The other day I was driving somewhere and suddenly thought: Isn’t it wonderful that I know how to drive a car! While this isn’t an ability I spend much time thinking about – and, family roadtrips aside, one of the perks of living in a small town is that we don’t have to do much driving – it is a very useful life skill.
I know several adults that don’t have their driver’s licenses. They rely on parents and/or spouses to drive them wherever they need to go. It seems to work for their individual situations, but I cannot imagine a life where I didn’t know how to drive.
So, today, I’m feeling very thankful that I have access to a vehicle and the cultural autonomy to drive freely!
Your turn. Have you ever thought about how useful it is to know how to drive (especially if you have easy access to a vehicle)? It really is a tremendous privilege!
The next few days of our “staycation” were quite relaxed. Tuesday we had rain, so my brother and his wife ventured out to a few of the local wineries (there are many – a dozen or so within a 15 minute drive from our house).
Day 4 (Tuesday)
We met up downtown Wolfville for a quick cider tasting mid-afternoon at the Annapolis Cider Company. I didn’t take any pictures of the exterior because it’s all pretty routine for us, but our town is so picturesque (here’s a picture from Christmas, when the town really does look like something straight out of a Hallmark movie).
That evening we hung out and played games, including a few rounds of Twister.
day 5 (Wednesday)
Wednesday my brother and sister-in-law headed to Halifax (the capital of Nova Scotia, and the biggest city in the province), while my parents stayed behind to run some errands. I was happy to have a second day with a more relaxed pace. Everyone rendezvoused at the local soccer pitch that evening to watch Abby and Levi play their final soccer games (which conveniently ran back-to-back).
Day 6 (Thursday)
Thursday morning was spent hiking at Blomidon Provincial Park.
blomidon provincial park
I didn’t take many pictures, but we had a fabulous time. It’s one of our favourite long hikes – about 12 km – and the weather was stellar. Cool and overcast. The kids were desperate to join us, but it was calling for rain all afternoon and during the day Friday. So we went walking in the morning while they finished out their week of VBS at church.
That afternoon we played more games and ate more food. After supper, John and I took advantage of free babysitting for a short date night. I was tuckered and didn’t last too long, but it was nice to dress up for a bit and get out of the house solo for a few hours.
day 7 (Friday)
Friday was our last full day and the weather was wonderful (oops, guess the kids could have joined us on a hike after all). My brother and sister-in-law visited some more wineries and ran a few errands in the morning. That afternoon a subset of the group headed to Margaretsville, an adorable little lighthouse community about 45 minutes away.
This is one of our favourite lighthouses, but I had never been inside. Over the pandemic, ownership passed from the Canadian government to local community members and they’ve since opened it up to the public.
There is also a small museum about the local shipbuilding industry and a wonderful art cooperative. The views are also pretty hard to beat and Abby and my brother and sister-in-law spotted two ocean sunfish (Google them – they are crazy looking!).
After supper, everyone was up for one last big adventure and we settled on Medford Beach. Once again, tide times are critical for planning. At high tide, these rock formations are only accessible via kayak. Low tide was conveniently scheduled for just after supper. It’s a bit treacherous to get down to the beach, so my parents drove to a local look-off point and enjoyed the sunset while younger bodies navigated the cliffs!
Our visitors were duly impressed. As always, our kids love it. There is so much scope for the imagination and, let’s face it, sanctioned mud play is a dream.
day 8 (Saturday)
Everyone left mid-morning on Saturday, but not before squeezing in a quick trip to our local farmer’s market (a short drive from our house). I’ve only been once since March of 2020 – when everything was still outside – and it was nice to get back. The produce is spectacular and there is such a delightful community vibe!
And that’s a wrap on our Nova Scotia “staycation”. We didn’t stay idle for long as another round of family company arrived less than a week later (I covered details of that visit here).
Cheers to you, Nova Scotia. A place of truly spectacular scenery and wonderful people.
Your turn. Do you have a local farmer’s market in your area? Does anyone else dislike, nay hate, playing Twister – I managed to avoid it by quickly offering to do kitchen cleanup. I am extremely unflexible, so it makes sense this would NOT be the game for me.
I had grand plans to put together a series of short, punchy recaps of our recent “staycation” when we explored some of Nova Scotia’s gems with my brother, his wife, and my parents last month. But then time passed and I felt lazy about sorting through all the pictures and decided to dump everything into a couple of catch-all posts because…life is short.
Basically, it all boils down to this: everyone should visit Nova Scotia. It truly is a beautiful destination!
I hadn’t seen my brother in almost four years. Wow! The last time he visited we had a child that napped every day and, well, that era is now behind us. He also got married in the interim.
By the time everyone arrived, the forecast was calling for an entire week of rain. After a hot, dry summer, the timing of this much-needed precipitation was both frustrating and panic-inducing. In the end, there were only a few times when the weather negatively impacted our plans. And it was nice, in a way, to feel slightly more tied to a home base. With an uncertain forecast, there were fewer options and that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. I think everyone was on the tired side – my brother had been vacationing in Canada for weeks, I was emotionally and physically drained from the summer, and the kids seemed to stockpile extra angst for the benefit of our company. But guess what – despite all of this, we managed to make a lot of really great memories.
The running theme of this visit was: Everything stays the same and nothing stays the same. Our lives rarely overlap; he’s settled in Denmark and I’m tucked into a cozy corner of Nova Scotia. But our shared memories live on – the sibling nuances you tend to forget come back to the forefront and it really did feel like just yesterday we were two kids having crabapple fights on the front lawn of our childhood home. (We actually spent time rehashing this specific memory in detail. My brother is 7 years older and always ended up with the high ground – right beside the apple tree! – with a giant yellow slide as his shield. Meanwhile, I got the spot at the bottom of the hill holding an old BBQ grate; I could only access ammo after he had pelted me with crabapples. Also, do you know what tiny crabapples perfectly fit through? The holes on a BBQ grate.)
day 1 (Saturday)
Everyone arrived late on a Saturday afternoon. We had prepped for a BBQ supper – this is John’s domain, and he knocked it out of the proverbial park (no one complained about my homemade carrot cake for dessert, either).
