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

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.

PARTY SIZE

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?”

location

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.

food

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).

games

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.

traditions

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.

gifts

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.

decorations

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

What Love Looks Like To Me (Spoiler Alert: It Involves Ugly Crying, No Makeup, and Some Vomit)

Years ago, before we were married, John and I met a lovely middle-aged couple. Let’s call them Hank and Ethel (chances are the real couple will never happen upon this blog post…but just in case).

Ethel told us, very casually over supper one evening, that Hank had never seen her without makeup.

Ever.

Um. What now?

Hank would go to bed, turn out the lights, and then Ethel would remove her makeup and crawl in next to him in the dark. The next morning she’d get up before he started stirring – in the dark – to make sure her makeup was in place for the day.

Ethel also birthed four children over the course of their marriage and when her due dates started getting closer, she would simply put on a fresh layer of makeup at night, choosing to sleep with foundation, mascara and eye shadow all neatly in place (the latter being a beauty product I don’t even own!), rather than risk being seen au natural.

Feminists are shuddering in horror but Hank and Ethel had a very happy and contented marriage. Really. Ethel felt most comfortable being seen in makeup – even around her husband – and they simply did what worked for them. It takes all kinds.

But can I just say, I’m so glad I’m married to someone who has seen me at my absolute worst. Over and over and over again.

And he loves me all the more for it.


He always tries to make me laugh and see the lighter side of life, but can also sense when I simply need a shoulder to cry on. And I don’t mean delicate sniffling while clutching my homemade lace handkerchief (an impossibility since I neither do handwork nor do I own a single handkerchief, lacey or otherwise). I mean full-blown guttural ugly-crying guaranteed to leave giant streaks of snot over his shoulder. The kind of sobs that wrack the body from toe to top.

When we learned our unborn baby might be born with severe health challenges, he rocked me time and time again as I cried (daily) during the ensuing stressful months. When our baby was born – miraculously – healthy, he held me as I cried tears of relief and guilt. When I couldn’t nurse our babies (as I so desperately longed to do), he saw my tear-streaked cheeks and my self-perceived “broken” body and loved me more, pulling me close before heading off to heat up a bottle of formula. (Side observation: I do cry a lot.)

Even before those babies came along, when I was in the throes of morning sickness, he would sit beside me as I cradled the toilet. He’d bring cool cloths for my forehead and rub my back as I hurled blueberry muffins after an ill-timed back-road car ride.

That takes love, folks.

In the hospital when I was hooked up to catheters and begging for laxatives (childbirth is a miracle, but it was also incredibly traumatizing and decidedly unnatural for me), he brought glass after glass of ice water.

I’m also now realizing I’ve mostly listed ways motherhood has made me cry and/or vomit (sorry kids; I love you, but I’ve also cried buckets over you). In reality, he’s been there for everything else, too.

He sees me in every state of disarray (see discussion of catheters, vomit, and laxatives above) and isn’t phased in the slightest. He knows how selfish and irrational I can be; he tolerates nitpicking and complaining and my endlessly cold feet and hands (for which he patiently warms up Magic Bags night after night after night). I think it likely goes without saying that he routinely sees me with no makeup.

He knows me and he loves me. And the combination is crucial.


I know people for whom Valentine’s Day is unspeakably hard. People who are widowed or separated or involuntarily single. People who have – or are – struggling with miscarriage or infertility. People grieving the recent death of a parent or friend or child. And I want to acknowledge that Valentine’s Day – like any other major celebration – can represent the hardest of hard days on the calendar.

If you’re reading this today from a place of hurt or loss or grief, I’m so sorry. Life is hard and things don’t always work out the way we’d choose if we got to script our story.

And for this reason, I almost didn’t post anything about love. But then I remembered something I read several years ago:

Don’t take what you have for granted – celebrate it. Don’t apologize for what you have. Be grateful for it and share your gratitude with others. Are your parents healthy? Be thrilled. Let them know how much they mean to you. When you honour what you have, you’re honouring what I’ve lost.

Brené Brown

So today I want to celebrate my husband, especially, but also my children and parents and siblings and friends. For the people who love me and who accept me – flawed as I am. With or without makeup, laughing or crying.

I am grateful for what I have and I hope wherever you are today – whether this is a season of loss and grief or one filled with hope and joy – that you have a chance to pause, reflect, and celebrate the love in your life.

