Can we do it? Yes We Camp!

Coffee and campfire songs. What could go wrong?

We were rummaging through a bin of old belongings when my daughters unearthed a (somewhat scandalous) photo of my husband and I. It was taken in the summer of 2003, sometime in the early days of our bourgeoning courtship. We were cuddled, tightly, in a tent during a small town folk festival in Nova Scotia’s eastern-most tip. The photo had made its way among the junk during our moves as a couple from Nova Scotia to Ontario and eventually Alberta.

My girls were agasp at this photo. It wasn’t our tangled limbs and locking lips, or the bottle of Alexander Keith’s dangling in my hand. It wasn’t even the unfortunate khaki bucket hat my husband was wearing without shame. They were shocked. Incensed. Stunned.

“YOU WENT CAMPING??!!”

I’m proudly Canadian. I know and accept that camping is a thing. But here in Alberta, camping is a thing. It’s the thing. I was not prepared. I was also not prepared for my three daughters to make it their thing. The last time I went camping was exactly that time in the photo, when I was falling in love with an older boy who invited me camping. Nine years of marriage and three kids later, I was finally being called out on my bullsh*t. If I could go camping for their tall, dimpled father then I could go camping for our little, dimpled kids, because EVERYONE IN THEIR CLASS GOES CAMPING AND WHY CAN’T WE.

Ok, ok, we’ll go camping.

Since the total sum of our equipment equaled one French Press and nothing else—in our family, coffee is a camping essential—I had a lot of work to do. One of my first lessons on this wilderness journey: camping ain’t cheap.

You’d think it would be, but starting from scratch for a family of five meant collecting everything from a tent, sleeping bags, stove, right down to the matches. (Thank God I had already invested in a French Press.) I stockpiled our inventory over the course of a year, and the day that Alberta Parks opened its site bookings in early Spring, I was finally one of those Albertans who was part of the buzz. I picked our date and site in one of Alberta’s super popular Provincial Parks. Which lead me to my second lesson: camping is a culture.

Convinced we would stick out like sore (city) thumbs, I did a little research about camping etiquette. I practiced pitching our massive tent, I assembled and test-ran our cute little stove. I may have even roughed up our cooler a bit, so everything didn’t look so, you know, shiny. Which was completely unnecessary, due to the third lesson that I’ll likely learn very soon: camping is dirty.

As I’m gathering our equipment, planning our meals and packing our bags for our extra-long weekend in the wilderness, I’m also preparing myself for our time in the great, dusty, bug-filled outdoors. Our kids are ecstatic. My husband is relaxed. My breath is shallow, my to-do list is long and my internet search history is filled with tips for identifying rattlesnakes. But I’m now totally confident that we’re fully prepared and fully equipped to have some fun (and maybe a few Keith’s). If I have time, I may try to find that old photo before we leave to remind me of those early days. The bucket hat, though? Sadly, the bucket hat did not make it.

Summer sixteen

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Photo: Shirley Lynne Photography

I’m not sure if packing for a family of five has become easier, or if I’ve just become numb to the entire process. Tomorrow we leave for our yearly pilgrimage to the East Coast, and even though I’m not quite ready to go, I’m more than ready to get there.

In many ways, it’s been a super sweet 2016. But in others, life feels a little unsure. We have lots to be grateful for, lots to look forward to, and lots of hard work ahead (gulp!).

In the meantime, there’s packing to do! Today, on our wedding anniversary, my husband reminds me that all we need is each other. Which is good. Because I have a feeling I won’t get around to packing much else.

Happy summer! x

We’re (not) sorry to see you go

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Why can’t we be friends?

Leading up to Christmas, I did a lot of shopping online. We sent many, many gifts to our family on the East Coast, and the thought of fighting for parking at the mall and standing in line at the post office drove me, and my credit card, to the comfort of my desktop. It was a dream.

But the ensuing onslaught of marketing emails I unintentionally signed up for was the thing of nightmares. At first they were merely bothersome, but then I started receiving up to three emails a day from the same stores, reminding me that their BOXING DAY SALE has been extended until MARCH and here’s a COUPON CODE to save you $$$ on fleece! I was annoyed, and eventually compelled to act. (Also, my credit card is on hiatus until June.)

So, I began the New Year with a resolution to unsubscribe. Instead of dragging these unopened emails directly to my trash folder, I opened them, scrolled all the way to the bottom and gladly clicked ‘unsubscribe.’ (There were a few passive aggressive, “We’re sorry to see you go” messages but overall, it was easy. Bing, bang, boom.)

