Family.

Whether it’s by blood or not. Family is family.

We can all define family differently. Some of us include really close friends in our inner circle we call family. Some of us strictly stick to blood.

Either way. Family influences us, listens to us, values us, and unites. The family is a pod of people who have similarities that pull together and differences that make us each unique. I come from an amazing and unique family, I am creating a crazy little family and I have a couple of amazing friends who are considered family.

Traditionally, Italians are close AF. We take sticking together to a whole other level. So you can imagine what my family felt and thought when I decided to move out west to start a subset family of my own.

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My Little Subset B 

In the moment the idea of leaving them never really phased me. The fact was, the internet changed the idea living so far away, and Skype made coffee dates a reality despite the distance. On top of that, I was in my early twenties and realistically I wasn’t thinking about much other than myself.

Hindsight is such a weird thing. Now that I am a mother of three, hindsight often rears its ugly head. I try really hard not to be one to look back and question…as I really strongly feel like I make decisions in the moment to build a better me, even when I make mistakes. Every once in a while though, hindsight pops up.

My parents. I know they were happy for me when I moved and I know they see how happy we are in our life here now. We live far. We live like 5-hour flight far. My mom. Hindsight. I wish I would have taken some time to talk to her about leaving. I didn’t. I was just living in the moment. Then my brother followed. Double blow to my mom and dad.

Italians stick together. It’s like this weird unwritten rule. You don’t leave the nucleus.We did and in hindsight, it’s still the best decision I made but as a mom, more then ever, I know why it’s important for me to visit home and spend time with my family.

Cousins are more like ‘born to be best friends’ in our culture. Hindsight. UGH. I wish I would have been more reflective of their feelings about my leaving. I just didn’t think about it. I figured they would come visit me and I would keep in touch via text messages and myspace. Slowly but surely most of them went on to live their lives and so did I.

Cousins in my family…we were together every weekend. Through the good, the bad and the ugly…my cousins were there. They share memories of a past that are so precious and beautiful. A past that makes me, me. So I reconnected and have made the effort to ensure I do more than just send an update on my life every once and a while. Almost weekly now…. I listen. We chat. They share. I listen. I give advice when it’s asked for. I ask for their input. I make an effort. We remember and we lean on each other.

But the fact is, I am so far and in difficult times it’s so hard to be away. I have to find creative ways to be a support system, an ear, a friend, a daughter. I try and so do they.

So this season…maybe there is some family out there you have been meaning to connect with but haven’t had the chance. Why not? We can’t honestly give a good reason most of the time. But here’s a good one, you never know what tomorrow brings. So pick up the phone. Send them a text. Write them an email. It’s going to feel so good to hear and connect with someone you love. I promise.

Gift yourself time to be present this Christmas. It’s better than any THING you will get this season.

Sending my love and thoughts this holiday season to everyone back home,

till the next post,

moveplaymom.

Navigating The Holidays (as a minimalist or not…)

Recently I have been asked by quite a few friends and followers about gift giving and receiving. So with the holiday season quickly approaching, I thought I would take some time to give you some ideas and my thoughts around approaching the holidays with more intention and less stuff. This post I am sharing ideas on how to minimize the stuff!

 

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Ridiculous amounts of gifts like this. I did this? WHY?

 

The holidays were always celebrated in a grand way growing up. My parents would always go above and beyond to get us whatever we had on our list and then some. I remember every year, walking down the stairs on Christmas morning, and finding a colossal amount of perfectly wrapped gifts.

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If you were to ask what I got at Christmas, I couldn’t tell you for the life of me. Every year my mom made us write a list and took us to see Santa at the Cavendish Mall. I mean, sure, I remember the times I got a bike, a computer, and my ‘real’ Doc Martens; but all the other “stuff”…I can’t. I do know I was excited and happy every Christmas morning. However, as a kid, I don’t think it would have really mattered how much I got. I think the quality mattered more, “REAL”…Doc Martens…especially as I got a little older.

That brings me to my first tip for you. Quality versus Quantity. When considering gifts, you don’t need to fill the stocking with a ton of junky little things. You can skip the dollar store scrappy stuff, the knick-knacks from the front counter at indigo and the stickers or erasers your kids don’t really want. We all are guilty of it. Trying to fill the tree with copious amounts of THINGS! (all wrapped to perfection).

