Chopped: Frost Family Edition (Or, I Made Chocolate Curls)

I made homemade chocolate curls last weekend and it wasn’t a big deal (so easy, who knew?!). But still, I MADE chocolate curls. Gold star?

Several years ago we went through a period of watching The Food Network as a family. Abby, in particular, couldn’t get enough of Beat Bobby Flay and The Pioneer Woman. But her favourite show was Chopped.

The premise is simple: four competitors start by making an appetizer. The catch? Their workstation contains a basket with secret ingredients which have to be incorporated/highlighted in their dish. And these secret ingredients can be downright strange. Gummy bears and chicken in an entrée, hotdogs and pecans in a dessert. After each course, one chef is eliminated until two people remain to battle it out over dessert.

Abby loved this show (every iteration, but especially Chopped Junior).

At some point, we introduced a few elements into special cooking challenges at home. Abby and I would choose a “secret ingredient” for dessert and allow 15 minutes to prepare something for John and Levi. Other times we had informal judging – no winner, but an elaborate meal for which family members were invited to offer critiques and compliments.

Then, in early 2020, just before COVID shut down the world, we jumped in with two feet. My parents were overwintering locally and offered to serve as judges. We paired off into teams (John + Levi; Elisabeth + Abby) and printed off scoring cards. We planned for weeks, shopped covertly so the opposing team didn’t catch wind of our menu, and covered the French door to our dining room with butcher paper (so my parents couldn’t spy on the kitchen prep).

From start to finish it was a lot of work, but Abby was in rapture and my parents couldn’t stop raving about the food. I’ll admit – it was delicious food. But did I mention all the work?

For several years we had a reward system in our house called “Warm Fuzzies” – a glass jar filled with (fuzzy) multi-coloured pom-poms. If someone did or said something encouraging or kind, we would add a warm fuzzy. If someone was deliberately unkind or rude, we would take one away. The kids worked steadily toward a goal – most recently, to host another Chopped competition.

They reached that goal over a year ago by accruing 40 Warm Fuzzies…and we only got around to fulfilling our promise last Saturday. #PandemicLife. But, better late than never.

We invited a neighbour couple (the ones who bake the kids cookies, offer us fresh produce from their garden, and bought the whole neighbourhood a basketball hoop and set it up in our driveway; for long-time readers, this is also the couple who leave Christmas lights up for our benefit, help shovel our driveway, and have PB & Banana sandwiches each Friday so, basically the sweetest neighbours ever) to assign the secret ingredients and judge the resulting dishes. (We made things a bit easier with just a single ingredient set for each course.)

John and Abby teamed up, which left me paired with Levi.

I tend to be the killjoy in this sort of event as I find it exhausting to juggle so many dishes while worrying about presentation (Oh, and did I remember to clean the bathroom for our guests?), all while working as a team with a CHILD who has very strong opinions about what they want to do (and, if I’m being completely honest here, I just want to do it all myself and win the competition). The prep, the shopping, the execution, the managing expectations. It’s a lot.

But I survived and it was great.

The secret ingredient selections were: cheese in the appetizer, bacon in the entrée, and chocolate in the dessert.

We had the table set with score cards (again, judged blind – they didn’t know who was paired with whom) and menus.

We weren’t judged on the drinks, but each team made a punch that was similar in taste and appearance, so here’s a representative picture.

How do people make their hands not look weird in pictures? Does anyone else feel self-conscious of their hands in pictures? I never think about my hands in real life, but “picture hands” just always feel…strange looking to me.

And here’s how it all played out:

John + Abby’s Menu (Abby designed/coloured their menu; gold star to her):

Oops. I only took a picture of the front page of their menu…

Appetizer: Tomato bisque + a trifecta of grilled cheese

Appetizer; this was one of the best tomato soups I have EVER had. And each strip of grilled cheese had a different flavour/cheese profile. Also, didn’t they nail the presentation?

Entrée: Beef tenderloin, bacon-wrapped scallops, garlic/onion/bacon mashed potatoes, grilled red pepper, and green beans with hollandaise.

We don’t eat much red meat, but John got an incredible cut of local beef tenderloin from the butcher and it was…delicious.

Dessert: A layered ice-cream cake.

Sadly you can’t see the layers in this homemade ice-cream cake; a chocolate crumb base, peanut butter cups, Skor bits, homemade chocolate sauce and lots of ice-cream. It was so good!

Levi + Elisabeth’s Menu:

Giving credit where credit is due – Abby coloured the flowers.

Appetizer: A three-cheese buttermilk biscuit topped with smoked paprika and dill cream cheese, smoked salmon and Parmesan crisps.

This was our weakest dish; everything tasted great, but the presentation was lacking colour, and – I’ll talk about this tomorrow – 15 minutes before this picture was taken I was cleaning up a torrent of water on the kitchen floor on my hands and knees, so was rather distracted). Maybe the monochromatic look is in?

Entrée: Bacon-wrapped asparagus, bacon cornbread bites, and bacon/chicken alfredo. The homemade alfredo sauce was the bomb.

This was so good!

Dessert: A chocolate panda (Nutella + PB filled) lava cake, with an ice cream head, and chocolate curl limbs.

This panda won the competition. Literally. Levi and I ended up winning by several points and it was all due to the panda dessert which was, I’m the first to admit, entirely Levi’s idea. He has been working for WEEKS on a panda project in school and this was the one thing he insisted on incorporating into our meal. It turned out about 100 times better than I imagined. I was going to do the ice cream head off to the side of the lava cake as an afterthought. But as we were plating, Abby (gold star to her for so generously helping her opponents) suggested we make a complete panda. Levi was so, so proud. And, it was delicious (though, I ask, could a chocolate lava cake NOT be delicious?)!

The raspberry was an afterthought as the peanut butter filling was leaking and made a hole at the top of the cake which we covered with a raspberry, forming a very adorable “belly button.”

Prepping the ice cream heads the day before!

And that’s enough Chopped for a few years. Lots of fun (and delicious leftovers), but also…exhausting!

Three cheers to the kids for being such great sports. Three cheers to John for loving to cook so much and encouraging and organizing so much of this event. And three cheers to our neighbours who were genuinely delighted by the whole experience and the most enthusiastic participants we could have hoped for (they very sweetly brought us a long thank-you note the next day and actually showed up to the “competition” with a plate of their famous cookies).

Anyone hungry? (Aside from vegan/vegetarian readers – sorry!).

Header photo by Sara Cervera on Unsplash

On Mother’s Day, An Ode to Letter Writing

It’s Mother’s Day on Sunday.

I want to start by acknowledging we all have different stories to share. Some readers may be mourning the loss of a mother or friend, others processing a difficult parental relationship; some may be desperately wishing to become a mother while others are finding the very role of motherhood complicated and overwhelming. For anyone struggling, I’m sorry for your loss, hurt, frustration, or grief.

