This post first appeared on the Swell Made Co. Blog

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Reading List: The 27 Books I Read in 2020

A few years ago I set a reading goal of at least two books every month and I’ve stuck to that goal, more or less.

Last year was supposed to be no different, but then it was. I normally don’t put together a reading list but tend to get referrals from friends, social media or podcast. I read a blurb about what the book is about and decide if I want to read it or not. A lot of the times, I’m more risky when it comes to my book selections – I basically have no clue what the book is about and simply dive in and wait to be surprised, delighted or disappointed. Luckily for me, there are so many great books out there that I’m rarely disappointed and if I am, it’s short lived because another gem is always waiting to be picked up.

I wanted to share the books I’ve read in the weirdest year we’ve lived through. Ever. Having access to books and time to lose myself within the pages was an absolute life saver during the pandemic and I am so grateful for that.

The Books are in no particular order but I do have some favourites that I would recommend:

  • The Vanishing Half
  • The Henna Artist
  • Girl Woman Other
  • Where the Crawdads Sing
  • Nine Perfect Strangers

The Swagger & Greys Reading List for 2020

#1. The Vanishing Half – Brit Bennett 

#2. Where the Crawdads Sing – Delia Owens

#3. Girl, Woman Other – Bernardine Evaristo

#4. American Spy – Lauren Wilkinson

#5. Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

#6. Kindred – Octavia E. Butler

#7. The Henna Artist – Alka Joshi

#8. The Nickel Boys – Colson Whitehead

#9. Nine Perfect Strangers – Liane Moriarty

#10. The Spanish Promise – Karen Swan

#11. Kendra Michaels Mysteries – Iris Johansen (4 books)

#12. Pleasantville – Attica Locke

#13. A Noodle Shop Mystery – Vivian Chen (3 books)

#14. Eve Duncan Series – Iris Johansen (4 books)

#15. Carlotta Carlyle Mysteries – Linda Barnes (2 books)

#16. City Girls – Elizabeth Gilbert 

#17. Untamed – Glennon Doyle

#18. Happy Go Money: Spend Smart, Save Right and Enjoy Life – Melissa Leong

#19. How I Built This: The Unexpected Paths to Success from the World’s Most Inspiring Entrepreneurs – Guy Raz

#20. The Fifth Agreement – Don Jose Ruiz / Don Miguel Ruiz

#21. Bad Feminist– Roxane Gay

#22. How to be an Anti-Racist – Ibram X. Kendi

#23. Get Over It: Thought Therapy for Healing the Hard Stuff – Iyanla Vanzant

#24. Tuesdays with Morrie – Mitch Albom

#25. The Four Tendencies – Gretchen Rubin

#26. Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior – Leonard Mlodinow

#27. In the Company of Women: Inspiration and Advice from Over 100 Makers, Artists, and Entrepreneurs – Grace Bonney

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10 Tips to Help You Set Goals with Intention

New Year, New goals

If you are one of those people who fail to keep their New Year’s resolutions or who struggle with achieving a goal and tend to feel bad about not meeting your goals, I get it. I recently looked at a list of goals I set at the beginning of last year and was surprised how many of them I hadn’t achieved and most of them I’d forgotten about. 

I’m guilty of making common mistakes that keep me from achieving my goals, including, setting vague goals that look more like a wish list, not giving much thought to why I want to achieve a specific goal, or not giving myself a specific timeframe to achieve the goal. The worst part, however, is the feelings of guilt, shame and failure that can follow from not achieving the goal. It can be demoralizing.

As I move through my wellness journey, I’ve been thinking about this more deeply and I’ve decided to revise my approach to goal setting and make some much-needed changes. This time around I’m taking a more intentional approach to setting goals and doing things differently, to better set myself up for success. 

So, if you are planning on setting some goals this year, here are 10 practical goal setting tips I plan to apply, that I hope can help you move forward with intention in crushing your goals this time around.

10 Simple Tips for Intentional Goal Setting

1. Start goal setting with a positive mindset

In the words of the great Mary J. Blige, “we don’t need no hateration in this dancerie.” First things first, let’s wipe the slate clean and let go of all the negative vibes about goal setting you’ve been holding on to. Instead of thinking of any past mistakes with goal setting as failures and beating yourself up about it, choose to look at this as an opportunity for learning and personal growth. It’s a chance to reflect, reassess and make adjustments. Focus more on the possibilities the year can offer and let that positive mindset motivate you to do better. 

