Happy Birthday, dear Sarah

Yesterday our daughter, Sarah, turned 12. The years are passing so quickly! Unlike their brothers, who have late summer birthdays when things are busy at the B&B, but not with school activities, we have to fit the girls’ birthday celebrations in when we can!

Olivia has had a countdown going for awhile:

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I am going back to Tanzania soon – only for nine days! Evan likes to pull his sisters’ chains!

Sarah’s birthday happened to fall on provincial inservice day for teachers this year, so none of the kids had school, and D’Arcy & I were both attending professional development seminars in Truro. We rushed through our traditional gift opening in the morning (it is tradition for our kids to give one another sugary cereal on their birthday – which is shared between the four of them). She had asked for a “challenging Perplexes” game for her birthday (she loves Science & math) so we got her the “Epic Perplexes“.  I will buy this type of toy/game as long as they will ask for them!!

My parents took the girls to a new indoor playground in Halifax for the day and they had a ball. The cut-off age to play is 12, so this was a one-and-only experience for the girls.

We all met at one of our favourite pubs, the Nook & Cranny for a celebratory dinner at 5pm, before Sarah had to be at Jazz. Unfortunately, Evan wasn’t able to join us because he was playing football in Dartmouth, but my parents and Alex’s girlfriend, Claire, joined us.

Dinner was wonderful and our service was great. There was one moment of anxiousness when Olivia said she thought her wrap had mayo (it did – and she has an anaphylactic egg allergy). Luckily, she is really good about checking before ingesting, so we brought it to the server’s attention and the wrap was replaced with a safe one quickly and with much apology.

They were happy to serve our safe cake (homemade egg-free cinnamon bun cheesecake) before Sarah ran across the street to dance.

Sarah has a highland dance competition this weekend, so Plan “A” had been for her to sleepover with her grandparents. However, the birthday girl knew some of her family were planning to go to Evan’s football game, so she wanted to join us. In the end, it was POURING a cold rain, so Alex & D’Arcy went to the game while the three girls had a sleepover, tucked in together watching the curling.

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The score was 28-0 for the Cougars!! Dartmouth forfeited at half-time.

Although it was a busy day, with lots to fit in, I think Sarah felt her day was special. The rest of the weekend features a highland dance competition, a B&B get-together, appointment for Olivia, Hallowe’en party, Nutcracker rehearsal, curling, and guests.

A few of my favourite Sarah photos from over the years:

 

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Happy New (School) Year!

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The McDonah family 2016-2017 First Day of School Photo

As happens in many households with teachers and children, the first day of school is more our “new year” than January 1st. We had a productive summer, and although we were sad to see it end, there is an air of excitement about getting back to school. From what we can tell, it’s going to be a busy, exciting year with many changes.

 

Two years ago, we finally realized that the first day of school is much less stressful – fun even – when we close the B&B the night before. It’s our tradition to take a photo on the stairs on the first day, so everyone was up early (Olivia’s school bus arrives at 7:15 a.m.), the music was pumping, there were people in multiple bathrooms getting ready, and lots of laughter. Despite the excitement, I couldn’t help but be a bit wistful knowing, that in all likelihood, Evan will be away at university next year and it will just be five of us.

 

This year, Evan is in Grade 12, so will be graduating from high school. He is running with the cross-country team, and has made his high school football team. Their first game in tomorrow night in Halifax. He will be curling competitively again on his own team, and also on the school team. In addition, he is working part-time at Wendy’s restaurant.

 

Alex is starting high school today (Grade 10). He’ll be keeping himself busy also running cross-country, curling competitively, playing clarinet & saxophone in concert & jazz band, auditioning for the musical, and preparing for Confirmation. Alex is intending to take the full International Baccalaureate program in integrated French, and I have no doubt he will find other activities at his new school to join.

 

Sarah begins Junior High today (Grade 6). She will be highland dancing twice a week, taking jazz and ballet, and is so excited to be in an intro-pointe class. She also is curling competitively, taking piano lessons, and playing the trumpet in concert & jazz bands. She auditioned for “The Nutcracker” earlier this week.

