Hurricane Fiona Update

A quick Sunday post to confirm that all is well for our family. Thanks to everyone who reached out in concern!

Friday afternoon and evening we did all we could to prepare for the storm – I reorganized freezer items in anticipation of a prolonged power outage, we moved deck chairs and plants into the shed, we charged our phones and gathered flashlights and water. Eventually, the only thing left to do was head to bed and wait for the storm to hit. I’ve been reading through the Psalms lately, and had just read Psalm 4:8: In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, God, will keep me safe. How timely!

I woke up early Saturday morning (about 4 am) and the wind was raging! I was shocked we still had power. I checked various areas in the house for flooding (not surprisingly, water issues are my go-to house worry); ironically enough, our new front door did leak but I discovered the problem before it caused any long-term damage and it should be a simple fix with waterproof caulk. A branch broke off one of our trees. Mid-morning Saturday we lost our power for an hour.

And that was it.

We are so grateful to have been spared from the devastation that unfolded in other parts of our province (especially Cape Breton), along with significant damage in Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland. Houses were washed out to sea in the storm surge, there has been widespread structural damage, and even now power is still out for hundreds of thousands of people. One woman is missing (believed to have been trapped in her home as it was pulled into the ocean). In some places, waves topped 32 meters (100+ feet)! It is absolutely heartbreaking to read stories of people’s homes and businesses being utterly destroyed in a few short hours.

Today in Nova Scotia the sun is shining and the birds are singing; while we’re so very thankful for the minimal impact this storm had on us personally, we’re also feeling the heavy weight of the fact that so many have lost so much.

Thanks again to everyone for touching base.

Header photo by Khamkéo Vilaysing on Unsplash

Destination Nova Scotia: Staycation Recap #2

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).

Circa early January 2022!

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.

A recycled photo from an earlier hike – but we all marveled at the exact same beautiful view. It never gets old!

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.


The second floor of the lighthouse housed the tiny room where the lighthouse keeper would have lived. It was very small, but cozy. I can only imagine how cold it would get in the winter, though.

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!

medford beach

I’ve written about Medford several times before because it is just so beautiful!

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.

Destination Nova Scotia: Staycation Recap #1

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.

horton’s landing

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.

baxter’s harbour

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!

Can you spot the rainbow?!

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.


Scott’s Bay (or Scot’s Bay – it depends what sign you look at, as to the spelling) is another relatively new family favourite. It’s a beautiful inlet close to Cape Split and it’s where we had that wonderful impromptu beach picnic back in late July.

A picnic blanket becomes an excellent windbreaker in a pinch. Once the fire was built, everyone warmed up and it was a near-perfect evening!

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.

Annapolis royal

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.

I used to go sliding on the grounds of this fortress (Fort Anne) in the winter. Some of the hills are outrageously steep – very fun as a fearless kid, though I’d likely think twice about hurtling down them now.

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.

This used to be a doctor’s office; it’s now an adorable cafe. Some things have definitely 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.

Six Things on Saturday

Our first round of overnight company (my brother, his wife + my parents) pulled out of the driveway 30 minutes ago. The laundry machine is humming, the kids – weary from adventures – have embraced screen time, and I’m heaving a contented sigh. The week had some ups and downs; this seems to be the drumbeat of my summer experience. But it was net positive for everyone, and there is a sense of both relief and satisfaction to have reached the end.

I’m always amazed how quickly we dismantle things after company leaves. The house – and life – can feel so chaotic and then, in a matter of several hours, sheets are washed, beds are remade, and everything seems so ordinary again (until this time next week when we have another, larger, group of family visiting!).

I was going to recap our week in one post, but think I’ll spread things out over a few “staycation” recaps.

Until then, here are six things happening in life right now.

ONE | I’m officially registered for a 5K. This was one of my goals for 2022 and it will be my first timed race, so it feels doubly satisfying. I debated doing a 10K, but know without any training I can easily complete a 5K course, so that seemed like the optimal choice. The Valley Harvest Marathon is a weekend-long event in October based out of our hometown (it’s a Boston qualifier, though I’m not aiming for that!). It has a large assortment of races – from fun runs for kids all the way up to ultramarathons. I can literally walk from our house to the starting line and I’m excited. (Special thanks to John for sorting out registration while I was off adventuring with family).