2. Set SMART goals

A well-known rule of goal setting is that any goal you set should be S.M.A.R.T (specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and time-based). For example, saying, “I want to lose weight”, is more of a wish than an actual goal. Instead, the S.M.A.R.T goal could be, “I want to lose 10 pounds by March 30.” This then allows you to come up with actionable steps you will take to achieve the goal. 

Another key element to achieving success with your goals is that you will have to be consistent and regularly keep track of how things are going. 

3. Do it for you (not for anyone else)

Think about goals that align most with your values and what’s important to you (and not what others want). If it’s something that matters to you, you’ll be more motivated to achieve it.

It might be helpful to ask yourself, “why do I want to achieve this goal?” It may sound silly, but you can be influenced by the needs and expectations of other people and not even realize it. For example, your love of social media and spending hours scrolling through the curated lifestyles of your favourite Instagram accounts might be influencing your desires. It’s important to be very clear about why you want to achieve a certain goal and what the motivation is.  

4. Be mindful about the number of goals set

Some people say set two or three goals or no more than seven. However, I’m a big believer in doing what feels right for you. But there are some questions you can ask yourself in determining how many goals to set to make it easier for you. You might also want to consider breaking your goals into areas of life, like, personal growth, career, money, and health and wellness or short-term, medium and long-term goals.

Regardless of your approach, it’s important to be mindful about the number of goals you set so that you are not putting pressure on yourself or causing undue stress by setting too many. 

5. Think about substance over size 

Goals do not have to be big and audacious, although if that’s where you’re at then go for it! I’ll be over here cheering you on! Even with big goals, starting with smaller habits may be the key to success. 

But the important thing to keep in mind is that small goals are still goals and should be celebrated as you do with bigger goals you accomplish. Ultimately, it’s about how meaningful the goals you set are to you and why you want to accomplish them and not necessarily about the size. 

6. Plan to get uncomfortable

Consider including an achievable goal that will challenge you. Think about getting in touch with the fear, you know that justification that’s really an excuse you’ve been using for not tackling that goal? Yeah, that one. Take a moment to sit with it and determine if it’s fear that’s holding you back from setting a particular goal. Name it and then make plans to conquer it.

Why would you want to do something like that? Well, stepping outside your comfort zone by doing something that scares you a little can be rewarding and great for personal growth. 

7. Express yourself in writing and pictures

Write down your goals to improve your chances of success. In addition to writing down your goals and setting out the steps you plan to take to achieve them, why not kick it up a notch and get creative with a visual representation of those goals that you can look at regularly. This can bring an element of creativity and fun into the goal-setting process but it can also increase your chances of achieving your goals.

8. Get help to keep you accountable

Sometimes having someone hold you accountable can motivate you to achieve your goals. I know that the times I’ve been consistent and crushed my workout goals are when I’ve worked with a personal trainer or joined a group Bootcamp for a six-week program (it has to be time-limited for me). 

If having some level of accountability will help you stay on track with your goals, then think about including this as part of your goal setting action plan. This might look like, announcing your goal on social media and sharing regular updates or ask a supportive family member or friend for help. Find a solution that works for you.

9. Consistently check on it

When I say check on it, I’m talking about the practice of tracking your progress and assessing how things are going. One way to do that is to set up a regular time to review your goals and make any necessary adjustments, like, adjusting the timelines or the scope of the goal. If you’ve reached a milestone, this can serve as a good reminder to celebrate the small wins.

10. Give yourself some grace

Sometimes the journey we take to achieve our goals may take a different path than we intended. Things come up, opportunities appear, stuff doesn’t work out. Life happens. Don’t get down on yourself and feel like you’ve failed. Instead, show yourself some grace and be kind to yourself. These are your goals, after all, and you get to set the rules. 

Remember why you set the goals in the first place and, in the words of another one of my favourite artists, Aaliyah, “and if at first, you don’t succeed, then dust yourself off and try again.”

This post first appeared on Swell Made Co Blog

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6 Tips to Help You Cope with COVID Fatigue

“Is there such a thing as COVID fatigue? Because I’m pretty sure I’m suffering from it.” That’s the question I half-jokingly asked my friend recently. The truth is that I’ve been feeling an overwhelming lack of motivation, low energy and just exhausted lately. I’m having trouble concentrating and, I’m irritable. Was this just a case of boredom from being isolated with very little in-person interaction and no real sense of normalcy since March? Or was there something more going on.

