The Impact of the “Right Words” (My Soup & Sandwich Oasis)

I’ve admitted before that I sometimes wonder if I dwell too much on the hard and melancholy in this space. I think hard events shape us the most but it’s easy to only see – or share – the light and superficial.

Several times now I’ve mentioned my “Soup-and-Sandwich Oasis” and people always chime in to say how sweet this arrangement sounds. Today I thought I’d tell the behind-the-scenes story about how this treasured friendship came to be.

On a picture-perfect day (bright, sunny, birds shining – a truly moviesque setting) I walked into the hospital for a routine ultrasound. It had been a rough pregnancy and I was tired. Tired of vomiting. Tired from the anti-nausea pills that, ironically enough, left me bed-ridden with fatigue (I wasn’t hurling my breakfast, but I could barely button my pants). Tired because growing another human life – at least in my experience – is exhausting!

I walked out a few hours later running on adrenaline and shock.

The radiologist told us, very matter-of-factly (I find it incredible what details become branded in my mind during stressful events; I can still remember the print pattern on the doctor’s capri pants and I remember thinking – in the middle of it all – “How could someone wear patterned pants that are so distinctive when delivering potentially life-changing news. Why couldn’t she be wearing blue jeans or black dress pants so there was at least one detail I could forget?”) that there were a number of concerning abnormalities on the ultrasound.

Due to the risks associated with invasive testing, we elected to monitor the issues.

So we did lots (and lots) of monitoring, but there were no answers. For exactly 130 days I had no idea what life lay ahead for me, for our family, or for our unborn baby. There were statistics and best guesses but absolutely no concrete answers.

Over the course of my experience, I met other women who had received similar news and kept their grief and fear close to their chest. And while I simply smiled politely when cashiers at every store gestured toward my growing belly, with those closest to me I felt compelled to share this burden of uncertainty.

Most people responded in one of two ways, both of which were well-intentioned.

The first response: “Everything will be okay.

Me: Yes, it will be “okay,” but “okay” could also mean life-altering in ways I never anticipated.

The second response: “Oh, I knew someone that received X,Y or Z diagnosis! And guess what? The baby was born healthy!

Me: Yes, that is their story, but I don’t know the end to mine. I can’t flip to the last page yet, and I’m scared to reach the ending and somehow I have to find a way to get up each morning and read through the next page and then the next, not knowing what might be revealed on that day’s page. This is one book I can’t skim.

For years I had been looking for a spiritual mentor. Someone I could talk to about the challenges of life through the lens of a shared faith. There was a particular woman in our church to whom I felt strangely drawn but, aside from pleasantries, we never interacted directly.

The day we shared the news with our church family she came over and told me the most loving, impactful words of that entire 130-day period.

She looked me straight in the eye (remember, we really didn’t know each other well at this point) and said: “You call me. Anytime you need to talk or want me to pray. Day or night. Call me and I’ll be there for you.”

And that was it. No telling me it would be okay. No mention of other people’s stories. Just a wholly genuine offer for 24/7 support.

I never did call her at 2:00 am, but knew I could and that left an indelible mark on my life.

For months we e-mailed each other, almost daily. She listened to everything I had to say. She listened as I wrestled with deep questions of faith; to my fear, to my joy.

When our baby was born healthy the emotional rollercoaster continued as I felt both tremendous relief and guilt. (Most people assumed there would be only relief, but I felt extreme guilt over my relief). And this friend was there for all of that too.

This friend is 42 years older than me. She has weathered many storms in life – storms I hope to never have to navigate. Through it all we have developed a wonderful friendship.

What started as e-mail exchanges slowly became in-person visits. She would cook me lunch and we would talk over cup after cup of tea. She treats me like a daughter, yes, but also like a cherished friend. We are, as Anne would say, kindred spirits.

Last year, she started calling her home my Soup-and-Sandwich Oasis and the name stuck. For my 22 in 2022 list, I made it a goal to visit her 3 times this year. After a long hiatus due to COVID restrictions, I was able to visit in February and as I got up to leave she asked: “Maybe we can aim for an even 4?

By this point in life, I hope we’ve realized that friends come in all shapes and sizes. And I’m here to say if you have the chance to invest in friendships with those a little bit older and, chances are, a little bit wiser, I can almost guarantee you’ll be richly rewarded!

Your turn? Do you have friends that are significantly older (or younger)? If so, what’s the best piece of advice you’ve learned from them?

Header photo by sunorwind on Unsplash

A Day in the Life <> Circa March 2022

I haven’t done a Day in the Life post in months (October to be specific) and several people have expressed interest in seeing a breakdown of how I fill my days!

