She Can Still Be A Doctor

WordPress tells me I’ve hit Publish 334 times now. But of all the posts I’ve written, this one is probably my favourite. I first published it back in June 2021, but I think about this story regularly. It came out of a relatively forgettable moment – a single comment from a friend – but the memory of it has remained vivid.

And even now, all these years later, I sometimes need to remind myself that she can still be a doctor…

When Abby was born life turned upside down – literally. Delivery required far more medical intervention than I had expected and my vision of motherhood – rocking a contented baby, having hours just melt away while I watched her delicate little features in sweet slumber – couldn’t have been further from reality.

I’d pour a bowl of cereal at 8 a.m. and, if I was lucky, eat it by noon. The first few months were a haze of sleepless nights and days filled with tears (hers and mine) while we navigated infections, colic, and seemingly endless feeding challenges.

The biggest sticking point? I’d always planned to nurse my children. It was healthy, economical, convenient. It was also what a good mother would do. Not only did I want to do it, I was inundated by messaging that championed and elevated this aspect of mothering.

I was also surrounded by mothers that could do it. Baby-hour at the library was basically a lesson in how to feed and nurture your little one naturally; you could find me wallowing in a corner covertly wielding a bottle.

I dealt with these things – as one does – by cycling through stages of denial, anger, depression, and pseudo-acceptance (there wasn’t much bargaining to do, she was only 2 months old after all). I researched techniques, bought supplements, and consulted experts before officially conceding defeat.

She got older and things got easier. By 9 months she was pure joy – full of all the spunk and personality we cherish today. She was happy and well fed. Though the crying was behind us, guilt lingered. And then a new friend entered my life and helped to shift my entire perspective with just one sentence.

This friend and I were out for an evening walk. Somehow I had circled back to discussions of feeling less-than because of my inability to naturally deliver and feed my (now toddler) daughter. This friend paused for a minute and said wisely: “You know, Elisabeth, she can still be a doctor.

What she meant – and what I needed to hear – was that the future was unwritten. The unexpected complications of the past, which were completely out of my control, didn’t mean Abby was doomed to a life of illness, missed opportunities, and continual disadvantages. If she wants, she can still be a doctor. Or a stay-at-home mom. Or a physicist, a mechanic, an artist or anything else her determined self wants to pursue.

When Levi was born several years later, I met with a lactation consultant proactively, bought new supplements and did all the “right” things. I gave it my all for a week. When the nurse told me, gently, it simply wasn’t working…I cried. The second time around it was still sad and disappointing. But I also knew: he can still be a doctor. Or a pro-surfer. Or a stay-at-home dad. Or an electrician. Or a teacher, or a financial analyst, or a playwright. The sky is the limit.

It really is – after all, he could still be an astronaut.

Your turn. Did anyone else find certain (or all!) aspects of the transition to motherhood different from your original expectations? The subtle irony in all of this is that I was a formula-fed baby and I don’t think it hasn’t slowed me down too much in life?

There Is No Rush: And Other Sayings

I’ve loved reading all the responses to my post on family sayings and vacation mantras. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking through more go-to lines that have subconsciously embedded themselves into our lexicon.

More by good luck than good management. I’ve mentioned before how my maternal grandmother loved to play the board game Crokinole. I first referenced it because she was forever saying: So near, but yet so far while competing in weekend-long tournaments with my older brother. But, with equal frequency, she was quick to say: More by good luck than good management. If someone managed to accidentally knock one of her players off the board, her commentary on the situation was always the same: It was more by good luck than good management. I can’t remember if she would apply this logic to herself when she made a play that was more by “good luck” than “good management”…?

Be kind, be safe, be neat. We adored the preschool Abby and Levi attended with good reason. It was amazing. John and I used to joke we wanted to quit our jobs and attend preschool full-time. Outdoor classrooms. Incredible staff. Delicious food (Levi still raves about many of the dishes). Sand and water tables. Dress up stations with costumes. Magnets and puzzles and books and magnifying glasses and every creative delight you could imagine. And, perhaps most alluring of all, someone to encourage you to lie down after lunch who would also rub your back until you fell asleep. #BestLifeEver. They also did great preparatory work with the kids, offering them support in handling conflict at the pint-sized level. One year, when Levi was still attending, the class was tasked with coming up with a saying to promote good choices. They settled on: Be kind, be safe, be neat. We still repeat this line to our kids regularly. Kissing them goodbye outside the school? Be kind, be safe, be neat. Dropping them off for a playdate? Be kind, be safe, be neat. In the last few years we’ve added our own family twist with one extra line: “…and have fun!”