My parents were contented to relax at our place, but the beautiful evening was too good for the rest of us to pass up. By the time supper dishes were done, it was almost time for the sun to set. We headed out for some local adventuring (Levi opted to stay home with Grammie to play UNO).
red bench LOOKoff
During one of our schools-are-closed lockdowns, John happened upon this view park while trying to fill the hours. It’s about 10 minutes from our house and provides a gorgeous view of one of our favourite places in the world – the cliffs at Blomidon Provincial Park. We spent some time sitting on the red bench overlooking the Minas Basin watching the sun sink lower. It was absolutely lovely.
We live in an area that was settled by French Acadians in the early 1600’s. In 1755, the British expelled thousands of men, women, and children as part of the Grand Dérangement (the Great Expulsion). The nearby Landscape of Grand Pré is a UNESCO World Heritage site and details all the history of this event. The main monument to the deportation is at Horton’s Landing, purported to be the very site where Acadians were loaded on to boats.
This is such a lovely spot at twilight, and happens to be where John captured his award-winning cow photograph several years ago! Once again the cows were the stars of the show – mooing the whole time we were there. We took turns making up names for the cows and “interpreting” their various grunts and groans.
day 2 (Sunday)
Sunday was scheduled to be the last sunny day of their whole visit (spoiler alert: we ended up getting sun at various other points in the week).
We started off the day at church, came home in time for lunch, and then dithered about what to do next. We eventually landed on the perfect solution: pack a picnic supper and head to the beach.
Nova Scotia has SO much coastline, and there are little fishing villages and cottage spots everywhere. One interesting quirk (much like you would find along coastal Maine) – getting between two destinations can take a long time because there is so much twisting and turning to get in and around different points that jut out into the ocean.
Baxter’s Harbour is a little cove we started visiting a few years ago. This Sunday we arrived as the tide was coming in. The Bay of Fundy, where we live, has the highest tides in the world and tide times really do matter!
We had a wonderful time. The main focal point at this beach is typically a waterfall, but it was more of a strong trickle after our summer of hot weather. My parents set up some folding chairs and watched us explore the rocks. There are huge rock formations to climb and the kids absolutely love this sort of thing.
To access the big climbing rocks, you have to cross over a “riverbed” that becomes exposed at low tide but fills in at high tide. I was very aware of this fact and we made it back across in plenty of time. Another couple was not so lucky. I guess they had been warned about the rising tide levels but ignored the suggestion to stay put. We all sat high on shore and watched them balance phones and dry clothes atop their heads as they swam back across to dry land. It created an unexpectedly funny anecdote from the afternoon.
It was actually quite a bit windier and cooler than we expected. Usually the bay is very calm, but this particular evening the waves provided a great backdrop to our picnic of hotdogs, chips, and s’mores. I think this ended up being the highlight of the whole “staycation” for most people. It’s such a beautiful spot and the waves and sunset and summer flavours were a winning combination.
day 3 (Monday)
Monday – Thursday, the kids were in Vacation Bible Camp at our church all morning. This provided some structure to the week and gave the adults time to do some activities solo + get work done.
On Monday, it was calling for rain all afternoon, so my parents, brother, sister-in-law and I headed out first thing.
I actually grew up about ten minutes from this town. It’s a beautiful area, steeped in history.
Port Royal, where my childhood home was located, is often called the birthplace of Canada and was one of the first European settlements in North America. Samuel de Champlain landed here in 1605! I grew up visiting the various historic sites in the area, thinking nothing about the charm of it all.
We visited my childhood home. I moved away over 23 years ago. It’s odd what things stand out now. For one, it seems so much smaller than I remember. Just walking around outside the house (we know who owns it!) resulted in the strangest combination of sadness and happiness. Being here made me feel like I was seconds away from finding some tiny rip in the space-time continuum where I’d be able to seamlessly slip back into my old life. This didn’t happen of course.
Everything stays the same. Nothing stays the same.
I was most delighted to capture a picture of the old well on the property. Each summer my Dad would obsessively check water levels (it was a hand-dug well); I’d go up with him in the early evening and we’d lower a crowbar to the bottom of the well. When he pulled up the rope, we could access the water depth. My Mom recalled having the well run dry one year when she was in the middle of a load of laundry!
Eventually, they had a new well drilled but, while it lasted, I really did enjoy checking water levels with my Dad. I can appreciate the fact that I likely enjoyed this because, as a child, I didn’t have to worry about what happened if we actually ran out of water for laundry or bathing or drinking or flushing toilets. I’m sure the water levels caused my parents great stress; for me, it was pure entertainment.
We took family pictures in front of the lighthouse across the street from our old house. I spent hours playing on the shoreline as a kid, singing to myself from a perch on one of the biggest boulders. I became something of a local feature. So it was hilarious when we walked across the lawn to our neighbours house – they still live there and LOOK THE EXACT SAME – and the wife mentioned seeing someone down on the rocks earlier that afternoon and she said: “I thought to myself: they have no right to be standing there. That’s Elisabeth’s rock.” Turns out it was me on the rock. I haven’t lived there in over two decades but it’s still my rock to her.
Everything has changed. Nothing has changed.
We went to the grocery store where all my siblings worked through college and my brother ran into one of his former co-workers, now a manager of the store.
Everything has changed. Nothing has changed.
We ate at a quaint little restaurant – the food was delicious. We strolled along the downtown core. Again, things seem so much smaller. But there were memories everywhere. The jewelry store where my brother-in-law bought my sister’s engagement ring. Still there. The bank where my Dad used to lift me onto the counter so the teller could slip me a piece of bubble gum. Still there. The farmer’s market where I sat on Santa’s lap when I was 3. Still there.
We ended the day visiting my uncle at his cottage. It was my first time seeing him since he was awarded the Wolf Prize (a very big deal in the Physics world, apparently). You would never imagine he’s such a brilliant academic as he’s down to earth in the best possible way. While it rained outside, he talked about his work and we noshed on BBQ and pie with ice cream. We made it home late-evening after the kids were already settled in bed – exhausted, but satisfied with the day.
And that’s a wrap on the first half of our “staycation.”
