My Father: On Pessimism, Nature, and Me

Around Mother’s Day, I published an essay in honour of my mother. With Father’s Day fast approaching, I thought it only fair I pay tribute to my father in similar fashion.

But what to write?

Dad is a case study in juxtaposition and embodies what I can only describe as “simple complexity”. Take, for instance, his stance on clothing. He believes strongly that dressing well for certain occasions is a critical mark of respect (don’t get him started on people wearing jeans in church), yet he regularly wears clothing held together with duct tape (I’m not joking). He complains about food that has “too much flavour” (curry stays off the menu when he comes to visit), yet he drinks coffee strong enough to strip varnish.

But perhaps his defining characteristic – which serves to highlight the biggest of contradictions in his life – is his inherent pessimism.

Ask anyone to describe my father and the word pessimist is guaranteed to show up in the opening sentence of the conversation. One gets the sense that his pessimism is obligatory – as if it’s the only way he knows how to exist in the world?

The numbers for the weather hotline are worn bare on his phone touchpad. He also, of course, watches the weather each night on the evening news and checks it daily – multiple times – from his laptop. Regardless of the forecast, he finds reason for dread and impending doom. Nothing but sunny skies? The jet stream is sure to shift at the last moment so we’ll get caught at the beach in a downpour. Rain? That’s a forecast that can only get worse – showers are likely to morph into a Category 4 hurricane, with some lightning thrown in for good measure.

I’m exaggerating here, but only slightly.

Another result of his relentless pessimism? He always assumes something will prevent us from arriving on time, and Dad cannot bear to be late. So he leaves early. Very early. For everything. Once, when I was in high school, we were taking friends to a live performance in a nearby city. We left early (obviously) and, without a clear memory of the logistics, I can virtually guarantee I complained about the nuisance of leaving so far in advance.

Less than 20 minutes after leaving home we had a flat tire. “And this,” he said, with unmistakable triumph in his eyes, “Is why we always leave early.

So if I learned the art of letter writing from my mother, I was schooled in the art of pessimism by my father. And he was an excellent teacher.

I like to cast my own tendencies under the umbrella of realism, but it’s thinly-veiled pessimism at best. I do what I can to compensate, but realize it’s part of my nature. (And nurture.) But despite his own pessimism, Dad makes space for two exceptions.

  1. He is in perpetual awe of natural beauty.
  2. He isn’t pessimistic about me.

nature = optimistic about beauty

Maybe a deep appreciation for nature doesn’t seem like the perfect foil to pessimism but, for my father, the link exists.

He prioritizes time in the natural world and, aside from catastrophizing about the weather forecast, seems to check his pessimism at the forest or river “door”. He has been spending most of his spare time outside since he was a toddler; by the time he was a teenager, he spent most weekends alone – hiking local mountains, cooking over a makeshift firepit, and building lean-tos for overnight shelter. He is still happiest in a canoe with a thermos of hot coffee at his feet, keeping a steady eye on the riverbanks for wildlife.

All of my favourite memories with Dad involve time spent outdoors and I am forever grateful that my own children have been able explore the wild with their grandfather – from canoeing and building bonfires on the beach, to our a foray into maple syrup production. How could anyone be pessimistic while tapping maple trees on a sunny day in March? (Well, actually, Dad was – he told us repeatedly we’d never get enough sap to boil down into syrup. We proved him wrong with 250 mL of home-grown syrup.)

Long before I was a parent myself, Dad took me on overnight camping trips where we listened to baseball games on the radio while looking up at the stars. We cooked bacon and eggs on a propane stove and washed dishes in tiny streams. My Dad took me skating on outdoor lakes and cross-country skiing up the mountain road behind our house. Though money for a rural Baptist minister was in short supply, as long as we had enough for a tank of gas and some sandwiches, Dad was always ready for an outdoor adventure. We’d leave early to get there and he’d fret about the weather but, once we arrived, his unique brand of optimism would shine through.

My absolute favourite memory of my father involves our annual pilgrimage to collect boughs. At some point in his life, Dad learned how to make evergreen wreaths. Each November he would bring me along to tromp through the woods filling bags full of fir branches. The smell was incredible and to this day fresh-cut evergreens are one of my favourite scent profiles.

