Casual Friday + On Birthday’s and Doing Things for the Last Time

  • I know it doesn’t need to be completed on any timeline but when the final months of the year start ticking by I get anxious to tackle our annual photobook. I’m now officially done up to October and it feels…great. Most years Blurb has a post-Christmas sale, which I always miss. I would LOVE to order this on New Years Eve (because I’m fun like that). We shall see.
  • We have some special plans to celebrate a birthday – #7 for a certain little boy in our household! On alternate years our kids get big (8-10ish friends) and small (1-3 friends) parties – this is the year for a “small” party. His request? To invite three neighbourhood friends for video games and cake and supper. So, basically like any other day minus the video games and cake! There is always a contingent of neighbourhood kids floating around our house…and it’s not infrequent someone stays for a meal.
  • The week involved domino structures. It was a fun activity – sort of. At least 75% of the time I accidently set off my domino arrangement prematurely which Levi found hilarious…and I found shockingly frustrating.
  • I did not get the downstairs artificial tree up yet. The last few years I’ve aimed to get it up in the family room before Levi’s birthday. I had the time, I just didn’t really feel ready to launch the Christmas decorations hoopla. Renos are finally in full swing (after about a month of delays; we’re just lucky our contractors came as I know many peope couldn’t get supplies or labour this year), and so I think I’m craving all the extra peace, quiet, and calm I can get. Update! The kids and I did this in an unexpected burst of holiday enthusiam. Plan it in and do it anyway, right? And a cheery, twinkly glow is our reward.
I bought this tree on clearance for $20 at Zellers just after getting married. It has cast a festive glow over our family every Christmas since. It’s a bit of a Charlie-Brown tree and every year it loses more and more of those flimsy, plastic needles…but I love it – especially laden with all the homemade ornaments from preschool days of yore.
  • Speaking of holiday enthusiasm – I just wrapped up my #SecretSantaMugSwap2021 gift and it’s ready for a trip across the country via Canada Post. A huge shout-out to San for organizing this very fun event.
  • This week we had homemade chicken noodle soup (delicious), walked to school in winter coats (brrr), read winter-themed picture books (cozy), sourced festive postage stamps for sending out our family photocards (whimsical), and bought pecan pies for Christmas dinner (yum). The holidays are coming, y’all.
Children picture books are one of my favourite things. Christmas is another of my favourite things. So I am elated when both interests collide. It is officially holiday book season in our house and I couldn’t be happier.
  • My oldest sister is currently en route to Ironman Cozumel. She will swim 3.8 km, she will bike 180 km, and then she will finish things off with a leisurely 42.2 km run. I, on the other hand, will try to make it up one hill without complaining. It really does blow my mind she can/will do this! I’m also very jealous of the warm weather – we had snow/flurries twice this week. #notreadyforwinter.

ON birthdays and LAST TIMEs

Coming home from the hospital.

This time of year holds a lot of memories for me. Seven years ago today I was scared. I was two days away from knowing the answer to a question that had haunted me for months. After a relatively normal pregnancy, we were shocked to learn at the mid-way point that our baby could be facing some serious health complications. The ensuing months were an exhausting haze of appointments and tears.

My whole body was literally shaking on our final drive to the hospital. I knew answers were coming soon and I wasn’t feeling ready. It was like a surreal dream – life was moving in slow motion while hurtling ahead at warp speed. It’s an experience unlike anything I’ve experienced before or since and I still have flashbacks to so many details from that 24-hour period; they come into sharpest relief as we near his birthday.

It’s been seven years since that morning when I found myself lying in the operating room praying the words of Philippians 4:4-7 over and over – even when my heart was full of fear – until I literally felt the peace of God which defied all understanding and human logic. And then the miracle and joy of life and health.

This time of year I also find myself reflecting on how fleeting life is. A vapour, the Bible says.

I spent time the other night looking at baby pictures; he looks impossibly small. It feels like forever ago and yesterday at the same time.

It can be a hard balance – living in the present while being mindful that life is short and we’re all a heartbeat away from a complete and utter transformation in our experience. And that, even in little things, there is always a last time.

As I had been musing on this very topic, Jenny mentioned a recent David Cain article titled The Last Time Always Happens Now where he writes “It turns out that ordinary days are full of experiences you expect will keep happening forever, and of course none of them will.” This same day I read Laura Vanderkam’s tragic reminder that life can change in an instant. And the central premise of the Oliver Burkeman book I recently finished – Four Thousand Weeks – is based around this idea.

