Parenting Hack: Talk About a Mutually Agreeable Subject. Repetition Encouraged.

Ready for this?

I don’t actually enjoy “playing” with my kids*. I want to be one of those mothers who jumps into the middle of a pick-up soccer game or spends hours on the floor playing Barbies. But I’m not. *a game of hide-and-seek can be fun every few months.

Some of this is because I’ve gotten used to the sensation of time scarcity – I’m so accustomed to feeling an unrelenting pressure to be producing or accomplishing. I like checkmarks and gold stars and filling white space with “play” can seem wasteful and, in a weird way, daunting.

Some of it is also that parenting, for all its rewards, is a very challenging endevour.

When I’m struggling with parenting, or life, it’s important to remember what I do well. I enjoy reading books with and to my children; I like cooking healthy(ish) meals; I’m excited to explore God’s creation, exposing the kids to beauty and culture and the wonders of the world around us.

I also enjoy long walks, especially with my daughter. We have great conversations and it’s a nice time of exercise and bonding. But whether it’s on a walk, a long drive in the car (I hear this is one the best times to corner – I mean connect with – teenagers), or at bedtime, it can make life so much easier when there is a topic (or, even better, multiple topics) that everyone enjoys.

I think it’s natural to want to fill time with purpose. We look to have deep and meaningful conversations, deal with problems or discuss priorities. Even with kids, I think we spend a lot of time talking about self-help or self-discovery.

We do plenty of this in our family too, but it can be refreshing to have fun conversations. To remember – oh yeah, this kid is pretty awesome and we don’t actually have to keep talking about how much the wet towels left in a pile on the bathroom floor are slowly driving me crazy.

I’ve written about this before but it’s very common for us to discuss plans for a birthday party or a summer vacation months (and months) prior to the actual event. Before COVID brought things to a halt, we were scheduled to visit the US to see family. For weeks we talked of nothing else on our morning commute to school.

Earlier this summer, before we knew if borders would open, Abby was obsessed with planning, in excruciating detail, our summer trip to see her grandparents. Guess what. I love this topic, too. Within a typical conversation, we might rank our favourite memories from Grand Lake, discuss our packing list, or itemize our top-10 meal choices.

Recently she came up with a game where we shared our favourite sense from the lake: our favourite taste (Grammie’s meatballs), favourite sound (waves lapping on the shoreline and cicadas), favourite touch (splitting wood with Grampie + the hand-cut sticks we use for roasting s’mores), favourite smell (Grammie’s meatballs, again + campfire smoke + ATV gas smell), favourite sight (sunsets + lightning storms). We’ve planned our perfect day – from the weather to the menu and activities. We’ve described what clothes we’ll take, where we want to go exploring, and who we might see.

The topic doesn’t matter, per se – it’s about finding something that is mutually enjoyable and running with it.

For Levi, it’s discussions of fishing and sports and Star Wars and Indiana Jones.

With your child (or, spouse, parent, friend…) it could be food or books or Baroque music or antique cars. Having a go-to topic is not the sign of a rut, it’s familiarity. It’s like pulling on your comfiest pair of relationship jeans.

I don’t always see eye-to-eye with my kids, a dynamic that I suspect will only intensify with time. As it should. As they age they’ll develop their own opinions, dreams, and way of doing things. But it’s nice to settle into a conversation that brings us both joy. We might dream up a vacation that never happens, or spend hours and hours discussing a birthday cake that only takes an hour to make and looks nothing like the 3-tiered masterpiece of her imagination. But it’s all good.

Separated from grandparents during COVID, we had a March-turned-July 2020 birthday celebration at the lake. Start to finish this was her vision for the cake. I also love seeing my Mother’s 1970’s wedding Corelle (Spring Blossom Green, also known as Crazy Daisy).

Dear Elisabeth: Why I Wrote Myself a Letter

In a particularly challenging season – two young children, a new house (our first) that came with a delightful set of very expensive “surprises,” and a husband traveling out of the country 50% of the time – I felt like another crisis was always around the corner.

Often, it was.

A week after moving into our new home we discovered a set of plumbing issues that required jackhammering our basement floor and excavating the front lawn. I was spending hours of each day on the phone with our insurance company, my husband was any number of time zones away, and it was December. A very, very cold December.