Virus fatigue by many other name 

Well, it turns out that COVID fatigue is a thing. Actually, I discovered that it goes by many names, pandemic fatigue, virus fatigue, crisis fatigue, social distancing fatigue or lockdown fatigue. Whatever you call it, it’s all referring to the same thing, the serious mental and physical impacts of a major ongoing crisis, in this case, the Covid19 coronavirus, on individuals.

What are the signs of pandemic fatigue? 

We’re all dealing with a ton of stress and anxiety. Whether it’s worrying about returning to the workplace, trying to find a new job, whether your business will survive, how you’ll pay your rent or mortgage, worrying about your kids starting the school year or the safety of your mother in a long-term care home. To say we’re all dealing with a lot might be the biggest understatement of 2020 so far. The past seven months have felt and continue to feel like we’re in a perpetual state of anxiety and stress. 

Some of the signs of pandemic fatigue are like other forms of fatigue including, worry, the lack of motivation, helplessness and frustration. As well as disruptions in our sleep, eating, mood, and having trouble concentrating. 

We may also start relaxing and not being as careful as we once were over during the pandemic. For example, we may not vigorously clean the groceries before putting them away or disinfecting every surface in the house. Maybe we don’t maintain enough social distance when we’re meeting friends or family. It’s hard to not give hugs. We’re thinking, we’re so over this coronavirus. Over. It! Covid19 just needs to go away already (insert six eye roll emojis).  Does this inner weariness sound familiar? 

It’s normal to feel this way. As I talk to my friends, I’m relieved to learn I’m not alone, and neither are you. There are things you can do to help better cope when the days are feeling a little heavier than usual.

6 Tips for Coping with COVID Fatigue

1. Mindset Matters

First, recognize the signs. Stop and take stock of how you’re feeling. Really pay attention to this. Take a few minutes, sit down, close your eyes, inhale deeply and then exhale deeply. Do this a few times. Then write out what you’re feeling. 

Then, check your mindset. Instead of focusing on the negative thoughts and feelings about the pandemic, social distancing and having to wear face masks all the time, flip the script. Try to think more positively. Think about the benefits that have come from following safety guidelines so far and how continuing to do so will be a benefit to you, your loved ones, others and your community. 

2. Healthy Habits Count

Like having a positive mindset, making a daily habit of practicing gratitude can be helpful. Get a notebook out and for each day, write down three things you are grateful for. 

Speaking of habits, make sure that safety practices like handwashing for 20 seconds become an ingrained part of your healthy lifestyle. Some people sing the birthday song during handwashing, or you can do like Will Ferrell and sing Drop it Like it’s Hot. Do you boo!

3. Stay Connected

My cousin and I FaceTime at least once a week since the stay at home orders were in place. Before lockdown, we would send text or DM on Instagram (she’s 24, so yeah, this is how we roll). But now, we use these chats as a way of regularly checking in on each other. It’s been great for my mental health and our relationship.

Talk with your family and friends about how they’re feeling and be present in the moment with them. That means no distractions. Now more than ever, it’s so important to reach out and connect with those we love or even old friends we haven’t heard from in a while. 

Go ahead, schedule the phone calls, Skype, Zoom and FaceTime calls into your calendar and make those connections a regular part of your week.

4. Tune Out

Take the time to reduce information overwhelm from all the noise that comes at us every waking second of every day. 

That might look like limiting the amount of news consumption to 30 minutes in the morning to check the headlines and the evening news.  Also, setting a maximum limit on scrolling the infinite feeds on social media will help cut back on screen time.

This can help take the edge off any anxiety you might be experiencing even if you don’t ‘feel’ like you’re experiencing any at all.

5. Prioritize Selfcare

This is my favourite coping strategy. Making time to practice self-care is always a good return on investment. Selfcare practices don’t have to be about luxurious massages and manicures, although it could be if that’s your jam. 

Recently, during Episode 2 of The Michelle Obama Podcast, Michelle Obama said she was suffering from some form of low-grade depression that she attributed to having to deal with the coronavirus lockdowns, the protests against racial injustice and the political climate in the US.  She also talked about self-compassion, exercise and getting outside were helping her to cope. 

Self-care is about finding an activity you enjoy that you will deliberately make time to do because it allows you to nourish yourself, mentally, emotionally and physically.  Practice self-care your way. 