Memento mori, indeed.

There was a last time I washed a baby bottle. There was a last time they sat in a stroller and high chair. There was a last time I stumbled through a middle-of-the-night-feeding and diaper change. There were last goodbyes at preschool and final nights in a pack-and-play. I don’t have the dates of any of these events recorded; I likely didn’t know it was the “last” time. Or, after years of strollers and diapers and bottles and preschool pickup, the end may have felt like a relief.

And it’s not that I miss diaper changes at 2 am, but I do miss what they represent. Those days are gone. There really is an end to all things.

Like when did our baby exchange plush coats with those universally heart-melting ears…

…for fashionable puffer coats with faux fur? In the blink of an eye.

Almost every time I pick him up, I wonder when I’ll do it for the last time. And there will be a “last” time. I wonder if I’ll recognize it as such? Somehow I doubt it, and that makes me sad.

I’ve talked about that odd sense of loss I can feel in the midst of joy (I tear up at this post) and the complicated wave of emotions I get watching them sleep at night. So I try to keep this notion of “last” times in mind, while treasuring (and capturing) the moments now, as I’m able, knowing that there is good stuff ahead, too.

Hopefully, someday, I’ll pick up their children* and the cycle will continue, as it does.

*And then I will hand my grandchildren back, head home and get a full night of sleep and allow my children to experience the wonder of middle-of-the-night wakings and diaper changes…

Why Learning the Mundane Details of Someone’s Life Fosters Attachment

My father-in-law visited recently. It has been a long separation – nearly two years – due to COVID. I try to keep everyone engaged through lengthy family updates and accompanying pictures. But after two years of Skype calls and e-mails, we all know it’s just not the same.

His visit included some fun adventures, but what he seemed to enjoy most of all was getting a sense of our daily routines.

He learned the route we take when we walk to school each morning. He saw the small shelf in the dining room where I store our current reading selections. He familiarized himself with our kitchen cupboards – learning where to find the cutlery and his favourite coffee mug. He knew where to find light switches in the dark and grew accustomed to how we load our dishwasher. He learned where we stored basketballs and soccer balls (and never had any trouble finding willing companions for a pick-up game).

He took pictures the morning he left for home – one of us all geared up for the walk to school, another of me reading to the kids while they ate breakfast. He took one of the guest room, his home for two weeks. He snapped another of the outside of our house before it gets a facelift. All unremarkable, mundane things. Yet knowing the intricacies of these small things feels big.

Knowing where someone stores their vegetable peeler might just make you feel more connected than having a long conversation over coffee.

It reminds me of Gretchen Rubin’s suggestion to take pictures of usual things:

Instead of taking photos of unusual sights, take a photo of the most usual sights. In the future, you’ll be a lot more interested in seeing a photo of your dorm-room closet or your laundromat than seeing a photo of the Louvre.

Gretchen Rubin

I’d love to have a photo of my closet from university days – I know it was tiny and didn’t even have a door, just a small curtain pulled across it (which, for the life of me, I frustratingly can’t remember the colour of…and this haunts me).

My father-in-law came to the bus stop each day. He learned the driveway where I wait, the names of the friends that would tumble out alongside his grandkids; he now knows, to the minute, when the bus arrives. He also joined us on our daily commute to school morning after morning. He said hello to the crossing guard and saw the giant concrete pillar my son likes to climb up every morning.

Sure, I describe a lot of things in my family update e-mails (they are shockingly thorough). But reading about the route to school and actually walking it are two very different things.

How (and Why) I Circulate Monthly Family Updates

As it pertains to correspondence, I’ve inherited the (long-winded) writing gene from my mother.

I grew up watching her prepare bi-weekly summaries for my grandmothers; written out by hand and sent dutifully – but joyfully – every two weeks like clockwork. I remember when we got a computer and she could alter the text for each grandmother without having to rewrite pages and pages from scratch – a gamechanger. This is also the same mother that, until recently, would send out individualized Christmas cards, each one containing a very long, handwritten update. She would spend huge chunks of time (over weeks, sometimes months) getting this done each holiday season. She has finally jumped on the stock-letter bandwagon, but not before personalized communication habits were drilled very firmly into my psyche.

I’m not saying I have any unique talent in this area and I’m not creating written masterpieces of any kind…but when it comes to reaching out to people via e-mail (and, as often as I can, the good old-fashioned postal service), I think I have an unusual penchant for my demographic.