He’d cut off a handful of branches with his yellow-handled tin snips and I’d hold the bag and follow him through the underbrush. Clip, clip, clip – stash. Clip, clip, clip – stash. I don’t remember talking much; my Dad appreciates solitude even more than I do. In those days, I doubt he imagined one day I’d look back on this annual trek with such deep nostalgia. He loved the woods and his daughter and I like to think it was only natural he combine both into a much-loved ritual. (Also, my mother was quite content to stay at home, not being the “woodsy” type – writing letters perhaps? – and my older siblings would have been working, so now that I think of it, I was probably the only person he could recruit as a helper).

The resulting wreaths were beautiful – and enormous – filling a huge part of the front walls of the sanctuary. He’d also make a giant swag for the rear entry, and birch log candle holders for all the windows. The excitement of the Sunday School Christmas Concert would literally keep me up at night. But before the twinkle lights and ribbons and baubles, all the beauty originated with Dad and me in the woods.

my father has faith in me

Here’s another thing Dad taught me about pessimism – you can suspend it. And he’s always done this for me.

Through nature or nurture (likely a combination of both), I tend toward pessimism and self-doubt. Never were these tendencies on finer display than during my first year of university.

I was a wreck. Constantly worried I was falling behind or, worse, on the path toward failure. The latter, as an 18-year-old, felt like an inconceivable embarrassment that would forever ruin my life.

I would call home in tears, completely overwhelmed, and Dad would listen and tell me things were going to be okay. One horrible Saturday my Mom came to visit and worked for hours to teach me basic Chemistry (every time I hear the terms molarity or molality I’m transported back to homecoming weekend of my freshman year working through endless sample problems on the musty-smelling red-carpeted basement floor of the library with Mom).

And then I did fine. Over and over again things turned out just fine. When I failed a few Chemistry labs, literally nothing bad happened. I managed to ace some midterms and, eventually, wound up loving the class.

At the end of it all – in a pattern that was repeated over and over again – my Dad would simply say: “I knew you’d do well.

Not in a “Why were you even worried?” way. More as if from one pessimist to another, he was giving me permission: “Go ahead and worry if it helps, but I wasn’t worried. I kept the faith in your ability when you lost yours.

Even now, with no grades to share, I know that he expects the best from and for me. He gives me the benefit of the doubt and encourages me when I reach out with my own pessimistic thoughts.

This Father’s Day I could tell you how my Dad taught me to paddle a canoe or whittle a stick for roasting marshmallows. But here’s a truth that’s likely less conventional: he also taught me a lot about pessimism. I don’t worry (much) about the weather and I’m rarely early for anything. But I am unmistakably a pessimist. I try to intentionally resist – and for good reason, as pessimism brings a lot of unnecessary suffering into my life. But it’s also a link to my father. A father who modeled pessimism, but also taught me how to appreciate the smell of fir trees, encouraged me to lace up hiking boots to go explore a trail in the woods, and taught me to have faith in others when they might be losing it in themselves.

Happy Father’s, Dad. Thanks for taking me on all those adventures. And I forgive you for always making us leave home so early.

And Happy Father’s Day to my wonderful husband and father-extraordinaire, John, who continually teaches me about the joys of optimistic living.

Casual Friday + A Week of Mondays

At times over the last 7 days, it felt like I was living through a week of Mondays.

Garfield says it best…

But let’s start off with some excellent news: the kitchen plumbing has been fixed and it has been wonderful to hear the dishwasher whirring or to hand-wash dishes in the sink and have all the water disappear when I pull the plug.

The plumbing success capped off a wonderful end to last week – an intense but productive string of work events, beautiful sunshine, and a fun adventure with friends on Friday evening (see below).

The bad news? After the highs of Friday, the next few days felt like repeated thudding along at ground level.

Levi came down with a bug over the weekend – some congestion and coughing. Rapid tests keep coming back negative (for every family member) so, thankfully, this appears to be “only a cold” but we have negative testing requirements for some upcoming travel; the last minute chance of plans being completely upended by the virus is an ever-present reality in this new pandemic world that leaves me with a general sense of unease.

Levi was easy to entertain while home from school – he was energetic and in a great mood (the best kind of “sick”). He skunked me in so many games of Sorry it’s depressing (and I was trying very hard to win). But it also meant the days lacked structure and left me feeling… restless.

And then there was The Big Banking Kerfuffle. We did what, many times in the past, has been a fairly routine banking procedure to maximize a bonus interest promotion. When we got to the end of the process, we received an error message which told us to try again. So we resubmitted the form – successfully this time – and printed off the reference number. And then we received two e-mail confirmations. As in, despite the error, the original transfer had happened. Cue phone calls – lots of them – to solve the issue. We were reassured Worst Case Scenario wouldn’t happen. Multiple times. By multiple different bank representatives. And then Worst Case Scenario did happen…which caused layers and layers of headaches and more phone calls. It was decidedly unpleasant. Eventually, two trips to the bank and various account contortions temporarily solved the issue, but it still isn’t fully resolved. The whole thing is figureoutable…but it also really sucked.

