Saturday, 29 June 2013

Happy Unbirthday to Elly

    Today was Elly's "Unbirthday".  What is an "Unbirthday" you ask?  An "Unbirthday" is when you turn 4 and your stupid Mother thinks that you are too little to have a birthday party, or to even miss one.  Don't get me wrong we celebrated Elly's "real" birthday with cake and gifts and her choice of dinner.  We made a big fuss, but it was not a "friends party".  I just didn't think that she would notice, but like in many aspects of parenting... I was wrong.  An "Unbirthday" is the birthday party that you wanted originally, it's just 8 months late.
    After Elly's birthday she kept asking when her party was.  She had been expecting a big party like the big kids get, I was wrong.  I berated myself and vowed to make it up to her with a great 5th birthday party.  I truly did feel like I had really dropped the ball and let that baby girl down.  I foolishly thought that she would forget about that heartbreak... she didn't.  A belated party was planned.  I thought that maybe if we put it off long enough we could have her party in the yard.  As you may well know warm weather forgot to visit us until recently.  Finally I set a date, and we made and distributed invitations to Elly's friends.

    Last night I baked chocolate cupcakes.  While the cupcakes were baking I cleaned the house.  Here's the thing about my cleaning skills, I don't really process any.  My cleaning mantra is "good enough".  What good enough really means is "I don't think anyone will catch botulism from this, we are good to go, bring on the more fun tasks".  "Good enough", is well, good enough usually for us, but we had parents coming who had never been into our house.  With Elly we are starting from scratch.  It's not like with the big kid's friends who have been their friends forever and their parents either are good hearted and see past my extreme lack of cleaning skills or they talk behind my back, either way I'm good with it.  

    I let my cupcakes cool and went about busy work (busy work means avoiding cleaning).  When the cupcakes were cooled, I took a spoon and dug a small hole in the middle of the cupcake.  I saved the top (we'll come back to this later).   I then put in a teaspoon full of pudding, whip cream is also delicious.  

    After I had spooned the pudding into the little hole, I put the top back onto it (I told you we would come back to that).  I very carefully iced the top of the cupcake that I had replaced, careful not to pick up any of the crumbs in the the icing.

    Last but not least I added the all important sprinkles and a cherry for the top.  They were a hit, but let's be honest, it really wouldn't matter what they looked or tasted like.  The very fact that they were chocolate cupcakes already made them a hit with 4 year old girls.

    I got up this morning ready to work.  The sun was out shining, I smiled, although the forecast called for rain, the weatherman had been wrong ... famous last words.  I set about chopping up veggies, and fruit for the trays.  I had bought the most adorable little butterfly dishes and filled them up with fruits and veggies.  I made ham sandwiches, and turkey sandwiches.  I used my butterfly cookie cutter to cut out the ham, and a tulip cookie cutter for the turkey.  They looked cute and it was so much easier to distinguish which was which.
    I laid the food out once the princesses got to the house.  There were two little girls and Elly.  They danced and pranced around the yard, giggling, little heads together.  I had bought adorable little plastic wine glasses at the dollar store and filled them with Shirley Temples, carefully slicing up oranges to put on the side of the glass, and maraschino cherry on the side.  The little girls faces lit up when I handed them their fancy glasses.

    Everyone had just gone up and filled their plates when it began to mist rain.  I knew it was just going to blow over.  The sky on the other side of the horizon was bright and light blue.  I think the word for what I was feeling is called delusional.  It shortly began to pour.  We grabbed food and shuffled the little princesses into the house.  In through the disastrous laundry room we went and led them into the living room that had looked so much cleaner this morning (until I saw it with fresh eyes).  They sat and ate their slightly damp lunches when what should appear through the picture window but that dirty traitor the sun.  It was at that point that I stupidly tempted fate, "Hey girls it looks like the sun has come back outside, did you want to do your craft outside?"

    We had been out about ten minutes when the light rain began afresh.  Again I thought it would blow over (look up delusional in the dictionary and you will see a dopy looking picture of me waving back at you).  In we ran through the dirty laundry room and back into the not so clean living room.  I vowed to not be fooled again, no matter how sunny and great it looked outside.
    The little girls finished their princess masks that they had started outside, and then big girls helped the little princesses make necklaces.  It was then time for cupcakes and gifts and then it was time for the glass carriages to take the other princesses home.  I gave a cheery wave goodbye to everyone, and then cracked open a cooler.  I had made it through.
    Elly of course acted horrid throughout the party.  She turned deaf no matter what I asked her to do,  a defiant look upon her angelic little face, had there not been witnesses she might have been a little more obliging.  Instead I tried to firmly tell her what she needed to do, only to be met with a stubborn gaze while she did whatever she wanted.  I kept waiting for a wise guy voice like the thugs from the Sapranos use "What are you going to do about it old woman?"   I could hear said without the use of vocal communication.  It is at times like this that I wish I could outfit my children with shock collars, and give them a little zap when they don't listen.  Don't get me wrong, not cruel shock collars, but ones that gave a little gentle zap that would remind them to do what they were told, but alas if you put a shock collar on children, Children's Aid frowns upon that.  I very much wanted to shout in her face, but again I used restraint (man I just can't wait for her to hit the pre-teens it's going to be so much fun).
    Free, that is what I right now, FREE.  I am free of obligations.  Tomorrow I can sleep in, no great hysterical rush to try to clean this rat's nest.  I have nothing that I urgently need to sew, no party's to plan, no wait I do, but that's not for another month, it can wait for the day before.  I have the summer to recharge my batteries and try not to kill the kids.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

