Loving the Pace of Summer

Happy Wednesday, Friends.

And happy smokin’ hot summer days!  At least, if you live in my neck of the woods.  I am soaking up every last drop of this summer.  It has been tremendous not only in terms of what we’ve been doing but also in terms of weather.  And before anyone makes a smart crack about the humidity, I just want to remind you of this:

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SERIOUSLY.  THIS. ^^^^^.  Don’t even try to convince me that six feet of snow and five layers of clothing is better.  Because it just isn’t.  Actually, I take that back.  I love winter up until Christmas.  And then it just goes downhill from there all the way through late March.  Verdict?  Summer.   Longer days, warm nights, sun-kissed tans, no parkas.  Verdict?  Summer.

I find it fascinating that I live in a part of the world that goes from -35°C in February to +35°C in July.  Five months ago I could walk across the lake at our cottage and now I can comfortably swim across it.

Mind blown.

Speaking of comfortably swimming in a lake and returning to the point of this blog post, I’ve rather been enjoying the slower pace we chose this year.  We made the conscious choice to avoid scheduling much during July and August.  I read an incredible article this spring that inspired me to schedule less but not necessarily do less.  In fact, we’ve been pretty busy. We just choose our busy-ness as we go.  Based on the whim and fancy of what we want to do that day.

Want to build a fort?  Sure!

Want to play Scrabble?  You bet!

Want to play tag in the sprinkler?  Last one in their bathing suit is IT!

The kids are in two separate weeks of day camps (one in July and one in August) but other than that, there is nothing.  No organized sports.  Few play dates.  No “bucket lists”.  Just inspired by what the day brings and what we feel like doing.  We’ve accomplished a lot.

I’ll be honest that in the beginning the thought of it seemed daunting.  Nine whole weeks of unscheduled open-ness?  I thought for sure I would crack….and I fully admit to enjoying a white wine spritzer in the afternoons on the back porch as the kids run around {virtual fist bumps for the spritzer!}.  There are days the kids get bored and I had to be okay with that.  I also had to be okay with not filling that time for them.  I asked them to come up with their own activities and most times they do without *too* much complaining.

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Here are a few ideas for those families looking to do less yet connect more in August.  Most of these activities cost little to no money and require little to no preparation in advance.

  • Build a fort (inside or outside)
  • Take a hike
  • Read a book (we love Chronicles of Narnia and are taking a few weeks – if not months – to finish it as a family)
  • Paint rocks
  • Garden
  • Go geo-caching
  • Count stars at night
  • Go to a drive in movie
  • Catch bugs
  • Go swimming in a lake or a river or the beach
  • Run in the sprinkler
  • Blow bubbles
  • Watch clouds float in the sky
  • Make a scavenger hunt in your backyard
  • Climb a tree (and please, get up there with them!  It’s fun!)
  • Play board games (we even made our own)
  • Go to the library
  • Make homemade popsicles
  • Make paper mache
  • Lemonade stand
  • Go fishing
  • Do yoga in your backyard 
  • Go on a picnic
  • Be a tourist in your hometown
  • Go on a day trip and let the kids decide when & where to turn (see where they take you!)
  • Hit up a provincial/state park
  • Make homemade ice cream

The ideas are simple and endless.  And thoroughly enjoyable.  And most importantly, we’ve found that we are seriously connecting with our kids more.  Sure, they still watch a movie here and there.  And my iPhone isn’t always turned off (how else do I share the photos of our fun but by posting them to Instagram!).  But I do find that we’re having more fun than we have in past summers.

AND with five more weeks of summer left, I’m looking for other ideas too – would love to hear about what you’re doing with your kids over the hotter months!

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Our Family Bed

It seems that we have reached a turning point in the sleeping patterns of our children.  It’s not guaranteed but for the most part, if my kids go to bed at their bedtimes (7:30 for Maggie, 8:30 for Caleigh and Blake) they now sleep through the night and wake up at a reasonable hour (between 6 and 6:30).  Sometimes they even treat me to a 7:30 sleep in.