There were concerts to attend (and bake for) and since it was our first Christmas in a home, we were hosting family from around the world. We had a giant hole in our basement floor, no mattresses for our guests, and a gaping wound in our front lawn. I lost 10 lbs in less than a month.

Everything felt hard. I woke most days feeling nauseous. I struggled to choke down food. I fed my kids boxed Mac n’ Cheese and put on a family favourite – 1966’s How The Grinch Stole Christmas – the night we discovered a hairline crack in the foundation that was allowing the tiniest trickle of water to drip into our office putting a halt on our scramble to lay flooring before the guests arrived.

The company arrived; we managed to get enough mattresses. Christmas Eve happened to involve fever and vomiting.

Late Christmas Eve, our poor, exhausted, sick little one. And yes, that is a pretend Dr’s kit scattered on the floor. We spent months with one or the other child sick almost constantly. Oh preschool/elementary germs, how we hated you.

We made the best of it, and I can look back on happy memories from that time. But it was also very traumatizing.

I felt like I had to keep all the balls in the air – contractors, kids (who were perpetually sick), Christmas decorations and gifts – and I didn’t know how to cut myself some slack. Some days I honestly thought I couldn’t make it through another hour, paralyzed by the stress of it all. I wanted to be all and do all and couldn’t.

And the place I felt the most guilt, as I suspect is true of many women: my parenting. So I wrote myself a note and posted it, with blue sticky tack, to the back of my closet. Here’s what it said:

Dear Elisabeth,

You are a good Mom. End sentence. If you’re reading this, it probably means you’re having a rough day. That’s all this is – a rough day. You will survive this. The kids will stop yelling, you will get to sleep, the house will look clean again. I promise.

Here are some suggestions for the-kids/life-are-literally-making-me-crazy-Elisabeth:

  • Let the kids watch a movie. Watch it with them if you want. Or don’t. Either way is fine.
  • Take them somewhere they can play and you don’t have to participate (McDonalds Play Place, the library).* clearly pre-COVID.
  • Feed them cereal for supper – it is the easiest meal you can prepare. And they’ll eat it. Without complaining.
  • Let the kids watch a second movie if you need more time off. This will not kill them, render them brain-dead, or affect their ability to grow up into functional adults.
  • While the kids watch the movie(s) – take a shower. A long, scalding one. Blow dry your hair. It’s relaxing and you won’t hear them if they start to fight.
  • Drink a cup of tea. Eat a spoonful of peanut butter.
  • Look up books on Goodreads, or order books from the library. You like books and they make you feel like a genuine adult.
  • Clean up something – a drawer, a counter. Put something away. Start a load of laundry. But only if you feel like it. You’ll be back to normal soon and the laundry can wait. I promise.
  • Make an easy recipe – baked oatmeal or black bean brownies are a good place to start. You can always freeze them and it will make you feel productive.
  • Run the dishwasher even if it’s not full. Then have Abby empty it.
  • Read books to the kids. It’s good for them and you.
  • Give the kids a snack. They like snacks. And you need them to like something you do. This also will not kill them. This does not mean they will end up obese as adults. It’s just a snack that will help you maintain your sanity. It’s some raisins, not mind-altering drugs. There is a difference.
  • You can put them to bed without reading a book or singing a song. There will be another bedtime when you have energy to do more. They’re fine. Don’t let the guilt creep in.
  • Ask “What would make this easy” for every decision. Do that. You’ll be back to making life more difficult than it needs to be tomorrow. Give Type-A, control-freak, overwhelmed Elisabeth the day off. She needs it.

And remember – ultimately, you can only control yourself. This too shall pass. Hang in there.

Hugs from,


I haven’t referred to this note in a while; it’s still plastered to the wall behind a smattering of robes and long dresses. Life has changed: my kids are older, my house is less vindictive (though I’m no less daunted by renovations), and my husband hasn’t left the country in well over a year. But it’s funny to see some of my strategies peeking through: giving myself permission to stop trying so hard, including the choice to opt-out.

And, when all else fails, there is always the cereal-for-supper option (or PB&J).