Instead, you can try this…over the last several days, I have seen this idea come up on several blogs. A cute way to manage gifts for your loved ones or children. Tip #2

  • Something they want
  • Something to read
  • Something to wear
  • Something they need

Maybe 4 gifts aren’t realistic for you yet and you want to do a few more…you can just double up on some of these above. You can ask your children to consider this when writing their lists to Santa.

When it comes to receiving gifts from friends and family, I know it can be difficult to speak up about not wanting more toys, clothes, toys, toys, clothes…TOYS! Here’s the thing….you get to decide what comes into your house and what doesn’t. Communicate to your loved ones that you don’t want more stuff, instead, you can ask for – Tip #3

  • experiences! (swimming lessons, Skis lessons, dinner gifts certificate)
  • season passes to things like the zoo, the science center, the museum
  • movie tickets
  • food (wine, cookies)
  • donation to a charity of your choice in your name

These can add huge value to our lives without bringing in more stuff to our home, STUFF that we don’t really need. 

If you can’ have this conversation with certain family members or friends, and you know you are going to get swamped with toys and clothing (grandma). Well,  you get to be in control of what to do with the gifts once they are in your hands. You can have your child decide to keep the new item and let go of something old. You can donate new toys to a local charity or hospital. You can take the clothing down to your local goodwill for a family in need.

However, I highly recommend that if you feel strongly about not bringing more stuff into your lives, I would just be honest with the people around you and consider having a conversation and suggest purchasing ideas like those listed in tip #3.

Last Christmas, when we had slowly just started on our minimalist journey, we decided to get away and provide the kids with an experience during the holidays rather than a bunch of gifts. We took the boys to Banff, on a horse-drawn carriage through the Rockie mountains and cross-country skiing. It was so magical and the boys still talk about our getaway to Canmore, Alberta. My parents and my little brother and his wife joined us a few days later. My parents used that opportunity to provide the boys with more fun in and around Canmore! It was the best!

For me, growing up, the holidays were celebrated with my enormous Italian family. We ate an elaborate amount of traditional food dishes, (we took the feast of the seven fishes to a whole other level).

There was a lot of music, singing, karaoke and a gaggle of instruments that often made their way into the hands of family members just after midnight.  (mostly intensified by the homemade wine, amaretto, and grappa)

Those were the best memories I have of Christmas. The amazing food.  The silver chalices my Nonna would take out just on Christmas Eve. The traditions. The singing of every single Beatles song ever recorded. The baccala fish (cod). Visiting with other family members at midnight. Monopoly games that went all night long. The passion. The love. The laughs and the tears when we were missing a loved one. During our triumphs and darkest moments my family still pulled together to celebrate. That was Christmas. not the gifts.

We need to make the holidays less about the consumer-driven ridiculousness and more about the moments and traditions.  Whatever you might be celebrating, if you approach it with intention and love, the memories will be unforgettable.

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In the famous lyrics by The Beatles (all I can hear right now in my head is my dad, his cousins and a barrage of friends singing….)

“Say you don’t need no diamond ring and I’ll be satisfied
Tell me that you want the kind of thing that money just can’t buy
I don’t care too much for money, money can’t buy me love”

till the next post,

moveplaymom

 

 

Week 8 – Renovation Series

THIS IS IT.

This is the week that everything changes. There is still A LOT of small details that make this house unique and special to us that hasn’t been completed yet BUT this is the weekend we move in. I can’t believe it…we totally did it.

Two months ago Ben and I took possession of our new home. The house had been somewhat poorly updated over the years since the 70’s, but for the most part, it still needed a lot of love. As we tore down walls and ripped out cabinets we uncovered that we had a lot more ahead of us than we had thought. Fortunately, we weren’t new to the business of home renovations and had suspected that we might have a few surprises.

We planned for the craziness!

Before we got the keys, we requested 3 walkthroughs which gave us a lot of opportunities to measure, create floor plans, bring in an engineer to get feedback and plan plan plan. This is something I would highly recommend you ask your realtor to request when buying a home you plan to renovate or flip.