Seven.  Thirty.  Folks.

It has afforded me some mornings to once again commit to my morning power hour.  I had missed my quiet morning times,  For a solid year, Maggie decided that her sleep routine was to wake up at 5AM.  My “power hours” became “Elmo hours” that included regular refills of raisins into a Minnie Mouse bowl.  Far from empowering and quite honestly, one can only take so many Elmo episodes off of YouTube.

7:30 wake up times also allowed Tom and me to lay in bed for a while longer some mornings, halfway between wake and sleep in that lovely, warm, drowsy space where dreams come and go.  What was nice about these mornings is that eventually, we would be joined by three drowsy kids.  One by one, they would plod into our room with blankets and stuffies trailing behind them, find their way into our bed, and snuggle in under the blankets between us.  We talk about our dreams from the previous night.  We talk about what was awesome about the day before.  We talk about what we are excited or nervous for in the coming day. It’s time that I relish.  The kids are still young enough to find this nice.  Tom and I can connect with our kids all at once (rare with five of us!).  We have real, honest conversations.  We tell jokes.  We laugh.  It’s family bliss.  I love our family bed.  I know it won’t always be like that so for the time being, I’ll hold onto those mornings for as long as I can. 86d875f3db62169d_157104402.preview

gratitude

Short but sweet, on this beautiful Thanksgiving Sunday.

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“I am thankful for a lovely house.  I am thankful for a nice healthy meal.  I am thankful for a warm bed to sleep in at night.  I am thankful for a bit and healthy life.  I am thankful for a safe trip to school.  I am thankful for my big caring family.”

I, Caleigh, am thankful that you are such a thoughtful, sweet, caring daughter.

Pretty big heart for an almost eight year old.

Happy Thanksgiving.

A Small But Mighty Space

I swept up the remaining crumbs from breakfast that hid under the table and four chairs in the small cottage.  By small, I mean that if I had two brooms, one in each hand, stretched out, I would be able to touch the opposing walls.  The single room doubled as a kitchen and bedroom, smaller than many bunkies that I’m sure were scattered across Lake Kawagama.

This would be our last visit to this cottage, and in truth, I may have only been there as many times as I could count on one hand.  Strange, really, as it is a family cottage.  I had found out this morning, via email, that the cottage had finally been sold, after being on the market over a year.  It made this already planned trip bittersweet.  When I first stepped foot at this place, ten years ago, I wasn’t married and so visiting on my own I didn’t leave much of a footprint.  Over the years, our expanding brood growing to five plus dog, it sometimes felt as though we outgrew the tiny space.  We were visitors, converging on my mom and stepdad’s place once a summer.  With them sleeping in the only bed, we would erect a tent or blow up a mattress in the screened in gazebo to comfortably spend the night.  They had bought the cottage and land in 2004, a couple of years before Caleigh was born, and so it didn’t have the nostalgia that went with many cottages that had belonged to families over decades.  When I say we had outgrown the space, it was literally a conversation piece each time we were on our way up the highway (where will we sleep?  will there be room?  do we drive them crazy?)  And yet each time I arrived, a sense of absolute peace fell over me.  A sense of simplicity.  All because of the smallness, yet mightiness, of this cottage.

This morning, with Tom and the kids down at the lake, I had the cottage to myself for some time before joining them for a morning swim.  I cleaned the dishes at a sink that offers a most serene view.  The outdoor sink is situated on the raised porch such that while doing dishes you can imagine yourself in a tree house.  Your view at eye level is simply the trees.  Off the porch, below you, is the outdoor shower.  This shower is unique in that it offers nothing between you and nature around you.  With no protection from spying eyes neither, only the most daring do so in front of others or you would wait for a moment where you have it to yourself.

Dishes cleaned and dried, I brought them inside to finish cleaning up.  As someone who doesn’t necessarily enjoy cleaning, tidying up this cottage is a pleasant task.  Its quaintness makes it not only easy but enjoyable.  A sense of accomplishment quickly takes over.  Make the bed, turn around, and wipe down the kitchen table.  Another half turn and I can arrange the dishes on the open shelves.  Everything just so, everything in its place.  A small slice of perfection.

