Growing up I was always jealous of families that opened gifts on Christmas Eve. My brother-in-law, for instance, was able to pick out one gift to open before bed. As I recall, there were no rules. You could shake. You could squeeze. And yes, you could even pick the biggest box from under the tree. But I had to content myself with sitting around the tree as a family, singing Christmas carols together and shaking the gifts to guess the contents (a scene my husband describes as a ‘Norman Rockwell Christmas’). In short – I had a pretty good life. But I did like to gripe about not being allowed even one present on Christmas Eve.
Though I adored Christmas as a child, and have nothing but fond memories of the experience, one of my favourite realizations as a newlywed was that we had the chance to start our own traditions. Many of them bear a distinct resemblance to traditions from my childhood but with a twist. For example, I grew up with homemade pizza on homemade crust for Christmas Eve supper; now we make donair pizzas on store-bought Naan bread.
But one of my favourite traditions is opening a gift on Christmas Eve. We’ve managed to escape the potential letdown of getting your “big” present before the excitement of Christmas Day. In fact, the kids are giddy with excitement even though they know exactly what they’re getting – a new ornament.
We started this tradition without realizing it. Our first Christmas after getting engaged, I traveled to spend the holiday with John and his family. He was away working when I arrived and had left a welcome package for me, complete with a small Christmas ornament. In honour of our upcoming nuptials, I had purchased him a silver “F” at a local pharmacy. Though we never purposefully set out to do so (or at least I don’t recall a discussion on this topic) we just kept on exchanging ornaments.
And when kids arrived, they joined in the fun.
Some years we put a lot of thought into the ornament. When we visited Australia together I bought an ornament of two koalas in a gumnut tree; the year Abby learned to skate she got a glass figure skater. Last year John got a blown glass sushi roll, another year a surfer mouse (I looked through a dozen at a local store to find the one that looked the happiest – please tell me other people do this too with dolls/ornaments/stuffed animals!?).
Other years, it might not have a sentimental backstory (the house below, Abby’s ornament last year, just looked really sweet and inviting to me – a miniature fairytale Christmas setting).
Years ago my best friend from university got married and one of her wedding gifts was a special box filled with Christmas ornaments. Her grandmother had purchased an ornament for every year she had been alive (completely under the radar, I believe) and presented this as a curated source of ornaments for her first Christmas as a newlywed! I can’t imagine having the patience to maintain a collection like this in secret for several decades (and what happens if grandkids don’t get married? Surely, eventually, you have to give them the ornaments?!).
The math of this tradition is quite daunting. Assuming both children stay home until they are 20, in addition to our already full tree, we are poised to add another 50+ ornaments.
But we’ll make room. We’ll get rid of the old tattered ones, or even the glossy ones that have no character. And someday I’m sure my heart will break – like a few of the ornaments already have – when a box of ornaments leaves my house to go adorn another tree.
But I hope they’ll be happy in their new homes, starting their own traditions, and have nothing but (mostly) happy memories of Christmases past.
Do you have any Christmas Eve gift traditions? Do you collect a new ornament to commemorate special events like a new job or family vacation?
You know how you learn a new word and then see it everywhere? It was like that with Ingrid Fetell Lee this week. I heard her interviewed on an episode of the Best of Both Worlds podcast. I saw her TED Talk. And then I followed a link on a new-to-me blog and was redirected to Ingrid’s post titled: A guide to joyful gift-giving. It lingered in my psyche enough that I went back to re-read it and then decided I had to share it here! Insightful and refreshing and inspiring. An anti-gift guide of sorts (that ends up offering some really great gift suggestions).
#SecretSantaMugSwap2021. What a delighful surprise to receive a package in the mail on Tuesday from Nicole (and so fast). Again, a huge thanks to San for organizing this fun holiday event. I especially loved the tea included some cheeky math. I really did laugh out loud when I saw the line: And yes, it adds to 100%.
Our Christmas cards are officially done. Not only are they done – they’re in the mail. I know it’s early, but as soon as that last stamp was placed, I wanted to get those suckers out the door. There is something immensely satisfying about seeing a finished stack of Christmas cards on the table. #ParentingHack: I had Abby address and stuff most of the cards this year. She loved it, her handwriting is adorable, and it saved me at least an hour of time. Win, win, win.
Lest you think I am a freak of nature, we received our first Christmas card on November 16th. November 16th!!!
I also want to reiterate there are a lot of other things I skip which pave the way for completing this task on an accelerated timeline. I do always get holiday photocards + an update letter out into the world early (which makes sense based on my values and the other related activities – namely photobooks and regular family udpates – I prioritize during the rest of the year). But we do not make gingerbread houses. We don’t visit Santa. We don’t do Elf on the Shelf. Aside from two trees and a mantle swag, we don’t really even decorate that much. (But we do send cards and watch lots of holiday movies – stay tuned for more about both of these topics next week)!
Speaking of the swag…she did it all by herself this year. She waited patiently for me to come upstairs before starting but when I tried to help I got a talking to and was relegated to a perch on the couch to watch. Love the glow!
Most years I make a Holiday Fun List. I keep a hard copy – with completed items crossed out in squiggly lines by the kids – in our Christmas box. It’s fun to look back on different activities we’ve done each year. I can’t decide if I want to take the time to make the list or, more importantly, execute on the items on said list. Also, last year, we had a special advent jar – each child wrote down 24 things they loved/appreciated about their sibling and each morning when they opened their chocolate advent they’d also grab a slip of paper from their Advent jar and get a hit of dopamine from sibling love as well. With less than a week to go I’m not sure if I’m going to move the needle on this in time…it feels a bit stale to re-use the same ideas (who am I kidding, the Holiday List would be the exact same this year), but I’m sure the kids won’t care/remember and would appreciate both. I think I need to Lazy Genius my way through this topic…I’m leaning toward not doing it this year. Time will tell.
The Christmas/winter reading continues. This week it included a new picture book about Anne of Green Gables – very on point since we’re still reading the first Anne of Green Gables book. I have to admit, it didn’t quite capture the magic for me, but the illustrations were delightful.
