Casual Friday + A Great Big Birthday Recap

  • You know how you learn a new word and then see it everywhere? It was like that with Ingrid Fetell Lee this week. I heard her interviewed on an episode of the Best of Both Worlds podcast. I saw her TED Talk. And then I followed a link on a new-to-me blog and was redirected to Ingrid’s post titled: A guide to joyful gift-giving. It lingered in my psyche enough that I went back to re-read it and then decided I had to share it here! Insightful and refreshing and inspiring. An anti-gift guide of sorts (that ends up offering some really great gift suggestions).
  • #SecretSantaMugSwap2021. What a delighful surprise to receive a package in the mail on Tuesday from Nicole (and so fast). Again, a huge thanks to San for organizing this fun holiday event. I especially loved the tea included some cheeky math. I really did laugh out loud when I saw the line: And yes, it adds to 100%.
  • Our Christmas cards are officially done. Not only are they done – they’re in the mail. I know it’s early, but as soon as that last stamp was placed, I wanted to get those suckers out the door. There is something immensely satisfying about seeing a finished stack of Christmas cards on the table. #ParentingHack: I had Abby address and stuff most of the cards this year. She loved it, her handwriting is adorable, and it saved me at least an hour of time. Win, win, win.
  • Lest you think I am a freak of nature, we received our first Christmas card on November 16th. November 16th!!!
  • I also want to reiterate there are a lot of other things I skip which pave the way for completing this task on an accelerated timeline. I do always get holiday photocards + an update letter out into the world early (which makes sense based on my values and the other related activities – namely photobooks and regular family udpates – I prioritize during the rest of the year). But we do not make gingerbread houses. We don’t visit Santa. We don’t do Elf on the Shelf. Aside from two trees and a mantle swag, we don’t really even decorate that much. (But we do send cards and watch lots of holiday movies – stay tuned for more about both of these topics next week)!
  • Speaking of the swag…she did it all by herself this year. She waited patiently for me to come upstairs before starting but when I tried to help I got a talking to and was relegated to a perch on the couch to watch. Love the glow!
  • Most years I make a Holiday Fun List. I keep a hard copy – with completed items crossed out in squiggly lines by the kids – in our Christmas box. It’s fun to look back on different activities we’ve done each year. I can’t decide if I want to take the time to make the list or, more importantly, execute on the items on said list. Also, last year, we had a special advent jar – each child wrote down 24 things they loved/appreciated about their sibling and each morning when they opened their chocolate advent they’d also grab a slip of paper from their Advent jar and get a hit of dopamine from sibling love as well. With less than a week to go I’m not sure if I’m going to move the needle on this in time…it feels a bit stale to re-use the same ideas (who am I kidding, the Holiday List would be the exact same this year), but I’m sure the kids won’t care/remember and would appreciate both. I think I need to Lazy Genius my way through this topic…I’m leaning toward not doing it this year. Time will tell.
  • The Christmas/winter reading continues. This week it included a new picture book about Anne of Green Gables – very on point since we’re still reading the first Anne of Green Gables book. I have to admit, it didn’t quite capture the magic for me, but the illustrations were delightful.
  • As part of a promotion through something (I honestly have no idea who/what/when/where/how), John got a big discount on a weeks worth of meal kits. They arrived Monday morning. I have mixed feelings about the kits (we did this once before, early in the pandemic when a friend gave me a code so I got 3 meals for $9.99. For four people. For $9.99 total)! The regular retail price is almost $200, so it’s not something we’ll do regularly. Also, I find the prep/cooking time is basically double what they suggest. Maybe it’s because when I cook my own meals I don’t follow recipes or timing that closely. But every once in a while, this is a lot of fun! Abby was really engaged by the whole experience and was a real help in the kitchen. She loves to cook, but I don’t normally make the time to have her help with main meals. But since we’re kind of on an equal playing field (a new recipe, all the ingredients are right there), it worked out perfectly. So it was a fun week in terms of our culinary experiences. For the meal pictured below she seasoned the orzo, she added the pesto, she stirred in the peas and spinach, she sliced the chicken. And then she rated it an 8/10. Last night, our final meal, was an absolutely delicious Tex-Mex pasta casserole. Levi went back for thirds! The portions are large, too, so we’ve had lots of leftovers which have been amazing for lunches.

Birthday recap

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

It was a mostly fun weekend, punctuated by some very not-so-fun moments because…that’s life.

We started the party on Friday; after school we packed the kids up in the car and whisked them off to the city (what we Nova Scotians affectionately call Halifax, as it is the only real “city” around) for the weekend. Abby had her suspicions, but Levi was none-the-wiser. We told them we were running errands (technically true) and he was elated when we pulled up outside a hotel – our favourite from a few years ago. (I had packed and hidden the suitcases in the trunk before we left).

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

The experience did not disappoint. But let’s set the stage a bit first for these smiling faces because I went into the evening with pretty low expectations.

Friday had been pretty meh. It was raining – hard – all day. I had an 8:30 am in-person meeting to which I arrived damp. I’m not a fan of rain unless I get to stay inside the whole day.

Then I had to unexpectedly take our car to the mechanic mid-morning (amidst the torrential rain).

Then there was work stress and deadlines for both of us.

And did I mention the rain? That meant that our exterior renovations, delayed for two months and FINALLY started, were halted after about 8 hours of work (they resumed yesterday after a week of near-constant rain or snow and I am beyond excited about this).

Another highlight of the day (read on to sense my tone) included a small temper tantrum that crescendoed to the point a mask was thrown in a puddle when a requested playdate was denied. The conversation went like this:

*Child jumps off school bus*

Child: Can I have a playdate with X. (Obviously not named “X” but I’m not going to start naming my children’s friends on the interwebs).

Me: Not today.

Child: Why?

Me: Because we have a fun birthday surprise planned.

Child: What is it?

Me: It’s a surprise so you’ll have to wait and see…but it will be a lot of fun! [Said in my cheeriest tone as I could sense where this conversation was going.]