The Last Day of School

    Today is the last day of school, I'm mixed on this one.  Today is the very last day that any student will ever again attend Tweed Hungerford Senior School, or S.H. Connor Public School.  Change is inevitable, but that doesn't mean that I have to like it!  I grew up here, I went to those schools, there was pride in walking my kids into those schools and saying "this was Mommy's school too".  Our community has been selected to receive a brand new school.  To make room for the new school, our old schools will be demolished, it's a little sad.   In the end a school like most things is, well just a thing.
    Today is the last day for two months that I have to hustle to get everything ready for the kids to take to school.  Today is the last day for two months that I have to make sure that I have everything done, or drop what I am doing to pick the kids up from school.  In some ways summer spells out freedom, in other ways it spells out the beginning of a whole pile of new work.
    The thing that I love about the summer is how fluid it is.  There are very few "have to's" in the summer (it's the beauty of being an unpaid stay at home mom).  There is no time line.  I like the care-freeness of it.  I hate routines, and school most certainly does push you into one.  The problem with summer, is that for the first few week I become a tyrant.  The kids are used to every single second of their day being accounted for.  They forget how to just think for themselves.  Because they forget how to come up with their own creative ideas for play, they become bored, which in turns leads to fighting, which leads to yelling and ... punishment.  It takes the first few weeks of summer for the kids to re-learn how to be a fun and carefree kid.
    I say that I want the kids to be carefree, but that doesn't mean that I am hands off for the summer.  I like to try to trick them into learning!   I need to plan out fun inexpensive things for us to do.  In past years we have done "dinners of the world".  This is where we spend the week researching a country, and at the end of the week I make a dinner from that country, I try to make it as authentic as I can.  The kids love it.  I'm not sure about it for this summer though because I think I'm tired of it.  I guess we will have a whole new adventure.
    So now I am wrapping all the school things up, I've just made 30 ice cream sandwiches and need to soon start thinking about taking them to the school.  Teachers gifts have been bagged and taken this morning, all that's left is the noise of some super excited kids, and endless plans for summer... wish me luck!

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

2012/ 2013 School Year Screeching To An End

    Today is report card day for the kids.  We will learn who their teachers are for next year.  My brain is  still coming to grips with the fact that we are closing out another school year.  It seems like I was just agonizing about my baby going to school, and she already has a school year under her belt.  I hate to sound like an old mother, but I'm not sure where the time has gone.
    Remember when you were a kid and an hour seemed like an eternity?  Summer holidays felt like they were infinite, that is until Labour Day Week-end.  I remember when my Gabe was born, my very first baby.  My mother looked at me, tears streaming down her face, love glowing from her.  She looked down at me holding that beautiful new baby and told me "It seems like just yesterday that you were that big in my arms, and now you have your own baby."  I did not fully appreciate the wisdom of her words.  It feels like I was just that scared young woman holding her new baby, and yet Gabe should be 18.  All of Gabe's friends are headed off to University or College.  They are setting off on their own, making their own lives.  Part of me feels robbed that I do not get to mourn the loss of that near adult boy heading out on his own, part of me cannot comprehend that.
    The school year is quickly screeching to an end.  I am feeling very contemplative looking at the year that seemed to have zipped by at light speed.  My babies are growing up, and it's all going by so quickly.  Two more years and Gracie will be heading off to high school ... how is that possible?  This was the year that I was going to have so much time.  I was going to write a book this year, now that I had all of that free time with Elly at all day everyday kindergarten.  Spoiler alert, I wrote 20 pages but there was never enough time to write.  I was the stay at home Mom who was never at home.  I over committed to volunteering, there were doctors appointments, class trips and large black holes of lost time.
    Here is what I have learned from the 2012 / 2013 school year, time is not infinite, it is fleeting and slippery.  If you are not careful with it, time can crash like a bad stock investment, never to be recovered.  I need to make the very most of every single fleeting second that I have with my kids, because before I know it, it will be me looking down at their brand new babies, amazed at the passage of time.