6. Seek Help

Having a support system in family and friends and practicing self-care are great coping strategies for dealing with chronic stress, loneliness, burnout or weariness. However, in some cases, these strategies may not be enough.

The reality is we’re dealing with a historic pandemic, the likes of which the world has never had to deal with. Then, combine this with the many major economic, health, social, political and environmental catastrophes happening across the globe and the challenges we face in our communities and our everyday lives. The emotional, mental and physical toll this can have on a person may require more than self-care strategies to deal with.

Seeking help from a licensed professional counsellor or therapist may be a necessary coping strategy and can make a world of difference in your life. Therapy can provide the right opportunity to work through the complicated thoughts and emotions and dig deeper into exploring and understanding how pandemic fatigue, chronic stress and constant change are impacting your life, your work and your relationships. Therapy can be an investment in long-term health and wellness. It’s a good investment in you, and you’re worth it. 

This post first appeared on The Swell Life Blog – Swell Made Co.

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5 Tips to Help You Get Ready for the Holidays During Covid19

The first sip of a pumpkin spice latte, the sweet smell of freshly baked apple pie, cozy knit sweaters and the beautiful burnt orange and bright red colours of the changing fall leaves. These are all parts of what makes fall such a great time of the year. Do you know what else makes this time of year great? The major holidays. First, there’s Thanksgiving and then Halloween, followed by the most festive of all the holidays, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwaanza, or other traditional celebrations that help mark the end of a year and a time for family, food, giving, and good cheer before we ring in the New Year.

Despite the chaos and uncertainty that’s marked our ‘new normal’ the holidays remain the few dedicated times of the year when people get to take time off work, kids have time off from school, and many of us find ourselves in a celebratory mood for weeks leading up to each holiday. It’s usually an opportunity, and excuse depending on how you look at it, to have a good time with family and friends, overindulge in delicious food and drink, and probably spend way too much money.

But the year is 2020 and it’s a year like no other. With the coronavirus pandemic still looming over the world, there is more stress and perhaps less cheer and more feelings of gloom than merry and bright. 

There are so many questions about the holidays weighing heavily on my mind and the minds of many of my family and friends lately. Is it safe to go trick or treating? What about the Christmas get-together, how’s that going to work this year? Should we start buying and mailing gifts now? Is it worth the risk of going to mom and dad’s or visiting grandpa? It’s a new, ever-changing and uncharted territory that we’re all trying to navigate the best way we can but it’s tough. Seriously, COVID19 will officially be dubbed the real Grinch that stole all the holidays in 2020. 

I know that any decisions we make on how we choose to mark holidays will be impacted by any COVID19 guidelines and restrictions that are in place in our communities at the time. There are, however, things we can do to help manage the stress and overwhelm that can come with trying to navigate the holidays in the time of COVID19. 

Here are five tips I’m adopting to help me get through the next few months and I hope will help you get ready for the upcoming holidays during COVID19.

5 Tips to Help You Get Ready for the Holidays During Covid19

#1 Make the time to practice gratitude daily

The holidays can be a busy time for many of us. But it can also be a time for us to reflect more deeply on the things for which we are most grateful. With so much sadness and fear still very much a part of our everyday lives, taking the time to identify the things that you are thankful for, all the things that are important to you, can make a difference in how you tackle the upcoming holiday season during COVID-19.

#2. Remember to check-in with yourself on how you’re feeling

Holiday stress is common and paired with the anxiety, loneliness, sadness, fear and other emotions in this current climate, it can all be overwhelming. It’s important to remember that it’s okay to be not be okay. Acknowledge these feelings as valid. Give yourself some grace and then, find a way to let it go and focus on the present moment.

#3. Accept that the holiday season may be very different this year

Planning that perfect holiday gathering or finding the perfect gifts for everyone on your list may have been something you were looking forward to this time last year. Then the world changed. Now everything is different. You might be feeling that your idea of the perfect holiday is at risk of being ruined. 

If we can accept that change is constant, then we might be able to free ourselves of the idea of what a perfect holiday ‘should be’. When we let go of expectations and accept what is, we can create the space we need to have a different yet still meaningful and memorable holiday experience.

#4. Have conversations with your family early

Talk to your family about your plans for the holiday. Together you can discuss how different things because of Covid19 and how you can, as a family, make the most out of a difficult situation.

#5. Show kindness and compassion

The holidays can be difficult for people in the best of times and the thought of having to celebrate the holidays alone, over Zoom, or not at all may result in strong emotions. Be kind and show compassion to others. We don’t know what they are going through and, everyone suffers in their way.

