Tuesday, 31 December 2013

2014 I Resolve not to make a Resolution!!!

    Christmas has been packed away and stored in the basement.  It has come and it has gone and it was beautiful.  It was truly one of the most beautiful Christmas's that I can remember.  It's beauty was in it's ease and simplicity.  There was peace.  The kids opened their gifts calmly while the adults drank coffee and watched.  It was everything that I could want.
    Christmas is over and now it's New Year's Eve.  Every New Year's Eve I become retrospective.  I look at the past year with mostly fondness.  It is the time that I analyze what my life is, very philosophical.  It really is a introspective time for me.  I look at what I did right and what I could have done better.
    Every year I make a resolution, only to let it slip away within weeks.  Each year I promise myself that this will be the year I will make it stick.  Each year that I don't,  I berate my lack of willpower and general poor character.  I beat myself up over my short comings.  It is always the same New Years Resolution circulations, "Get Healthy", "Get Organized", "Loose Weight".  The only resolution that I have ever kept is to be "Kinder to myself and make myself more of a priority."  Were I to really think about it, that is the best one that I could keep.
    This New Year's I will not be making a resolution.  There are certainly things that I would like to improve in my life, but not enough to make a resolution.  To be honest, right now in this moment, I really like my life, I like me.  I am surrounded by love.  I have everything that I could need, not want.  Want and need are two very different things.  Need is what is necessary for survival, want is often desire.
    At this very moment in time I have a husband who adores me, and I in turn adore.  I have beautiful healthy children, who are smart and are on their way to changing the world.  I have both of my parents who are both healthy, who love me and I love.  I have a house that I love.  I have the most amazing wonderful friends in the entire world.  My cup runnth over.  I am blessed.  I could stand to get healthier, lose weight and get organized.  When I am ready to do those things they will fall into place for me.  For right now I have what I need.

Happy New Year, may you find love and happiness in the coming year.

Monday, 30 December 2013

Our Fancy Dinner Out at Linguine's

    There is something about the very act of getting dressed up, that makes you anticipate that something special is about to happen.  You take more time getting ready, making sure that everything looks just right.  You stand a little straighter.  It makes you feel good about yourself.  Too often we substitute comfort for something that can be bigger.

    For the last few years I have sounded like a broken record to my poor suffering husband "I would really like to get the kids dressed up and take them out for a fancy dinner around Christmas."  Unfortunately fancy dinners generally come with large price tags.  Christmas is the time of year that extra money is not flowing freely like a mountain spring (o.k. it never really is).  Still I held that dream close to my heart.  In my mind I saw them sitting like proper young ladies and a dapper young gentleman.  Each year there was no extra money for such a luxury.

    I shared with you earlier this Christmas season that I was changing the way that my family celebrated Christmas.  Gone would be the lavish over abundance of gifts, and in their place would be a few gifts and the gift of life experiences and memories.  We took the family on a beautiful holiday adventure into the Adirondack Mountains a few days before Christmas.  We rode the Polar Express, stayed at our beloved Great Escape Lodge, had a fairy-tale like holiday.  In addition to that, I had managed to squirrel away some money for my fantasy fancy dinner.  I felt quite smug as I imagined my perfect Christmas.  What I had not anticipated in my delusions, was that fact that I would become really sick a week and a half before Christmas.  The Christmas lead up was a bit of a blur as I made trips to the hospital to enable me to breath.  We still took our trip to the Adirondacks, but I had to take naps and heavy duty antibiotics.  The fancy dinner would have to be postponed.

    This week I was able to make good on my self promise, even if a little belated.  Excitedly I told the kids to go and find some nice clothes because we were going out for a fancy dinner.  I was met with a lot of resistance from the youngest three children.  "Why do I have to get dressed up..., THIS IS STUPID!"  Calmly I told them that they were welcome to stay at home by themselves while the rest of us enjoyed our nice dinner.  That put them into action.  After the initial resistance they all really got into it.  The girls excitedly ran around, looking for nice clothes.  They paired it up with jewelry and perfume.  Even Rowan, the one who most resisted getting out of his pj bottoms came downstairs looking very impressed with himself dressed in a nice sweater overtop of a dress shirt and clip on tie, completed with cologne.  They all looked like a million dollars.  As they left the house they were standing a little taller, their shoulders a little more squared.  They had matching proud looks on their beautiful little faces.  Resistance had left them to be replaced with excitement.