When I moved to a new province as a teenager, I wrote letters to all the friends I’d had to leave behind. For years. Then, when I finished my undergrad degree, I faced the inevitability of moving away from several of my closest university friends. We had all scattered for further education but kept in almost constant communication via e-mail. Every week or so we would write each other with a laundry list of current happenings. We’d air complaints about a frustrating professor or assignment. We’d share details about the latest pick-up league one of us had joined. Eventually, these e-mails saw us discussing wedding details and later we described meeting our peanut-sized babies for the first time on a fuzzy ultrasound display.

Recounting the minutiae of day-to-day activities kept us engaged in each other’s lives and, when we did get a chance to meet in person, it felt like no time has passed.

After I’d gotten into the habit of doing this with friends, I extended the tradition to involve my parents and parents-in-law.

I had developed a growing disdain for phone calls; they were tedious and long and there was no record of the conversation for reference purposes (read: they didn’t feel productive, a rotten attitude I know). E-mails, on the other hand, could be relatively short, with maybe a picture or two added for good measure (so people could actually SEE the things I was describing). Better still, I could work at my own pace, on my own schedule.

Over time, this monthly habit grew.

From short, relatively sporadic e-mails, I organically settled into sending regular updates. We had one baby and then another (there is always something new to report with an infant in the house).

And then, surprisingly, through word of mouth the requests started pouring in from extended family and friends asking to get added to this e-mail chain.

Just last week I finally managed to carve out time to visit a friend I’ve not seen in months. As I started to launch into the details of a new work role, she told me there was no need to explain – she’d read all about it in the latest installment of monthly updates.

At the core, I write these updates so those closest to our family get a sense of what’s going on. I don’t use social media and we have family and friends scattered across the world. Sending a one-size-fits-all update is the best way to reach everyone.

I should also confess a more selfish impetus: I have never been able to stick to keeping a journal, yet I absolutely love the idea of having a keen sense of where my time has been going. I use a daytimer, but without much pomp and circumstance (and nary a strip of washi tape to be found), and I certainly don’t want to keep hard copies from past years.

So I write e-mails. Every month.

Here’s a bit more information on the nuts and bolts of my process, in case you’d ever like to follow suit.

What do you write about?

Just about everything. I write about big events (buying a house, going on a trip) and little events (a kid learning to tie their shoelaces, our new couch and how it got stuck coming down the stairs).

How do you remember everything that happens in a month?

I have two tricks:

  1. I start the e-mail as a draft and add to it over the month. This helps me keep track of events as they happen and it means that when I actually go to polish off the e-mail and send it I don’t have to invest much time wrapping things up since I’ve worked at it in 5-10 minute increments throughout the month.
  2. I use my photos as a guide. If I haven’t carved out much time to include detail in a draft e-mail, I’ll turn to my phone. Since I tend to take pictures of most memorable events (big and small), it’s a great way to jog my memory.

How long are these e-mails?

It can vary, but most months I churn out about 2,500 words!

In 2021, August has the highest word count, clocking in at a whopping 2,694 words; January was significantly lower (~1,700). Typically I top 2,000 words.

In short – they’re long.

How do you organize The e-mails?

  1. I start with a basic introduction. I might talk about general weather trends (because, really, what’s a good conversation without at least a brief mention of the weather) and an overall sense of current events (“We’re all settling into the routines of fall and notice the days slowly getting cooler as the sun says goodbye earlier and earlier in the evening. I’ve no complaints about the earlier bedtimes, though it always feels sad to say goodbye to warm-weather conditions. That said, now we can turn our attention to all the festive happenings that come our way in the late fall/early winter”). I’ll also call out special events in the coming month like birthdays or anniversaries, or I might congratulate someone on graduating from high school or on the start of a new job.
  2. Next I label and write about about key categories (here is what October is likely going to look like, in terms of an outline). I will often highlight a particular trip (e.g. Cape Sable Island would have had it’s very own heading) or discuss a specific holiday event.
  • Abby (I’ll discuss school, friends, extracurriculars, current interests…)
  • Levi (ditto above)
  • Elisabeth (work, extracurriculars…)
  • John (ditto above)
  • Thanksgiving (what we ate, where we went, who visited our home for the holiday…)
  • Halloween (what the kids wore, how much candy they got, what the neighbourhood decorations looked like, special events at school…)
  • Visit with Grampie (anecdotes and specific events…)
  • House Renovation Update (ditto above)

3. Then I start wrapping things up with a discussion of more general items – little events that have happened that don’t necessarily fall under one of the larger categories. Finally, I’ll sign off by giving everyone a quick look ahead: “November will be exciting with Levi’s birthday, which also means it’s time to put up the artificial tree in the basement – a sure sign of the onset of the Christmas season and all that entails!”

