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How to Grow Up

How to Grow Up

Here’s some wisdom from a 32-year-old on a second round as a university student:

It’s really hard.

Not exactly a revelation, I know, but hear me out. Completing assignments, keeping up with readings, and managing time – we all know how challenging this can be. What I want to highlight instead is that the hard work isn’t always the hardest part. For me, trying to figure out how to get to bed early enough, how to wake up and make it to class on time, how to keep my bedroom from looking like a junkyard, and how to resist daily temptations is really hard. While others seem to be worrying about making time for self-care between classes and work, I’m sprinting to class only to find I forgot my notebook. Sometimes it’s the stuff that is supposed to be simple that ends up being really— you guessed it— hard.

It can feel like there isn’t much sympathy out there for those of us who struggle with the day-to-day stuff. If someone hasn’t done laundry in two weeks, it’s easier for people to judge and label them lazy than it is to try to understand why they find it difficult. We’re all guilty of passing quick judgment – and this has its consequences. In my case, people often presume I’m either carefree or careless. A friend told me years back that it seemed like I have no passion. It felt awful to be seen that way. For a decade I almost believed that story about myself. I often felt like a let down, both to myself and to the world. I worried I’d never grow up to be someone I could respect. None of that was true.

The First Round

With that mindset, completing my first degree somehow seemed like both a miracle and barely an accomplishment. I didn’t find the schoolwork very difficult. I loved learning, I made it to class, I paid attention, and for the most part, I got good grades. But I spent the majority of my six years as an undergrad (that’s right, six) procrastinating. I wish I could say I spent all my time partying and enjoying myself. Mostly I agonized about how much work I had to do instead of just doing it, or I beat myself up because I didn’t feel I was trying hard enough. I knew what I needed to do, I just couldn’t seem to do it. I always felt like I could do better, or like I never gave it all I had. At graduation I knew I was smart enough to be handed that degree but somehow I felt like I hadn’t earned it. Now upon reflection, I see I gave it everything I had at the time. I earned that degree Sinatra-style— I did it my way.

We rarely hear this sort of student story. Ever notice in the movies how college students always look like they’re having the greatest time of their lives? They’re winning trophies, getting laid, and going on spring break holidays. How do they make time to have all this fun? They’re never studying, working their asses off to afford tuition, or staying in because they can’t afford to party. The message is that our college years are supposed to be all fun all the time. I’ve done it twice now, and I call bullshit! If you can relate, you’re not alone. I’d say we’re the silent majority.

The Second Round

This time it’s different. The same simple stuff I found difficult ten years ago is still hard and it probably won’t ever be easy for me. I have grown though. I’ve slowly adopted some better life skills (so much more to go), a lot of patience with myself, and the pièce de résistance, I’ve developed a who-gives-a-shit swagger – a gift of confidence that seemed to arrive right around the time I turned 30. Much to my partner’s chagrin, my room is still a pig stye, and I still struggle to hand papers in on time. But my world isn’t collapsing around me. I’m imperfect, and that’s fine. There are a lot of us!

These days I juggle a job, classes and a co-op position. I never thought I’d be able to do that much at once. For the first time in my adult life, people say, “Wow! That must be so hard to manage!” about my life. The irony is, in a lot of ways, it used to be harder. It’s harder to wake up in the morning when you have three or four chapters to read on your own time, two assignments due in a week, and instead of doing any homework the night before, you smoked a joint with your roommate and stayed up watching cartoons. That is stressful. That life is never free from the anxiety of having too much shit to do. Now, waking up groggy to get to my co-op placement after a late night at work is easy in comparison. It would be even easier if I could just decide to go to bed earlier, but at least I have a better excuse for being late.

What’s Next?

Each of us struggles with different aspects of the transition into adulthood. Moving toward my mid-30s now, I realize that the development period is actually never finished. You never wake up to find you’re all done building yourself. But you do get better at it.

I wanted to write all this because I wish people had recognized and acknowledged ten years ago that even when I didn’t look like it, I really cared. To everyone living in that eternal awkward phase, I’m right there with you. I know you care. Keep at it and take all the time you need.

How To Eat Well When Your Wallet’s Empty

How To Eat Well When Your Wallet’s Empty

Look, education is expensive and the costs keep climbing.

Even with financial support or a part-time job, the reality for most of us is that being a full-time student also means being near broke. 