Response amid full-blown wailing and tears; there may have even been some gnashing of teeth for good measure.

Child: You’ve done this like 16 times. I. HATE. SURPRISES.

How fun and, note to self, 16 surprises is perhaps too many for a 7-year old lifetime…


Then, en route to the city, there was a rough work call that spilled over into the lobby while we were checking in.

I was feeling pretty emotional and low when we arrived and I was dreading having to jump into a cold pool. I am always cold. The only thing worse than being cold is being cold and wet. Cold swimming pools are a special form of torture.

And then…

I kid you not, the hotel pool was like a hot tub. I was so deliriously happy about the temperature, it re-set my mood for the next 18 hours. Literally. We went swimming in the soft glow of nighttime pool lights and the kids jumped and splashed and floated. It was blissful.

Then we walked across the parking lot to eat at Wendy’s because that was the birthday-boy request; I have not had a Junior Bacon Cheeseburger in almost two years. It tasted delicious.

Then back to the hotel room for the kids to eat snacks in bed and watch videos while I read an ENTIRE book, No Cure for Being Human by Kate Bowler. Let me repeat that – an entire book!

Saturday morning we did more swimming and then had one of the best hotel breakfasts ever. We loved this hotel for its breakfast the first time we stayed but assumed it would be shut down due to COVID. Not so, friends, not so.

They served people in groups and the food was incredible. The eggs were light and fluffy and seasoned with fresh herbs to perfection. And the pancakes – I am SO picky about my pancakes. Only homemade fluffy ones will do. These were homemade and fluffy. The staff were all so kind and attentive. And when they caught wind it was Levi’s birthday weekend they brought out a slice of cake to the breakfast table (just what he needed at 9 am) with a candle and proceeded to sing Happy Birthday. It was wonderful. We stayed up until the minute of checkout lounging in our enormous room (with vaulted ceilings, a first for me).

And then we trekked to IKEA to get a desk (Levi’s main birthday gift, alongside the hotel adventure) and a few other odds and ends.

Moods frayed after we got home. I prepped birthday food for Sunday. There had been too much sugar and too little sleep at the hotel. There was a meltdown that only LEGO could solve, and even then it was only a partial solution. But we made it through.

Sunday, his actual birthday, was great. Again, I started in a bit of a blue mood. I’m not a big fan of birthday parties but it felt like I was really letting him down this year. Just a few friends. No treat bags. I didn’t even blow up balloons.

We started the day with Baked French Toast – his request, and which I had prepped the night before. After church, we had lunch of meatballs rice and peas (read on to see why this is hilarious). A friend arrived to bring prezzies (as she refers to gifts) – the highlight being a locker/piggy bank that involves both a key AND a combination. Also, she played hide-and-seek for over half an hour while I sat on the couch. So fun. Then three neighbourhood friends arrived.

They played video games for an hour. Then they played soccer in the hallway. I still felt lame. I grabbed a few handfuls of leftover Halloween candy and called Abby upstairs to hide them.

When the boys emerged from the basement, sweating from their soccer game, they asked for Cheezie’s and promptly devoured a bowl. Things were looking brighter. Then they caught wind of the candy hunt, which was a real crowdpleaser. Things were looking even better!

Then we sat around the supper table and ate meatballs, rice, peas, and corn. Yes, my son asked (he didn’t think I’d say yes!) for the SAME meal for lunch and supper on his birthday. So that’s what he got. One visitor ate 10 meatballs and took home a doggy bag. Success.

The cake was delicious (one of those no-flour cakes that has so much butter, eggs, and chocolate that a few bites brings on a sugar coma – thankfully I only make it once a year and it’s a small recipe). We sang Happy Birthday. There were candles on the cake and on the table and it suddenly felt like the perfect birthday in its own imperfect way. It was small and laid-back and everyone just looked so happy (sugar does have that effect).

There were two gift bags to open instead of the usual mound – and they were perfect. One child topped their gift with a bunch of balloons – it’s like they knew I was failing at this birthday thing and wanted to make sure he got balloons. He also got a Star Wars LEGO set and two practical hands-on games (Jenga and a Slinky). And then the kids proceeded to play on the floor in the living room for almost an hour. Laughing and hitting balloons and playing Wink, Murderer and Noodle and Statue and all sorts of other games I don’t really know but that sure seemed to be a lot of fun.

Everyone was sad to go home and it was just…a great birthday. I treasure the memories, but also… birthdays are stressful. I’m glad he’s 7, glad he had fun, and glad to peek my head in the door and see him working on LEGO at his new desk.

Look at that little shadow on the wall!

Favourite Things: I Give Up…A Gift-Guide for Kids

Okay, let’s call a spade a spade. I think I have to admit this is a gift guide? Here are some ideas for youngsters – or the young at heart – based on things our family has received and loved.

We tend towards minimalism, so I like to avoid as many “extra” toys as possible. If it’s still around a year after Christmas, this means it found a real place in our lives.

In general, for our household, most gifts involve: sports, games, art, or being cozy. And LEGO. LEGO deserves its own category.