As soon as possession day came we were ready to tackle this monster project all while still running our own day to day business operations, managing our family and the start of a new school year.

On this renovation, Ben and I worked together as the general contractors managing it all. We brought together a team of trades that worked endless hours, weekends and nights, to meet our official deadline of November 15th, 2017. On this day the house needed to be move-in ready.

Today is November 15th. Tomorrow night, I have some friends ready to help build some furniture. The house will be cleaned Friday and this weekend we will officially move into our new home. A home that works for us, has functional space, a fantastic layout, lots of intention and thoughtful design elements. A simple home.

I am so excited to share all of this with you in the days ahead!

To say I am excited is an understatement. We did it.

till the next post,

moveplaymom.

If you are interested I can provide you with a list of local trades we used and their contact information for those looking to tackle a project in the Calgary area. For a detailed list, you can email me at dinaottoni@gmail.com

 

 

 

Children and Minimalism – My top 10 fav super versatile toys

Alright, to all the parents out there, I know you are going to love this post. Whether you are are looking to simplify the toys in the house or you just need help figuring out what toys are REALLY worth spending money on. This post will hopefully help.

Because let’s be honest, we have all been there as parents, when you look into your child’s play bins, and all you can see is endless amounts of plastic junk toys that have become one, big, mess.

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This post comes from more than just being a minimalist mom but also from many years of experience working with young children. I am bringing you MY top 10 toys according to the experts at AKIDEMY preschool. If you live in the Calgary area you may be familiar with our preschool.

AKIDEMY is founded on the belief that children have an innate desire to explore, play and learn, and are naturally competent and capable learners. Akidemy believes that intentional play with the use of loose parts and the right equipment will help children to develop socially, emotionally and cognitively. You can learn more about this unique program by visiting here:  AKIDEMY  or visiting the AKIDEMY FACEBOOK PAGE

These toys will guarantee lots of exploration, curiosity and wonder time for your children. They are easy to store, easy to maintain and will provide lots of opportunity for rich play. These toys are great for young children (under proper supervision) and I will even go as far to say that you could use these toys for older children ages 8-10.

I swear that if you even had just these 10 things in your house you could get SO MUCH PLAYTIME out of this simple inexpensive list. Let’s look at the list first and then I will show you how you can set these items up for endless ways to play, create, imagine and learn.

So let’s get started!

  1. A basket of people and animals. You could easily pick up a small rattan basket and fill it with a handful of little wood people and/or animals. (land animals, dinosaurs, water animals etc.)
  2. A small rattan basket of cars and trucks (firetrucks, police cars, roller, digger, dump truck, garbage trucks)
  3. A storage container or Tupperware to store Kinetic Sand
  4. A storage container of Lego or Duplo (depending on the age)
  5. A quality set of wood building blocks
  6. Play-dough and cookie cutters and not the store-bought kind. You can make a no-cook play-dough at home in under 4 minutes. Make a batch and store in a container in the fridge for up to a month! The best ever recipe is here: BEST EVER NO COOK PLAY DOUGH
  7. A container full of colorful Gems or rocks (you can find these at Micheals)
  8. Craft supplies basics– pad of construction paper, glue stick, Elmer’s glue, pair blunt tip scissors and a pack of fine tip markers.
  9. A set of play food with cutlery and dishes
  10. A palette of watercolor paints and some different size brushes (I love the Ikea ones!)

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Whether your child is 3 or 8 the set up would be similar when prepping a play activity for your child. My 9-year-old will still jump in on the play with his younger brother. Of course, he has different interests so this is something he will outgrow but the above toys and equipment are so open-ended that it allows children of all ages to engage with the materials in meaningful and creative ways.

I would highly recommend buying your child a tray to work on. This will help you set up, create boundaries for materials. (so it doesn’t end up all over the floor)

You could combine equipment to set up an invitation to play; as we like to refer to it at AKIDEMY. Here is a list of some play ideas that will take five minutes to set up and 5 minutes to clean up but will provide lots of quality play time.