I’ll leave you with a few of my favourite quotes about love and relationships:

The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image. If in loving them we do not love what they are but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them. Thomas Merton

Friendship is born at the moment when one person says to another: “What? You too? I thought I was the only one.” C. S. Lewis

Friendship is the jelly in the sandwich of marriage. It holds you together on the days when life pulls the plate out from under you. Darlene Schacht

Being in a long marriage is a little bit like that nice cup of coffee every morning. I might have it every day, but I still enjoy it. Stephen Gaines

Love is what makes two people sit in the middle of a bench, even if there is plenty of room at both ends. Unknown

Friends are better than money. Almost anything money can do, friends can do better. In so many ways a friend with a boat is better than owning a boat. Kevin Kelly (*Sadly, we have yet to befriend anyone locally who owns a boat, but we do have a friend/neighbour with a pool, and I can attest to the fact it is way better than owning our own pool.)

When, over the years, someone has seen you at your worst and knows you with all your strengths and flaws, yet commits him– or herself- to you wholly, it is a consummate experience. To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. Timothy Keller

If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day, so I never have to live without you. Winnie–the–Pooh (A. A. Milne)


To my tribe of friends, my little family crew, and especially to John – from the tips of my toes to the top of my head, I love you.

I can almost guarantee there was a potty joke immediately before this shot as it is the only way both kids would simultaneously be so jolly. Sad but true.

PS. He even finds my perpetual head-tilting in pictures…endearing. Good thing as there is a pronounced head tilt in. every. picture.

Header photo by Jeremy Bezanger on Unsplash

Casual Friday + Sometimes You Leave The Party Early (and Sometimes You Stay).

  • Not for the first time during this pandemic, I wanted to “eat” my feelings this week. So I ate two cookies and didn’t feel even a smidge better. Not having learned my lesson, that same day I also had a bowl of granola after supper. With chocolate chips (and pumpkin seeds and oat milk so it wasn’t too crazy). But still. Sigh. It was a good week in many ways, but also tough in lots of others – that familiar roller coaster that just seems to be unavoidable during global upheaval.
  • Tuesday morning was…okay. I had been dreading the first day back to work, but tried to ease into it. One of the best things about Christmas break is the fact that so much of the world is on vacation. Unlike the summer, or any other major holiday in the West, when we get back from vacation there isn’t an obscene backlog of e-mails that threatens to undo any relaxation carried over from the time off. So on Tuesday morning I left John to feed the kids breakfast and retreated to the office with some very hot tea, popped in my noise-cancelling headphones and got to work. There was some inertia, but I got things done and am slowly feeling work brain cells reorienting for the tasks ahead. I had a moment of temporary panic one afternoon thinking I had sent something (time-sensitive) to the finance department dated January 4, 2021 and was shocked to discover that I had, in fact, labelled the date correctly as January 4, 2022. It’s the little things that brighten our days…like being an adult that manages to get the date right.
  • The kids were supposed to start school this Tuesday; that was postponed to Thursday and, on Wednesday, we received news that the first week (at least) will be online. I wanted to…I’m not sure? I didn’t feel like crying (but a few hot tears did quietly squeeze out at one point) and knew cookies wouldn’t fix anything. I just felt helpless. It was so, so hard to watch Levi struggle with online learning last year, especially because he THRIVES in school. Academically he’s strong and will be fine in the long run, but it just crushed his sweet little spirit to stare at a buffering screen with a whole bunch of primary students all trying to talk at once. I’m trying to be optimistic – a different class with older students and I know how to advocate better. Last year was tough, but it still felt…hopeful. Like: “If we can make it through this final slog with online learning, everyone will be vaccinated and then…then things will start getting back to normal!” I am so, so thankful we had the whole fall with such miniscule case numbers in our area (and that schools stayed open), but it still feels…deflating to be at this point nearly two years in. I know everyone else is tired too and so many have more dire challenges and pressures than I’m facing, so I’ll end my rant there…
  • We did a fun woods walk; I have been trying to fit in at least 1 km of walking each day. The kids weren’t overly enthused to join me (it was -15 or so with the windchill), but we trekked through the woods and came to a giant puddle that had frozen over. They sourced some rocks and sticks and went to work as human zamboni’s, clearing off bumps and pebbles while I – literally – walked circles around them to get my 1 km in; we all came home cold, but satisfied with the outing.
  • I finished reading Joyful by Ingrid Fetell Lee the other day; I tend toward minimalism and in terms of design asethetics gravitate toward white, black, and gray – which definitely doesn’t fit her brief. So imagine my surprise when a pair of BRIGHT purple Crocs showed up at our door on Wednesday morning. A belated Christmas gift from my husband (back-ordered because of the colour). I have been stealing his Crocs for years, prefering them to my own indoor footwear and had actually added “a pair of Crocs” to my suggestion list for him to gift me next Christmas. I would never have thought to order Crocs in a bright colour, but they make me doubly happy: first because of the pop of colour (which will admittedly clash with just about everything I wear) and, second, because my husband was so thoughtful, yet again.

on leaving the party

Not too long after my 17th birthday, I left home for university. The apartment we were considering fell through and my parents, rightly so, were feeling rather apprehensive about where their 17-year-old would end up. And that’s how I found myself boarding with Dorthy – Dot to her friends – an 85-year-old spitfire.