It is interesting to see how people structure their time and our life is about to shift in an exciting way for the next little while, so I wanted to capture a “typical” day before this change occurs (details coming tomorrow).

This post will cover Tuesday, 1 March but it makes sense to start by referencing events from February 28th.

I didn’t feel particularly tired on Monday night, but after a warm shower I hopped into bed to read (Anne of Ingleside) around 8:00 pm; by 8:20 I thought how nice it would be to put down the book and just “rest my eyes”.

I almost never fall asleep reading a book (to be fair I did put the book down, so it was a conscious decision) and I rarely fall asleep this early – my typical bedtime is between 10:00-10:30 pm.

It felt glorious to set aside my reading material and drift in and out of consciousness for about 35 minutes. But then practical me started sounding alarm bells – I knew this was not a wise decision for my nighttime sleep. I continue to have periodic issues with insomnia, and pre-bedtime naps are not ideal. Oh well. It was still worth it.

I got up at 9 pm, brushed my teeth, used the bathroom, and officially settled in for the night.

tuesday, March 1

1:51 am | I look at the clock for the first time. Whomp, whomp. I toss and turn a bit, but manage to get back to sleep.

3:15 am | I’ve been awake for a while but only look at the clock now. To be fair to my body, I have already had about 6 hours of (admittedly disjointed) sleep. I might as well get up. I read some news – I have been limiting consumption to a few times a day because doomscrolling does not feel productive, but I want to stay informed.

Life goes on, normally, for us here in Canada. And yet I can watch in real-time as mile after mile of military vehicles snake toward people whose lives have been altered in every conceivable way.

Faith is the central part of my identity, but my prayer life is admittedly weak. I spend too much time worrying about the structure of my prayer when, really, prayer is just heartfelt communication with a God who doesn’t score these petitions based on eloquence. So I pray – as best as I’m able – reminding myself it’s the authenticity and posture of my heart that matters, not how I articulate my words. My mind does wander (lots) but I pray until I fall asleep somewhere around 4:30/5:00 am.

6:54 am | I wake up. I don’t feel as groggy as I feared. I typically make lunchboxes the night before, but hadn’t on Monday (choosing to read and fall asleep early instead). I put on my watch and check the temperature. -16C. Brrr. At least it is now light when we get going with our day.

7:00 am | I wander out to the kitchen, turning up the heat on my way down the hall. I set the kids up with leftover Baked French Toast while I quickly prep lunchboxes. Usually I sit with the kids and read to them while they eat breakfast, but today I stay put in the kitchen while John reads a daily kids devotional with them. I usually follow this with a chapter of a book (currently The Mysterious Benedict Society), but that doesn’t happen today.

I spy a chess game…

7:30 AM | While the kids + John work on a chess game, I get dressed + brush my teeth.

I get side-tracked. My brother sends a text from his home in Denmark. His wife has many colleagues who live in Kharkiv and she has visited the city on several occasions. He calls the situation “surreal.” His wife is trying to make contact with friends and work colleagues in the city; some have made it out successfully but, he adds, “most of the men have stayed [to fight];” he talks of Romanian friends who are opening their doors to people fleeing Ukraine, including people in medical distress. In a war that can feel so distant, this brings it closer to home.

7:40 am | Then there is the juxtaposition of my life and reality. It is time to rally the troops for school. At -16C it is a chilly walk but, without wind, it’s bearable. Abby has a friend join her and Levi, John and I walk together.

On the way home my nose is running like crazy; I think I have no Kleenex but try my pockets just in case and hit the jackpot – multiple CLEAN tissues. This discovery makes me so happy; then I realize this seems like something an 80-year old would rejoice over. It’s the little things, right? And finding clean Kleenex was definitely #joyfinding.

~8:45 am | 52 minutes after we left the house, we’re home.

I putter. I make tea, prep lunchboxes for the next day (minus the sandwich; I’ll make those Wednesday morning – though, spoiler alert, Wednesday ends up being another snow day), and put away some dishes.

9:00 – 9:30 am | I sit at the table and lament. I am frustrated about some health things. Long story short, the latest course of action is not working. Today was to be cycle 3 of hormone treatments, and I opted to pull the plug. I am tired of complaining about my body but can’t seem to help myself.

9:30-9:45 am| I still feel a bit “off” but it’s time to work. I settle in at my desk and then end up spending 15 minutes texting back-and-forth with a friend; I share all the details of my gynecological woes and she makes me feel much better. She asks what she can do, but she’s already done what I need her to do which is to listen. This was 15 minutes well spent and I start working with a clear head.