Final Thoughts

Cancelled celebrations and socially distanced small gatherings have become the new normal. However, due to the rapidly changing nature of coronavirus transmission, the rules and guidelines are also constantly changing. It’s important to keep this in mind as you try to ‘plan’ ahead. 

Be sure to check with your public health officials and official government websites to get the most up-to-date information and find expert guidance on steps you can take to experience the upcoming holidays safely.

This post first appeared on The Swell Life Blog – Swell Made Co.

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7 Tips for Organizing Your Closet Without the Pressure of Perfection

Quarantine Life – Day 5,046,000 and I finally got off the sofa, dusted the potato chip crumbs off my wrinkled t-shirt and decided I’d tackle organizing my wardrobe. I wanted to strike while the motivation of a new season was hot and the migraines were not!

I did a big purge a couple years ago so, this was one of my biannual decluttering tasks and not a massive undertaking. I thought I’d share the simple tips I use for keeping my closet “somewhat” organized. I say, “somewhat” because I’m not really the Kondo method spark joy type. Although I do like a neat and orderly space, I’m ok with a little mess. I can live with improperly folded socks and not colour coordinating my knits. Props to those of you who are so inclined, tho! My motto is to do what feels good and works for you. I personally, just need things to be kinda, sorta neat-ish and to be simple, and easy to execute. It doesn’t take much. I encourage you to do the same, let go of the stress, simplify things by taking the parts you find most helpful and trying them and disregard the things you don’t. 

That being said here are my seven tips for getting your closet neatish without worrying about getting it Pinterest perfect, because, let’s face it, for most of us our real lives don’t allow us to ever maintain that level of perfection once the photos have been snapped and shared with our followers and FB fam! 

Here are 7 Simple Tips for Organizing Your Closet

Closet Organizing Tip #1: Get Your Mindset Right

Ask yourself what the outcome you want to achieve. A Pinterest-worthy closet might be your goal, but I doubt it if you’re reading this post that encourages you to let go of perfection!

It’s great to go on Pinterest to get inspiration but watch out for those sneaky thoughts of envy and comparison. Acknowledge the thought, take a breath, then let the thought go if it does not serve you.

Remind yourself of the true purpose of this task. Accept that this is where you are right now. Get ready to get organized and feel all the good vibes that come with having a cleaner, organized, closet.

Closet Organizing Tip #2: Pace Yourself

My niece recently decided she was going to paint her living and dining room, by herself and in a day. She got it done but it took her three days and a second trip to buy more paint! She underestimated the amount of work it would take. 

Your closet might seem like a small space, but if you’re like me, and you have a lot of ‘stuff’, then organizing it might take you longer than a few hours. In that case, pace yourself by setting incremental goals, like, setting aside two hours and organizing one section as opposed to wanting to do the whole thing. 

Closet Organizing Tip #3: Seasonal Switch Up

Use the seasons as your reminder to give your closet a once-over. The beginning of spring when you’re transitioning from winter sweaters and boots to cute dresses and sandals is a perfect time.

Closet Organizing Tip #4: Dance like no one is watching

Go ahead and bump your fave tunes, you know, the songs you think you know all the lyrics too, but you really don’t but sing them anyway. Get hype and get going. 

Closet Organizing Tip #5: Divide and Conquer

If you’re like me you might find the idea of removing everything from your closet and dumping it into piles to be sorted, a bit overwhelming. Start with one section of your closet at a time. For example, I start with pants – they’re easier to sort and I can get a quick win.

Closet Organizing Tip #6: When in doubt, try it on

It can come as a shock to discover that those jeans from 1992 don’t fit anymore – how can this be? I know, I’ve been there. But it’s ok, it really is gonna be alright. Let it go and plan to buy a new pair that makes your booty look real good in 2020. 

Closet Organizing Tip #7: Get Hung Up on Hangers

Seriously, using one style of hanger does wonders for making your closet appear more organized even if things aren’t aligned and colour co-ordinated to perfection. It’s the little things that can make a big difference.

Once you’ve finished, step back, look at your work, and congratulate yourself on a job well done! Then treat yourself to some Netflix and a bag of potato chips!

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3 Steps I’m Taking to Get My Money Right in the Time of Covid19

Photo of a Happy Go Money personal finance book on a breakfast tray with a cup of coffee on a bed.