The next round of renovations, which keep getting delayed, are tentatively set to take place while we’re away on a short family vacation. Part of me is relieved, as being around during renovations is my idea of a living nightmare. But, another part of me is very anxious. There are hundreds of little decisions that have to be made on the fly and while I hate making said decisions, I also don’t like to think of them being made without me. We have done everything we can to prepare in advance. But it still feels unsettling to the control-freak-stress-about-everything side of my personality.

Okay – enough with the complaining. Nothing remotely “bad” happened this week and we’re fine. Just sometimes life feels decidedly unfun and this whole being-a-grownup thing can seem very overrated. Know what I mean?

READING | After a string of sub-par books, I’ve had a set of relatively good reads over the last few weeks (no 5/5 books, but most fell into the 4/5 range).

I’ve been called melancholic by friends and naturally tend toward what Cain describes as a bittersweet temperament. I love how she captures my feelings about beautiful and joyous things feeling tinged with, well, melancholy – not out of sorrow, but a loving ache or longing.

In fact, you could say that what orients a person to the bittersweet is a heightened awareness of finality. Children splashing joyfully in puddles bring tears to grandparents’ eyes because they know that one day the children will grow up and grow old (and they won’t be there to see it). But those aren’t tears of sorrow, exactly; at heart, they’re tears of love. (Bittersweet)

I read two “anti-diet” books. They exist on a spectrum of intuitive eating, but even eschew that term/movement as being too restrictive. I’m not going to unpack things further here, but both of these books are interesting reads if you’ve struggled with food, weight, and body image.

I have lived my entire life believing (and I still live in a culture that believes) that the only way I would be able to accept my body would be, ironically, to change it. (Project Body Love)

I am not anti-goals. I’ve got goals. But I am anti-expecting-external-goals-to-actually-make-you-happy. That raise will not solve all of your problems at work. Falling in love does not erase self-doubt or feelings of loneliness…We have to look at what we are really searching for underneath the goal. If what you’re really seeking from weight loss is more kindness to yourself and a cute new shirt…you need to be willing to give those things to yourself now…The way you seek out a goal is the state you will still be in once you get there. (The F*ck It Diet, emphasis mine)

While All We Want fell a bit flat for me (didn’t love the structure or writing style), I can’t stop thinking about the issues it raised surrounding consumerism and wellbeing/happiness. It left me feeling very sad about how we humans care for this earth God created. I also thought a lot about hypocrisy; I mentioned reading a book recently where the author discussed – at length – her disdain for single-use cups (even approaching strangers at cafes to berate them) but then hops on an airplane to reach various hiking destinations. Last weekend I caught up on some blog posts from an “influencer” I used to read years ago (before she started “influencing”). Her content has become more and more sponsored/tailored for SEO, but she talks at length about eating “cleanly” and using only “clean” products for personal care and home maintenance. But then she mentioned ordering a huge number of clothes online, expressly highlighting her plan to “just return whatever doesn’t work” which necessitates generation of additional fossil fuels and other forms of waste. Even people that claim to be focused on prioritizing the planet (e.g. clean products, eat-local) only seem to (in most cases) take things as far as it works for their lifestyle and brand. And I don’t necessarily take offense to this UNLESS they go out of their way to discuss how much they prioritize environmental causes. They’re environmentally conscious… when it’s convenient. End rant. (To be fair I do this same thing in various areas in my own life; I have no right to cast stones in this argument, it’s just something that has been nagging at me lately.)

The book didn’t necessarily help me process any of the above, but left me thinking about all related issues from various perspectives.

A shattered bedroom window, a lost wedding ring, even a scuffed sneaker can make us feel vulnerable because our self-hood partly resides in what we claim as our own…[Corporations] encourage this intimacy between ourselves and our things. They encourage us to pour some part of ourselves into each possession: if those possessions are lost, we are prompted to feel “a sense of shrinkage of our personality, a partial conversion of ourselves to nothingness.” Perhaps each of these miniature losses is an intimation of that greater loss – our death, when we lose our most valuable treasure, the body. Perhaps it hurts so much to lose a coffee mug, a book, a toy, because it reminds us that nothing material is everlasting and we will one day forfeit even our flesh and bone. (All We Want)

This quote raises some interesting points; as it relates to my faith, I would take it one step further with the following verses in Matthew 6: 19-20. 19 Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; 21 for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

The Stanley Tucci book was both hilarious (I laughed out loud a lot) and heartbreaking. I considered this book in a new light knowing that reader Katie works with his father-in-law and has met Stanley Tucci (Tucci is now married to Felicity Blunt, sister of Emily Blunt – who is wife to John Krasinski, aka Jim Halpert). How cool!