Monday, 24 June 2013

I Choose To Count My Blessings

     I know that I have said this before but I am a the glass is half full kind of a girl.  It drives my husband insane (he is a negative Nelly), but that is the only way that I can see my world.  I have too much to be thankful for to dwell on the negative.
    Recently I was having my sacred coffee (I say sacred because I treasure this grown up time I scratch in) with my friends and we were talking about "things".  I admit that there are times that I look at friends that I know, or people I know, and I am jealous of the "things" that they have.  I would love a cottage, a new car, an RV, but all of those things come with a price, and it is a price that at this time in my life I am unwilling to pay.  We all make sacrifices, and we need to decide if our sacrifice is worth the cost.  It is at this point that you may ask yourself what is this idiot woman (that's me) talking about.  I am a stay at home mother.  My husband makes an o.k. wage, not great, not terrible.  It is a sacrifice for me to stay home and not re-join the workforce.  By staying home I am sacrificing "things".  We have an older van,  my house will never be featured in Home and Garden Magazine unless it is one of the "before" pictures.  We have no plan for retirement, at this stage the best that we can hope for is that one of our four children will become wealthy and care for us in our old age, or we should get used to the taste of cat food.  We choose this sacrifice.  For us it is the right decision.  Any money that we could be putting towards our retirement (or bills) goes toward the kids.  We take nice holidays, not extravagant, but memorable.  I would like to think that when my children are adults that they will look back with fondness at their childhood (I have a few years to find out if this theory ever comes to fruition).  At no time will my children ever get a wistful look on their little faces and utter "Man am I glad that Mom and Dad invested in those RSVPs instead of taking us to 6 Flags Great Escape Lodge."  For other people the risk involved in staying at home and not having financial security is too great, and so they sacrifice. The good and the bad of it all is only in your perception.
    The point that I am making is that my happiness or lack there of is dependent upon myself and my choices.  Every decision that has brought me to this point in my life has been made by me.  There have been horrid things along the way that have rocked my carefully crafted world, but I chose how to react to those terrible things.  I did not choose to loose my beautiful son at the age of 9, but I chose to live and to honour him.  I chose to focus on the beauty of the world that he left for us, instead of dwelling upon the unfairness and darkness of it all.
    I choose to count my blessings.  I choose to see the world as a beautiful place that I have the privilege of being apart of.  I have an amazingly wonderful husband who I am blessed to celebrate 20 years of marriage with this August.  I have 5 beautiful children who I love unconditionally and with an open heart.  I have the most amazing, wonderful group of ladies that I am most blessed to call my friends.  I am making my world a better place for myself and for others.  I choose to count my blessings.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

The Middle Aged Woman Who Lived in a Shoe: How To Cook Perfect Asparagus

The Middle Aged Woman Who Lived in a Shoe: How To Cook Perfect Asparagus:     It is that time of year!  That time of year that my local farmers are offering me a sneak peek of amazing things to come.  Very soon...

How To Cook Perfect Asparagus

    It is that time of year!  That time of year that my local farmers are offering me a sneak peek of amazing things to come.  Very soon I will be able to pick local strawberries, but right now many local farms are offering my most beloved asparagus.  I LOVE asparagus.  Asparagus is a tricky vegetable to cook just right.  Through many years of trial and error I think that I have discovered the secret to perfect asparagus.  Let me just say that The Food Network will not be calling any time soon to beg me to host my own cooking show, but I consider myself to be a fair to good cook.

    The first trick to perfect asparagus is picking the right batch.  Some people don't have a preference for the thickness of their asparagus, but I always pick the bunch with the thinest stalks.  I like them to be about the thickness of a pencil.  I also look for them to be a rich dark green, and very firm.

    The next step to perfect asparagus is to cut off woody ends.  The very ends of the stalks are very woody and tough, and you want to make sure that you cut those off.  I like to do a few cuts, because I want the most asparagus I can get.  I keep cutting until I see nice rich green on the bottom.

    I like to keep the elastics on to cut, it keeps everything from going everywhere.  I cut the top slightly longer because they tend to be thinner an more tender and cook faster.  You want every delectable bite to taste the same!  That's why you don't want some over cooked, some under cooked and some just too chewy.

    The next step to perfect asparagus is to boil your pot of water.  I always add about a teaspoon of salt to my water.  When the water reaches a nice rolling boil, it's time for those little green beauties to take a bath.  It's really important to set a timer.  I time mine for 5 minutes.  5 minutes cooks them to a perfect ratio of firm yet tender.  Any less than 5 minutes and they are too crisp for my liking, any more and they get all gross and soft and stringy.  When the bell dings, throw those little green bad boys into a strainer.  
    I prefer to just add a generous dollop of butter, but it also tastes amazing with a squeeze of lemon juice and of course a generous dollop of butter and some salt and pepper.  I have been know to make a late night snack of asparagus.  Christopher and I just sit with a beautiful bowl of steaming hot asparagus and butter.  I know that the butter may take away some of the health benefits of the asparagus, but darn it it makes it taste so good!
    Apart from being extremely delicious, asparagus is also extremely nutricious.  1 cup of asparagus is only 35 calories (that's asparagus without the beautiful golden glow of butter).  That 1 cup gives you 1% of your daily recommended fat intake, 12% of your fiber, 29% of your Vitamin A, 73% of your Vitamin C, 3% of your calcium, 6% of your iron and gives you 5 grams of protein.
   This week end why don't you head out to your local farmers market and give your self a treat, or better yet go for a drive in the country and buy some asparagus from a local farmer!

Monday, 17 June 2013

Riley's Pioneer Bonnet

    Riley and Rowan's class trip this year was to the O'Hara Mills Settlement.  It's a little pioneer settlement that is located about 20 minutes from our home.  We've been there quite a few times and my kids really enjoy it.
A few nights ago I jokingly suggested to Riley that I should make her a pioneer bonnet.  Sadly she took me up on it.