Today I’m sharing a piece of my story. This essay (or whatever one can call it) has been sitting – untouched – for several years, but I always wanted to share it on Mother’s Day. But where? With whom?

Now I have a space.

It’s long (shocking) and I’m aware it could use plenty of restructuring. But I tried to limit edits of the original draft because…well…it struck me when I pulled up this file – Mom writes long. Really long.

It’s a bit of a family joke how much I take after my mother. We look alike, sound alike, and think alike. We both have a tendency for “smoke to come out both ears” when we get worked up (translation: we’re stubborn and emotional). Apparently, I’m told, we even eat ice cream the same way.

But more than anything, I write like she writes.

The working title for this essay was An Ode to Letter Writing, but at the core sits A Letter To My Mother.

an ode to letter writing

One of my earliest memories is of Mom perched on the edge of a wooden chair – complete with forest green crocheted “footies” (to avoid scuffing our 1970s-era dining room linoleum) – in front of the Christmas tree.

I was about four, though this same scene was repeated for years, so I’m sure to be amalgamating memories. I always found a place on the floor by the tree; blonde hair, blue eyes, bubbling with the delight reserved for four-year-olds on Christmas morning. My father would have been there too, having made the concession of waking thirty minutes early to shave and get dressed. Two older sisters and a brother. And Mom, sitting on her chair, clipboard in one hand, a blue Bic ballpoint poised in the other.

Christmas Eve would have found her hunched over that same clipboard. Stockings stuffed – including toothpaste and soap for every member of the family (which, once unwrapped, would be back in the communal pile under the bathroom sink before the turkey was on the table) – and breakfast prepped in the refrigerator. Her world in order, Mom would sit, ruler in hand, preparing her grid. Recipient on the horizontal, giver on the vertical. This careful tracking was as traditional as the cinnamon coffee cake for breakfast, the scented Avon mistletoe figurine on the mantel, and the vintage star (with questionable wiring) glowing atop our tree.

And so Christmas found us – Dad smelling of aftershave, the coffee cake baking, Mom with her pen. One at a time gifts were unwrapped. This year, a stack of Nancy Drew books from Grammie, the one with a fiery temper who was continually offering unsolicited advice but was, nonetheless, recognized as a top-notch gift-giver. Next up, an alarm clock for my brother. A sweater for Mom. Some Licorice Allsorts for Dad.

Throughout the festivities there was, without exception, strict adherence to a single rule: before opening, admiring or using a gift you paused to announce the giver. And another block in that grid would fill up.

These were snapshots of our life and Mom was recording.

Before the ball dropped in Manhatten on New Year’s Eve, our local postal team carried away the results of Mom’s dutiful records. A thank-you to the opinionated grandmother (those Nancy Drew books sit on my daughter’s bookshelf today). A note of gratitude to my other grandmother, a soft-spoken woman whose cheerful smile (which she removed each night for a bath in Polident) belied the fact she was widowed by 35 with three small children. This year she had sent an elaborate tea set. My own children still use it, nibbling on chocolate chips and Cheerios piled on impossibly tiny plates, pouring Diet Pepsi out of the faded purple teapot. I wonder if Mom’s thank-you captured the generations of use ahead?

Another note for a wealthy aunt and uncle. The arrival of their Christmas parcel was a tradition itself – wrapped in brown paper and plastered with stickers, this was a gift that kept on giving. First, there was the anticipatory journey to our local post office, parcel notification in hand. Then the first glimpse of that giant box – bigger and heavier than a child dared hope. At home, Exacto knife in hand, the outer shell would be carefully removed to reveal a pile of boxes wrapped in beautiful wrapping paper. Double-sided tape, crisp corners, and lux ribbon were a given. Seeing those gifts under the tree was a perpetual delight and I always saved their gift for last.

The thank-you note for sisters Hazel and Marion (who always gifted Quality Street chocolates) would be hand-delivered at church on Sunday night.

Somehow, Mom managed to capture all the magic of that giving and receiving in her letters, maintaining relationships the way she knew best – through words and a $0.45 cent stamp.

My mother is an extraordinary woman. She raised four children, managed a household, worked part-time as a nurse until we were teenagers, and then launched a big career. She is a doer. She patiently led us through Bible-verse memorization for Sunday School, cooked every meal from scratch (with a little help from Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup), and created handmade Christmas gifts for decades. If you wanted something done, you asked my mother. Amidst the baked hams and scalloped potatoes, the cross-stitched mason jar toppers, the endless years of diapers – she wrote letters. Every two weeks, for decades, she wrote letters to my grandmothers. These recorded births, deaths, blizzards, new recipes, and the status of blooming peonies. They bridged gaps of time and distance as her own children grew and married. Miscarriages and stillbirths, cancer, surgeries. There was a lot of hard to share. But also awards, graduations, successes, new jobs, weddings, and the arrival of grandbabies. Often written in long-hand and spanning multiple pages, they were crafted at the dining-room table unless we were on summer vacation – then letters were written by the flickering light of kerosene lamps.

Perhaps most memorable to everyone were her Christmas cards (which were distinct from her Christmas thank-you notes; the holiday season warranted two letters from my mother). She devoted entire days to this activity.

As Mr. Zukerberg’s dorm room lay far in the future, this was her form of connection. She wrote to the bridesmaids from her wedding, classmates from nursing school, distant family members, friends old and new, and the church members we saw three times a week. In early November she would get out her tattered address book and work systematically from A to Z. American recipients were prioritized, since theirs took longer in the postal system and needed to be dispatched first. The cards weren’t ornate, always purchased on a post-Christmas sale the previous year. But the letters they contained were a work of art.

She told the same stories, recounted the same highlights over and over – but in a personalized way – all in her meticulous handwriting (only in recent years has she finally succumbed to the siren song of a more generic, typed Christmas letter). To the uncle who traveled for work, inquiries about destinations and hobbies; to someone whose loved one had passed, words of sympathy and hope. A few people responded in similar fashion but most, if we’re being honest, just attached their name to a generic greeting.

Yet my mother persisted. Year after year after year. Like spring follows winter, Mom’s letters were a constant; each one tinged with the beauty of recorded history. Her words gave meaning to our family story – a meaning that comes simply by sharing and connecting.

When I was 13 we moved. I likely wrote before this point, but here my recall starts. My letters, addressed with loopy adolescent handwriting, were filled with details of high-school drama. I sent these letters for years. I wasn’t looking for anything in return (and got few replies), which seems odd for a self-absorbed teenage mind – but even then I comprehended that the very act of writing was a gift of sorts. I shared my stories, my youth, and the world of possibilities in front of me, mostly for the benefit of elderly seniors (think: small Baptist church) and a few childhood friends I’d left behind.

Then one day I received an unexpected response.

I was in my final year of an undergraduate degree in Biology. The requisite hours spent dissecting pig fascia were behind me and I was doing a victory lap of sorts. Sitting alone in a summer rental, I opened a hand-addressed package. I didn’t recognize the sender information. The dull yellow of the mailer envelope was covered with black scuffs, paying homage to its journey.