Your turn. Have you ever had the feeling that you’re experiencing a reality where everything has stayed the same…and nothing has stayed the same? I feel this way every time I visit my childhood home and, now that I’ve long since moved out, every time I visit my parents at the lake.
I drafted this post two months ago and, for some inexplicable reason, never got around to clicking publish. I had jotted down some of the things that contributed to our (air) travel experience feeling relatively pleasant, even with kids in tow. But there is definitely some irony in looking back since I mention, in the first paragraph, “both kids are old enough to be fully independent for…toileting.” Which they are, of course, but isn’t it telling that every post of our big city recaps involved the distress of finding public washrooms! Perhaps we’ve not quite hit the “golden zone” for cities…
Traveling with kids is a very different experience than traveling solo or as a couple. The considerations feel rather endless. That said, I think we’re in a golden zone in terms of family age configuration – both kids are old enough to be fully independent for feeding and toileting, but they’re young enough to appreciate the adventure of travel and aren’t yet sullen teenagers.
Our trip went very smoothly despite the fact 5 out of 6 legs of our journey involved delayed flights. John had planned VERY long layovers (mostly so we didn’t have to rush and the kids could explore the airports) so we ended up not missing any of our flights and arrived in South Carolina one hour later than planned; ditto on our return to CANADA. First tip: on multi-leg trips…schedule in lots of buffer.
Here are a few things that worked well for us in terms of prepping to leave and the journey there and back again.
countdown chart + Step challenge
I don’t think I’ve mentioned this before but ahead of our trip we wanted to find a fun way for the kids to get engaged in “earning” some vacation spending money. John – who had done some iteration of this through work before – came up with a $tep Challenge.
We are a walking family. I even wrote a Q&A post about how we get the kids to walk so much; during the height of the pandemic we were walking 7 km+ together most days. But things have slid over the last year. Leading up to our trip, John offered 20 walks that were a minimum of 4 km. This means the daily trek to school didn’t count.
Most of the time, our family walks are mandatory. For the step challenge they were optional. After each walk, they earned $1 USD to spend on whatever they wanted in South Carolina, with a $5 bonus if they agreed to go every single time one of these optional walks was offered.
A playdate invite from Levi’s best friend the day of the second walk was too good an opportunity to miss. Levi remained very content in his decision to forgo the $5 bonus which I actually love! He prioritized relationships over money. Abby was very determined to get every possible dollar available to her; she also had a lot of friends she wanted to buy souvenirs for, so every dollar counted!
we left the house clean
I try to do this for every trip (even if it’s just a quick overnight getaway). The day before we leave I do a quasi-deep clean. I aim to get all the existing laundry washed and put away. I vacuum floors, use up any food remaining in the fridge (I start this process about a week out if we’re going for any length of time), and attempt to leave everything as neat as possible. When we arrived home at 2:30 am it was very nice to have a blank slate on which to drop all our suitcases and travel paraphernalia.
unpack right away
This is also quite typical for us after any trip. While it can be easier said than done, I actually had a boost of energy when we got home in the wee hours of the morning and didn’t go to bed until 3 am – at which point the laundry basket was full and my luggage and carryon bookbag were empty!
Admittedly this is significantly easier as the kids get older (diapers, bottles, car seats – all that stuff is big, bulky, and also completely necessary when travelling with infants/toddlers). We each took a single small carry-on rolling suitcase and John and I also each had a bookbag for laptops, passports and other things we needed easy access to. Most of the time the kids rolled their own suitcases, but in a pinch it was no problem for John and I to handle two.
I used every single outfit while we were away (most of them twice; we did laundry once at my sister’s). Going to a warm destination is easier because we didn’t have to pack bulky layers, but we put a lot of thought into what we would take. We went down with extra space which was great for a few souvenirs and some much-appreciated hand-me-downs the kids received from my sister. We also tucked in two small drawstring bookbags, which we ended up using quite a bit on various outings.
Packing light also means we had no checked bags to worry about with all the delays…and it also makes unpacking a much faster process!
MORE packing notes
Full credit to John (who should seriously post YouTube videos of how efficiently he can pack luggage; it is insanely neat and is almost like watching a work of art in progress) who helps us maximize space. One accessible hack even I can manage independently: stuff small shirts, socks, and underwear inside shoes. I’m also going to publically admit he often repacks my bag for me because he’s just so much better at it.
Despite heading to a warm destination, I packed a puffer coat; it is light and compresses into a tiny little square. Most importantly, it was very warm on the plane – a location where I’m always frozen. This was much more efficient than carting around a bulky sweater, which I’ve done in the past. I wore this coat non-stop on all our flights and even in some parts of the airport.
have fun incorporated into the travel
We had the advantage of having access to lounges due to John’s status (I’m not sure how much it costs to purchase one-off entry, but it might be worth it? Lounge access is always wonderful, but the free food and additional space were so, so nice with kids).
We also spent a lot of time just walking around the airport on foot. The kids loved the moving sidewalks (free) and enjoyed looking at various stores (we didn’t buy anything, so also free).
We also made our airport hotel (overnight before we left for the US) part of the adventure – using the pool, eating snacks in bed. Because of our early flight time, it made sense to stay as close to the airport as possible. Also, the free 2-week parking included with our overnight stay made the hotel a significantly cheaper option than using the Park n’ Fly. Plus we got a free breakfast before we shuttled to the airport!
entertainment/flight log books
We took very little along in terms of entertainment. I used to pack goody bags for the kids for long drives but, honestly, they always felt like a lot of work and money and the kids seem to have grown out of this stage.
We brought our audiobook phone along (an old phone we’ve repurposed solely for the kids to listen to audiobooks or to occasionally watch downloaded Netflix shows) and both kids listened to an audiobook during one flight. But mostly we just talked, explored the airport or, when the plane had a screen, the kids watched a movie.
We did take along one very specific “entertainment” item. For Christmas a neighbour – who works for Air Canada – gifted the kid’s personalized flight log books. I didn’t even know this was a thing.
It was so, so fun. I wish we’d had this when Abby was a toddler, but since this was Levi’s first time on a plane (and Abby’s first flight she could remember), it feels like we’ve started capturing this information at an opportune time. We handed these books to a flight attendant as soon as we boarded and they took care of getting the pilots to fill out relevant information and then returned the books to us just before takeoff.