Nobody loves us…but at least there aren’t any bills. This one might not be the greatest quote to mention publicly. Are you familiar with the truly disgusting/horrible song that goes: Nobody likes me, everybody hates me…guess I’ll go eat worms. If you’ve never heard this song, count your blessings. It gets worse in the following verses, detailing the specific characteristics of said worms. Ick. Yet, somehow, this chorus has stood the test of time and continues to make its way ONTO CHILDREN’S ALBUMS. Anyhoo. Somewhere along the way our kids learned this ditty (can I blame preschool), and found the whole worm-eating bit rather hilarious. Sigh. Where does this fit in with regular family sayings, you might ask? In our household, checking the mail remains a very serious endeavor. One child is primarily responsible for this task and takes the job very seriously (woe to the other sibling should they abscond the mail key and check the box first). At one point somebody said, in response to an empty mailbox – Nobody loves us. How depressing, right? I pointed out an empty mailbox was GREAT news since it meant no bills. It has become a family ritual, when the mailbox is empty, to say: Nobody loves us…but at least there aren’t any bills. *For the record, both kids regularly receive fun things in the mail. Many people love us – mail or no mail.

Home again, home again. I know my Dad used to say this, but it’s in regular rotation at our house, too. As soon as we pull into the driveway someone will either sigh – or scream with delight, depending on what situation we’re leaving/entering – home again, home again. (This originally comes from To Market, To Market to Buy a Fat Pig; we apparently get a lot of our material from questionable and antiquated nursery rhymes?)

You get what you get and you don’t get upset. Another preschool saying, and one I know has made the rounds in daycares and homes around the world: You get what you get and you don’t get upset. Does saying this to the kids eliminate all their angst? I wish. They still love to complain – especially if they feel like a sibling has gotten an extra microgram of chocolate sauce on their ice cream or in other matters of equal importance. If complaining was a sport, our kids could vie for the top prize. But occasionally, when I remember to repeat this line, something clicks into place in their sweet little brains and it actually does make a tangible difference. And let’s be honest, I need to repeat this line for my own benefit, too. Elisabeth: you get what you get, and you don’t get upset. It works…occasionally.

The things that go wrong often make the best memories. I got this line from Gretchen Rubin years ago and we say it all the time. All. the. time. It’s so true. The things that go wrong often do make the best memories; or, if not the best, then at least the most likely to be retold around the dinner table.

And in the current chaos of finishing out a somewhat oddly configured summer schedule, I’m still trying to lean on my vacation mantras like: It costs what it costs, Choose the bigger life (I actually said this out loud to Levi yesterday when I jumped off a diving board at a public pool), and This will feel different tomorrow.

My newest addition to the repertoire: There is no rush.

90% of the time when I find myself rushing, there is literally no need to rush. Rushing adds an unnecessary layer of stress to the day and is usually self-induced.

I wrote this line in the front of my daytimer. I’ve said it over and over to myself when I’m bouncing like a pinball around the house or the grocery store. I don’t have to run down the stairs to get the mop. I can walk. I don’t have to push my cart at top speed to get Greek yogurt. I can saunter.

There is no rush.

A few weeks ago John went on a long run and we coordinated a rendezvous point I could meet him with the car. On our way home he asked about stopping to go down a side road he knew provided access to a field covered in freshly baled hay. The detour was a bust – when we arrived a tractor had just cleared the field of our photo op. But as we drove back up the little dirt road, we spotted a huge wheat field with a beautiful cloudy sky as the backdrop. Would I mind stopping, he asked?

It was supper time. I had a list of things to get done at home. But we stopped, he hopped out. He got the picture. There was no rush.

Here’s the sad truth. Too often I don’t stop for the wheat fields in life. I rush past. And I suspect I’ll continue to do this because, well, life is busy and once you get started, it can be hard to slow down. But sometimes these little reminders of simple truths – There is no rush, This will feel different tomorrow – can change decisions or attitudes long enough to create little bits of magic.

Your turn. Any new sayings you’ve come across lately?