  1. MOVIE TICKETS | Whether this is actual tickets to see something in a theatre or vouchers for a family movie night at home with special snacks (one of the kids favourite things to do), movies are a fun experience-based gift.
  2. SPARKA SOFT BALL | I have a 7-year-old that lives and breathes for soccer. It isn’t much of an exaggeration to say it is almost always on his mind. One of our most-used toys is the IKEA Sparka ball. It’s soft and squishy. It doesn’t hurt if it hits you in the face, but it still rolls pretty well. We have a long enclosed hallway and play soccer here every day. This ball is the only one we let the kids use in the house. *Update: we went to IKEA last weekend and bought 2 more and the kids were elated.
  3. CLEAR CANISTERS | This is a bit of an odd one, but it is a great way to display small toys. We have an assortment of glass canisters and vases (some from the DollarStore and a few salvaged from an abandoned cabin, oddly enough) for Abby to display random marbles, figurines, beads, excess Perler beads, and other colourful stuff that is hard to contain. If I had younger kids I’d opt for plastic!
  4. UNO | I’m not much of a games person, and I’ve cycled my fair share of them out the door to more receptive homes (I’m looking at you Hungry Hungry Hippos). But there are a few games I really enjoy playing. My favourite – UNO. We played hundreds of games of UNO during the first COVID lockdown. Other palatable games: Sorry, Aggravation, Mastermind, and Skip-bo. Shhhh, don’t tell, but a particular girl in our household is getting Codenames under the tree this year, which I also find fun.
  5. BOOKS | I wrote about this earlier in the week, but I tend to be a minimalist in the book department. We are constantly surrounded by books thanks to our weekly treks to the local library, but I’m hesitant to have too many overstaying their welcome. But they do make great gifts. We source most books second-hand, but this year I splurged ($12) and bought a new copy of the first Mysterious Benedict Society Book. Other hits include Harry Potter, the Boxcar Children and lots of the classics like The Wizard of Oz, Heidi, Roald Dahl books, and the Anne of Green Gables series.
  6. CUSTOM CALENDAR | For years I have created a custom calendar for Abby. I go back through our photos and pull the best from each month (e.g. for her birthday month on the calendar I will have pictures from her birthday a year earlier). I always opt for the largest size I can get, and take the time to add in relevant special events (birthdays, anniversaries, holidays). She loves to cross off each day, add her own to-dos, and we keep these in her special “treasures” bin once the year is over since they’re great snapshots – literally (with the pictures) and figuratively (all her handwritten notes) – of years gone by.
  7. PILLOW DESK | This is another item that gets used daily. For reading, writing, or drawing in bed + as a base for the laptop when the kids have sleepovers and we let them watch a movie in bed. *Update: just bought Levi one at a thrift store for Christmas.
  8. LEGO | I don’t know what to say here. It’s LEGO. It’s amazing. The kids love it. I love it (unless I step on a piece in the middle of the night and then I hate it). It’s classic. Find it new. Find it second hand. Just find it. I suppose there are some kids that don’t like LEGO, but I honestly can’t think of any in my kids social circle! It’s a magnet during playdates. There is going to be LEGO under our tree this year, as there always is!
  9. PLAIN WHITE PAPER | Neither child is too fond of colouring, but they both love to create their own works of art. Honestly, a reem of white paper is just the best thing (much cheaper than sketch pads). They use it respectfully (not wastefully), and if they want to store finished work in a binder we just use a 3-hole punch. I haven’t done this yet (I just store a package in my closet to dole out), but I think if I wrapped up a giant pack of printer paper and put it under the tree they would be giddy. *Update: We bought a 3-hole punch at a thrift store so the kids don’t need to use mine in the office – I think they’ll be thrilled to find this under the tree. Sometimes it makes sense to have multiples!
  10. MARKERS | See #9. They both love art. A nice set of markers is a great find. I’ve made the mistake of getting a huge set of markers which = too many choices. Less is more. I actually really like the markers from IKEA and try to have an extra set or two stashed away for when my kids run out or to add to a birthday party gift we might need to source at the last minute.
  11. ROBES | I didn’t have my first robe until I was a teenager, but both kids are die-hard robe fans. Warm, cozy, and a great way to protect school clothes at the breakfast table.
  12. A DESK | Because the kids love to draw and write, having their own desk is a great boost to supporting this passion. Levi actually got his first desk last weekend (our main birthday gift; we got another MICKE from IKEA – it’s $99 and Abby has the same one and has loved it for years). I’m excited to find fewer markers scattered over his bed.


  • CEREAL | My kids both love cereal, but I try to steer clear of the super sugary varities. At Christmas they each get one box of whatever sugary delight they want to try. Think Lucky Charms (no one was a fan, but they wanted to try it!) and Tim Horton’s Timbits. This year they’ll find Reese’s Puffs and Fruit Loops under the tree!
  • SLEDS | This is location specific, but some seasonal activity equipment is a great option. We go through sleds at an alarming rate, so a new sled or saucer is a great Christmas gift.
  • BALLS | Soccer, basketball, volleyball. It never seems like we can have too many balls.
  • NOTEBOOKS | Abby is at an age where she loves notebooks and there are always about 30 floating around her room being used for various writing projects. My favourite designation: our notebook for writing notes back-and-forth to each other, which hangs out on her bookshelf when it’s not in circulation. We don’t do it as often as we used to, but it’s so fun to come upstairs in an evening and find this notebook on my pillow with a note about her day (and usually asking when we can schedule a playdate with a friend). It’s also a great way to discuss hard topics, re-affirm love after a tough day of parenting, or share exciting news!
  • HOTEL ADVENTURE | Our kids LOVE to overnight in the hotel. If you shop sales, it can be very afforable. Plus, my logic includes the fact we always make sure to find a hotel with a pool (worth at least $40) + Continental breakfast (worth $40+), and we make a movie night in the hotel room (another $40+).
  • LETTER-WRITING KIT | Years ago someone gifted Abby with a letter-writing kit. Inside a small tote they included an address book (with some addresses already entered for family members), stamps, pre-labeled envelopes, stock thank-you cards (where you just had to fill in relevant information), and nice note paper. She still stores all her letter gear in here, and I think it’s a great idea!
  • AUDIOBOOKS | Our kids LOVE audiobooks. We have an old Android phone we use to download audiobooks; mostly free from Hoopla/Libby, but I have friends that have bought their children special audiobooks “for keeps.”
  • GIFT CARDS | Perhaps too obvious, but I think that a gift card (with thoughtful intent) can be a great idea for kids. For example, a few years ago someone gifted Abby a $15 card to McDonalds along with a note promising to take her there to spend it. They went and it made for a very special memory. This year we’re gifting Abby a voucher to a local coffee shop so she can take (and pay for) an outing with one of her friends. Whether it’s for the movies, Amazon, a local toy store, or a restaurant – the sky is the limit with gift cards!