9:45 am – 12:15 pm | Work. I had no scheduled meetings on Tuesday. Monday was a busy day in which I tackled a lot of specific to-do’s. Tuesday was more of a free day, and I use my time wisely (I think!) to start mapping out the next three months. I make a lot of notes about deadlines in my planner. This really helps me avoid ruminating over what I might be forgetting. I answer e-mails, prepare a spreadsheet, verify an invoice…nothing exciting, but it feels very productive.

12:15 – 12:45 pm | Walk on the treadmill. I sketch out a bit of this blog post, check the news again – briefly – and read a few e-mails.

12:45 | Upstairs to make and eat lunch. John fries up some mushrooms and leftover diced chicken with spices and balsamic vinegar. I scramble a few eggs and put the combo on a bed of spinach. It looks unappetizing but was absolutely delicious. Topped with nutritional yeast and my favourite balsamic + smoked paprika vinaigrette (based loosely on this recipe; I don’t use soy sauce), it is a very satisfying lunch. I drink some kombucha on the side.

After we’re done eating I sit in front of the patio door and enjoy the heat from the sun and stare out the window. The sun looks beautiful on the snow. While looking out the window I think: “You’re going to write about what you do today. You should get up and do something productive.” Then I remember what I try to work through here on this blog – about the need for puttering and resting – and go back to looking out the window.

John suggests we do Wordle. This feels fun and slightly productive (it’s exercising mental muscles). It takes us 5 tries; not our best effort…but rupee was unexpected. These seem to be getting more and more challenging?!

1:20 pm| Work check-in. I read through some e-mails, including a flurry of emails covering an aspect of a project over which I have no responsibility, so I get to muddle my way through reading about the problem and know it requires no further action from me. It’s fun to have things cross my inbox that I can read and file without further action!

1:45 – 3:00 pm | Walk with John + get the kids off the bus. This is the first long (5 km+) walk we’ve taken in…months?

3:00-3:15 pm | Home! We sort through school stuff; I help the kids unpack lunchboxes and they polish off whatever food they didn’t consume at school. Abby stays home to finish a chess game with John while Levi and I head to the library to exchange books.

3:45 pm | As always, the library is a treat. We had lots of books on hold, but we always enjoy browsing the stacks too. I make sure to look at the latest art installation. When we’re finished I drop Levi off at a friend’s house to…play more chess.

4:00 – 4:45 pm| I head back to the office (with a little snack of walnuts). I need to help someone troubleshoot a software issue; I can’t replicate the problem on my staging site (always a good sign, but also makes it more complicated to get to the bottom of the problem) so push this to my developer to see if he can get to the bottom of it. I respond to a few blog comments and get caught up on some online reading.

4:45-5:00 pm| I walk to collect Levi from his friend’s house and observe the end of their chess game. I suspect the rules were a bit flexible?

5:00 – 6:00 pm | John is boiling pasta while he takes a work call when we walk through the door. Levi asks if we can do a puzzle together. At first I say no, but figure since someone else is handling supper prep…why not?

We finish an old Shopkin puzzle in 18 minutes. It’s a lot of fun.

Then it’s time to eat – spaghetti sauce from the freezer. I made the sauce but will admit I’d classify it as only “okay.” It had zucchini and bell peppers and sausage – so was nice and hearty – but it was also a bit acidic (despite my trick of adding just a pinch of baking soda to counteract the acidity). No one complains, though, and there will be enough leftovers for Thursday’s supper. We mostly discuss Abby’s upcoming birthday while we eat. She has some great ideas for her party!

6:00 – 6:20 pm | Abby helps put things away and talks about birthday plans some more while I start the dishwasher, do a load of dishes and putter in the kitchen. Levi reads his “homework” book to John and then they start another chess game.

6:20 – 7:00 pm | John heads downstairs for the start of his evening meetings. The dishwasher is running and I’ve puttered as much as I need to in order to feel quasi-ready for Wednesday morning. I sit down in the living room and watch the kids play chess. When they finish their game they get ready for bed and spend 30 watching videos, per their request. We could have avoided videos entirely this day, but it was nice to have a break before the final stages of bedtime. I write more of this post.

7:00 – 7:30 pm | We pile into bed and read books. One, A Map of Good Memories, ends with the words of Anne Frankl: “One day this terrible war will be over…” It’s a book we’ve read before; it’s both haunting and hopeful.

Arranged in order of our preference. With the exception of Clifford which is…well…a Clifford book, all the selections were great (we each got to pick 2).

7:30 pm | When we’re done reading we talk about war. We discuss Russia and Putin and democracy; we talk about how their great-grandfather was in the Navy in WWII and how his ship was torpedoed. They ask if he survived? “Yes, or you wouldn’t be here!” There are a lot of questions and I admit to not having many of the answers. We say our bedtime prayers and we mention many of our blessings – which we so often take for granted; things like a warm bed, plenty of food, shelter, security. We pray for Ukraine – honing in on the needs of children, praying they have access to food and shelter and are surrounded by people that love them.