The night before, with Maggie asleep in the bed, the rest of us moved to the gazebo.  With a bag of  tortilla chips in one hand and a deck of cards in the other, I quickly shot down the whines of disappointment over not being able to play Angry Birds, our kids latest addiction on the iPad.  Instead, we played first a game of ‘Go Fish’ and then Tom taught them how to play War.  The laughter, the giggles, the cheeky smiles, the shrieks of laughter as they beat both Tom and me – fair and square – will remain a memory fixed in my mind for years to come.  No electronics.  No arguments.  Just good old fashioned fun over a deck of cards.  Again, simplicity.

After cards, with the tent forgotten at home, we all set up in the single room.  Caleigh and Blake on the floor, covered in blankets.  Tom, Maggie, and I in the bed.  Quickly asleep, we were kept comfortable with a breeze off the lake that kept the cottage cool at night.  At some point it became four of us in the bed, as Blake snuggled in between Maggie and Tom.  Later still Tom abandoned the bed (or maybe Blake in his sleep had kicked him out) and ended up on the floor with Caleigh.  As the sun came up, it was quite fitting that we would all get in the bed together and just lay quietly, telling one another about our dreams, if only for a couple of minutes.  Simplicity.

As I arranged the last few dishes and smoothed out the comforter on the bed, it was sad to take a last look around the tiny cabin.  My eyes settled on a blue, leather-bound book with the word “JOURNAL” inscribed in gold on the front.  With a smile I opened it up and read through the last ten years of memories my mom and stepdad had recorded.  The trees they had felled after buying the property.  The installation of the dock.  The improvements to the cottage.  The friends who had visited.  The memorable meals.  The bears and deer who had made for fascinating sightings.  The stories of Carter, who spent his last couple of summers on the lake, chasing sticks into the lake and squirrels up trees.  The telling of our family history, a blended family, as their grandchildren were added and introduced to Lake Kawagama.  All of these tales told a story of a cottage that while wasn’t in our family for long, had surely made an impact on the hearts and minds of those who stayed there.

I will miss this cottage.  I will miss the simplicity.  It is a value so ingrained in my heart that I vow to bring it to our own family cottage that we are building.  It will be a little bigger, yes.  However, now it will be built with every intention to keep it in the grain that cottages should be.  An escape from a world dependant on technology.  An escape from a world where televisions replace board games.  An escape from a world where cars replace walking shoes.  An escape from a world where family life can become chaotic and hectic, running from appointment to errand to activity…and the simple pleasure of just talking – connecting – is lost.  An escape TO the world of cottaging…family, connection, nature, and simplicity.

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The Deck.

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The View.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A sink that makes me want to do dishes.

A sink that makes me want to do dishes.

Remnants of War the next morning

Remnants of War the next morning

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even the towel holder fits in, made from a birch tree.

Even the towel holder fits in, made from a birch tree.

A Boy & His Shower.

A Boy & His Shower.

Three to One

This week has been exceptionally quiet around our home.  Well, our home for the summer.  If you remember, we are staying at my dad and stepmom’s home while we wait to move into our new place at the end of August.  So, it has been exceptionally quiet around our temporary home.  Our two oldest kids, Caleigh and Blake, left to go to the family cottage on Monday.  They are spending a week on an island on Georgian Bay.  A week full of swimming, canoeing, boating, kayaking, crafts, bonfires, roasting marshmallows, hikes, picking blueberries, and more.  I’m missing them like crazy.  We fit well together, this beautiful family of ours.  I love though that they get these adventures on their own.  I have no doubt they are enjoying every moment of their weekend up north.

I'd say they're having fun.

I’d say they’re having fun.