    Last night I sat shaking my head wondering why I was so stupid.  Why had I told her that I would make her a pioneer bonnet?  I scoured the internet, but what I found seemed complicated.  Logic told me that the pioneers would not have created something that was overly complicated, they just didn't have time for it.  Most of them would have sewn their own clothes by hand.  I changed my approach and began to look at "pictures" of bonnets.

    I decided to create a very simple pattern.  I used old Christmas wrapping paper for my pattern.  I really like the Christmas wrap to make patterns because of the size and the thinness of it.  I cut a semi-circle for the main part and then a half moon part for the brim.  I cut it all out and crossed my fingers.

    I will not pretend that my bonnet was authentic.  I know that the pioneers would not have had elastic, but it made my job so much faster and easier.  I sewed an elastic casing along the rounded part.  I then used a darning needle to feed the elastic through.  This was for the back of the bonnet that is gathered.

    After I had sewn the elastic in for the back to create that gathered look, I sewed the brim onto the flat part of my bonnet.  I had cut out two of the half moon patterns for the brim and sewn them together.  I then turned them out and stitched along the edges to give it more strength because I was too lazy to starch it, and plus I didn't have any starch or interfacing.  I folded the finished brim in half to find the middle and then matched it up with the middle of the flat part.

    After I had finished sewing the elastic in and attaching the brim I sewed together some ribbons to keep the bonnet closed.  From beginning to end this project took me about half an hour and the includes creating the pattern.  Researching a pattern took longer than making the pattern and the bonnet.  It was actually pretty easy, and I was really happy with the way it looked.  It was after midnight by the time I had finished, and I just had my fingers and toes crossed that the bonnet would fit Riley.  If you are wondering why if the bonnet only took me about half an hour to make why it was after midnight when I had finished.  Rowan had requested a raccoon frontier hat (you know Daniel Boone).  I had to figure out a pattern for that and then sew it too.
    The next morning I lay in bed and could hear Riley and Rowan searching for their hats.  Riley was quite pleased with her hat.  She ran into the bathroom and declared "I'm ADORABLE!  I look just like an Amish girl!!!!"  One happy customer.  Rowan looked at his hat his face all screwed up.  "This doesn't look like a raccoon cap!  I can't wear this I'll look stupid!"  I'm not sure if he expected me to run out and catch, kill and skin a real raccoon to be authentic.  He had kind of spilled it on me last minute that he wanted a hat, literally last minute, as he was saying good night.  I did my best with the polar fleece that I had in the house.  I thought that it looked pretty good.  It just goes to show that you can't please everyone.
    Riley excitedly showed her teacher her pioneer bonnet.  She felt too embarrassed to wear it at the pioneer settlement like she had planned to.  She said that she "forgot" it in her knapsack, but we both know that she was embarrassed.  That was o.k. to me, I was happy with her original response.  A little while into the morning she got up her nerve and put on her bonnet.  She proudly wore it for the rest of the day.  Turns out the bonnet was a big hit with her friends because several of them have asked me to make them one... hopefully they will forget.

    If you want to make a pioneer bonnet and find my instructions too difficult to follow (like I did with the ones that I saw online) just let me know and I will clarify my instructions so that you too can be crazy and make your child a pioneer hat.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Our New Front Garden

The way the house looks today.

    When we first saw our house 11 years ago we were sold as soon as we drove up to it.  We knew that it was the house for us.  There was something about that called out to us, begged us to make it ours.  That poor house had lived for a while with some neglect.  The previous owners had loved that house, but times had been hard for them.  When we came into possession of the house we made a long list of things that needed to be changed.  We were realistic knowing that it would be a long process to tick everything off of the list.  Before we could make cosmetic changes we needed to make important investments.  The house needed new windows, doors, a new roof, new furnace it needed some intensive TLC.

The house when we first bought it.
    Out front there were railway tie gardens with evergreen scrubs... I hated them.  I took the shrubs out that first spring.  The railway ties were more work, or so I told myself and so I hated them, but let them stay.  Three years ago I took the bull by the horns and took the farthest garden out.  It was hard work, but I did it with a smile on my face.  I replaced it with a Black Lace Elderberry scrub, roses and a stone bench (the stones came from the ground in front of the house when they dug up the yard to put in the new natural gas lines).

The house with the railway ties.

    I had one part of the front of the house looking the way that I wanted it to, but that front railway garden still was a thorn in my side.  I just ignored it until I could do it the way that I wanted.  Like everything in the house it was a slow process and an investment.

    Last summer Christopher found some stones that were from an abandoned rock wall (oh don't worry he got permission before he took them).  I literally danced for joy, they were perfect!  They were exactly what I saw in my head for that space.  I planned it and Christopher laid them for me.  I was delighted with the way that they looked.  The only plant that I could afford to put in last year was a white hydrangea bush.  It sat their lonely for the season.