 

Olivia is in Grade Four and nervous about being alone at her elementary school this year. Luckily, Sarah’s godmother is Olivia’s teacher this year, so I can’t imagine the nerves lasting very long. Olivia will be taking jazz and step-dancing, playing the flute and the fiddle, and curling competitively. She told us in the spring that her wish is to curl “every day of the week”.

 

D’Arcy is getting back closer to his roots, teaching Grade 8 Science in addition to English Language Arts this year. He’s planning to start a debate team at his school, and will continue to coach his school curling team and his daughters’ curling team. (That should be interesting!) He also is on the board of the curling club and will curl recreationally.

 

I am teaching all new subjects this semester – Marketing, Organizational Behaviour, and Business Consulting. I will continue to be the faculty advisor for our campus Enactus team and Challenge Nova Scotia, and it looks as though I will be traveling to Tanzania again in November to teach Entrepreneurship. The edits from the curriculum I wrote last year with my Academic Chair should be finished by Thanksgiving. My book club is a highlight of my month, and I am happy to have discovered audio books this summer which allow me to multitask.

 

We are fortunate to have my parents close by to help with chauffeuring, greeting guests until we get home, and serving breakfasts for us. September and October will continue to be busy as we transition in to school while still hosting guests. We have five time repeat guests (now friends) arriving from Germany tonight for a few days, so are back in business. I have a feeling it is going to be a fantastic year!

 

 

Check-in and Check-out times

Today was my final weekday of summer vacation; I am back at school full-time on Monday. I spent the afternoon with my B&B ladies, having a wonderful lunch at Lokal Resto & Market. We get together as often as we can (about once a month at this time of year) to take a quick break, get caught up, problem-solve, and support one another.

A disconcerting trend we have all noticed in past weeks is the number of early check-ins this season. If you book over the phone with us, we normally ask whether you are planning to arrive in the afternoon or evening, and will tell you that check-in time is anytime after 3pm. If you book online, the confirmation you receive via email clearly states that check-in time is after 3pm on the day you have booked.

A bed & breakfast in Nova Scotia is defined as being four rooms or fewer, must be owner-occupied (it’s our home), and breakfast is included in the price of the room. 

Because it is our home, the time between check-out and check-in is our window of time to get things accomplished – room cleaning, laundry, ironing, shopping, appointments, maintenance… It’s during that time we allow our kids to have friends over, or practice their music or dance, or for us to get out – together – for a run or bike ride… if there is time. The five B&B’s in the Truro area are one or two person operations, so it becomes difficult when we lose that small window of time. In a one-person operation, especially, they need that time to get groceries for breakfast.

We recently had a day when all three of our rooms (travelling separately) had arrived and settled in “to rest” between 1-2pm, without making prior arrangements. That meant the scraping of the house for painting stopped, as did the hammering and sawing of shelf-building. One day this week, we had a couple show up to check-in shortly after 11 am. Our check-out time is 11 am, so the prior guests had just departed! One operator in this area had a call earlier this summer from booked guests at 8:05 am looking to check-in at that time – some of their guests were still in bed at that point!

Earlier this summer, we went to the afternoon funeral of a neighbour and left as soon as the service was finished, skipping the reception, so we would be home in time to greet guests at check-in. When we arrived home at 2:40, the house was full and guests were resting, having arrived at 2:00. Our kids welcomed them and got them settled, so they were looked after, but not necessarily to the standard we try to uphold.

I honestly think that the issue of early check-in stems from the perception we are the same as a hotel and have unfilled rooms we can slide people into, or staff on-call 24-hours per day. In essence, we do; it’s just always us. Many people are surprised to learn that we live here.

We want to be clear: if you have an event, an early flight, or an appointment, we are happy to make arrangements ahead of time to be here to welcome you, so you are not sitting in our driveway wondering if we are ever going to show up.