  • Set up a tray with kinetic sand and trucks. Extend this play next time by adding gems and rocks.
  • Set up a tray with play-dough and cookie cutters. Extend this by adding a small container and a spoon.
  • Set up a tray and place a few sheets of white paper, your watercolor palette, a cup with just a little water and a paintbrush.
  • Set up the kinetic sand with the animals and add gems or rocks for some fun dramatic play!
  • On the floor set up, the pretend food with dishes and cutlery. Extend this by adding a recipe book, a pad, and pen (so they can take your order!)
  • Set up your tray with your craft supplies. Allowing your child to explore with glue and scissors (effective supervision would be needed for younger children handling these materials)
  • set up the lego bin on the table and place your child’s tray there, put some pieces on the tray to invite them to come build and explore.
  • Set up the wood blocks on the floor. To extend block play you can add the people, cars, or animals!
  • Set up the play-doh with a pair of blunt or plastic scissors (Crayola make a great starter pair of plastic scissors) Allow your child to explore cutting play-dough. This is a great way to practice scissor skills at home. To extend this add gems and rocks.
  • Set the plates and cutlery with the playdoh to create their own food ideas! you could extend this play by adding household items like a cupcake tray, ladle, a pot, etc.

you can also change the sensory products (sand and play-dough) and use things like

  • lentils
  • water beads
  • water
  • water and soap
  • rice
  • dry beans
  • shaving cream

just add your cars, your people, utensils…whatever! I can guarantee your little ones will have lots of fun!

till the next post,

moveplaymom.

Week 7 – Renovation Series

I cannot believe today marks 7 weeks.

This week was certainly the calm before the storm! We had the painters in spraying all the doors, trim and casings; and rolling the first couple of coats of paint. We ended the week with our finisher building us some custom reach-in closets, the tilers got started by installing the in-floor heating around the house

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and my favorite part of all ….OUR FRONT DOOR WENT IN!!!!

NOW…This week coming up it gets very real! Tile starts tomorrow, countertops go in Tuesday, hardwood starts Wednesday. I am totally seeing the house come together and it’s exciting and stressful all at the same time. Hoping I made the right decisions and good choices to pull my vision together.

So many people mentioned that considering how much we got going on, I seem so relaxed and easy going about it all. The truth is…it’s not always easy! This week, in particular, proved to be really challenging mentally and it showed physically.

Mentally I was exhausted, my little guy suffers from Periodic Fever Syndrome, maybe you have heard about it and maybe not, but generally what happens, without getting into any crazy details, he gets a crazy high fever (like 104 -105) for 4 days straight. He is tired and his legs hurt. He suffers through the night the most as I try to stay on top of his Advil and Tylenol. At night he spikes and is super hot, really thirsty,  very sore and we are both tired!  The Periodic part means it happens almost consistently to the day every 8 weeks. It used to be every 6, prior to that every 4. We have been to specialists, we are seeing a rheumatologist, he is seeing an amazing pediatrician and we are searching for more answers. As it stands it seems like he is outgrowing them (as they become further apart…that’s a good sign!)  As a parent…I stress every time he goes through it. I cry. I worry. I wonder. I worry some more. I get little sleep, I google like a mad woman and my mental state suffers a little. I have learned over time that during this time, I need to find some time for myself. typically once the fever settles I try to get out, walk, coffee, friends, etc.

So yes…it’s not always amazing and perfect…My face also broke out into some crazy weird rash! I am not superficial by any means but seriously my face was BRUTAL! I had these crazy insane bumps all over my face and dry patches everywhere. I was less embarrassed about how it looked and more concerned with how dry and itchy it was. I went to see my face lady and she got me on a great cleanser by Eminence (AMAZING!) and I followed that with Egyptian Magic (Also AMAZING) and my face is so much better! phew!

On top of all that it was Halloween and Calgary got their first serious taste of winter!

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A power ranger, a scary clown, and mom as a deer for Halloween night.

So while all this was going on we, of course, ran into some renovation bumps in the road. Actually, it was more like a full halt, not trespassing, you are not going over that bump, kind of bump on the road. We had plans to gut the master shower (it has travertine tile) and had made the decision a couple weeks back. We both felt, at the time, that we could make it work with our budget. However, things don’t always work out the way you want during a reno. I also have a pretty strict budget that I refuse to go over!

