Casual Friday + Sometimes the Goal Is Just To Show Up

  • Monday I woke up…not ready. John had left overnight for the airport and I didn’t feel prepared to face the day. I pushed through responsibilities – walked the kids to school, answered work calls, ate breakfast. By mid-morning I ended up taking a scalding shower and then crawled into bed for an hour. It was that sort of day. But then a friend stopped by with soup at lunchtime and I cried and she hugged me and I felt ready to move on. I systematically tackled work tasks, our teenage babysitter came over after school and baked with the kids. We ate my friend’s delicious soup for supper. Once the kids were in pajamas, we warmed up magic bags and snuggled on the couch with the mantle twinkle lights and talked until bedtime. A good end to a tough day.
  • I really missed John this week. I can’t believe I used to solo-parent almost 50% of the time for the better part of a decade! Every time he went away it felt hard (in an additive way, really), but it did start to have an air of abnormal “normalcy”. But having him home virtually nonstop for 2 years (this was only his 3rd trip since March 2020) has made me realize how hard it is to be apart. Working together at home, we’re literally around each other almost 24/7 x 365; I don’t think everyone’s relationship could thrive in that environment. Yet I missed him more than ever this time when he was away. He’s my best friend, and brings me great joy (and yes, frustration, too – it is a marriage between two flawed people, especially me; thankfully we agree on the correct way to hang a toilet paper roll and other similarly critical matters). I have friends that have been widowed and others that are separated and I recognize how blessed I am to be in love with my spouse.
  • As of last week I’m back on iron and hormone supplements to help offset my period issues, but they both come with side effects and I can’t decide which state is worse – life with or without them? Someone asked recently if my head is always fuzzy. It’s tricky to answer because I’ve grown so used to this resting state and I wonder if what I’m experiencing is actually normal? But then I remember the fact I can specifically pinpoint the last time I didn’t feel this way. It was an afternoon in late May 2021 when I was taking the kids to the zoo. We’d been cooped up for a month of lockdown and were a few days away from schools reopening. We booked a slot at the zoo and on the car ride there I suddenly realized I wasn’t tired. At all. Sadly, I woke up in my normal tired/fuzzy state the following day, but it does show me that there is a very real juxtaposition between my “normal” level of fatigue and how, I assume, many other energetic people feel moving through their days. And catching a glimpse of it definitely left me wanting more!
  • I’ve talked before about our beloved water cooler. The only downside to this apparatus is the biweekly need to replenish our water supply. We typically do this at a nearby spring (price = free). But since it has been approximately 1 million degrees below zero, the last two weeks we have used a local filling station (price = $2/bottle = 100% worth it). Ever since we started carting around giant jugs of water I’ve been worried about them spilling. It has never happened and I was finally getting lulled into a false sense of security. Then BAM. Sunday we arrived home to a trunk FULL of water. The entire contents of the water jug had spilled out – much of it into the spare tire bay. The trunk mats were soaked and I spent 20 minutes in my church dress (new-to-me Ann Taylor, see below) and snow pants (very classy combo) bailing water out of the trunk with a blue plastic child’s IKEA cup. My hands were like solid blocks of ice by the end, but the trunk has never looked cleaner.

News from the week…

BUYING | I haven’t been to my favourite thrift store in several months and I convinced Abby to join me last Friday for a quick trip. It is a small store nestled in a little strip-mall; for the majority of the time we were the only people there (aside from the cashier).

For $23.58 (including tax) I got: 2 bathing suits (including one new with tags), an Ann Taylor dress, a belt, a pair of comfy capri pants, and a Star Wars t-shirt for Levi. Hard to beat. I really needed a new bathing suit; the black one is Roots and is in great shape but pretty boring. But…my parents lake has quite a bit of sediment and my last bathing suit – with lots of white – has not fared well. A practical black bathing suit felt like a very adult decision.

The dress needed a belt and Abby picked out this polka-dotted, slightly metallic one. I’m saying it works and love that she is proud of her choice! I think a bright red or fushia one would be fun, too…
This is likely the only time you will see a bathing suit picture on my site, but this was NEW with tags and a liner. I paid $3.75 and it is adorable; look at those ruffles!! Now all I need is a sunny destination…

WATCHING | I almost never watch American football, or any sports for that matter. Growing up I was an obsessive Toronto Maple Leafs (NHL) fan and for several years early in our marriage, I watched A LOT of Toronto Blue Jays (MLB). For the most part, though, I have moved on from sports. We don’t have cable and John does his own thing with checking stats, so watching sports is not on the regular roster. But on Sunday we were able to watch the end of the Rams vs. Buccaneers game.

I had heart palpitations, I kid you not.

I must have had extra anxiety to spare when I was younger, but I definitely don’t have the stomach for sports now. Important facts to keep in mind: outside of the last Superbowl, I have not watched a football game in several years. I didn’t know a single player on either team except for Tom Brady, and it’s not like we’re exactly on a first-name basis. In short, I had zero skin in the game and I STILL couldn’t stop involuntary sweaty-palm syndrome and high anxiety. It was an especially exciting and tense final quarter, but still…it’s a game. For a sport I don’t even follow. At all.

We started watching the Chiefs and Bills game but I had the foresight to go to bed long before it was over, thereby avoiding more damage to my heart. The experience gave me flashbacks to the nail-biter Stanley Cup final from 1999 when Brett Hull scored an (admittedly contentious) goal at 14:51 of the third overtime. Everyone else in the house had long since abandoned the game and went to bed but I was a big Dallas fan and sat rocking back and forth from nerves until the wee hours of the morning to see how it would all pan out. Clearly I had the same issue back then…I just had the option of sleeping in after a particularly stressful sporting event. I’ll have to pace myself with the upcoming Winter Olympics

We also watched Struggle: The Life and Lost Art of Szukalski on Netflix over the weekend. A bit grittier than the previous art documentaries I’ve mentioned, but an incredible, crazy story…as they all seem to be. Tortured geniuses there are many – see below with my thoughts on Lucy Maud Montgomery.

