It’s not the destination, it’s the journey. (But also the destination)

I should start by saying that at one point, I really did believe I could achieve it. At least, I wanted badly to believe I could achieve it. A year ago, I set my goal: I will run five miles by July 2015.

I’ve wanted to run in the annual 5 Mile Road Race in my rural hometown for years, but this was the summer when the timing, training and intention would all line up. With months to prepare, I could finally get myself into the sort of shape that would carry my 30-something-year-old post-baby body across the finish line (which is traditionally and cruelly half-way up a hill on Main Street). I’ve attended the race before, as part of the small cheering crowd, but this will be the summer that I race. I will run 5 miles.

Wellllll, that’s probably not going to happen. At least not in time for the race, which is just two weeks away.

I started ‘running’ last summer. Before then it had been a very long time since I ran, for exercise, on a regular basis. I had fallen out of favor with ‘health’ and ‘exercise’ and physical ‘well-being’ during my grad school and baby birthing years. I had sporadic bursts of aerobic activity, but overwhelmingly my time was spent wishing I could improve my lifestyle instead of actually doing it. Then, about a year ago, my husband and I fell (pushed ourselves) into a routine of eating food that made us feel better and doing activities that made us feel stronger. Running fit neatly into that lifestyle change, and we’ve been pounding the pavement ever since.

My first big milestone was running 5K. I started running for three minutes, walking for two, for about a half an hour. I adjusted to running four minutes, walking for one just in time for my first 5K race in October of last year. This was huge for me. Even though I had already been running a distance of 5K on some of my training runs, crossing the finish line that day meant the world to me. I ran my next 5K race bedside my husband in May of this year.

My second major milestone was running 5K without stopping to walk. While at dinner with my very dear friend, I was lamenting about my sluggish runs. My friend, who was training for her first full marathon, told me that my barriers were more mental than physical. Just try it, she said. So I did, and that week I ran 5K without stopping. I was pumped. (A side note, she ran 42.2K at a quicker pace than I ran 5K, not just because I’m very slow, but because she’s amazing.)

The natural progression would be to then increase the distance of my runs, which would conveniently coincide with training for, say, a certain 5 Mile Road Race that has been on my radar for years? Yes, some people might think this, but for some reason I’ve chickened out. I let my training slide and allowed the little voice inside my head who said, You can’t, drown out all the other voices who said, Maybe? I dunno. Five miles is kinda far. (I need new voices.)

It’s now two weeks away and I won’t bore you with the list of reasons I’ve cultivated as to why I’m not going to race. (My most altruistic being that I wouldn’t want to pull precious rural resources away from those who truly need it when I require medical attention at about mile three.)

I’m disappointed that my goal won’t be realized this summer, but I can’t be discouraged. The truth is, every time I wanted to stop, collapse and heave violently into a bush during my many runs around our Calgary suburb, I pictured myself crossing that finish line on Main Street in my small hometown. And it kept me going. So I may not be racing this summer, but in some ways I feel like I’ve already won.*

*Ok, ok, I have not technically won. But there’s always next year.

The final countdown

It’s one week until we leave for our three-week vacation, and I have about a month’s worth of things to do.

I love to plan, and I love to execute those carefully laid plans, but I never seem to do any of it in a reasonable measure of time. I’d like to think I thrive under pressure, even though my husband might refute this, but either way it’s how I roll. Panic is my greatest motivator. It’s not that I don’t want to prepare, pack, or suspend our paper delivery. I’m excited to do all those things, because it means our vacation is right around the corner. I’m just not that motivated to do those things until we’re rounding the corner at full speed and our vacation smacks me in the face.

Say you have six major tasks on your list of things to do, and each task will eat up about half of your day. Would you leave all six tasks until the last possible minute? Yes? Ok, great, we can be friends.

The satisfaction of having everything done in an orderly fashion with time to spare just isn’t enough for me. I like the thrill of being spurred. Others may refer to this as procrastination, but I prefer to call it thrill-seeking. (Oh dear. If doing twelve loads of laundry in a day is my adrenaline equivalent of BASE jumping, maybe I do need to reexamine things.)

I wasn’t always like this. I remember packing for short weekend getaways weeks in advance. Our hospital bag was ready to go before I even felt my first baby kick. I’m not sure why it happened or when it did, but somewhere between baby one and baby three, my pre-meditation motivation waned. There’s just no point in cleaning our house the day before a guest arrives. Unless I tidy ten minutes before we have a visitor, our house will be a disaster. There’s no point in dressing our kids for a Christmas concert an hour before curtain call. When it’s go-time, we line our girls up at the door and yank their dresses down over their heads, like a frill factory assembly line.