South Carolina: There and Back Again

I drafted this post two months ago and, for some inexplicable reason, never got around to clicking publish. I had jotted down some of the things that contributed to our (air) travel experience feeling relatively pleasant, even with kids in tow. But there is definitely some irony in looking back since I mention, in the first paragraph, “both kids are old enough to be fully independent for…toileting.” Which they are, of course, but isn’t it telling that every post of our big city recaps involved the distress of finding public washrooms! Perhaps we’ve not quite hit the “golden zone” for cities

We’re back and our time in South Carolina was wonderful!

Traveling with kids is a very different experience than traveling solo or as a couple. The considerations feel rather endless. That said, I think we’re in a golden zone in terms of family age configuration – both kids are old enough to be fully independent for feeding and toileting, but they’re young enough to appreciate the adventure of travel and aren’t yet sullen teenagers.

Our trip went very smoothly despite the fact 5 out of 6 legs of our journey involved delayed flights. John had planned VERY long layovers (mostly so we didn’t have to rush and the kids could explore the airports) so we ended up not missing any of our flights and arrived in South Carolina one hour later than planned; ditto on our return to CANADA. First tip: on multi-leg trips…schedule in lots of buffer.

Here are a few things that worked well for us in terms of prepping to leave and the journey there and back again.

countdown chart + Step challenge

I don’t think I’ve mentioned this before but ahead of our trip we wanted to find a fun way for the kids to get engaged in “earning” some vacation spending money. John – who had done some iteration of this through work before – came up with a $tep Challenge.

We are a walking family. I even wrote a Q&A post about how we get the kids to walk so much; during the height of the pandemic we were walking 7 km+ together most days. But things have slid over the last year. Leading up to our trip, John offered 20 walks that were a minimum of 4 km. This means the daily trek to school didn’t count.

Most of the time, our family walks are mandatory. For the step challenge they were optional. After each walk, they earned $1 USD to spend on whatever they wanted in South Carolina, with a $5 bonus if they agreed to go every single time one of these optional walks was offered.

A playdate invite from Levi’s best friend the day of the second walk was too good an opportunity to miss. Levi remained very content in his decision to forgo the $5 bonus which I actually love! He prioritized relationships over money. Abby was very determined to get every possible dollar available to her; she also had a lot of friends she wanted to buy souvenirs for, so every dollar counted!

we left the house clean

I try to do this for every trip (even if it’s just a quick overnight getaway). The day before we leave I do a quasi-deep clean. I aim to get all the existing laundry washed and put away. I vacuum floors, use up any food remaining in the fridge (I start this process about a week out if we’re going for any length of time), and attempt to leave everything as neat as possible. When we arrived home at 2:30 am it was very nice to have a blank slate on which to drop all our suitcases and travel paraphernalia.

unpack right away

This is also quite typical for us after any trip. While it can be easier said than done, I actually had a boost of energy when we got home in the wee hours of the morning and didn’t go to bed until 3 am – at which point the laundry basket was full and my luggage and carryon bookbag were empty!

pack light

Admittedly this is significantly easier as the kids get older (diapers, bottles, car seats – all that stuff is big, bulky, and also completely necessary when travelling with infants/toddlers). We each took a single small carry-on rolling suitcase and John and I also each had a bookbag for laptops, passports and other things we needed easy access to. Most of the time the kids rolled their own suitcases, but in a pinch it was no problem for John and I to handle two.

I used every single outfit while we were away (most of them twice; we did laundry once at my sister’s). Going to a warm destination is easier because we didn’t have to pack bulky layers, but we put a lot of thought into what we would take. We went down with extra space which was great for a few souvenirs and some much-appreciated hand-me-downs the kids received from my sister. We also tucked in two small drawstring bookbags, which we ended up using quite a bit on various outings.

Each of the kids received one of these drawstring bags for Christmas last year from a friend and I didn’t know when we would use them?! Turns out…ALL. THE. TIME. They are so convenient. The drawstring top opens wide we can fit things like soccer balls and bulky gear inside with ease. But, when empty, they fold down into a tiny footprint. So handy!

Packing light also means we had no checked bags to worry about with all the delays…and it also makes unpacking a much faster process!

MORE packing notes

Full credit to John (who should seriously post YouTube videos of how efficiently he can pack luggage; it is insanely neat and is almost like watching a work of art in progress) who helps us maximize space. One accessible hack even I can manage independently: stuff small shirts, socks, and underwear inside shoes. I’m also going to publically admit he often repacks my bag for me because he’s just so much better at it.