Snippets of Life Lately: iPhone Dump

I have a love/hate relationship with my iPhone. I hate that it has a tendency to distract me – I try really hard, not always successfully, to keep my screentime around 1 hr/day. It’s easy to get sucked into text loops (which can be a good thing) or newsfeeds (almost always a bad thing).

I also appreciate all the good it brings. A calculator and alarm, music to amp me up during a workout, a GPS when I’m lost. But mostly, I love always having a camera handy. I make a giant photobook every year and appreciate that we (John takes more and better photos) can capture so many spontaneous moments – moments we never would have recorded if we were still lugging around a heavy camera, worrying about how much space we had left on a roll of film or needing to avoid getting sand in the lens (I’ve had two cameras destroyed this way).

Here’s a quick phone dump from life lately.

Final fire at the lake.
The last night of fishing on Grand Lake 2021. A treasure trove of great memories this year.
Someone was cavity-free – always a relief.
A trip to our beloved Peggy’s Cove.
A return trip to Belliveau’s Cove, complete with a new breakwater.
On a Sunday afternoon family hike we happened upon a random quarry. Love this action shot of Abby exploring the grounds (we did NOT let the kids climb on the sand pile, but it was fun to have a look from all angles).
Our little town officially has its own boxcar. One of our favourite books is “The Boxcar Children”, so this was beyond cool (also, it’s located behind the town library – this was meant to be).
After we got the climbing out of our system, we turned to rock jumping! The kids love to get serious air off this local boulder on the waterfront.
One last summer hurrah with my parents (visiting so they could babysit the kids while we were away at White Point) – Margaretsville Lighthouse. It’s such a great place to explore. Mom and I sat on a bench near the beach and watched the waves while John took the kids exploring further up the shore.
This one even dipped her toes in…

Our In-Home Date Nights – Why & How

I’ve mentioned our in-home date nights in passing several times but thought they deserved a post of their own.

This weekly tradition originated back when we were financially strapped entrepreneurs. Living in a small space without much access to childcare – and without any real means or desire to spend exorbitant sums of money on eating out – we got into the routine of celebrating in-home date nights.

The name is important. Date nights. They are planned and they are structured and they are just for us and they span most of an evening. The kids know to respect this time each week. Date nights are treated as sacred and, within reason, non-negotiable. We screen calls and don’t make plans with friends. When company visits or we’re away on family vacations, we roll with it, but as soon as we’re settled into our regular routine, date nights come right back.

When John started traveling extensively for work this was an important time for us to reconnect and recharge. After being gone for a week (or weeks) at a time (and eating most meals in restaurants) he just wanted to stay put and enjoy home cooking. With COVID eliminating many of the options for babysitting and restaurants, the last 18 months have further cemented our love for – and commitment to – this weekly habit.

It started out as one night per week, but now we generally do “date night” both Saturday AND Sunday.

What do your kids do?

This has evolved over time. Now that they’re older, we feed them supper relatively early (between 5-6 pm). They LOVE these suppers as I usually read to them while they eat and we make something quick and kid-friendly like Mac n’ Cheese, egg burritos, or toast.

One night we will usually let them watch a pre-approved video together on a laptop in one of their bedrooms starting around 6:30. The other night we’ll send them to their rooms by 6:30/7:00ish to read and play independently. Yes, this is early. Yes, it is good for them to read and have quiet time (these date nights often follow full days of family adventuring). Most importantly it’s good for our marriage, and that is ultimately what is best for the kids!

What do you eat?

I love routine and really enjoy eating the same meals over and over. For date nights John is almost always in charge of food. He is an amazing cook; creative and a flavour genius. He would gladly spend lots of time and energy shopping and prepping, but we’ve settled into a routine of having:

  • Our version of Eggs Benedict (we used to make Eggs Benny from scratch, making authentic Hollandaise over a waterbath and poaching eggs. Now we take a few shortcuts that are arguably even more delicious). We serve soft pan-fried eggs over my all-time favourite waffles with smoked salmon/bacon/ham + John’s custom mayo-based sauce (mayo + a tiny bit of maple syrup, nutritional yeast, cayenne pepper, and mustard – sounds a bit suspicious, but is amazing).
  • Take-out sushi. Always a crowd pleaser.
  • Hand-rolled sushi. We used to make regular sushi from scratch. It was delicious but a big time commitment. Now we buy the individual packets of nori and cook up sticky rice + julienne some raw veg + select a protein. We’ll top a sheet of nori with a spoonful of rice, add a few slices of veggie, a bit of protein (John will often make a spicy crab filling), and then just fold it up and dip in soy sauce (with wasabi mixed in).
  • Corn tortillas filled with fish or another protein and some grilled veggies with roasted potatoes on the side.
  • Stuffed pasta (purchased, not homemade) coated in either a simple mix of butter and herbs or a specific jarred rosée sauce we like.