TWO | Our new gutters are installed. This may not seem noteworthy, but it is yet another thing to check off in our home renovation saga. You might recall I mentioned a 30-minute discussion – outside in frigid conditions – about how to configure one of the downspouts. We had to make decisions months ago, before all the pieces of the renovation puzzle were fully sorted. Turns out, after all that effort, my decision was incorrect. Thankfully, the workaround was a minor inconvenience. Feeling excited about how gutters turned out definitely falls under the category of Adult Things I Never Anticipated Caring About.

I can’t get enough of the hair – so blond by the end of the summer.

THREE | We live in such a beautiful part of the world. I’ll delve into this more thoroughly in those staycation recaps, but the fact that the views above are all five, fifteen, or fifty minutes away from our home is pretty incredible.

FOUR | We celebrated my parents 50th wedding anniversary this week. The celebration was small – just our little family unit – but my Mom consistently teared up while she was looking through the photobook of well-wishes and pictures we compiled. I prepared some of their favourite foods. She spent a chunk of their anniversary at the ocean – her happy spot. My parents are still very much in love and while the event was understated, it still felt special.

FIVE | I have started (slowly) reading again and I Miss You When I Blink stopped me in my tracks. After a few months that have had some tough emotional hurdles, I could swear Mary Laura Philpott was writing directly to/about me? I flagged so many sections of this book. (I’m reading Bomb Shelter right now, and it feels much less relatable for me. Still, though, I think she is a masterful essayist. How I love essays!) The downside to reading again? I’m staying up way too late…

SIX | It’s less than a month until school starts. Abby school supplies have been purchased (thanks to John for spearheading this!), and we have plans for most of the remaining weeks of summer vacation. I’m not wishing the time away…but I also sort of am. I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited for the fresh start of a new school year. Since I work at a university, September also marks a big uptick in my work responsibilities. It feels good to be scheduling in meetings, sketching out deadlines, and engaging with students again.

I’m off to do another load of laundry, fit in a walk with my bestie and maybe savour another cup of coffee.

How was your week? Does anyone else have upcoming races or kids headed back to school? Does anyone else crave the routine September brings as much as I do?

Casual Friday + NS Adventures

How many weeks can I complain about feeling unsettled by our current lack of routine? Apparently at least two.

This was yet another week that felt off-kilter as we hover between the routines of spring and summer. I had a small epiphany at one point – I think the main reason I find these in-between phases so challenging is that I am a Finisher. I get immense satisfaction from finishing a task, a bottle of shampoo, a long hike, a good book. And despite having many irons in the fire, almost everything is stuck at the In Progress stage. I had a series of work tasks that were 75% completed…but now require waiting on feedback from colleagues. School is still in session…but every day has a different event that requires unique planning (send sunscreen and extra water for field day; don’t forget the pancake breakfast on Friday). Packing for vacation can’t happen until right before we leave…but toiletry bags are sitting half-filled on my dresser.

Nothing is finished.

It also rained at unfortunate times. I was scheduled to attend a (free!) introductory tennis lesson on Monday. Postponed. Soccer practices were canceled. Our narrow window for some renovation work was eclipsed by damp weather (yet another item stuck on the In Progress list). So we twiddled our thumbs (proverbially), knowing in a few weeks life is going to be hectic and full to the brim.

Oh well – it can’t all be sunshine and daisies (and finishing tasks). But we did in fact enjoy plenty of sunshine and…er, rhododendrons…over the last week.

Let’s do some Nova Scotia #joyfinding. This province never fails to provide a beautiful backdrop for adventure-seekers!

duncan’s cove

Early in the pandemic we ventured out to Chebucto Head Lighthouse and happened to discover an adjacent nature reserve and trail. Since we weren’t planning on a long family hike that day, we opted to turn back at the halfway point (it was late afternoon, we had no snacks in the backpack…and Levi was 5).

Ever since then, I’ve been wanting to return (it was actually an unmet goal of mine from 2021). When the kids had a day off school on Friday, we decided to seize the day.

It’s not an easy walk – lots of quasi-treacherous cliff terrain and other areas with waist-high brush and boggy puddles. But it was a lot of fun and the kids love this sort of interactive hiking experience.