But perhaps the most precious heirlooms are family recipes. Like a physical heirloom, they remind us from whom and where we came and give others, in a bite, the story of another people from another place and another time. (Taste)

I didn’t love Island of the Blue Dolphins. I know this is a revered classic, but I found it sad and…tedious compared to, say, The Swiss Family Robinson which I’ve loved for as long as I can remember. But perhaps that’s because I came to this book late in life; I know someone who adores this book but has a deep sentimental attachment to it from her youth.

“In the beginning of life, when we are infants, we need others to survive, right? And at the end of life, when you get like me, you need others to survive, right?” His voice dropped to a whisper. “But here’s the secret: in between, we need others as well.” (Tuesday’s with Morrie)

Picture books have not been stellar lately but we checked out Snowflake Bentley…again. We’ve been reading this book for years and it is one of my favourite picture books of all time. I love the re-telling of this true (albeit heartbreaking) story.

WATCHING+ENJOYING | Meltdown (a Netflix docuseries about the nuclear disaster at Three Mile Island). Julia (the HBO dramatized series about Julia Child). And we just finished Masterpiece’s All Creatures Great and Small (fans of the Harry Potter movies, actor Matthew Lewis – who plays Neville Longbottom – is in this series). The latter was…simple, heartwarming and entertaining.

JOYFINDING | The cardinal right outside the window as I type this. I’m not sure why we’ve seen a sudden uptick in these beautiful red birds (climate change?), but they are lovely.

The playdoh creations the kids made one afternoon for over an hour. Together. No fighting. It was amazing.

The Arts for Kids hub projects the kids made one afternoon for over an hour. With new oil pastels they had to share. No fighting. It was miraculous.

Family walks; especially the stretch where Levi and I did mental math for 25 minutes per his request.

I won’t tell you how many Keto Mug Cakes (this recipe) I made during the week. Okay, I’ll tell you. I made one every single day and they were delicious (topped with a spoonful – or two – of peanut butter which melts into a pool of liquid peanut butter gold).

EXERCISE | Daily walks. I only ran once this week – Levi was home from school multiple days and all the hassles of being a grownup sapped my energy. But, John and I managed to fit in one long run together yesterday and it was great! Years ago, when I was running more regularly, I had a favourite route which was 8.34 km (how’s that for specific; I’m sure the distance varied slightly, but this is the number that stuck in mind). My goal this year was to work up to running that same route. Check.

THRIFTING | A pair of sneakers at a local consignment store. In like-new condition; $25 – $12 credit (from clothes I’ve consigned) = $15 (taxes included) for new sneakers!

ADVENTURING | Last Thursday, about an hour after we’d returned from visiting an abandoned textile factory and old railway cars, and about 5 hours after we’d returned from our long hike to Cape Split, a friend texted to see if our family was up for a “playdate” after she finished work on Friday.

I knew Friday was going to be nuts at work, and it had already been a busy week (what with all the water pouring out onto the kitchen floor). I waffled, wanting to say no but also remembering this friend, and her husband, are some of the best adventurers we know.

So we said yes. And she suggested Medford Beach.

Several years ago John and I visited these local rock formations (about 20 minutes from our home), and we’ve been planning to take the kids ever since. Last Friday ended up being the perfect opportunity; the tide was perfectly aligned for an early evening/post-work adventure. We had the beach and formations to ourselves and the weather was ideal.

After exploring for a few hours we all came back to our place and heated up waffles (this recipe, always) and played JustOne.

And then I did laundry on Saturday morning, for obvious reasons.

I love this picture John captured of the kids. The beautiful formations + their candid smiles.

Below are two throwback pictures from the last time John and I visited; sadly the archway of the bottom formation has eroded in the last few years.

And that’s all from me. Hope everyone has a fabulous weekend – with nary a plumbing or banking debacle.

And here’s to a Friday that feels…like a Friday (not a Monday).

On Mother’s Day, An Ode to Letter Writing

It’s Mother’s Day on Sunday.