As part of a promotion through something (I honestly have no idea who/what/when/where/how), John got a big discount on a weeks worth of meal kits. They arrived Monday morning. I have mixed feelings about the kits (we did this once before, early in the pandemic when a friend gave me a code so I got 3 meals for $9.99. For four people. For $9.99 total)! The regular retail price is almost $200, so it’s not something we’ll do regularly. Also, I find the prep/cooking time is basically double what they suggest. Maybe it’s because when I cook my own meals I don’t follow recipes or timing that closely. But every once in a while, this is a lot of fun! Abby was really engaged by the whole experience and was a real help in the kitchen. She loves to cook, but I don’t normally make the time to have her help with main meals. But since we’re kind of on an equal playing field (a new recipe, all the ingredients are right there), it worked out perfectly. So it was a fun week in terms of our culinary experiences. For the meal pictured below she seasoned the orzo, she added the pesto, she stirred in the peas and spinach, she sliced the chicken. And then she rated it an 8/10. Last night, our final meal, was an absolutely delicious Tex-Mex pasta casserole. Levi went back for thirds! The portions are large, too, so we’ve had lots of leftovers which have been amazing for lunches.
It was a mostly fun weekend, punctuated by some very not-so-fun moments because…that’s life.
We started the party on Friday; after school we packed the kids up in the car and whisked them off to the city (what we Nova Scotians affectionately call Halifax, as it is the only real “city” around) for the weekend. Abby had her suspicions, but Levi was none-the-wiser. We told them we were running errands (technically true) and he was elated when we pulled up outside a hotel – our favourite from a few years ago. (I had packed and hidden the suitcases in the trunk before we left).
The experience did not disappoint. But let’s set the stage a bit first for these smiling faces because I went into the evening with pretty low expectations.
Friday had been pretty meh. It was raining – hard – all day. I had an 8:30 am in-person meeting to which I arrived damp. I’m not a fan of rain unless I get to stay inside the whole day.
Then I had to unexpectedly take our car to the mechanic mid-morning (amidst the torrential rain).
Then there was work stress and deadlines for both of us.
And did I mention the rain? That meant that our exterior renovations, delayed for two months and FINALLY started, were halted after about 8 hours of work (they resumed yesterday after a week of near-constant rain or snow and I am beyond excited about this).
Another highlight of the day (read on to sense my tone) included a small temper tantrum that crescendoed to the point a mask was thrown in a puddle when a requested playdate was denied. The conversation went like this:
*Child jumps off school bus*
Child: Can I have a playdate with X. (Obviously not named “X” but I’m not going to start naming my children’s friends on the interwebs).
Me: Not today.
Me: Because we have a fun birthday surprise planned.
Child: What is it?
Me: It’s a surprise so you’ll have to wait and see…but it will be a lot of fun! [Said in my cheeriest tone as I could sense where this conversation was going.]
Response amid full-blown wailing and tears; there may have even been some gnashing of teeth for good measure.
Child: You’ve done this like 16 times. I. HATE. SURPRISES.
How fun and, note to self, 16 surprises is perhaps too many for a 7-year old lifetime…
Then, en route to the city, there was a rough work call that spilled over into the lobby while we were checking in.
I was feeling pretty emotional and low when we arrived and I was dreading having to jump into a cold pool. I am always cold. The only thing worse than being cold is being cold and wet. Cold swimming pools are a special form of torture.
I kid you not, the hotel pool was like a hot tub. I was so deliriously happy about the temperature, it re-set my mood for the next 18 hours. Literally. We went swimming in the soft glow of nighttime pool lights and the kids jumped and splashed and floated. It was blissful.
Then we walked across the parking lot to eat at Wendy’s because that was the birthday-boy request; I have not had a Junior Bacon Cheeseburger in almost two years. It tasted delicious.
Then back to the hotel room for the kids to eat snacks in bed and watch videos while I read an ENTIRE book, No Cure for Being Human by Kate Bowler. Let me repeat that – an entire book!
Saturday morning we did more swimming and then had one of the best hotel breakfasts ever. We loved this hotel for its breakfast the first time we stayed but assumed it would be shut down due to COVID. Not so, friends, not so.
They served people in groups and the food was incredible. The eggs were light and fluffy and seasoned with fresh herbs to perfection. And the pancakes – I am SO picky about my pancakes. Only homemade fluffy ones will do. These were homemade and fluffy. The staff were all so kind and attentive. And when they caught wind it was Levi’s birthday weekend they brought out a slice of cake to the breakfast table (just what he needed at 9 am) with a candle and proceeded to sing Happy Birthday. It was wonderful. We stayed up until the minute of checkout lounging in our enormous room (with vaulted ceilings, a first for me).
And then we trekked to IKEA to get a desk (Levi’s main birthday gift, alongside the hotel adventure) and a few other odds and ends.
Moods frayed after we got home. I prepped birthday food for Sunday. There had been too much sugar and too little sleep at the hotel. There was a meltdown that only LEGO could solve, and even then it was only a partial solution. But we made it through.
Sunday, his actual birthday, was great. Again, I started in a bit of a blue mood. I’m not a big fan of birthday parties but it felt like I was really letting him down this year. Just a few friends. No treat bags. I didn’t even blow up balloons.
We started the day with Baked French Toast – his request, and which I had prepped the night before. After church, we had lunch of meatballs rice and peas (read on to see why this is hilarious). A friend arrived to bring prezzies (as she refers to gifts) – the highlight being a locker/piggy bank that involves both a key AND a combination. Also, she played hide-and-seek for over half an hour while I sat on the couch. So fun. Then three neighbourhood friends arrived.
They played video games for an hour. Then they played soccer in the hallway. I still felt lame. I grabbed a few handfuls of leftover Halloween candy and called Abby upstairs to hide them.
When the boys emerged from the basement, sweating from their soccer game, they asked for Cheezie’s and promptly devoured a bowl. Things were looking brighter. Then they caught wind of the candy hunt, which was a real crowdpleaser. Things were looking even better!
Then we sat around the supper table and ate meatballs, rice, peas, and corn. Yes, my son asked (he didn’t think I’d say yes!) for the SAME meal for lunch and supper on his birthday. So that’s what he got. One visitor ate 10 meatballs and took home a doggy bag. Success.
The cake was delicious (one of those no-flour cakes that has so much butter, eggs, and chocolate that a few bites brings on a sugar coma – thankfully I only make it once a year and it’s a small recipe). We sang Happy Birthday. There were candles on the cake and on the table and it suddenly felt like the perfect birthday in its own imperfect way. It was small and laid-back and everyone just looked so happy (sugar does have that effect).
