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Nova Scotia

It was an eight day trip: two very full driving days and six days with family.

My brother's family, my parents, and our family - the Toews/Tougas clan were all together for a few days.

During that time we went to Halifax to watch Rogue One with the whole family for my brother's birthday. We had Christmas Eve talent show, in which every family member had to contribute something.

We ate food, so much good food, that I wasn't responsible for planning - that's a Christmas gift right there. Thanks Mom!

We played the game telephone pictionary, and had the best belly laughs as a result. The kids played lots of video games, watched Netflix and YouTube. They also played soccer in the wide back hallway of my parent's house, duct taping a board over the bottom glass door of the book cabinet for protection. My dad helped Celine find the right tools to finish her woodworking project that was a gift for Brienne.

On Christmas Day morning, after a hearty breakfast prepared by my parents, my brother's family left to visit with my sister-in-law's family.

The days preceding Christmas were full and busy. The days following were pretty relaxed and calm.

We went for afternoon walks and short hikes; on the highway along the river, at Indian Path Common, and Gaff Point at Hirtle's Beach. We took naps. We went to see the house my dad is building, some of us took advantage of local Boxing Day sales.

Mom taught Brienne how to make Scandinavian flatbread.

In the mornings we slept-in and in the evenings we watched movies - Captain Fantastic, Florence Foster Jenkins, and Sully. I recommend them all.

My dad started the fire in the morning and rekindled it for the evening. Midday was often warm, the sun streaming through the windows.

On Wednesday we drove the fourteen hours or so home. Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec.

Christmas, the celebration, is over. I am back in my small living room, a busy Montreal street outside my window, the sky grey with the promise of forecasted snow.

I love this liminal space between Christmas celebrations and my start on the New Year (sometime around Epiphany). It is a mixed bag of productivity and reflection, cleaning the house and reading books, vigorous walks and soaking in the tub, re-stocking the fridge and eating simple meals.

Someday I'd like to write about this space, this time, a most necessary non-rushed end to the holidays, a soft transition period. For now, it is enough to say on the threshold of this New Year that I am equally grateful for the happy memories of Christmas just-past, this present moment of coffee and grey sky, and the anticipation of the days ahead.

My parents like to name their houses.

The first house they named was the historic home we moved to when I was in grade 5. My parents had a dream to renovate and restore one of the oldest homes in the Alberta prairie town in which I was born and raised.

My Dad was (and is) a builder and my parents have impeccable taste and decorating sense. For the remainder of my childhood - late elementary, junior high and high school years - I grew up in The Heritage House, a registered historical site in which my mom ran a one-room bed and breakfast. A quick google search confirms that the current owners still run a bed and breakfast in my childhood home.

That was my parents first named house. It took them a few years to name their current home - Sanctuary - along the LaHave river close to Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.

For the many people who are blessed by my parents' hospitality, Sanctuary is the perfect name for this home. As their adult daughter, a busy mother of three teenagers, this home "in the country" set against the woods with its' floor-to-ceiling wall of windows overlooking the river is a Sanctuary from city living and city traffic, city air and city stress.

But really, as much as I love the architecture and art, the wood burning stove and radiant heat concrete floors, as much as I love the fresh salt air and my mom's amazing cooking, the true Sanctuary of my parents' home is their love. Their daily prayers for their children and grandchildren. Their steadfast faith and integrity.

The physical space that my parents have christened Sanctuary is the outward expression of their hearts.

I didn't grow up in this house but coming to Nova Scotia for Christmas is coming back to this heart, which is coming home.

We're in Nova Scotia this Christmas for the gathering of the Derryl and Karen Toews Clan.

It's been a grey, raining and foggy week. Now today, Christmas day, was bright and sunny, easily fifteen degrees celsius. We were expecting a warm Christmas so there wasn't disappointment in the weather. At least not too much.

The snow blower and snow shovels are sitting idle, we left the skis at home. Instead we've been stacking Papa's winter wood, assuming there will be a winter, and tomorrow we'll go walking at the beach.

We haven't been to Nova Scotia for Christmas in years. Our last Christmas trip here was in 2009, we still lived in Maine. I'd send you to the blog posts but the photo links are all broken. Something weird happened a couple years ago to all the photos on my old posts, they don't show up, and life being what it is, busy, means I haven't fixed that.

When we finished our celebrations that year our family traveled to the Gaspe Peninsula with my parents on our first reconnaissance trip. That was a very cold and snowy year.

Christmas is a natural time to ponder changes that have taken place in our lives through the years. And for me, that includes remembering places we've lived and the trips we've taken this time of year. Christmas in Nova Scotia, with our siblings in the GTA, on the peninsula, backcountry skiing between Christmas and New Years, and hosting all my family last year (my first time ever); Christmas memories from recent years.

Each year brings something new and something remembered.

And each year it also feels like even though my body is in one place, my heart is in many places, specifically in all the places I've celebrated Christmas through the years, and with family spread across the country; western Canada, New England, Quebec, and the Maritimes.

We're on day six of what will probably amount to twelve days of Christmas, roughly Dec 21 through January 1st. We're spending the first part of that at my parents and then I'll have some days of reflection and rest at home. (I'm pretty sure my family will continue their video game fest during that time, RnR of another kind.)

The weather is different this year but the heartbeat of Christmas is the same.

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