But let’s back up and introduce a new character to my story.

Her name was Nina and she lived at the end of the road. When I say the end of the road, I mean that literally. The road that skirted my childhood home stretched up and down hills, twisted and turned, lurching precariously close to the side of a cliff face before it abruptly ended at the ocean. And there, nestled on the very edge of a cliff – near the very end of the road – was Nina’s house.

Nina was an artist, her husband a fisherman. The wharf from which he worked was at the bottom of that cliff. They attended our church, and I accompanied my Dad through years of visitation. Visits where Leroy, her husband, introduced me to his homemade pickled herring (an acquired taste, but a delicacy I loved) and showed me the jewelry he made from sea glass and stones tumbled in their basement.

Leroy died, Nina aged, and I moved away.

But I also stayed, I think, through my letters. I like to imagine those notes perched on Nina’s kitchen table, stuffed into her napkin holder. Or maybe my letters served as bookmarks in the novel on her bedside table. I wonder how she read them? I like to imagine she couldn’t wait. When she opened up her mailbox, did she smile? Did she save my letters for the end of the day, or tear open the envelope on the walk across the street? Did she laugh with me? Did she laugh at me? Hopefully both.

But Nina never wrote back. Not a single time in all those years.

Now back to that package. The letter was from Nina’s daughter, someone I don’t ever recall meeting, informing me that Nina had passed away. Nina, maker of homemade fish cakes (her home always smelled like fish, which wasn’t entirely pleasant). Nina, owner of the wood-paneled living room where I sat in a floral-patterned swivel chair and watched Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy because we didn’t have cable, but Nina did and she would sometimes invite me to stay for fishcakes with a side of Vanna White. Nina, who always set aside a special bag – (shhh: don’t tell anyone, it was a bigger bag) – of Halloween treats for me.

Nina the artist.

Her daughter wrote to tell me how much Nina had appreciated my letters. The letters that shared how my world was growing as Nina’s got smaller. That Nina was gone. The bulky envelope contained several of Nina’s paintings, watercolours she’d made in her little studio (also perched on the side of a cliff; she clearly didn’t have any issue with heights). Her daughter said she hoped the art would leave me with happy memories of Nina. Her art and my “art” bonding us across time and space.

And I do believe letter writing is art. Like sculpture and oil and lyric. The canvas – heavy paper, hotel stationery, Hallmark cards. The brush – a pen, pencil, crayon and, yes, even a keyboard. From the first tentative letters scribbled by a preschooler to the final, halting scrawl of an aging parent.

I’m not sure what place letter writing has in the modern era. In a world where our stories are told through the filter of Instagram or within the confines of 140 characters.

I send fewer letters in the mail now. Christmas cards, the occasional thank-you note. But each month I write and e-mail Family Updates – lost teeth, first bike rides (without the safety net of training wheels), potty-training successes (and failures), kindergarten concerts; the ups and downs of life have all made the cut. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, glimpses of our family’s life show up on screens down the street, across the country, and then ping-pong around the globe – Portugal, Denmark, America. I’ve saved every e-mail, full of details that would be hazy for me (newborn era, anyone?) and forgotten entirely by the kids, without this written history.

Julia Cameron talks about piecing together the story of her grandmother’s life simply by reading through her decades of letters in which she [the grandmother] recounted “a series of small miracles. [Her] secret lay in recognizing the quality of life is in proportion, always, to the capacity for delight. The capacity for delight is in the gift of paying attention.”

Letters help us pay attention. To celebrate more fully – find delight in the ordinary and share it with others; to grieve more deeply.

A few years ago my daughter performed in a local church play. A neighbor happened to be in the audience. The next day we came home to a plate of cookies from that neighbor – congratulating my daughter for her performance on stage (and Levi’s in the pew; he was shockingly well behaved for a then-toddler). Delighted by the cookies and the praise, my daughter picked out a thank-you card; a doughnut covered with sparkles that read “Thanks, with extra sprinkles!” I don’t know what she wrote, but I’m suspecting something along the lines of: “Thanks for the cookies. I liked them a lot.

It’s a start.

I watched her from the front window as she looked both ways and crossed the street in fading April light. She was in her pajamas already, a polar bear one-piece ensemble that should have been sent to the hand-me-down box months before. Delivery complete, she came home flush with accomplishment. There was silence for a few weeks and then a sudden appearance by the neighbor at our back door to express appreciation for her note. A beautiful cycle of thanks and connection and relationship, bridged with words.

You don’t get many hand-written notes these days,” said our neighbour, somewhat wistfully. “It’s really nice, you know.”

Actually, I do know. That’s why I write letters. That’s why Mom writes them, and why I hope my daughter writes them too. I can’t force her, of course. But I’ll keep writing mine and hope she writes hers. Maybe even to me.

Things come full circle, I suppose, and I now get a letter from my Mom every day. They aren’t handwritten, but they have Mom’s fingerprints all over them. She sends out hundreds of words (I told you I write like she writes) via our family text chain. Every day. My siblings and I know what wildlife she and Dad spotted through the front window over breakfast. What neighbours they passed on their afternoon walk, how her quilt is coming along, and what vegetables she’s planning to plant come June. We hear about blizzards and doctor’s appointments and art classes and, sometimes, the state of her laundry pile. Yesterday I learned all about her canoe trip down a local river; Dad, apparently, took a nap on the shoreline after their picnic lunch. I can’t remember, but I suspect she told us what had been on the menu. Egg salad sandwiches, perhaps?

It’s wonderful. Every word and description of her day makes me smile. Especially because I know This too shall pass.

This Mother’s Day, I’m so thankful for my mother. For everything she did, and does, for me. And for the deep impact of her written words over the years.

This letter, for lack of a better description, from me – well, it’s for her.

To my Mom, to Nina, to my daughter and all the other special women in my life – Happy Mother’s Day.

Header photo by Kate Macate on Unsplash

Do You Have a Compliment? Give It!

To my shame, I leave a lot of compliments/verbal affirmations unspoken, especially to those I love the most. And I want that behaviour to change because I know I’m overlooking the power of (genuine) compliments.

A few months ago I wrote about an unexpected incident in a checkout line at the DollarStore. I was masked, as were all the people around me, and I wasn’t expecting an interaction of any sort. But then the woman behind me leaned forward to say how much she admired my earrings.

By all accounts, this was a tiny gesture. I wasn’t overly chatty in lineups before the pandemic. I’m introverted and, rightly or wrongly, tend to hibernate in big social settings (including the chaos that is checkout lines).

But that comment? It made my day.

I thanked her, told her my husband had bought them for me (which she seemed to find particularly endearing), and we went our separate ways.

But here I am writing about that compliment. Months later.

I felt particularly sorry for cashiers during this pandemic. They interact with a steady stream of people all day while standing on their feet in masks. It must have been especially exhausting and scary in early days pre-vaccine.