What’s the best gift you’ve ever given to a pint-sized person in your life? Any special gifts you remember from your own childhood?

Favourite Things: A Pseudo-Gift Guide for Husbands, Fathers, Brothers and More

I think buying gifts for the special men in our lives – the brothers and husbands and fathers and teachers – gets a bad rap. Admittedly, it’s a bit tougher than throwing a scented candle and tea towel into a gift bag and calling it a day (though I did give my husband a maple-scented candle with a wooden wick last Christmas and it was one of his favourite gifts!), but I think the ideas below strike the right balance of fun and practical.

These are favourites, but not all necessarily small enough to fit in a stocking (or economical for years with a smaller budget). I tend to buy one or two large items each Christmas, and the rest is pretty small stocking-stuffer variety. We have and enjoy all the items below, but they’ve been accumulated over a number of years. Sometimes when I see gift guides I get the sense people have purchased ALL the items in a single year. That is definitely not the case in our household!

  1. A SLEEK LAPTOP BOOKBAG | My husband (pre-COVID) had to travel a lot for work. In addition to carting around his luggage – he only travels with carry-ons – he has lots of tech accessories to bring along, plus passports and other travel documents to access. I ended up buying him the Solo Pro 15.6″ Backpack. It’s compact but has pockets in all the right places, and he’s loved it (the only thing missing is a luggage strap). I had actually ordered a few bags at various price points and this was the clear winner. *Update: he just returned from a work trip and one of the zippers on this beloved bookbag is starting to fail. It came with a good warranty, though, and a replacement is in the works.
  2. DARN TOUGH SOCKS | It’s funny, isn’t it – when you’re a kid, nice socks seem like the lamest gift you could find under the Christmas tree. But then, when you get older, there isn’t anything more satisfying than opening a great pair of socks. There are always socks under our tree. At least one set is whimsical – Star Wars themed more often than not, though I gifted a set of bacon-and-egg socks last month for a birthday. The running favourites are from Darn Tough. Made of merino wool, this Vermont-based company makes great socks with a replacement guarantee. We’ve actually worn through a number of pairs and they replace them everytime. I keep buying more because of their great exchange policy!
  3. SPECIALTY HOT SAUCE | So this gift would fall completely flat for me, but I know a lot of people really appreciate hot sauces and it can be fun to elevate things beyond store-brand sriracha. My husband happens to love hot sauces – the higher on the Scoville scale the better – but the flavour has to be great too. A nice hot sauce makes a great stocking stuffer. I recently bought a Dawson’s Hot Sauce with ghost peppers that has gotten rave reviews.
  4. A GOOD SHOVEL | This is obviously location-specific (ditto on the gloves below), but for anyone dealing with regular snow removal, having the right tools can go a long way. Last year we bought a Snow-Joe shovel from Home Depot and the whole family was always fighting over who got to use it when we had a blizzard. The shovel was light and the unique flexible second handle made clearing snow faster, more efficient and – dare I say – fun? This year I bought a second one for our family and wrapped one up for my father.
  5. APPLE DEVICES | A repeat from yesterday’s list, but these are runaway favourites in our house. Big investments, but if you source older models or second-hand items, they can still be affordable.
  6. CORD STORAGE | This is another great gift for the tech-saavy person in your life, especially if they travel frequently. I bought the Bagsmart Travel Cable Organizer and it has been superb.
  7. GOOGLE NEST | These are wonderful little speakers; we have some smart plugs and light bulbs that work via voice activation and with a Spotify account (see below) these are a great way to fill the house with music…or request a joke at 7 am.
  8. WATER COOLER | We go through a lot of water in our house, but no one is particularly keen on the chlorinated variety coming from the tap (we do cook and make coffee/tea with tap water, so consume lots of it every day to ensure we get the benefits of the flouride). As the kids got older, it was impossible to keep enough cold Brita-filtered water in the fridge. John had expressed interest in a water cooler for years but I always shot the idea down. For one thing, I hated the aesthetic of the bulky white varieties and, more practically, I didn’t want to be juggling full water jugs into an upside down position – it seemed destined to end in disaster eventually. Enter the Whirlpool bottom-loading version. It’s sleek. It has a self-cleaning function. And we use it every. single. day. We don’t use the hot water function (and have actually turned this off entirely), but I know people that love having easy access to hot water for steeping tea or making hot chocolate. We get our water (free!) from a local spring and have two water jugs that we rotate through the water cooler. I consider this one of my best Christmas gifts ever!
  9. FINGER GLOVES | Someone gifted John a pair of Columbia finger gloves years ago and they still get so much use. They’re supposed to be touchscreen compatible (they’re not), but they are wonderful for in-between weather. They’re thicker/warmer than regular “Magic” gloves, look a lot nicer, and are warm enough to wear throughout the fall and on warmer winter days.
  10. ERGODRIVEN TOPO MAT | This is a niche product but since we have a standing desk in our office, it’s regularly in use. This is basically an anti-fatigue mat on steroids. It has unique contours that are really helpful for shifting and supporting your feet when standing for extended periods.
  11. SPOTIFY | A few years ago a friend of mine got a 6-month Spotify membership as part of a Christmas gift exchange and I thought that was such a great idea! I use our account daily, and it really does beat sourcing music on YouTube. You can download playlists to access them offline (on a roadrip, when you’re out for a jog) and basically every song you can think of is available with just a click of a button. Now excuse me while I go put on some Christmas tunes…
  12. LEGO | We are huge LEGO lovers in this household and there are no age restrictions. Each year I buy a Star Wars LEGO set for John (and the kids). It’s a favourite Boxing Day tradition to work on building this together before setting it up with the rest of the collection in our home office.
LEGO unboxing reaction Christmas 2020