When I met Dot for the first time, in her sitting room covered wall-to-wall with brown shag carpet, I wanted to run in the opposite direction. She had this nervous habit of tugging at her earrings which I found unnerving; she was old and had lots of wrinkles and, the icing on the cake, she didn’t seem to like me (“I never take freshmen” she told my parents).

There was also a lot of shag carpeting.

But she did take me, and it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Things got off to a rough start; I moved in when she was away on vacation and ended up flooding the bathroom the night before an entrance exam, which culminated in me leaving the house an absolute mess. Of course, just like a scene pulled straight from the movies, I came home that night to find the house lit up, the dirty dishes washed, the clothes I had left strewn in the bathroom neatly folded on my bed.

Dot had come home early. Whomp, whomp.

We made amends – she got the issue with the plumbing fixed and I did oodles of dishes. I ended up living with Dot for four years – she threw me a graduation party, came to my wedding, and we wrote monthly letters to each other once I was married and left the province. One of the saddest days of my life was learning that she had passed away.

Dot made my meals and washed my clothes and left the light on for me when I got home late from studying at the library. Dot was like a grandmother – the cool kind that knows how to prepare fancy cocktails and belongs to birthday clubs and plays bridge and drinks gin with a whole houseful of guests before heading out to Thursday-night film club.

I’ll never forget when Dot, who definitely had some stories to share, told me how important it was to “Always leave a party before you’re ready.


How many times have the kids begged for five more minutes at the end of a perfect playdate and then it ends in meltdowns – with tears and toys flying through the air and loud pronouncements of “I’m never going to play with so-and-so EVER again.

We went outdoor skating on the pond again this week; we had a time crunch and I knew our window of opportunity was small. By the time everyone was geared up, we had less than an hour on the ice. There were collective groans as I lined everyone (I had 4 kids with me) up for the 10-minute debacle that is removing skates in the cold on the side of a pond and everyone agreed it was completely unfair we had to leave so quickly and how could I possibly perpetuate this injustice.

In other words – we left the party early. Everyone was happy with the adventure (and mildly upset with me); the timing was perfect.


And other times, the party ends at midnight, but you stay until the sun comes up (this is all proverbial because I neither party nor stay up all night – as you can tell from my 10:15 pm bedtime on NEW YEAR’S EVE, the one night of the year everyone seems to stay up late).

This week I took one last, long drink of holiday cheer. I have never, ever allowed myself to revel in the Christmas decor and music this far past Christmas. I just found December 25th crept up so quickly and then was over in a flash. I was tired from the year – the renovations, COVID, insomnia, company, parenting, cooking, COVID, work, life, health challenges, COVID.

Monday night I asked John if he would indulge me in playing one last Christmas record. I sprawled on the couch and listened to the scratching melody of Aretha Franklin belting out Kissing Under the Mistletoe, and I decided I was going to stay at this party until sunrise.

Because I’m an adult. I can give myself permission to leave our Christmas tree up even though I see a new green bundle at the end of neighbouring driveways every day.

I grabbed a blanket and some magic bags and snuggled in to finish reading Joyful. At one point I took my glasses off and just stared at the tree. The whole scene was very hygge.

Qualifying fact: I am nearsighted. Very nearsighted. So when I take my glasses off the lights all blur and then – and I wasn’t expecting this, or perhaps it has just been so long since I’ve indulged in this activity that I had forgotten – the lights started dancing.

Years ago I had to do a botany lab exam and at one station you’d sit at a microscope with a sample of pond water and have to identify and draw various diatoms; they looked like little diamonds skittering across the viewfinder. If I hadn’t been slightly terrified of the lab instructor, it would have been an almost pleasant experience.

And that’s just what the lights looked like. Tiny glittering orbs with flecks that danced in all directions. Trust me when I say this description does not do the scene justice. So, if you have vision issues like me, do yourself a favour and plug in a string of mini-lights, take off your glasses/out your contacts, stand back and prepare for a bit of holiday magic.

Because my iPhone DOES have 20/20 capabilities, I can’t actually reproduce the magic my vision-compromised eyes could see…

Ingrid Fetell Lee talks about “joyfinding” – looking with purpose to find things that add whimsy and joy to our lives.

Some of my JOYFINDING this week:

  • Seeing a friend’s baby. She’s starting to smile and babble (and, surely pure joy to my friend, finally sleeping through the night) – the time is flying.
  • Watching the kids play on a puddle of ice in the woods. So carefree, a snapshot of life where the tentacles of COVID couldn’t touch us.
  • Purple Crocs.
  • My very own botany lab – Christmas diatoms in my living room.