WORK | Meh. Most of my work was not that exciting and had a lot of tedium to navigate (troubleshooting new upgrades to a custom software program I drive development on, creating meeting agendas and poking people on action items, and very boring but important budget discussions). Coming off feeling so productive the previous week, I dragged my feet more than I’d like. I got everything done that needed doing but it felt decidedly like “work” – which is fine, but not necessarily fun/motivating.

CHEQUE WRITING | An odd category for a Casual Friday, I know. I’ve mentioned several times how much I like writing cheques. I have two different sets of cheques to manage; business and personal. I was giddy because Monday was cheque day…until I went to write a cheque to a contractor mid-afternoon and realized I had written a series of cheques earlier in the day from the wrong pile (meaning, I wrote several business expenses on personal cheques). Facepalm. Thankfully there was no harm done because I discovered my mistake quickly, but maybe it’s time to hang up my cheque-writing hat?

EATING | This week was all about easy meals. With John away for work, I quickly reverted to even simpler meals than usual. Homemade mini pizzas one night, my lovely friend’s soup, pasta and more of those beloved green beans (equally delicious this week) to get us over the Wednesday hump; Thursday was supper out (I had thirds), and tonight is soufflé (Dutch/German) pancakes.

READING | It was a bit of a rough week for reading. First, I moved on to Anne’s House of Dreams. It’s still a great book, but is much darker than the preceding books; it contains lots of “hard” coupled with regular joyfinding, but I missed Anne’s group of friends and carefree life on the island.

This was made every harder by my ill-timed Google rabbit-hole searches about Lucy Maud Montgomery. I knew a tiny sliver of her biography but, wow, she led a tragic life – culminating in her death of suspected suicide via overdose. She was raised by grandparents (her mother died, her father essentially abandoned her), the man she loved died, then her best friend died, she lived through WWII, and she and her eventual husband were bitterly unhappy and plagued by depression for most of their lives together.

I made the same mistake after reading the Little House series; I read a biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder and let’s just say the books were very whitewashed; there was a lot of tragedy, mental illness, abject poverty, and deep family tensions behind-the-scenes. I can appreciate that their books served as a form of escape from their harsh realities, but it leaves me feeling so dreadfully sorry for these authors.

On another sour note, I read The Midnight Library. I know many, many, many people love this book. I could not stand it. The only character I felt I could tolerate was Volts, the cat, and even he had a sad part to play in this book. I did not find the premise engaging (reminded me a bit of the movies Inception, It’s a Wonderful Life, and Groundhog Day all rolled into one – an odd combination of films, I admit and all films I enjoyed). I found the ending predictable and unoriginal. The library itself seemed like a cross between The Matrix and the Hall of Prophecy from Harry Potter. And, I know this is nitpicking, but even the title character’s name irked me. Nora is lovely enough, but the last name of Seed? Somehow that just never fit for me. And I wanted to like Mrs. Elm, I really, really did. But I didn’t.

I wanted to go to the end and skip the middle, but I thought surely it must get better? Sadly, not for me. I found the book depressing and forgettable and decidely not fun. Bad timing for me, maybe? Or perhaps I am right in my assessment that most modern fiction is not for me. That said, I assume this book will be made into a movie at some point and people will rave about it.

Oh hello there purple Crocs – the footwear was more joyful than the book.

I’m now slightly terrified to get The Lincoln Highway; after loving A Gentleman in Moscow so much and then really not liking Rules of Civility, I’m wondering if I should just call it a draw with Amor Towles?

On a lighter note, my mother does NOT read this blog and has no idea I have been recently discussing this very topic…but remember the gnashing of teeth over my father’s habit of skipping to the end of books. Perhaps some of you thought I was making this up. Check out this text from my mother earlier in the week (she group texts the whole family every day; it is adorable and I love these daily texts about everything and nothing):


  • A solo walk last Sunday, complete with sun and flurries. To me the snow looked like little fluffy hellos from God. I’m not a big fan of winter, but it does blanket the world in white which gives it a feeling of hope and the longing for springtime renewal, which feels so relevant to me right now.
  • I really enjoy talking with seniors (more than with peers much of the time) and as I was navigating a tricky patch of ice on the way home I stopped to say hello to someone I didn’t recognize (be kind to strangers!). The person happens to be someone from our neighbourhood who is 82 and has lived in the same house for 41 years. We talked about parenting in the modern world and winter weather and COVID. Seniors have so many insights about what we should prioritize in life and I always leave these conversations feeling inspired.
  • I do loathe winter but have to admit our commute to school can be downright magical some mornings. We were running late and took a shortcut through the woods (header photo above), and I stopped to get a picture of Abby because it was Monday and if I was going to find joy I knew I needed to actively hunt for it and we all found it in knee-deep powdery snow.
  • When Levi suggested reading to me. I had to sneak a picture while we snuggled. Soon he’ll be reading to himself and I don’t want to forget that watching your child learn to read is a joy and privilege. The fact that he still fits on my lap; those little fingers that keep getting bigger but still fit inside my hands – this is joy.
  • When a friend knew it was a rough week and offered to bring over a meal and then hugged me when I started crying over both the kind gesture and my health frustrations. Mostly I can hold it together, but how joyful to have friends and family to hold you up when you can’t. It’s okay to cry, folks!
  • When this same friend was up for a last-minute walk and then, the next day, invited us over for supper (this being the meal where I had thirds; homemade Mac n’ Cheese at it’s finest). She is a true gem, and a huge source of Joy (*wink).
  • Cuddling a toddler and hearing him say “Wow.”
  • Living in a town where I ended up walking partway home from school dropoff with my family doctor and we talked about kids and COVID and even my health.
  • Coming home from our ski adventure and spotting this hot air balloon. The picture doesn’t do it justice. It was colourful and so fun to have it end up flying right over our neighbourhood. This isn’t wholly unusual – we see a handful each year – but in the dead of winter it was definitely an unexpected burst of joy.
  • Tickling Levi at bedtime and listening to him laugh and laugh. Also, playing hallway soccer with him.
  • Sitting on the couch and talking with the kids. They’re getting so big and they have a lot to say, much of it shockingly insightful and profound. I love when our conversations get deep and I take the time to really be there to hear their words and opinions.
  • A last-minute meet-up with a friend at my favourite cafe (decaf Americano for her; Earl Gray for me, of course) where we had one of those conversations you never want to end. Also, embracing the joy of having friends at a different life stage; this woman has recently retired from a demanding entreprenurial career which happened alongside raising a young family. She has so much wisdom to share, but our discussions are also a lot of fun (and this time we actually discussed the specific topic of having fun).