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

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

Now I have a space.

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

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

But more than anything, I write like she writes.

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

an ode to letter writing

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

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

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

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

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

These were snapshots of our life and Mom was recording.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then one day I received an unexpected response.

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

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

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

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

Leroy died, Nina aged, and I moved away.

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

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

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

Nina the artist.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a start.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Header photo by Kate Macate on Unsplash

Destination Prince Edward Island: Part One

You might think the timing of this trip is directly related to my recent foray into all things Lucy Maud Montgomery…but you’d be mostly wrong.

Really, this reflects the sad truth that we live only three hours from a beautiful province and haven’t visited for A DECADE.

We have good excuses; we spend summer vacation time at my parent’s lakeside home in New Brunswick, which is delightful.

Also, Prince Edward Island (PEI) is a province utterly transformed in the summer; there are people everywhere. It’s hard – and expensive – to find accommodations. We also aren’t the type of family who enjoys spending half an hour searching for parking spaces at a crowded beach or amusement park. (I mean, does anyone enjoy that? I guess it would be more accurate to say we are the type of family that actively avoids crowded beaches and amusement parks.)

And, perhaps most importantly, we love exploring our home province of Nova Scotia (check out my Travel page for some highlights), which is stunning in the summer.

So, at the last minute, we decided to trek to PEI. The kids had a random Friday off school and we’re trying to be intentional about making the most of family adventuring while John is on sabbatical. And there is NO shortage of accommodations in the off-season (as busy as PEI gets in the summer, it is “dead” in the winter/spring).

And, yes, I’ll admit that reading the Anne books gave me a final nudge.

We only stayed on the island for one night. I’ll recap our adventures from Day One today and come back tomorrow with Day Two.

Day One

1. the drive

We hoped to be on the road by 7 am, but the kids were awake early enough that we were driving by 6:45 am. It’s always a great (and rare) feeling to be ahead of schedule.

I tasked Abby with making some PB&J sandwiches for the car, and the kids ate these for breakfast en route.

Side note regarding food for the trip. Between frugality and finding food stops to be very time-consuming, we prefer to travel with items from home. We packed some ham and cheese sandwiches for the day (and brought jars of PB&J + mini brioche buns to make more sandwiches if needed), hard-boiled eggs, apples, oat muffins, carrot sticks, and a big jug of water, so we didn’t stop to eat until supper time; on Day 2 we had breakfast included at the hotel and then just ate remaining picnic items the rest of the day).

The kids were absolute rockstars on this trip. They’re used to spending time in the car and seem to understand the delayed gratification necessary to enjoy adventures. I also think we’ve reached the ideal stage for this sort of thing: they’re old enough to be out of diapers and naps but young enough to get excited with simple activities.

The first hour of the drive we spent talking about…I can’t remember what?! Then the kids mostly just listened to audiobooks.


Levi, sadly, had fallen asleep in a very rare car nap and missed our bridge crossing. There isn’t much to see because the sides of the bridge are so high, but it is still an impressive and fun part of the trip.

The Confederation Bridge links PEI to the mainland of New Brunswick and is the world’s longest bridge that crosses ice-covered waters. At 12.9 km, it is a long bridge by any standard!

3. Cape egmont

Our first stop was Cape Egmont. The dirt road leading down to this lighthouse was treacherous (muddy and deeply rutted), but we made it in – and out – in one piece.

One of our family “things” is visiting lighthouses. We’ve gone to at least 60 now, and it’s a fun unifying theme for our vacations as we actively seek out new lighthouses wherever we go.

Of the 7 (!!) lighthouses discovered on this trip, we agreed this was the prettiest (it would be even nicer in the summer with green grass standing out in sharp relief to the red cliffs).


West Point is the “poster” child of lighthouses for the island. It actually has a (run-down) motel associated with the lighthouse, so you can book accommodations that attach to the lighthouse. It was pretty and tall, but we didn’t stick around too long and the beachfront was nothing spectacular.


When we left West Point Lighthouse, we drove by Cedar Dunes Provincial Park. The kids spotted playground equipment and we made an impromptu stop. I did a 1 km walk while they played, and then we grabbed lunch from our picnic bag before heading off to the northern tip of the island.

6. North Cape LIGHTHOUSE

While PEI is very small, it still felt like North Cape was a long trek into the middle of nowhere. It is the northernmost tip of the island and I was shocked by how windy it was; when we discovered the Wind Energy Institue of Canada is located on the premises, it made a lot of sense. (There were wind farms everywhere and they have giant turbine pieces on display for the public.)