My inbox was my own again. Emails were fewer, but they were meaningful, relevant, and (for the most part) scribed by actual human beings! I was no longer missing the important stuff buried deeply among the spam, and I started getting excited about email again. Every new message brought with it its own little joy. It was 1999 all over again! (I wonder if I can still recover the password for my old Hotmail account, lipsmackers32…)

That got things rolling. I thought, “What else is sucking all the air out of my virtual well-being?”

Naturally, this led me to Facebook. I left old groups, un-followed pages and turned off any unnecessary notifications that had just become part of my over-stimulating, underwhelming Facebook experience. It was liberating.

Then I had another thought. What if I… unsubscribed… to people?

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a little gun shy when it comes to deleting people from Facebook. For the most part, I enjoy all the updates and announcements and birthday reminders, and there are so many people in other parts of the country and the world with whom I never want to lose touch. Also, the few times I did try to delete ‘friends’, it didn’t go so well. (I myself have also been deleted, and ouch, it can sting.)

So, I took the easy way out and instead of un-friending, I chose to ‘unsubscribe.’ That way, my newsfeed is a little more meaningful, nobody gets hurt and I don’t receive any frantic messages from old acquaintances who I had NO IDEA were following my profile. (“Did you delete me?!!”)

You may be wondering on what grounds I based my decisions. Well, it wasn’t political, or petty, or even personal. And it’s not that I disliked anyone. I just had to decide how I wanted my Facebook account to function. And just like my inbox, my newsfeed was filled with a few incessant, repetitive, (and mostly useless) messages that were drowning out what was actually important to me, like cookie recipes and cat videos. I feel lighter already.

(Don’t worry, I still follow you. You’re great. Really!)

A year in words

I’m not really one for resolutions, or regrets, or radicchio. (Although I am one for alliteration, at all costs.)

But I can’t help but look back on 2015 and think it was a raging success. I had some ups, some downs, and some life-turned-upside-downs, and (lucky you) they were all documented here for your reading pleasure. Here’s a snapchat:*

This year, I said yes. A lot. Like joining my husband and daughters for a family run instead of standing in my pantry eating handfuls of gummy bears. (I did that, too, and it was amazing.)

I said no. There were times, especially in the last few months, when I felt overwhelmed. On top of stumbling through my day job and dreaming of my dream job, I felt the pressure of the four million other things I should be undertaking. I had to slow down, practice self-care and say no to some less important things, so I could eventually say yes to more important things.

I pushed myself to write. And to call myself a writer. And to share my writing with you and a bunch of discerning five-year-olds. I pushed myself to run. And even though I fell short of a few running goals, and some writing goals, I’m still standing. (Which is the anthesis of running, so that should be obvious.)

I said goodbye. I found myself traveling alone to Nova Scotia twice this year, once to say farewell to a wonderful woman, and once to be together with my parents and siblings at a difficult time. These times were hard, but they made me forever grateful for everything.

I was surrounded by love. Lots of love. So much love. I learned a lot about my daughters, and they learned a little about me. (Mostly good stuff.)

And despite a few close calls, I made it into the New Year without losing a single person. Ok, ok, I did technically lose a person, but she was found relatively quickly and is now tethered to my body with rope and glitter glue. But I can proudly say that I made it into the New Year without losing a single person for a period longer than five minutes.

It was a good year. And I have a feeling 2016 will be even better.

Happy New Year!

*Possible new years resolution: Learn what snapchat is.

A book obituary

There are many casualties of moving. Furniture. Drywall. Marriages. My husband and I have boxed our belongings and moved homes six separate times during our life together. It’s a consequence of living in three different provinces in 10 years. And each time, it gets harder and harder to unpack each and every box. Even important items are forgotten, replaced and left for dead in a plastic bin labeled, “Computer Junk.”

Most of the time these abandoned items are just that, junk. I don’t think we’ll ever again need that snake pit of cords from our apartment in Southwestern Ontario circa 2005. But sometimes, these abandoned items are treasures, waiting to be remembered and returned to their former glory.

On a particularly thorough hunt for a pair of ice skates, I came across one of my precious treasures: my boxes and boxes of books. I hadn’t unpacked them since our most recent move, in anticipation of the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves I would build. Well, it’s been more than two years, and my extravagant bookshelves exist only on my Pinterest board titled, “Bookshelves.” And today, when I opened one of these boxes of beautiful books to let them breathe, I made a horrifying discovery.

