Casual Friday + A Great Big Birthday Recap

  • 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.

Birthday recap

Something huge happened. My baby turned 7. Yes, 7!!!

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).


Our kids love hotels. We haven’t had much reason to stay in them with a global pandemic raging, and it had been over a year since our adventure (including one horrific motel) along the Cabot Trail.

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.

Child: Why?

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…

Sigh.

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.

And then…

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.

Look at that little shadow on the wall!

20 thoughts on “Casual Friday + A Great Big Birthday Recap”

  1. The birthday sounds wonderful, and even the bumps sound Very Seven.

    I am LOVING your holiday card. So pretty! And your helper is doing such great work around the house!

    1. Thanks!

      Yes, the kids are becoming increasingly practical helpers around the house; and on this job, there wasn’t any grumbling which is always nice!

  2. Way to go on the holiday cards! I haven’t even thought of what we’re doing…usually a photo card and “what’s been happening” letter (to all of our non-local friends/family). But, nothing yet. And, they don’t usually happen until a week out from Christmas…no matter my best intentions.

    1. I am on the early side I things, for sure!

      Also, I might have to borrow your “What’s Been Happening” title. For years I’ve called them annual updates but never liked that title. “What’s Been Happening” sounds more inviting and casual and fun.

  3. I get legit angry when I get holiday cards before Thanksgiving. If I got one in mid-November, I’m sure I would rant about it.

    My husband and I each come up with one or two things that we each prioritize during the holiday season and those are things we do. Everything else becomes optional and it makes the season a lot more relaxed than back when I tried to do it all!

    1. This is definitely the earliest I’ve sent mine…and no one will get them until at least next week which is still early, admittedly!
      I do think the first card that arrives is memorable in its own way, so maybe I’ll aim for that role?

      There are so many fun options this time of year, but it helps to figure out what one actually enjoys/is important for other reasons and hone in on that. Hope you had a great Thanksgiving.

  4. I love your garland on the fireplace! So simple, yet beautiful. Perfect! I LOVE that idea of the sibling advent jar. I seriously think I may borrow that. My boys, while always close when they were younger, have been having some growing pains this year. It’s like they suddenly “annoy” each other to no end, and there has definitely been tension that never used to be there. It’s sad. They seriously used to be BFFs. Maybe trying to get them to realize how lucky they are to have each other might help a little!

    I made a “holiday fun list” last year, but I don’t know if I will this year. Our weekends are pretty full and we have a couple things semi-planned already in terms of holiday fun…so I don’t know that it’s worth it. One thing I love from last year was a “12 Days of Christmas” challenge that I made for myself from Decmeber 13-24. I listed out something to do each day- most were pretty small, very do-able, but I REALLY enjoyed having those little special moments leading up to the holiday. I think I might do it again! To be extra lazy, I literally might even just use the same items from last year, because I liked them. šŸ™‚ Here was the post I wrote about it, if something like that sounds fun to you! https://gratefulkae.com/2020/12/glorious-day-my-12-days-of-christmas-challenge/ You could even simplify it further/make the things extra easy.

    The birthday celebrations all sound great! That doesn’t sound like a light or phoned in birthday at all!! That sounds like a fabulous birthday. šŸ™‚ Love the desk. My parents got one for Asher a couple years ago now too for his and he loves it also. His b-day is next Thursday, so we are heading into a birthday week at our house too. #12!! Eek! He’s my baby, too, but 12 sounds so big! Our last year before they are both officially teens. Impossible.

    It’s always a little stressful to me too, having his birthday right before Christmas, but oh well… It makes it harder to buy gifts, kind of, since everything feels lumped together!

  5. Aw… I love this post because it really brings back memories of those “kid” experiences. All in the same day there are tantrums, tears, celebrations, surprises… I remember the days where going to a hotel and swimming in the pool were a big deal! I also find birthday parties stressful, and know that feeling of “it’s not good enough!” But it sounds like the whole weekend was perfect.
    I love your new mug! I got my secret santa present too (so exciting!).

  6. Your daughter did an awesome job with the fireplace mantel! It is so pretty and classic-looking! I finished my Christmas cards this weekend so they will go in the mail tomorrow. I went the lazy route and paid a bit extra to have them addressed by Shutterfly. I usually print labels but I don’t have access to a printer and didn’t want to ask my husband to do it at his office because it can be tricky to get them to print right. I love getting Christmas cards – it’s one of my favorite parts of the holiday season. I need to buy some ribbon – I hang ribbon on the wall and tape the cards to the ribbon. But we ran out last year so this reminds me to get more.