    As we made our way down the highway,  a tentative little voice floated up from the back row.
"Do we have to step outside of our comfort zone for this dinner?"  Rowan's face matched his tentative voice.  He was remembering our conversation from our Deerhurst dinner.  His little face looked quite anxious.  "Yes and No buddy.  I do not want you to order chicken fingers or grilled cheese (in the back of my head I was pretty sure that Linguine's did not serve such fair even on their children's menu).  BUT, you love spaghetti and meatballs.  You love pasta."  That seemed to satisfy him.

Gracie enjoyed a very grown up Shirley Temple 

    When we walked into the front doors of Linguine's, the kids all let out a gasp.  "This is so pretty" Riley sighed.  The lights were twinkling throughout the restaurant.  You could feel the excitement rippling through them.  Their little mouths were agape as we walked to our seats.  

    I was so proud of them as they sat like little grown-ups looking at their menus.  They poured over the possibilities, reading each out loud.  In the end they decided not to stray too far from their comfort zones... but that was o.k.  Rowan decided on Al' Pomodoro, basically spaghetti and meatballs. Elly went with Cardimal, a lighter tomato sauce with basil and parmigiano cheese.  Riley had Alfredo with alfredo noodles.  Gracie pushed her boundaries a little more than the others.  Gracie went with Capricciossa, tomato sauce with bacon, mushrooms, green onions, garlic, cream and parmigiano cheese.  They were all delighted with their choices.

    Riley exploded with hysterical laughter when our waiter brought out the pepper mill.  It was as large as Elly, as you can see from the picture above.  She was caught in the laughter, which in turn became contagious.  It just really struck her funny bone.  It was a comically large pepper mill.

    I began with a caesar salad.  Oh my goodness, Linguine's make the THE BEST CAESAR SALAD IN THE ENTIRE WORLD!!!!  I say this as an informed caesar salad connoisseur.  Too often when you have a caesar salad it is either too creamy, or too vinaigrettey.  This salad is the beautiful blending of both, as though the two met and had the most glorious caesar salad baby! 

    I ordered the Pollo al' Limone.  It was soooooo good.  It was chicken breast sautéed in fresh lemon wine cream sauce.  Oh my goodness it was so good.  I ordered green beans and fried potatoes on the side.  Oh my mouth is watering as I type this.  It was so moist and delicious.

    The kids were so well behaved, I was so proud of them.  The big surprise of the evening came when Riley wanted to propose a toast.  She wanted to toast to having such amazing parents, and to say thank you for bringing them to such a nice restaurant.  I will not lie, I was both taken aback and teary eyed.

     For once in the history of Lindsay family restaurant dinners, we let the kids order dessert.  They had to share it, but we let them order.  They were so excited to try something new.

    I left my favourite restaurant in the entire world feeling both physically full and emotionally full.  It was everything I had hoped for.  My kids had a fairy tale evening.  They all appreciated it for what it really was.  It was an amazing opportunity.  It was something that if we are all very lucky will happen but once a year, making it all the more special.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

The Polar Expess

    Gabe loved trains.  A large portion of our basement was taken up by a huge train set.  He and my Dad would go down there and spend hours together.  They built mountains, and made little trees.  They arranged the track just so.  There would be Gabe with his conductors hat on and my Dad standing right beside him for hours.  It really was beautiful.

    When the Polar Express movie came out Gabe was thrilled.  This movie combined two of his most favourite things, trains and Christmas.  Christopher bundled up Gabe and Grace and took them to see the Polar Express.  It was a special time for them because at that time Riley and Rowan were only 5 months old.  Learning how to deal with twins was a slow and difficult process.  Our minutes were stolen by the two most demanding family members.  That left little time for the two big kids.  We felt guilty, but we were in survival mode.  A special night out with just Daddy (and no crying babies to steal their attention) made this a very special gift.  At the time we did not know just how special this movie would be to us.  It was the very last movie that our Gabe would ever see.  