So when we found out the final price to renovate the shower…it was a no go. I was bummed. Every square inch of this house is being totally redone except that shower.  We are going to have to work around that master shower and try to make it as pretty as possible and hopefully, in the future (less distant future and more closer) we will renovate that. I promised I wouldnt go over budget. I can live with the travertine. I can. lol. I will.

So as we head into week 8, the most critical week of all. I am hoping things go a little smoother. I feel like I got some good rest this weekend, got some time to myself and with friends. I am ready to tackle the busiest week of all! Wishing you all a wonderful start to your week!

till the next post,

moveplaymom.

 

Someplace​ in between?

I don’t know exactly when, but at some point in the last year, I made a decision in my heart and mind that this minimalist lifestyle was something I wanted to follow and I knew there was going to be some major moments that would challenge me.

So many people have recently shared with me their desire to move towards a more simple life. They feel inspired by our family and our progress. I have followers and friends who have messaged me thanking me for sharing and being so candid because they now feel like they can start, in a small way, to declutter their life. One recent message I received on Instagram was from an old acquaintance…

– Dina, thank you, I have so wanted to prioritize people over things. I have struggled and feel like I can slowly work through this. Thanks for the inspiration.

All the blog posts, Instagram stories or pictures that I have shared recently are just tiny glimpses into my world. I try to share ideas that might get you going or help you work through your stuff.

BUT!

When I got that message it hit me. I needed and wanted to share one of the more difficult and delicate things we need to declutter in our lives.

Prioritize people over things…It felt like that was easy enough. Until I thought about the people piece. What people? I mean I knew my family was on the top of that list. I always want to spend more time with my tiny humans and my husband.

But PEOPLE…so many people.

A few months ago I wanted to take a realistic look at the relationships in my life. I have always been such a social person and people always tend to gravitate towards my circle. When I actually thought about all these relationships it dawned on me; some were a plus and some a minus but most lived someplace in the in-between. There they were, in some weird, ambivalent space, that was more about being fake or convenient and less about being present and true. I was an equal partner in the more part. When I reflected, I realized, I was either holding onto these strange relationships, relationships that were adding very little value to my life, or I was not giving enough to the relationships that deserved it. Yet I always complained to my husband about not having too many close friends….and argued that it was just who I was….

I had to stop and work on this one.

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When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, joy. -RUMI

I found myself investing 30% of my true self across the spectrum of friendships I had. I had too many people to please. I had too many people to meet. I had too many people to call. I found myself trying to navigate through a bunch of friendships. Never knowing which were really solid and true.

It made me kind of sad when I really thought about it but I had to make a change. I had to declutter this part too. This was one of my most difficult challenges still to date. This was the one place I felt rocked my heart a little more than I expected. This is the challenge thus far that had also brought me the most joy on this journey. Clarity.

Letting go of people that I cared about but I knew I had outgrown. People who were toxic, people who were just too different, people whose values didn’t align with mine anymore, or ever. I needed to let go of the people I tirelessly invested my own time in, thinking something more was there when really there wasn’t. I needed to take more time for the people that wanted to be there. The people who right now…were making the effort to know ME.

So just like that, I did what I do best, I made a list.

Not a list of people to let go of, that would have been too overwhelming. Instead, I made a list of people I wanted to invest time in. To make the cut, these people needed to do the following for our friendship (I searched high and low for qualities of real friendships and found these) and I had to be able to reciprocate the same for them.

  • be present, listen, challenge my thinking, have a positive influence on my self-esteem, make an effort, I could laugh with, cry with, dance with, made me want to be a better person, had my back, down to earth, supportive, understanding, trustworthy and forgiving.

I looked back on old friendships and new friendships. I took some time to meet with some friends I thought should make the list…and realized they shouldn’t. My goal. To invest 100% of my true self in these fewer but true relationships. 

How? well, I decided that I would be more present, listen, have their back, support them….you get it.

In my busy life as a mom, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a business owner, a home builder and the list goes on; I also wanted to be a really good friend. I know that it’s hard to find time but if it matters and adds value to my life then I knew I needed to make the effort. So I did. I do. Weekly I reach out. I even set it up as a reminder in my calendar (I know, lame, but it works!) to reflect for 1 hour a week on my friendships. This might sound crazy but I swear by it. I take the time to think about each one of these relationships and I either send them a message, plan an outing, write them a card, give them a call or set up a time to skype. Every week. I am present. I listen. I laugh or cry with them. I have their back and they have mine. I give 100% of my true self and it feels incredible how much more these friendships, our trust, and our love has grown.