We do branch out beyond this, but the above represents pretty typical date-night fare.

What do you do?

We almost always watch a movie.

John is a big movie buff and audiophile, so the entertainment experience is a tested-and-true experience. With offerings from Disney+ and Netflix, it’s generally very affordable as well.

While some people might scoff at date nights involving a screen (we even eat our supper while watching the movie), it works for us. One friend of mine from university days – who happens to be a huge foodie – does a similar in-home date night with her husband but they’re the type that makes a 3-course meal complete with fine china, linen napkins and candles.

You do you.

The specifics of date night don’t matter much – it’s the principal of setting time aside to prioritize being together and recognizing it doesn’t have to involve complicated logistics or stretched budgets.

We love to adventure together and appreciate a range of culinary experiences…but between COVID and work schedules and the challenges (and expense) of childcare, getting away for a long trip – or even a night out – can be tricky. Enter in-home date nights: one of our favourite marital traditions and something I would recommend to every couple – newly married or seasoned veterans.

Kids Clutter + Cleanup Chores: A Q&A

Somehow every time I get going on a theme I realize that how I incorporate said topic into my parenting approach deserves its own post.

Such is the case with decluttering and my pseudo-minimalism.

do you enforce decluttering on your kids? Are you kids rooms super neat?

So, I’m not actually a true minimalist. I adhere to some of the core principles of minimalism, but we still have a lot of stuff. While John and I both talk to the kids about making wise choices with their spending money (mostly Abby at this stage as she’s the only one that gets an allowance) and we certainly encourage them to curate their possessions to include only items they truly enjoy…the kids are not forced throw out all their toys and cherished belongings.

I think our kids rooms are relatively normal looking. They tell me their friends have messier rooms, but a lot of this stems from the fact that I DO help them clean up their room (more on this below). I’d also reiterate something I said earlier this week. Mess is not the same thing as clutter. Mess means things need to be put away; clutter, to me at least, means there is too much stuff. So while my kid’s rooms can look messy, it’s relatively superficial.

Abby’s bookshelf with lots of treasures being displayed. We clean this space together about once a month, as it attracts lots of papers and the like. She displays crafts and painting projects up here and while it’s relatively neat, it definitely reflects her style.

That said, they both perpetually dump clothes on the floor and usually leave their beds unmade.

Do your kids clean their own rooms?

Yes and no.

I’ve never really found a great routine for having the kids clean their room on a schedule. For a while I tried to enforce it daily, before breakfast. The rule was that things needed to be up off the floor. This was to help prevent me from impaling my foot on stray LEGO or finding piles of dirty clothes stuffed under their beds (this still happens).

Honestly, it was just too much maintenance on my end.

I usually send the kids to their rooms at some point each day to pick it up a bit. I set a pretty low standard. That said, because we try to minimize what comes into the house, I’d say they have less stuff than many of their peers?

Beyond that, any issue with the mess is my problem. My solution – if I look in the room and feel like the cleanliness/neatness matches what should be expected from a 6- and 10-year-old, respectively, then I will do extra tidying if it makes me feel better. I like walking by and seeing all the action figures in the basket instead of scattered on top of his bed, so I can clean them up.

Like me, the kid’s stuff basically all has a place – even if this is a junk drawer. The bottom drawer in my son’s dresser, for example, is his catch-all. His action figures and Transformers have a basket that fits under his bedside table. I use plastic shoe boxes to hold model cars, wooden blocks and, downstairs in the family room, our colour-coded LEGO (I swear this was a really fun family project and makes building LEGO creations SO MUCH EASIER).

So when I tidy the kids rooms, they know where to find things if I put items away.

Do you throw things out behind your kids backs?