4. I used to send pictures attached to this main e-mail but, for various reasons, I now send pictures (usually 10 of our favourites from the month, which will correspond to things I’ve discussed in the update) in a separate e-mail.

What do you do with All these e-mails?

After I send them off, I simply copy and paste the text into a master file within Google Drive. Eventually these will all get collated into a book.

I’ve already printed off the first decade or so. I didn’t have some of my current systems in place and it was a bit of a nightmare – mostly because I had to search through old e-mail archives to track down the various updates and, over the years, I had been sending unique updates to different recipients. Streamlining it all into a single e-mail AND pushing all the text into a master file is a huge improvement.

In addition to e-mails, I also included the text from my annual Christmas letters that I circulate with our holiday cards. I also had monthly summaries that I wrote up for each of the kids over their first 18 months that I wanted to incorporate (these were never circulated to family, it was just something I did so the kids could look back at details of their schedule, clothing size, and any particularly ill-timed diaper blowouts at each stage of infant/toddler development).

The resulting book (pictured above) is about 300 pages long. I have a handful of pictures printed at the beginning of each section, but mostly it’s just a lot of words! I printed it using the same publisher I’ve been using for photobooks over the last few years, Blurb.

I love that I have all this information printed off; it’s a lot like a journal, but there is nothing too personal. I curate the e-mails to not includes specifics about parenting challenges or work debacles. They’re detailed enough to trigger my memory on some less-than-ideal events, but don’t necessarily implicate anyone else. Make sense?

When I send these e-mails (or tomes, as my brother sometimes calls them) out to family and friends, I don’t expect them to read every word. I know some of them do, but I’m not offended if they skim through details of Levi’s encounter with poison ivy, or the itinerary of our family trip around the Cabot Trail. These e-mails – and the wealth of details they include – are as much for me as for them.

It does take time and effort and it is another to-do on my list. But, having identified the role as memory-keeper as being one my key values, it makes sense to invest time into this activity.

Life is short. Four thousand weeks or so? And sometimes, remembering the good, the bad, and the ugly of it all can help preserve memories and enhance – if not also prolong – time.

This Thanksgiving: Good Things (And Good Things I Don’t Have to Do)

It’s Canadian Thanksgiving. We had all the trimmings over the weekend and today I’m going to enjoy chicken noodle soup and leftover pecan pie.

As we sat around the table yesterday highlighting things we were thankful for I felt…grateful. It may seem cliche to list health and family and our home but, really, can we ever be too thankful for these things? It’s so easy to take it all for granted; we assume our loved ones will be with us next year, assume we’ll still be living in the same home, assume we’ll still be enjoying the same level of health.

But, in reality, we’re all a single heartbeat away from a different life experience – from tragedy or disease; new jobs, a different home – and taking the time to reflect on all we have in the present can help, at least temporarily, to pin down that elusive perspective.

Chicken and stuffing and corn and parsnips/sweet potato and cranberry and gravy and punch; pecan pie and homemade cherry cheesecake for dessert. So thankful for delicious food. And name cards with prompts for gratitude.

It has been a relief to ease into the routines of fall and school. Cooler days, longer nights. Bedtimes are slowly nudging back to more reasonable timeframes. I’ve also assumed a new role – one that leaves me working nearly full-time hours. Surprise, surprise: working more hours makes time pass more quickly. I’ve had to increase my efficiency with certain tasks and will almost certainly have to eliminate others altogether.

I recently finished Oliver Burkeman’s book Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals. I love a good time management book, but this one is a little different. For one, Burkeman spends a significant portion of the book talking about death; he highlights the only time we’re not going to have a long laundry list of to-do’s is when we’re six-feet under. And then he actually argues against many of the time-saving techniques we life hackers enjoy so much. His central tenet: there is never going to be enough time to accomplish everything on our to-do lists. Accept this. Productivity, much of the time, simply leaves us open to accept more responsibilities.

I will never be able to get it all done. And yet, I think I’m often aiming for this fantasy state. I like to imagine that some morning I’ll wake up and be on top of everything. And then have it stay that way. Forever.