Christmas Debrief: Why I Track What Works (and What Doesn’t)

A few years ago, after stumbling through a recipe I knew I had tweaked to perfection (but those tweaks, of course, I had neglected to record – argh), I started doing a Christmas debrief.

Here’s what I do:

At the end of December, I turn to a back page in my yearly planner and write out details about what worked at Christmas – and what didn’t. For example, in my 2021 planner I added this note: “Skip the egg nog. No one really likes it.” This year in the grocery store I didn’t even hesitate at the egg nog display. If I hadn’t made that note, I almost certainly would have grabbed a carton but, because of my debrief notes from the previous year, I knew better.


I write down how many pats of cream cheese I used for the cheesecake (really, I should record this on the actual recipe in my binder!), what meals we ate and when. Having the menu plan from 2020 was so helpful as a guide this year; Christmas 2020 was the first time I delayed our turkey dinner to Boxing Day and it was such a huge success that I didn’t think twice about following the exact same menu (recorded in my planner) in the leadup to Christmas.

I write down when we put up certain decorations (“Put the downstairs tree up before Levi’s birthday“), favourite Christmas albums (though I had forgotten how wonderful Ingrid Michaelson’s Songs for the Season album was, I don’t need a note to remind me that White Christmas by Living Strings & Living Voices will forever be my favourite Christmas album – I’ve listened to this music every year since I was born).

I keep a running list of gift ideas throughout the year, but specifics about our Christmas traditions and routines really need to be recorded when the memory is still fresh.


It’s impossible to perfectly recreate the “ideal” Christmas – life happens, to which I can well attest having spent 3 out of 4 Christmas Eves in the emergency room with one (or more) sick family members. But knowing what has worked can go a long way in helping Christmas function smoothly.

This year I knew to stuff stockings after the kids went to bed (one year we let Abby help and it just wasn’t as magical, even though she begs to be included in this event and neither kid believes in Santa). I knew to watch the old animated Grinch on Christmas Eve before church, to listen to Gretchen Rubin’s audio version of A Christmas Carol, and that I really should buy two bags of shrimp for the Seafood Casserole/Curried Rice.

I’ve already set aside a page in the back of my 2022 planner for Christmas – it includes new observations from this holiday season:

  • my favourite wrapping paper (from Coles) always sells out before Boxing Day sales, so I need to go in the week before Christmas and get a few rolls at the 40% off discount.
  • dipping my homemade peanut butter balls is too much work – better to just spoon a bit of melted chocolate over the top (pictured above; they look fine and it is a fraction of the mess and work).
  • I love Stash Holiday Chai (with Jamican Rum flavouring) and should buy some when I see it in stores.
  • It’s A Wonderful Life is a great movie and we should start watching it annually as a family.
  • the kids actually love my Mom’s brown sugar fudge (I told her not to bring much because I thought I would be the only one eating it – boy was I wrong), and she doesn’t need to bring many cookies (cookies just aren’t what people want to reach for when all the other unique festive goodies are on offer).
  • everyone loves saltine toffee; I haven’t made any in several years but our neighbour gifted us a tin of it and it was a hot commodity, so I really should make a batch next year since it was such a hit.
  • the street address of the new light display we discovered this Christmas (set to music; you tune in to a local radio frequency and the lights keep time with whatever Christmas song is playing – the kids LOVED this).
  • we need a 6.5-7 ft Christmas tree + get them to trim the base and top ON SITE! After a year of trimming down the tree at home three times to get it to fit (and leaving green marks all over our white ceiling, I have learned my lesson – measure the ceiling height before picking out a tree).
  • it’s okay to let Levi watch something Christmas morning so the adults can linger over gifts a bit longer (this year it was soccer highlights and he was happy as a clam).

Nothing profound, just little hacks, reminders, and other prompts to make Christmas less stressful, more memorable and – when music-timed light displays are involved – more festive.

What about you? Do you ever do a holiday debrief, listing what does/doesn’t work? Are you a “yes” or “no” to egg nog?