Despite heading to a warm destination, I packed a puffer coat; it is light and compresses into a tiny little square. Most importantly, it was very warm on the plane – a location where I’m always frozen. This was much more efficient than carting around a bulky sweater, which I’ve done in the past. I wore this coat non-stop on all our flights and even in some parts of the airport.

Our 4+ hour delay in Charlotte. John and I each did long walks through the airport, Levi napped at one point, and both kids spent a lot of time on moving sidewalks. I continued to sport a down-filled coat.

have fun incorporated into the travel

We had the advantage of having access to lounges due to John’s status (I’m not sure how much it costs to purchase one-off entry, but it might be worth it? Lounge access is always wonderful, but the free food and additional space were so, so nice with kids).


We also spent a lot of time just walking around the airport on foot. The kids loved the moving sidewalks (free) and enjoyed looking at various stores (we didn’t buy anything, so also free).

We also made our airport hotel (overnight before we left for the US) part of the adventure – using the pool, eating snacks in bed. Because of our early flight time, it made sense to stay as close to the airport as possible. Also, the free 2-week parking included with our overnight stay made the hotel a significantly cheaper option than using the Park n’ Fly. Plus we got a free breakfast before we shuttled to the airport!

entertainment/flight log books

We took very little along in terms of entertainment. I used to pack goody bags for the kids for long drives but, honestly, they always felt like a lot of work and money and the kids seem to have grown out of this stage.

We brought our audiobook phone along (an old phone we’ve repurposed solely for the kids to listen to audiobooks or to occasionally watch downloaded Netflix shows) and both kids listened to an audiobook during one flight. But mostly we just talked, explored the airport or, when the plane had a screen, the kids watched a movie.

We did take along one very specific “entertainment” item. For Christmas a neighbour – who works for Air Canada – gifted the kid’s personalized flight log books. I didn’t even know this was a thing.

It was so, so fun. I wish we’d had this when Abby was a toddler, but since this was Levi’s first time on a plane (and Abby’s first flight she could remember), it feels like we’ve started capturing this information at an opportune time. We handed these books to a flight attendant as soon as we boarded and they took care of getting the pilots to fill out relevant information and then returned the books to us just before takeoff.

One of the pilots even filled out a sweet postcard for each of the kids, too. The whole experience was great and provided an ever-present reminder of the thoughtfulness of our neighbour.

marry (someone Like) John

I can’t finish a post like this without acknowledging that John was the biggest reason our travel went so smoothly. He is such an experienced, savvy and naturally-gifted traveler. He keeps a level head and has great instincts! He is also very good at reading airline personnel and winning them over with his charm; hence why we got upgraded to business class on one leg. He knows how to navigate airports with ease and I could essentially put my mind into neutral and simply follow his lead which made what could have been an incredibly stressful experience (okay, running full speed through the airport masked to try to make a connecting flight was stressful), often downright fun.

What are your air travel tips? Are you an over-packer? Do you freeze on airplanes, too?

A Minimalist Hack: Use the Same Toothpaste (Repost)

I started this blog a little over a year ago and, for the first few months, had basically no readership. But then a friend commented on the post below – originally from May 25th 2021 – and I’ve had a special affinity for it ever since. I wanted to form an online community to talk about the big stuff – like mental health and parenting, but also a space where we could talk about the hassle of finding public bathrooms while on vacation…and toothpaste habits.

So without further ado, and because I think current readers will have some very fun comments on this topic, a repost:

I’m no grassroots minimalist. My family has a storage room full of boxes: camping supplies, Christmas decorations, and plenty of creations from the preschool era. Marie Kondo could surely help us find lots to purge. But, overall, we appreciate clean aesthetics and are always looking for ways to reduce friction with regard to how our home functions.

Take toothpaste.

When Abby was young, I remember debating – for an inordinate amount of time – what toothpaste flavour to select for her maturing teeth. The pharmacy aisle was full of options. Would she prefer Berry Blast, Strawberry Swirl, or Bubble Gum Twist? Each brand – and there were many – had its own combination of tube characteristics (twist cap vs. flip; hard tube vs. soft). I hadn’t even gotten to the fluoride vs. no fluoride conundrum yet and was already completely overwhelmed. Should buying toothpaste for a 3-year-old really be this hard?

Then one day, during a well-check visit with our doctor, she happened to bring up teeth-brushing. She mentioned, in an off-hand way: “Feel free to use a rice-sized amount of whatever toothpaste you’re using.”