There were two gift bags to open instead of the usual mound – and they were perfect. One child topped their gift with a bunch of balloons – it’s like they knew I was failing at this birthday thing and wanted to make sure he got balloons. He also got a Star Wars LEGO set and two practical hands-on games (Jenga and a Slinky). And then the kids proceeded to play on the floor in the living room for almost an hour. Laughing and hitting balloons and playing Wink, Murderer and Noodle and Statue and all sorts of other games I don’t really know but that sure seemed to be a lot of fun.
Everyone was sad to go home and it was just…a great birthday. I treasure the memories, but also… birthdays are stressful. I’m glad he’s 7, glad he had fun, and glad to peek my head in the door and see him working on LEGO at his new desk.
Okay, let’s call a spade a spade. I think I have to admit this is a gift guide? Here are some ideas for youngsters – or the young at heart – based on things our family has received and loved.
We tend towards minimalism, so I like to avoid as many “extra” toys as possible. If it’s still around a year after Christmas, this means it found a real place in our lives.
In general, for our household, most gifts involve: sports, games, art, or being cozy. And LEGO. LEGO deserves its own category.
MOVIE TICKETS | Whether this is actual tickets to see something in a theatre or vouchers for a family movie night at home with special snacks (one of the kids favourite things to do), movies are a fun experience-based gift.
SPARKA SOFT BALL | I have a 7-year-old that lives and breathes for soccer. It isn’t much of an exaggeration to say it is almost always on his mind. One of our most-used toys is the IKEA Sparka ball. It’s soft and squishy. It doesn’t hurt if it hits you in the face, but it still rolls pretty well. We have a long enclosed hallway and play soccer here every day. This ball is the only one we let the kids use in the house. *Update: we went to IKEA last weekend and bought 2 more and the kids were elated.
CLEAR CANISTERS | This is a bit of an odd one, but it is a great way to display small toys. We have an assortment of glass canisters and vases (some from the DollarStore and a few salvaged from an abandoned cabin, oddly enough) for Abby to display random marbles, figurines, beads, excess Perler beads, and other colourful stuff that is hard to contain. If I had younger kids I’d opt for plastic!
UNO | I’m not much of a games person, and I’ve cycled my fair share of them out the door to more receptive homes (I’m looking at you Hungry Hungry Hippos). But there are a few games I really enjoy playing. My favourite – UNO. We played hundreds of games of UNO during the first COVID lockdown. Other palatable games: Sorry, Aggravation, Mastermind, and Skip-bo. Shhhh, don’t tell, but a particular girl in our household is getting Codenames under the tree this year, which I also find fun.
BOOKS | I wrote about this earlier in the week, but I tend to be a minimalist in the book department. We are constantly surrounded by books thanks to our weekly treks to the local library, but I’m hesitant to have too many overstaying their welcome. But they do make great gifts. We source most books second-hand, but this year I splurged ($12) and bought a new copy of the first Mysterious Benedict Society Book. Other hits include Harry Potter, the Boxcar Children and lots of the classics like The Wizard of Oz, Heidi, Roald Dahl books, and the Anne of Green Gables series.
CUSTOM CALENDAR | For years I have created a custom calendar for Abby. I go back through our photos and pull the best from each month (e.g. for her birthday month on the calendar I will have pictures from her birthday a year earlier). I always opt for the largest size I can get, and take the time to add in relevant special events (birthdays, anniversaries, holidays). She loves to cross off each day, add her own to-dos, and we keep these in her special “treasures” bin once the year is over since they’re great snapshots – literally (with the pictures) and figuratively (all her handwritten notes) – of years gone by.
PILLOW DESK | This is another item that gets used daily. For reading, writing, or drawing in bed + as a base for the laptop when the kids have sleepovers and we let them watch a movie in bed. *Update: just bought Levi one at a thrift store for Christmas.
LEGO | I don’t know what to say here. It’s LEGO. It’s amazing. The kids love it. I love it (unless I step on a piece in the middle of the night and then I hate it). It’s classic. Find it new. Find it second hand. Just find it. I suppose there are some kids that don’t like LEGO, but I honestly can’t think of any in my kids social circle! It’s a magnet during playdates. There is going to be LEGO under our tree this year, as there always is!
PLAIN WHITE PAPER | Neither child is too fond of colouring, but they both love to create their own works of art. Honestly, a reem of white paper is just the best thing (much cheaper than sketch pads). They use it respectfully (not wastefully), and if they want to store finished work in a binder we just use a 3-hole punch. I haven’t done this yet (I just store a package in my closet to dole out), but I think if I wrapped up a giant pack of printer paper and put it under the tree they would be giddy. *Update: We bought a 3-hole punch at a thrift store so the kids don’t need to use mine in the office – I think they’ll be thrilled to find this under the tree. Sometimes it makes sense to have multiples!
MARKERS | See #9. They both love art. A nice set of markers is a great find. I’ve made the mistake of getting a huge set of markers which = too many choices. Less is more. I actually really like the markers from IKEA and try to have an extra set or two stashed away for when my kids run out or to add to a birthday party gift we might need to source at the last minute.
ROBES | I didn’t have my first robe until I was a teenager, but both kids are die-hard robe fans. Warm, cozy, and a great way to protect school clothes at the breakfast table.
A DESK | Because the kids love to draw and write, having their own desk is a great boost to supporting this passion. Levi actually got his first desk last weekend (our main birthday gift; we got another MICKE from IKEA – it’s $99 and Abby has the same one and has loved it for years). I’m excited to find fewer markers scattered over his bed.
BONUS FAVOURITE THINGS
CEREAL | My kids both love cereal, but I try to steer clear of the super sugary varities. At Christmas they each get one box of whatever sugary delight they want to try. Think Lucky Charms (no one was a fan, but they wanted to try it!) and Tim Horton’s Timbits. This year they’ll find Reese’s Puffs and Fruit Loops under the tree!
SLEDS | This is location specific, but some seasonal activity equipment is a great option. We go through sleds at an alarming rate, so a new sled or saucer is a great Christmas gift.
BALLS | Soccer, basketball, volleyball. It never seems like we can have too many balls.