Yes and no (are you sensing a theme with these answers). Sometimes I ask them if I can get rid of something. Sometimes I ask them if there are items they want to pass along to a friend, sell, or donate.

If it’s broken, dangerous, or unsanitary, I’ll get rid of it without asking.

I feel like I have a pretty good handle on what my kids really treasure (the stuffed animal they got at a yard sale 3 years ago that they’ve never played with, I would confidently pass along without asking them).

My daughter, for instance, loves to keep sentimental souvenirs. The amusement park bracelet she got, the keychains John has brought home from all over the world – I won’t throw those out.

Another thing I’ve done in the past – keep a tote in the basement where I “isolate” potential donations. I’ll put things here for a month or two; these are items I know the kids will resist getting rid of, but if they don’t ask about them being missing, I can pass them along with confidence.

Deeply sentimental things stay. Each child has a tote for paper keepsakes; report cards, a few art projects from school, letters and cards that represent special memories. But if it’s a $1 ruler from the DollarStore my daughter got in a birthday treat bag, I’ll often pass it along; worst-case scenario I can always rebuy it.

What else do you make the kids do around the house? Do they have set chores?

Having a relatively neat and organized space is important to me. While I don’t think being messy is a bad thing, it doesn’t fit with my priorities. My kids are naturally impacted by my tendencies while they live at home. To that end, I want them to respect their possessions (take care of items) and help contribute to maintaining order.

A chore chart has always felt like too much. I don’t have staying power with incentives, and honestly think that the kids need to help out where it’s needed, no sticker or reward required (we do have a warm fuzzy jar and sometimes, if the kids go above and beyond on a task, we’ll give them a warm fuzzy; reaching a set number of warm fuzzies – little pompoms – does generate some sort of family experience, like going to the movies night or an in-home cooking competition).

Abby empties the dishwasher. Both kids help clean off the table when the meal is over (this could definitely use some reinforcement; they do it without much complaint, but DON’T do it automatically, which is a nuisance – #fallgoals). Levi empties all the main-floor garbage cans each week. They both help with laundry; Abby will load the washer, either of them will often unload the dryer and both kids are responsible for helping sort the finished laundry and putting away their own clothes (I sometimes give Levi a pass on this because it can just be so much easier to do myself).

The kids help take out the garbage on garbage day and they’re responsible for unpacking their lunchboxes when they get home from school and they’re expected to clean their rooms within reason (see above).

What do you do with the things they outgrow/Stop using?

There are four categories for getting items out the door. In order of my preference: pass along, consign, donate, and trash.

For clothes and toys, I have several friends that are often interested in hand-me-downs. I’ve benefited so much from recycled items, so love to return the favour. I try to take pictures of the clothes/toys and then circulate them to people I think might be interested. If it’s a yes, great. If it’s a pass, then I move on to the next step.

I don’t actually do a lot of consigning, but if I have a large bag of clothes to move out the door, I’ll drop this off at a local consignment store, where I also happen to shop for kid’s clothes/sporting equipment. It’s a great way to make a little money back on items while supporting a local small business.

There are lots of great avenues for donating: local shelters will sometimes accept donations (here in Canada, charities often put out a call for gently used winter coats and other cold-weather clothing), we have a number of donation drop-boxes around town, and we also take items to a local thrift store where donations generate a coupon for shopping in-store.

And then the trash. Some of the kid’s clothes are just too far gone to pass along (again, though, sometimes local charities will accept ripped/stained items for rags), or the toy is completely broken. In this case, it belongs in the garbage!

Mood Reset: Why Sometimes I Just Need to Look at My Sleeping Kids

Like most young mothers, I’m exhausted by the end of the day. Between juggling work, home, and relationship responsibilities, by 5:00 pm I’m ready to clock out. In reality, things are just ramping up.

There are bookbags to be emptied, teeth to brush, food to cook (and serve…and clean up), bedtime stories to read, and always some variation on a last-minute scramble to prepare for the pending costume day (insert other activity/request) everyone forgot until 9 pm.

By the time the final homework sheet is completed, the last cup of water has been fetched, and the last bedtime story has been read, I feel like I’ve gone through the proverbial wringer (which reminds me, I almost certainly need to fit in one last load of laundry before my own bedtime).