  • FUN SHIRTs | I try to source a graphic T-shirt each year; usually it involves a Star Wars theme. Our favourite so far was a The Darth Face shirt.
  • HIGH-QUALITY FOOTWEAR | We’ve jumped on the Blundstone bandwagon – pricy but a great neutral shoe that comes in styles that can easily be dressed up (work, church) and down (running errands or walking around the neighbourhood).
  • BOOKS | For a few years I bought John a biography every Christmas. Books are like socks – kind of boring when you’re a kid, but some of the best gifts as an adult. I always buy my Dad a book (often second-hand).
  • BBQ GEAR | Like the hot sauce, a specialty BBQ sauce or specific tool (a nice BBQ lighter or special tongs) can make a great gift.
  • FOOD | Beef jerky, a special cereal, candied pecans. One of our friend makes homemade butter tarts as Christmas gifts and they’re delicious! I always give special treats at Christmas.
  • GIFT CARDS | This is my go-to gift for teachers; I pick a local coffee shop, grab a certificate and consider things good-to-go. Cabella’s, Amazon, the Apple Store, restaurants, movie tickets. There’s a reason there are so many gift card options – they’re pretty swell.
  • A GOOD FLASHLIGHT | Because a good flashlight is just so darn practical to have around and I have gifted a number of them over the years.

Any go-to gifts I should add to my running list for Christmas 2022?

A Few of My Favourite Things: (AKA – This Is Not a Gift Guide Because Those Are Stressful)

I don’t read that many blogs and I don’t have any social media accounts. Yet, somehow, I feel like I’ve been bombarded by gift guides since mid-October. Since I’m aiming for a minimal Christmas, I’ve found these surprisingly stressful. Each guide I’ve come across has been unique (I can’t think of a single case of overlap) and has a lot of great ideas. But…I’ve already made my choices. Nevertheless, I click on links and get tempted by thoughts like “Wouldn’t a foot-operated rocket launcher be SO MUCH FUN!” before I accept I don’t really want to store a foot-operated rocket launcher. And knowing the enthusiasm some kids in my household display, chances are it would break in about 2 minutes.

So this isn’t a gift guide, per se. Just a collection of recent favourites, many of which have shown up under the Christmas tree in recent years. I’m not including links because a) that way you don’t feel pressure to click through and fall through an internet rabbit hole and, more acutely, b) I’m lazy.

Some of my Favourite things

  1. YETI | I started out with a plan to use my Yeti (I have the 10 oz Rambler with the Magslider lid) for hot beverages…but I quickly discovered it kept things too hot. I pivoted to using it as my water cup and have used it for this purpose every day for two years. I love the lid mechanism, love the size, and water stays cold all day. The version I have is not spillproof, though, and can be too big to fit in some car holders.
  2. BROOKSIDES | I get a bag of these every year at Christmas and on my birthday. It’s nice to identify a go-to treat you really enjoy and then save it for special occasions. Every year when I pass along my “wish” list to John I make sure to include Brooksides and Twizzlers. I think he’s got the memo by now, but I’d never want to leave matters of chocolate covered acai berries to chance.
  3. TEA/COFFEE | To follow along with the food theme above, I love a good cup of Earl Grey, Chai, or a bulletproof coffee in the morning. I have a pretty narrow range of tastes in this department, and don’t usually ask for these items under the tree…but they’re still favourites.
  4. APPLE DEVICES | These are the priciest items on my favourites list, but I couldn’t leave them off because they really are among my absolute favourite things. I put on my Apple Watch first thing in the morning. I use it to set timers, track workouts and check the weather (I’ve disabled text/mail alerts, but you can have all this information pushed to the watch as well). I think one of the reasons I appreciate the watch so much is because of my other Apple devices. I use my iPhone, Macbook Air, and AirPod Pro’s every single day for work and leisure. I’ve been using my Macbook for about 6 years now, so while these are expensive up-front costs, they are also long-term investments (I have the Series 3 Watch…and they just released the Series 7, so these are built to last and I don’t feel the need to upgrade when new versions are released). Also, if you have some tech saavy, these items can often be sourced at significantly discounted prices via second-hand routes.
  5. MAGIC BAGS | I actually own two sets of Magic Bags (the term I use for any grain-filled heating pad, a bit like I say Kleenex for all brands of tissues; I actually just use a pharmacy brand). I use them virtually every day in the winter (sometimes reheating them in the microwave 4 or 5 times). They’re also great when the kids come in from playing outside in the winter and have cold extremities. I’ll use them on my feet in bed, on the couch while we’re watching a movie, or put one under my feet and the other in my lap while I’m working at my desk. I was huddled outside in the cold last week at a playground when one mom mentioned heating them up and putting them in her kids beds at night before tucking them in. How lovely. (My husband does sometimes do this for me and it is lovely)!
  6. A GOOD SHOWER CAP | This one might sound funny, but I adore my shower cap. It’s thick and has wonderfully stretchy elastic that doesn’t leave indents. I use it multiple times a week and would be lost without it. Even if I wasn’t lazy I couldn’t link to the one I have because it’s not branded and I got it years ago. But you’ll know a good one when you find it…
  7. FOOD PROCESSOR | I’m sure many people have food processors collecting dust in their cupboard and would hate to receive one as a gift. But I use mine every single week. I use it to make my favourite muffins, I grind up oats to make flour for the waffles I talk about with shocking frequency; I’ll chop vegetables for chili and blend nuts into butter. Not pictured, but another favourite: my KitchenAid stick blender. I use this less frequently, but it’s great for frothing a bulletproof coffee or pureeing soup.
  8. SILPAT | Still hanging out in the kitchen. I don’t use this item a lot, but when I do it’s a game changer. Silicone sheets are great for lining pans, but then I discovered that a friend of mine uses one to cover casseroles or other dishes in the oven! Genius. I use the Amazon Basics brand and they work great.
  9. SUNDAE SPOONS | When we got married my parents-in-law gifted us a set of quality silverware, which happened to include 6 sundae spoons. They also gifted us a set of very tall mugs. Sundae spoons are the perfect way to stir oat milk into my steaming cup of chai, but we use them for everything and I actually asked for a second set for Christmas a few years ago because 6 was never enough to make it through to the next dishwashing cycle.
  10. HEATED SOCKS | This was a post-Christmas purchase last year and one that I’ve really enjoyed. The set I have are a bit thick to wear in everyday shoes/sneakers, and I’d love to source a more streamlined pair. But they do fit inside my winter boots and, though tight, were the only reason I survived our family foray into downhill skiing last year. The batteries on medium setting last most of a day and are easy to recharge.
  11. A BOOK SERIES | I love to read, but my love of minimalism definitely extends to the book shelf. After years of never buying books (instead I content myself with checking out a gigantic stack at the library each week), I’ve decided I do enjoy owning a complete book series. Last Christmas I asked for – and received! – the Harry Potter collection. My daughter and I read through this simultaneously and I get real satisfaction out of knowing that I have a matching set that fits compactly in its own little box and looks great on the shelf!