NOTEBOOKS | Abby is at an age where she loves notebooks and there are always about 30 floating around her room being used for various writing projects. My favourite designation: our notebook for writing notes back-and-forth to each other, which hangs out on her bookshelf when it’s not in circulation. We don’t do it as often as we used to, but it’s so fun to come upstairs in an evening and find this notebook on my pillow with a note about her day (and usually asking when we can schedule a playdate with a friend). It’s also a great way to discuss hard topics, re-affirm love after a tough day of parenting, or share exciting news!
HOTEL ADVENTURE | Our kids LOVE to overnight in the hotel. If you shop sales, it can be very afforable. Plus, my logic includes the fact we always make sure to find a hotel with a pool (worth at least $40) + Continental breakfast (worth $40+), and we make a movie night in the hotel room (another $40+).
LETTER-WRITING KIT | Years ago someone gifted Abby with a letter-writing kit. Inside a small tote they included an address book (with some addresses already entered for family members), stamps, pre-labeled envelopes, stock thank-you cards (where you just had to fill in relevant information), and nice note paper. She still stores all her letter gear in here, and I think it’s a great idea!
AUDIOBOOKS | Our kids LOVE audiobooks. We have an old Android phone we use to download audiobooks; mostly free from Hoopla/Libby, but I have friends that have bought their children special audiobooks “for keeps.”
GIFT CARDS | Perhaps too obvious, but I think that a gift card (with thoughtful intent) can be a great idea for kids. For example, a few years ago someone gifted Abby a $15 card to McDonalds along with a note promising to take her there to spend it. They went and it made for a very special memory. This year we’re gifting Abby a voucher to a local coffee shop so she can take (and pay for) an outing with one of her friends. Whether it’s for the movies, Amazon, a local toy store, or a restaurant – the sky is the limit with gift cards!
What’s the best gift you’ve ever given to a pint-sized person in your life? Any special gifts you remember from your own childhood?
I know it doesn’t need to be completed on any timeline but when the final months of the year start ticking by I get anxious to tackle our annual photobook. I’m now officially done up to October and it feels…great. Most years Blurb has a post-Christmas sale, which I always miss. I would LOVE to order this on New Years Eve (because I’m fun like that). We shall see.
We have some special plans to celebrate a birthday – #7 for a certain little boy in our household! On alternate years our kids get big (8-10ish friends) and small (1-3 friends) parties – this is the year for a “small” party. His request? To invite three neighbourhood friends for video games and cake and supper. So, basically like any other day minus the video games and cake! There is always a contingent of neighbourhood kids floating around our house…and it’s not infrequent someone stays for a meal.
The week involved domino structures. It was a fun activity – sort of. At least 75% of the time I accidently set off my domino arrangement prematurely which Levi found hilarious…and I found shockingly frustrating.
I did not get the downstairs artificial tree up yet. The last few years I’ve aimed to get it up in the family room before Levi’s birthday. I had the time, I just didn’t really feel ready to launch the Christmas decorations hoopla. Renos are finally in full swing (after about a month of delays; we’re just lucky our contractors came as I know many peope couldn’t get supplies or labour this year), and so I think I’m craving all the extra peace, quiet, and calm I can get. Update! The kids and I did this in an unexpected burst of holiday enthusiam. Plan it in and do it anyway, right? And a cheery, twinkly glow is our reward.
Speaking of holiday enthusiasm – I just wrapped up my #SecretSantaMugSwap2021 gift and it’s ready for a trip across the country via Canada Post. A huge shout-out to San for organizing this very fun event.
This week we had homemade chicken noodle soup (delicious), walked to school in winter coats (brrr), read winter-themed picture books (cozy), sourced festive postage stamps for sending out our family photocards (whimsical), and bought pecan pies for Christmas dinner (yum). The holidays are coming, y’all.
My oldest sister is currently en route to Ironman Cozumel. She will swim 3.8 km, she will bike 180 km, and then she will finish things off with a leisurely 42.2 km run. I, on the other hand, will try to make it up one hill without complaining. It really does blow my mind she can/will do this! I’m also very jealous of the warm weather – we had snow/flurries twice this week. #notreadyforwinter.
ON birthdays and LAST TIMEs
This time of year holds a lot of memories for me. Seven years ago today I was scared. I was two days away from knowing the answer to a question that had haunted me for months. After a relatively normal pregnancy, we were shocked to learn at the mid-way point that our baby could be facing some serious health complications. The ensuing months were an exhausting haze of appointments and tears.
My whole body was literally shaking on our final drive to the hospital. I knew answers were coming soon and I wasn’t feeling ready. It was like a surreal dream – life was moving in slow motion while hurtling ahead at warp speed. It’s an experience unlike anything I’ve experienced before or since and I still have flashbacks to so many details from that 24-hour period; they come into sharpest relief as we near his birthday.
It’s been seven years since that morning when I found myself lying in the operating room praying the words of Philippians 4:4-7 over and over – even when my heart was full of fear – until I literally felt the peace of God which defied all understanding and human logic. And then the miracle and joy of life and health.
This time of year I also find myself reflecting on how fleeting life is. A vapour, the Bible says.
I spent time the other night looking at baby pictures; he looks impossibly small. It feels like forever ago and yesterday at the same time.
It can be a hard balance – living in the present while being mindful that life is short and we’re all a heartbeat away from a complete and utter transformation in our experience. And that, even in little things, there is always a last time.
There was a last time I washed a baby bottle. There was a last time they sat in a stroller and high chair. There was a last time I stumbled through a middle-of-the-night-feeding and diaper change. There were last goodbyes at preschool and final nights in a pack-and-play. I don’t have the dates of any of these events recorded; I likely didn’t know it was the “last” time. Or, after years of strollers and diapers and bottles and preschool pickup, the end may have felt like a relief.
And it’s not that I miss diaper changes at 2 am, but I do miss what they represent. Those days are gone. There really is an end to all things.
Like when did our baby exchange plush coats with those universally heart-melting ears…
…for fashionable puffer coats with faux fur? In the blink of an eye.
Almost every time I pick him up, I wonder when I’ll do it for the last time. And there willbe a “last” time. I wonder if I’ll recognize it as such? Somehow I doubt it, and that makes me sad.
I love reading books aloud to my children. It’s something I value and one of the few areas of parenting where I feel almost zero guilt. Whenever I hear some affirmation of the benefits of reading to children, I get a swell of contentment. They don’t eat organic produce, they definitely don’t floss enough, and I raise my voice more than I should.
But reading? I’ve got that covered.