Since we are in the time of Covid19, I’ve been thinking a lot about money (and end of life planning) lately. Oddly enough, in March, at the beginning of the pandemic and up until about a month ago, I was spending, a lot. Instead of panic shopping on loading my cupboards with cans of beans and jars of pasta sauce, I bought ‘stuff’ for my apartment. 

Panic Shopping During the Pandemic 

I reasoned that my desire to spruce up my living space was because I would be spending way more hours in the space than I had done, well, in forever. So, there I went, new skillet, new toilet brush, new shower curtain liners, new fake plant, and on and on. Then, like many people, I need to make my workspace cute. I already had a desk, but I wanted to add more “personality,” so I bought some frames and had photos printed, a new desk lamp – purely for aesthetics because I honestly get plenty of natural light and have a large light above my head. 

I was in spend mode, with full justifications for all of it! I had a long list of other things that I “needed”. At the time, I didn’t recognize that my need to buy a bunch of stuff was probably more about a need to be in control of ‘something’ during a time of such intense uncertainty and fear. I was not alone in this. I mean seriously, I couldn’t even find a nail file or bedroom curtains to buy for months!

Overspending Reality Check

Two things happened to give me an overspending reality check. The first was my friend, who happens to be a lawyer, asked me if I had a Will. It wasn’t the first time she’d mentioned it and it wasn’t the first time I’d skirt around the issue. I didn’t want to talk about death and dying, especially during the pandemic. It was too scary a thought.

The second thing was an Instagram post that involved a question from someone who asked what they should be doing with all the money they saved during the stay at home or shelter in place orders. Wait, what?! There were people out there who managed to actually save money. Mind blowing.

The light bulb went off and I asked myself, how much did I ‘not’ save and take a closer look at where I spent my money and what goals were not being achieved because of it. Just as importantly, I had to think about the Covid19 virus and the potential of long-term health issues or possibly death.

How could I take this moment to put myself in the best position possible to deal with either of these scenarios? The answer was pretty evident, I needed to focus on putting in place better money habits pronto!

Road to Developing Better Money Habits

overhead shot of a personal finance book - Happy Go Money, and a laptop, notebook and glasses

Step 1: Seeing the Big Money Picture 

My first step was to set aside some time to finally complete a personal financial inventory / net worth statement my friend had given me ages ago – took me a few minutes to locate it. 

The inventory allowed me to gather and review banking and other important information – savings, loans, credit cards, assets, pension, life insurance etc. This exercise turned out to not be as scary or tedious as I’d originally thought. Instead it was a bit therapeutic in a way.

By taking the time to write everything down in one place and seeing a big picture view of where I stood financially, however bleak that position was, came with a sense of accomplishment and optimism. It was good to know exactly what I would be dealing with and then to develop of plan.

Step 2: Doing a Money Deep Dive

The next step was that I needed to go deeper and examine my debt and come up with a plan of attack. I turned to Melissa Leong’s Happy Go Money: Spend Smart, Save Right and Enjoy Life and re-read some of the pages I had highlighted the first time around. Such a great resource btw. She’s got a wicked sense humour and brings the kind if practical and mindful approach to personal finances that I need in my money life right now.

Here’s the thing you should know about me, when it comes to thinking about or talking about money, I always want to cover my ears with my hands and sing loudly, “La-La-La-La-La-La.” Super immature. I know. I wish I loved saving and, in the words of 50cent, love to watch my money pile up but the fact is that my aversion to talking about money and my expertise in spending it runs deep. I’m a Spender. I’m sure it’s in my DNA. It most definitely runs in the family and examining this bit of reality will require a separate post and probably several years of therapy to unpack it all.

Step 3: Getting My Mindset Right

stack of personal finance books on a night table in a bedroom

Anyhoo, I’m not a complete mess when it comes to developing healthy money habits. I’ve always been committed to educating myself on personal finances – not obsessively but I’ve read books, blogs, and articles. I’ve used apps and I’ve tried different budgeting resources over the years to try to break bad money habits I’ve inherited. 