SOMETIMES THE GOAL is to just show up

We got ski passes for the 2021/2022 season.

We are not skiers. I have been a total of 4 times in my life, ditto for Abby; Levi and John have skied 3 times.

To say I feel out of place – as we pull into a parking lot swarming with people confidently strutting around in ski outfits and gear I can only imagine cost roughly the amount of a house downpayment – is a dramatic understatement. We show up with our $300 (Total. For 4 people!) hand-me-down/thrifted gear that works just fine, thank you very much…well, it didn’t, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

First let’s rewind. The weather when we left home was a balmy -21 degrees Celcius. That’s -5.8 degrees Fahrenheit, according to Google, for any American readers. Plus windchill, of course.

I told John: I just want to get to the hill.

That was my goal. My goal was not to do 5 runs. My goal was not even to keep everyone happy. I just wanted to show up. Good thing.

Levi ended up having issues with his bindings that took a long time to sort out. While John tended to that, Abby and I did a few runs on the bunny hill to warm up.

Abby begged to take the chairlift to the top, so we navigated over and got on. Once we were in the air, she started shivering. A lot. It was -21, remember. Unfortunately, there is only one way to get back down.

At one point we went through a spot where they were making snow and it was like a whiteout (interestingly when we skied down this exact run below the chairlift a few minutes later it was clear and sunny on the ground)!

By the time we got to the top her eyelashes were partially glued together with ice (this is why she owns goggles but, of course, as the mother I know nothing about these things and the suggestion to use the goggles that are on top of one’s head is a ludicrous idea as they are clearly just meant for use as a helmet decoration – duh).

I was elated to get to the bottom in one piece, but Abby was crying by the time I caught up to her. Her feet were frozen, she said. Levi had just emerged from the lodge very toasty, and anxious to do some runs on the bunny hill. So the girls went to the car and defrosted toes and fingers, while the boys managed to fit in a few quick trips down the bunny hill.

It was a lot of work for a few runs down the bunny hill and one exhilarating, though freezing, trek from the top. There were tears and equipment hiccups.

But we showed up. And that was the goal. We worked out kinks. We got our POV stickers to go with our passes. We dug out the balaclava’s and we adjusted the bindings.

When I got home I searched my quotes document; I knew I’d written down a “just show up” message somewhere along the way. The example I had came from a Brené Brown book when she described her child (I might be getting the details wrong, but I think she had a neck injury of some sort?) who had been a competitive swimmer and was now impaired by injury. Brown said to her daughter: “‘What if your goal is to show up and get wet.Sometimes the bravest and most important thing you can do is just show up.”

It wasn’t overly brave to go to the ski hill last week, admittedly, but when the goal was just to show up, it relieved a lot of pressure and I think this has broad applications to so many situations in life. I’m preaching to myself here…lest you think I’ve come anywhere close to mastering this wisdom.

How about you? Was it a good, bad, or medium week? Did joy find you, or did you have to do some hunting around to find it? Either way, I’d love to hear what’s making you joyful right now.

P.S. In case you were wondering, the only correct answer to how to place a toilet paper roll is with the trailing end over the top. For any Bible scholars out there, I believe this directive shows up in Leviticus somewhere…

I try not to assign labels of “good” and “bad” to subjective things. But this topic is not subjective. Over is the only civilized way to roll.

A Look At The Year That Was: Photobook 2021

I’ve written before – at length – about my love of photobooks. I’ve also given lots of background into my process for organizing all the pictures that go inside them (spoiler alert: organizing pictures is about 75% of the battle).

This is the part of the blog post where some of your eyes will glaze over. Feel free to skip and come back tomorrow! Photobooks are definitely not for everyone, but they are one of my favourite things to create as a self-appointed “Family Memory Keeper.

While the process can feel daunting, it’s the satisfaction of the end product that keeps me motivated.

A quick note about my personality – I am always on the hunt for a bargain. So while I would pay double for photobooks, I still want to feel like I’ve found the “best” deal.

In December 2020 I noticed my publisher of choice – Blurb – had a 35%-off sale right after Christmas. I wasn’t even started at that point, so I didn’t have a chance of making this deadline. I scrambled to get my book pulled together in early January…and then sat around twiddling my thumbs and listening to proverbial crickets for the next 2 months while I waited – impatiently I might add – for another coupon code. On principle, I absolutely refused to pay full price.