I typically visit our town’s small grocery store several times a week. One cashier always looked especially tired. She was clearly apprehensive about her front-facing position and wore 3-layered masks long before it was the standard recommendation. Sadly, I’ll admit I still don’t know her name, but she stands out to me because she had the nicest masks.

Every time I ended up in her lineup I made a point to comment on how seeing her and her beautiful masks (such pretty patterns!) was a bright point in my shopping experience. And every single time her eyes would light up and she’d tell me where she bought them (a local farmers market) and that taking the time to source nice masks was a big boost to her spirits.

My compliment was entirely genuine – her masks were lovely and I did notice. But it would have been easy to mumble “Debit please” and scamper out of the store, leaving the compliment unspoken.

And so often I do leave compliments unspoken. Why?

I went out to coffee with a new friend recently and she wore a simple – but lovely – sweater. It was a shade of blue I can’t properly do justice; rich, warm, bright, and happy (because I think “happy” is a great colour descriptor). She wore matching earrings; paired with casual jeans it was a perfect outfit. The entire time we were together I kept thinking about how well the whole ensemble suited her. But it felt…awkward to say anything. I haven’t known her very long and how do you even inject that information into a short conversation?

At the end of an hour, when she got up to leave, I finally got up the nerve to blurt out: “That sweater and colour look great on you.

Not surprisingly, she looked elated to receive this compliment. Maybe she didn’t think anything about her outfit when she left the house or maybe she spent a long time curating it. Either way, it looked fabulous…so why not tell her?

I know there is a fine line between patronizing comments and true compliments. I try to be authentic, but sometimes it can be about quality AND quantity and I’m determined to work on both.

And I think that’s where attention plays such a central role. When we’re on the lookout for the good and the beautiful in life – for the magical way the lights blur when I take off my glasses to look at the Christmas tree, for the reset that comes from sitting down at a table with a bowl of comfort food and some candles – we can be more open to seeing and sharing that delight with others.

Compliment God – look at the beautiful blue sky, listen to the crashing of the waves, taste a delicious meal and thank Him for being such a great Creator. Compliment your spouse – for their outfit or gorgeous eyes or romantic gesture. Compliment your children – on their beautifully illegible place cards or on giving the best bedtime hugs or for their empathetic response to a sad friend. Compliment someone’s earrings or their hard-to-describe-happy-blue sweater.

And if you see someone wearing a beautiful mask, go ahead and compliment them too and thank them for injecting beauty into the world in a simple way.

Your turn. What’s the nicest compliment someone has paid you recently? How did it make you feel?

FYI: The earrings I reference are the top left pair in this picture. Simple, but one of my favourites with sparkly Swavorski crystals.

Header photo by eleni koureas on Unsplash

Waiting For The Tomorrow That Never Came

I love the power of a story. This is a sad one, but it left a lasting impression.

I’ve described my friend Dot on the blog before – she was my 80s-something spitfire “landlord/surrogate grandmother” when I was in university. Dot had the most active social calendar of any senior I’ve met. There was Bridge Club. And Birthday Club (12 ladies and they celebrated one woman each month – I mean, can you get better than that in your 80s? And let me tell you, those women knew how to celebrate a birthday). She was on every board at her church, volunteered for charitable committees, and had more friends than you could shake a stick at.

One of those friends – let’s call her Gail – came over for supper every Thursday night. (Dot and I ate supper together in her tiny kitchen every evening; food was included in my rent and those meals spent together are some of my happiest memories from university. Bonus – Dot happened to be a fabulous cook. But on Thursdays, I knew my place was in the kitchen. Alone.) Dot and Gail laughed over gin and tonics (always, always gin and tonic) and ate a fancy meal together in the dining room before gallivanting off to Film Club together.

Gail was a force of energy. She was big and boisterous, with a larger-than-life personality. She loved to laugh and had a rich British accent that magnified her charm. But over the course of many Thursday-night visits, I pieced together more and more of her heartbreaking story.

She was retired, though from what career I can’t recall. She had been married to a university professor who had made a name for himself as a top researcher in his field. Their lives were hectic as they raised two boys and managed work responsibilities. Their vision for the future had a singular focus – retire and travel the world together.

If I remember the story correctly, Gail’s husband – let’s call him Jim – kept putting off retirement by tiny increments until they had delayed their plans for several years. But that was okay as the best was yet to come.

Finally, the day of retirement dawned; they packed their bags and headed for Hawaii.

Mid-flight, en route to this first destination of retirement wanderlust, Jim had a stroke. He survived for over a decade but was confined to a wheelchair, requiring constant care and, eventually, a nursing home.

They had waited for a tomorrow that never came.

Gail was cheerful and friendly; she drank her gin and tonic and she and Dot made quite the cane-toting pair when heading off to Film Club. But I bet she would have given anything to have been off traveling the world with her life partner.

Two points jump to mind, though this story could leave each of us with different lessons to unpack:

  1. Time is finite. If there is something we really want to do, why wait? We scrimp and save and plan for a day we’re not guaranteed to have come our way.
  2. Hard stuff happens; we adapt. I’m sure Gail shed many tears over the situation. I suspect she regretted Jim’s decision to delay retirement. She visited Jim every day, helped care for him, and provided me with regular updates on his health. But she also carved out time for friends and fun (she was also a member of the aforementioned Birthday Club) and didn’t let her life – which looked so vastly different from what she had planned – pass her by.

I don’t necessarily have a key takeaway from this story, but I think of it often, even though I was only a teenager when I met Gail and, obviously, felt like I had all the time in the world.

Which I don’t.


Header photo by Sacha Verheij on Unsplash


It’s Thursday…and I’m going “casual”? This is almost as disconcerting as DST!

While my faith doesn’t overtly permeate my writing in this space, my relationship with Jesus does permeate my life and I’m going to share more about this topic tomorrow, Good Friday.

Which means I decided to show up a day early and stake claim to Casual Thursday.

Without further ado, a recap of the week:

FRIDAY + SATURDAY | This was a very busy 36-hour period of adventuring. I’ll share the play-by-play action next week but any guesses where we went? Here are a few pictorial hints (bragging rights to the first person who figures it out).

If you’re still stumped…here’s one last hint. On Saturday morning I completed my daily 1 km walk on a trail called The Haunted Woods.

SUNDAY | We arrived home late on Saturday absolutely exhausted. But a night of good sleep left us all energetic enough to go to the early service at church. For regular readers: “The Knitter” ended up sitting in our row. New 2022 goal – introduce myself to “The Knitter” so I can stop referring to her as “The Knitter.”

Before lunch, I made a giant pot of soup for Monday’s supper while other members of the household played video games and mini-sticks (I have drawn a hard line and refuse to participate in either of those activities).

A little post-concert exploration; this building has been closed to the public for almost 2 years!

Abby and I took advantage of a free concert series just down the street. Side note: I wish I loved classical music…I like it, but don’t love it. Nevertheless, it was a fun time together and you never know what exposure to the arts might spark some delight when she’s older? We both agreed our favourite piece was Liszt’s Ballade No. 1 in D-flat major S170. The pianist played this new-to-me work beautifully.