This just isn’t going to happen – I should know this by now. Children get fevers, check-engine lights come on, tensions flare. Inbox “zero” becomes full again. The trash I emptied on Friday will need to be emptied again. Taxes will need to be refiled. Such is life.

I also cannot do everything that interests me; there isn’t enough time for that either. I might be able to learn how to play the piano, but I’m probably never going to go through an astronaut training program and reach space (though one never knows when SpaceX might come calling).

Money, time – we face the reality of limited resources. And, ultimately, we’re all riding the sands of a draining hourglass. Four thousand weeks, give or take, by Burkeman’s estimate. This would put me just shy of my 77th birthday.

Which brings us back to good things. Despite what could be contrived as a negative tone (death, productivity is a hoax), Burkeman offers up a solution. Acceptance. Awareness. Perspective.

There is a lot of good in my life. I’m so fortunate to have a loving, supportive spouse; my children are healthy; my parents are alive. We live in a wonderful community surrounded by friends. We simply turn on the tap to access clean, running water. We have money to put food on the table. We worship freely.

But sometimes even good things can distract me from what I truly value in life and where I want to channel my energies. Learning the piano would be a great skill (I love music and I deeply regret my decision to quit childhood lessons) – but do I want to make the time right now? At this point, the answer is no.

And that’s okay.

With that in mind, this Thanksgiving, in addition to all the good things, I’m thinking of:

(good) things I don’t have to do

  • I don’t have to take my friend with a newborn a meal immediately after giving birth. I know I will, eventually, once the dust settles and everyone else has stopped with the official meal train. But I don’t have to this week, when we have company visiting and cross-country meets and a seemingly endless string of e-mails. I can’t do everything and while I could get an extra meal out the door, I’d be cranky and stretched thin to do so.
  • I don’t have to sign Abby up for choir. Yes it’s a great experience, but she doesn’t love it and, frankly, it’s a scheduling hassle. She will survive. There will be other opporuntities to sing.
  • I don’t have to cook from scratch. Boxed cookies will suffice. Mini-carrots are still a vegetable even if I don’t have to wield a peeler. And who are we kidding, I could never recreate our beloved (boughten) pecan pie. Why bother trying?
  • I don’t have to commit to a specific workout routine. I don’t have to run everyday or try the Pilates video my friend recommended.

Happy Thanksgiving. Cheers to all the wonderful blessings and here’s to making the most of our four thousand weeks. Not a single one is guaranteed, and I too often forget the miracle of each one.

Parenting Hack: Talk About a Mutually Agreeable Subject. Repetition Encouraged.

Ready for this?

I don’t actually enjoy “playing” with my kids*. I want to be one of those mothers who jumps into the middle of a pick-up soccer game or spends hours on the floor playing Barbies. But I’m not. *a game of hide-and-seek can be fun every few months.

Some of this is because I’ve gotten used to the sensation of time scarcity – I’m so accustomed to feeling an unrelenting pressure to be producing or accomplishing. I like checkmarks and gold stars and filling white space with “play” can seem wasteful and, in a weird way, daunting.

Some of it is also that parenting, for all its rewards, is a very challenging endevour.

When I’m struggling with parenting, or life, it’s important to remember what I do well. I enjoy reading books with and to my children; I like cooking healthy(ish) meals; I’m excited to explore God’s creation, exposing the kids to beauty and culture and the wonders of the world around us.

I also enjoy long walks, especially with my daughter. We have great conversations and it’s a nice time of exercise and bonding. But whether it’s on a walk, a long drive in the car (I hear this is one the best times to corner – I mean connect with – teenagers), or at bedtime, it can make life so much easier when there is a topic (or, even better, multiple topics) that everyone enjoys.

I think it’s natural to want to fill time with purpose. We look to have deep and meaningful conversations, deal with problems or discuss priorities. Even with kids, I think we spend a lot of time talking about self-help or self-discovery.

We do plenty of this in our family too, but it can be refreshing to have fun conversations. To remember – oh yeah, this kid is pretty awesome and we don’t actually have to keep talking about how much the wet towels left in a pile on the bathroom floor are slowly driving me crazy.

I’ve written about this before but it’s very common for us to discuss plans for a birthday party or a summer vacation months (and months) prior to the actual event. Before COVID brought things to a halt, we were scheduled to visit the US to see family. For weeks we talked of nothing else on our morning commute to school.

Earlier this summer, before we knew if borders would open, Abby was obsessed with planning, in excruciating detail, our summer trip to see her grandparents. Guess what. I love this topic, too. Within a typical conversation, we might rank our favourite memories from Grand Lake, discuss our packing list, or itemize our top-10 meal choices.