A new code eventually came on offer and all was once again right with the world. But I vowed not to make the same mistake twice.

So this year I started preparing in the early fall. It was nice, actually, to work away at the photobook in manageable hour-long chunks here and there. And, when the 35%-off sale popped up right after Christmas, I had only holiday photos left to assemble.

On December 29th I clicked the order button and had a smug grin of satisfaction on my face all day…

…until I happened to see the coupon code that popped up on January 1st for 40% off (and maybe free shipping too?).

But it was done and it’s here and, as usual, we’ve all been loving it.

Abby hunting down the duplicates.
Back cover of 2021 – love this picture!

I always, always, always end up with duplicate photos. It can take months for me to spot the double, but this year – TWICE – I had duplicates on side-by-side pages. I was encouraged when my husband wisely pointed out it makes the book extra special. And it does, funnily enough. I don’t try to do this (that would take all the whimsy out of it), but it is a fun little treasure hunt in a weird sort of way.

I promised Abby a Hershey’s chocolate kiss if she could find the set of duplicates I had spotted. Guess what – she never did find my set of duplicates but being eagle-eyes McGee, she found TWO additional sets of repeats. Yeesh. Lots of treasure hunting, I guess?

I thought it would be fun to show a few spreads so you can get an idea of how I structure my layouts. I have a Highlights page at the very beginning of the book that lists the main events from our year (see this post for more details) – things like John winning a photo competition, our family going skiing for the first time, Levi’s run-in with poison ivy. Beyond that, aside from a few page captions, I don’t use any text in my books.

I’m not including pages that show pictures of anyone outside our immediate family and I was shocked how few pages this left – although there were periods of feeling isolated by pandemic restrictions again this year, we really did manage to spend a lot of time outside with friends and family over the summer! So I’m missing huge swaths of time and adventures here, but you’ll get the general sense of our year and how I record the memories from it…

A look back at 2021 (WITH a bit of commentary)

These two pages are from spots we had only ever visited in the summer. The photos above are from Baxter’s Harbour, which has a beautiful coastal view and large(ish) waterfall. I had never considered going in the winter, but it was beautiful.

Harbourville, the spread pictured below, was equally incredible in the winter. I’m not sure if you can fully appreciate the context of the kids sizing compared to the enormous cascade of ice. The picture on the top right of the page shows the kids playing in the bottom left corner and they look like little ants. That waterfall/icicle was huge!

I try to add in lots of “non-human” shots as well. I find it compliments the overall aesthetic of the page. It also helps that John takes incredible pictures. Everything you see is a happy combination from both of us – he deserves lots of credit!

I like to take pictures from various angles (my Head skis below, my boots on top of the pebbled beach above – a bit hard to see from this vantage with the reflection on the photobook).

I don’t hesitate to use multiples of a similar pose. For example, I have two shots of the kids and John crossing a log (and yes it was precarious and yes they could have all ended up soaked and yes it was worth the risk). In the second picture, they have their arms out in their balancing pose and Abby is making a crazy face. I liked both pictures and so I kept them both. No dithering, and to me it’s fine to have things that capture slightly different nuances of the same moment.

A handful of pictures get full-page spreads – like this one of Abby on our front lawn on one of the two days the crab apple tree was in blossom.

I use text sparingly, but will often have a “header” page for lots of related pictures that follow. One day on a family walk we happened upon a quarry. The kids had a great time roaming around (we stayed off the dirt piles!). Subsequent pages are all random photos taken on other family walks that didn’t necessarily have a unifying theme like this particular walk did…

Again – pictures of the kids + pictures of scenery/flora. I also love pictures that don’t necessarily catch their full faces but highlight how small their hands still are or some other preservation of their kidhood. The pictures on the right are both of Levi during his obsessive Rubix cube phase. I love the view from between the vines of our hanging plant. He sat on the couch without moving for almost an hour. Later he moved to the footstool in front of me while I read a book. You can sense the concentration in both pictures, but it’s not overt. This round of commentary has less to do with photobooks and more to do with my/our photography style, admittedly!

I try to group special events together. On the left, I have pictures from the night we made up a “menu,” let the kids order from it and set up a tent in the living room for an overnight sibling sleepover. This was during our total lockdown in May, so activity selection was limited. I also organized a surprise Christmas-in-May. When they woke up (one random Saturday) I had set out stockings and a few gifts from my miscellaneous stockpile. I also made Cinnamon Coffee Cake (our traditional Christmas morning breakfast) and had Christmas music playing. Their reaction was speechless and it took minimal effort!

When the scenery is the star of the show, I try to make sure I still get pictures of people. John specializes in landscapes and architecture, while I gravitate toward pictures of people. It’s a great match. I took both pictures of the kiddos, and he handled the rest.

Here is more grouping by theme: a trip to a local lakefront cottage and a trip to the pool. These could have been weeks apart, but I put them close together for the shared element of water.

When we have a big event – like a major vacation or our annual trips (3 this summer) to my parent’s home, I try to subdivide photos into lots of categories.

Below is a spread of are our “calm lake” shots. Other spreads might involve wildlife (and contain pictures of Levi catching fish, frogs, and snakes), outdoor work (splitting and piling wood with my Dad and getting water from the natural spring on their property), another might be swimming, and another might be all about crafts and games with my Mom.

I find it so much easier to have lots and lots of subcategories.

We also really enjoy taking panoramics, which are surprisingly easy to capture with an iPhone.

The spread below is all local seaside destinations. I love that the kids are represented, even at a distance. The sunset picture on the right was such a special, special moment when we chased a sunset with Levi while Abby was at a pizza party and I love having the memory preserved.