One of the pilots even filled out a sweet postcard for each of the kids, too. The whole experience was great and provided an ever-present reminder of the thoughtfulness of our neighbour.
marry (someone Like) John
I can’t finish a post like this without acknowledging that John was the biggest reason our travel went so smoothly. He is such an experienced, savvy and naturally-gifted traveler. He keeps a level head and has great instincts! He is also very good at reading airline personnel and winning them over with his charm; hence why we got upgraded to business class on one leg. He knows how to navigate airports with ease and I could essentially put my mind into neutral and simply follow his lead which made what could have been an incredibly stressful experience (okay, running full speed through the airport masked to try to make a connecting flight was stressful), often downright fun.
What are your air travel tips? Are you an over-packer? Do you freeze on airplanes, too?
Where do these months keep going? Bam. July is in the rearview mirror and I’m starting to think about class lists and fall wardrobes.
I thought this month I’d pivot a bit and highlight my favourite things from our family roadtrip. It’s a mixed bag!
Without a doubt this was one of my favourite accessories from the trip. I’ve long suffered from headaches in the sun. While I try to avoid excessive heat/exposure, sometimes it’s just not feasible based on our activity. The answer? Straw hats. I wore the one pictured (purchased last summer second-hand from a local consignment store; $8) almost every day we were on vacation. They protect my face and neck from the sun and keep me significantly cooler.
Staying with the clothing theme, I love wearing dresses. Because of my shape (relatively small waist with large hips), dresses are so much more comfortable than pants or shorts. They also tend to be cooler, require less mental energy (I don’t have to coordinate a top and bottom), and they’re easy and light to pack. I wore a handful of dresses on repeat for most of our trip, and am already bemoaning the cooler months ahead where dresses won’t be practical.
mike and Ike’s
We took a lot of food with us on our roadtrip, including some treat-bag stash the kids received at a birthday party. The runaway hit? Mike and Ike’s. They’re delicious, they don’t go mushy or sticky in warm weather, and they’re a nice sugar hit after long walks. Each day I packed up a small container (see below) with a handful of Mike and Ike’s and would dole them out slowly over the course of our daily adventures. We were nearing the bottom of our stockpile when we visited my sister who had gifts for the kids which included, you guessed it, a new box of Mike and Ike’s. Ironically, she had no idea we’d been enjoying them on our trip and these a new family favourite, so not an established candy option in our house. Her contribution to the cause saw us through to the end of our trip!
Collapsible + mini storage containers
At Christmas, John gifted me two collapsible storage containers. I’ll admit, I wasn’t overly impressed at first. I found them impractical for storing things in long-term as the lids close very securely/somewhat awkwardly. But for road-tripping they were PERFECT. They can hold two mini brioche buns without crushing them. The lids are attached, so I didn’t have to keep track of a container + lid. And, when they’re not in use, they collapse into a small footprint (see above left vs. right). We expanded these for cereal each morning in NYC and the kids each used them regularly for lunches/snacks in the car. They were great.
And these little blue containers (IKEA) were the only other containers I brought. The perfect size for our beloved Mike and Ike’s.
zippered travel bags
This trip I worked hard to have designated bags for different items. One bag held our masks. Another bag always held my cell phone, some Nivea lip balm, bandaids, and our hotel key (this is the bag with a wrist strap; while it wouldn’t necessarily be my go-to pattern, having a strap was incredibly handy). Another bag held the charging cubes/cables for my watch and iPhone + my eye mask for sleeping at night. Another bag always held toothbrushes, toothpaste and deodorant.
One of the things I found most challenging about our trip were the regular changes in sleeping locations. It’s a lot of work to manage packing and unpacking frequently (especially since I still oversee a lot of the kid’s organization). But having specific bags for high-priority items (like masks, my cell phone, and charging items) made it so much easier to pack and find things quickly as we moved from place to place.
I didn’t actually make many calls on my phone, but I definitely appreciated having it for taking pictures and for GPS capabilities. I never felt like I got my bearings in NYC this time and that made me a bit sad. When we first visited years ago, I remember leaving and feeling so proud of how well I understood the (very intuitive) layout of the city. Not this time – we relied exclusively on the GPS and I felt like I was constantly unsure of my location. That said, because we were navigating a big city with kids, I think my normal method of orienting would have been more challenging. And for that reason, having access to the internet really did help us plan and execute this trip relatively seamlessly.
best western premier gateway
This was such a great hotel for our family! Highly recommend if anyone is staying in New Jersey and willing to take a public shuttle into Manhattan.
The staff were lovely, having access to free garage parking is incredible, the room was gorgeous, the price was great. I don’t have a single negative thing to say about this hotel experience.
eye mask + white noise
I found having an eye mask SO helpful. I always sleep with one at home and since I brought it with me (I actually can’t sleep without it anymore which is a nuisance; I will wake up if it slips off)…every new room feels vaguely like home because no unique lighting at night throws me off.
When we travel I use an app called BetterSleep for white noise. This specific app has been my go-to for years, but I think it would be hard to mess up a oscillating fan or rainstorm? I’m at the point I can’t sleep without white noise either – high maintenance? – and having an app on my phone is perfect instead of carting around an actual white noise machine. While I still hear loud noises, it does help make unusual sleeping environments on vacation feel a bit more like home.
And there you have it. A few favourites from July that relate to our roadtrip. Your turn: any items or experiences that stand out to you from the last 30ish days!
This week had its up and downs, as weeks are wont to. Therewere some tough moments. Sick children. Continued stress of renovations. (I think, after two months, we’re finally going to get drywall and a floor in our entryway next week. For now, all our shoes – along with the flooring – are piled in our small kitchen.) There was some tween angst. There was plenty of sibling angst.
But there were also some really great moments, too. Like when our contractor hung up our house number (we haven’t had one for 9 months). He told us now we’d finally get all our bills. Those have continued to come, house number or not. Most importantly it means we no longer have to give general descriptions of our facade when providing directions but can actually reference a street and house number, like normal people.