    Finally the front of the house is beginning to look the way I imagined it when I first saw our little house.  My plan is to create a peony hedge that goes across the whole front of the yard, I add one or two a year.  This year my investment paid off and my four year old peony are gorgeous.  They are just alive with huge pink blooms.   I planted roses and hosta in the rock walled bed.  I like the way it looks, but it will be beautiful in another year or two when they have matured.  My gardens are an investment, both in time and in patience.  I would love to have the available time and funds to have them perfect.  There is something wonderful however in seeing them transform and change (not unlike my children).  
    When I think about the house it feels like we really have not made too many changes.  Then I think about everything that we have done.  We put a new 40 year roof on, new windows; new doors, new furnace; new air conditioner; completely replaced the upstairs bathroom; took up the ugly shag carpet and refinished the amazing hardwood floor that was hidden beneath the ugliness; water-proofed the basement; put in a gas fireplace.  We still have a lot to do to make our home our dream home, but we are on our way.  It's nice to look back at the journey, and to look forward to the future.
    When I think about the future of our home, I am not thinking about resale value.  This is my house.  I LOVE my house.  It's too small, it still needs a lot of work, but it's ours.  This is the first house that we ever owned.  We worked hard to get it.  It's full of our family's memories.  I remember Gabe running excitedly through the house amazed that it was "ours".  His excitement matched our own.  We carried a baby Grace into this house.  We brought Riley, Rowan and Elly home from the hospital to this house.  This is the home that Christopher and I will grow old together in, and it will be as beautiful as our life has been when we are done.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Revenge of the Beach Volleyball

    My bathtub looks very much like a sandbox, the frozen corn that was for tomorrow night's dinner is resting sweetly upon my husband's leg that is sporting a goose egg, and I have taken my fair share of over the counter muscle relaxants, already feeling the premonitions of aches to come.  It was a good night at beach volleyball.
    I signed us all up for a beach volleyball team.   I signed us up because I thought it is a good idea for us to get out and have some fun with friends.  Beach volleyball allowed us to have fun with friends but also get some exercise.  Traditionally my efforts at exercise don't always end so well.  I tore muscles doing tai chi, you know old people's karate. You see the people close to 100 doing slow and graceful movements..  How in God's name do you injure yourself doing old people's karate?  I wrecked my leg doing Zumba.  A smart person would decide that maybe exercise is not for them, but not me (to be clear no one has ever approached me about joining MENSA).  
    I was told that it was a fun "beer league".  To me this means that everyone's just out for a good time, skill is unimportant.  My teammates/ friends and I were all hee hee hoo hooing it up, and then we saw our competition.  Out walked a bunch of kids in slow motion looking like they could have been extras for Bay Watch (ok they weren't really in slow motion, I just said that for dramatic effect, but they were pretty fit).   I was glad at that moment that I had restrained myself and gone against my original idea of getting us all matching team shirts.  As they soundly thrashed us they kept calling out the score "22 -2", "Quit calling out the score, you're making us feel bad!" I shouted at one point.  It was less effective because I was squealing and running away from the ball.  It felt more like dodge-ball than volleyball (only on my part.  My teammates all gave it their all).  We got out butts kicked, but we actually had a lot of fun.  We all looked forward to coming out again.  That was week one!

    The team all arrived game two.  We had really enjoyed the first week, even though we had been handed our butts in a wicker basket.  This week I could see the small flicker of a flame of determination.  I vowed that I would make more contact with the volleyball, and run away less.  Everyone seemed quite pleased with my vow although not believing me.  We stood out on the sandy court waiting for our competition.  Our competition were two ladies who sheepishly told us that the rest of their team had not shown up, could we just split up our team.  We did.  It was a blast!  I still ran away from the ball more than anyone on the team would have liked for me to, but I also made contact a few times.  I was improving!  My husband performed feats of danger as he dove and flipped and put his old man's body into extreme peril.  My poor senile husband has not yet figured out that he is no longer in his early twenties.  I had been thoughtful and warned all of my teammates in advance that they should be aware that Christopher would push their faces into the sand if he thought he had to to get the ball.    Christopher did his aerial dives into the sand.  It was a good night.  At one point I looked over at my children who had come to watch, they were playing with the other children who had come to watch their parents.  Some of them were having what looked like a dance battle.  

        Right now Christopher and my old bodies are shouting at us, but that's o.k.  The fact that our bodies are shouting at us means that we used them.  My kids see their Mom and Dad having fun together, and they see us having fun getting excersise, it's all good.  I'm really glad that I signed us up.  I have no delusions of grandeur I named our team "Last Place".  The Olympic Beach Volleyball team will never be seeking us out to play for Team Canada.  We're out having fun and we're being great role models for our kids.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Homemade Granola

    Right now I am on a big Mother Earth kick.  I like to make my family's food from scratch when I can.  Most times it's more economical and I know exactly what is in their food.  Often the convenience foods have ingredients that are unpronounceable.  If I don't know what they are, should I really be feeding them to my growing children?

    Lately the kids have been harassing me because they don't feel like I have been buying them "good" cereal.  Good cereal to them equals sugar cereal.  Tonight I made a huge batch of granola.  What I like about making my own granola is it's fun, and the kids can get involved.  If the kids are involved in picking out the ingredients  and then mixing them in, then they are more inclined to eat the food.  With homemade granola there is no one recipe.  You can make it as individual as you.

My granola blend is this...