8:00 – 8:30 pm | I let the kids have a “start” sleepover. They listen to an audiobook and talk. There is plenty of giggling, but everyone stays happy which isn’t always the case.

I write, and send, a monthly family update to family and friends. It’s shorter than usual. I send a second email to a handful of people with pictures from the month.

8:32 pm | Levi heads back to his bed and asks for a snuggle. I oblige and say I’ll be there in less than 5 minutes. He’s dead asleep by the time I arrive, but I linger for a long time; I climb under the covers and snuggle him and rub his back and kiss his cheeks over and over again (easier while he’s stationary). And I just think how thankful I am that he is nestled so contentedly in bed. The injustice of what children – not just in Ukraine, though this is clearly at the forefront of our minds – all around the world are experiencing feels heavy. I simply can’t solve all the world’s problems, and that realization feels heavy. But I can be thankful and use that gratitude to spawn more love for those around me and trust that ripple will grow and spread.

8:45 pm | Abby is still awake and wants to talk more about Ukraine. I do my best to explain NATO. We talk about propaganda and why other countries haven’t supplied ground troops. It’s a delicate balance – answering questions so they feel informed, while recognizing they are still children and it’s my/our duty to protect them from unnecessary overload.

9:00 pm | I head to my room to write in my One Line A Day journal. How I’ve loved filling out this journal every evening! John comes upstairs after his last meeting and I head in for a shower. I really should wash my hair, but can’t bear the thought of dealing with wet hair.

9:30 pm | Usually I read before bed, but this night we put on an episode of The Great Canadian Baking Show (not nearly as good as the British version but it’s a new season and it will do just fine). When that’s over I do a bit of Googling about health questions and check the news one last time.

11:00 pm | Lights out.

And that’s a wrap on Tuesday, 1 March…

Header photo by Di_An_h on Unsplash

In Praise of Dawdling (Now There’s a Word You Don’t Hear Everyday)

The title of this post was originally In Praise of Puttering. But as I was out on a walk that can only be accurately described as being of the ‘dawdling’ variety, I opted to switch gears. As much as I love an opportunity to showcase some alliteration (thank you Mr. Howland, Grade 12 English), I think dawdling is an underutilized word and wanted to give it a brief moment in the spotlight.

(Puttering makes me think of an old grandfather out cruising around in a tiny boat on the lake wearing a tattered fishing vest with a thermos of coffee at his feet. Which does, admittedly, sound charming. Dawdling, on the other hand, seems to have a slightly rebellious edge. As if to say: “I see you, clock, and I raise you a good old-fashioned dawdle.” Though I don’t think there was much time for dawdling a few generations ago – what with no electricity, centralized plumbing, or supermarkets.)

Whatever you want to call it – dawdling, puttering, happy idling, wasting time – I think we would all do well to have more of it in our lives.

Twice last week I came home from the walk to school in a…mood? I wasn’t grumpy, per se, but still felt an unsettling discontent I couldn’t quite put my finger on. The sun was shining, the kids were back in school. What was amiss?

For starters, I had a lot of accumulated work tasks, my floors were a disaster and the garbage can under the sink was overflowing and smelled funny (never a good sign in a house with small children). My boots and entryway were leaking. But despite all these things, I couldn’t actually identify the common theme; I just knew I was feeling “off”.

One glance at my to-do list felt rather crushing. It was all doable, but I didn’t want to do any of it. And I knew if I wanted to have any chance of getting it all done before the kids arrived home from school, I needed to get cracking.

But what I really wanted to do was putter.

If you’re not on speaking terms with these states of being, count yourself in good company. These character traits don’t exactly make the evening news. Yet one of my favourite things to do is to putter.

Here is the internet definition: to spend time in a relaxed way doing small jobs and other things that are not very important.

Why do I feel ashamed to admit, then, how much I enjoy puttering? This definition sounds pretty wonderful to me.

Maybe my shame stems from the fact I’m hard-wired to seek out those things that are “important”. Maybe it’s because I live in a society that tells me I need to produce more, do more, experience more?

For some, puttering might be tinkering with an old computer, knitting a dishcloth, sitting down with a tote full of LEGO, or doodling on the back of an envelope. And, sadly, puttering can headline as “wasted” time.

Of course in hindsight, we might conclude Steve Jobs’ puttering led to an tech empire. I hazard a guess that a large number of architects got their start “puttering” with a basement collection of vividly-coloured Danish building blocks.