We have Maggie with us.  Just 21 months, it would be hard to convince many people (including grandparents) to take her overnight, let alone for a week.  Having just her, being a family of three for a few short days, takes me back to the first couple of years when it was just Tom, Caleigh, and myself.  It’s quiet.  There’s more significant one on one time.  Earlier bedtimes.  Earlier to rise.  A more relaxed schedule.  Easy and quick to get out the door in the morning.  No one complaining what’s on their dinner plates. Less mess.  Less of the beautiful chaos.  But above all, it’s quiet.

And this week, happily and selfishly, I relish quiet.

For instance, right now, Maggie is taking a nap.  I have the entire house to myself to do whatever I want.  I could nap. I could workout.  I could read.  I could journal.  I could garden.  I could just sit.  It’s so lovely to have that freedom for a couple of hours.  I made some tea and read for a bit and then recognizing I still had time, I’m writing to you.  Hello!  It’s nice to connect once again.

Coming off such an intense and intimate weekend as I did, it’s good to have this quiet.  It’s good to have the time, uninterrupted, to just be with my thoughts.  Re-committing to my morning power hour means that I’m dragging myself out of bed in the morning (up at 5:10 today!) but once up, it’s provided me the opportunity to work through the emotions and experiences from my retreat, in solitude.  I’ve been able to mentally process, put thoughts down on paper, and then read through those notes.  It brings a smile to my face when I think of the people I connected with (so grateful for each and every person I met on that island) and the personal growth that I had.   But it also makes me take a deep breath as I reflect back on some of the experiences.  Remind myself of the vulnerabilities that were exposed, both mine and theirs.  Accept some of the stuff that came up in my head as things that were no longer serving me and had in fact, been holding me back from living a more full and authentic life.  And finally letting go of the self-limiting thoughts and beliefs that were deep to my core.  It was a deep weekend.  A very, very deep weekend.  One that I am so very grateful for and that I put every intention into the universe to be a part of again next year.

And now I get to focus on what lies ahead.  The path that I get to carve out for myself.  Just writing that fills me with a tingly feeling of excitement.  It’s unknown, unwritten…but yet it feels familiar.  It’s like I’m coming home.

This week was needed.  The quiet was needed.  As much as I missed my kids, I will be the first to admit that I loved being away from them for a few days.  I think had I written that before learning what I did last weekend, I would have erased it and started over.  I would have re-wrote it so that it didn’t sound as though I was happy to be away from my kids.  But the truth is, I was.  I was thrilled to have a break.  (There, I said it.)

So, I will finish up and enjoy the remaining moments of solitude before Maggie wakes up.  Later on today, we’re headed up to the cottage ourselves.  And while being away from my kids was refreshing, I also can’t wait have them run down the dock and into my arms, when I pull in this evening.

Until next time…

We Work Better as a Team

Last week my husband was away on vacation. He left on Sunday afternoon and returned early morning on Friday.  As I watched him pull away, and in the days leading up to his vacation, I was giving myself a few pep talks. This was the first time I would be on my own with the kids for more than a couple of nights.  Plus, because we own a business together, it meant that I was going to be covering his hours at the office too.

I knew it was going to be a long week.

When Thursday night came around, and I knew that for sure he would be home before the kids woke up the next morning, I was giddy.  It had been a long week.  I had organized nine people to help out with the kids (two sets of grandparents, our daycare provider, our office assistant, an evening babysitter, and two after school babysitters), I was at the office much longer than I usually am and was adjusting more people than normal, most meals were prepped the night before as my kids were sleeping, Maggie had decided that sleep was unnecessary on Monday night, and late Tuesday night (or early on Wednesday morning) I was so convinced someone had broken into our home and was roaming around that it required a call to our amazing local police department who calmed my nerves by checking through our home to make sure that we were, in fact, alone.

By Thursday night, I was tired, worn out, slightly irrational, and losing my patience.  Bottom line is that I realized that Tom and I work better as a team.  I missed him.  I missed bouncing ideas off him.  I missed him knowing when I had reached my limit and without hesitation jumping in to help with the kids. I missed stealing a private look when our kids were doing something incredibly funny that only the two of us could appreciate.  I missed telling him about my day.  I missed hearing about his.  I missed him taking care of all the spiders in the house so that I didn’t have to personally escort them outside (with a safe layer of paper & glass cup keeping the spider and I separate).  I missed lying next to him at night, feeling safe, knowing that he would have ripped that house apart himself if he knew I would sleep better at night.