1 bag (3 cups) of rolled oats                                                 2 cups of coconut
2 cups of dried cranberries                                                  2 cups of sliced almonds
2 cups of pecan bits                                                              1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 cup liquid honey                                                            1/2 cup of melted butter                                                            1 tsp vanilla extract

I mix all the dry ingredients in a large bowl.  In a separate bowl I mixed the melted butter and honey and then added the vanilla.  I poured the honey/ butter onto the dry ingredients and thoroughly mixed them together.  I find that just digging in with my bare hands mixes it up the best.

I poured the mixture onto a cookie sheet with higher sides, and put it in a 350 degree oven that I had pre-heated.  Every 5-6 minutes I used a spatula to stir the granola around.  It crisps up really quickly along the edges, so this is a really important step.  Let it cook in the oven for about 20 minutes per batch.  It took me three batches to cook all of the granola.

    The smell of the granola cooking is amazing.  The kids were begging to try it while it was still hot.  It turns out that hot granola with some heated milk is a really tasty treat.  I think for the next batch I will mix things up a little.  Instead of the honey I will use maple syrup, and I will exchange the vanilla extract for maple extract.  I will add in walnut pieces and dried apple and dried blueberries instead of the pecans and cranberries.  Your combinations are only limited by your imagination!

    Try making homemade granola for your family.  It costs less to make it than to by it from the store.  It makes the house smell great, and it's fun to make.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

My Camp Adventure!

    As I sit here writing this my legs are aching and my arms feel like they may fall off if I lift them above my head.  My body is shouting at me just a little.  It's telling me that I'm old and out of shape (it's right).  It's also reminding me that I stepped outside of my comfort zone, and that is actually quite a good thing.  It is also reminding me that sometimes I don't "HATE" the things that I thought I hated.

    Last month Gracie came home excited, "Our class gets to go to a camp for our class trip this year!  I told our teacher that you'd come!"  Her little face was flushed with excitement.  I smiled and acted excited, but inside I was cringing... I am not an outdoorsy girl.  Growing up my family loved to be outside.  They would all be outside from practically dust to dawn, and expected me too also, oh and to enjoy it.  I would have rather been inside reading a book, writing a story, watching t.v., doing practically anything other than being outside.  For years I wondered if I was adopted, it would have explained so much, and yet all I had to do to find the proof of my birth, was to look in the mirror.  When I became an adult I could make decisions for myself.  I chose not to be in nature.  For me it is a treat to go to a nice hotel and live like the other people live.  I would rather be shopping, be watching a good movie, be almost anywhere but outside.  Inwardly I cringed at the idea of camp, but outwardly I gave my best actress performance.
    Each day Gracie would come home excitedly giving me more information about our trip.  "It's light's out at 10:00 Mom!"   "We are all going for a polar plunge at 7:00 a.m."  "Carly and Abby say the cabins aren't all that clean so we will want to bring something to cover the mattress."  I am a bit of a germaphobe.  I am a terrible housekeeper, and I'm o.k. with that because those are "our" germs.  I literally get the heeby geebies thinking about dirty things.  I mentally made a note to myself to bring a can of Lysol disinfectant spray.
    The night before the big trip I made lists of what I needed to pack.  We needed our clothes, jackets, sweaters, bug spray, sunscreen, magazines, snacks, the portable dvd player (for me)..... Could I do this?  I mean we take the kids camping, and I enjoy that.  I kept reminding myself that this would be a great experience.  The next morning Grace and I loaded up the van and went to the school to pick up the other kids... it had already begun to rain.