We’ve read a lot of books over the years, but our recent selections have had a common theme – they all have accompanying movies.
I don’t read through books as quickly as I used to – we’re busier, John’s not traveling much (pre-COVID, I would read to the kids at breakfast, supper and bedtime), but it’s been such a treat to read each of these books knowing we’re going to supplement the experience with a movie.
Books we’ve read in the last 18 months that have a movie/tv SHOW
Heidi: loved, loved, loved the book; so far we’ve only watched the 1930’s Shirley Temple version, but we plan to watch some of the newer iterations as well.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: A great book; the movie was so-so.
The Fantastic Mr. Fox: LOVED the book, but I’m not a fan of the movie.
Matilda: Solid book, but I didn’t love the movie (the kids did though).
James and the Giant Peach: Meh about both.
The BFG: Better than James and the Giant Peach, but not my favourite. This is a rare case where I think the movie was better than the book.
Harry Potter: I grew up reading and loving these books, but I’m not a fan of the movies. Abby read all the books, but Levi only read the first two and has only seen some of the movies. I find they get really dark (literally and figureatively). The kids love the books and the movies. Abby listens to Harry Potter audiobooks daily.
Pollyanna: Good book; I didn’t actually watch this movie with the kids!
The Swiss Family Robinson: My all-time favourite book from childhood; we only watched the movie, but there are some well-reviewed serialized versions as well.
Charlotte’s Web: It’s such a classic, but definitely not my favourite.
Little House on the Prairie: Another classic series (and we read all of them). I love some of the books and find others a very hard slog. We’ve only watched a few of the made-for-TV specials, not any of the main show.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: The kids actually listened to this via audio-book (a slight cheat on my part?) – they’ve watched, and really enjoyed, all the movies. I find Tilda Swinton terrifying in any movie setting, and she’s a great White Witch.
The Wizard of Oz: Really fantastic book. Great movie.
There are a lot more book/movie combos we haven’t tackled; I’m not sure how much longer we’ll keep up this trend, but for now it’s really working.
After we finish up Anne of Green Gables (and assuming we don’t go on to Book #2), I’d like to read Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol as we near the Christmas season. I absolutely loved listening to Gretchen Rubin’s audio version of this last year and am itching to read it out loud to the kids. And I’ve never watched anything other than Mickey’s Christmas Carol, so I am overdue for an acclaimed movie adaptation of this Christmas classic!
Beverly Cleary novels (various)
All Creatures Great and Small (or others by James Herriot)
The Secret Garden
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Because of Winn-Dixie
The Lord of the Rings trilogy (I know someone who read this to her kids when they were about my kiddos current ages; I love these books, but feels a bit dense and dark for their age category…and I’m not ready for them to watch screen-adpated Orcs at this point. Can you say nightmares?!)
John and Abby picked out our family pumpkins last weekend. Somehow she managed to talk him in to getting what were surely the three biggest pumpkins in the field. For real. They filled the entire trunk. The idea is to make a snowman out of pumpkins. We shall see how that goes. I’ve gladly delegated the whole task and am sure whatever they come up with will be fun and…memorable.
We also spent a not insignificant portion of the weekend working on Abby’s costume. Normally we do hand-me-downs or thrift store finds. This year she was determined to make her own costume and very quickly settled on creating a life-sized box of Kraft Dinner. Mac n’ Cheese is her favourite meal, especially when it’s made from scratch by Grammie. But the boxed version works too and it’s a favourite special treat on a weekend Date Night. This project involved glue (of the hot and stick variety, so bonus points?), paint, toilet paper rolls, a box, bristol board, and lots of tape. It ticked all the homemade crafting boxes. It was a lot of fun (I had been dreading the process) and she’s so happy with the end result. Levi will be going as Superman and his costume took approximately 30 seconds to select from a rack.
If there wasn’t already enough reasons to love fall AND our morning walks to school…John snapped this picture of the leaves on a trail we take to get home after dropping off the kids. October at its finest. Hard to beat the scenery on our commute!
I talked last Friday about the ups and downs that cycle through a week. Sometimes even within a day. Last Saturday was up and then way, way down. Sunday was all up. Monday was great. Wednesday was tough. I’m just writing this here so I can read back and realize the roller-coaster is real. It’s also normal and, for the most part, unavoidable.
Last weekend had some real highlights. Our quaint little town hosts Devour – a food and film festival. Some of our closest friends (who live just far enough away we don’t see them as often as we’d like) bought tickets for the Chowderfest. For $20 you got 5 samples of chowder and then you voted, via an app, for your favourite with a winner crowned by the end of the night. After their feast, they walked up to our house and we spent the remainder of the evening getting caught up. It’s always fun to sit and chat with other adults and feel…like an adult! They’re also a bit older – with kids having recently flown the coop – so it gives us a glimpse of the future when attending things like a Chowderfest won’t involve copious time and money related to arranging childcare!
Abby hosted her first in-home sleepover the same night. We made homemade pizzas on Naan bread and served homemade chocolate sauce (with coconut oil, so it hardens on contact with cold) to go over ice cream. The girls kindly let Levi hang out and watch a movie with them. The sleepover was a huge success complete with a movie, stuffed animals, snacks (of course) and a breakfast of fluffy stacked pancakes with maple syrup, peanut butter, nutella, chocolate chips and – because there clearly wasn’t enough sugar involved – a dusting of icing sugar (all masterfully prepared by John). Not quite on par with our family Whole30? I do think all that sugar and lack of sleep definitely helped derail parts of Saturday. Win some, lose some. And Sunday was great.
Okay, okay. Maybe “deep-dive” is overselling things a bit.
I’m no laundry guru – I don’t actually separate my whites from my darks (clearly a satisficer in this category). But I do try to stay on top of laundry and minimize the time it takes. Because, quite honestly, laundry isn’t one of my favourite things to spend time on. I’ve heard that some people actually enjoy ironing. I’m sure they’re lovely people…but wow.
To me, laundry is a necessary evil. It doesn’t taste good, like food, which helps offset the time invested in grocery shopping and cooking. Much of the time laundry doesn’t even make an aesthetic difference. My sheets don’t look dirty when they need to be laundered.
I’ve tweaked my approach to laundry various times over the years. When Abby was younger, I’d aim to do 2 loads/week (both on Saturday).
Now, with two much larger children in tow, I do one load almost every day.