Other highlights from the week:
John and Levi got to see a CFL game (the Canadian equivalent of the NFL) in Wolfville! Our tiny town (about 4,000 people) sold over 10,000 tickets to this football game. Tickets were gone in under an hour, but since I work for the university that was hosting the game, I had early access to tickets. The boys had an incredible time and their team won after a surprise interception at the very end of the game – a very satisfying/exciting win!
Since the boys had a big weekend event planned (and we knew Wolfville was going to be very busy) Abby and I decided to get out of town. We had free access to a cottage about an hour away. This was our first time staying overnight, and we invited a friend to join us.
Amidst some of those rocky “tween” moments, we made great memories. Like swimming across the lake to a beach on Saturday morning and spending an hour playing the Would You Rather game. We made s’mores in the microwave because our campfire was a fail. I stayed up until 2 am talking with my friend on the dock while we watched a huge full moon reflect onto the lake. We pulled sleeping bags out onto the deck and looked at the stars. We played hours of card games.
This same friend, several years ago with her teenage son, made it a summer mission to find the best chocolate/vanilla twist soft serve ice cream in a waffle cone. They tried locations all over Nova Scotia (and maybe in PEI and New Brunswick, too?). Turns out, the place tied for 1st place in their estimation was on our route home. How could we not stop for an ice cream? It was delicious!
I got picture books from the library. I know I’m hanging on to this by a thread, but Levi is still enthused and I’m nowhere close to being ready to let go of this stage. How I love picture books!
For those who have been asking, Abby’s new hamster – Meatball – is doing well. He is, as we like to say in our household, “living his best life.” He seems very content. He’s still a bit squirmy when being picked up, but hasn’t ever tried to nip anyone. He loves broccoli and Boston lettuce. He likes to hoard food under his corner nesting spot. Abby gave him some pieces of (CLEAN! I really do hope that’s obvious) toilet paper for his nest and I went in to check on him one day and he had made these long thin strands and swaddled himself in them to sleep. It was precious. He’s quiet, clean, and cute. Definitely the right pet choice for our minimalistic household.
John and I fit in three runs together this week. Sports camp attendance was spotty for the kids because of a few bouts of viral symptoms, but we worked with what we had…and I avoided onion rings and chocolate. Full disclosure: I am, however, eating an ice cream sandwich while I write this post. Not for any emotional reason, but because it tastes good at the end of a hot summer day.
We made it to the beach. It was hot and sunny – very hot and sunny – when we left home. En route I was reflecting on a hot sunny day years ago when we left home, drove two hours to a beach on Canada Day, only to find it freezing cold and enveloped in fog. I was just thinking how lucky it was today wouldn’t be a repeat of that failure when…well, you know where this is going, right? The beach we chose – which is always hot and sunny – was 15 degrees colder than home and blanketed with fog. We made the most of it and dug giant holes in the sand and shivered until John said “Why don’t we just go back along the coast to the smaller beach we saw in the sun.” It hadn’t occurred to me that we could just up and leave for another beach. But we can! So we did! That smaller beach was warm and sunny and we spent a very happy hour until the fog made its way up the coast to this beach too…and we figured that was a good time to head home.
MENTAL HEALTH | I’ve alluded to the fact the last month or so have felt rough emotionally. Thankfully, things felt a lot better this week.
I remember, years and years ago, reading a well-known blogger discuss her family starting therapy together…when everything was going well. She likened this decision to how we would likely all agree that the best time to start going to the gym is before we get an injury. And, by going early and often, we can prevent (or at least lessen the impact of) future injuries.
I haven’t been doing a good job tending to my mental muscles and they’ve atrophied these last few months. So this week I fit in some proverbial “sessions at the gym” and it made a big impact.
When I was a child I used to visit an elderly couple in a nursing home with my parents. They had a magnet that read: Seven days without prayer makes one weak. I always made a point to read that magnet – and chuckle – every time we saw them. (Their names were Ted and Alice, by the way; a name combo for an elderly couple that can only be surpassed by Ralph and Marguerite). I don’t want Bible reading and time with God to be something I simply check off, which is exactly why I stopped reading through the Bible in a year on Day #311. My faith is a core part of my identity, but I’ve been neglecting it and I can feel the impact. Going to church on Sunday isn’t enough to fuel the growth I want to see in my life. So I’ve been working through the book of James and started a notebook where I can take notes on what I read + make daily comments about what’s happening in my life – basically in the form of a written prayer.
I’ve been re-familiarizing myself with great resources. Years ago a therapist suggested The Happiness Trap book by Russ Harris. It took me several reads to have anything “click” but I highly recommend this book and plan to re-read it this summer. In the meantime, I’m most of the way through Managing Worry and Anxiety by Jean Holthaus again. I rarely buy books, but borrowed this from a friend and ordered my own copy within minutes of finishing. It does have overt faith-based content. While I know many readers here don’t share my faith, I think this book is top-notch in terms of its readability and practical suggestions. While I’ve read this book several times before, it has been helpful to have a refresher.
I’ve started planning again, but not too much. I realize, at the core, I associate my worth with productivity. I’m a hard worker and like to produce. Circling back to faith again – intellectually I believe, in the deepest sense, my worth comes from being a human of infinite value created by God! But this is so, so hard for me to internalize. While productivity and hard work have their place, failing to check off a box on my to-do list does not make me a failure or worthless. So I’ve tried to balance my desire for routine and productivity with allowing myself to dissociate my value as a person from outcomes – key during a summer of nebulous schedules, when I feel like my life has very little white space/margin, but also somehow I feel like I’ve accomplished nothing of “value” by the end of most days. (Other than keeping the kids alive. That has to count for something, right?)
Joyfinding. This is so helpful. I got back into the habit of jotting down things that brought me joy in a bonus spot in my weekly planner spread. It’s a seemingly tiny practice, but has a disproportionate impact.
And switching gears completely. Thanks to everyone for all the interesting comments on my trip recap posts.
I’ve been mulling over our experience and have some general thoughts.