Our vacation will be the same. The last 48 hours leading up to our departure will involve a lot of laundry, a lot of packing, a lot of cleaning and a lot of stomping. (Stomping is how I get around when I’m in full panic mode.) I plan to spend the next five days thinking about how much I will have to do in those last two days before we leave. I’m almost looking forward to it.

We always make it. I’m reminded of a quote by Lorne Michaels, often attributed to him by his Saturday Night Live alum. Lorne says, “We don’t go on because we’re ready. We go on because it’s 11:30.”

We’re going to get the kids in the car. We’re going to board that plane. Whether our bags are carefully packed or our empty house is left dustless and gleaming, we’re going on vacation. The only thing that really matters is how lucky we are to have this time off, and how lucky we are to spend it together.

And my daugther’s blankie. Dear God, we cannot forget blankie.

Glowing hearts

There are many things for which I am grateful. A partner who is my equal (or better) in every way; three healthy, happy, adoring and adored children; and a life that has lead me down many incredible paths. Some were wonderful, some were challenging, but all have shaped me for the better. And I hope there are more to come.

Sometimes I wonder if many or any of those experiences would have been possible if I were not born in such an amazing country. I’ve made mention before of my Maritime pride. There’s no place in the world like Nova Scotia and I’m proud to be part of the club. But I’m just as proud to be a Canadian.

Our children will have so much at their fingertips. The world is smaller than it’s ever been and I have a feeling they will be itching to explore it. I hope that’s a possibility for them. I hope they hike and dine and traverse around this incredible globe, because it will help them learn more about where they came from. And I hope that they, too, are proud to wear a maple leaf on their backpacks while they do it. (I supposed that means I should learn how to stitch.)

Today, I’m feeling proud. And a little sentimental. And very, very grateful.

Happy Canada Day!

The girl on the plane

It’s not often that I find myself travelling alone. When I was in my twenties, most of my terminal hopping and orderly boarding was done solo, but since getting hitched and having kids, my airport experiences have shifted in flight.

I no longer have the luxury of time and tranquility that comes with traveling alone. I used to love lounging in an airport, coffee-sipping and people-watching, while more burdened travellers herded their children and awkward carry-ons towards their elusive gates. (Now I am one of those burdened travellers and can say that it’s about as enjoyable as it looked to me back then.)

The first time I boarded a plane I was eight years old. My slightly older sister and I were escorted to our seats by a friendly flight attendant while we sported special buttons that read, “I’m travelling alone!” (Oh, how times have changed.) My parents sent me and my sister to Ottawa to spend a weekend with our uncle. We (and another sibling set on the same flight, also travelling alone) were whisked to the cockpit for a quick tour and given warm, gooey cookies with milk. I was hooked.

There have been other flights since. There was the Halifax-Ottawa-Chicago-Amsterdam-Nairobi-Lukasa-Lilongwe milk run to Malawi when I was twenty. There was the longest 55 minutes of my life flying over southwestern Ontario on an 18-seater Beechraft during a lighting storm (I will never again be excited to sit in seat 1A). There was the first flight that my new husband and I took together, which surprisingly didn’t end in divorce. And the first flight we took with our newborn, which unsurprisingly did end in three shirt changes and a shortfall of diapers and clean soothers. (Flying with kids lends a whole new meaning to turbulence.)

My memories of waiting in the airport are even sweeter. Waiting in for my boyfriend to arrive from Ontario while I was still studying in Halifax; waiting for my sister to arrive at Heathrow when she visited me in the UK; waiting at the gate in Calgary with each of our newborns in our arms as family from the east coast ran down the moving escalators towards us. Airports have always meant something to me. When I was young, they were a gateway to a world I was itching to explore, and now that I’m older(ish), they’re an emblem of going home.

During my most recent round-trip, I was alone again. I was traveling to Nova Scotia to say goodbye to someone and I was sad. I saw young people flying alone, couples old and new, and many, many young families making the trek ‘home’ from Alberta to the Maritimes as summer finally begins. I bought my coffee, a chocolate croissant and a certain best-selling thriller that I’ve felt compelled to read for months now, and I sat. And read. And watched. And I felt grateful for everything.

We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming

I’ve been so busy counting down the days to summer vacation (and the end of pick up, drop offs, practices and programs) that I forgot to consider one important thing. What are we going to do with all this free time?