While parenting is deeply rewarding, it is also more exhausting and all-consuming than I ever dreamed possible. There are times I feel like I’m raising strangers; kids who say and do things that defy logic or, more likely, my own ideals for behavioural choices. I’m raising kids who will take a shirt off the hook, look at it, decide it’s not quite right for the day and then put both shirt and hanger in the middle of their bedroom floor in a heap and move on to another selection in the closet. This process is repeated as often as necessary.

I love hacks and resets – small behaviours that improve my quality of life or help propel me in the direction I want to go. And one of my favourite antidotes to the rigors of parenting (and general wear and tear of life): watching my kids sleep.

Observing them in this state – silent, still, and hopelessly adorable – does produce a complicated wave of emotions and I run the familiar gauntlet every single night. My heart bursts with tenderness, an emotion I can’t always generate in the middle of the day when I’m staring at those discarded shirts on their bedroom floor. As I climb in next to them and kiss their cheeks, I take time to just be. I’m not parenting or correcting or comforting or serving in any way. They get a chance to replenish my emotional stores, and it takes nothing more than a sigh or a stretch or a nose twitch. I see the ridges on his face from blankie, source of comfort every night since birth; I lean in and smell her freshly washed hair.

But my heart also aches. I have a sense that every night they’re slipping just a bit further away from me. When they’re awake how often I’ve relished the thought – how soon until they’re out of diapers, how soon until they don’t need me to button their buttons, how soon until they’re out of a 5-point harness, how soon until they can cut their own food?

Then that time comes. There is no more diapering or buttoning or car seats or food cutting in my household.

Soon I’ll be asleep before they are. Their hurts will, undoubtedly, stretch beyond brown blankies’ magical restorative powers. We all know what happens in I’ll Love You Forever (or, if you don’t, get a copy: stat). It’s a cycle as natural and old as time itself, but taking the time to savour does help slow it.

Stop it? Impossible. But slow it, yes.

For now he clutches blankie, her skin is free from pimples. They sleep easy and long, in contorted conditions that would send me straight to a chiropractor. I won’t be able to savour these moments forever. Other moments – good ones – will come. But for now, in this season, these are some of the best moments. Like a daily sunset – poignant and beautiful and breathtaking and fleeting and unique; and worth chasing every chance I get.

So I take pictures and kiss cheeks and every day when I think “How much longer?” I can answer, for now, there are still many nights to go.

What Do Your Kids Eat: Q&A

How could I do a week of food-related posts and not wade into the murky waters that is feeding children. I feel like I have relatively little drama to report, but it’s always interesting to see how different families navigate the potential minefields associated with nourishing finicky eaters.

What do your kids eat?

Peeling some garlic for a cilantro + avocado dressing.

Mostly they eat what we eat. This was our plan as soon as they started eating solids. But, there are definitely some caveats to that.

While we rarely cook a separate meal for our kids (except on Saturday and Sunday evenings when John and I have an in-home date), their relative serving sizes of various items can vary. Saturday or Sunday they’ll tend to have something easy and “kid” friendly like boxed Mac n’ Cheese or Naan-bread pizzas or cheese omelets, and the other supper is typically leftovers.

Occasionally I’ll make a meal that’s, how shall I put this, not their “favourite” (trust me, they use much stronger language in describing it). If there are leftovers and I can’t bear the thought of fielding endless complaints and a 50-minute timeline for eating 6 bites, I’ll let them have something different in place of the leftovers (it’s typically something delicious, like a Thai stir-fry, they’re balking at, so larger servings of the leftovers for the adults is a good thing).

What if they refuse to eat something?

We’re largely past this stage. At 6.5 and 10.5, while they might voice a strong opinion about something, the worst they do is complain. Occasionally someone (ahem, the 6-year-old) will refuse to eat a particular meal – this usually requires some perfect storm of a less-preferred food item + some emotional response (tired, fighting with his older sister). We tend to not make a huge deal of this but will give a timeline that the food will be available. After that point, the kids are expected to wait until the next meal. When they were little we used to say: “Well, hopefully, you like the next meal more.” Between the two of them, a handful of meals have been skipped over the years – no one starved and they have pretty solid eating habits.