Recently she came up with a game where we shared our favourite sense from the lake: our favourite taste (Grammie’s meatballs), favourite sound (waves lapping on the shoreline and cicadas), favourite touch (splitting wood with Grampie + the hand-cut sticks we use for roasting s’mores), favourite smell (Grammie’s meatballs, again + campfire smoke + ATV gas smell), favourite sight (sunsets + lightning storms). We’ve planned our perfect day – from the weather to the menu and activities. We’ve described what clothes we’ll take, where we want to go exploring, and who we might see.

The topic doesn’t matter, per se – it’s about finding something that is mutually enjoyable and running with it.

For Levi, it’s discussions of fishing and sports and Star Wars and Indiana Jones.

With your child (or, spouse, parent, friend…) it could be food or books or Baroque music or antique cars. Having a go-to topic is not the sign of a rut, it’s familiarity. It’s like pulling on your comfiest pair of relationship jeans.

I don’t always see eye-to-eye with my kids, a dynamic that I suspect will only intensify with time. As it should. As they age they’ll develop their own opinions, dreams, and way of doing things. But it’s nice to settle into a conversation that brings us both joy. We might dream up a vacation that never happens, or spend hours and hours discussing a birthday cake that only takes an hour to make and looks nothing like the 3-tiered masterpiece of her imagination. But it’s all good.

Separated from grandparents during COVID, we had a March-turned-July 2020 birthday celebration at the lake. Start to finish this was her vision for the cake. I also love seeing my Mother’s 1970’s wedding Corelle (Spring Blossom Green, also known as Crazy Daisy).

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…

Destination Nova Scotia: White Point

Living in Nova Scotia for over a decade, I feel like we’ve covered most of the highlights. We’ve visited Peggy’s Cove (a dozen times), seen the Bluenose II in port, and even tested our sea legs for an authentic Maritime island experience. We’ve driven the world-famous Cabot Trail, spotted whales in the wild, and climbed atop rock formations that look like something straight out of Tatooine.

Then we spent two magical days at White Point Beach Resort and grabbed our bright yellow highlighter.

While this post isn’t sponsored, we did win the trip. My husband (photographer extraordinaire) won the grand prize in the 2021 Saltscapes Amateur Photography contest. His prize? A 2-night Seascape Getaway Package at White Point.

It did not disappoint.

First, let’s state the obvious: going anywhere without the kids for two days was going to feel glorious. It had been over 18 months since we’d been away together overnight, so a leaky shanty would have felt akin to paradise.

White Point delivered. With no leaks.

The resort

Built in 1928, White Point has been a staple on Nova Scotia’s South Shore for almost a century. Our next-door neighbours have been visiting for 50+ years, hosting an annual 5-day reunion onsite with people crisscrossing the country to reach this sandy oasis.

When you arrive a sign reads: Welcome…now relax and enjoy. And it really does feel like, somehow, the salt air and crashing surf just pushes the stress right out of you.

The redesigned main lodge (destroyed by fire in 2011 and rebuilt in 2012) has loads of character. I think it’s best described as upscale rustic. Mis-matched, brightly painted wooden chairs surround the tables; a moose antler light fixture hangs above a giant stone fireplace, and cutlery comes wrapped in gingham napkins. Things are colourful and inviting, but not so busy you feel claustrophobic. There are modern elements – stone fireplaces, exposed metal girders; then you look up and see the requisite pairs of crossed snowshoes (open year-round, they can get away with it). It feels like life at the beach – nothing pretentious and no fine china – but elevated in the best of ways.

And then there are the bunnies.

When we checked in we each received a little brown bag of bunny food. It was so fun to walk around the property and glance up to see bunnies hopping contentedly on the lawn beside you. It’s not overrun, just enough bunnies that you can almost always spot one. They’re friendly and content and likely help cut down on lawnmowing costs each summer.

And, to commemorate our stay, I may have succumbed to the siren call of the gift shop and come home with a bunny mug. It had to be done. And may I say my tea tastes especially delicious this morning.

The beach

The beach was lovely; smaller than I imagined and might feel more crowded in the summer when all the facilities are maxed out.

On our only full day on-site it rained much of the day. We managed to squeeze in an early morning stroll on the beach which was wonderful, but for much of the day – between rain and fog – we couldn’t even see the waves (sure could hear them though)!