Before our kids started school, summer vacation was exciting (better weather, BBQ, our annual pilgrimage home to Nova Scotia) but otherwise meaningless. Back then, my countdowns surrounded my jailbreak from work for maternity leave and then my subsequent jailbreak from maternity leave to return to work. When our third daughter was born and I left my job to stay at home full time, we enrolled our oldest in pre school. We embraced the September to June calendar from that day forward, until the end of time. Or at least the next seventeen years.

Now that the final days of June are creeping hastily upon us, I should probably consider our game plan for July and August. Our family thrives on routine. I’m assuming most do. Although our schedule is sometimes grueling, it also fuels us. When I know I have to be here and there at this time and that, I can do it. We’ll probably arrive missing a shoe and a little bit late, but we will be there. I rely on our crazy schedule to keep me from going insane.

Having a routine also benefits our kids. (As long as they’re not over-scheduled. I try not to overdo it.) While shuffling from A to Z can get tiresome at times, their weekly activities burn their energy, stimulate their developing brains and provide some order in the busy, bustling business of growing up.

So again. What are we going to do when we have nothing to do?

Well, a big chunk of time will be our vacation within our vacation. To say that we’re excited to visit Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island in a few weeks is the understatement of the summer. And then there’s the week or two leading up to the trip, which will probably be filled with prepping and packing. And then the days following our return to Calgary, which will be hours and hours of laundry and apologizing to our dear, darling dog who won’t be accompanying us this year. (She will be in good hands.)

That brings us to mid-August, when our daughters will attend a summer science camp where they fully plan to concoct a shrinking potion (I think I wasn’t clear enough when I read them the brochure). Then it’s basically back to school preparations. Somewhere in-between I promised the girls plenty of visits to the water park, the zoo and visits with their friends who have air-conditioned homes.

All of a sudden it’s September again. (Did I just hear a leaf drop outside?)

I’m sure there will be plenty of boredom and breakdowns, but hopefully there will also be lots of impromptu fun. Which I will schedule in whenever I can.

Turning Albertan

If you live in Alberta and you have a pulse, it’s hard not to reflect this morning on the stunning loss (and victory) that took place in our provincial election last night.

The polls released in the days and hours leading up to the last vote cast turned out to be exactly right, even though pollsters were reluctant to trust their own overwhelming numbers predicting a New Democratic Party sweeping majority.

But they were right, and Alberta has a new governing party for the first time in over 40 years. Any political junkie in the country (including yours truly) was likely glued to their TV, phone and computer screens last night watching provincial history unfold. It was incredible to witness, and it will be interesting to see what happens next in big-C Conservative, oil-rich, cow country.

If it sounds like I’m discussing this dramatic change in governance in my own province with a slight detachment, it’s because I am. That’s not because I don’t care what happens. I consider myself a very engaged Alberta resident. I’ve voted in every Alberta election – municipal, provincial and federal – since moving here in 2008. Our kids were born here, we pay tax on our home and income here, and my weight is even cruelly displayed on a shiny blue Alberta driver’s license.

I care very much. I’m anxious to learn if the construction of our new community school, badly needed due to the population boom in southeast Calgary, will be delayed once again simply due to the transition of a new government. Like most people whose families work in the energy sector, I’m anxious to learn what will happen to that community. My husband’s commute to the downtown core has already become eerily empty due to corporate lay-offs. Are more changes coming? We’ll have to wait and see.

For the most part, though, I’ve resisted a complete immersion into the crazy world of Alberta politics because of my complete aversion to becoming an Albertan (and a slight aversion to partisan politics). As a spectator, it’s been a crazy ride, but as a citizen, I’ve remained slightly detached. I love Alberta. Our life is incredible here, and I’m grateful for everything it’s afforded us. But it’s just not home.

My husband and I talk all the time about a return to Nova Scotia. Sometimes our hearts ache so badly we think, What are we doing here? I’m sure most of our memories are romanticized, but it’s strange to think that our kids won’t have the same small-town, oceanside childhood that shaped everything about us.

When we visit Nova Scotia in the summer, we’re ceaselessly asked if we actually like living in Calgary. The reluctant truth is yes, we do. We love it. This is where we’ve chosen to live. This is where our kids attend school, where my husband works, where I hone my superpowers and where our family is totally thriving.

So does that make me an Albertan? It’s really not a terrifying thought, other than the fact that I miss Nova Scotia terribly.

Maybe I can be both Albertan and Nova Scotian (Although more Nova Scotian than Albertan. When it comes to Nova Scotia, I’m very partisan.)