While there were many highs and lows, in retrospect there is not much I would/could have changed. Most of the hiccups were not predictable. With the exception of failing to get my Broadway schedules right, things like my split-second decision at the border or an ill-timed bathroom break are hard to plan around. Also, many great things happened. Like only a single day of rain! Timing the Staten Island Ferry just right. Free parking and gorgeous views at Niagara Falls. The kids continuing to wow us with their ability to handle long car rides. (This raises an interesting point regarding bladder size. On our ~12 hour trip to Ontario, we only stopped twice for bathrooms. I think a big issue in Toronto and NYC was all the water they were consuming because of the heat.) We could have hated our hotel in New Jersey, but we loved it. Fear over the height of our box seats could have ruined everyone’s experience of Harry Potter, but it didn’t.
This was our first time traveling to a city with the kids. While I can’t think of many things I could/would have changed, I guess knowing what I know now, I would have adjusted my expectations? I really did think the kids would LOVE the city. I thought they’d be amazed by the size of the buildings and the general energy of city life. To a large extent, they weren’t. And that’s okay. They are really great adventurers and I suspect they’ll love cities at some point, but they don’t have to. Just because John and I happen to love the experience, doesn’t mean they will. But even going into the trip, I wanted everyone to have their own “great” moments. I didn’t need to spend time at a playground in Central Park, but planned this in because the kids would enjoy it. Same goes for LEGO and the M&M store. That helped balance the more adult- centric activities like finding a Banksy and walking down Wall Street.
A few people mentioned how much we fit into each day. I did feel like this is hard to avoid in a city. For example, St. Patrick’s Cathedral is literally right across the street from the LEGO store. While we did fit a lot of things in a single day, since I tried to lump our itineraries by geographic location, things were often in close proximity. Also, there was no feasible option for returning to our hotel. We wanted to maximize our time, so aside from fitting in downtime by eating/indulging in ice cream, or sitting down to do some people-watching, we mostly had to be doing something.
Grateful Kae made a great point about not having two big experiences close together. This is the first time I’ve ever done two cities – with or without kids – but it made the most sense. We were going to be within an hour of Toronto to visit my sister and this is the last year my brother-in-law will have access to his condo in the city. Free accommodations in Toronto were too good to pass up. We could have turned around and come home after Toronto, but making a roadtrip to NYC, when we were so close, felt like choosing the bigger life. That said, we originally planned to do at least a day in Boston en route home and I am so glad we made the choice – before leaving Canada – to skip a third city. That’s an adventure we’ll save for another day (and it’s only about 5-6 hours from my parents, so very doable).
A reader commented about craving a relaxed vacation with time spent reading in a hammock. Yes! Me too! In fact, my nap in a hammock at my sister’s was a highlight of my trip. That said, our kids like to be doing things. Even screens won’t entertain them for too long. I honestly don’t know how we would have a truly low-key vacation with our high-energy kids? When John and I travel solo to a city we seem to fit in both extremes. We walk everywhere and cram A LOT into our itinerary. But we also always manage to fit in relaxing activities, too. In Paris, we spent two or three of the best hours of my life (a big claim, but true) sitting on the lawn at Trocedaro watching the sun go down. It was magical. The kids would have been jumping in the water fountains, needing to pee, or crying because it was past their bedtime. With just adults, we could end a busy day of walking with hours of sitting and contented quiet. When we went to the Dominican (we left the kids home on this trip, too), we spent hours each day napping/sitting/reading/walking/swimming on the beach and only did two small excursions over the course of a week. While I loved those vacations, there is no way we could recreate either when traveling with our kids at ages 7 & 11.
In terms of scheduling downtime, I think we did this to the best of our ability. Days 1-4 of the trip, aside from driving, were very low-key. Levi went fishing at my parents, Abby played games with my Mom. The days spent at my sister’s mostly involved watching TV/eating delicious food, sitting in the hot tub, and a few treks to playgrounds/splashpads/outside to play soccer. They had quite a few days to sleep in and just laze around.
Okay! Enough from me for this week. Happy weekending everyone.
This is it – the final summary from our big city adventures.
Can I admit I’m glad these are over? I’ve really missed thinking and writing about something other than the stress of finding public bathrooms. (Though thanks to a kind reader – Hi Erin! – who pointed out there is a website/app for this. As soon as I saw her comment I could not believe we didn’t try to Google our way out of this problem).
Our trip home via New England will get lumped into a reflective post on the highs and lows of traveling with kids.
There was an underlying sense of relief as we headed out on our last day. City life is exciting and exhausting, and we all felt ready for one last grand adventure…and then some days of rest.
This was the only day in New York where we set an alarm. We had timed tickets for the American Museum of Natural History, purchased before leaving home. If we had been doing this trip sans kids, John and I would have opted for an art museum – likely the Metropolitan again. But we did have the kids and they have been very enthusiastic about the Night at the Museum movies, so the Museum of Natural History seemed like an obvious choice.
It was another gorgeous day. Once we arrived in Times Square, we immediately navigated to the subway and took the line Uptown.
Here was our original plan, but we needed to make some changes along the way.
American Museum of Natural History
Central Park (Bethesda fountain, Billy Johnson Playground, Strawberry Fields, The Plaza)
Roosevelt Island Lighthouse (take tramway)
Extras: Ancient playground (right beside the MET; halfway up Central Park)
We had tickets for 10 am, but arrived about 30 minutes early. We made good use of that buffer and navigated to a nearby Banksy. The last time John and I were in NYC we just happened upon a Banksy, but Googled this one! The experience was likely lost on the kids, but they came along willingly. Street art is so cool.
And then an all-too-familiar calamity struck. A child desperately needed the bathroom. I do not know how this happened so often on our trip. I guess back home there is just always either a public bathroom or we’re on a trail/outside, so they can go au natural? Either way, there was an uncomfortable panic as we walked back from the Banksy (and found a locked Porta Potty along the way – such a cruel discovery when one’s child needs a bathroom) and waited in line to get into the museum. We managed to make it in time, but the stress of the toileting situation was wearing thin!
I have mixed emotions about our experience. The biggest letdown was the fact the kids were so enthused about items from the Night at the Museum movies, but nothing looked exactly like it did in the films. We followed an official museum guide that provided a tour based on the movies, but it was underwhelming. I also found that different people were interested in different things, but the space was too big to separate. Finally, and I know this is nitpicking, I am typically a huge fan of museum architecture, and found there were a number of areas in the museum that looked quite dated.