    We pulled into the camp, the kids in the back seat all excitedly making noise.  We parked the car and were told which cabin was ours.  I walked through the cabin doors and wanted to run back out.  I knew that we would be roughing it, but I had no idea.  It looked like someone's old decrepit barn.  I began to make up reasons why I could go home that would seem convincing.  "I will never sleep tonight!"  I thought while my body convulsed with revulsion.  I pulled out my can of Lysol and began to uber spray my mattress, the wall (I use the term wall loosely), the floor, my mattress again.  I then repeated the process with Grace's area.  My friend who just happens to be the mom of one of Grace's friends borrowed the can to do the same for her areas.
    It rained the whole day.  We set about our activities, rain be darned.  We did team building activities, and the kids who wanted to could to the high ropes activities.  When we were done we all headed back to our cabins, everyone soaking wet to the bone.  I had meant to pack some games but had forgotten.  Luckily this camp was pretty close to home.  I told my friend that I was going home to pick up some games.  I hopped in the car and headed for home.  I got lost several times, but eventually made it there (have I ever shared that I have absolutely no sense of direction).  I arrived home and met my surprised looking husband.  "I'm here for games, oh and a shower, a glorious hot shower.... can you put my hoodie in the dryer for me?"  I am not sure if a shower has ever felt so good.  I literally stood there moaning in pleasure.  I could feel my skin again!"  I dried off, found games and kissed my husband like I was going off to war and may never see him again (the thought crossed through my head ... what it the raccoons and bats teamed up to eat me).  I headed back for camp, but not before making a trip to Tim Hortons!  I got myself a delicious hot coffee and picked up some for the other parents.  Coffee for grown ups is like candy for kids.  If you want someone to be your best friend.... bring coffee!
    After dinner it was free time.  We set up the games and the kids were having fun.  I had brought nail polish with us.  Julie (Grace's friend's Mom) and I set up a little nail salon at the dining hall.  A stream of little girls made their way over giving us their nail requests.  Camo nails were the most popular request.  Even some of the moms and teachers came over for fancy nails, looking sheepishly, but still putting out their nails to be fancied up.  After a little while one of the boys came over "Can I get just one nail done?"  He looked embarrassed, and yet determined.  We did one nail.  Shortly after that we had a line of boys for nail polish.  It was pretty funny.  Still the rain continued.
    After free time it was time for the camp fire.  I am not sure what magic that they used in the rain to keep that fire going, but go it did.  The kids all went out, not seeming to notice the rain.  I stood under an overhang on the deck of the dining hall.  I wasn't going down there, I was already wet!  I stood there watching them, none of them seemed to notice that they were soaked to the skin.  I sucked it up and put on my big girl pants, I walked out from under the overhang and down to the campfire.  Some of the kid's parents had braved the rain and driven over for the campfire.  I stood enjoying talking to them, I began to stop noticing that I was wet.  Children ran around with Smores ingredients excitedly showing their parents their amazing creations.  A smile made it's way to my water soaked lips.  Some of the camp councilors made their way outside with guitars and began a sing-a-long.  I forgot about the rain and allowed myself to be in the moment, to just watch my child's face and take joy in her joy.
    After the campfire we all made our way to our cabins... it was dreaded bedtime.  I stepped into the hydroless cabin, and the waves of repulsion came over me again... I would NEVER be able to sleep in this disgusting place.  Julie and I got the kids all snug in their sleeping bags.  She climbed over to my bunk and we nestled under a blanket, ate snacks and read magazines by flashlight and giggled.  It was like we were 12 again, just like the girls in our cabin.  It was fun.  Around 11:00 we declared the cabin was now a lights out zone (all except for the battery operated night light that I had brought from home). I lay there, fearing a bat flying into my face, but none did.  The little girl beside me, I'm pretty sure had sleep apnea.  She would snore, stop then gasp, and then snore again... I was never going to sleep.  The girl in the bunk above me kept making annoying little moany noises, no I would not sleep tonight, I would just have to be exhausted.  Somewhere in between the snoring gasps and the moany sounds I drifted off.  The next thing I knew it was morning... I HAD SURVIVED!  I lay there warm and toasty under my covers, the outside air freezing.  Shortly after Julie came in, coffee in hand.  One of the blessed parents had made a Tim Horton's run early that morning and had brought back a box of coffee to share!  That person instantly became my best friend.  Julie handed me that glorious coffee "I love you" escaped my lips, even I was unsure if I was saying it to Julie or to the beloved coffee in her little hand.  Maybe I could get through this!
    At breakfast the parents all sat together and acted very much like the children that we were there to chaperone... in other words we were all having fun.  We ate our breakfast and compared horror stories from the night before (the men won hands down... that is all I am saying about that).  We all ate and laughed and then made our way for the days adventure that lay ahead.  Through the night the lashing rain had subsided and become a mere drizzle.
    Our first activity was a canoe ride.  The canoe was HUGE.  All 16 of us fit in perfectly.  I thought that I was so smart sitting at the back, that is until we had to get out, but that story is still to come.  I love to canoe, I stink at it, but I love it.  The little girls in front of me couldn't quite get the hang of the rowing.  I kept shoving my oar in where I could find a space.  At one point the camp councilor began to shout out "stroke, stroke" which was better than the "Oh E Oh, Ohhhhh O, Oh E oh, OHHHHHHHH" that I was shouting in my head.  We paddled up to an island, the kids were so excited for our adventure.  We pulled up and exited the canoe, single file.  There were a few times that I thought I would tip the canoe... but I didn't.  We excitedly explored the island.
    I think that there is a slight that chance that our nature excited camp councilor may have been smoking crack.  He lead us up a rock face.  I immediately began to make jokes about how exciting it would be for the kids to watch the air ambulance pick up Mrs. Lindsay.  I also may have mentioned the fun ghost stories that the later campers could share about my death.  I got up the cliff face with limited difficulty, coming down was a different tale.  I was coming down the rock that seemed like it had been soaked in cooking oil when I lost my footing.  I grabbed for the pine tree (thank God it was there).  I swung not unlike a senior citizen Tarzan.  The Dad in our group just stood laughing at my hysterically, and Julie was so horror stricken that all she could do was watch in horror.  Eventually I let go of the pine tree, and fell.  It seemed like it would be a hundred foot plunge, but the reality was more like a few inches.  I survived the island!!!!!!
    After the canoe ride we made our way over to the rock wall.  I was looking forward to the rock wall.  I am afraid of heights, but Christopher and I had done a trip to an indoor rock climbing wall a few years back for our anniversary.  We loved it.  I was surprised that I could do it!  We approached the large looming rock wall.  Grace's face changed from excitement to fear.  "It will be so much fun.  It's good to do things that scare you!" I told her.  She decided to give it a try.  I coached all the kids. "Rock climbing is about pushing with your legs, not pulling with your arms.  You just use your arms to keep your balance".  I sounded like a know it all expert.  Grace took her turn.  She was so afraid, but she did it, I was so proud of her.  Then came my turn.  I had acted so confident, like I knew what I was doing.  Did I mention that it was raining?  I suited up in the climbing gear, ready.  I took one step onto the first rock, and slid.  I landed on my butt.  I tried a few more times and gave up.  It is something that would have made my family a lot of money on America's Funniest Home Videos if only someone had thought to video tape me.
    At the end of the day, it was a fun trip.  It was a school trip that Gracie will remember for the rest of her life.  Turns out I like nature more than I thought that I did.  It also turns out that the hot shower may very well be my best friend.  When we got home I left everything in the van and took a glorious one hour shower (ok maybe I'm exaggerating).  I'm glad it's done, but I'm glad that I did it.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