    The beauty of that movie and the bittersweet memories that it brings have a very special place in our hearts.  We watch it every single year.  Every time I watch it I sit with this contented smile, because for the length of that movie I have my Gabe.  I have no sadness.  I think about what a beautiful soul he was, and how much he loved trains and that movie.

    A while back we discovered that several scenic railways were running "Polar Express" rides.  We were over the moon with joy.  We booked our ride in Utica New York.  We loved it.  We decided that we would like to visit as many Polar Express train rides as we could drive to.

    This year we visited Saratoga Springs Scenic Railway in Saratoga Springs, New York.  We did not know what to expect.  The trip adviser had given it terrible reviews and so we were slightly guardedly cautious.  We arrived to see a beautifully decorated train station, that was a plus.

    We had arrived with not a minute to spare.  We boarded the train immediately.  Up the narrow staircase we climbed to the top of the train.  The rounded windows were decorated with Christmas lights and evergreens.  Seated in the warm Christmas light were dozens of pajama clad children who were sitting with their equally excited family members.  You could physically feel the Christmas spirit.  We walked down the narrow isle, breathing in the love.  We were seated at two little tables.

    The train was beautiful.  On each table were stunning "Polar Express" mugs.  They so over exceeded my expectations.  The train began it's comforting sway down the track the soundtrack to the Polar Express played throughout the train.  I looked around the train at all of the bright and hopeful faces.  My eyes then settled in on my kids.  Their little faces were glowing with excitement.  Rowan just sat there mesmerized by the view from the train window, a serene look on his little face.  This is what it is all about.  

    Over the train speakers the "Hot Chocolate" song from the movie came on.  Ladies dressed in white with white chef hats danced up the isle.  They soon reappeared with silver teapots filled with rich chocolately goodness.  It was honestly one of the best cups of hot chocolate that I have ever had, and I am really picky.  We all sat sipping hot chocolate, enjoying our surroundings, I was taking mental pictures trying to capture this moment in time for the rest of my life.  It was the stuff of dreams.  That sounds overly dramatic, but it truly was magical.  

    After the ladies came around with our hot chocolate and cookies, the conductor made his rounds "Tickets please".  He punched every child's ticket and shaped the punch in the first letter of their name. My guys were just glowing.  It was truly like being "in" the movie.

    An announcement came overhead that we were arriving at the North Pole.  The little people (and the not so little people) all ran to the window to see.  A brightly lit little village complete with elves in the windows appeared out of the window.  This was such a beautiful night.

    Shortly after the trip to the North Pole, Santa appeared.  He walked around the train and spoke to each child, stopping for pictures.  He then handed each child a Christmas bell, engraved with the words "Polar Express".    The children were all in awe, they were in the presence of greatness.  

    All too soon our trip on the Polar Express came to an end.  It was everything I thought that it could be and more.  We were making memories, not just for the kids, but for ourselves.  I walked away my soul a little more full, a smile on my face.  That was a beautiful night.


Monday, 23 December 2013

Our Adirondack Christmas Adventure

    This Christmas is upon me before I have even had time to blink.  I can't say it comes as a surprise like it has in years past.  I have seen it sneaking up on me, but have been too preoccupied to notice.  I now find myself scrambling.  It has been a pretty busy November/ December for me.

    My Dad (the copy cat that he is) went in for reconstructive surgery on his nose in November.  He went to see my beautiful doctor in Toronto.  I expected for him to be out of it for weeks, but that tough old bird was bright eyed the next day.  I had a turkey lunch to organize for our school, and then the unthinkable happened right after.  The night of the school Christmas lunch I began to feel yucky.  By the next morning I was SICK.  For two days all I did was sleep.  I honestly cannot remember the last time that I was that sick.  My asthma kicked in and I wound up at the hospital for a breathing treatment. A few days later I went to my family doctor, who put me on heavy antibiotics and ordered a chest 
X-ray.  It is really only today (more than a week later) that I feel almost well again.  I lost more than a week of more valuable than gold Christmas preparation time.  In the past I would be so stressed out right now, but am in a better place now and I realize that stressing about it doesn't get it done, it just makes me ill.  