Last year I did most loads in the evening, now I aim for the morning.
Last year I would dump all the clean, dry clothes on my bed and sort things there. Now I handle everything in the laundry room.
Different seasons have called for different approaches and here’s what’s working for us now.
When do you do laundry?
My preferred time is morning. I like turning the washing machine on before breakfast and then I’ll move things to the dryer when I know I’ll be home for the whole cycle (I don’t like leaving the house with the dryer going + I like to handle clothes fresh from the dryer to prevent wrinkles because above all else I loathe ironing).
Sometimes I’ll leave the washed clothes sitting for several hours in the washing machine, but the whole process of getting clean, dry laundry is usually completed by lunchtime.
where do you store dirty laundry?
We have a single laundry basket at the end of our hallway that everyone dumps into. When it’s full, it’s time for laundry.
If things get taken off downstairs in the laundry room (which connects to our downstairs bathroom/shower), sometimes we’ll leave a small pile of clothes on the floor or put items directly into the washing machine. But, for the most part, everything – clothes, towels, sheets, dishcloths – all go in one spot.
I know someone that has laundry baskets for every bedroom; she does separate loads for each child’s items, towels, sheets, even kitchen paraphernalia! It feels like more work to me but to each their own.
How do you separate clothes?
I don’t. I wash almost everything on the cold water setting. Especially dirty items or things we’re washing during an illness (hello, flu season), I’ll do on the hot setting. I buy detergent that works for cold water and, so far, no one has complained about the cleanliness of their clothes. We don’t necessarily have the highest of standards…
It’s less expensive, colours don’t run and, since I dry most things in a dryer, they’re being exposed to heat!
Who puts away the clean Clothes?
This has changed a lot. For the last few years I had been putting away almost everything. Ugh. But in the last 6 months I’ve gladly started sharing the responsibility.
When I sorted clothes in the master bedroom, things HAD to be put away before bedtime, or we’d have nowhere to sleep. Now I sort laundry as soon as it comes out of the dryer. I shake things out so they’re not wrinkled and lay them flat in piles according to person.
Since the items are out of the way and wrinkle-free, there is a lot more flexibility in when they get put away (I usually get the kids to put away their clothes by the end of the day so stacks don’t accumulate and, since two stacks end up on the top of my deep freeze, when I need a bag of frozen peas, those clothes have got to go).
The kids are responsible for going downstairs and carting their pile back upstairs. I put socks together, but beyond that, they’re on their own.
I put away my clothes, general items like towels and dishcloths, and leave John’s clean clothes at the bottom of our bed.
These have been the biggest (and best) shifts in laundry: storing clean items out of the way (where I don’t see them + they don’t get wrinkled or dumped in a pile onto the floor which is about the most maddening experience to behold as a mother who has spent an hour doing laundry) AND passing the buck to every member in the family has been liberating.
what about big items like sheets and towels?
I’m terrible about staying on schedule with washing sheets. I feel like the kids spill or do something to their sheets every 2-3 weeks and I’m content with that washing cycle, but I definitely go longer than I should between washing my own sheets.
When I do wash sheets, I do a separate load (king-sized sheets are…large). Towels we just add to the laundry basket as we use them, and since I do a load whenever that basket is full, towels usually just get washed with other items. These also get washed in cold water, but are dried on high heat.
What about a clothesline?
To my shame, I’ve largely stopped using my clothesline. I was good about using it for a few years…but it’s a lot more work. Carting things outside, hanging them out, bringing them back in, and then dealing with the invariable soap scum on dark items. I’ll airdry big things like sheets (plus they smell so good), but just about everything else is currently going into the dryer. And I’m not letting myself feel any guilt about this.
(The clothesline gets LOTS of use for drying beach towels and bathing suits in the summer).
While I wouldn’t say I enjoy laundry, it’s not that bad. Staying on top of it by doing frequent, smaller loads, using the dryer, and making use of the child labour available in my home have all been important tweaks to help me from getting buried under an avalanche of superhero-themed underwear and pajamas.
And, for now at least, I haven’t discovered a way to keep active, outdoor-loving kids clean. And that’s fine. Run free. Get dirty. Every load is worth it.
Years ago I was a guest blogger for a Day in the Life series (sadly, I can’t actually find the link to that post and don’t even remember the name of the blog). It was a lot of fun…and also a completely different season of life. Abby was still having milk in sippy cups each morning; Levi was just a dream in our future.
I don’t miss that season but also, I miss that season. The sweet little cheeks and zippered pajamas and morning snuggles and soothers and wobbly first steps.
Days now are busy in a different way. No sippy cups or diapers, but lots of activities to juggle. Extracurriculars are just starting to ramp up for the fall; I think we’re – comparatively – an unscheduled family, but even still our calendars fill up quickly
There are also no naps and as much as I loathed naps (literally the very first thought that crossed my mind when I found out I was pregnant with Levi was: “Oh no, I have to do naps again!”), they were a great way to break up the day.
Also, early bedtimes. I can’t believe a few years ago the kids were asleep by 6:30 pm each night. I didn’t know what I had coming. It’s not unusual for one of the kids to still be awake in their rooms when I’m falling asleep.
This post covers specific life happenings on 19 October 2021, an overcast and cool Tuesday, but I’ll fill in details about how our schedule generally shakes down during weekdays.
6:30-6:45: Wake up
We all woke up a bit early this morning, so while John got Levi showered (I am not great about staying on top of regular bathing for the kids), I set up shop in bed with my laptop and started clearing out the inbox accumulation from the previous evening/overnight. There was some low-hanging fruit that I tackled immediately and I read through the rest so I had an idea of what to triage when the dust settled from our morning routine. I also read my Bible for the day (using The One Year Bible). I checked the temperature (6 degrees, brrrr) and dressed appropriately for the conditions, made the bed, and was out the bedroom door before 7 am.
About once a week or so I’ll get up around 6 am, slip out to the living room and read my Bible or tackle some communications. But most of the time I succumb to the warmth and comfort of bed until close to 7 am. When I manage it, though, even getting up 15 minutes before the breakfast routine feels like a huge win. Apparently not enough of a “win” to sacrifice sleep, though. I know about all the early-morning high achieving types, but I have just never been an early morning person. In an ideal world, I’d sleep until at least 7:30 am every morning, but that is many, many years away.