Surely it wasn’t right to deprive my firstborn of whatever bold-coloured, highly-flavoured concoction the big conglomerates told me she should have? But, I grew up on regular Crest…and I don’t think it held me back in life.

Since then, our entire family has used the same toothpaste (Colgate with Scope); my kids don’t even know they could be frothing at the mouth with Minion-themed Cotton Candy.

Not only does it require fewer decisions at the store, since we all use the toothpaste interchangeably, I only pack a single tube when we travel (we also all use the same bodywash and shampoo).

Your turn. Do you use different products from your kids or spouse?

Family Sayings + Recent Vacation Mantras

Long-time readers may recall how much I love quotes. I collect them from a variety of sources and am always on the lookout for new inspiration (last week: a sidewalk plaque outside the NY Public Library + on a wall at the American Museum of Natural History). While formal quotes from famous authors or philosophers are wonderful, I find it equally fascinating to hear what sayings work their way into individual family cultures.

Let’s start with a walk down memory lane…

family sayings from my childhood

So near, but yet so far. I use this one with my kids regularly and it gives me warm fuzzies every time as this line originated with my maternal grandmother. She was particularly fond of saying this when someone narrowly missed a shot in Crokinole. She and my brother would organize weekend-long Crokinole tournaments whenever they were together, and she had cause to say So near but yet so far regularly during those epic events.

It builds character. My father would say this about everything. Wet sneakers on a hike in the rain? It builds character. Shoveling the walkways after a big snowstorm? It builds character. Let’s just say, by my Dad’s reckoning at least, I should have a lot of character.

Did you do your best? That’s all I ask of you. My parents had high expectations for their kids, but they never demanded perfection. If I got a test back with a less-than-stellar grade, it would be met with a simple: Did you do your best? That’s all I ask of you.

Obey. In modern contexts, I suppose Mom and Dad were relatively strict disciplinarians, but as Baby #4 it never really felt that way. There was an established structure for discipline but, beyond that, we actually had quite of bit of freedom. I spent lots of my childhood roaming, didn’t have enormous chore lists, and they never grounded us. We were taught to respect our elders and do our best but there was a fair amount of leeway in many regards. But if Mom made a request or gave a command, she meant it. If we put up resistance, she would reply in a steady, calm – but unmistakeably “Don’t Mess With Me” tone – Obey. If we made it to the point she just said Obey, we knew she meant business. No lecture or dithering or arguments or repeatedly asking us to do something. She’d just say: Obey.

Immediately or sooner. I had forgotten all about this line, but Mom recently brought it up and I couldn’t believe I didn’t remember my parents saying this! When do you want me to set the table for supper? Immediately or sooner. When do the cookies need to go into the oven? Immediately or sooner.

frost family sayings

And then you grow up and leave childhood homes; old routines and habits make way for new, blended family cultures, including a curated selection of go-to family sayings. The kids would likely be better sources for this information, but here are a handful that are in regular rotation in our house.

You can do hard things. We say this to the kids a lot. We don’t try to downplay that certain things are hard or unpleasant, but do want to affirm that they can do hard things!

You are a joy and a blessing. I read this line in a book years and years ago and say it to the kids regularly, especially at bedtime. I have to admit I don’t always feel this way in every moment of my parenting journey but it’s still always true. They are a joy and they are a blessing.

I have high expectations and I know you can meet them. I’ve started saying this after reading Grit by Angela Duckworth where she mentions an iteration of this line. I do have high expectations but I like to think they’re reasonable. Mostly I’ve been saying this in the context of interpersonal relationships between the kids and/or with their friends. (Eg. I have high expectations of how kind/compassionate you can be to your sibling, and I know you can meet them).

vacation mantras

A few weeks ago, right before we headed out on our road trip, I was visiting with a friend and discussing the upcoming rigors of traveling with family. I told her I thought I needed to adopt some mantras and we talked through them together that very evening.

(A note before I start. Years ago I read Dan Harris’ book called 10% Happier. I have always, always been in awe of this title because I love the realism. The book is never promising a story of absolute change (100% Happiness) or rainbows pooping out puppies. Nope. It’s discussing a 10% increase in happiness. Sometimes tiny improvements can feel too slight to celebrate, but 10% is so much better than 0%.)