North Cape is also home to the longest natural rock reef in North America (who knew?), extending almost two kilometers offshore from the cliffs. On a warmer day we might have explored the beach and looked for all the promised sea life, but the kids and I quickly admitted we were freezing and headed back to the car…where I realized my keys were in the trunk (not a good place for keys when a car is locked) and John was nowhere to be found.

I was feeling bummed. It was cold and windy. The lighthouse was rather industrial and run-down. And it had been a long drive. I called John to ask him to come to unlock the car and he said he’d be right back…but we might want to consider coming to see the rock formation he had discovered on the beach.

I convinced the kids to give this chilly cape one last shot and it ended up being one of those moments when waiting just a bit longer paid dividends. The rock formation ended up being one of my highlights from the trip!

This looks like a relatively boring access point to the beach and then BAM!

These pictures don’t do this space justice. The kids had a great time playing in the smaller caves and cutouts and there was a small cove/tiny beach on the other side of the formation that was protected from the wind. It was a hidden oasis I suspect few people visiting the area discover!

7. thunder cove

We love spelling things in the sand. Fun fact: sand writing factored into John’s marriage proposal!

Thunder Cove has one of the best spots for viewing the iconic red sandstone cliffs of PEI. We were warned in advance, though, to CHECK THE TIDES.

So…we CHECKED THE TIDES and opted to visit 4 hours after high tide. We walked down the beach to reach the most famous landmark – the Teacup formation. Unfortunately, we hit a roadblock in the form of some very cold water and an incomplete tide. The water was still too high to get around the bend to view the teacup formation. Whomp, whomp. So, a friendly word of advice: CHECK THE TIDES and then visit at the lowest tide possible!

We ended up finding an alternate route that left us quite muddy (note to self: allowing Abby to wear light blue jeans was a mistake), but the mess was worth it! Such a pretty formation.

8. New london lighthouse

The New London Lighthouse was probably my favourite lighthouse, largely due to nostalgia.

When I looked up filming locations from the Anne of Green Gables films, most spots were actually in Ontario (which is a bit of a letdown for movies featuring PEI). But one lighthouse scene was filmed on the island and happened to be smack dab in the middle of our return route to Charlottetown, so we made a quick stop.

Again, this would be nicer in the summer with tall green grass, but we tried to take a picture that highlighted the pop-culture significance of the location and I would definitely consider coming back here for a longer visit on a warmer day as it was a lovely spot (complete with a staircase that led to nowhere, which the kids thought was hilarious).

9. lucy maud Montgomery’s birthplace

Our final stop for the day was Lucy Maud Montgomery’s birthplace, which we happened upon by accident. John saw a sign out of the corner of his eye, and we made a hasty turn into the empty (everything. is. empty. in. the. offseason!) parking lot so I could take a look around.

And here, around a certain corner, is a certain small, yellowish-brown house, close to the road, that I always look at with a kind of fascination, for it is the house where my father and mother lived after their marriage, and where I was born and spent the first year of my life. The years have passed on and each succeeding one has left the little brown house something shabbier than before, but its enchantment has never faded in my eyes. I always look for it with the same eager interest when I turn the corner.

L. M. Montgomery’s Journal, December 31, 1898

It’s no longer brown but reading her quote on the placard gave me goosebumps!

10. Charlottetown

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve used Gretchen Rubin’s line about: The things that go wrong often make the best memories and I got another chance during this trip.

We were tired after a long day and when we confidently pulled up to the front entrance of our hotel, you could practically hear angels singing. Come to find out we were trying to check in to the WRONG hotel. There were two hotels with the same name in Charlottetown, which I didn’t realize when I keyed our destination into the GPS. It ended up costing us about 20 minutes and I was very grumpy about my mistake.

But, sometimes the things that go wrong do make good memories and the kids seem to think it’s both thrilling and hilarious that I made this mistake and it has become part of our family story about the trip.

Once we got settled at the right hotel, we headed to the pool – the waterslide was 105 ft long and very fast and very fun.

We found a local restaurant and ate a quick supper and were back to the hotel around 8:00 pm for some snacks in bed (which we brought from home) and a few more episodes of Race Against the Tide.

Just for kicks, I thought I’d show you my screentime report from this Friday! Between taking photos, Googling everything, and using the GPS (how did people travel before GPS and Google?)…well, there were a lot of screens.