Header photo by Jess Bailey on Unsplash

Casual Friday + Life Lately

  • Christmas officially feels over. I usually have a bit of a post-Christmas slump, but this year I feel like I actually had the slump over Christmas. I was so tired and even though all the food and gifts came together, I was just so worn down from COVID and renovations and the preparations for company/hosting. Slowly, this last week, I feel the tension dissipating and I’ve allowed myself to indulge in festive things (somehow I always feel guilty listening to Christmas music or watching holiday movies after Christmas is over, but I’m pushing through the guilt/weirdness and doing it anyway)!
  • I looked back over my Christmas cards and removed the fronts to use for Christmas tags next year (pictured above, I spy my SecretSanta card from Nicole). It was fun to reminice about all the greetings from friends and family…and also to repurpose the Christmas cheer for next year.
  • After weeks of company, last night we enjoyed our first in-home date-night in a long time. Take-out sushi for the win.
A Royal Queen’s Christmas, per my father’s request. Ice Sculpture Christmas (from 2015 I think?) is still my favourite.
  • I have definitely had my fill of Hallmark movies for the season. I was feeling a bit cheated not seeing many before Christmas, but I think I’ve met my quota by watching one each evening with my parents (and sometimes a bonus one in the afternoon with the kiddos). Even more delightful has been watching old Christmas/New Year’s Great British Baking Show episodes each night before bed. Seeing contestents make edible snowglobes and mulled wine cakes is just pure fun.
I’m not sure if this picture does justice to how much space there was for skating! Why did it take me 14 years to make the trek?
  • I took the kids skating this week. Levi has been begging to go but I just wasn’t feeling up to wrangling the kids – in masks – to an arena and jumping through all the COVID hoops. But our local reservoir – about 3 minutes from our house – was sufficiently frozen for some outdoor skating (someone monitors the ice thickness and conditions and posts the info to a blog). We ended up spending two hours there and it was great. I invited a friend; she and I got to skate and chat basically nonstop and the kids were contented to skate with their friends. It’s a huge pond and a group of people had shovelled an enormous oval for skating + a few little hockey “rinks” in the centre. To my shame, after almost 14 years of living in Wolfville, this was my first time skating on this pond. It’s a local rite of passage and I have no idea why I waited so long because we had a fantastic time. Although it may have been so fun because both kids are now old enough to skate independently? One family had ordered takeout pizza and was eating it on the retaining wall on the side of the pond. Again, I can’t say enough about our wonderful town and all it has to offer young families!! I wore my heated socks and my feet didn’t feel cold for even a moment. I also had new-to-me skates (someone gave away two free pairs last year where I work that were practically brand new) and they fit about 1000x better than my old skates which I’ve owned for a decade but always pinched me feet and were horrifically uncomfortable!
It’s all ordered and set to be delivered before January 10th.
  • I wrote before how my incredibly thoughtful husband bought me TWO sets of hoop earrings for Christmas so I could cross something off my 22 for 2022 list, and I just scratched out another to-do by ordering my 2021 photobook. I normally wait until the spring to do this (I refuse to order it without a discount code) and I typically don’t even start putting it together until the New Year. But this fall I got an urge to get going on it and knew from last year that Blurb often has a discount code just before the New Year (and then doesn’t have any other discounts for several months). I didn’t want to be sitting on a finished photobook just twiddling my thumbs until a discount came up…so I spent a few hours over the last few days organizing and arranging December photos. What a sense of accomplishment when I clicked “Order” and I now officially have only 20 items left on my list. The bad news? Some of the remaining items are big ones (like getting all the bedrooms painted and demoing our entryway and rebuilding the carport).
  • Speaking of gifts – I forgot to mention one of the best ones. When John and I visited Paris several years ago I bought some canvas bags. One came from Shakespeare and Company; I loved using it, especially to get library books (which felt very appropriate). Somehow I managed to lose the bag and have lamented this on numerous occasions. Somehow John managed to source a similar bag for me, and I was thrilled to try it out on a recent shopping trip.
There were this many lights again to the left and right and then off to the side of the house
  • A friend tipped me off to a new-to-us lights display; it was about 20 minutes away from our house in a little subdivision tucked away, so I would never have “happened” upon it. The whole display was connected to the beat of the music, so tuning the radio to a particular frequency gives you the songs to which the lights are keeping time. I’ve seen similar displays before, but never so close to home and it was the first time the kids had experienced anything like it. It was hilarious to listen to them rank their favourite light displays; they both agreed this had jumped to the top of their list.
  • When my parents pulled out of the driveway yesterday morning, we started tackling the house. About 3 hours later the beds were stripped, laundry was going, the downstairs tree was dismantled and put away, all the toilets and sinks were scrubbed, the garbage was emptied…and the house just generally felt back to normal. It’s hard to say goodbye to Christmas, and I’ve left up the big items on the main floor for a little while longer (tree, swag, and wreaths)…but it also does feel like a fresh start, in a good way.

LIFE LATELY

This post is already mostly just about life lately but…

EATING | Leftovers (turkey filling, peanut butter balls) and take-out sushi

LISTENING | Still Christmas music. And John’s new Dark Side of the Moon record.

So good…

DRINKING | Holiday Chai. With hints of Jamaican rum. So, so delicious.

BUYING | Ornaments (on sale) for next Christmas Eve, and the last box of Holiday Chai at our local health food store!

READING | A book about Christmas long ago. It is cheery and light and cozy – and totally came from the kids picture-book section at the library. I also picked up some library holds: Joyful by Ingrid Fetell Lee followed, ironically, by How to Be Sad by Helen Russell, and How to Break Up With Your Phone by Catherine Price.