I digress on this point because none of the following mantras dramatically changed my outlook on this trip. I knew two weeks on the road, with thousands of kilometers of driving, 100+ kilometers of walking, and extreme changes to our schedule were going to be tough. But I do think these mantras made things at least 10% happier/easier. And that’s a win in my books.

  • It costs what it costs. I have a very hard time spending money, especially if it seems at all frivolous. I shop sales, buy all my clothes (and many other items) secondhand, and want to think I’m getting the best deal on just about everything. There are lots of motivators from my past that have led me to this point but, needless to say, vacation can be a tough pill to swallow because of the apparent nonstop “frivolous” spending. Hotels, restaurants, entry fees. When we were debating doing a second Broadway show and I was inwardly balking at the price tag? It costs what it costs. I still hate spending money, but repeating this in my head really does seem to help…a bit.
  • Choose the bigger life. I’ve been chewing on this one for several years (courtesy of the Happier podcast), but it felt especially relevant for this family trip. As an introvert (who doesn’t like to spend money; see above), saying yes to adventure doesn’t always come naturally. But I know that choosing things that might be slightly more uncomfortable in the short term, often makes for the best memories long-term. On our last full night in Toronto, John wanted to see the skyline after dusk. We ended up walking a LONG way to get to a specific view of the city. I was tired and every ounce of me wanted to turn around for home, but I said: Choose the bigger life. And the view was absolutely worth it!

On our way through Canada to the US, we passed within 15 minutes of Niagara Falls. It was a bit of a nuisance to route to the falls and we knew we might have a hassle finding a place to park. We discussed it briefly but, in the context of choosing the bigger life, the answer was obvious. So we went.

  • I can’t keep everybody happy. This one is huge for me. I hate, hate, hate (x 10,000) conflict and really do want everyone (including myself) to be happy at all times. And it’s just not possible. I told myself this a lot on the trip (one child wants to do/eat/see/watch X, while the other wants to do/eat/see/watch Y = only one child is happy). I was frustrated regularly by my lack of control over keeping everyone happy, but repeating this line did help me manage my expectations…slightly.
  • This will feel different tomorrow. This mantra ended up being my favourite, but I didn’t come up with it until partway through the trip. Last Monday was…not so fun. It had some great moments, but I ended the day crying in our hotel room which wasn’t exactly Highlight Reel material. It rained/was hot and muggy all day. My period started. The kids were tired and grumpy. I forgot most Broadway shows don’t run on Mondays, which meant the evening I had originally planned wasn’t going to happen. The kids were underwhelmed/overwhelmed by city life and insisted on fixating on the negative: too many people, too much cigarette smoke, Wolfville is so much better (true on all counts, but it’s New York City! How can you not love this place?). At one point I told myself, This will feel different tomorrow. I didn’t try to spin it into: This was a fully awesome day. But a simple acknowledgment that the events of the day would feel different in retrospect.
Best of friends, mere minutes before the wheels feel off our proverbial roadtrip Happy Train.

Thursday night was another tough evening. Despite a good day of travel, we were all emotionally and physically tired from adventuring. We had a gorgeous lighthouse stop planned and all was going well until someone (who will remain nameless) tickled someone (who will also remain nameless) and that someone did not enjoy being tickled, bumped into a rock as a result of said tickle, and a gigantic meltdown ensued. I was beyond frustrated. Please everyone be happy, I wanted to scream (but kept to a dull yell once we reached the car). While I really should have been repeating Mantra #3 above on repeat, I did not and chose to ugly cry (that time of the month + 42 hours of driving = an emotionally sensitive Mama), but after a hot shower I told myself – and believed – this will feel different tomorrow. And it did.

As part of my evening wind-down, I happened to read Laura Vanderkam’s blog post about a recent family vacation. I appreciated how she starts off a paragraph by saying “we had a good time” and then goes on to document a number of things that went wrong including poor sleep, an ear infection that required a trip to the hospital, and sunburns. But then she wrote something that turned my day around. “My goal…was to have…a few enjoyable moments, and that definitely happened.”

I turned to John triumphantly and said: we had lots of enjoyable moments. If my goal was to have a few – or even lots – of enjoyable moments (instead of wanting to keep everybody happy and have only enjoyable moments which just isn’t reasonable with the dynamics of a young family or the realities of LIFE), then our vacation was an overwhelming success.

So cue my newest vacation/life mantra:

  • My goal is to have at least a few enjoyable moments…

How about you? Any treasured phrases from your childhood, or things you currently say to friends, family or coworkers? Any vacation mantras you’ve been incorporating this year to make things 10% happier?