Might puttering, then, be a key to fostering creativity and, perhaps, even more efficiency? When I read Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey, one of the biggest takeaways for me was the (often staggering) amount of time people spent walking or puttering around their homes/gardens (or inebriated; there was also a lot of inebriation).

Do I dare set forth here the most important, the most useful rule of all education? It is not to save time, but to squander it.

Jean–Jacques Rousseau

When I putter, I lose track of time. I’m often in what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi termed “flow”. I move from activity to activity without much thought. Folding the towels in the bathroom, wiping down the counter, lining up the shoes in the entryway, opening the stack of mail on the counter, pulling weeds out of cracks in the front walkway.

So last week, before I tackled my to-do list, I spent a chunk of time…puttering.

I know that the kids will pull down the hand towel in the bathroom and leave it in a pile by the sink (if they wash their hands at all, sigh). I know the shoes will spill off the boot tray again. The fridge will get disorganized, the dishes in the drainer will end up dirty again, the clothes will find their way back into the laundry basket (or inside out on the floor, double sigh) and LEGO will get pulled from bins.

But I did these sorts of tasks anyway. It was light and easy. I didn’t rush. I just moved from room to room, quietly resetting the spaces. Watering plants. Pushing chairs in around the table. Nothing was on a list, nothing happened in a set order and I wasn’t working toward a singular goal. But I gave myself a break – engaging my mind in an activity that was so undemanding and cathartic, it felt like I’d finished a yoga routine by the end of it all.

And then I went downstairs to the office with a cup of tea, put on some tunes, and churned through my to-do list with a level of efficiency I know I couldn’t have achieved without allowing myself the “luxury” of time spent puttering.

Perhaps, then, the rationale for saying Yes to something doesn’t have to be based on the outcome? Sometimes the answer can be: it’s for the journey and what that experience offers me.

The way to the park is an important part of the experience.

Linda Akeson McGurk

Here comes my turn for some self-talk. How often do I tell the kids to pick up their pace on a walk…to the park? How many times do I tell them to stop chasing the butterfly so we can finish our game of pick-up soccer? How many times do I try to maximize the efficiency of our bedtimes or baking routines or just about any other activity I can try to hack and tweak to edge it ever closer to the stage where it reeks of efficiency and productivity?

Often, friends. I do this often.

Most of life seems like a means to an end. But the way to the park can be just as much fun as the park itself. I know this, of course, but need regular reminders.

I move at a slower pace than many – I’m an introvert with low energy. Yet I still often feel like I’m moving at a pace faster than ideal.

It’s not only the scenery you miss by going too fast – you also miss the sense of where you are going and why.

Eddie Cantor

Sometimes I put on music and clean up the house with relentless efficiency; in essence, I drill-sergeant the experience. And that approach has a place.

But when I putter, I think I’m better at remembering the underlying purpose behind those “small jobs and other things that are not very important“.

I put the house back in order so it’s a calming place for our family to make memories. I putter with the book collection on my bedside table so they’re displayed where I’ll see them, making me far more likely to pick them up. Or I might spend time chopping up veggies for the week and simmering a soup; when I do these tasks slowly and mindfully, without the pressure of hungry bellies, I remember the purpose. I cook and clean and shop so that we can eat together, nourishing our bodies and family relationships (outside of bedtime, the dining room table is the main venue for deep conversation in our household).

Our society – myself included – has become so outcome-directed. Even our hobbies have to produce something; turn those knitted Star Wars characters into a booming Etsy shop, train for an Ironman, day-trade on the side, start posting yoga videos to a YouTube channel. And this can be great…until it’s not.

I’m not promising every time you putter you’ll end up becoming more efficient and productive at the other end. I’m not promising a transcendent experience while you wipe down the kitchen counters. I love those outcomes too, but sometimes they can’t be the only reason we say yes to adding something to our schedule.

What if we didn’t go to bed early so we could wake up early to get a jumpstart on responding to work e-mails? What if we went to bed early because it feels nice and so we can wake up early (or not) and relax in bed with a book or organize our sock drawer (I really do love doing this) or sketch or talk on the phone with our Mom or play with our cats or spend an hour drinking a single cup of tea or browse workout videos on Pelaton or play Beethoven on our piano or pick the lint out of our belly buttons if that’s what we so desire.

Just like we might need to learn to fail on purpose, I think we have a lot of work to do in learning how to…not be so efficient.

I’m sure I will continue to do many things more productively than necessary because I enjoy being productive. I enjoy the sense of satisfaction that comes from checking off boxes and helping others and contributing to a cause. I have obligations to meet – at work, in my relationships, at home.