As I mentioned earlier, I return to school on Monday (August 29), and D’Arcy returns to school the following week (September 6) which means my dad, Dave, comes to the house on weekdays to welcome guests and get everyone settled in until we arrive home at suppertime. If our guests show up early, he is not necessarily going to be here yet, which doesn’t make for a great first impression – which is important to us to avoid.

September is one of our busiest months, and historically we run at close to 100% occupancy. While chatting with the other B&B operators at lunch today, I decided that perhaps the best thing to do is to send each confirmed guest a welcome email the day before their scheduled arrival to explain our policy and tell them we look forward to meeting them the following day, any time after our 3pm check-in.

We’ll see how that goes.

One of our many issues, solved! 🙂

We’d like to say “thank you” to our attentive, knowledgeable, and friendly server, Courtney (and super-talented chef, Brad), for the outstanding experience at Lokal Resto and Food Market today. Your chowder is now being marketed to guests at the five Truro B&B’s as one of “the best in the province”!

Belgravia Bed & Breakfast website

 

A new driver in the house

Gone are the days of worrying whether our toddlers were getting enough to eat, or whether they would trip and scrape their knees, or fall off their bikes, or miss us when they went to school. With teenagers come a whole new set of worries!

Alexander turned 16 last week. He took the classroom portion of the Young Drivers program in July so was ready to write the test for his beginner’s license as soon as possible. D’Arcy took him to the Registry of Motor Vehicles on Monday where he had a vision and written test.

We were all apprehensive about his vision test since he only sees out of one eye, despite wearing a patch for almost six years and having eye surgery when he was seven years old. As it turns out, the rule about getting your license in Nova Scotia with a visual impairment is that you must be able to see 20/60 in your good eye with correction. His good eye sees perfectly with his glasses on, so he passed! As for the written test, he got only one question wrong – about when to report an accident. He said all accidents needed to be reported when, in Nova Scotia, it’s any accident causing injury or damage over $2,000.

Because he has the Young Driver’s course, he’ll be eligible to test for his “full” license in nine months… just as he finishes his first year of high school…

Yikes.

I have no doubt that he will be a cautious, responsible driver – like his older brother is.

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If your friends jumped off a bridge, does that mean you would you jump too?

What about if it were your friends AND your family?

It turns out at our house, the answer is “yes” for five out of six of us.

I go back to school one week from today, so we’re trying to fit in some final summer memories before we go back to routine. My best friend of 39 years is home from Newfoundland this week, so we went to their cottage in Amherst Shore (on the Northumberland Strait) for the afternoon. We had texted the night before while making arrangements, and Sandy mentioned that they would be jumping off the Northport Bridge around 2pm.

Because we had a full-house leaving and a new full-house coming in, by the time we had the cleanup finished, it was 1pm before we were on the road, and closer to 2:30 before we arrived in Northport, not sure if we’d find them still there or not.

They were.

The six of us have a bit of thrill-seeking running through our DNA. We love roller-coasters and various rides, while D’Arcy is a certified scuba diver and has gone skydiving before children. Funnily enough, I don’t think any of us are particularly fond of heights though.

When we arrived at the bridge, Mike, Beth, Clara, and Quinn were already jumping from the dock and swimming, while Dave and Nate were trying to catch some fish. There were other families and groups of kids already jumping off the bridge.

We had a quick discussion about who was going to try it, and Sarah & Alex immediately scampered up the hill to the railing with Mike and Quinn following. I announced that I was going to consider it, and Beth looked at me and said, “Well, if you’ll do it, I’ll do it.”

Challenge accepted.

I have no idea what the height of the bridge is, but I know it’s higher than a high diving board, but lower than some of the platforms we’ve been watching at the Olympics. Sarah took a deep breath and leapt off without hesitation, swimming to the side before scampering up to jump again. Mike & Alex followed while Beth & I stood at the railing trying to steady our racing hearts and convince ourselves/each other it was a good idea. She took a breath and went for it, reversing the peer pressure. Since she did it, I now had to, didn’t I?