After we got home I walked exactly 1 km in the rain; I had debated skipping the day and officially stopping my streak, but why?

It was date night, so I read to the kids while they ate supper; after the disappointing “duds” from the previous week, the kids loved every single book in this set. Success!

After the kids were in bed, John and I watched The Outfit. I had no idea what to expect going in but thought Mark Rylance was brilliant, as always.

We also finished Peter Jackson’s Beatles documentary. It took over a month for us to get through all three parts of the miniseries, but I found it fascinating to watch their final album come together. I got goosebumps when it showed them walking away from the rooftop recording session and the text overlay said it was the last time they ever played together publically. If you like the Beatles and enjoy behind-the-scenes footage, this is a gold mine.

MONDAY | I tackled work first thing and opted to show up an hour late to my book discussion group. I was home in time to run 3 km with John, eat some lunch, and then worked until supper time.

We came agonizingly close to getting Wordle in two tries (a new family goal for 2022).

We watched 2 episodes of the sand-sculpture competition Race Against the Tide as a family before bedtime.

When John started his sabbatical, we opted to stop getting help with housecleaning (for the last 18 months we had someone come 2 times/month for 2 hours). I think a lot of this has to do with my personality, but I ended up doing several hours of work in advance of each cleaning session. I’d do all the dusting, pick up the furniture so our lovely housecleaner could be very efficient with floors and bathrooms. But it also meant I was doing things like dusting and getting my floors cleaned more than needed, and the timing wasn’t always convenient.

Ironically, I’ve really enjoyed not having to prepare for cleaning as often. But, as you can probably guess, things have gotten a bit…lax. So after the kids were in bed, I mopped a few rooms and listened to the recent Best of Both Worlds podcast episode with Oliver Burkeman. I planned to do the whole upstairs, but after my initial burst of energy wore off, I gave myself permission to quit for the night (there have to be some perks to being an adult, right).

TUESDAY | We woke up to one of those perfect spring mornings. It was crisp but sunny with not even a hint of wind. What a beautiful setting for our walk to school!

I did a bit of work, but really wanted to fit in a walk with my best friend and between conflicting schedules and rain forecasts this was the only slot that would work. We ended up having a great walk (and talk) and I left the conversation energized for the day.

Home by 10 am, I powered through a lot of work tasks. My post on not rushing was very timely – I had to remind myself not to rush through a rare creative work project; I was getting frustrated with how long it was taking, but reminded myself this is actually something I really enjoy doing. I managed to finish it by the end of the day and submit it for revisions.

I had a work call at 1 pm which went much better – and ended much earlier – than expected. Always a nice feeling.

I’ve been working after the kids come home from school a lot lately, but signed off when they walked in the door. I made ants on a log (chocolate chips and walnuts on a banana with PB) and read Levi facts from a big book about pandas (his Grade 1 research project topic). He had a neighbourhood friend come over, so I made muffins and did dishes while Abby read me poems from a completed Language Arts project. The poem readings continued while I mopped both bathrooms to complete my mopping work on the main floor! Parenting AND mopping simultaneously. This felt like a very big deal, somehow.

Levi’s friend ended up staying for supper; I happened to have an allergen-friendly meal prepared, and spontaneous invites tend to work best anyway.

We read books in bed – another set of winners! The Button Book would be perfect for 4-5 year olds. And the groundhog book was especially enjoyed because the author was ABBY LEVIne…in a fun nod to the kids’ names.

I rarely watch TV during the week, but we opted to close the loop on Elizabeth Holmes and watched the HBO documentary The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley. It was interesting, especially having just finished watching The Dropout.

Continuing on with an entrepreneurial theme: I finished a slightly dated (2015) book about Elon Musk. Because of personal experience with startups, these topics resonate. While we’ve never been involved with something of this scale, the relentless pace, the incredible number of moving parts that all have to fall into place behind the scenes – I get it. And it feels…like it validates (?) how exciting and exhausting our quasi-related experiences have been!

More broadly, these people – Musk, Holmes, Jobs, Page, Gates – whether they experience meteoric rises and/or falls they all come with, as the book describes, “accessible eccentricities.” It requires a very specific sort of individual to carry out these feats, and I find it fascinating to see the common themes (and divergent outcomes) among entrepreneurs.

[About Musk]: “One night he told me, ‘If there was a way that I could not eat, so I could work more, I would not eat.’” [These people don’t seem to eat or sleep much.]

He doesn’t say: ‘You have to do this by Friday at two P.M.,’” Brogan said. “He says, ‘I need the impossible done by Friday at two P.M. Can you do it?’ Then, when you say yes, you are not working hard because he told you to. You’re working hard for yourself. It’s a distinction you can feel. You have signed up to do your own work.”[I find this to be an important distinction with parenting too; when my kids feel like they have ownership over a task and/or choice they are far more motivated to participate.]

[Larry Page, from Google]: Good ideas are always crazy until they’re not. [And it’s hard to know from the outset when an idea is just going to stay crazy versus end up being genius…]

WEDNESDAY | Walk to school, work, run (with a quick stop at the library to exchange books), lunch, work.

Highlight: When I discovered a 2-hour morning meeting was optional (and I didn’t need to attend), it gave an unexpected boost to my whole outlook for the day!

Last-minute a friend texted to see if I wanted to meet at a playground after school and we wound up spending a happy hour watching the kids entertain each other, basking in the spring sunshine!


  • The birds singing in the morning. Most of the time I involuntarily tune it out, but what a rich backdrop it provides if I just…pay attention.
  • Our living room blinds. Having these up after almost a year really does bring me both satisfaction and joy.
  • Watching a friend’s toddler colour on a piece of paper. Such a simple task, but to watch the concentration on his little face was breathtaking, in a way. Especially now that my own kids write and it no longer feels like I have a front-row seat to the miracle of learning. But, of course, it is still wonderous at any age!
  • Watching the kids sleep. It is always, always a source of joy.
  • Our beloved librarians. On Wednesday, one saw me walk in the door and immediately got my stack of holds off the shelf before even saying hello! They know me so well.
  • When John brought over our favourite maple syrup candle for me to smell (unlit!) while I was working at my desk. (Our love of maple syrup runs deep; this is my go-to teacher gift. It smells divine).
  • Running to a random 170 bpm playlist from Spotify; it ended up being a great combination of songs that felt motivating and whimsical.

Phew. A busy week, albeit short. How was your week? Is Good Friday a holiday where you live?

Birthday Recap + Notes from a (Reluctant) Party Host

I know there are people who get their thrills from hosting (or attending parties). These are surely lovely people but I. cannot. relate.

Unfortunately/fortunately, when you have tiny humans living in your house, they tend to enjoy birthday celebrations.