Even if we return to a place for a second or third or tenth time, if we take pictures, I will commemorate the experience in our photobook. Every single year I have a spread for Peggy’s Cove. The kids look older, the weather is always different, we might take closeups of unique nautical things – no matter how you slice it, Peggy’s Cove deserves its own page.

Another “trick” is to have catch-all pages. These are miscellaneous pictures that don’t necessarily belong anywhere; I don’t give them as much dedicated space – typically using a 3×3 grid – but I want to retain the memory.

Sometimes I also can’t decide which picture I like better and will relegate a solid outtake from a main event (birthday, Christmas, vacation) to one of these collage pages. Mostly, though, these pictures are things we captured that have deep meaning but are either not of great artistic quality (low lighting, someone partially out of the frame) or don’t have a common theme.

For example below: John’s tiny deep-dish birthday cookie (he got a bigger celebration earlier in the week with pecan pie and turkey and all the fixings so don’t feel too sorry for him); three gold stars (I’m always talking about my love of gold stars and someone texted me these); the first time we lit candles in our favourite Danish candlesticks; a cool omelet face John made for the kid’s supper; Levi getting water from the spring (on his birthday); our week of Hello Fresh and Abby making supper; my e-mail from Sarah Hart-Unger asking if I would like her copy of the Sprouted planner (yes, please); a picture of my quotes book; a selfie post-haircut.

When I go back to old photobooks these are always some of my favourite pages, even though they’re just a hodge-podge.

As I mentioned earlier, I am not afraid to put in lots of repeats. I could have halved the pictures and only had one page to memorialize our tour of downtown holiday greenery (#GoWolfville), but every picture offered me something different. I love the one of me being silly with Levi, and I love the one of us being more serious (I’m rarely in pictures with the kids). I love the one of Levi far off in the distance (top left) and I love the one with both kids because…I love pictures of my kids together. Again, it’s my/our book, so I get to make these choices! I’m aiming for my good, not some idealized “perfect”.

Same thing below – I could have just put in one picture of our backwoods filled with snow (where is Robert Frost when you need him?)…but why not all three?

Finally I do black-and-white photos at the back. These are almost exclusively from John.

And that’s a wrap. On our photobook from 2021. Lots of great memories and I’m already looking forward to more special adventures in 2022.

If you happen to make photobooks, any tips or tricks? Alternatively, do you have any questions about photo organization or creating photobooks? This is a topic I could discuss for hours!

The Days Are Long…

Coming home from a family walk last week, I happened to be in the backseat with our precocious, surprisingly deep-thinking, 7-year-old. He looked pensive for a moment (all while perched on his booster seat, with scrawny legs crossed neatly – a truly adorable sight) and then turned to me and said: “You know how some people say 2021 went by very quickly? I think it did too.”

Cue mike drop. A 7-year-old who realizes the profound truth that time flies. 2021 felt like a time vortex; days that felt like eons, but then the reality of the fact that the year sped by like no other. Because – let’s face it – it was (yet another) year that felt like no other.

I’ve written before about my admiration for Gretchen Rubin’s work – I find her material very relatable and have incorporated so many of her life improvement strategies into my daily life that I’ve lost count.

One of her more famous discussions centers around the simplistically profound conclusion that: “The days are long, but the years are short.

Today I’m just going to focus on the first bit because, friends, the days can feel really, really long sometimes.

Our extended break between Christmas and the return to school has been a blessing in many ways; case numbers are relatively high in our province (especially considering we have always had very low infection rates per capita). After a “heavy” year – the word I’ve decided best describes 2021 – I needed the extra breathing room.


It’s ironic, as a mother, how often I feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day…but then also that the hours drag on interminably and there are far too many of them.

Don’t get me wrong – I love my children deeply, but it can sometimes feel very, very hard to fill all those hours.

They wake up early – often before I’ve set my own feet on terra firma. They’re always hungry…but eat fast. They no longer nap and are no longer content to sit still for hours reading books on my lap or cozying up on the floor doing the same puzzle 15 times in a row (thereby allowing me to turn off my brain). Honestly, it’s not that uncommon for them to be awake after I go to bed.

By 8:00 am last Saturday I had: helped with breakfast prep + cleanup, read the daily devotional + finished a chapter in our latest book (an epic account of Ernest Shackleton’s expedition to the Antarctic; Endurance by Alfred Lansing – highly recommend) and fielded about 22 requests for screen time.

By 10:30 am I had gone on a family hike (and snapped more pictures of the festive decor downtown), played two rounds of the board game Sorry, and deflected about 17 more requests for screen time.

By 1:00 pm I had helped prep lunch, gone for another walk (how could I turn down a 10-year-old requesting to go for a walk with her mother?), and settled the kids in their rooms for an hour of quiet time.

There are just so many hours to fill.

We do lots of (good) things. We go outside: we walk and hike and bike and play soccer and visit playgrounds. We play games and build LEGO. We read (a lot). The kids spend hundreds (literally) of hours outside with neighbourhood friends playing soccer and doing chalk art on our quiet little streets. We go skating and we stroll down picturesque streets. We sit around the table by candlelight each night and talk about our day (and endless Harry Potter trivia that is slowly melting my brain). But each activity can only fill…so much time.

We also allow plenty of screen time – some of it with quasi-educational value (drawing off Art for Kids Hub falls in this category to me), most of it not. Disney+ and Netflix have saved my sanity during this pandemic. In the last week my children have watched Encanto exactly 5 1/2 times. I made it through 1/2 the movie and do not need to finish it OR re-watch it. But it does keep them happy for roughly 90 minutes.

90 minutes might seem like a lot, but in the span of a day, a week, a month, a year – I can assure you it’s not.