Whatever you’re doing this long weekend I hope you have many enjoyable moments.

Good Things I Don’t Have to Do This Summer

Time is finite, but the options for filling that time can feel infinite. And there are a lot of fun, productive, and “good” things with which we can fill our allotted hours. It can feel hard, then, to balance the doing with resting.

I’ve written before about Good Things I Don’t Have to Do: here are some thoughts from Thanksgiving and more from Christmas.

Summer is another season full of opportunity, but even “fun” things can start to feel mandatory in a decidedly unfun way. I love tradition, but it’s okay to say: “I don’t really feel like berry picking – let’s skip it this year.” And, almost certainly, nothing bad will happen.

good things i don’t have to do this summer

  • Go berry picking. I typically take the kids 2-3 times (some years for strawberries, blueberries and raspberries). The fresh berries are delicious and it can be a fun family activity, but other years the whole experience feels more like obligatory drudgery. I come home with berries that need to be cleaned, processed, and consumed within a narrow window. We tend to pick small amounts so we can eat them fresh, so then I feel obligated to go multiple times. This summer, I’m giving myself full permission to skip U-pick activities while also giving myself full permission to buy a box of local strawberries/blueberries/raspberries at the store. Just because we can pick berries for ourselves, doesn’t mean we have to…
  • Put the kids in swimming lessons. When Abby was young we enjoyed participating in a local summer swim program. The pool was about 20 minutes away and each level took two weeks to complete. Levi was still a toddler; there was a park nearby and we’d take a picnic lunch. It offered structure to our days, and we were home by nap time. But then COVID came along, the kids got older and last year Levi fractured his wrist in a soccer game the day after his first lesson…and that was the end of his swimming lessons (or any water play) for summer 2021. Lessons are short, they all require driving, and break up our day – which no longer requires stops for afternoon napping. So this year I’m giving myself permission to just let the kids…swim. No one in my family had formal swimming lessons and while my own technique may be lacking, I swam across a 2 km lake when I was 13 and my sister now swims ~4 km as part of Ironman competitions, so I have confidence my kids can become very competent swimmers without regular lessons, at least for this summer.
  • A summer reading challenge. Years ago our library had THE BEST summer reading program. If they completed the various challenges/reading logs, kids received a free pass to a local amusement park. For obvious reasons (including the fact that amusement park is now closed – whomp, whomp), they ended up shelving this very generous award package. When the pandemic hit everything migrated online and there were virtual games and prize draws and drop-down menus to navigate. For two summers I logged the kids reading hours and monitored various challenges (Find four different leaves on a woods trail; Visit a local heritage site; Read to a stuffed animal outside; Identify a constellation in the night sky). I could have let Abby log her own information, I suppose, but I hate the idea of so much time on screens for a reading challenge. This year I picked up an information notice at our library…and then promptly recycled it.
  • Overnight camp. Abby did two stints of overnight camp pre-COVID. I loathed (LOATHED) overnight camp as a kid, but Abby mostly enjoyed the experience and was keen to go this year. When I checked availability her age category was already full, but it also would have tied us down in a way we’ve aimed to avoid during John’s sabbatical. I’m telling myself we can aim for overnight camp…next year.
  • Using our fire pit. Last year our neighbours gave us their old fire pit and we’ve still never used it. It would theoretically be fun to host a s’mores evening in our backyard, but our landscaping is still in a major state of flux (that’s code for a hot mess). When we visit my parents, Dad will handle all the hotdog and marshmallow roasting and toast toasting (yes, we even toast bread over the fire for breakfast at their house!). So maybe we’ll use our fire pit, maybe we won’t!

Your turn – any “good” thing you’re allowing yourself to say no to this year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I survived and it was great.

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

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

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

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

And here’s how it all played out:

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

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

Appetizer: Tomato bisque + a trifecta of grilled cheese

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

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

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

Dessert: A layered ice-cream cake.

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

Levi + Elisabeth’s Menu:

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

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

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

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

This was so good!

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

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

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

Prepping the ice cream heads the day before!

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

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

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

Header photo by Sara Cervera on Unsplash

Birthday Recap + Notes from a (Reluctant) Party Host

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


A party without a cake is just a meeting.

Julia Child

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m not complaining about this development.


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Header photo by Lidya Nada on Unsplash