It was only about 6 km roundtrip, but it took a long time to avoid puddles and navigate the rocks carefully!

There are a number of anti-submarine bunkers from WWII stationed along the hike and, at the end of the trail, you can see Sambro Island Lighthouse (circled in red) – the oldest operational lighthouse in the Americas (circa 1758).

After that adventure, we came home to make cookies. We are, ironically enough, a family of nicknames. Each child has a number of random nicknames to which they will answer and further to that, both kids have developed specific nicknames for each other. Abby, for instance, has a nickname she assumes when she is pretending to be Levi’s pet dog who, it turns out, was celebrating a birthday last weekend. Who knew?

Cue the requests for a party.

If you hadn’t guessed, I’m not the “let’s do a party for a make-believe human-dog” sort of Mom. But Abby wisely tempered the request by asking for cookies instead of a cake. We made said cookies together because she isn’t, it turns out, a dog turning 3 years old but has opposable thumbs and knows how to operate an electric mixer.

Somehow candles made their way into the event; it was fun and delicious, but I drew the line at organizing party games and gifts (yes there were requests for both).

I’m awarding myself a sheet of gold stars for this one.

FLOWERS + cherry cheesecake

Saturday morning was unusually configured. I did an early-morning grocery run and then we went to a local community-wide yardsale (shuttered for 2 years due to COVID, this used to be a huge event in our local area). Abby bought two things for a total of $.75, so no big spending from our family.

From there, both kids had been invited to the same birthday party, a rare occurance! While the kids were playing games and eating cupcakes with other pint-sized humans, John and I ran a few errands and picked up some (quite good, relatively speaking) grocery store sushi for an impromptu lunch date at a local agriculture research area known for its impressive collection of rhododendrons. We enjoyed a quick stroll of the grounds. The kids would have been bored, so it was nice to fit this in without any grumbling.

The detail on this variety was stunning.

By the time we got home in the early afternoon, I felt exhausted. I relaxed with a steaming cup of coffee and thoroughly enjoyed 2 hours of solitude while the kids did “Quiet Time” in their rooms for the first time in what feels like forever. Levi told me afterward he had done 200 situps during his quiet time. I guess that’s one way to spend two hours in your room?

I was feeling restless (shocking) and a friend of mine was available for a walk. Because of divergent vacation plans, we won’t see each other for almost a month, so it was great to fit in some time together.

When I arrived home all the shoes in the entryway (under renovation and in a constant state of chaos) were completely organized. I almost cried from sheer happiness and relief. And THEN I looked up and saw a cherry cheesecake on the counter.

My birthday was low-key since we were in the US. John asked what he could do for a belated celebration at home and I said: “I just want a cherry cheesecake.” We bought ingredients together, but I left the timing up to him and I was NOT expecting him to complete the whole process in the hour or so I was away on my walk.

Coming home to this – and the kids + John singing Happy Birthday – was delightful and I’ve enjoyed every single bite of that cheesecake (I shared the bare minimum I felt was required of me as a decent human being and slightly resented even those meager offerings).

the lake + the OCEAn

Sunday was one of those perfect June days. Hot and sunny, but still technically spring so it feels rebellious to be out doing summery things.

After church we came home for a quick lunch, tossed towels and some food into the car and headed out.

Despite living in Nova Scotia for almost 15 years, I had never visited our area’s most popular public lake. It wasn’t officially open (so no lifeguarding), which meant the crowd was small. We spent a few hours playing in the water (I never went past my knees – it was COLD); the kids befriended another girl and they chatted and splashed in the water and played fetch with a friendly Chocolate Lab.

From the lake we headed to the ocean and one of our favourite local lighthouses – Margaretsville. This time we didn’t even go to the lighthouse but headed right to the shoreline where friends had organized a going-away-beach-bonfire for mutual friends who are moving across Canada. There were about 15 of us in total and it was great fun to roast hotdogs over an open fire while all the kids roamed the beach and generally had a great time. We came home tired and smelling like sunscreen and wood smoke.

one last (solo) sabbatical hike

John and I wanted to fit in one final solo hike before the kids get out of school. Yesterday morning we made it happen. Cape Blomidon is one of our favourite local destinations and it has a great trail system. Hard to believe this view is only about 30 minutes from our house (it does require hiking 1 km straight up the side of a cliff, but it’s so worth it)! We did about 12 km which helped offset my restlessness a bit.