The Wine Barrel in Madoc - Making Wine For The Renewal

    When Christopher and I decided that we would celebrate our 20th anniversary by renewing our wedding vows, it seemed so far into the future.  It felt like we had limitless amounts of time to get it all done.  I had lofty (perhaps the correct word is actually delusional) ideas for the fairy-tale beach wedding.  In my fantasy I floated down the sandy isle looking celestial, as everyone gasped at my outstanding beauty (did I mention that in this fantasy I look in my head to be about 20).  Reality is quite a bit different.  I have searched for what feels like an eternity for the right dress.  It just proves my point that they do not make pretty clothes for we the plus sized consumer!  If I wanted to be bedecked in rhinestones and large print flowers in a dress of shiny nylon I could have scored several perfect dresses.  Finally I have found the perfect dress, but because they do not make pretty plus size clothing I have had to purchase a "normal" sized dress and will have it altered by a professional.  

    The easy part of the whole wedding renewal was making wine for the reception.  Back in the end of April I went to The Wine Barrel in Madoc and started a batch of wine.  I went into the back of the store and poured that starter powder into the large white bucket.  That was it!  No measuring, no wondering, just add powder.  Now the job was to let it sit for a month.

    Christopher and I thought long and hard about the wine selection.  We should go with a white and a red wine.  We were prepared to do this, but we don't like white or red wine.  We like the glorified alcoholic fruit punch.  Why were spending that money on something that is in our own honor, that we would not even enjoy?  We began to think about the wedding renewal.  Everything that we were planning was about "us".  We decided to make a wine that was about "us", essentially we went with the alcoholic fruit punch (actually we went with a Sangria Zinfandel Blush).  

    Last Saturday morning Christopher and I made our way over to Madoc to bottle our wine.  I was excited.  I'm not really sure what I expected.  Somehow making my own wine in my head amounted to the I Love Lucy episode where Lucy is in the huge vat stomping grapes.  I had visions of wiping my brow as we filled all those bottles.  The reality was as it usually is was... real.  The process could not have been easier.  I was pretty excited to see that huge bottle of "our" wine (it's called a carboy... are you impressed with my winemaking knowledge).

   We began our wine making journey by cleaning our bottles at the bottle cleaning station.  Our wine making guide (the super nice lady who works there) was cheerful and helpful, and guided us all the way through.  We cleaned the bottles with this nifty little machine, and then we were ready to move on to filling those bottles with that delicious alcoholic fruit punch... I mean wine.

    I have to admit that the pump / wine bottle filling machine is pretty neat.  The whole process went really quickly.  The next step was corking.

   After all of the bottles were corked we got to decide on our shrink wrapper (I say we, but more in the royal sense because "I" picked out the pretty blue wrapper).  There was a huge selection of colours.  Many brides and grooms match their wrappers to their wedding colours.

    The last step in the speedy process was to heat the shrink wrappers in the fancy machine below (take note that the fancy well manicured hands below do not belong to me.  The big tip off should have been how nice they look.  My hands were the ones cleaning the bottle.).  We then boxed the bottles and were ready to go... the whole process start to finish took less than half an hour (I mean the bottling process).

    The traditional white or red wines need to age before you can drink them.  Ours is a fruit /wine and we could drink it right away.  It will get better with time, but tasted pretty darn nice after it had been chilled.  To make our wine took just a few minutes and with purchasing bottles (you can just refill them) it cost us less than $4.00 a bottle to make.
    That afternoon I invited my mother to try some of our wine.  I took out the cork screw, ready for action.  I am such a high class wine drinker that I am unaccustomed to corks, my wines are twist tops.  I twisted that corkscrew into the cork, and then began to pull.  I pulled, but instead of taking off the cork, I somehow pulled off the handle of the cork screw.  I tried to no avail to remove the cork.  Finally I asked my Dad for his help (Christopher had been called out to work).  Dad rigged up some giant pliers and began to hammer up the top of the corkscrew, while I held the bottle fearing for glass shards in my eyes.  Finally after much effort, he did it, and with no glass shards (however I am pretty sure that I would have just strained out the glass shards).  The wine was delicious!
    So now I find myself scouring the Niagara Mist brochure, making a mental list of my friends that might like to go in on a batch so that I can stock my basement with every flavour.  There is a good chance that I may just have found a new obsession!