So what about those who didn’t make the list. They are still there. Surprisingly, or maybe not, not much has changed in our roles. Some have disappeared. Some don’t bother to connect (now realizing I was holding onto them by a tethered string). Some people are still around and casually/socially we might cross paths and connect and catch up, which I love! I love to hear about how they are doing and what they are up to in that moment. I just needed to find a way to prioritize the people that were willing to give a lot more and take more because it added value to us both.  Through this process, I found my close friends. Most of which were always there.

Will new people come into my life? Of course. However, I am more thoughtful about who I let into my inner circle and engage with. Maybe over time some of the amazing relationships I have right now will change too and new people will weave themselves into my life, but maybe not.

I can guarantee, when you think about the people you really want to invest more time in, your list may not be that long, but I can assure you it will be filled with love, truth, and a handful of close friends that care.

till the next post,

moveplaymom.

 

Week 6 – Renovation Series

Since our last post so much has happened and I am so excited to share! It has been an incredible journey. We are so blessed to have the opportunity to basically rebuild and design our own little abode.

Our design and renovation story dates back several months. Before we even bought the house we had tossed around the idea of what our own home build could look like. Before we could get there, there were some important things that needed to be checked off on our want list…tall ceilings, lots of natural light, functional layout, usable space, a large lot, on a cul-de-sac with a lot of trees. We waited and we found exactly what we were looking for but it needed a lot of love. We were up for the challenge because rarely does an old house with this much potential come up for sale.

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The view from the master bedroom patio. This is half our yard!

 

Week five and six brought a lot of the design elements that I put down on paper to life! We saw the new indoor doors get installed and all the casings. Along with the doors was the replacement of several windows. For our inside doors, we chose to go with the MADISON Style, essentially one large shaker style. Again trying to keep things very simple.  All doors were standards except for the bedroom doors. We chose solid core doors for all the bedroom doors to add an extra layer of soundproofing. As for our baseboards and casings, we went with a simple flat look, 3-inch casing and 5-inch baseboards.

The kitchen got installed this week! I think this was the most exciting part of this whole process. The kitchen is such an important part of our culture. Our families are both Italians. Food is at the core of everything we do. We live to eat and eat to live. A kitchen is a vibrant place and the center of the home in Italian families. I wanted to carry that on in our home but I wanted it to be a space that was simple, clean yet still warm and inviting.

We decided to work with a local kitchen company that my husband had worked with on his previous renovations, True Kitchens. Ron and Tim (owners) did an amazing job! They put up with me first of all and after several design sessions, phone calls, text messages, and meetings, we narrowed it down to exactly what Ben and I wanted. As it came together this week in real life…I was so stunned that it literally brought me to tears. It’s exactly how I imagined it would be. My favorite part is our 11 foot, 11.5 when countertop goes in, island. I am so in love. I know I post in black and white. I promise to share color pictures on the full reveal but for those of you wondering our Kitchen is Oxford White, Benjamin Moore.

As the kitchen came together this week in real life, I was so stunned that it literally brought me to tears. It’s exactly how I imagined it would be. My favorite part is our 11 foot, 11.5 when countertop goes in, island. I am so in love. I know I post in black and white. I promise to share color pictures on the full reveal but for those of you wondering our kitchen colour is Oxford White, Benjamin Moore.

 

We also primed the entire house this week. Next, on the list is getting some more custom built-in cabinets completed. Painters get in this week as well to start spraying all doors, casings and get the first two coats of paint on. The tile guys get in later this week as well. I am looking forward to seeing the tile go down or up….. If you follow my Instagram you would know how excited I am about some of the printed cement tiles we chose for some special places in our home. In addition to that, we are also doing some cool tile in the bathrooms, the entrance, and backsplashes. I will share more of those details next week!

They said it couldn’t be done in 2 months. so far so good!

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till the next post,

moveplaymom.