Let me take a selfie

You know what they say about the best-laid plans. Even the most meticulous planning can eventually make a mockery of you. Add an attempt at a little impromptu sightseeing and a bundle of tired kids? It will quickly go off the rails.

The other day I was driving with my three daughters, who were strapped in the cab of my father-in-law’s truck. We had 30 minutes to kill before supper, so I decided to drive down the local coastal highway to an impressive tourist look-off. The drive spans a sprawling ocean horizon. I watched in the rear view as my daughters’ tired eyes widened with amazement as they processed the view.

My husband and I are terrible at remembering to take photos, so I decided with great determination that I would snap a vacation selfie of our smiling faces when we arrived at this look-off. With the ocean in the background, it would be beautiful. Breathtaking. I could already count the Instagram likes.

When we arrived, however, things started to fall apart. Before we even unbuckled, my girls broke down. We’ve had long days with little rest, so I should have known that just one or two more bumps in the road would lead us straight to meltdown town. There were tears, skinned knees and a very uncomfortable experience in a port-a-potty before we even left the parking lot. We (myself included) were a total, complete and utter mess.

I knew I had to fix things, but I also knew I needed a minute or two to compose myself before putting the pieces of our scenic excursion back together. We sat slumped in silence on a picnic table with our backs towards the Atlantic. It was hardly picture-worthy.

But despite the occasional breakdowns, itchy bug bites and bouts of bad weather, our time in Nova Scotia was absolutely amazing. (I could do without the humidity, however, especially since my four-year-old asked me why my hair, which I had just spent 30 minutes drying, looked like worms.)

We may be exhausted, but we’re totally uplifted by all the love and delight showered upon us in our beautiful home province. It’s the last week of our vacation and we’re now in Prince Edward Island, a place with just as much magic, a little less rain in the forecast and, as always with our family of five, a lot of love.

I didn’t get a picture of our smiling faces (we did eventually smile) at the look-off that day, or many other vacation photos for that matter. But we did create many, many memories that will last us forever. Or at least until our trip ‘home’ again next summer. Or this Christmas. Or a really good seat sale around Thanksgiving. (Does WestJet accept unused go-kart tickets?)

Good morning, Nova Scotia

We survived the plane ride. We forgot only one, maybe three essential things (which is an improvement). But I did remember my running shoes. My husband and I have snuck in a couple of runs since arriving, and I can think of no better way to start our day than with this view around mile one:

Nova Scotia

Yesterday I ran my personal best, and this morning I beat it. It could have something to do with running at sea level (I consider my tougher runs in Calgary as altitude training). But it’s also because we’re so damn happy to be here, it’s impossible not to have a skip in our step.

Our vacation will be a whirlwind. We plan to squeeze enjoyment out of every humid, happy second we spend on the East Coast. But when you’re in a place this beautiful, it’s impossible not to stop and enjoy the view.

On a jet plane

Our bags are not quite packed and we’re far from ready, but either way we’re leaving tomorrow for our three-week vacation to the East Coast. I’m not even panicked. Not because I’m completely confident that all will be well, but because I’ve entered into a state of hurried stillness. (Like when you watch in slow motion as your child’s Frozen cake fall out of your hands just as your party guests hit the high notes in “Happy Birthday.”)

At this point, I’ve shifted focus from what we will bring to Nova Scotia to how we’ll fare on the long flight from here to there. Flying with little ones is challenging, and I’m not one to never back down from a challenge. But the reward (arriving in Nova Scotia! To the land of sea, salty air and babysitters grandparents!) makes it totally worth it.

We haven’t had any terrible experiences while traveling with kids. We’ve typically fared pretty well. Probably because we keep three simple things in mind:

  1. Be prepared. (Preparation and a few strategic travel toys go a long way.)
  2. Be patient. (Take deep breaths, even if it is stale, circulated air.)
  3. Be thankful. (I’m always grateful for a friendly flight attendant or an understanding seat buddy. I’m grateful for the chance to travel. And, more importantly, for a smooth, safe landing.)

And if all else fails, which it usually does, I’m not above bargaining, bribing and begging. Desperate times (otherwise known as days of the week, when you’re a parent) call for desperate measures.

On that note, I’m signing off. Maybe for a while. But I’ll think of you when I dip my toes in the frosty, frenzied waters of the Atlantic ocean.

Let’s do this!

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.