In other news:

  • Levi got a haircut. It always makes me sad when he loses his golden locks but they grow back fast. Also, a sweet bonus: he is a dream client for our hairdresser and sits stoically and/or talks seriously about whatever topic the hairdresser brings up. It melts my heart every time.
  • We spent an hour reading picture books one night. The kids resisted at first and I felt like my reading life was passing before my eyes. As in this is it – my kids are officially done with being read to. But then I started reading (despite complaints) and they kept asking for more and more and more. Our favourites were these two: Corduroy is a classic but I hadn’t read it in years, and they both really enjoyed Put Yourself in My Shoes (the illustrations/characters reminded me a lot of James and the Giant Peach).
  • We’re all happy (and relieved) to see the end of the school year – it’s time for a break! – but it’s also bittersweet. Our morning walks have felt extra special; the kids are growing so fast and these commutes to school have a limited shelf life in our family routine…

Your turn. Anyone else struggling with the “Hurry Up and Wait” stage of spring/summer limbo? Did you walk to school when you were a kid? Have you gone on any fun local adventures lately?

Destination Nova Scotia: Cabot Trail + Cape Breton

Around this time last year our family completed a trek around the Cabot Trail – a 300 km highway that winds through the Cape Breton Highlands offering stunning views of the ocean, woodlands, and other-worldly rock formations.

There are countless itineraries put forward by travel bloggers and Tourism Nova Scotia. This is not going to be of that sort of caliber. I didn’t actually research very much. We were traveling close to the Thanksgiving/fall foliage peak season (even during COVID conditions) and accommodation choices were limited. We didn’t book a whale-watching excursion or eat fresh seafood or overnight in a yurt. But it was a great family trip, nonetheless.

Before we even got out the door, our trip hit a major snag. Somehow, despite it being a last-minute vacation, we managed to book all our accommodations for the WRONG weekend. A few days after booking, John woke one morning with the vague sense something was wrong and quickly realized we had selected the wrong dates! Aside from one of our accommodations, we were able to maintain accommodations at the same locations…although that one change ended up being quite memorable (and not for the best of reasons). 

day ONE

We picked the kids up from school at lunchtime on a Thursday and started the trek toward Cape Breton. The kids were phenomenal in the car. We ate lunch in the car en route (I packed a bento-style, self-contained lunch for each of the kids) and then we stopped for a picnic supper at a lighthouse along the way, before heading off to our final stop of the day: Sydney.

I did not get them to pose like this; not sure what inspired them to adopt this stance, but I think it’s adorable, even if it does look staged!

We ended up arriving in Sydney around 6:00 pm. After checking in at our hotel, we decided to explore the waterfront boardwalk and visit the World’s Largest Fiddle, which we could see from our hotel window.

On our way to collect warm coats from the car, Levi tripped in the parking lot, getting some nasty abrasions on his hand with various rock shards embedded for good measure. Poor fella. We got First Aid supplies from the front desk and John and Abby headed off alone while I tended to the walking wounded. Levi made a speedy recovery, though his hand was a bit sore the rest of the weekend.

One of the main reasons we selected our hotel was because of its advertised waterslide. Our kids, like most others, love hotel waterslides. Because of COVID restrictions, we had to book a pool time, and they were elated when our allotted time finally arrived. Enthusiasm waned quickly; the pool was cold, the waterslide was cordoned off, and the hot tub was drained. Hmmm. Win some, lose some. We stayed for 15 minutes – long enough that everyone was freezing and soaked – and then piled back into our hotel room for hot showers and an early evening of popcorn and a movie, which is often the highlight of these trips for our kids anyway.

DAY two

Friday morning we woke early, tried again to visit the giant fiddle as a family (this time with success), and spent the rest of the morning at Louisbourg.

After Peggy’s Cove, Louisbourg’s is likely the second most iconic lighthouse in Nova Scotia.

The lighthouse was stunning and gave great views of the fortress across the harbour. There were rocks for climbing (basically all that is required for our kids to have a good time), and a pile of rubble from the original lighthouse – the first in North America to be constructed with fireproof building materials.