EXERCISING | A walk with Abby, a new-to-us woods hike with the family (we’re excited to go back and check out more trails in the summer), and 2 hours of skating.

DREADING | Potential school closures due to COVID, getting back into the work routine, more renovation decisions, and the cold/ice/snow/dark of the next few months.

LOOKING FORWARD TO | Getting back into fun routines (at-home date nights, regular walking), more decluttering/purging in 2022, drinking all that Holiday Chai.

Christmas Roundup: The Culinary Edition

I love food.

I love food in the spring. I love food in the summer (hello local corn on the cob and fresh berries). I love food in the fall. But most of all, I love food at Christmas.

There just isn’t another time of year where I eat all my favourite things in such quick succession. I paced myself and tried to make sure I felt okay physically (not too much dairy, light on the breakfasts) – and it was delicious.

*Please note: the photo above is not from our Christmas dinner; in fact I only have TWO pictures from the entire week of feasting. Food photography is not my forte. I took a picture of the seafood casserole and even though it is objectively one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten, it is white and yellow and looked very unappetizing in photos.

CHRISTMAS EVE…EVE | Seafood casserole, curried rice with shrimp (both out of a Company’s Coming cookbook – talk about a blast from the past) and pecan pie with ice cream. My husband grew up loving this seafood casserole and rice combo, but I only started making it two years ago. It has quickly morphed into a family favourite, and I only make it for his birthday + Christmas, so it definitely feels special. It’s rich and filling and decadent (hello, lobster, scallops and shrimp). Bonus: the leftovers are absolutely fantastic and the adults polished those off on Christmas Eve!

CHRISTMAS EVE | Lunch was our beloved mini donair pizzas. I make the meat and sauce but buy pre-shredded cheese and Naan. Donair is a unique form of spiced ground beef, very popular in Eastern Canada. There are entire restaurants devoted to donairs; the meat is shaved off a giant spit and folded inside soft pitas with onions, fresh tomatoes and a delicious sauce. I make ours in pizza form, topping Naan bread with donair sauce, meat and cheese and broiling them for a few minutes. I served diced fresh tomatoes and fried onions on the side. Dessert at both meals was a smorgasbord of edible delights – my Mom’s sweetened condensed milk squares (AKA 7-layer bars), homemade fudge (brown sugar and chocolate) and homemade peanut butter balls.

Supper was my Mom’s homemade Mac n’ Cheese – the kids favourite meal at Grammie’s house – though the adults enjoyed leftovers of seafood casserole.

CHRISTMAS DAY| Breakfast always, always involves cinnamon coffee cake (monkey bread that I make with fluffy buttermilk biscuit dough) and we had scrambled eggs with bacon.

Lunch was assorted meats, fancy cheeses, crackers, dips, and other cold finger foods. We started doing this last Christmas and I think it will be a tradition moving forward. John has assumed responsibility for this meal and it feels like a nice reprieve on Christmas Day. I grew up always having a huge turkey dinner, but I like being able to relax and put everything on paper plates after the morning chaos and excitement. Dessert was unbaked cherry cheesecake – my absolute favourite dessert.

Supper was meatballs in the slowcooker. Again, this was a new idea from last year. We all love meatballs, and being able to put something in the slowcooker allows us to go off on a Christmas Day adventure (last year to Peggy’s Cove, this year to a local beach). I think, weather permitting, we’ll aim to make this another annual tradition for our family. It’s so nice to get outside and stretch our legs!

BOXING DAY | Turkey, turkey, turkey! Stuffing (StoveTop, because I’m fancy like that), corn, squash, homemade pickled beets, canned cranberry sauce and…of course…unbaked cherry cheesecake.

We ended up having enough cherry cheesecake to each have a wedge one meal per day for almost a week (the kids sometimes opted for cookies – which just meant more cheesecake for me)! I’ve had my fill for the season and won’t have another one until my birthday…but it was so, so delicious.

LEFTOVERS | While there was a lot of cooking up front, we then lived on leftovers for days and my fridge is now almost completely bare. I made a soup with all the leftover turkey and veggies which fed us for two meals + some skillet cornbread; I made turkey filling for sandwiches. We finished up dishes of Mac n’ Cheese, meatballs and rice, and a few remaining donair pizzas. We’ve picked away at the peanut butter balls, cookies and fudge and everything is stashed in the freezer so we can slowly dole out the remaining stash.


I have to say, though there were a lot of decadent treats, overall, I’m happy about how I paced myself this year. For the most part, I didn’t feel overstuffed and would often stick with a single serving of items, not feeling the need to go back for seconds. Some of this might have been related to feeling overtired (so not as hungry), but I did try to be more conscious about what I was reaching for, when, and why. Christmas still felt very indulgent, but not to the point of regret (mostly)!