I almost never set an alarm. We just always wake up (or get woken up by the kids). Someday we’re all going to wake up at 8:30 am, incredibly well-rested and late for work and school. Until that time, I just let the kids/the sunlight wake me up.
7:00 – 7:50: Breakfast + prep for school
Because of how our Atlantic time zone currently aligns with Australia, John has an important work call at 7 am Tuesday mornings. While he paced around talking (and helping prep bookbags), Abby emptied the dishwasher. I’m going to write more about chores soon, but this is Abby’s main household responsibility.
It was an oatmeal day, so I helped carry hot bowls from the microwave and prepped Levi’s (cinnamon, lots of banana, milk, a bit of brown sugar and a sprinkle of chocolate chips). Abby does her own from scratch now and I love this breakfast independence!
We needed laundry started, so I sent Abby down to put on a load, while I did some final lunchbox prep.
Getting up a bit earlier this particular Tuesday was great, but generally it feels like there is not quite enough buffer. It’s not because we have that much to accomplish (I almost always have lunchboxes ready the night before), but everyone is slower and more sluggish and no one is particularly keen to brush teeth or hair, load the dishwasher and put on socks.
Getting the kids in socks is a daily battle.
While the kids eat (most often oatmeal, their favourite, or cereal/toast) we go over their weekly memory verse for Bible Club, read a Bible story, and then I read a chapter from whatever book we’re working through or grab a few picture books from our weekly library haul.
Right now we’re reading Anne of Green Gables and the kids are all in.
7:50-8:30: Walk to school + return
John is able to take his call while walking, so he set out with Levi first while I locked up and donned my headband and finger gloves. I get cold easily, so always need to be mindful of the conditions and wear lots of layers. I had to run to catch up with Abby which helped warm me up despite the chilly temperatures. We were quickly joined by one of her friends so it was a happy family crew +1. For 5 blissful minutes, I walked in the middle of the two groups and enjoyed peace and quiet. Then I caught up with John and Levi and since John was occupied on a call, Levi was happy to walk with me and we had a great chat the rest of the way to school, culminating in a footrace which left me extra toasty.
He beat me, as he always does. That boy is fast.
It’s about 20 minutes to get to school on foot, and we aim to do this every morning. It’s a huge source of happiness for our family and a great way to start the day. Plus, it means before I make the first cup of coffee, I’ve already walked about 5 km.
9:00-2:30: Work + home management
With a recent uptick in my work responsibilities, the time after getting home until bus pickup is all about work. I moved the laundry over to the dryer (the washer completed its cycle while we were away), heated up a mug of tea, and settled in to work on e-mails. I manage three different streams of communications/distinct working roles; while I try to keep the streams separate, realistically I am often toggling back and forth between these three areas simultaneously. I worked through to 10 am, and hopped on my first call.
This virtual meeting was wonderful. I had been confused and stressed by a daunting responsibility that seemed beyond my skillset. I got some much-needed encouragement, along with practical support which left me feeling better positioned to be successful on the project. We tackled everything on my meeeting agenda and I left feeling like I had a clear action plan for next steps.
I went immediately into another meeting, switching hats (figuratively) as I went. This second call was also great as I shared the results of months-long work and negotiations on a particular project. After I gave my presentation and assessment of the situation, one of the attendees actually awarded me “brownie points.” Am I too old to admit this comment boosted my mood for the whole day?
I typically don’t eat much lunch (I have struggled with energy issues for years and really do find that intermittent fasting helps me battle against morning fatigue), so try to power through lots of jobs in this time. This Tuesday I felt hungry, though, so had an apple, sparkling water (lime), a coconut flour PB ball, and about 1/4 cup of pumpkin seeds. Just enough food to give me an energy boost, but not enough to trigger an afternoon slump. After 2 hours of intensive video calls, I actually took a lunch “break” and spent 30 minutes on creative writing projects, and then worked through my daily Bible Study (I’m participating in a 7-week study with my local church, which has 5 weekly at-home study sessions which take about 30 minutes to complete).
Then back to work, this time in the downstairs office, until 2:30, when it was time to completely shift gears…
2:50-5:00: kids return + activities
I typically walk to meet the kids at the bus stop and then we’ll saunter home together. Abby often walks ahead and checks the mail. When we get home, we unload bookbags…and then comes the task of filling the time. The kids tend to be on the grumpy side with each other and want to play with friends (which only works if they stay separate).
Lately I’ve been trying to structure this time with off-site activities. We’ll go visit a friend, go for a longish drive, do errands. Instead of me fitting these jobs/duties/activities in while the kids are in school, I figure they might as well come along. Also, extracurriculars are ramping up in the next few weeks so 1-2 afternoons a week will be filled, for Abby at least, by different clubs/lessons.
This Tuesday, we had a birthday gift to deliver to a friend who lives out of town. Levi ended up arranging a spontaneous playdate at the bus stop, so Abby and I headed out alone. It was lovely. We stopped at the post office to deal with some packages that had accumulated. Next up was the birthday parcel delivery, which morphed into a relaxing 45-minute visit complete with homemade cake and warm cider. On the way home, we stopped at a consignment store to drop off a bag of toys and kids’ clothing. Hooray – another giant bag of things out of the house. Plus I had $25 on my account.
Our final stop was the grocery store. I like to shop at least twice a week; this way I can buy fewer things each time, it takes a lot less energy to put things away, and I buy less fresh produce in bulk, so things don’t spoil in the fridge (I love to have a near-empty fridge).
It is so much easier to do errands with only one kid in tow. Also, Abby is such a practical help at the grocery store. She asks to go off to get specific items, insists on pushing the cart (but can do this capably enough that she needs no supervision, so my hands stay free the whole time), and she loves loading items on the belt and then bagging scanned items. This grocery order also involved buying some newborn-sized diapers for a friend’s little baby. We dropped off the diapers, enjoyed some baby cuddles and collected Levi in time to get home for supper at 5:30.
5:00-7:30: Supper + cleanup + bedtime
Supper this Tuesday was leftover meatballs, rice, peas, salad/raw veggies and hummus. The meatballs were in the slow cooker and I just needed to microwave the rest. Meatballs are a family favourite, so there was not a crumb left on anyone’s plates. Always a very satisfying feeling.