    A large part of the reason that I am so clear headed about Christmas this year is because we just came back from an amazing mini-vacation in the Adirondack Mountains.  Last year we decided that we (o.k. really it was me) had made Christmas too much about gifts and not enough about family.  I was stuck in a place that made me think that more is better.  More meant that we are amazing parents.  Christmas morning I would watch them opening their gifts and be upset when they became bored opening them, and just wanted to play.  It finally took finding an unopened toy months after Christmas to give me the wake up call that was long overdue.  We decided to talk to the kids ahead of time and see how they would feel about receiving less presents and have a mini-vacation in their place.  They thought it was a great idea, and so that's what we did.  Christmas morning last year I held my breath while they unwrapped fewer gifts, but seemed more happy.  I kept waiting for that disappointed look on their little faces, but it never came.

    This year we did the same thing.  We purchased fewer gifts for the kids and went on a holiday to the Adirondack Mountains.  The drive was breath taking.  I kept letting out squeals of delighted joy as I looked at the scenery.  The road we took was very quiet and allowed us to feel like we were the only people in the world.   The trees that looked as though they had been placed along the road way intentionally.  They were covered in snow in such a way that it looked like they had been flocked for Christmas.  It was like driving through a Christmas card.  The beauty of nature all set against a backdrop of snow covered mountains.

    On the radio I had the Christmas station playing Christmas carols from the 40's (turns out not all of the Christmas songs from the past were all gems).  The kids kept complaining and wanting me to change the channel, but I heard them many times singing along.  We were together, we were on the cusp of an adventure, life was and is good.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Our Cookie Exchange

    The Cookie Exchange - a social gathering of friends that makes light of your work load at this busy time of year.  Each friend makes one kind of cookie, and everyone trades.  This year I decided that I would host one.  It would be fun.

    It is at this point in the story that I should share the fact that I suffer from delusions of grandeur, or rather delusions of Martha Stewart.  I combed Pinterest looking for beautiful cookies.  I would impress all of my friends with my wicked culinary skills - first mistake.  I decided I would create candy encrusted spirals.  Oh in my head they were stunning! I would mix together green and red shortbread and roll them in crushed candy.  Oh they would ohh and they would aww, and everyone would leave speaking in hushed tones about how amazing I was ... silly big headed fool that I was.

    The night before our exchange I only had to make 12 dozen cookies.. no biggy.  How long could it take?  Oh and I had to clean my pig pen of a house.  Not only do I suffer from delusions of grandeur, but I also am a horrific procrastinator.  So that night I began to mix a double batch of chocolate vanilla shortbread pinwheels (yes I adjusted my plan.  I thought back to how when I have used colouring gel to colour my cakes, it doesn't maintain it's colour.  Instead it looks like a sickly version.  I could take no chances, I had not left myself enough time.  I had to impress everyone).  I mixed one batch of vanilla shortbread and one batch of chocolate.  I congratulated myself on being so clever.  This would totally cut down my work time... genius!  I began by rolling out my vanilla dough, then my chocolate.  Oh it already looked so pretty.  I then began to roll... and that is where it all began to unravel.  My pinwheel began to more resemble a yule log, a real yule log, not those adorable version you buy in the store.  It was monstrous.  Oh this would not do, I said in a panic stricken voice.  These cookies would be the size of dinner plates.  In a dirty panic I began to squash the dough down.  It did not roll out, instead it looked more like a two by four.  It was then that I read the last directions on the recipe, at 9:00 p.m.  Let stand in the refrigerator over night... crap.
    The next morning I got up and sliced the roll.  I ended up with 2 dozen.. that's it.  Not only did it only give me two dozen, they more closely resembled biscotti.  I guess that what they say about pride coming before the fall is spot on.  Frantically I began to mix up double batch of brownie cookies.  I had purchased bars of melting chocolate, and decided it might be nice to cut them into chunks and mix them in with the chocolate chips.  Oh my friends will be happy.  I finished the cookies off by sprinkling crushed candy cane over the top.  When they had cooked they looked like bear poops.  I had no time, and had to make do.  Onward, the show must go on.  I made 10 dozen brownie cookies.  They did not look as pretty as they did in my head, but that was becoming a theme of my cookie exchange.  I happened to put my finger into the melted chocolate that was left on the cookie tray after I had scooped off my last cookie.  I was looking forward to that warm chocolatey goodness.  I devilishly touched my finger to my tongue, expecting that tasty, sweet goodness.  My face began to contort in horror, there was nothing sweet about it.  Feverishly I grabbed for the chocolate wrapper "unsweetened chocolate".  Well my friends were in for a bitter surprise.  
    It turns out I am no Martha Stewart even if I do have delusions of grandeur.  I do however have an amazing group of friends.  We laughed, and all enjoyed warm apple cider.  It was a really nice evening.  I need to do this more often.  So my cookies were a real let down, but my friends weren't.  So maybe Christmas doesn't come from a store, maybe Christmas is a little bit more... (although my friends cookie experience may have been tastier had I gotten them from the store).  It wouldn't have mattered if I'd made dog food cookies, my friends would still have been amazing, although they totally would have called me on it, and that's what I love about them.  