In addition to 5.5 viewings of Encanto, in the last week they have also watched all three extended editions of The Lord of The Rings trilogy. Like I said, there is plenty of screen time in our house.

I don’t necessarily have a point to all of this, except the observation that sometimes the days can just feel long. Not because they’re particularly bad or hard – and I’m not opposed to kids feeling bored or entertaining themselves or to spending a portion of the day in front of a screen (trust me this plummets significantly when school is in session) – but just because there are so many hours to fill.

Now excuse me while I go put Encanto on…again.

Thoughts? Do you ever feel the same way?

Header photo by Malvestida Magazine on Unsplash

Casual Friday + Life Lately

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


This post is already mostly just about life lately but…

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

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

So good…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas 2021 Roundup: The Gifts

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

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

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

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

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

OUR christmas morning routine

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

gift highlights of 2021

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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

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

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

Christmas 2021: Cherry Cheesecake, Cardboard Boxes, a Broken Ornament, and Beaches

We ate cherry cheesecake this year. Somehow that feels significant – in a world that feels slightly (completely?) topsy-turvy. Some things stayed constant and for that I am grateful!

I’ve been honest lately about how “heavy” things have felt – and while Christmas was absolutely lovely and we are blessed so richly, it did still feel especially tiring. Between recent insomnia, the near-daily changes to COVID regulations, and all the things to do/remember/prepare over Christmas, while I didn’t feel “grinchy” – I did feel exhausted much of the time. Just keeping it real…

I’m going to break up our Christmas recap into a few different posts (food and gifts to come later in the week), but here is an overview of the holiday weekend.

My parents arrived Christmas Eve, Eve and the kids were thrilled!! I especially appreciated the fact my Mom could enjoy our Christmas tree – always a holiday favourite for her (and she and my Dad don’t bother doing a tree since they’re home alone). The evening they arrived I took my Mom (and the kids) on a tour of our favourite holiday lights in the area. We sang Christmas carols while driving down main streets and through subdivisions and it was a lot of fun. The adults capped off the day with a Hallmark movie.

Christmas Eve was a beautiful day! It was FREEZING (cold and windy) but sunny so we drove out to some local coastal sites and braved the temperatures long enough to snap a few pictures and appreciate the natural beauty of our corner of the world.

Our Christmas Eve service at church had very limited capacity and only one person was allowed to sing on stage at a time. Instead of candles, we got glow sticks to crack and wave during the final song – Silent Night, one of my favourite hymns. It was very different, but lovely nonetheless.

We came home and had supper and played another round of Just One, which was just as much fun the second time around; even my Dad, who loathes games, seemed to enjoy himself.

Then we moved to the living room and my Mom played her autoharp and we sang Christmas carols. These are the sorts of moments John calls my Norman Rockwell Christmas experience. Growing up we always gathered around the tree Christmas Eve to sing carols, finishing with Silver Bells. When I was young we also shook ALL the gifts Christmas Eve, a tradition I haven’t dared to allow my very enthusiastic kids to carry forward!

While the adults sang (and Abby played her ukulele for Oh Holy Night), Levi sat on the floor and systematically dismantled a cardboard box with a butter knife. It was probably one of his favourite experiences Christmas Eve because the next event was our traditional ornament opening…

Baseball ornament (the only picture I have of it)!
And the replacement (which he wasn’t thrilled with, I will admit).

Levi was the first to unwrap his new ornament and was very happy with his blown glass baseball. I bought it last year in a post-Christmas sale when he was still very interested in baseball. It no longer felt like quite the right fit since he has since turned all of his attention to soccer, but I figured he’d still appreciate the sporting element. Because it looked like a baseball, he handled it like a baseball – in other words, quite firmly. I thought it best to get it on the tree before disaster struck and asked him to pose with it so I could get a picture. As I was taking a picture the string slipped through his fingers and the ornament smashed into a million pieces. Cue the tears. Thankfully I had another ornament in my reserve stash of gifts, which I quickly wrapped up. I told him this will likely end up being a special memory – “Remember the year you were 7 and your ornament smashed all over the floor?” Sort of like I can now ask: “Remember the Christmas the pipe broke and all the wrapped Christmas gifts got flooded?!” Memories we’d rather not have, but if we have to experience them…might as well turn them into a piece of family history.

Abby’s (layered wooden trees)
Mine (a very adorable sloth)
John’s (my pottery painting project)

Levi woke up at 4 am on Christmas Day feeling nauseous. Thankfully (?) I had already woken up (we were having a crazy wind storm). He perked up as the day progressed but it definitely ratcheted up my stress levels. He ended up falling back to sleep eventually, so we didn’t end up starting gifts until almost 8 am. Abby was very patient and understanding, bless her.

My father-in-law read the Christmas story from Luke 2 before we dove into our stockings which were a perfect blend of practical and fun – art supplies, socks, scrunchies, edible treats. We cleared up all the wrapping paper and other festive debris before having a leisurely breakfast.

The next step was opening the main gifts under the tree – we have some creative ways to extend the opening experience. Levi found this all a bit tedious and ended up watching soccer highlights on my phone while the adults + Abby indulged in prolonging the fun as long as possible. Every few minutes he would pop back in to open a gift. I’ll write more about our fun hacks in a later post!

My brother and sister-in-law FaceTimed from Denmark just before lunch and I chatted for a while and then put away most of the gifts (everything needs to have a place!) and organized all the gift bags, tissue paper, and other paraphernalia that was salvageable for another year.

Frozen waterfalls at the beach are always a hit.
Concrete “fairy” houses – so colourful!
There are 4-5 cottages like this on a local beach.