But I’m trying to set time aside each day to putter, dawdle, and indulge in unstructured time. It can be hard to remember that life is made to be lived, not simply managed. And puttering might just be a good first step toward recognizing this distinction.

As any parent knows, children do this instinctively. I don’t have to cajole my youngsters to stop to look at the ants marching across the sidewalk, beg them to throw a rock off the bridge into the river below, or take an hour to put on two socks and a pair of pants.

So let’s raise a glass to Puttering, Dawdling, and Idling. Let’s welcome them like long-lost friends and get reacquainted…they have a lot to offer.

What about you? Anyone else enjoy puttering?

Photo by Rayson Tan on Unsplash

Parenting Hack: Try Serving Your Kids a ‘Pirate’ Meal

As a busy Mom, getting food on the table is a big part of daily life. Even though we eat simple meals (with lots of leftovers), a substantial chunk of time is devoted to making sure food gets into bellies (and then cleaning up the crumbs that didn’t make it into bellies – when does the messy eating stage end?!).

Our routine follows a predictable rhythm. We gather – virtually every evening – around the supper table. We eat together and talk and then work as a team to clean up dishes and set the kitchen back to rights. It’s nice to have a routine; it’s comforting and a big part of our family “culture”.

That said, it’s also fun to shake things up. We’ve spread out a picnic blanket on the living room floor and had our food in front of the fire. We’ve gathered in the family room and munched on tacos in front of the TV. But want to know the kids’ favourite experience (which I’ve only done twice, but they still reference regularly) – a Pirate Supper.

The basic idea is this: I cover up the table with brown paper (newspaper or flyers work would work too) and serve a meal without any plates/bowls or cutlery.

Obviously, calling it a Pirate Supper (or Pirate Breakfast/Lunch) is critical to its success.

I think we had pizza with veggies and dip one night and the other might have involved grilled-cheese sandwiches and fruit? Whatever I served, the food was decidedly low-key and forgettable. It is the delivery method that takes center stage in this show, and the kids absolutely loved the experience!

Bonus: clean-up was a cinch as I simply gathered any food mess up in the paper and tossed it directly into the compost bin.

It’s been over a year since I’ve channeled my inner Jack Sparrow and I think I’m officially overdue for pulling this trick out of my parenting repertoire!

Your turn: any great ideas for bringing some creativity – and whimsy – into mealtimes with kids?

Header photo by Jakob Rosen 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

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!

Casual Friday + Words of Wisdom from Anne with an “E”

  • Thanks for all your support and well-wishes on Wednesday’s post. I know we all have our own hard, and it’s cathartic to hear and know that; it’s also good to band together and go joyfinding. I’ll do a bit of both here today.
  • I ended up having a lot of screen time the last few days which kinda bummed me out, but much of it was sweet friends reaching out in support (Hi Elaine, Hi Hillary!); friends with their own “hard” that come alongside and cheer and support. I do find texting a slippery slope, but it’s also a great tool to maintain community. You’ll be proud to know I only checked the news ONCE on my phone all week.
  • It was another roller-coaster week of parenting. The kids ended up getting sent home early their first day back to in-person learning because of a pending storm (good call, school board – the roads got very messy mid-afternoon) and the next day was cancelled outright. I tried to make life as easy as possible; simple meals, I hired a hostage negotiator babysitter for one afternoon but I was still bone weary. The kids also fought. A lot. And over perceived slights (disagreeable looks, getting in the way) which could not be solved with a coin toss. Sigh.
  • After over a month of fitting work responsibilities in and around kids and online learning and prepping lunches and answering questions and doing laundry…I just wanted a solid day to concentrate on the tasks at hand. Expecting the kids to be in school all week, I had gone ahead and set up a full schedule for Tuesday, but managed to make it through a volley of video calls – only interuppted once by receiving a Post-It note from a child asking: “Can I go on the Chromebook? Circle yes or no!” to which I replied “No and why are you bothering me?!” I kept a close eye on a particularly rambunctious neighbourhood snowball fight through the window, as well as an adorable snowman making effort…all while nodding along to budget considerations and milestone projections like an adult who didn’t have children covertly slipping Post-It notes and building snowmen nearby.
  • The taxes that I was so relieved to have done weren’t actually done and there were still forms to sign and lots of back-and-forth with the accountant, but those communications ended up saving about $6,000 in tax, so it was worth the effort.
  • Wednesday and Thursday were…amazing. The kids were in school the whole day and I felt like a productivity wizard. I had picked away at things over the last few weeks and kept my head above water, but there were so many nagging tasks that I just couldn’t prioritize when I had to fit work in and around having kids home. It felt so good to get some major meetings behind me and I’m feeling a lot more positive about work responsibilities after this week of catch-up and, in some cases, proactively finishing tasks.
  • Now let’s find some joy, shall we?


