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).

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…

Destination Nova Scotia: White Point

Living in Nova Scotia for over a decade, I feel like we’ve covered most of the highlights. We’ve visited Peggy’s Cove (a dozen times), seen the Bluenose II in port, and even tested our sea legs for an authentic Maritime island experience. We’ve driven the world-famous Cabot Trail, spotted whales in the wild, and climbed atop rock formations that look like something straight out of Tatooine.

Then we spent two magical days at White Point Beach Resort and grabbed our bright yellow highlighter.

While this post isn’t sponsored, we did win the trip. My husband (photographer extraordinaire) won the grand prize in the 2021 Saltscapes Amateur Photography contest. His prize? A 2-night Seascape Getaway Package at White Point.

It did not disappoint.

First, let’s state the obvious: going anywhere without the kids for two days was going to feel glorious. It had been over 18 months since we’d been away together overnight, so a leaky shanty would have felt akin to paradise.

White Point delivered. With no leaks.

The resort

Built in 1928, White Point has been a staple on Nova Scotia’s South Shore for almost a century. Our next-door neighbours have been visiting for 50+ years, hosting an annual 5-day reunion onsite with people crisscrossing the country to reach this sandy oasis.

When you arrive a sign reads: Welcome…now relax and enjoy. And it really does feel like, somehow, the salt air and crashing surf just pushes the stress right out of you.

The redesigned main lodge (destroyed by fire in 2011 and rebuilt in 2012) has loads of character. I think it’s best described as upscale rustic. Mis-matched, brightly painted wooden chairs surround the tables; a moose antler light fixture hangs above a giant stone fireplace, and cutlery comes wrapped in gingham napkins. Things are colourful and inviting, but not so busy you feel claustrophobic. There are modern elements – stone fireplaces, exposed metal girders; then you look up and see the requisite pairs of crossed snowshoes (open year-round, they can get away with it). It feels like life at the beach – nothing pretentious and no fine china – but elevated in the best of ways.

And then there are the bunnies.

When we checked in we each received a little brown bag of bunny food. It was so fun to walk around the property and glance up to see bunnies hopping contentedly on the lawn beside you. It’s not overrun, just enough bunnies that you can almost always spot one. They’re friendly and content and likely help cut down on lawnmowing costs each summer.

And, to commemorate our stay, I may have succumbed to the siren call of the gift shop and come home with a bunny mug. It had to be done. And may I say my tea tastes especially delicious this morning.

The beach

The beach was lovely; smaller than I imagined and might feel more crowded in the summer when all the facilities are maxed out.

On our only full day on-site it rained much of the day. We managed to squeeze in an early morning stroll on the beach which was wonderful, but for much of the day – between rain and fog – we couldn’t even see the waves (sure could hear them though)!

The lawn is covered in bright Adirondack chairs, and the rocky shoreline is dotted with wooden benches that provide a great place to contemplate the ocean.

The accommodations

Our package included an ocean-front cottage. I woke up both nights thinking there were hurricane-force winds blowing outside. It was just the constant roar of the ocean. Nature’s white noise. It was lovely and so relaxing, but definitely takes some getting used to!

The cottage was great. Wood floors with one tiny braided rug, perfectly designed for sandy feet. There was a propane fireplace which was lovely after coming in from the rain (Day #2). The bed was comfortable.

I have relatively low demands in terms of accommodations other than cleanliness and safety/quiet and this spot checked all the boxes. It felt like a cottage by the ocean, which is exactly what it was.

They have a range of newer cottages and even houses to rent with more modern amenities, but I liked how I didn’t feel like I needed to worry about sandy feet and wet towels, which is the perfect environment for relaxing at the beach.

The people

We couldn’t believe how many young families were on-site. Everywhere you looked parents were trailing behind curious toddlers. Pets are also welcome, and from our elevated perch in the lounge at lunchtime we enjoyed a birds-eye view of a couple interacting with their very young, very adorable German shepherd puppy.

We know lots of families from the local area that go to White Point; there were also lots of retirees and the resort caters to corporate groups with meeting facilities and large rental spaces (entire homes on-site). It really has something for just about everyone.

You can curl up with a book in the lounge, play games on the beach, rent a paddleboard for the lake, hike local trails, paint rocks with an instructor, or roast s’mores over a firepit.

The food

Lemon tart-in-a-jar; delicious, but not as good as the lobster poutine!

Again – upscale rustic. The food was good; hearty portions, well cooked. No Michelin stars, but I’m not fussy like that. The waitresses were friendly and the ambiance was relaxed.

As mentioned above, the bar was set shockingly low: there is something inherently lovely about eating a meal without children bickering, throwing food at each other, or getting up and down a dozen times to use the washroom, perform cartwheels, and then go to the bathroom again. During our final breakfast, I watched a very competent, patient mother tackle breakfast with two small children (both of whom were incredibly well behaved). I kept watching the happy little scene until one of them, no more than three years old, dissolved into tears complaining there was too much milk in her cereal and then she started gagging and crying while her younger brother happily batted away at his apple slice in the highchair. I looked at the mother with both sympathy and admiration. Then I returned to my very hot, very tasty breakfast which I enjoyed without a single complaint from my own offspring.

Highlights: the lobster poutine. I am a French-fry naturalist. I like French fries. With ketchup (obviously). Full stop. The thought of adding cheese curd and gravy just feels like blasphemy. But take French fries (delicious) add cheese (also delicious) a cream sauce (tasty) and huge chunks of lobster (very, very delicious) and I have to admit you’ve found yourself a really great meal. It was the first thing I had eaten since 10 am and we had just hiked + run for about 13 km in the sun. Delicious is an understatement. It was so good we re-ordered it a second time during the trip.

Honourable mentions: the Country Breakfast, Sticky Toffee Pudding, the Chorizo sausage in their gnocchi dish, and the Chocolate Mocha cake.

Sticky toffee pudding.
Chocolate cake with creamy coffee ganache; you can catch a glimpse of the casual, but cozy, beachfront dining room.

local attractions

The South Shore of Nova Scotia is one of the most beautiful places in the world. It’s my completely biased opinion, but it’s an unavoidable truth. Gorgeous, long sandy beaches, historic buildings, and lighthouses around every corner.

Carter’s Beach, ranked one of the most beautiful beaches in Canada, is less than 20 minutes from White Point. We happened to visit in the middle of a downpour this time, but have great memories from drier visits in the past.

Summerville Beach – 10 minutes away from White Point – played host to our giant leap of faith from last summer.

The Keji Seaside Adjunct provides a nice hiking trail and the opportunity to spot moose and bear (we didn’t, much to my relief).

We took a quick spin through Liverpool and on a whim visited Astor Theatre; we picked up a lovely watercolour postcard from a local artist in the giftshop for the kiddos, wandered through various art exhibits (somehow we always find art along the way), and ended up touring the theatre.

Built in the early 1900’s and originially known as the Liverpool Opera House, it’s a lovely theatre that played war newsreels in the 40’s and now brings classics like Arsenic and Old Lace and The Mousetrap to life. I definitely want to go back and take in a live show.

While we love traveling with our family, it was nice to escape the rat race of juggling work and extracurriculars for a few days.

But as always happens when we’re away from the kids, we talk about them constantly. We must have said a dozen times “Wouldn’t the kids love it here.”

They would, we did and sometime in the not-so-distant future I’m sure we’ll find ourselves winding along those back-country roads on the South Shore again. And when we pull up and see the order to “…relax and enjoy…” we’ll plan on doing just that.

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.