    The birthday party sounded perfect! And what a fun birthday surprise. But oh boy, the meltdown. I can relate, although we are thick in the stage of meltdowns w/ a 3.5yo. It has gotten better lately but he has THE STRONGEST FEELINGS and NO IMPULSE CONTROL. It’s a bad combo!

    1. I love when mantels are decorated. We don’t actually do much decorating (in comparison to lots of people I know), but I love having the mantel decorated and turn the lights on every morning and evening for the cheery glow. This mantel swag and artificial tree are up a LOT longer than the main (real) tree.

      I really love Christmas cards, too. Because I’m not on social media, this is one of the main ways we stay connected with distant friends and family. Also, I love getting a huge increase in the flow of snail mail. It’s just so fun to get a little stack of Christmas cards and feel connected across the distance of time and space. I usually string mine up over our patio door but we had it replaced in summer renos and it is still waiting to have the finish work done (final caulking, painting etc), so it feels…not quite the right space this year. I’m thinking of putting all the cards in a wooden bowl in our little shelving nook in the dining room and bringing the bowl out each night when we say grace and reading the cards/praying for the people on the cards? But there is something so fun about seeing the number of cards grow on the string. I love your ribbon idea…just not sure where I would put it. Someone else mentioned command strips on their wall and then hanging string across (so it’s very easy to make it temporary) which I thought was a great idea.

  7. Happy birthday to your little guy. What an awesome birthday-weekend! I don’t think you were failing at all… I am sure he’ll remember this weekend for a long time.

    I am super-excited that you already got your #secretsantamugswap2021 package and that you loved it. Yay! It’s so fun to send a little something for the holidays!
    I also absolutely love how on top of your Christmas stuff you are (even though you say you skip things purposefully, but getting cards/Christmas letters out is great and I am more of a minimalist decorator myself). I absolutely love the advent jar with the sweet notes from each sibling to the other. What a wonderful idea… although I understand that you’re reluctant to re-use it two years in a row).

    1. Spoiler alert: I didn’t make up the advent jars. Alas – too many “could do’s” and too little time…

  8. Happy VERY belated birthday to your kiddo. It looks like the perfect birthday after the tantrum dissipated. šŸ˜‰ Also, I think I see fun cereal in addition to the cake for breakfast – probably the perfect start to the day for a 7 year old. Ha.

    Also? I would have been over the moon that the pool was that hot. Is there anything worse than a cold pool? Yick.

    Finally, love your Christmas cards. I am not a card-sender but do send to some select friends and family. It’s just me, so… there’s not a lot to share. LOL.

    1. There was some cereal (his first time having Fruit Loops, maybe?).

      There is almost nothing worse than a cold pool. A cold hot tub outside in the middle of winter, maybe?

      Aww, thanks. I’m really happy with how the cards usually turn out and I always love getting photocards from family/friends, so get a thrill when I pop ours in the mail.

      1. I thought they might be Froot Loops. Probably not a cereal that crosses your threshold frequently, unless I miss my guess. šŸ˜‰ No wonder there was a sugar high and then crash.

        I vote for any cold body of water being the worst possible thing, with one possible exception – cool ocean water on a really really hot day. (The key is the really really hot day – one of the only occasions in life when I am [usually] warm.) A July day on the beach in North Carolina? Ahhh…. (We had 40 mph winds here last night and the strangest temperature swing… it’s now about 30 with winds of 20 mph…brrr…)

        1. Not often – but he is actually getting a box for Christmas (we always get each child a box of sugary cereal for their stocking); I think it will be the first box of Fruit Loops we’ve ever had in the house! I grew up eating Fruit Loops almost daily, so I may have to sneak a bowl for nostalgia – it has likely been at least 20 years since I’ve “enjoyed” a bowl.

          I am not a fan of ocean swimming…ever. We went the Dominican Republic a few years ago (my first and only “sunny” destination aside from South Carolina – where one of my sister lives). Even there I found the water cold and it was practically bath water. I just get cold so, so easily.

          A few years ago we had a hot streak here in Canada and I went on a long run in the middle of the day and jumped in our neighbours pool after I got back and didn’t feel cold at all – I honestly think that’s the first time I’ve been swimming in a lake/ocean/pool in the last decade where I haven’t gotten cold at some point. Unless my core temperature is on boiling before I get in, I will always end up cold…sigh.

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