The lawn is covered in bright Adirondack chairs, and the rocky shoreline is dotted with wooden benches that provide a great place to contemplate the ocean.

The accommodations

Our package included an ocean-front cottage. I woke up both nights thinking there were hurricane-force winds blowing outside. It was just the constant roar of the ocean. Nature’s white noise. It was lovely and so relaxing, but definitely takes some getting used to!

The cottage was great. Wood floors with one tiny braided rug, perfectly designed for sandy feet. There was a propane fireplace which was lovely after coming in from the rain (Day #2). The bed was comfortable.

I have relatively low demands in terms of accommodations other than cleanliness and safety/quiet and this spot checked all the boxes. It felt like a cottage by the ocean, which is exactly what it was.

They have a range of newer cottages and even houses to rent with more modern amenities, but I liked how I didn’t feel like I needed to worry about sandy feet and wet towels, which is the perfect environment for relaxing at the beach.

The people

We couldn’t believe how many young families were on-site. Everywhere you looked parents were trailing behind curious toddlers. Pets are also welcome, and from our elevated perch in the lounge at lunchtime we enjoyed a birds-eye view of a couple interacting with their very young, very adorable German shepherd puppy.

We know lots of families from the local area that go to White Point; there were also lots of retirees and the resort caters to corporate groups with meeting facilities and large rental spaces (entire homes on-site). It really has something for just about everyone.

You can curl up with a book in the lounge, play games on the beach, rent a paddleboard for the lake, hike local trails, paint rocks with an instructor, or roast s’mores over a firepit.

The food

Lemon tart-in-a-jar; delicious, but not as good as the lobster poutine!

Again – upscale rustic. The food was good; hearty portions, well cooked. No Michelin stars, but I’m not fussy like that. The waitresses were friendly and the ambiance was relaxed.

As mentioned above, the bar was set shockingly low: there is something inherently lovely about eating a meal without children bickering, throwing food at each other, or getting up and down a dozen times to use the washroom, perform cartwheels, and then go to the bathroom again. During our final breakfast, I watched a very competent, patient mother tackle breakfast with two small children (both of whom were incredibly well behaved). I kept watching the happy little scene until one of them, no more than three years old, dissolved into tears complaining there was too much milk in her cereal and then she started gagging and crying while her younger brother happily batted away at his apple slice in the highchair. I looked at the mother with both sympathy and admiration. Then I returned to my very hot, very tasty breakfast which I enjoyed without a single complaint from my own offspring.

Highlights: the lobster poutine. I am a French-fry naturalist. I like French fries. With ketchup (obviously). Full stop. The thought of adding cheese curd and gravy just feels like blasphemy. But take French fries (delicious) add cheese (also delicious) a cream sauce (tasty) and huge chunks of lobster (very, very delicious) and I have to admit you’ve found yourself a really great meal. It was the first thing I had eaten since 10 am and we had just hiked + run for about 13 km in the sun. Delicious is an understatement. It was so good we re-ordered it a second time during the trip.

Honourable mentions: the Country Breakfast, Sticky Toffee Pudding, the Chorizo sausage in their gnocchi dish, and the Chocolate Mocha cake.

Sticky toffee pudding.
Chocolate cake with creamy coffee ganache; you can catch a glimpse of the casual, but cozy, beachfront dining room.

local attractions

The South Shore of Nova Scotia is one of the most beautiful places in the world. It’s my completely biased opinion, but it’s an unavoidable truth. Gorgeous, long sandy beaches, historic buildings, and lighthouses around every corner.

Carter’s Beach, ranked one of the most beautiful beaches in Canada, is less than 20 minutes from White Point. We happened to visit in the middle of a downpour this time, but have great memories from drier visits in the past.

Summerville Beach – 10 minutes away from White Point – played host to our giant leap of faith from last summer.

The Keji Seaside Adjunct provides a nice hiking trail and the opportunity to spot moose and bear (we didn’t, much to my relief).

We took a quick spin through Liverpool and on a whim visited Astor Theatre; we picked up a lovely watercolour postcard from a local artist in the giftshop for the kiddos, wandered through various art exhibits (somehow we always find art along the way), and ended up touring the theatre.

Built in the early 1900’s and originially known as the Liverpool Opera House, it’s a lovely theatre that played war newsreels in the 40’s and now brings classics like Arsenic and Old Lace and The Mousetrap to life. I definitely want to go back and take in a live show.

While we love traveling with our family, it was nice to escape the rat race of juggling work and extracurriculars for a few days.