And that’s a wrap on Day One. I know there many loyal Anne of Green Gables fans out there, but I feel like PEI is an obscure travel destination – has anyone reading here ever visited PEI?

Casual Friday + A Nature Highlight Reel

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

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


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

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

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



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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bad Vegan. What a crazy story.

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

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

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

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

nature’s highlight reel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Header photo by Isabella and Zsa Fischer on Unsplash

Giving Choices I Don’t Hate + Other Parenting Hacks

I’ve already confided that it can sometimes feel like there are just too many parenting hours to fill. Maybe this is because I have high expectations of those hours – I want them to be meaningful and I want to enjoy them?

I can simultaneously realize that my littles are growing up faster than I want them to while acknowledging that they can (often) drive me absolutely crazy.

A few weeks ago I was reminded of the importance of offering choices that are acceptable to me, along with a few other little hacks that make my role as a parent just a tiny bit easier.

give choices i don’t hate

I am not a get-on-the-floor-and-play-action-figures sort of Mom. I’ve struggled with feeling a lot of guilt over this. I think the women who are those sort of mothers tend to genuinely enjoy those activities. I don’t. Time doesn’t just slow for me, I’d swear it starts running in reverse.

I also don’t like “crafting” – specifically anything that involves glue, paint, glitter, or rolling out dough of any sort. Or playing dressup. Or most activities that require imagination, silly voices, or hiding and seeking.

But I do like reading, taking long nature walks, colouring, doing Wordle, exploring beaches, boating out to isolated lighthouses, tapping maple trees, and playing Codenames…among other things. I can be fun, in my own way.

About a month ago I glanced out the window to see Abby slumping home and looking like she had lost her best friend (in reality she had gone to see if a neighbouring friend could play and no one was home, so basically the same thing to a 10-year-old). Before she walked through the door I decided to give her three options of things I would enjoy/tolerate:

  • Go for a walk (she really likes walking alone with me and, since her birthday is fast approaching, I figured she’d love the chance to plan every detail of her little party).
  • Play a few rounds of Codenames (I was 95% certain this would be the option she would choose).
  • Organize her room.

I was shocked when she said – immediately – that she wanted to work on her room.

While I have both kids pick up their rooms almost daily, I have to manage my expectations and respect the fact that the contents of their room are very sentimental and give them an element of independence and control they don’t yet have in other areas of their life.

So Abby’s room feels…overwhelming to me. One wall is covered in papers with homemade drawings. Another area by her desk has a “mask” station where she took little balls of sticky tack and affixed marbles and other colourful items to the wall to create hooks (2019 Elisabeth didn’t see 2020’s “mask wall” coming). It’s very creative but very, very cluttered (to me)!

But together we pared down her closet (two bags for consignment/hand-me-downs); we straightened and dusted her shelves, we rescued stray socks and papers from the vortex under her bed. And we talked the whole time.

It was certifiably enjoyable.

In fact, when we finished her room, Abby was so enthusiastic she insisted on organizing our (already organized) stash of dry/canned goods in the basement storage room.

It felt good to offer a range of choices – it made her feel like she had a real say in the itinerary of her day, but I also didn’t feel crushed by the weight of having to play school with a dozen Calico Critters with rhyming names that I’m supposed to remember.

And sometimes as a parent I have to remind myself: it’s okay to offer choices that make me happy too. I knew any of those three would be fun for Abby. But I was also stacking the deck in my favour. Instead of an open-ended “What do you want to do?” I was able to offer mutually agreeable options while allowing her a degree of independence with the final choice.

reset the mood with a comforting ritual

Recently, both kids arrived home from school grumpy. One child had bumped into a table right before getting on the bus rendering them tender in body and spirit. Another child had a soul-sucking Math test that had encroached on recess. It was cold and wet and…just one of those days.

Instead of trying to cheer everyone up with positive affirmations and a “let’s look on the bright side” pep talk – my natural inclination – I set right to work at making a batch of hot chocolate (unusual for an ordinary school day). While they sipped and decompressed I read a few books – I could sense they needed their space to lick literal and proverbial wounds. And then I gave them each 1 minute to share details about the worst part of their day. They had the floor for a limited period of time (negativity can spiral without boundaries) but got the primary grievances with teachers and immovable objects off their chests. Then I gave them another minute – each – to let us know about the best moment(s) of their day. By the time the final mini-marshmallow had been consumed, everyone seemed content and ready to move on with the afternoon.