The stress that can come along with that is a strain on mental and physical health. It can affect mood, focus and memory, energy levels—  all very important variables in the equation of student success.

After lump-sum payments for rent and tuition, there can be little leftover with which to do that most essential thing— feed ourselves.  

It’s rarely talked about, but food insecurity has quietly become a serious student issue. Much more needs to be done to resolve it, but there is a lot happening already.

If you find yourself cutting out meals or putting nutrition on the back-burner because money is tight, there are options.

On Campus

Fact: postsecondary institutions can be complex to navigate.

If you’re not actively looking then you could miss out on some helpful resources. With a little scouting you might be surprised by what’s available. Many schools have on-campus food banks, and many offer part time employment for students with financial need, for example. If you’re not sure what’s out there, talk to an advisor or counsellor. Your tuition pays them to connect you with the right services.

At Home

Fact: that is far easier said than done.

It means less eating out, more time at home preparing food yourself, plus a little extra time and effort because— let’s face it— the cheaper foods usually need a little extra love.

That doesn’t have to be a bad thing! If I can share one recommendation here, folks, it is this: make friends with the unassuming lentil! That goes for beans, chickpeas, split peas, and anything else from the family known as pulses, too.

These nuggets of nutrients are versatile: they appear in cuisines the world over, they take on flavour from the spices, herbs, acids and sauces you surround them with, and add their own earthy depth and density to dishes. They’re great in soups, salads or sauces, pilafs, pulaos, or paellas. Best of all, they’re dang cheap for something so nutrient-rich! Best of all, protein-packed pulses are available anywhere, which means you can grab a can from the nearest corner store in a pinch.

Here’s a trick: in a favourite recipe that features ground meat, cut the meat down by half (or even entirely) and replace it with lentils or mung beans for their bulk and texture, plus a handful of minced button mushrooms for that rich, savoury taste (called umami) that we usually rely on meats for. Save a few bucks without sacrificing the deliciousness that you deserve!

Off Campus

There are food banks, soup kitchens, and places of worship that offer meals on site or non-perishables to take home. You don’t have to be on the street to use these services, folks. There’s enough for everyone who needs a good meal. Also, in many communities across North America, a new model is popping up to address food insecurity, called the community food centre. At your local CFC, you can eat fresh and nutritious meals, often made with ingredients handpicked from local community gardens and handcrafted by a staff chef. You can also learn and share knowledge about cooking, nutrition, and budgeting. FOR FREE! And, if you’re so inclined, there are often opportunities to volunteer, so you can support and stay connected to a community centred around healthy food!

Those are just a few options to think about. Use that student brain and get creative.

Most importantly, folks, if you find yourself going hungry, we encourage you to reach out. Everybody deserves to have access to the tools to take care of themselves. Everybody— including YOU— deserves to eat.

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Look, education is expensive and the costs keep climbing.

Even with financial support or a part-time job, the reality for most of us is that being a full-time student also means being near broke. 

The stress that can come along with that is a strain on mental and physical health. It can affect mood, focus and memory, energy levels—  all very important variables in the equation of student success.

After lump-sum payments for rent and tuition, there can be little leftover with which to do that most essential thing— feed ourselves.  

It’s rarely talked about, but food insecurity has quietly become a serious student issue. Much more needs to be done to resolve it, but there is a lot happening already.

If you find yourself cutting out meals or putting nutrition on the back-burner because money is tight, there are options.

On Campus

Fact: postsecondary institutions can be complex to navigate.

If you’re not actively looking then you could miss out on some helpful resources. With a little scouting you might be surprised by what’s available. Many schools have on-campus food banks, and many offer part time employment for students with financial need, for example. If you’re not sure what’s out there, talk to an advisor or counsellor. Your tuition pays them to connect you with the right services.

At Home

Fact: that is far easier said than done.

It means less eating out, more time at home preparing food yourself, plus a little extra time and effort because— let’s face it— the cheaper foods usually need a little extra love.

That doesn’t have to be a bad thing! If I can share one recommendation here, folks, it is this: make friends with the unassuming lentil! That goes for beans, chickpeas, split peas, and anything else from the family known as pulses, too.

These nuggets of nutrients are versatile: they appear in cuisines the world over, they take on flavour from the spices, herbs, acids and sauces you surround them with, and add their own earthy depth and density to dishes. They’re great in soups, salads or sauces, pilafs, pulaos, or paellas. Best of all, they’re dang cheap for something so nutrient-rich! Best of all, protein-packed pulses are available anywhere, which means you can grab a can from the nearest corner store in a pinch.