  • The kids have been begging to go sledding and I have to admit the little side-hill on our property (think the size of a ditch) doesn’t really cut the mustard anymore. I decided to get the kids off the bus after their early dismissal and head directly to our favourite sliding hill (yes, Wolfville also has sliding hills). We collected a few friends along the way and it was great fun. Speeding down the hill with Levi and flying – literally – over one of the speed bumps was both terrifying and exhilerating. When we finally came to a stop, he collapsed against me quietly – I worried he had hurt his tongue or head – and then stood up screaming: “THAT WAS SO CRAZY AND FUN!” It really was so, so fun.
Oh I love this picture. We had reached the-coat-must-come-off stage. I get walking up the hill is strenuous, but I must stay fully garbed at all times or I freeze.
  • Reading Anne of the Island in bed one night. I was so tired (shocking) and literally felt like I couldn’t move so I used the opportunity to read through most of that book in an evening and it was just pure comfort.
  • My dear friend (giver of the awesome, thoughtful mug gift from last week) came over to watch the latest Nate Bargatze special on Netflix (Greatest Average American; I’d already seen it twice, and it only gets better with each viewing). I love to laugh and I love to spend time with Joy – win, win. We quote lines from Nate Bargatze all. the. time. Humour is subjective, but I just think he is objectively hilarious.
Joyfinding: one last Christmas stamp + the sweetest woodland creature stamp. Happy stamps are just…fun. I now always try to get the prettiest stamps available!
  • Homemade confetti. Nuff said? The kids (mostly Abby) have been working on using up old scraps of paper; we have a star punch and regular hole punches. This feels like it is bordering on glitter territory, but I did sanction/encourage it. I can’t decide whether to put a warning label on the cards or just let my mother silently curse me when she has tiny circles of colourful paper littering her dining room floor? *Update: I decided to be responsible and, against my fun instincts, did label the back of the envelopes with Caution: Confetti Alert*
  • One child was so tired and cranky they excused themselves from the table after a few bites on Tuesday at supper. I let him go – he had a giant bowl of oatmeal for breakfast, and two generously full chicken and spinach wraps for lunch. After some snuggling and chats (very joyful), I made a mental note to leave a snack in his room in case he woke up hungry. I forgot. At 4 am our bedroom door opened. This is quite unusual, so I woke up immediately. When I got to the door a tiny voice simply said: “I’m so hungry my legs are shaking.” Sigh. I like that the kids now ask permission to get food in the middle of the night (there was a candy fiasco a few years ago that doesn’t bear repeating), but not at 4 am. I got him a muffin (these 5-ingredient muffins that I’ve been making at least once a week for YEARS; I do add a bit of oil or applesauce to make them extra moist and now sub 1/4 cup brown sugar – total – for the dates because it’s easier and I need easy right now) and a granola bar and cup of water. I told him to eat up and then get back to sleep; when I left he was sitting, legs dangling over the edge of the bed, eating his granola bar with his bedside light on at its lowest setting and it just…melted my heart. An unexpected “joysighting” at 4 am. I hope he got back to sleep. I didn’t.
  • Yes, the green beans were joyful! Freshly steamed with a dollap of butter and some salt, I enjoyed every mouthful. We all love fresh beans and I got bonus joy by serving them out of my new bowl from Christmas (inexpensive – Dollarstore, dishwasher safe, and so pretty).
  • I’m grateful for most of the food I consume, but this soup was bordering on joyful. I talked to Abby after school the whole time I was chopping and prepping; she ran to the cupboard to get ingredients so it felt like a team effort and the house smelled delicious. Plus there were leftovers…and leftovers give me joy.
  • I was tired last Sunday and couldn’t stop yawning in church. Capacity limits are minimal and we were sitting alone with about 50 empty chairs around us. It was cold. Did I mention I felt exhausted. We can’t sing, and watching a music video is just not the same. Worshiping with a group is a powerful form of community and connection. All this to say I wasn’t feeling overly joyful. But then…they showed a musical rendition of Psalm 1 and our pastor explained that the singers – Poor Bishop Hooper – are a young couple singing through the Psalms. I quoted from Psalm 1 in my post on lamenting, and I’m reading a Psalm each morning at the breakfast table. I’ve known God long enough not to be surprised by this, but it was such a burst of unexpected joy. I’m not likely going to listen to all the Psalm songs (try saying that five times fast), but I’ve been listening to this one on repeat.
  • Finding this in the drawer of my bedside table, from when Levi looked at our 2021 Christmas card and decided to recreate the back picture.

quotes from Anne of Avonlea

One of my goals for 2022 is to read through the entire Anne of Green Gables series; I’ve done it once before, during my first year of university.