Normally my tendency would be to ask about details immediately and try to help them solve their problem. But this time (and I suspect most days), hot chocolate, some read-aloud time, and then short stints where each child “had the floor” was a far better solution.

make life easier for future ME

I’ve heard a lot of self-help gurus preach the message of doing things now to improve our future reality. This could be prepping workout clothes the night before or setting out multivitamins by the coffee pot.

I had a very specific “What would make this easier for future me?” moment recently.

One Wednesday I had a very tight turnaround. I had promised the kids we’d go to the after-school skate at a local arena – our first time skating inside since the start of the pandemic (I used to do this twice weekly and “2022 Elisabeth” can’t believe this was such a regular part of our former routine). I had back-to-back work calls leading right up to our departure. I also knew with the timing of the bus, we were going to arrive late for the one-hour skating slot. Since I wanted to maximize their time on the ice, I thought: What can I do now to expedite the process later?

The best answer? Get their skates fully loosened.

If you’ve ever laced up kid’s skates, you know how long it can take to get the skates loose enough to get them on. So I took 2 minutes and loosened the laces such that the kids could simply slip on their skates independently when we arrived at the rink.

This felt like such a life coup.

And while I couldn’t volunteer with Levi’s class when they went skating (his FIRST extracurricular since starting school in the middle of a pandemic; both sad and exciting!), I made sure to fully loosen his skates. I hope it made some poor parent volunteer’s day to have one child fully ready to have their laces tied!

Lest you think I have this whole parenting thing figured out, I don’t. I have adult temper tantrums, raise my voice, apologize and then proceed to rant some more, and find parenting downright hard (because it is!).

Your turn. Any great parenting hacks to report? Any routine things you do to make life easier for your future self?

Header photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

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

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

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


Um. What now?

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

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

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

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

And he loves me all the more for it.

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

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

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

That takes love, folks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brené Brown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Header photo by Jeremy Bezanger on Unsplash

A Little Is Almost Always Better Than Nothing

If you’re anything like me, you’re probably tempted to go big or go home. If I can’t run 5 km, why bother running 2 km? If we can’t go sledding for an hour, why bother bundling the kids up for 10 minutes?

Sometimes it does make sense to conserve our energy and wait until we can invest significant time or resources into an activity or project.

But I think, more often than not, we short-sell the impact of doing “just” a little.

A few minutes of planking each day is better than no planking.

Writing a few sentences a day is better than the 2,000-word tome that never gets written.

Spending 5 minutes at bedtime with the kids is better than skipping it altogether because I don’t have the bandwidth to dedicate 30 minutes to the activity.

This last one really hits home. Because I’m a work-from-home mom (and fit that work in and around being a stay-at-home mom; we have virtually no external childcare aside from public schooling), I’m in a bit of an unusual situation. To my kids, I’m largely there for them at all times. And I see them. A lot. Sometimes too much. When bedtime rolls around, I am usually ready to be done seeing them. But I also feel like they need that time, especially as they get older and have so much to discuss.

There is something sacred about that bedtime ritual, especially when each child gets dedicated one-on-one time.

But long bedtimes – like the ones we used to do when they were little with the baths and the songs and the reading and the rocking – just feel beyond my reach. The kids stay up later, the discussions can be more emotionally exhausting, and I have the accumulated fatigue of almost a decade of health issues.

My solution: I’ve been setting the timer on my watch for 3- or 5-minute increments. Usually I end up staying longer, but that’s the minimum and gives me a set point of escape.

So when the kids ask for a snuggle, I can say yes without feeling like it’s an open-ended, crushing commitment. (I know some parents love bedtime – and it is a magical time of connection – but I’m going to raise my hand real high and say that sometimes bedtime is the absolute hardest time of the day for me because all I want is someone to help me get dressed in cozy jammies, help me brush my teeth, and then tuck me in and sing lullabies while stroking my forehead and telling me that I’m safe and loved and everything is going to be okay.)

Over the last month, I’ve enjoyed the bedtime process more than I have in years. No fighting or whining (mostly). Just short, high-quality bursts of time spent cuddling or listening – making these moments of connection feel extra special and leave us wanting more the next night. In this case, a little has been so much better than nothing and, quite honestly, probably better than a lot.

In fact, a little can be just right.

Anyone else find bedtime with small(ish) kiddos to be exhausting? Any current examples of where you’re committed to doing a “little” and being content with that?

P.S. I wrote a few months back about how watching my kids sleep can be one of the best mood resets when I’ve had a tough day. It’s one of my favourite posts.

Header photo by Beazy on Unsplash