That said, we made the most of it and have plenty of fun memories.
The dinosaur skeletons were definitely a highlight (Rexy from the movies). A very friendly and knowledgeable museum guide wandered over at one point and engaged us in a great conversation that the kids seemed to appreciate. The kids also loved seeing the replica of an Easter Island sculpture (Dum-Dum from the movies), and the enormous blue whale in the great hall.
Levi also spotted a panda, which was very exciting since he had just finished researching them for a school project. He insisted I take a picture for his teacher.
We let the kids use our phones to take pictures and that really helped to keep them engaged. It was fun to look back at the photo roll from the day because the kids took such interesting angles of the exhibits, both because they are naturally shorter but also because they are interested in different things.
By the time we left, the weather was oppressively hot. I had planned on us wandering through Central Park, stopping at some various playgrounds along the way.
Unfortunately, a combination of factors led to tears being shed at Bethesda Fountain and I don’t even have a single picture of this gorgeous space. Sigh.
The kids spent some time playing on the iconic slide in the Billy Johnson Playground, and then we took the kids by The Plaza Hotel (they LOVE Home Alone, and this hotel features prominently in the second movie). Then a child needed a bathroom (and yes, we made everyone use the bathroom before leaving the Museum of Natural History) and there were none to be found. We wandered for a while – slowly starting to panic – in Central Park and ended up buying a $7 sparkling water at the Central Park Zoo cafe so we felt justified in using their bathroom. Again, we made it just in time.
We strolled down Fifth Avenue and stopped for some food. It felt great to get into air conditioning and we all enjoyed lots of water with ice – despite the ramifications of drinking all that water!
I had really wanted to take the tramway out to Roosevelt Island, but I could tell the heat was going to make that experience less-than-ideal, so we decided to skip it this trip.
By this point, we were back in Times Square. We hadn’t decided if we were going to take in another show while in New York, but went to the TKTS booth to see what was on offer. They didn’t have much of interest/in a price range I wanted; the kids were willing to try either The Lion King (TKTS doesn’t get tickets for this show) or Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (sold out at the TKTS booth). We decided to try each theatre.
The Lion King tickets were EXPENSIVE and we would have had to split up into groups of two. I wasn’t overly enthused about going to see it anyway, so we made our way to the Lyric Theatre and snagged reasonably priced seats for Harry Potter.
Tickets in hand, we went to The Hard Rock Cafe because they were advertising a “Messi” burger (Levi’s favourite soccer player) and it was close to the theatre. Supper was not without incident. They said the wait time was 45 minutes unless we were willing to squeeze around a tall, round bar table. We were fine with that! Things were going so well until one child, in the very crowded conditions, accidentally banged their elbow into a huge glass of water which shattered all over the floor. Said child was very upset (from embarrassment) and started crying. The tears eventually stopped and the Messi burger was delicious. Abby had the Mac n’ Cheese which came in a very fun plate shaped like a guitar with, she told me, incredibly delicious strawberries.
We had enough time to make a quick stop by Krispy Kreme for dessert (my first time having one of their doughnuts). This was a sweet deal – literally. While lining up to order, they handed out free – incredibly fresh/still warm – doughnuts!
Though I’ve read all the Harry Potter books (multiple times), and have seen all the movies, I don’t consider myself a super fan and hadn’t read the script for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Though this was on Broadway, it is a play not a musical. It is also very, very long. Originally this play was designed to run 4 acts spread over two nights. For Broadway, it has been condensed into a single show with a runtime of 3.5 hours! We discussed the length before buying tickets, and both kids insisted they wanted to go for it.
There were a few hiccups at the start. We got seats in a box, which is a unique experience. One child was frightened by the perspective. The railing is quite low and to see the stage you really do have to lean your head/upper body out over the ledge. I asked the usher if they had any other seats available, but in the end there was only a SINGLE seat that hadn’t been sold for that night.
I found some boosters and this worked like a charm – both kids (and even John at one point) knelt on the ground.
The first 30 minutes or so, I thought we’d made a mistake. It was very loud and I could tell Levi was bothered by the volume. There is no orchestra, so all the sound effects come through speakers…which were hanging right next to our box seats. Poor little guy. He was a trooper, though.
About 30 minutes in, I completely warmed up to the experience, and got carried away by the story and special effects.
Was it light, fluffy and fun like a musical? No. Were the set design, magic elements, and acting top-quality? Yes.
We were all very impressed with the level of detail involved, and there were so many cool nuances. My favourites: the time turning scenes, where moving forward/backward is conveyed via an optical illusion on the set that wowed me every single time. Also, the fact the water scene in the Triwizard Tournament actually involves a pool of water on stage.
I won’t say more because I don’t want to give away major plot points, but if you’re a Harry Potter fan, you’re almost guaranteed to love this show.
Technically I enjoyed Aladdin more because it’s so light-hearted and I love musicals. But if there had been a couple of songs in Harry Potter (which I think could totally work), this would have been a nearly perfect show.
It was LATE when we got out. The last shuttle is supposed to leave at 10:30 pm for New Jersey, and it was about 10:28 pm when we exited the theatre. We had resigned ourselves to needing to Uber back to the hotel, but John suggested we at least try to catch a shuttle.
Lo and behold, when we arrived at the Port Authority, the shuttle was still there!
Another up and down day, but it ended on a high note and is sure to be something the kids remember forever!
Your turn. Has anyone else been to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child? It had just opened in Toronto when we were visiting there, but I’m glad we waited to see this on Broadway.
When we organized our time in New York, John and I were mindful of all the walking. One way to cut down on the miles was to group activities by location. Day 11 was Midtown, Day 12 was Brooklyn/Lower Manhattan, and Day 13 was Uptown.
Our strategy worked most successfully on Day 12 and this was by far my favourite day of the trip. The weather was beautiful – warm and sunny, but never stifling.