Here’s a trick: in a favourite recipe that features ground meat, cut the meat down by half (or even entirely) and replace it with lentils or mung beans for their bulk and texture, plus a handful of minced button mushrooms for that rich, savoury taste (called umami) that we usually rely on meats for. Save a few bucks without sacrificing the deliciousness that you deserve!

Off Campus

There are food banks, soup kitchens, and places of worship that offer meals on site or non-perishables to take home. You don’t have to be on the street to use these services, folks. There’s enough for everyone who needs a good meal. Also, in many communities across North America, a new model is popping up to address food insecurity, called the community food centre. At your local CFC, you can eat fresh and nutritious meals, often made with ingredients handpicked from local community gardens and handcrafted by a staff chef. You can also learn and share knowledge about cooking, nutrition, and budgeting. FOR FREE! And, if you’re so inclined, there are often opportunities to volunteer, so you can support and stay connected to a community centred around healthy food!

Those are just a few options to think about. Use that student brain and get creative.

Most importantly, folks, if you find yourself going hungry, we encourage you to reach out. Everybody deserves to have access to the tools to take care of themselves. Everybody— including YOU— deserves to eat.

How To Use Cooking To Relax

How To Use Cooking To Relax

Here’s The Ideal
Cooking can be one of the simplest meditations. With a little attention, it can be a way to momentarily free ourselves from life’s burdens and worries. It starts with mere veggie-chopping, but ideally, by the time we sit down to eat, we’ve forgotten our troubles, we’re at peace, and there’s joy in every bite.

Here’s The Reality
That’s what cooking can be. But if you’re anything like me, all the healthy, earth-friendly eating habits you told yourself you’d finally stick to this semester have fallen by the wayside come midterm season. When there’s barely enough time to squeeze in assignments, stuffing down fast food and chasing it with a Timmie’s on your way to class starts to seem like the only way to survive.

Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time beating myself about the food I end up eating when I’m trying my best to juggle work, school, and the rest of life. What I really needed was a pat on the back. When our bodies are working through the high-stress periods that come with post-secondary studies, they need our support even more, not our nagging judgments. That’s why this semester, I decided it’s time to go easy on myself. It’s time to keep my eating goals manageable and fun.

Here’s The Recipe
I’ve decided to prioritize cooking up my own comfort food, just once a week. I’ve started to set aside a few hours on my day off to cook up a big meal that’ll provide me a few lunches and dinners for later in the week. I don’t worry about whether it’s the healthiest possible dish I could make, or if the final plate will be Instagram-worthy. Comfort is the key here. The goal is to make the meal equivalent of a pair of cozy, weathered pajamas.

I try my best to make meals from scratch. I know it sounds daunting but it doesn’t have to be. Scratch-cooking really gets the body and mind engaged, which is where that meditative potential comes from. The trick to keeping it manageable is to keep it simple. Pick a dish that you know and love, something familiar and homey. It helps if you’ve watched a family member make it a million times.

Here’s an example: I pick a pasta shape (for me, pasta = comfort) and I make a super basic tomato sauce from scratch. There’s nothing quite like taking a juicy, ripe tomato in my hands and squishing it to a pulp over a bowl! It makes me feel like a kid. An hour later I’m amazed at just how beautiful and delicious the simplest tomato sauce spooned over pasta can be when I’ve brought it to life with my own hands. Savory and sweet, tangy and rich.

Pasta is my thing. Pick your thing. Take it back to the basics. Comfort food is not about complexity or skill. It’s about nourishing every part of you.

The Transformation
Going to school doesn’t always feel like the empowering place that it can be. At the hardest times, it can feel like you’re just doing as you’re told. It can feel like you’re working your arse off just to hand in an assignment, you wait for someone to judge it, and then you do it all over again. It’s hard to remember that we all have the power to make beautiful and important things happen in our own lives and in our world. Cooking can be a powerful reminder. You’re in control of a handful of ingredients, and you get to transform them into a work of art. And if you’re the only one eating it, the only judge is your taste buds.

Cooking doesn’t have to be a thing we do just to survive. It doesn’t have to be just another thing on an endless to-do list. We can cook to be mindful and present. We can cook to spend a little quality time with ourselves. We can cook to give ourselves the pleasure we deserve. We can cook to nourish our bodies, minds, and spirits.

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