The rest of Christmas was relatively relaxed; I’d not gotten enough sleep, so may have fit in a short nap? I honestly can’t remember! We put supper into the slow cooker and headed to the beach to get some fresh air. We explored frozen waterfalls, watched crashing waves, and wandered around some colourful concrete cottages. After we came home and has supper, we played some games and ate and talked…and then I clocked out for the day. I was absolutely exhausted!

Yesterday, “Boxing Day” in Canada, was church (the kids + John stayed home since Levi had been not feeling 100%). We had our main Christmas feast for lunch – turkey and all the fixings, plus cherry cheesecake. I played some outdoor soccer with Levi, finished off a bag of Twizzlers, and played many many games of Crokinole and Codenames (both great Christmas gifts received this year, stay tuned for more details)!

My father-in-law heads home this evening, my parents a bit later in the week, and just like that another Christmas is in the books. Lots of great memories, but I’m glad for the hectic pace and all the coordinating to be done. I bought three giant rolls of wrapping paper in post-Christmas sales, have all my Christmas cards stocked for next year, and bought four new ornaments for my stash. If this year taught me anything, it’s that I should always have some spare ornaments in reserve!

I’ll admit I’m not feeling ready for the new year yet, so I’m glad for another week to ease out of 2021 and prepare for 2022!

What about your Christmas? Any fun highlights (or lowlights) to report?

Casual Friday + It’s Christmas Eve!!!

  • It feels both sad, and reflective, that the first line item I thought to write down involved COVID. But it continues to have very real impacts around the world two years on. Closer to home, things are shutting down; restrictions are back in effect, and we’re hunkering at home and feeling so, so thankful for our little family unit. Gathering limits have been slashed but we have each other and our half-renoed home and even though 2021 has felt tough…it’s Christmas Eve and it really is my favourite day of the year!!
Abby, Grampie and I played Clue over the weekend. I was less than enthused, but it ended up being surprisingly fun. I was playing to win and was SO convinced I had correctly solved the mystery. Pride cometh before a fall and I lost in grand fashion. We have also played many games of SORRY…
  • The whole week felt a bit…odd. The kids were supposed to be in school until end-of-day Tuesday, but getting the two extra days off because of COVID, and having Christmas fall on a Saturday, it feels a bit strange – but in a good way?
  • The highlight of the early week was hosting a couple for supper (these are some of our dearest friends – the kind of friends who feel more like family than guests, the kind of friends you don’t clean your floors or bathroom for because you know they already love you too much to care about messy floors or empty toilet paper rolls). We lit candles and turned down the lights and had chili and rice and corndog muffins and a pie from the freezer – simple, hearty comfort food to keep the winter solstice and cold temperatures at bay. They introduced us to a new game called “Just One.” We didn’t have the official game board/cards on hand, so just used scraps of paper. I am not a big game person, but this was an absolute riot to play. One person leaves the room while everyone else brainstorms a word. Then everyone secretly comes up with one word to describe the main word. For example the word “candle” might be described with words like melt, drip, and flame. While there can be many obvious descriptive words, if you select the same word as another person at the table, they cancel out and get removed, making it harder for the person guessing. Honestly? Levi was probably the best player, coming up with very reasonable (but not so obvious they got cancelled out) clues. For chopsticks he suggested “utensils” and for hieroglyphics he wrote down “pictures.” My father-in-law had us in stitches (I was crying from laughing so hard) coming up with words like insular (for island), hosiery (for stocking), cylindrical (for candle), and locomotion (for bicycle). The icing on the cake was the fact he guessed the word trousers from the following clues: England/English, corduroy, and belt. You only get one guess, and he was very emphatic trousers was the word, not pants. And he was right!
  • Levi’s passport application has been submitted. Gold star for completing that process! The same morning we also did a followup appointment with the dermatologist and shopped for Christmas gifts (he did such a good job with this, taking his time and really genuinuely picking out thoughtful gifts; there has been A LOT of fighting lately, but watching him go through every single Beanie Boo at the store to get the “right” one, drove home the fact they really do love each other very much).
  • We watched movies. Hallmark movies and Mickey’s Christmas Carol and Home Alone 2. Abby and I went to see the final free movie – A Christmas Story – at our local theatre and I actually felt kinda bummed out by it. I know it’s a classic, but it definitely didn’t give me the warm fuzzies like It’s A Wonderful Life or White Christmas. I had never seen it until this year; my best friend in high school raved about it and she watched it with her family every Christmas. I just found it…not overly festive or family-friendly and definitely don’t see a need to re-watch it in the future!
I remember hating to wait for the gifts to go under the tree as a kid. My Mom always left this until the last minute; with 5 days to go until Christmas (and with Levi happily occupied with other activities), I couldn’t resist her pleas any longer. Like mother, like daughter.
Keeping it real. Kitchen mess.
  • And now we hunker down for Christmas. The gifts are wrapped and under the tree. The cheesecakes are in the fridge. We enjoyed Seafood Casserole and Curried Rice with Shrimp for supper last night; today will be donair pizzas and homemade Mac n’ Cheese. Most critically, the cherry cheesecakes are ready and in the fridge.

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices

I grew up in a home surrounded by music – CDs and records were constantly being played, if my Mom wasn’t sitting at the piano making her own music. As a child, I would often end up falling asleep while listening to her practice (ironic that one of my biggest regrets is dropping out of piano lessons at a young age).

So I’ve been thinking a lot about song lyrics this Christmas and when a friend dropped off a Christmas card she included the following:

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices…

Oh Holy Night

If the world has ever felt weary, is it not now? But there is hope!

Noel, Noel

Come and see what God has done

Noel, Noel

The story of amazing love!