What about you – any favourite Christmas treats? Do you love leftovers as much as I do? Anyone gearing up for a sugar detox in the New Year?

Header photo by Libby Penner on Unsplash

Christmas 2021 Roundup: The Gifts

Christmas Eve I (momentarily) felt like the biggest hypocrite ever. For all my talk of minimalism, there were a lot of gifts.

Somehow I always seem to forget that gifts trickle in from other sources. A very sweet neighbour, unexpected parcels from one of my sisters (we don’t typically exchange gifts, but she had a way to get them down to us via a friend)…and my mother, bless her, came loaded with stocking stuffers galore.

I’ll admit to feeling a bit overwhelmed, but I DID really stick to my guns in terms of getting things I knew were:

Now that the dust has settled on Christmas 2021 (at least in terms of the presents), I can’t think of much I would have changed!


A few days ago I alluded to the fact our family has some fun ways of prolonging the present-opening experience and wanted to detail those here on the blog.

OUR christmas morning routine

Stockings (homemade by Grammie); we can never fit all the gifts into the stocking, so I put extra/larger stocking stuffers into a festive bag or plastic tote beside the stocking.
  • We bookend breakfast with gifts. Stockings get opened first; because we include a lot of practical things in stockings (socks, pads of paper, coffee filters, shampoo), there is quite a bit to open even if much of it ends up going right into the cupboard (or desk, or shower). While the adults tend to watch what others are opening, there is no restriction on stockings – kids can open gifts as quickly as they want. Since there are always some edible treats included, they tend to slow down once they hit bubble gum or a chocolate bar and take a break for a snack! Hey, it’s Christmas – there’s nothing like chocolate before 9 am once a year.
  • Breakfast comes next; I’ll do a summary of Christmas food in another post, but we always have the same foods on Christmas morning. I bake the cinnamon coffee cake while we open stocking gits, but there tends to be enough buffer before breakfast for me to put away a lot of the stocking stuffers + remove the wrapping debris and organize anything that we’re salvaging for the next year (gift bags, tissue paper, Christmas tins).
  • We label most of the main gifts with Bible verse clues. All credit for this idea goes to close friends of ours who introduced us to this concept years ago. Our very first year as a married couple we went to their house over Christmas and I couldn’t stop laughing when their teenage daughter received some razors which had been labeled with the reference for a verse that said something to the effect of “the rough shall be made smooth.” As an extra layer of hilarity, different Bible translations vary in wording, so it can all get a bit confusing (one year someone gave us a verse that was to say “frost” but the translation we were using said “ice.” Sometimes the verse gives it away, but most of the time it just leaves the recipient stymied. Levi lost interest very quickly (and can’t navigate to find the verses in the Bible anyway), so we let him open gifts without preamble and I eventually set him up watching famous soccer goals on my phone while Abby + the adults enjoyed indulging in the fun. My favourite was the verse I used for John’s Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon record – Ezekiel 32:7b: “I will cover the heavens and make their stars dark; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give its light.”
One of about a dozen layers of boxes/bags/wrapping paper to get to Clue #1
  • I also think we can officially call it an annual tradition of having the kids do a treasure hunt. This year I wrapped the first clue inside about a dozen boxes (so the kids kept opening and opening and opening until they found the clue, a process which built increasing excitement). I hid clues all over the house (and even out in the neighbourhood, inside our mailbox down the street), before they finally found the last clue: “The final clue for you to follow, look behind Godric’s Hollow” – which led them to the downstairs bookshelf, with the wrapped gift behind my boxset of Harry Potter. The gift this year was individual “coupon” books with things like: have a breakfast in bed (not just on your birthday); a trip to a specialty candy store in Halifax (Abby), inviting friends over for supper (Levi), a weeknight sleepover (Levi), and a free pass on emptying the dishwasher (Abby). Last year the clues led them to two sledding saucers; another year it was the booking confirmation for an overnight hotel stay scheduled between Christmas and New Year’s.

gift highlights of 2021

Now on to the gifts. I didn’t take many pictures and I’m too lazy to imbed direct links so this roundup may lack in pizazz, but I thought it would be fun to do a quick run-down of what we gave/received this Christmas. I’ve also tried to make note of the things we sourced second-hand/at the DollarStore.

The whole family received a Crokinole/Backgammon/Checkers board from my parents which has already seen hours of playing fun.