Mains are enforced, sides are not

One child adores olives, the other hates them. One tolerates raw bell peppers, they make another child gag – literally. I try to have options. I like to incorporate things they don’t like in ways that are more palatable (I make a chicken curry with cooked, diced bell peppers and no one complains; I’ll dice up mushrooms in chili and no one notices). If we’re having a roasted chicken and there are two vegetables, I’ll let the kids chose only one if they like.

they eat a lot more gluten, dairy and sugar than I do

It is a PB&J summer for them, after all. After completing a Whole30 (see below), I don’t think anyone is dramatically impacted by any specific food group.

They eat toast once a week or so; their cereal is “healthier” but still comes with sugar added. While they may naturally eat less gluten/dairy/soy/sugar than some of their peers simply because I avoid most of those things in my cooking – I don’t stop them from consuming those foods, especially when out and about.

I do try to at least temper their access to sugary treats, but it seems every event (camps, potlucks, meals with friends, the never-ending stream of birthday parties) comes with some dessert option and for now I let them go with it. I have a hard time resisting homemade sweets so my solution has been to dramatically reduce the number of homemade sweets I make. But they still have lots, and lots, and lots of treats.

2021’s birthday cookie cake.

what about elimination diets? did they do the whole-30 with you?

Last year I cut out caffeine, dairy, soy, peanut butter, garlic and gluten for almost 3 months. The only major culprit I could isolate was garlic – how ironic, as I LOVE garlic. I did not have the kids adhere to any of these changes (aside from the fact that I wasn’t making shared dishes with soy sauce, peanut butter, garlic, etc). But their school lunchboxes stayed the same, they still had dessert, peanut butter on toast, and milk on their morning oatmeal.

When we did Whole30 last June, the kids came along for the ride. It went remarkably well (though I didn’t feel great, likely in large part due to the excessive and daily consumption of garlic, which I’ve now isolated is a real trigger for me?!). The ONLY struggle was cow’s milk. Oats are considered off-limits for Whole30, and almond/cashew/coconut milk just did not meet muster for one child. We all survived it, but there were a few tears over the one month off cow’s milk for said child (who, also ironically, had a dairy allergy as a baby).

How do you get them to eat things they don’t like?

My goal as a mother is not to inflict culinary misery on my kids. I don’t want them to grow up feeling like they have to like everything and I think there are some challenges from my own childhood that are rearing their head now in my eating habits (not being able to detect hunger cues, feeling the urge to clear my plate at EVERY meal, despite fullness, to access dessert).

That said, I try hard to make meals that are healthy, engage their palate, but don’t directly interfere with their likes/dislikes. Left to their own devices, neither of my kids would take veggies with their meatballs and rice. But it’s non-negotiable for me. My kids eat salad and curry and, yes, even stir-fries every once in a while. They don’t ask for a different meal because that has never been the expectation (they do, however, sometimes complain about what’s on offer).

The preschool program both kids attended as youngsters would ask each child at meal times: “Would you like a lot or a little.” A little could mean one green bean from the backyard garden, but it was all about trying new things. I think giving kids a sense of control, while concurrently nudging them to try new flavours and gain experience in curating a broad palate, is an important part of growing up.

I also don’t think that having a picky eater is necessarily an indication of future preferences. I didn’t have a broad palate as a child (though I did have to eat what was put in front of me) and now love a huge range of foods that would be foreign to my parents. My father cannot wrap his head around why anyone would eat sushi, for instance. Also, I once went to a delicious Indian restaurant with my brother and parents. My Dad took one bite of the basmati rice and said “This tastes like cardboard.” For some context, I grew up on Minute Rice…

What COULD use some tweaking?

My eating habits are always evolving and, at this point at least, this has very definite impacts on the kids. They eat nutritional yeast and nori and banana ice cream and drink sparkling water because the adults in the house – who have the buying power – do.

There are always improvements that can be made both in the food itself and consumption patterns. I definitely eat too fast. The kids are a bit slower, but I think we’d all do well to pace ourselves and enjoy the process of eating a bit more, allowing our food to digest and our conversations to grow (the sad reality is a delicious meal that took 2 hours to prepare, can take 5 minutes to eat).