BONUS Favourites:

  • A NICE MUG | Get this right and it makes every cup of tea and coffee taste better. It really does. Can I get an Amen?
  • NOTEBOOKS | I am constantly taking notes – at work, at church, on the go. Thick, lined paper with good binding. It’s the stuff of legends.
  • HIGH QUALITY HAIR TOOLS | One of my cousins is a hairdresser and sourced me salon-grade Babyliss products. They were pricier than entry-level models, but I swear my blowdryer works in a fraction of time of my old pharmacy-grade one. And my favourite feature – the chords on salon-quality ones are SO MUCH longer.
  • WHITE NOISE MACHINE | I’m at the point where I can’t sleep without white noise. I’ve bought several Dohm products but have had quite a few issues, so don’t know if I’d recommend that brand outright (though they were great about sending replacements). Relax Melodies is a great free app for white noise, which is what I use when we travel.
  • GIFT CARDS | To Amazon, to a favourite coffee shop, a restaurant, a high-end consignment store, the health-food store. I love the flexibility of gift cards and most stores – even small specialty ones – offer gift card options these days.
  • ELECTRIC TOOTHBRUSH | This might sound strange but remember…this isn’t a gift guide. I actually did gift myself a pink Philips toothbrush several Christmases ago. It can take a bit of geting used to, but a good electric toothbrush really elevates the boring routine of oral hygiene and leaves my teeth significantly cleaner than a normal toothbrush!
If you're looking for some great gift guides that are actually gift guides...might I suggest:
- Enjoying the Small Things (several)
- Young House Love
- Chris Loves Julia (so many!)
- The Vanilla Tulip (several)
- Mix and Match Mama (so many!)
- Danielle Moss (so many!)
- Life As A Doctor's Wife  (several)

Now…what are a few of YOUR favourite things?

Here’s A Thought: Have a Running (Christmas) Gift List

Years ago, when my sisters were attending university in the US, they would get stopped going through the border on their way back to school in January. In addition to extra passengers and a year’s worth of clothing and supplies, they always had a trunk full of gifts for extended family. The border agent would chuckle and make some joke about people getting their gifts a bit late this year. And then my sisters would calmly explain these were actually gifts for next year.

I started Christmas shopping “late” this year. I usually start buying (and wrapping) items over the summer. But this time I’m committed to keeping things as minimal as possible. I want to buy things that are going to be appreciated and used – practical items, fun consumables, experiences, or something to honour special requests.

So far it’s going well. One of the biggest advantages – my digital list of gift ideas.

Hanging his Christmas Eve ornament – more on this fun tradition coming soon.

Last Christmas was one of my favourites. We weren’t sure if my parents were going to be able to join us because of provincial border closures. At the last minute (December 23rd to be exact) we learned they could come! It was an extra special celebration because I thought we would be spending Christmas alone (which would have been fine, but it’s always more fun to share the holidays with loved ones).

One major coup was streamlining meals. Instead of trying to cram all our favourite edible delights into a 3-4 day period around Christmas, we spread out the culinary experiences.

Christmas Day we had a nice breakfast, a simple (but delicious) charcuterie board + potato salad for lunch, and we put meatballs (a family favourite) in the slow cooker for supper. Then we headed off to Peggy’s Cove. It was 18 degrees Celcius – practically bathing suit weather – and it was so much fun to go on a Christmas Day adventure.

We have always done a turkey with all the fixings on Christmas Day, but meatballs were delicious and a lot less work (my Mom prepped them in advance and brought them over frozen)! Instead we cooked a turkey on Boxing Day and invited a widowed friend for an afternoon of food and card games, which was relaxing and delicious and fun.

Anyway…back to the aforementioned gift list. While we were en route to Peggy’s Cove I started writing down a dozen or so gift ideas for Christmas 2021. As in an event exactly 365 days away. Little hints people had dropped (a friend liked my long sundae spoons, Abby was interested in receiving a daytimer) or lingering ideas for items that hadn’t made it under the tree in 2020.

Throughout the year I’ve added to the list. I try to enter items as soon as I think of them and the triggers can come from anywhere at anytime – on the beach, in the middle of the night, during a rain storm (I kid you not, heavy rains just triggered me to go add – “Umbrella” to Levi’s wishlist; he’s been asking for one for months and I never wrote it down). *Update: I finally bought him an umbrella over the weekend, after I drafted this post*

I haven’t purchased all the items on my list* – some are no longer relevant and a few I sourced for birthdays instead – but it was so nice to sit down in November and place a big Amazon order for the Codenames game I realized my daughter wanted back on New Year’s Day, the silicone baking sheets my Mom had admired over Christmas 2020 and those long sundae spoons I’d been eyeing for a friend.

*I have been using the AnyList app for years and absolutely love it – I actually wrote another post about why I have so many running lists. This is the main screen of my account. It’s easy to add items to a list, and you just swipe to delete. At this point I have 17 items remaining on my Christmas list; at one point it was at 35. I think (?) there is a Pro account, but I’ve always just used the free portion and it has been more than sufficient.