Mildew. Mold. Moisture. Everywhere.

I even shoved my nose deep into the binding of book after book, for a whiff of hope that these books could be recovered. I’m not sure they can. I think my books are too far-gone. And now, I’m in mourning.

So in memory of my moldy books, I thought I would compile a list of titles that I read, and loved, and that deserved so much more.

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

I’ve read this book three times, and each time it’s held a different meaning. Joan Didion is one of my all-time favourite writers. A giant. An inspiration. A legend. This is a gorgeous book about grief and loss, which is ironic, because now, it’s gone. Goodbye, beautiful book.

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson

Without a doubt, this is the funniest book I have ever read. Gut-busting. I don’t remember each individual story in this book (even though I’ve read it multiple times, each time as funny as the last) but I remember the experience of reading this book. Which at one point involved me falling off my bed in a fit of tearful laughter. I haven’t read her long awaited follow up, Furiously Happy, but I’m furiously curious if it will end up in my Christmas stocking. Cheerio, funny friend.

February by Lisa Moore

This book killed me. Seriously, I lay dead. It was just so beautifully and captivatingly written. I loved every line, every passage, every expertly elicited emotion. Its characters and setting and sentimentality gave me the deep, deep feels. Fair winds and following seas, February.

The Sweetness At the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

No, no, not Flavia de Luce! This unassuming book got me hooked on the genius that is Alan Bradley, and I fear that when I open the other four boxes of books in our basement, I’ll discover that several other Falvia adventures will also be marred with mildew. If only I had the wit and wisdom of this tenacious eleven-year-old to have properly stored these treasures in the first place. Alas. Until we meet again, young Flavia. Until we meet again.

Into the woods

When we consider our reaction to stress, fear or pressure, we often think in terms of black and white. Fight or flight. Cope or crumple. But everyone knows that stress is more complicated than that, and even the most even-keeled can have a rocky road towards the light at the end of the tunnel.

This week involved an unexpected trip home to Nova Scotia to be with family. All is now well, and I’m excited to return to Calgary tomorrow to my husband and three beautiful girls. I’m sure they’ve had a busy week, too.

Touching down on Maritime soil is always a restorative experience for me, even when (especially when) I’m not feeling particularly grounded. Sometimes you comfort, sometimes to need to be comforted. Sometimes you cope. Sometimes you crumble. And sometimes, you just need a good walk in the woods.

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Hit the books

By now, everyone is aware that it’s back-to-school season. There’s been no escape, and no excuse if you suddenly found yourself searching desperately for disappearing glue just a week before the first day of class. Like me, last year.

So maybe that’s why I was much more prepared this year, and why I had a little extra time and energy to buy some new children’s books for our already bulging shelves. We spent a lot of time at the library this summer, but there were a few gems that I just had to add to our permanent collection. Books like these are one of those rare parenting moments when you actually hope you’re fostering an addiction.

A few of our recent favourites!
A few of our recent favourites!
IVY & BEAN by Annie Barrows

Our oldest daughter has been begging for “Chapter Books” all summer, even though she’s not quite at that reading level. (Actually, at age six, she barely registers on any reading level.) But, as a 90s kid and cherisher of the box set myself, I totally understood. So I bought her a set of the first three books in the Ivy & Bean series, and we love them. We read a few chapters every night and it’s a welcome change from the terrible tablet habit we got into while on vacation.

THE PRINCESS AND THE PONY by Kate Beaton

Ok, I’ll admit this purchase was initially just for me, but luckily (and unsurprisingly) it’s become a favourite for the entire family. Princess warrior? Cozy sweaters? Farting pony? Yes, yes, yes. I love Kate Beaton, and not just because she’s a fellow Nova Scotian, but because she’s hilarious and ridiculously talented. This is the book that travels from room to room to room at bedtime. When it comes to hype for children’s books, this one lived up to it and more.

THE DAY THE CRAYONS QUIT by Drew Daywalt

There are books that have hype, and then there are books that have all of the hype. I don’t know why it took me so long to buy this book, but when the sequel, The Day the Crayons Came Home, was recently released, I realized it was time to buy the original. My kids love this book. It’s thoughtful, funny and never gets boring. I should know, because I’ve read it over and over and over again. The sequel is on our wish list.

So, what are some of your favorites for Fall?