But as always happens when we’re away from the kids, we talk about them constantly. We must have said a dozen times “Wouldn’t the kids love it here.”

They would, we did and sometime in the not-so-distant future I’m sure we’ll find ourselves winding along those back-country roads on the South Shore again. And when we pull up and see the order to “…relax and enjoy…” we’ll plan on doing just that.

Our In-Home Date Nights – Why & How

I’ve mentioned our in-home date nights in passing several times but thought they deserved a post of their own.

This weekly tradition originated back when we were financially strapped entrepreneurs. Living in a small space without much access to childcare – and without any real means or desire to spend exorbitant sums of money on eating out – we got into the routine of celebrating in-home date nights.

The name is important. Date nights. They are planned and they are structured and they are just for us and they span most of an evening. The kids know to respect this time each week. Date nights are treated as sacred and, within reason, non-negotiable. We screen calls and don’t make plans with friends. When company visits or we’re away on family vacations, we roll with it, but as soon as we’re settled into our regular routine, date nights come right back.

When John started traveling extensively for work this was an important time for us to reconnect and recharge. After being gone for a week (or weeks) at a time (and eating most meals in restaurants) he just wanted to stay put and enjoy home cooking. With COVID eliminating many of the options for babysitting and restaurants, the last 18 months have further cemented our love for – and commitment to – this weekly habit.

It started out as one night per week, but now we generally do “date night” both Saturday AND Sunday.

What do your kids do?

This has evolved over time. Now that they’re older, we feed them supper relatively early (between 5-6 pm). They LOVE these suppers as I usually read to them while they eat and we make something quick and kid-friendly like Mac n’ Cheese, egg burritos, or toast.

One night we will usually let them watch a pre-approved video together on a laptop in one of their bedrooms starting around 6:30. The other night we’ll send them to their rooms by 6:30/7:00ish to read and play independently. Yes, this is early. Yes, it is good for them to read and have quiet time (these date nights often follow full days of family adventuring). Most importantly it’s good for our marriage, and that is ultimately what is best for the kids!

What do you eat?

I love routine and really enjoy eating the same meals over and over. For date nights John is almost always in charge of food. He is an amazing cook; creative and a flavour genius. He would gladly spend lots of time and energy shopping and prepping, but we’ve settled into a routine of having:

  • Our version of Eggs Benedict (we used to make Eggs Benny from scratch, making authentic Hollandaise over a waterbath and poaching eggs. Now we take a few shortcuts that are arguably even more delicious). We serve soft pan-fried eggs over my all-time favourite waffles with smoked salmon/bacon/ham + John’s custom mayo-based sauce (mayo + a tiny bit of maple syrup, nutritional yeast, cayenne pepper, and mustard – sounds a bit suspicious, but is amazing).
  • Take-out sushi. Always a crowd pleaser.
  • Hand-rolled sushi. We used to make regular sushi from scratch. It was delicious but a big time commitment. Now we buy the individual packets of nori and cook up sticky rice + julienne some raw veg + select a protein. We’ll top a sheet of nori with a spoonful of rice, add a few slices of veggie, a bit of protein (John will often make a spicy crab filling), and then just fold it up and dip in soy sauce (with wasabi mixed in).
  • Corn tortillas filled with fish or another protein and some grilled veggies with roasted potatoes on the side.
  • Stuffed pasta (purchased, not homemade) coated in either a simple mix of butter and herbs or a specific jarred rosée sauce we like.

We do branch out beyond this, but the above represents pretty typical date-night fare.

What do you do?

We almost always watch a movie.

John is a big movie buff and audiophile, so the entertainment experience is a tested-and-true experience. With offerings from Disney+ and Netflix, it’s generally very affordable as well.

While some people might scoff at date nights involving a screen (we even eat our supper while watching the movie), it works for us. One friend of mine from university days – who happens to be a huge foodie – does a similar in-home date night with her husband but they’re the type that makes a 3-course meal complete with fine china, linen napkins and candles.

You do you.

The specifics of date night don’t matter much – it’s the principal of setting time aside to prioritize being together and recognizing it doesn’t have to involve complicated logistics or stretched budgets.

We love to adventure together and appreciate a range of culinary experiences…but between COVID and work schedules and the challenges (and expense) of childcare, getting away for a long trip – or even a night out – can be tricky. Enter in-home date nights: one of our favourite marital traditions and something I would recommend to every couple – newly married or seasoned veterans.