I’m excited for people to open their gifts this Christmas. I think I’ve had some good ideas (can’t share yet because a few people getting gifts read this blog so any reveals will have to wait until the New Year).

But even with bits of wrapping paper still scattered on the floor, Christmas tunes pumping through the speakers, and a turkey roasting in the oven – I suspect this December 25th you’ll find me starting my list for Christmas 2022.

Bonus: Check out this podcast episode from Best of Both Worlds that talks about having an active gift list + the benefits of stockpiling a few extras (e.g. for impromptu birthday parties).

Header photo by Superkitina on Unsplash

Saturday Bonus <> Why I’m Working Hard to Make Sure a Hot Shower Before Bed Is My Newest Habit

I’ve talked before about how I live cold. From October to May, I’m cold 90% of my waking hours.

And here’s the frustrating bit – I do all the right things. My husband bought me heated socks (and heated handwarmers). I own, and regularly use, four Magic Bags. I exercise regularly and eat healthfully. I’ve had iron infusions to help offset some issues with anemia. I turn up the heat. I wear layers inside the house and out. I use high-quality winter gear. I turn on the seat warmers in the car, wear driving gloves, and blast the heater. I drink hot beverages and have throw blankets everywhere. I’ve even tried, counter-intuitively enough, cold showers (which do become slightly more bearable over time, but since they did nothing for my battles with being cold, I have gladly abandoned them).

All this and I’m still freezing.

I’ve learned to live through the discomfort. But it does get tiresome having a core temperature that hovers at teeth chattering levels.

The best solution I’ve discovered – from the laundry list of things I’ve tried – is a hot shower. It can take a while to fully thaw but, once I do, it is such a relief. Lately, I’ve been aiming to make this a daily habit.

My parents always bathed/showered at night and I thought it was an evening activity relegated to older generations. For most of my teenage and early adult life, I latched on to morning showers. It was a nice way to clear the cobwebs before 8:30 am classes at university, but it hasn’t been that practical with busy work/parenting schedules in this season of life. Plus, if I shower in the morning, I’m wet while having to move through my day. And being wet and cold is a whole other level of misery.

So lately I’ve been making these evening thawing sessions non-negotiable. I crank up the hot water and linger for as long as it takes to feel warm. Sometimes it’s only a minute or two, other times it can take a lot longer. I wear almost no makeup but loathe washing my face anyway, so an evening shower is the perfect solution for that problem as well (I use specialty microfibre clothes that only require water, no makeup remover). I sourced a good shower cap and wash my hair a few times a week.

It’s such a relaxing way to finish off a busy day, and the only guaranteed solution to my hypothermic state. And, as a bonus, since I’m clean, warm, and relaxed, I end up sleeping better too.

What about you? Any great tips and tricks for staying warmer I should try out this winter?

Header photo by Diana Akhmetianova on Unsplash

Casual Friday + On Birthday’s and Doing Things for the Last Time

  • I know it doesn’t need to be completed on any timeline but when the final months of the year start ticking by I get anxious to tackle our annual photobook. I’m now officially done up to October and it feels…great. Most years Blurb has a post-Christmas sale, which I always miss. I would LOVE to order this on New Years Eve (because I’m fun like that). We shall see.
  • We have some special plans to celebrate a birthday – #7 for a certain little boy in our household! On alternate years our kids get big (8-10ish friends) and small (1-3 friends) parties – this is the year for a “small” party. His request? To invite three neighbourhood friends for video games and cake and supper. So, basically like any other day minus the video games and cake! There is always a contingent of neighbourhood kids floating around our house…and it’s not infrequent someone stays for a meal.
  • The week involved domino structures. It was a fun activity – sort of. At least 75% of the time I accidently set off my domino arrangement prematurely which Levi found hilarious…and I found shockingly frustrating.
  • I did not get the downstairs artificial tree up yet. The last few years I’ve aimed to get it up in the family room before Levi’s birthday. I had the time, I just didn’t really feel ready to launch the Christmas decorations hoopla. Renos are finally in full swing (after about a month of delays; we’re just lucky our contractors came as I know many peope couldn’t get supplies or labour this year), and so I think I’m craving all the extra peace, quiet, and calm I can get. Update! The kids and I did this in an unexpected burst of holiday enthusiam. Plan it in and do it anyway, right? And a cheery, twinkly glow is our reward.
I bought this tree on clearance for $20 at Zellers just after getting married. It has cast a festive glow over our family every Christmas since. It’s a bit of a Charlie-Brown tree and every year it loses more and more of those flimsy, plastic needles…but I love it – especially laden with all the homemade ornaments from preschool days of yore.
  • Speaking of holiday enthusiasm – I just wrapped up my #SecretSantaMugSwap2021 gift and it’s ready for a trip across the country via Canada Post. A huge shout-out to San for organizing this very fun event.
  • This week we had homemade chicken noodle soup (delicious), walked to school in winter coats (brrr), read winter-themed picture books (cozy), sourced festive postage stamps for sending out our family photocards (whimsical), and bought pecan pies for Christmas dinner (yum). The holidays are coming, y’all.
Children picture books are one of my favourite things. Christmas is another of my favourite things. So I am elated when both interests collide. It is officially holiday book season in our house and I couldn’t be happier.
  • My oldest sister is currently en route to Ironman Cozumel. She will swim 3.8 km, she will bike 180 km, and then she will finish things off with a leisurely 42.2 km run. I, on the other hand, will try to make it up one hill without complaining. It really does blow my mind she can/will do this! I’m also very jealous of the warm weather – we had snow/flurries twice this week. #notreadyforwinter.

ON birthdays and LAST TIMEs

Coming home from the hospital.

This time of year holds a lot of memories for me. Seven years ago today I was scared. I was two days away from knowing the answer to a question that had haunted me for months. After a relatively normal pregnancy, we were shocked to learn at the mid-way point that our baby could be facing some serious health complications. The ensuing months were an exhausting haze of appointments and tears.