I can probably live with that for now.

Author’s note: This post acknowledges the fact that my children are Albertans by birth. Also and unrelated, does there happen to be a black market for Nova Scotian birth certificates?

It takes a village

A couple of years ago I was taking a flight with my children sans husband. About two hours in, somewhere between take off and my wit’s end, the seatbelt sign came on.

I had just lulled my colicky newborn to sleep in my arms, and my oldest daughter – who had been particularly defiant during the first few thousand kilometers – refused to buckle her belt. In fact, she refused to sit in her seat by any definition of the word ‘sit’ or the word ‘seat’, despite the tone of my angry, urgent whispers.

A flight attendant was surveying the aisle, as they do, when she came upon our (literal) standoff. She bypassed me entirely, looked directly into my daughter’s eyes and said quite firmly, “Please sit down and put on your seatbelt.”

My little girl, not more than four, plunked her bum into the seat and buckled up, lickety-split.

Moms and dads might bristle when another adult takes a discerning tone with their child, but I’m guessing there are times (like this one) when they (like me) are totally ok with some intervention from a well-meaning stranger. That’s because, at least in my case, kids are more likely to comply.

I’m not suggesting that every intervention is a good thing (obviously it’s not), nor would I surrender my own responsibility to teach my children manners. I’m just saying that sometimes, it takes a village. Or a stern, scrupulous flight attendant.

Some of my greatest community-minded lessons have been delivered by the community. I’ve been guided (and scolded) by teachers, principals, coaches, friends, parents of friends, friends of my parents, strangers, police officers, that guy who sold hotdogs outside my favourite Halifax bar some time between 2003-2005… You get my point. My parents sought to teach me the same lessons, but it was the attention (negative or otherwise) from strangers that was seared into my brain forever.

My husband and I value and encourage a sense of connectedness and belonging in our girls, especially since, as East Coast ex-pats living in Alberta, we don’t have our natural habitat of family, friends and life-long neighbours. They need to learn the values, knowledge and skills to effectively navigate their own world without being chased down Brunswick Street by an angry hotdog vendor. (Although there are some lessons they’ll have to learn on their own. Like don’t put coins in the mustard. It was an accident!)

After the seatbelt sign was turned off and we were free to move about the cabin, I sidled down the aisle with my kids and diaper bag in tow for a quick bathroom break. The flight attendant was especially smiley, and offered to hold my newborn as I helped my other daughter find the flush button.

The flight attendant then looked at me and said, “I’m sorry if I was a little harsh before.”

I was touched. And I immediately eased her mind. She was just doing her job, and coincidently helping me with mine.

It’s too bad I didn’t keep in touch with her, actually. I could really use her help next week when I take my kids to the library…

Time, travel and time travel

The older I get, the more I know about being young.

As a general rule, I try not to have too many regrets. I forgave myself a long time ago for mistakes I made in my younger years. (Mostly because the flashbacks of my more cringe-worthy moments were becoming a distraction while driving. You never know when a shudder-inducing memory of past mortification will hit.)

I’m also an ardent believer in the butterfly effect, which makes it easier to accept my last-minute decision to pass up a junior reporting gig at the 2004 Olympics in Athens so I could spend the summer bumming around Halifax. I would never have learned that my liver has a limit and my hair doesn’t take kindly to red dye. Everything happens for a reason.

So no regrets, but I can’t help but reflect on my past experiences and wonder what might have been different. You know, if I knew then what I know now…

For one, I wish I knew how lucky I was to travel. I took every chance I could get (minus one: see above) to collect countries on my passport. I crossed the Atlantic more times than I can count, to a point where the red eye from Halifax to Heathrow was an inconvenient commute.

If this sounds like the mother of all first-world problems, it’s because it is! I appreciate that now. I just want to shake my younger, oblivious self and say, “Look around! Take a breath! You’re in Zanzibar, goddamit. There will come a time when going to Costco alone will seem exotic so soak this in.”

(“Also, don’t eat Mbewa in the village in Malawi. It’s mice. You will get sick.”)

I also wish it didn’t take me so long to grow some empathy. (Is that something you grow? I dunno.) I wish I had been kinder to people. I was kind to my friends and those around me, sure, but I wish I had been kind to everyone. I love re-connecting with people from my past, but sometimes I wonder what impression I left them back then. Good for a laugh, maybe. But was I kind?

And maybe the most important lesson I learned later in life was that some people won’t be within reach forever. I had no idea how little time you get. You grow apart, you move away, you lose someone you love.