After Monday’s fail with Broadway, that was our priority for the day. We looked at booking tickets online, but the fees were outrageous (about $70 USD) and available tickets were pricey. I knew the TKTS booth in Times Square opened at 11 am on Tuesday, but I didn’t want to have to organize our whole day around that. We opted to go right to the theatre (The New Amsterdam – the oldest theatre on Broadway – which is such a gorgeous spot; John and I actually saw Mary Poppins here in 2011). The theatre had better prices than were available online (and we paid of total a $2.50 USD in fees). We left with tickets in hand. So exciting!
A quick note about buying tickets. On our previous trips, John and I bought tickets from a TKTS booth on South Street. It had great prices, no lines, and better hours than the booth in Times Square. Unfortunately, this location has been closed since COVID (along with the one at Lincoln Center). For this trip, we ended up booking both of our shows (stay tuned for Day 13!) at their respective theatres. Could we have gotten better tickets for the same price at TKTS? Maybe. But it would have required a lot more uncertainty and lots of time waiting in lines (neither ideal with the kids in tow).
Here was our original itinerary for the day. We had planned to do Coney Island, but since the kids did some rides on Centre Island in Toronto – and given our Broadway tickets for the evening – we opted to save this experience for another time.
Staten Island Ferry
Coney Island *Broadway instead*!!
Extras: 9/11 Memorial pools + Washington Square Park
I wanted to start with the Brooklyn Bridge since it’s very exposed to the elements; I knew the kids would start to lose energy later in the day, especially in direct sun. We took the subway to Brooklyn and can you guess what we saw immediately after exiting the station?! A Porta Potty. A clean, lovely, wonderful, glorious Porta Potty. This alone was a highlight from the day.
We opted to head right to the bridge; most of the best/famous spots to see the city skyline require quite a bit of extra walking but I didn’t want to unnecessarily deplete the kids patience and energy reserves.
Our walk across the bridge was wonderful. We had great views of the city and the kids were chipper and happy. Interestingly, this was the cheapest place to buy water ($1/bottle!) and souvenirs. Levi got a hat (he’d left his back at the hotel), and Abby got a few small items.
After getting off the bridge we stopped to debate the merits of taking the Staten Island Ferry. John and I had done it before and found it fine, but nothing too exciting. In the end we decided to go for it, and this ended up being another highlight of the trip. We arrived just as they were boarding, so we didn’t have to wait in line. The kids and I got a great seat at the back of the boat – shaded from the sun and with incredible views. We also got great views of the Statue of Liberty!
I had packed a few snacks and the kids spent a chunk of the trip contentedly munching on granola bars and, of course, our beloved Mike and Ike’s. This is a great way to get FREE (there is no cost for the ferry) views of the Statue of Liberty, the city skyline and to cool down on a warm day.
Also, important to my narrative, the Staten Island Ferry Terminal had the nicest public bathrooms we found in NYC. The importance of how smoothly toileting went on Day 12 cannot be underestimated.
Off the ferry – and with a delightful bathroom experience behind us – we decided to wander back toward Broadway.
I love lower Manhattan. It’s much cleaner and quieter than Midtown. There are lots of tall buildings, of course, but also these quaint tiny buildings that ooze history.
We stopped on Wall Street and saw the Charging Bull, the New York Stock Exchange, and the Fearless Girl.
Next up was the 9/11 Memorial. This spot is an incredible tribute to the tragedy and lives lost in 2001. I thought it was a beautiful memorial – both reflective and moving (physically, because of the water, and emotionally).
We marveled at fun architecture…
We stopped at a Chick-fil-A for lunch. Aside from delicious food, they also had amazing bathrooms. We were on a terrific streak of toileting options on Day 12! The kids were especially thrilled because our food receipt provided the code needed to enter the (very clean + stocked with free diapers and sanitary products!) bathroom.
We popped by the Comedy Cellar. Many famous comedians, including Ray Romano and Jon Stewart, got their start at this club.
We spotted the Audrey Hepburn mural in Little Italy, before meandering through Washington Square Park. This is a lovely spot, though it smelled really awful by the fountain – like rotting fish. Since everyone was happy and well-fed, they didn’t complain. Even the truly horrific public bathrooms were met with relative acceptance! Once these recaps are over, I promise I won’t mention bathrooms for at least a month.
On our way out of the park, Levi spotted some people playing chess. He has really taken an interest in the game this year and even joined a chess club at school. When he walked over to take a look, an older gentleman invited him to play a game. Levi was very enthused. Turns out this man teaches chess for a living and works for a Grandmaster! It was his day off, so he was hanging out in Washington Square Park. He was so kind while teaching Levi various moves, and encouraged Levi to victory! At one point he asked where we were from and we replied Canada. This generic answer is usually enough to end the conversation (most people assume all Canadians live in Toronto). But he asked where specifically in Canada we lived. When we said Nova Scotia, his eyes lit up and he said he had once taken a course at a small Nova Scotian university. Turns out he went to the university where I did my Master’s/now work! It really is a small world.
We ate supper and walked by more tall buildings.
And then it was time to see Aladdin on Broadway.
I LOVED the show. John (who has seen 4 musicals on Broadway) said it was his least favourite. I can appreciate all of his points, but I still thought this was SUCH a fun show (and maybe my favourite of the three I’ve seen). My only real criticism was the genie: he was very breathy and his words were not well articulated. But I thought Jasmine’s voice was incredible, I enjoyed the songs that were unique to the Broadway show, and I found the supporting cast to be absolutely hilarious. Also – the magic carpet ride and some of the other special effects were just so cool!
Levi found some of the loud sound effects jarring (agreed), but was a real trooper about it all and both kids really enjoyed this experience.
When we came out of the show, John snapped a selfie of us – it perfectly captures my mood in that moment which was pure delight!
It was only 9:30 pm and since everyone was riding the wave of Broadway adrenaline, we thought we’d spend a few minutes in Times Square. We arrived just as some street entertainers were starting a show. It was a group of 20-somethings who were doing feats of strength and acrobatics and our kids were absolutely enthralled. We stayed for almost an hour watching, before grabbing the final shuttle back to New Jersey.
All in all, this was a very fun day! It represented the city experience I’ve come to know and love and so desperately wanted to pass on to the kids.