A lot has changed since then!

I grew up immersed in Anne’s world – we watched the Megan Follows movies regularly, we read the books and, living so close to Prince Edward Island, we visited the very regions where Lucy Maud Montgomery dreamed up her famous “Anne-girl.”

But while the characters were familiar to me, I can’t quite get over how much practical wisdom is contained within these books. They do portray the world through rose-tinted glasses, but that’s not always a bad thing.

As per usual, I made note of favourite quotations and thought I’d write them out here. If you don’t get around to reading these classic treasures, here are some nuggets of wisdom I discovered recently. Anne, of course, would be a kindred spirit with my recent persistence in “joyfinding”.

  • “Marilla, what if I fail?”

“You’ll hardly fail completely in one day and there’s plenty more days coming,” said Marilla. 

  • “I’d like to add some beauty to life,” said Anne dreamily. “I don’t exactly want to make people know more – though I know that is the noblest ambition – but I’d love to make them have a pleasanter time because of me – to have some little joy or happy thought that would never have existed if I hadn’t been born.
  • If a kiss could be seen I think it would look like a violet,” said Priscilla.

Anne glowed.

I am so glad you spoke that thought…instead of just thinking it and keeping it to yourself. This world would be a much more interesting place – although it is very interesting anyhow – if people spoke out their real thoughts.”

  • “After all,” Anne had said to Marilla once, “I believe the nicest and sweetest days are not those on which anything very splendid or wonderful or exciting happens, but just those that bring simple little pleasures, following one another softly, like pearls slipping off a string.”
  • Anne had a long meditation at her window that night. Joy and regret struggled together in her heart. She had come at last – suddenly and unexpectedly – to the bend of the road; and college was round it, with a hundred rainbow hopes and visions; but Anne realized as well that when she rounded that curve she must leave many sweet things behind…all the little simple duties and interests which had grown so dear to her in the last two years and which she had glorified into beauty and delight by the enthusiasm she had put into them.
  • “But I’d rather look like you than be pretty,” she told Anne sincerely.

Anne laughed, sipped the honey from the tribute, and cast away the sting.

Happy weekending. Happy joyfinding. And be careful when you open envelopes; there just might be some confetti inside.

Have you ever read Anne of Green Gables books? If so, who is your favourite character? Do you collect favourite quotes from the books you read? Any moments of joyfinding to share?

Parenting Hack: Ice Wreaths (AKA: A Craft for the Uncrafty)

We survived the week. By Friday afternoon I felt like toast – the slightly overdone, burnt-around-the-edges variety to which our kids turn up their noses. The type where even generous helpings of peanut butter and jam can’t disguise the fact that the toast, is in fact, too “toasty.” Like I’ve said, though, life is currently about survival and I’m constantly reminding myself that living through a global pandemic is a never-ending roller coaster. I’m persisting with my joyfinding, while feeling incredibly fatigued. For now, the kids are set to attend in-person school moving forward, but I’m trying to stay realistic about what the next few months may look like.

On to lighter fare.

Let’s rewind a bit, to an activity I mentioned last week – ice wreaths, a collaborative family activity completed during online learning.

I am not what you’d call crafty. I can be creative, yes, but getting my hands covered in glitter or paint is not my thing. For the record, I DID help my daughter create one of the coolest Halloween costumes ever, but this is the exception, not the rule. My kids are rarely allowed to use paint inside our house (that’s what preschool was for!) and I abhor glitter (though understand its appeal).

But ice wreaths…this is a “craft” I can get behind.

I did this activity with the kids last year and it was a big hit, so we went for a successful repeat in 2022.

Here’s what you do:

  • Grab a bundt pan (or create one yourself by putting a heavy glass inside the centre of a cake pan).

Go outside and gather natural materials.

Heading off through the woods, armed with bags to collect woodsy crafting supplies.
Some of nature’s bounty from the side of the road. Careful of the thorns!

Arrange the various items (pinecones, berries, birdseed, evergreen branches, clementine peels – the latter coming from inside the house) around the base of the bundt pan.

Cover with water.

Freeze (we did this outside because it was -16 degrees Celcius; a freezer would also work).

Warm the bottom of the pan for a few minutes in warm water.

Unmold and hang with a ribbon outside.

The whole experience was fun; all the mess stays outside and since everything is natural/compostable, you can just let it melt, collect the ribbon, and repeat.

I know I have some readers that hail from warmer climates where this activity would be an effort in futility! I guess this is one time cold weather comes in handy?!