While COVID had forced the staff of Louisbourg to stop many of their regular demonstrations, we were impressed with the scale of the fortress and had a fun time exploring the grounds.

Next up was Ingonish. In my quick-and-dirty research leading up to our trip – and given our family’s penchant for lighthouses – I thought I had found a winning ticket. A lighthouse converted into ice cream parlour. Yes, please! It required a detour (40 minutes round trip) and I had been unable to get confirmation the site was still open for the 2020 season. We decided to go for it.

It was closed. Whomp, whomp.

We made up for that disappointment with a great hike that started on the perimeter of the famous Keltic Lodge (Middle Head Trail). We randomly found a geocache, which the kids were delighted about, and it felt good to stretch our legs after lots of car time.

It was interesting how few locations there were for eating/sleeping on the Cabot Trail itself. Finding a place open/available (we found a spot that had incredible reviews online, but it was over an hour wait just to get a table!) for supper was more challenging than we imagined, but we finally managed to get some takeout pizza (I ate food we’d brought from home, see below) and retreated to our hotel room for a movie and supper. 

This was the motel we had switched to when we were forced to rebook after realizing our date error (originally, we were slated to stay at well-reviewed cabins).

There was a reason there was an opening at this motel. From water stains in the bathroom to bugs on the floor to doors that didn’t close properly, this location didn’t instill much confidence. But there was nowhere else to go and really, how bad could it be?

We woke in the night to people socializing – loudly – outside our window. When I finally got back to sleep, I woke up to the sound of torrential rain. It wasn’t a great night of sleep. I was relieved when morning arrived, and we had positive attitudes – looking forward to moving on. And then we started the shower. Within a few minutes, the entire hotel room floor was flooded in water. We could see where they had patched the plumbing and it was easy to identify the source of the leak. When John went to check out and informed the front desk of the issue, he said they didn’t even act surprised. Needless to say, we did not stay for the free breakfast and will not be returning to that location again!

day Three

Saturday was the “big” day as we had eyes on hiking the Skyline Trail, which has arguably the most famous view along the Cabot Trail. I’ve already written an entire post about this adventure. We hiked the whole loop, which was about 8 km, and the views were stunning.

We’d had some drizzle and fog earlier in the day, but with the tremendous views, we couldn’t have been happier. We also timed it right. When we arrived about 10:30, the parking lot was mostly empty. When we returned it was absolutely jammed with cars!

We stopped in Cheticamp and found some lighthouses, including one with a built-in slide. The kids absolutely LOVED this and spent a happy half-hour sliding and climbing. John and I each went down the slide and once was enough. Phew, it was much steeper and faster than it looked (I actually had bruises from it), but the kids knew no fear!

We walked along the Inverness Boardwalk, drove through Margaree Harbour and ended up in Port Hawkesbury for the night. We were all tired, so McDonalds across the street was our fancy supper (we took food along for at least 1 picnic meal/day). After a good night’s sleep, we hummed and hawed about going to the pool. After the disappointment of the previous hotel pool (and all the effort that goes into getting dressed, going down, and then promptly getting out), none of us was convinced. Well…we went and it was wonderful. It was warm and we had it entirely to ourselves. Levi practiced swimming from side to side, Abby did flips and tricks and we all left happy.

From there it was back to Wolfville. A fun long weekend. Lots of driving, but the kids were phenomenal (we let them watch downloaded videos on some of the longer stints, but they were mostly contented to watch the views most of the way).

A quick note about food

I was in the middle of an elimination diet (no gluten, no peanut butter, no coffee, no soy, no dairy), so I was already planning to bring along lots of food items. But, as a great way to save, we also packed food appropriate for daily picnics.

This was the main launch point for our PB&J summer – I took a package of brioche buns, a bottle of peanut butter, and a bottle of jam. We took ice, so the first day had tuna filling, hard-boiled eggs, cheese, and gluten-free crackers. I also brought along things like apples and carrot sticks; we had mini-fridges at night, but these items were okay to be in the cool, but not cold, environment of the trunk. We also took nuts/seeds, dried fruit, granola bars, crackers, and tinned sardines/smoked oysters (both of which our kids love). We ate breakfast and supper out each day (I would often just piece together fruit/proteins we brought from home for myself), but ate lunches/snacks on the go which made our travel more efficient and cheaper!