The light of the world, given for us


Noel (Chris Tomlin/Lauren Daigle)

I’m off. It’s Christmas Eve. Time to dim the lights, sing carols in front of the fire and, for a day or so, drown out the noise from phones and e-mail accounts and remember:

So come, though you have nothing.

Come, He is the offering.

Come, see what your God has done.

Oh Come All Ye Unfaithful

Come and see what God has done indeed.

Merry Christmas!

Peek Into Our Christmas: Favourite Traditions

I do love this time of year, and I’m trying to squeeze every ounce of fun I can out of the season. I’ve learned, maybe more than ever this time around, that life really does feel like a roller coaster. There are always going to be ups and downs – frequently within a single day.

But it’s nice to hold certain things constant and, at Christmas, traditions offer a center of gravity. Solid ground when renovations get stalled, pipes break and Christmas gifts get flooded, work responsibilities spike, and masks get thrown to the ground in a fit of rage.

While I tend towards minimalism, I am deeply sentimental. I don’t hold on to a lot of “things” at Christmas but it is a time steeped in rich memory from my childhood, along with more recent additions as our little family unit has developed a unique set of holiday experiences.

This is a bit of a recap post – I’ve touched on a number of these items individually over the last few weeks – but they all bear repeating. Because, to me, these traditions are a big part of what makes the Christmas magic so palpable.


I’ve already mentioned that we’re big fans of giving the same gifts over and over, just in different iterations. And I’ve written about some of my favourite items to give (men + kids) and to receive.

Every year there is a new Star Wars LEGO set under the tree. Every year there is a new ornament (for everyone) and new-to-them PJ’s for the kids (I tend to source these second-hand). Every year there is a family calendar for my parents and in-laws. Every year there is sugary cereal. Every year there are new earrings for me, new socks for him.

favourite foods

A lot of our favourite foods stem from childhood memories. (Isn’t it fascinating how deeply the foods and flavours we’re introduced to when young shape our culinary preferences as adults).

Every year for Christmas morning breakfast we have my Mom’s version of Cinnamon Coffee Cake. It’s really “monkey” bread, which we make with biscuit dough. I prepare the dough the night before – extra cinnamon, please – and make up the gooey caramel sauce in the morning before baking it. A side perk – the whole house smells of cinnamon and butter and brown sugar. It’s heavenly. Also – we open our stocking stuffers first (team #wrapthemall) and then have breakfast before turning our attention to the main gifts.

We always, always, always have an unbaked cherry cheesecake at Christmas. This is my favourite dessert and was something I had every Christmas growing up. John prefers blueberry topping, so I will sometimes make a second (much smaller) blueberry cheesecake too. For me it’s cherry all the way.

In the last few years I’ve started making John’s favourite seafood casserole with curried rice and shrimp on the side. It’s delicious and his all-time favourite meal (which his mother only made on special occasions when he was growing up).

When my parents were just starting their church ministry, money was in very short supply. One year, for Christmas, a congregant gave them vouchers to a pizza place. They bought the pizza on Christmas Eve which launched a decades-long tradition. My mom always made homemade pizza crust (growing up we topped it with had ground beef, hotdogs and green peppers – interesting combo); when we were first married, John and I opted for calzones (I can’t help but think about Ben Wyatt from Parks and Rec when I write the word calzone), but the last few years it has been homemade donair pizzas on top of store-bought Naan bread. Any way you slice it, it’s delicious!

favourite movies

I can’t imagine a Christmas without watching The Grinch (both the 1966 AND 2018 versions). Home Alone is a classic that gracefully spanned the years.

But my favourite movie tradition is less than a decade old. Every year one of my dear friends comes over to watch White Christmas with me. We chat and laugh and snack. We know most of the words by heart (“Mutual, I’m sure” being discussed at various points throughout the calendar year).

Christmas eve TRADITIONS

Christmas Eve 2019 – things will look a bit different this year after the renovations…but the twinkle lights and cheerily wrapped packages will be just as enjoyable.

When I was a child I lived for Christmas Eve and, to this day, December 24th is almost always my favourite day of the whole year. The magic of Christmas is buzzing; the gifts are ready, the hard work is mostly done. Cheesecake is prepped and waiting in the fridge. I’ve filled my tank with viewings of White Christmas and redemptive stories of miserly grinches. The house smells like a forest collided with an apple pie convention. I just love it.

And one of my favourite activities on Christmas Eve is attending our church service. Growing up, despite the fact my father WAS A MINISTER, we didn’t have Christmas Eve services. We had elaborate concerts with readings and plays and songs which I participated in with gusto at some point in December…but nothing on Christmas Eve.

When I got married and we moved to new locations – and attended new churches – they all had Christmas Eve services. Some are candlelight (my favourite) but with or without candles I love being in church on Christmas Eve to be reminded of the real reason our family celebrates this time of year. The tangible gifts and the intangible; the friends and the funky socks and the time with family and delicious food are all just gifts from the real Gift Giver.

We come home and sing carols, read the Christmas story from Luke 2, and then tuck the kiddos into bed. Stockings get stuffed, the adults might squeeze in one last Hallmark movie, and then I try to get some sleep.

It doesn’t always work – even in my thirties I can’t escape the magic of Christmas Eve.

What about you? Any favourite traditions? Do you love Christmas Eve as much as I do? Do you wrap all your stocking stuffers?

*Pictured above: what was an annual Christmas Eve tradition of hosting another family for supper prior to the Christmas Eve service, complete with “Christmas crackers” and festive napkins and treasure hunts for gifts. It became too much – too rushed, too stressful. Last year we postponed this until after Christmas…and it was so much more enjoyable! New tradition?