I’m curious to see what food preferences crop up as they get older and develop more mature palates. I’m aiming to give them a good foundation – and the rest will be up to them.

How Do You Get Your Kids to Walk So Much? Q&A

Right after people ask how we get the kids to sign on for long car trips, a follow-up question about our walking habits gets thrown in the mix.

How far do your kids actually walk?

This varies. Last year, during the first wave of COVID lockdowns, we had a 7 km route we walked almost daily. This year we’re a bit rusty and it’s more likely to be a casual 5 km.

We’ve done some long trails with the kids (10+ km); our daughter first walked Cape Split when she was 8 years old. Last summer we did a 7 km morning walk around town and then headed out for an afternoon hike. By day’s end, my then-5-year-old had clocked in at 18 km, with no complaints and relatively little time spent up on parental shoulders. This is a pretty uncommon distance though. During the school year, the kids basically just walk to school (<2 km) and call it a day.

It takes a walk straight up a cliff to get this view, but it’s worth the energy output. Oh Blomidon, how we love you.


The 7- and 5-km routes we walk as a family are for exercise. It’s a great time for us (as parents) to be completely removed from our devices and the lure of work (we both work from home).

One of the biggest factors in our decision to buy a home in our current town was the fact we could walk to school. And we do. Last year we drove to school LESS THAN 10 TIMES. I love that this is the way our very energetic kiddos get to start their day. We walk quickly but tend to pair up parent-child, so each child gets some nice one-on-one time with an adult. There is fresh air, exercise, and all the good stuff walking provides, along with opportunities to bond and discuss things/play games.


We prefer to walk first thing in the morning. During summer vacation this happens before breakfast. The kids will take a granola bar, some dried fruit, or a muffin along. It’s cooler, the kids are rested, no need for sunscreen where we live, and it’s a great launch point for the rest of the day.


This ebbs and flows. Like road trips, the key is practice. Most of the complaining happens before we leave: Do we have to go on a walk today? I’m so tired. But once we get started, they’re generally caught up in the fun of whatever game we’re playing. My husband is really great at this: he’ll come up with little obstacles for them (climb over this rock, walk backwards 4 paces), play word games, and talk through future adventures. For example, we might discuss plans for a birthday party – months and months before the big event. Before COVID brought things to a halt, we were scheduled for travel to the US to visit one of my siblings. For weeks the entire walk to school involved discussions of the airport experience, what to pack, what pranks we’d play (fill a diaper with melted chocolate; set up and decorate a Christmas tree overnight in my sister’s living room – in May). Sometimes the kids just count cars, guess who we’ll see along the walk, or play the quiet game where we see who can stay quietest the longest. It rarely lasts long, but it is certifiably glorious.

Why walking?

Years and years ago, when our daughter was an infant and I was anxious to lose some stubborn postpartum weight, we just started walking.

It’s cheap and a great way to experience nature. We also find it’s a wonderful way to foster conversation (meaningful discussions are harder to have when biking or downhill skiing!).

The iconic, gorgeous, and very “walkable” Skyline Trail, Cape Breton Highlands National Park, Cape Breton

Any equipment recommendations?

Walking is pretty low maintenance. Good footwear is important. Good-fitting sneakers, a warm pair of winter boots and a waterproof pair of year-round boots, all-terrain hiking shoes, and lots of socks that adequately cover the heel and ankles (I don’t think either kid has experienced the torture of a blister yet, thankfully) are about all you need to get started!

The biggest “equipment” purchase we made was a BabyJogger stroller. We’ve had two of these through the years, both purchased second-hand. They were worth every penny. Such a smooth ride, good safety features, easy to collapse and store and take in the car. Some of the major jogging stroller brands have standing boards for kids that are too big for the stroller, but too little to walk a long distance. For both kids we left them in the stroller far later than most of their peers simply due to the length of the walks we went on.

A good daypack is handy; we have one from MEC that we’ve used for years. It’s small and light, but can hold a surprising amount of stuff (a towel, water, snacks, sunscreen, keys and cellphones, toilet paper).

A total luxury and certainly not an “essential,” but I love using my Apple Watch to measure the distance and pacing of our walks. A much cheaper alternative – my daughter has a $25 amazon-purchased smartwatch that is waterproof and measures most of the same metrics.