There are so many people who’ve influenced me deeply, but who I haven’t talked to or seen in years. That’s life and that’s ok, but I hope they remember the times we had (like that time we ate Mbewa?) and the incredible impact they had on me. And how much I miss them.

The good news is, I’ve learned all this now. There’s still time to live my life by these lessons, to learn even more, and to make the most of every day.

(And to project all of my biased, unsubstantiated wisdom on my kids, so they avoid my mistakes and turn out perfect… Because parenting.)

And as long as it wouldn’t have any disastrous ripple effects on my future happy life with my amazing husband and incredible kids, I would go back in time to tell my younger self to wear sunscreen. Always.

Also, don’t worry about the whole braces / glasses thing. You do, eventually, get your first kiss.

Spring fakers

The recent 15+ degree weather in Calgary could almost convince you that Spring is peeping just around the corner. (Sorry, anywhere east of here.)

And if the bright, sunny skies aren’t enough for you to shed your goose down and Gor-tex (and store safely within reach – this is Canada, after all) then the impending arrival of another seasonal milestone just might: Spring Break.

My husband and I made many attempts to plan big for our upcoming 12-day vacay in April. We’re not always on the ball when it comes to requesting time off, booking hotels, or even knowing when Spring Break is, so this year we made a conscious effort to be vacation-conscious.

With no particular destination in mind, we left our options open. We investigated an all-inclusive package to a resort in Mexico with friends (reasonable, actually) and then dared to peek at the price of flying our family of five to Nova Scotia for a last-minute trip (YIKES).

Turning our thoughts locally, we considered the gorgeous landscape of our chosen home in Alberta and surrounding destinations. By last count I had reservations at three different hotels in three different cities in two different countries.

And about fifteen minutes ago, I cancelled them all.

As April approaches, the appeal of hauling ass to a hotel somewhere has started to fade. Even going as far as Edmonton seems like too great a trek. After almost seven years in Calgary, we still haven’t made it there. (When our kids inevitably discover the existence of the West Edmonton Mall, we’ll eventually go. Probably.)

Maybe we should be getting out more. Maybe staying home isn’t a true Spring Break, according to a lucky few. But our new plan of a Spring staycation has afforded me some relief.

I like my home (it has great reviews), I already know the best local restaurants, and my husband and I won’t have to text each other from separate beds while trying to get three kids to sleep in the same darkened room at 8:30 pm.

Truthfully, we can easily fill our days off with tonnes of fun activities without packing a suitcase.

Selfishly, I can probably carve out some time for myself while my husband is off and available.

And fortunately, we already have our flights booked for our summer vacation back East. (Although unfortunately, minus one arm and one leg).

It’s Disney, b*tch

It’s inevitable. Once your kids hit a certain age, once they’ve been to pre school, school, or within the approximate vicinity of a television, they learn about the magical world of Disney.

My five-year-old has not only learned that it exists, but that people go there! People she knows! Some have even gone more than once! (Damn, you, Calgary parents.)

Even my three-year-old has caught wind and asks daily (hourly, some days) why, why, WHY can’t we go too?

My husband and I have never been to Disney. We weren’t one of those (very few) lucky ducks who disappeared in March and returned with plastic Mickey ears.

Of course I’m aware of its appeal. We love our Disney movie nights. Our three daughters were born in the age of the over-marketed Disney Princess. We saw Frozen on the first day it was released!

Of course I’m aware of its appeal. It just doesn’t appeal to me…

My husband and I are terrible tourists. We love to travel, but we’re lazy and cranky and hate the “Must-see” hustle and bustle of tourist trappy-trips. We hate frenzy. We hate lines. My husband gets queasy in crowds and I get queasy on rides. And in cars. And in rides shaped like cars.

So Disney isn’t really our ideal destination.

Not to mention the cost. We spend a fare chunk of change hauling our family of five to Nova Scotia each summer.*

I’m not sure our wallets could handle a winter getaway to the Magic Kingdom. (Unless we skipped a summer on the East Coast, which my home-sick husband says is not an option.)

But our girls are dying to go. And, to be honest, there is a little kid in me who wants to know what the fuss is all about.

When our youngest is old enough to pout her lip and ask, “Why, why WHY can’t we go?” we may start planning to make a plan.

Until and if that day comes, I’ll just keep reminding my kids how lucky we are to live the life we do.

That eases the sting. Right?

*Yes, we are aware that our retirement savings for Nova Scotia would grow a lot faster if we didn’t spend thousands every year flying to Nova Scotia.