For YEARS I dreaded these parties. Not because I didn’t want my kids to have a great time, but because it just doesn’t feel like something in my sphere of competency and hosting has a tendency to fill me with dread. That said, I’ve now successfully organized a fair number of pint-sized parties (around 15 combined between two children – um, Wow), have survived, and actually find myself tolerating/border-on-enjoying the experience more and more with each successive year.

If you are one of those love-to-plan-all-the-parties people, you’re welcome to stick around, but my suggestions will likely seem rather pitiful for your tastes. If, on the other hand, you’re like me and get the cold sweats a month before a 3-person birthday party, you’re not alone!

I thought I’d share a bit about how I manage kid birthday parties – a topic that is top of mind with a newly-minted 11-year-old in the house.


This was a “little” year. What’s a little year you ask? Once the kids hit ~5 we started alternating “big” (6-8 guests) and “little” (2-3 guests) parties. I plan differently for big vs little parties and I’ve really enjoyed having this routine in place. Levi had a little party in November, and Abby had a little party this March. Friends actually know this fact and it is not unusual to have some ask: “So, is it a big or little birthday this year?”


This year, and recently, I have hosted parties at our house. When Abby was younger and we were living in a tiny apartment, we tended to host things in other venues because it just wasn’t feasible to have people in our space (and with November and March birthdays, the weather isn’t exactly ideal for outdoor activities). Levi has never had a party outside our home but we did: paint-your-own-pottery, skating, and a hotel pool rental for Abby over various years.


A party without a cake is just a meeting.

Julia Child

I’m not going to lie – there is little nutritional value at these events. (I did serve fruit kebabs one year, but most guests opted for the cake).

If it is a big year, I serve snacks + cake. If it is a little year, I serve a meal. Levi requested three close friends from the neighbourhood for meatballs, rice, and peas and I set out popcorn as a mid-party snack.

This year Abby asked for homemade mini pizzas, strawberries (I ended up setting out a fruit and veggie selection which was met with lukewarm enthusiasm), popcorn, and Dorito’s.

My cakes are relatively simple. I don’t think I’ve ever purchased a cake but that’s mostly because I usually hide money inside (this was a tradition in my house when I was growing up); I will wrap coins in “packets” of tinfoil – and drop them into the cake before baking. Last year Abby asked for a giant cookie cake, which required the bare minimum in terms of preparation.

One year (the “8”) Abby and I made chocolate flowers from a mold someone had passed on to us (which I have since decluttered to a thrift store) + a few pre-fab decorations from the Bulk Barn; the “6” was the year we watched How The Grinch Stole Christmas for Levi’s “big” party. I just iced a bundt cake and topped it with some m&m’s…pretty boring. But when you cut into it it was multi-coloured which is such an easy – but exciting – effect to achieve!

This year one of Abby’s requested activities was TO BAKE THE BIRTHDAY CAKE. As in, bake her birthday cake with her friends after they arrived at the party. Um, sure?! I bought my first jarred frosting to streamline the process and it was…wonderful. It’s so hard to make the right amount of homemade frosting and this way kids got to pick what they wanted. They were so proud of having made the cake + it was still slightly warm when we ate it which was delish.

To make this a little more special, I cut out all the steps in the cake-baking process, put them into a bag and had each guest draw 5 steps at random. One girl cracked the eggs, another added the sugar, etc. It was very fun (though I would never want to attempt this with kids under 10).


These have gotten simpler with age. If you have a destination, these tend to be no-brainers. A pool party, painting pottery – these have built-in entertainment.

Balloons – these are always a hit and kids seem to gravitate to wherever they can find a loose balloon to bat around a room.

A candy hunt – this was a tradition for me growing up and I always do a candy hunt for the kids. One year, when Abby had a “little” party we actually hid clues all around the neighbourhood until they ended up reaching their treat bags. That same year I gave each guest (at a “little” party) a different coloured Hershey Kiss to find (I went to the bulk barn and picked out the same number of pink, blue and green Kisses!). That way everyone had the same number and just because you spotted something didn’t mean it was yours since you had to be looking for your individual colour only!

This year’s items (spread out between 4 girls) for their “treat” bags.
And all wrapped up!

Left-Right – this is a family favourite (we’ve done this at Christmas as a gift exchange with friends) and how I have distributed treat bags lately. Everyone sits in a circle and picks out a wrapped package. The bags are all different, so the kids have nothing to go on but the size/shape of the bag.

Then I start reading a prepared script full of LEFT and RIGHT instructions.

For example, I could write something like: You would be RIGHT if you remembered that Harry Potter LEFT Privet Drive RIGHT when Uncle Vernon opened the door to his room. Whether it was RIGHT of Ron to pull the bars off Harry’s window will be LEFT up to the reader.

Each time the command is given you pass the parcel in the appropriate direction. Whatever parcel you end up with is yours to keep. I LOVE this activity as it combines the fun of a game with the treat bag (which isn’t my favourite thing at a party as they tend to be full of…little plastic junk that gets thrown out; I’d skip treat bags entirely but they seem so ubiquitous, and I try to make them fun and include tangible things the kids will use). This year I spent 5-10 minutes typing up a script about all the girls attending; there were probably 50+ LEFT/RIGHT commands and it was hilarious to watch them scramble to keep up.

Just One – This is a new game in our repertoire. You pick a word (say: birthday) and all but one person writes a one-word descriptor of that word (e.g. celebrate, candle, baby, balloon, party). But if there are repeat clues, they cancel out. So if two people said “candle” it wouldn’t be in play anymore. The one player remaining (who goes to a separate room at the start of the round) comes back and has to guess the word based on the descriptors. I describe this in more detail in an earlier post which discusses my father-in-law’s hilarious use of words such as insular (for island), hosiery (for stocking), and cylindrical (for candle).

Chair surprise – last year I put little star stickers on the bottom of a few plates and chairs. At one point I told people to look under their plates/chairs and the people with the stars won a small prize. This time I actually hide the items on the cross braces of the table.

For any international readers, the silver/gold coin is our Canadian “Toonie” – worth $2

Abby wanted to do some traditional games as well – like Pictionary, Charades, and Twister which they all played independent of me! The older the kids get, the easier the party becomes as they are more self-directed.

I’m not complaining about this development.


The kids usually wake up to a helium balloon with a full-sized chocolate bar tied to the end… except I never got around to it this year and Abby never mentioned my oversight so perhaps that tradition has run its course.

They have also traditionally gotten pancakes in bed, but this year Abby (having a sleepover with one friend after her small party) wanted me to make our Christmas morning Cinnamon Coffee Cake. I was happy to oblige.


We’re pretty practical here. I try to get something they want, something they need, and a treat of some sort.

We’ve given both kids desks for their birthdays. Two years ago Abby wanted Blundstones. We buy 90% of the kids clothes second-hand, but these shoes have been worth every penny. And, guess what her big present was this year – another set of Blundstones.

Something she wanted was a hamster wheel (found new with tags at a thrift store for several dollars) as she is set to get a hamster – though the hamster is unrelated to her birthday.