Some of the personal finance books I’ve read in the past:

Happy Go Money: Spend Smart, Save Right & Enjoy Life (Melissa Leong)

Smart Women Finish Rich (David Bach)

Smart Cookies’ Guide to Making More Dough: How Five Young Women Got Smart, Formed a Money Group, and Took Control of Their Finances (The Smart Cookies)

The Wealthy Barber Returns (David Chilton)

You are a Badass at Making Money: Master the Mindset of Wealth (Jen Sincero)

Girl Get Your Money Straight: A Sister’s Guide to Healing Your Bank Account and Funding Your Dreams In 7 Simple Steps (Glinda Bridgforth)

It’s been a lifelong journey so far and one made up of struggles (think unemployment, underemployment, student loan debt, living in an expensive city, no family financial support and not to mention stats on race and gender and the wealth gap).

I know enough to know that my relationship with money and my money habits well, there’s a lot to unpack and blaming myself or thinking I’m a bad person for not being able to do better is unhelpful and not healthy. I prefer to put things in context, consider my background and know that other factors are at play that have influenced my mindset and behaviour when it comes to money. But I also take great comfort in knowing that, as Melissa says in Happy Go Money, “[w]herever you are in life right now, this too will change. You can look back at your choices and decide that going forward, you will choose differently.” Words to life by.

The Personal Finance Money Management Road Ahead

a small collection of personal finance books fanned out on a bed

Learning about money habits and my relationship with it is a lifelong journey and not always pleasant one, but one I’m willing to take if it means at the end of the day (read: retirement), I’ll be doing just fine. I’ve been slowly unlearning negative money habits and getting better over time at forming healthier ones. I recognize that my family history around money has played a big role too.

I also acknowledge the many setbacks throughout the years have been simply a part of life’s journey, while at the same time understanding the importance of picking myself up again and trying, each and every time. 

Cheers,

Cassandra McD.

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Wardrobe Essentials: 20 Must Have Pieces You Need In Your Closet

collage of a black woman wearing nine different casual outfits

I’ve been feeling a bit meh about my wardrobe for some time now. Simply uninspired and bored. Yet, I’m also being more fiscally responsible and budget more and spend less.

My goal is to shop my closet and if I do decide to purchase an item then it’s gotta make sense and be a timeless (more sustainable) piece.

I wanted to start shopping my closet by going back to basics and finding the wardrobe essentials first and then take it from there. For this process I turned to my best friend, Google, and did some research to see what items of clothing should make the “wardrobe essentials list” in my own closet. Although there are lots of great options out there to choose from in terms of wardrobe must-haves lists, one of my faves is from the from Signe of the Use Less Blog.

In thinking of my own must-have wardrobe list as a woman over 40, I want to build one based on my previous experience as a personal shopper and styling my work colleagues. These are items I feel are essential foundation pieces to have in your wardrobe and that work for those of us in an older demographic but are still pretty timeless that they work for younger women as well.

black woman wearing dark wash blue skinny jeans, black heels, a black blazer and white t-shirt

A Word on Investment Pieces & Trends

As an aside, I don’t own “investment” designer pieces so you’ll not find LV wallets or Gucci belts here (I do own a pair Chanel sunglasses that are about 12 years old). With that said, the low budget clothes I’ve bought have still lasted for years because I tend to shop for classics while avoiding fades. As I’m aging, I’m thinking more mindfully about how I shop and looking at now incorporating more sustainable clothing into my wardrobe overtime.

Also, I don’t own too many fashion trends. I bought a really puffy sleeved stripped shirt last year that I wore once, it not only had puffy sleeves shoulders but it buttoned-up in the back so putting it on was not fun. I’ve since donated because I really don’t know what was thinking when I bought that (I probably wasn’t really thinking too much!)

Each season, however, I do like to add a new piece to keep my wardrobe current. For example, I might update my fall wardrobe with a new sweater or add a floral print dress for spring.

I love shoes but boy do I hate the pain

Who was it that said beauty if painful? They weren’t kidding! Shoes. This is where I get a failing grade in the style department. Please don’t judge me! lol I love pretty shoes, I do, I even went to see the Manolo Blahnik exhibit in Toronto when it was here! I do have a deep appreciation for the craftsmanship, design and beauty of footwear. But, the thing is, I like them on display in the store store (and in magazines and museums), and not necessarily on my feet.

I’ll try on shoes and think, oh these are cute and feel comfy and then end up giving them to my niece or donating them to charity because eventually I find out they are uncomfortable. Flat feet and bunions are the likely culprit and lower back pain that can come with wearing heels. Not to be discouraged I’ve simple opted for a decent pair of black flats, a menswear inspired pair of lace-ups and white or neutral sneakers for my go-to footwear.

It may not be as adventurous or stylish but these kinds of options can work for most outfits and have you looking effortless stylish while being super comfortable an on trend.