Destination Nova Scotia: Cape Breton’s Skyline Trail

Despite growing up in Nova Scotia I’ll shamefully admit, at one point, I didn’t realize Cape Breton was actually a part of my home province. Separated from the mainland by a causeway, that short stretch of rock and asphalt marks a dramatic shift in topography.

With my geographic ignorance remedied, I traveled to numerous other provinces – and outside Canadian borders – long before I found my way to Cape Breton.

It was worth the wait.

My first experience on Cape Breton soil was a whirlwind trip as a newlywed. In the throes of busy work and graduate schedules, my husband and I spent a single night on the island, driving the entire Cabot Trail in less than a day, with only a few pit stops en route. It was Thanksgiving, a popular time to wind along the coast of Cape Breton, known for its stunning fall foliage.

Fast forward a decade and it felt like we were past due for a return trip. We made the decision quickly – pulling kids from school on a Thursday afternoon, taking a day of vacation, and booking three nights on the Trail (with mixed success; stay tuned).

Once again we made our trek in fall, this time pre-Thanksgiving so the colours weren’t yet in full display but it was lovely nevertheless.

Of the various iconic stops along the Cabot Trail, the Skyline Trail rises to the top. A well-maintained loop measuring about 7 km, the views are dramatic and panoramic.

It was an easy walk for the kids and the main trail is accessible by stroller. The viewing platforms are not – there are many, many stairs that could be quite treacherous if conditions were wet or windy. We arrived on a cool, damp day and were all very glad to have warm coats and ear protection and I kept a close eye on the kids at all times.

It really was a view of a lifetime, and I’d love to return for a sunset someday. From what I’ve seen, they are spectacular. But even on a drizzly, chilly day, the view we were rewarded with wasn’t half bad at all, especially when two cute kiddos filled up part of the frame.

*As you can deduce from the photos, this is rugged terrain. There is very little development, aside from roadways, and it is a place known for wildlife. It is not uncommon to encounter moose and bear. Very sadly, in 2009, there was a fatal coyote attack on the Skyline Trail (at the time, the only fatal coyote attack recorded in Canada). Numerous measures have been taken to mitigate the issue, but this is home to many animals – a fact that must always be respected not only for their survival but also for our safety. It’s always wise to hike with others, avoid consuming food on the trail, and always carry a walking stick and a whistle or other noise-making device.

Snippets of Life Lately: iPhone Dump

I have a love/hate relationship with my iPhone. I hate that it has a tendency to distract me – I try really hard, not always successfully, to keep my screentime around 1 hr/day. It’s easy to get sucked into text loops (which can be a good thing) or newsfeeds (almost always a bad thing).

I also appreciate all the good it brings. A calculator and alarm, music to amp me up during a workout, a GPS when I’m lost. But mostly, I love always having a camera handy. I make a giant photobook every year and appreciate that we (John takes more and better photos) can capture so many spontaneous moments – moments we never would have recorded if we were still lugging around a heavy camera, worrying about how much space we had left on a roll of film or needing to avoid getting sand in the lens (I’ve had two cameras destroyed this way).

Here’s a quick phone dump from life lately.

Final fire at the lake.
The last night of fishing on Grand Lake 2021. A treasure trove of great memories this year.
Someone was cavity-free – always a relief.
A trip to our beloved Peggy’s Cove.
A return trip to Belliveau’s Cove, complete with a new breakwater.
On a Sunday afternoon family hike we happened upon a random quarry. Love this action shot of Abby exploring the grounds (we did NOT let the kids climb on the sand pile, but it was fun to have a look from all angles).
Our little town officially has its own boxcar. One of our favourite books is “The Boxcar Children”, so this was beyond cool (also, it’s located behind the town library – this was meant to be).
After we got the climbing out of our system, we turned to rock jumping! The kids love to get serious air off this local boulder on the waterfront.
One last summer hurrah with my parents (visiting so they could babysit the kids while we were away at White Point) – Margaretsville Lighthouse. It’s such a great place to explore. Mom and I sat on a bench near the beach and watched the waves while John took the kids exploring further up the shore.
This one even dipped her toes in…