We definitely work better as a team but there is a flip side to this scenario.  I also realized that it is essential for both of us individually to get time away.  He came back happier.  He hadn’t been unhappy before he left, but he definitely came back happier.  It was fun to hear about his adventures.  It was so great to see a big smile on his face that had not been as big in the weeks leading up to it.  He had spent the week golfing, sitting by a pool, meeting new people, enjoying time with “the guys”, eating good food, and kicking back at night over some beer.  He came back refreshed, renewed, and ready to rock.  And I can honestly say that I’m really happy that he had that time away, alone.

When we were younger, we couldn’t understand the benefits of alone time.  We were still in the “honeymoon-I-want-to-spend-every-minute-of-my-life-with-you” stage.  Even though I missed him while he was gone last week, it was really good for us both to have that time alone.  I wanted to hear about his week away.  He wanted to be caught up on the adventures at home.

I think his time away was a wake up call for me.  I’ll admit to giving Tom a few jabs every once in a while when it comes to things around the house.  Like when he calls at the office to ask a question about getting the kids off to school.  Or when I see the pile of dishes in the sink the next morning, used and left there after I went to bed the night before, and I wonder (audibly) over breakfast how hard it is to put the dishes in the dishwasher.

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On our wedding day. 9 years ago, this August.

The truth is I’m really grateful.  I have an incredible husband who is an equally incredible dad to our three kids.  He is caring, loving, kind, funny, intelligent, and strong.  He treats me well.  He takes care of me.  He loves me.  He works hard and he takes care of, and values, our family.  I may joke around about some of the things that bug me (I challenge any spouse to not come up with one or two things that bug them about their significant other), but I am a really grateful woman.  And I probably don’t tell him enough about just how grateful I am.  I’ll make sure I change that going forward.

 

 

 

 

Yes.

I’ve been making it a point to say YES in the two weeks.  Not to everything but to the special things.   Two years ago, when I was pregnant with Maggie, I made a very solid decision to starting saying NO to a lot of things.  I had taken on a lot and my life was becoming muddled with things that I realized weren’t of a high priority to me.  So, when I refer to saying YES, it only pertains to things when it comes to my family, my close friends, and myself.

Yes to things that make me truly joyful.

Yes to the walks around our neighbourhood.

Yes to snuggling up on the couch and reading.

Yes to playing patty-cake games.

Yes to morning dance parties in our kitchen.

Yes to holding hands with my husband.

Yes to having my kids help with stirring muffin batter (slowly but with more laughs) instead of me doing it (quickly and with no laughs).

Yes to painting instead of keeping the kitchen tidy.

Yes to jumping in a puddle instead of avoiding the inevitable wet pants and boots.

Yes to outdoor play instead of being frustrated with the fifteen minutes it takes us to get ready for outdoor play.

It’s rather liberating to say YES to the things that make both me and my family happy.  Often it’s the smaller of things that don’t take up a lot of time (or sometimes they do) but that the side effects I would try to avoid.  It’s so easy to look at a massive art project and inwardly groan at the amount of clean up that is going to be involved.  And yet, my kids are just so excited to be able to paint and use sparkles.  Then they are so proud to display their artwork on our refrigerator.  From that day on, as I look at the refrigerator, I’m smiling because I can remember how much fun it was to make a mess (and yes, later clean it up) and have that special family time.

I was chatting with a woman I was adjusting today and when she asked me how I was, I responded with such outward joy that it made her laugh out loud.  It clicked in me that it was because my heart was literally swelling from all of the memories from these extraordinary little “YES” moments.

What is your favourite thing to say YES to with your family?

Painting!  Making a mess!  Loving it!

Painting! Making a mess! Loving it!