My Pick for Top 20 Items to Have in Your Wardrobe

Here is my list of 20 curated items to every woman should have in their closet as a foundation for their Wardrobe Essentials along with a bonus list of accessories and what I think is important for my Canadian sisters who have to deal with the harsh winters but still want to look cute.

1. White t-shirt

2. Striped tee

3. Black pants

4. Black dress

5. Wrap dress

6. Knee-length skirt

7. Denim in a dark wash

8. Blouse

9. White Button-down skirt

10. Denim button-down skirt

11. Trench Coat

12. Denim Jacket

13. Blazer

14. Cardigan

15. Knit sweater

16. Ankle boots

17. Pumps

18. Flats

19. Rain boots

20. Sneakers

A Few Additional Essential Wardrobe Items to consider include:

Must have Accessories: Tote, Scarf, Sunglasses and Watch.

Of course if you live in a place like Canada, you need to add the following essential items to your wardrobe:

A super warm winter coats – winter coats have come a long way in warmth and style. Invest in one that’s functional, fits well, is a classic style that’s made to last you years.

A great pair boots that can handle at least -25C temps. I will never understand winter boots with heels. I just don’t get it but to each their stylish own!

Gloves – ones that can keep your hands from freezing but still look stylish (I have more than one pair because like umbrellas, you tend to lose them on buses, trains and in restaurants)

Warm chunky knit sweater in black, grey, or beige that you can pair with anything

That’s it! if you have these items in your closet you should be able to have a versatile enough basic wardrobe to be able to keep the outfit combos coming for quite some time. Of course, adding a new item each season also helps to keep you on trend and looking current. While, making sure to replace faded, washed out, stained items as needed to keep you looking chic and on point, all the time.

Black woman wearing white blazer an cropped denim

Cheers,

Cassandra McD.

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Wondering How to Wear All This Summer? Try These 5 Easy Looks

Summertime is my time to shine and one of the ways I love getting my summer vibes on is by wearing a lot of white.

Now, I know there are some people who will say they can’t possibly wear white. Their too pale and it will look horrible on them. To that I say, under a shade that’s most flattering to you and maybe incorporate a hint of color closer to your neck – maybe a printed satin scarf, to warm up your face. My philosophy is, don’t be afraid of white, embrace the chic. Also walk with a stain removing because there will enviably be some spillage (coffee, tea, ink marks, subway or car grease). Accept it and rock on!

I’ve put together five of my fave summer all white looks below. I’ve shopped my closet with pieces ranging from $24 – $89 and that I’ve owned for years. I’m all for low budget buying but spending on pieces that are classic cut and that I know I can wear for years (despite it costing less). One new piece is a replacement pair of white linen trousers I bought on sale at Banana Republic (at 50% off). I think owning a pair of wide-legged trousers or denim is a must-have Item for a diverse wardrobe and probably a topic for another post!

So, here we go! My 5 all white outfits for the summer that I hope will inspire you to try it out for yourself!

1. White Denim Skirt

We all know that the blue denim skirt is a must-have summer outfit staple but what about adding a white denim skirt to your wardrobe. A denim skirt in a pencil-skirt is ideal wear-to-work look or you can throw on a white tank top and a pair of slides with a wide belt and head to weekend brunch! Love this skirt (shopping my closet – this skirt is about 3 years old from Joe Fresh and cost about $29 (the top is Joe Fresh too). I wear it ever summer).

2. The White Shorts

I love the length of a walking short. It’s short and sexy. You can dress this up with a white blazer and heels or throw on a t-shirt and sneakers. It’s an easy, go-to all white summer look.

3. The White Trouser

Love this look for the casual ease of the wide-legged trouser. It makes you feel like you should be vacationing in a European city, looking cool, sophisticated and chic. Just try not to spill the espresso.

4. The LWD – Little White Dress

Nothing screams summertime ready like a little white summer dress. The white dress is a classic must-have in your summer wardrobe. You can opt for short, mid-length or a long boho-chic style depending on your personal style.

5. White Denim Jeans

And finally, if you love your skinny jeans, invest in a white pair that can take you from summer into fall (yes, it looks fantastic with a navy blazer, cognac boots, and stripped button-down shirt) and if you are one of the brave ones that will rock white denim in winter then you’re covered!

Hope these practical, real life low-key all white looks give you some outfit inspirations this summer!

Cheers,

Cassandra

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