We try to eat supper by 5:30ish, depending on John’s work schedule. This never takes as long as it should – the kids usually devour their food so they can get outside to play with friends. Post-supper time tends to be unstructured and a lot more casual. While the kids help remove items from the table, I work on kitchen cleanup while they play. Depending on the weather, their moods, and my energy levels we start the bedtime routines around 7:15, but this can vary. I like to have them settled by 7:30, but that rarely happens anymore. They both love to come out for water, bathroom breaks, or to let me know some toy got broken, a tooth is wiggly, etc.
John works at least two evenings a week. This Tuesday was one of his working evenings, but after supper he had enough time to listen to Levi’s reading homework, help make Levi’s bed (we’d done his sheets in the morning wash), and see that he got dressed/teeth got brushed. Meanwhile, Abby headed off to find a friend and came home successful, so they worked on art projects in her room for an hour without any need for parental input.
While the kids were entertained – by John/a friend – I tackled prep of Wednesday’s supper: chili. We don’t usually have this much hamburger in a week, but I had bell peppers and spinach I wanted to use up and hamburger was on sale…so for about an hour I worked on prepping chili for the slowcooker (I turned it on Wednesday morning and let it simmer all day), clearing up all the dishes, and doing some lunchbox prep.
After John headed down to the office, Levi and I worked on a word search together at the dining room table, which was very fun! Once Abby’s friend headed home, I gathered the kids in our bed for some picture books and prayers and then had them head to bed (where they proceeded to talk to each other through the heating vents until I told them to pipe down).
8:00-10:00: Work/leisure/bedtime prep
By 8:00, I really want the kids to be in their rooms. This doesn’t always happen, but I start losing patience with interruptions about this point. I then either tackle lingering work tasks, do a bit more cleanup, or pursue some leisure activity. Writing for the blog, reading a book, texting friends, talking with John. When I have the energy, I love taking a hot shower before bedtime.
This Tuesday, I actually had a lot of work tasks that had piled up between 2:45 (when I logged off) and 8:00 (when I logged back on). I usually check in on things periodically throughout the afternoon and put out any urgent fires, but since I had been on the road with Abby, then supper, then cleanup and meal prep, I dedicated an hour in the office working on some reports, checking calculations, setting up calendar reminders for action items, and sending a slew of e-mails.
I wrapped up my computer time by spending a few minutes tackling a creative holiday project on Vistaprint.
I make family calendars for my parents + inlaws, and I had received some pictures from a sister and brother that needed to be incorporated. I did this and finished off the calendar! I had a coupon code that expired on Saturday, so I really wanted to get this done. *I finalized this order a few days later (enjoying 33% off + free shipping. Such a great feeling as I am officially feeling behind on holiday shopping, though I’m hoping for it to be extra minimal this year, focusing on experience-based gifts as much as possible.
John and I debriefed about the day while relaxing in the downstairs family room, and then enjoyed a scalding shower. When I make the time for this, I never regret feeling clean and warm before climbing into bed.
We often watch some sort of sitcom right before bed, and recently finished Parks and Rec for the umpteenth time. This particular Tuesday it was back to the very first episode of Seinfeld! Running 9 seasons, there is lots of fodder.
3-4 nights of the week I’ll read for 30 minutes or so, instead of watching something.
I have made a concerted effort to stick to a 10:30 pm bedtime and that’s exactly when I shut everything down this Tuesday.
That said, I’ve been realized it’s fine to aim for a range. I try to turn the light off between 10:00-11:00. Some nights I’m exhausted and fall asleep by 9:30 (actually Monday, 18 October, I was asleep by 9:15), but generally find I’ve managed to unwind enough to get to sleep at some point before 11:00.
When I have a hard time getting – or staying – asleep, I’ll tackle a project. Finishing a book, working on photo organization, getting ahead on work tasks.
In general, I’m a good sleeper, but 4-5 times a month (often around the full moon cycle, which my Mom always swears is a legit sleep disturbance) I will wake up at some point during the night and won’t be able to get back to sleep. I always feel like there is too much I want to do and too little time (this is true!) and I actually count on having these nights of disturbed sleep to catch up. This particular Tuesday, I slept from 10:30-3:15 and then woke up feeling wide awake. I rested for 30 minutes or so and when I was sure sleep wasn’t coming any time soon, grabbed my robe and a fluffy blanket, and settled in on the downstairs couch to work on this blog post!
I’ve always enjoyed Canadian Thanksgiving; it’s far enough from Christmas to feel like a standalone event. And, in typical Canadian fashion, it’s relatively understated. It’s a great excuse to appreciate the wonderful bounty of fall – the final harvest of fruits and vegetables for the year. The food was great, and leftovers have been delicious!
Delicious feasting aside – after a challenging stretch the long weekend should have felt like a much-needed reprieve. But, in reality, it was an especially tough one. Some parenting battles that I just felt too tired to cope with in a mature way. A potentially difficult situation that suddenly popped up out of nowhere. Frustrating silence on pressing work deadlines (which I couldn’t tackle over the long weekend, but that festered nonetheless). Also, there is the added pressure of feeling extra joyful during a time set aside specifically for being thankful. I was thankful much of the time, but in an effort to keep things real – there was still quite a bit of time spent feeling stressed or grumpy or frustrated. Win some, lose some.
That said, things are looking up. I’m learning the cycle. Good and bad, sometimes on the same day. Always onward and upward.
We managed to take advantage of grandparent babysitting priviledges and went out to dinner (sushi for the win!) and then to the movies to see No Time to Die. Is it just me, or do movies seem darker (in subject matter, not lighting) the older I get? Regardless, it was still fun to bask in the theatre experience – it has been almost two years since we went without kids, ironically enough to see Daniel Craig et al. in Knives Out.
We also fit in some nice family walks over the weekend, including a stroll around the grounds of a family favourite – Grand Pré. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the views never fail to disappoint. We pointed out a permanent and enormous bald eagle nest to my father-in-law and he was duly impressed.
love of the week
My eye mask for sleeping. I started using one about 5 years ago and can’t function without it (this might be a double-edged sword).
I have a whole sleep post in the works that goes through my bedtime routine (does this make me sound like a toddler) – as soon as I put on my eye mask, it really helps signal it’s time for sleep. My version of a blankie, soother, or stuffie, perhaps?
And, it means I don’t have to go crazy blocking little shards of artificial light from chargers and digital clocks and the bits of light that inevitably leak in around the curtains!