I did, and it was terrifying and exhilarating all at the same time.

As I resurfaced, Sarah said to me, “you didn’t need to scream, Mom.” (Like I could have controlled it…)

I actually jumped twice, then Olivia and her siblings jumped together. (Evan stayed firmly dry and warm on the dock.) After I had jumped twice, D’Arcy took a turn while I was in charge of the camera. I have to give him credit, he was more patient than I, while waiting. (I almost missed his big moment.)

He, Beth & Olivia only jumped the once, while Sarah, Alex & Mike jumped multiple times, and Quinn eventually jumped twice before heading back to the cottage.

At the cottage we ate, and drank, and kayaked, and swam, and got caught up. Evan & Alex took the van before dinner to go visit a friend from curling camp who lives in Newfoundland, but has a cottage close by. Cousin, Hannah, drove over the bridge from PEI when she got off work to join us. We had hodgepodge and ribs for supper before continuing a “tradition” of slingshotting things off the bank. This year, the list included crabapples, water balloons, and a dead fish.

Before it got too dark, Evan drove us home so that we could relieve my parents from their B&B hosting duties, and catch the end of the Olympic closing ceremonies from Brazil. It was a fabulous summer day in Nova Scotia!

 

 

 

Our annual Tatamagouche canoe ride 2016

Later this month, D’Arcy & I will celebrate 20 (!) years since our first date. We had been friends for more than a year before we started a relationship and, during that time, he had been building a 16 foot cedar-strip chestnut prospector canoe. A couple of years before, he had spent a summer in Northern Ontario in an Outward Bound program and loved canoeing every day. I’m sure when he started building the canoe he had visions of spending his summers on the various rivers we are fortunate to have in Nova Scotia, and in Canada.

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(Un)fortunately for him, it didn’t work out that way. One of our early dates took place in Indian Harbour, Nova Scotia (near Peggy’s Cove) in a shed on a clear early-September evening, varnishing the canoe, which was launched on September 21, 1996. (I always joke that he snagged me with the fumes!) By the following summer, we were getting married, and I was pregnant with our oldest son, Evan, the summer after that, so the canoe didn’t get anywhere near the mileage D’Arcy had dreamed about in those early years.

We have property in Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia, which is bordered by the tidal French River. Once our kids became old enough to trust in the canoe, we have made a point to take the canoe to Tatamagouche at least once per summer for a family paddle. Because of the current ban on campfires across the province, we did not stay overnight this year. (No fires to heat water or use for light at night – phew?!)

My father had volunteered to come greet our guests so that we could stay as long as we wanted, and we had a beautiful afternoon together. Although the canoe sits lower and lower in the water each year, it is one of our favourite traditions. We paddled, we swam, we drank some local beer (and Kool-aid – it was a “vacation” day!); we laughed, we talked, and our soon-to-be-sixteen-year-old drove us up and down the lane.

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The annual canoe photo – 2016 version!

 

 

 

 

 

Blowing the dust off…

I have been neglectful of the blog this past year, a fact which has been pointed out to me three times in the past two days. The reasons are many and varied – busy lives running in six different directions, a productive, but exhausting school year, extra projects… I often find that by the time I get to sit at the computer I have the energy for a quick Facebook check-in, but then my eyes just want to close, and not continue looking at a screen.

Both family and guests have mentioned to me how much they love reading the blog. Family, to keep caught up with what we are up to, and guests because it gives them a sense of who we are before they come to stay with us. I enjoy writing, and especially looking back at where we’ve been and what we have done.

So I’m blowing the dust off, and promise a series of updates as the summer continues.

In the meantime, here is a photo of my newly learned summertime skill – cutting watermelon! I can’t believe I have been a parent for almost 18 years, and just learned this this week!! Cut watermelon pieces into a grid to make “fingers” rather than triangles. Much easier to store, and far less messy to eat! Thanks for the insight, D’Arcy!

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And thank you to those of you who have gently nudged me back here. It feels good to be back!