Sunday, 15 December 2013

The School Christmas Feast / Finding The Christmas Spirit

    “For it is in giving that we receive.” 

    I have been harassing our poor principal for a few years now.  I really wanted to have a huge holiday meal that all of the children in our school could sit together and enjoy.  Every year I would suggest it would be a great idea and that perhaps school council could put it on.  I think that she figured that the workload would fall on her shoulders and the shoulders of the other staff.  To her credit although she was not a keener on the idea she would open it up to the other council members and ask what they thought.  Their silence was always deafening.  I however remained undaunted.  I knew that eventually there would be other parents who wanted the same things that I did, or I could eventually wear our poor principal down.  That happened this year!
    I am most fortunate to head up the most amazing group of loving parents on our school council.  These mostly mothers and a committed Dad really care about our school.  They care about their children, but also the whole well being of all of the children in our school.  It is such a pleasure to walk into those meetings and meet with such committed individuals.  I honestly feel like there is nothing that we could not do.  This year when I did my annual "What do you think about having a big holiday dinner for the whole school?  Maybe it's something that we as a school council could do."  I was met with a resounding "YES!"  Every parent at that table was excited, every parent wanted this for their children and for the children in our school community.  I think that perhaps our poor principal was cursing me in her head, but in the there she agreed to it.

        That began our planning.  We decided on our menu, roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberries (me thinking that not many kids would eat them, but that they were festive.  Turns out they were a huge hit), corn, raw baby carrots and sliced cucumber and a buttered roll with cookies for dessert.  None of us had the faintest idea how much we would have to prepare for almost 400 children and staff.  Many emails were exchanged.  In the end we settled on one turkey per grade, with a ten pound bag of potatoes per class, and we all crossed our fingers and toes.

    I had my cookie exchange with my friends on Monday night and sent each friend away with at least one turkey and a ten pound bag of potatoes.  It was quite a comical parting gift.  Each person would cook their turkey and cut it up and cook potatoes and mash them.  How many cookie exchanges do you go to where you are expected to cook a turkey and a bag of potatoes?  After I had bid adieu to my last guest I went to get my own turkeys to cook... there were none left.  Now this in theory is the best news ever, but then I began to feel guilty that it was my idea, and I had nothing to do.  I am so silly.
    That night when everyone was here visiting, Rowan and a friend were wrestling upstairs, and he injured his thumb.  He was sure that it was broken.  We iced it, gave him Tylenol and convinced him to try to get some sleep.  If it was still sore in the morning I would take him into emergency.  He was able to fall asleep and I foolishly thought that was the end of the story.  When he woke the next morning his thumb was still quite sore, and noticeably swollen.  The day that I had planned to dedicate to getting things ready for the big turkey dinner the next day was instead spent in the waiting room of our local ER.  Being the fool that I am, with the guilt complex that I have, I had volunteered to cook fifty pounds of potatoes.  The reality of it was just making my family potatoes five times, no biggy.  I had all day after all.  We arrived home at eight O'Clock that night ( I did however make a stop at Walmart and pick up a Santa Claus suit).  I tucked the kids into bed and began to peel an almost limitless amount of potatoes.  At 1:00 am I covered my last large tinfoil dish of whipped potatoes and tucked myself into bed, feeling happy if I never again had to look at another single potato.