LEVI | After the presents were all opened I asked Levi what his favourite gift was and he didn’t miss a beat with the answer: LEGO! We bought him another Classic Tote and have systematically built each of the design options they suggest within the enclosed booklet. When we’re ready to dismantle those, it will really help boost our existing collection of LEGO building materials. Other favourites included:

  • a new homemade hat (from Grammie)
  • a $25 Amazon gift card
  • a personalized/engraved passenger flight record log book from our neighbour who works for AirCanada (you know, for the day when we can easily get on a plane again?!)
  • Art supplies – presharpened pencils, a binder containing plain white paper, erasers; and from a local thrift store lots of art accessories: a 3-hole-punch, pillow desk, and desk organizer
  • Shrink-art (a big hit!) – DollarStore
  • Soccer-themed mini-gloves – DollarStore
  • A dinosaur fossil kit (he actually received this last year but I had set it aside because it seemed a bit too advanced; I re-wrapped it this year and he LOVED it)
  • A glow-in-the-dark balloon (a neat twist on glow sticks) – DollarStore
  • A flashlight lantern (grandparents)
  • Fruit Loops, Tic Tacs, bubble gum, and a few chocolate bars for the edible treat components
  • A new beach towel because he desperately needed one for our summer adventures (a great Costco find)
  • Lots of socks – all from the DollarStore, the best place to find cotton socks, ironically enough, which the dermatologist recommended

ABBY |

  • Codenames – I’m not a big game person, but this really is a blast to play. We opted for the picture version, but I think I might buy her the original word-based version next year, too?
  • A cozy sweater (thrift store find; she loves it and it is SO soft)
  • A new-to-her FitBit (she got a knock-off last Christmas which broke twice; we finally gave up and sourced her a genuine FitBit off Kijiji for $30, as I’m not quite ready for her to have an Apple product)
  • a personalized/engraved passenger flight record log book from our neighbour who works for AirCanada
  • Personalized calendar with fun pictures from 2021
  • Personalized “Handcrafted by Abby” stickers as she loves to make things + some little plastic baggies to put crafts/candy in to give as gifts
  • The first Mysterious Benedict Society Book
  • Shrink art (big hit) – DollarStore
  • Necklace + socks – from my sister
  • Various art supplies: some plain white paper, new sketching pencils, some sticker art, and some black velvet colouring sheets – DollarStore
  • Reese’s puffs cereal, TicTacs and chocolate
  • Scrunchies – I bought her about 10 (after hearing Ingrid Fetell Lee talk about the pleasure of abundance)…and then my Mom made her about a dozen. So we have an extreme abundance of scrunchies! I bought them for about 3/$1!
  • A BeanieBoo (DollarStore) + some bookbag accessories (Levi picked these out)

JOHN | I had a lot of fun buying for John this year!

  • A canvas tote with his prize-winning cow picture emblazoned on the front
  • A Rubix-cube themed shirt (to commemorate our year of Rubix cubes)
  • Apple Airtags (for locating keys, bookbags etc).
  • Star Wars Lego (the AT-AT set)
  • Socks (including a free replacement pair of DarnTough from a warranty claim)
  • A new baseball hat (local merch from our town)
  • A few bumper stickers/decals (also merch from our beloved town)
  • A bottle of California Reaper peppers (hottest pepper on the Scoville scale)!
  • Dark Side of the Moon record
  • FIVE different types of KitKat bars

ELISABETH|

  • a new Bible
  • a five-year journal
  • three sets of earrings (unkenownst to me, after already buying me my annual set of earrings – remember I’m a huge fan of giving/receiving the same things each year – John read my blog post about having a 2022 goal to buy a set of hoop earrings and went out and bought me two sets of hoops, just so I could cross something off my list! So sweet and the gesture alone made me happy, not to mention I love all the earrings).
  • a canister for storing all my loose tea bags (bonus: it fits perfectly on the shelf where I store tea) – DollarStore
  • Twizzlers and Brooksides and Mars bars…obviously. And yes, I did binge the Twizzlers.
  • A new cooling rack
  • Two gorgeous new serving bowls – DollarStore
  • The All Creatures Great and Small book
  • An adorable Elephant ornament from my father-in-law (technically a joint gift with John, but I’m claiming main dibs on this)!
  • Merino/alpaca wool socks + polypro gloves (bought with a credit from a warranty claim)

PARENTS |

  • A lighter for the wood stove (Dad)
  • Books – most of them free from neighbourhood lending libraries!
  • Non-stick silicone mats (Mom)
  • Jumbo storage bags (Mom) – Ikea
  • Homemade family calendars (my parents + in-laws)
  • Computer speakers (father-in-law) – in-box at thrift store
  • Our favourite shovel (Dad) -bought last March on a clearance sale
  • Candy/chocolate
  • My favourite Columbia socks (father-in-law) – sourced at a huge discount two years ago and stashed away
  • A Ledgle neck-light (Mom)
  • Best Grandpa in the World mug (father-in-law, from Abby)

Phew. A lot of gifts, but most of them were either very practical (clothing, storage for the kitchen) or fueled a passion (art supplies for the kids, LEGO), would be easy to rehome (books), or were consumable (edible treats like cereal, candy, and hot peppers).

What about you. What was your favourite gift to give and receive for Christmas 2021?