My whole body was literally shaking on our final drive to the hospital. I knew answers were coming soon and I wasn’t feeling ready. It was like a surreal dream – life was moving in slow motion while hurtling ahead at warp speed. It’s an experience unlike anything I’ve experienced before or since and I still have flashbacks to so many details from that 24-hour period; they come into sharpest relief as we near his birthday.

It’s been seven years since that morning when I found myself lying in the operating room praying the words of Philippians 4:4-7 over and over – even when my heart was full of fear – until I literally felt the peace of God which defied all understanding and human logic. And then the miracle and joy of life and health.

This time of year I also find myself reflecting on how fleeting life is. A vapour, the Bible says.

I spent time the other night looking at baby pictures; he looks impossibly small. It feels like forever ago and yesterday at the same time.

It can be a hard balance – living in the present while being mindful that life is short and we’re all a heartbeat away from a complete and utter transformation in our experience. And that, even in little things, there is always a last time.

As I had been musing on this very topic, Jenny mentioned a recent David Cain article titled The Last Time Always Happens Now where he writes “It turns out that ordinary days are full of experiences you expect will keep happening forever, and of course none of them will.” This same day I read Laura Vanderkam’s tragic reminder that life can change in an instant. And the central premise of the Oliver Burkeman book I recently finished – Four Thousand Weeks – is based around this idea.

Memento mori, indeed.

There was a last time I washed a baby bottle. There was a last time they sat in a stroller and high chair. There was a last time I stumbled through a middle-of-the-night-feeding and diaper change. There were last goodbyes at preschool and final nights in a pack-and-play. I don’t have the dates of any of these events recorded; I likely didn’t know it was the “last” time. Or, after years of strollers and diapers and bottles and preschool pickup, the end may have felt like a relief.

And it’s not that I miss diaper changes at 2 am, but I do miss what they represent. Those days are gone. There really is an end to all things.

Like when did our baby exchange plush coats with those universally heart-melting ears…

…for fashionable puffer coats with faux fur? In the blink of an eye.

Almost every time I pick him up, I wonder when I’ll do it for the last time. And there will be a “last” time. I wonder if I’ll recognize it as such? Somehow I doubt it, and that makes me sad.

I’ve talked about that odd sense of loss I can feel in the midst of joy (I tear up at this post) and the complicated wave of emotions I get watching them sleep at night. So I try to keep this notion of “last” times in mind, while treasuring (and capturing) the moments now, as I’m able, knowing that there is good stuff ahead, too.

Hopefully, someday, I’ll pick up their children* and the cycle will continue, as it does.

*And then I will hand my grandchildren back, head home and get a full night of sleep and allow my children to experience the wonder of middle-of-the-night wakings and diaper changes…

Life Lessons from the Hill – In Praise of Coasting

Our kids love to go coasting (we usually call it sliding or sledding). Living in Eastern Canada it’s one of the few perks of winter. We bundle up and grab our gear and head to the hill. Over and over and over again.

The kids have learned (as they get older and heavier – such that I can/will no longer help cart them or their sleds to the top of the hill) that to enjoy the downhill part of the adventure, there’s a lot of hard work that has to happen first.

I can’t believe we emerged from this hill with all body parts intact. So steep, so icy, and a blind crest so when you’re sliding you can’t see people walking up from below. Yet, this particular hill is always packed in the winter. I’m surprised they don’t hire a paramedic to stay on site. Never again!

Even on the tallest hill, the coasting element of the experience will last a minute at best. But the climbing? Oh, the climbing can go on for a looonnnggg time.

In addition to the elevation, you have to contend with the ice – slipping and losing ground is a frustrating, but common, occurrence. Then there is the burden of transporting the necessary tools. To slide down a hill, you need to bring something on which to slide with you to the top.

A few weeks ago my husband and I were walking home from school drop-off and were slogging up a particularly steep hill. Where we live, hills are unavoidable on the return trip.

I hate the hills.

It’s not because my fitness level isn’t sufficient, hills just take more work. I have to concentrate. I can’t ease into the conversation with my walking partner or get lost in my own thoughts. I start sweating (I loathe sweating).

But I set my sights on the prize – namely level ground at the top. Ultimately, my goal is to get home, so I do it. Sometimes the only way through is through.

On this particular walk I was wrestling with various life and work events and was feeling overwhelmed by it all. Ruminating over all these thoughts and then coming face-to-face with the inevitable climb – well, the hill suddenly felt like a metaphor for life.

Starting a new job can feel like climbing up a hill. So many processes with which to become familiar; lots of icy patches that send me careening back to the bottom of the hill.

Parenting always comes with new challenges. And sometimes it can start feeling like one continuous slog up the hill, one step forward before sliding ten back.

But, also, some of the hard work from before means I’m ready to coast in a lot of other areas. I’m easing back on Christmas this year – buying fewer gifts and starting later so I don’t keep seeing new things to buy (adding to the total bill and time commitment). I’m coasting with meals; I’ve gone from dedicating swaths of time to meal-planning to being someone who throws together last-minute one-pot wonders from whatever is hanging out in the crisper drawer or using up freezer leftovers I’ve been hoarding. No one has starved yet.

See, sometimes I force myself to keep climbing in areas when I’ve earned the right to jump on my sled and coast for a while. Scrambled eggs and bacon twice in a week is fine. (It’s actually great since eggs and bacon are two of the most delicious food items known to man). I don’t have to prove I can cook and I’m not competing for Best Domestic Housewife in the East. I’ll make the long, elaborate meals again. But it doesn’t have to be this week.

I know that coasting is short-lived. The downhill ends eventually and requires another climb back up to the top.

But, maybe, after I’ve coasted to the bottom, this time I’ll take a moment to sit and enjoy the view…from the bottom of the hill.

There will always be new hills to climb, but there are also opportunities for coasting, too.

And hurtling down the hill can be a pretty fun way to view the world.

Where are you currently climbing? Any areas where you’re coasting?