Her treat was a small block of Kerrygold Dubliner cheese (I hid it in the fridge and wrote a little clue to help her find it). She loves fancy cheese. (I’m pretty sure cheese wouldn’t have been a treat to me a kid – and I would have turned my nose up at anything that didn’t include Cheddar or Mozerella in the tagline – but live and let live.)

Sometimes the gifts become a game, too. When COVID hit right before Abby’s birthday in 2020 and everything was canceled, I opted to wrap 9 gifts (most of them very small) and hid them. She got one new clue each hour for 9 hours. Again, most things were tiny like a notebook or new set of pencils or a package of gum but ANYTHING is more fun when it involves clues.


Balloons and the gifts for Left/Right at this year’s party. That was literally it. No signs or banners or tableclothes.

I don’t do ’em. I even forgot to blow up balloons for Levi’s party in November (but one of his friends actually used balloons to cover up his gift instead of tissue paper and saved the day).

One last memory to share: when COVID hit right before Abby’s 9th birthday, everything was canceled, so I tried extra hard to make it a special day in the middle of scary, uncertain days. One of the highlights was when our neighbour texted John a picture of this snowman he had made on his back deck. When we went over to take a picture in front of the snowman he passed Abby some chocolates out through a window. It was a crazy time, but that snowman was such a bright point while navigating a birthday at the start of pandemic life.

And that’s a wrap on parties at the Frost Ranch. Maybe this sounds pretty lame – or, maybe it sounds like I am a party-planner extraordinaire.

I want the kids to have a fun time, so I do put a certain amount of effort into the events, but I’m always relieved when parties are over. That said, I will admit I find them a lot less anxiety-producing as the kids get older. My kids + their guests are so much more independent and their parents don’t hang around anymore either which I always found awkward and stressful.

Maybe I’m also realizing just because it’s relatively simple doesn’t mean it can’t be fun!

Your turn. Do you like to plan parties? Any great ideas for simple games or other ways to make these events extra memorable?

Header photo by Lidya Nada on Unsplash

Why Am I Rushing? This Is My Favourite Part…

A few weeks ago I carved out time to work on some blog posts before supper. The kids were occupied and I had tackled all my pressing to-do’s for the day.

I love showing up here; I enjoy working through my ideas over time and slowly seeing them take shape on the screen in front of me.

I also love taking pictures. And while I post lots of personal photography on the blog, I also enjoy time spent browsing the free stock options on Unsplash – there are so many beautiful and inspiring (and funny) photos. I find the whole experience relaxing and part of the fun of blogging.

On this particular evening, I was looking to complete a post and all that remained was finding a header photo. It was a tricky one to figure out – usually I have a specific search string in mind, but this time I was stymied.

After a few minutes of coming up empty-handed, I started to feel a familiar sense of panic.

You’re wasting time, Elisabeth.

Just pick something and move on.

This is taking too long.

I entertained this voice for a few minutes before I gave my shoulders a proverbial shake and asked myself: “Why am I rushing this? It’s my favourite part!

I liked what I was doing, I just didn’t think it was an efficient use of time.

So I took a deep breath, tried more search strings, browsed more pictures and – from what I remember – found something that was suitable and moved on.

I repeat the same behaviours when copying quotes out of books – I often rush the typing process or won’t allow myself the luxury of re-reading sections of the book that surround the highlighted quote. Why? This is my favourite part!

I’ve been known to do this at bedtime (let’s rush through these picture books, let’s rush through these snuggles), mealtimes (let’s hurry up and eat), and while out on adventures (stop dawdling, let’s get to the park so we can have fun).

Which means I’m missing out on savouring some of my “favourite” parts of life.

Why not enjoy the meal I lovingly prepared? Why not re-read the section of the book that captured my imagination or made me think so deeply? Why not snuggle in close and talk about the day with the kids?

I don’t have a good answer. Sometimes life is busy and things have to be rushed. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense to stop and smell the roses – proverbially or literally. But most of the time I’ve arranged things such that I have enough margin in my days to enjoy things a little bit longer, without the anxiety that comes from rushing.

P.S. Don’t Quote Me: What Am I Saving My Energy For?

P.P.S. In Praise of Dawdling (Now There’s a Word You Don’t Hear Everyday)

Do you ever find yourself rushing through something you enjoy, simply because it seems inefficient (or for some other inexplicable reason)?

Header photo by Andrew Draper on Unsplash

Casual Friday + A Nature Highlight Reel

Time is funny, isn’t it? Some days seem to last forever and yet, in the blink of an eye, your firstborn wakes up one morning as an 11-year-old when you could swear – just yesterday – they were a colicky newborn.

It’s Friday – at the end of a busy week – with a little birthday party scheduled for later today. But first, a recap of the week that was…


I spotted another (different!) knitter in church on Sunday on the other side of the (huge!) room. This knitter was working on a very large and very colourful blanket or scarf.

The kids had a sleepover on Saturday night and I heard their conversation go late into the evening. I thought one child was making up an “audiobook” for the other – they do this and have actually said “I need to finish this chapter“…about a story they’re making up on the fly. The next day I asked what they’d been talking about and one child said: “We were talking about life.” My kids are old enough to “talk about life?” What happened to discussing plot twists from the latest episode of Paw Patrol?

I was at the grocery store and the elderly lady behind me in line had one item. A box of Fruit Loops. Maybe she was buying this for a grandchild (or, more likely, a great-grandchild). Something about seeing someone so old go through the checkout with ONE ITEM and that ONE ITEM be a classic children’s cereal made me smile. I wouldn’t have batted an eye at Cornflakes, but will admit I never saw the FruitLoops thing coming.



Waffles (last Friday because it was Friday and that means it’s Waffle Day + Wednesday, just because) loaded with peanut butter and fruit and Greek yogurt and chocolate chips and HOMEMADE MAPLE SYRUP.

This stuff is the best. I boiled it down a bit too long, so it’s actually the consistency of thick honey, but that also means it’s even sweeter than typical syrup and is basically joy in a bottle. Joy that we captured from a tree with some tools and our own hands. My mind is still slightly blown. I suspect this is how gardeners feel? But, with two brown thumbs, I’ll stick to 250 ml of maple syrup and call it a day. Using this maple syrup has definitely been a treat.

I am also eating a lot fewer carbs/sugar as I hang out in detox mode after March Break. It feels good to understand there are times for “feasting and fasting” and to recognize both states can be healthy and enjoyable.

Lettuce, coleslaw, hard-boiled egg, feta, snap peas, pumpkin seeds, green pepper, tomato, 1 diced fig, grilled chicken


After 5 years spent managing a project for which I felt completely out of my depth, I have officially handed over the reins to a colleague.

It feels…amazing. I don’t think I recognized how much this constant low-level stress impacted me. In terms of the sheer volume of working hours, the project didn’t end up demanding much time, but it was an ever-present source of low-level anxiety and I felt obligated to deal with “emergencies” immediately (at which point the project became a source of high-level anxiety), which could happen at any time (24/7/365).