    The next morning I went into school with the kids to get things ready for our big day.  We had decided that we wanted this to be a sit down meal that the kids could all enjoy not only the good food, but to be able to conversations with their friends and really be able to enjoy their experience.  To do this effectively we would break the lunch into three different sittings, the first one beginning at 11:35.  We had lots to do, and not a lot of time to do it in.  

    It is at this point that I have to say what an amazing group of parents we had volunteer their time to help those children at our school have an amazing experience.  When I arrived at the school I was met with bright and cheery faces wondering what we should do, amazing.  No one just stood around, everyone rolled up their sleeves and dove right in.  

    We had a pretty amazing warming system in place.  Many of us Mom's brought in our counter top roasters and crock pots.  We soaked the already cooked turkey in chicken broth to keep it moist, and piled it into all of the counter top roasters on low.  Turkey gravy was put into crock pots and the oven was loaded with tinfoil trays of mashed potatoes, the stovetop contained huge pots of corn nibblets.  We were very fortunate to have parents at our school who happen to own a resort http://trudeaupark.blogspot.ca/http:, Cheri and Casey Trudeau generously loaned out chaffing dishes and fuel.  That meant that all of the kids would not just have a home cooked meal, they would have a warm home cooked meal.  It also bears mentioning that one of our Mom's has an uncle who owns a bread truck, he generously donated enough rolls for each of the children and school staff, WOW.

    At 11:20 all of our food was loaded into the chaffing dishes.  The veggies were all cut and plated, rolls ready, cookies plated.  The tables were all set, we were ready.  All that we needed now was our first group of kids.  We stood at our posts eagerly awaiting the crowds.

Does this Santa's Helper look familiar?
    I was so excited to see all of those happy little faces, but most of all I was nearly beside myself anticipating the looks on those little faces when they saw our special guest.  I had the red fuzzy suit all laid out in the staff room waiting for our guest of honour.  The night before it looked like Santa might be a 6 foot 4 gentleman who looked like Mrs. Claus had shrunk his suit.  Luckily we had a different volunteer (I'm not naming names, but they may have loaned out chaffing dishes.  Santa really looked young).
    At 11:35 our first diners entered the gym.  They were so excited.  I stood there with this really stupid grin on my face.  I'm not sure who was more excited, them or me (I'm leaning towards me).  It was beautiful to see that the grade 7's and 8's had been paired with the junior and senior kindergartners.  The big kids looked like they felt very important, holding their little buddies hand.  They were really wonderful with their little ones.  The little one's looked up at their great big helpers with looks of something akin to hero worship. There were pleases and thank yous and yes pleases.   There were so many shining happy little faces.

    After the kids had all been seated, our principal made an announcement to the students "We are expecting a special guest".  In walked Santa.  The little ones were over the top with their excitement.  Santa walked around talking to all of the kids and offering cookies.  There was an almost electric feeling of joy in the air.  I will admit to having teary eyes.

    It was hours of work in the planning and cooking, but it was worth every single second.  I looked at my fellow volunteers and their faces looked the way my face felt.  We all felt this joy.  There was one older girl who I know does not have as much, she was physically shaking with excitement as I served her meal.  There is a very good chance that this was this young girls only opportunity to take part in a feast that most of us take for granted.  She told me without ever saying a word what a good thing we had done on that day.

    There is a Christmas spirit, you just have to give of yourself to feel it, to open your heart to it.  We gave our time, but those children filled my heart with joy and purpose.  It was such a beautiful day!

    Thank you to everyone 
who made this wonderful day happen!