In another role, I am…not sure exactly. I don’t think it’s imposter syndrome? Maybe a bit? Or perhaps it’s the unshakeable sense I’m treading water? Everything is fine, but I’d like to have the sense that it’s great and I don’t know if that’s even possible? I’m still working through that mentally and practically.

There wasn’t much time for reflection, though, as this was a very, very busy week. I felt like I was juggling things adequately, but also that one more e-mail full of action items would be enough to send everything crashing to the ground. Most items are of the rubber-ball variety, but still. I made a big colour-coded work chart to organize all my to-do’s and am working through that systematically, which helps. I learned two big tasks that I thought were someone else’s responsibility are actually mine…so I’m now starting work on them much later than I would have had I known they were on my plate. C’est la vie.

But just a few more hours to go before the weekend, and while I did some evening work this week, I will remain absolutely rigid about staying offline (for work purposes) all weekend.


I have mixed feelings about Jennie Allen. I read her book Restless years ago and LOVED it. Every book since has left me feeling “Meh“. I think that while some (much!) of the content in her books is great, I just don’t relate to her personally? A friend contacted me asking if I would be willing to do a deep dive into the book with a few other local friends. I have never belonged to a book club (which this is not, really), but I graciously declined. She persisted, I said I’d think about it, and the next day she managed to get a book into my hands and that settled it!

Something about how Allen relates her experiences seems foreign to me (talking about searching for friends that will show up randomly with pizzas or arrive early to help prep dinner – this is not my introverted thing). BUT she had some great points in the book; we’ve lost the village mentality which, frankly, is how we were designed to operate. In a world that often promotes individualism, we all end up on the losing end. We crave – and need – friendships and connection. Amen. So I like the message, but don’t always completely align with the extroverted come-over-anytime messenger. A few quotes…

A village of people meeting different needs and loving you in different ways provides a fuller, richer way to live…You just have to spot what gifts they bring to your life and also own the role you play for others. What do you bring to your friendships?

We have no use for empty platitudes. It’s the “I know you and I love you” that we crave. [This reminds me of my Valentine’s Day post!]

We carry weighty purpose into every interaction we have, and every human carries in them a weight of glory. When we understand this idea, we love differently.

As long as we are on this earth, we will ache for something bigger, because we were designed for something bigger – something better. We are designed for an intimate relationship with God forever.

Into the Wild. This is a divisive book (and topic). Some people consider Chris Mccandless (and Jon Krauker) to be heroes; others view them as ignorant. I thought it was an interesting, well-written book and felt sorry for Chris and how the story played out.

Keep Moving by Maggie Smith was a recommendation from Nicole. It was a refreshing mix of affirmations and kick-in-the-butt motivation delivered in bite-sized chunks. I used an shocking number of sticky tabs to highlight favourite quotes. I was going to post some of them here today…but there were too many so I’ve decided to dedicate a whole post to this book (currently tied with Matt Haig’s Notes on a Nervous Planet as my favourite books of 2022).

The Circus Ship is an old favourite (oddly enough our library system doesn’t have a copy so I got this via interlibrary loan). I didn’t actually read the Colors of Habitats (the kids looked at it solo) as it’s just labeled pictures – but if you have a child that is into animals the illustrations are absolutely gorgeous! And while the Goldilocks book wasn’t unique in any way, we just all seemed to like the illustrations and pacing of the book.

WATCHING | Everything we’ve watched over the last month or two has had a similar (and not necessarily uplifting) theme.

Inventing Anna. B- for the acting; that might actually be a generous grade as I found almost all of the acting stilted and subpar. A for the craziness of the story; I really want to watch a documentary about this story. F- for the amount of gratuitous swearing (I don’t care how much her lawyer swore in real life, it felt forced, completely unnecessary, and detracted from the quality of the show).

Bad Vegan. What a crazy story.

The Dropout. The story of Elizabeth Holmes is mesmerizing and infuriating. I read Bad Blood a few years ago. While I had a hard time getting into the book, I thought this miniseries was very well done. Having co-founded/worked in startups for almost a decade now, it also just felt very relatable (not the bits about defrauding investors, being mean to employees, and overt lies…but understanding the time, effort, and occasional foray into smoke and mirrors required to build a successful business).

When you pull in the fact we recently watched The Tinder Swindler, if this was the only media I ever consumed I would surmise two things: 1) I need to assume EVERYONE is a liar, and 2) For the love of everything NEVER SEND ANYONE A BANK WIRE. Never, never, never. The number of bank wires in these shows is dizzying.

Spiderman: No Way Home. I found this to be a solid superhero movie (and have to admit the unexpected throwback to Tobey Maguire (who was Spiderman when I was in high school) was a fun blast-from-the-past. But…the general storyline struck me as tragically avoidable and the scene with Marissa Tomei/Aunt May was heartbreaking.

We continue to sloowwwllly watch the Beatles documentary Get Back. Such a slow burn (and it’s sad in its own way because of what was ahead for the band members), but I’ve really enjoyed this. We were listening to the Let It Be album the other day and I heard George Harrison ask for cauliflower with cheese sauce (the songs were recorded live) and we had JUST watched that exact scene on video the day before. If you like the Beatles and behind-the-scenes footage, I highly recommend.

nature’s highlight reel

Too often I forget to appreciate that God has created such a beautiful world. I’m thankful I have eyes to see, ears to hear, and a nose to smell because there is just so much beauty out there!

I’ve been listening to Alice Griffin’s Dream Into Spring series; one day she mentioned “collecting Earth’s jewels“. But you have to have your eyes open to see them, first!

I think kids help immensely with this. They were quick to spot an ENORMOUS pile of snow on a back-woods trail (it must be a dumping ground for a local municipality). These pictures do not capture the true scale of this pile; we only let them climb the short side – further away was a sheer drop that was at least twice the height of the smaller side they climbed.

One the same walk, I spotted a perfect “Y” – we have all sorts of pictures of sticks like this over the years (lots of “A’s” surprisingly enough). I also spotted a distinctive heart shape in some branches outside our window and now I can’t “unsee” it, which is lovely!

On our Thursday morning walk to school, within 2 minutes of leaving our house, we saw a male cardinal singing at the top of a tree, 4 bluejays, and 4 Canadian Geese. We listened, we looked up, we noticed! It takes the noticing bit – and if we allow ourselves to notice, there is just so much to see!

The old traintracks downtown
Morning commute to school
Note the SHORT sleeves. We had a few days of this and then went right back to windchill warnings. Sigh.

One last nature jewel – my (almost) birthday girl in a flashback to our time spent in the woods.

How was your week? Are you a nature-lover? If so, what “jewels” have you spotted lately? Anyone else celebrating a birthday (I know Jenny did; feel free to pop over and say hello!)?

Header photo by Isabella and Zsa Fischer on Unsplash