Friday, 25 April 2014

Strawberry Lemonade

    My kids are always hungry or thirsty.  We go through so much milk that I think we would be smart to just buy a cow for the back yard (is it considered animal abuse to make a cow live in a small tin shed).   It's expensive having this many kids.  I try to cut corners financially where I can, but try not to substitute substance over frugality.  I have discovered a great compromise, strawberry lemonade (oh who am I fooling, that only solves the 'I'm thirsty').  I am not going to sit here and try to tell you how healthy this drink is, it does have some health benefits to it, but it also has sugar in it and honestly I am o.k. with that.  It's better for them than the frozen cans of juice and it costs about the same or less, so I'm in.
    The first part of my strawberry lemonade is making the strawberry syrup.  I buy up bags of frozen fruit when it goes on sale.  I have made this lemonade with both strawberries and raspberries (my next experimentation will be cherries) our family's favourite is the raspberries.  I take a bag of frozen strawberries and put them into a large pot.  I then pour in a cup of sugar and fill water up 3/4 of the way up the pot.  I let this simmer away for an hour or so, or honestly whenever I remember it's there.  I just put it on a low heat to compensate for my forgetful factor.  When I finally remember the strawberries, I turn them off and let them cool.  When they are cool enough to not cause third degree burns I put them into my blender.

    After the blender I put a piece of paper towel into a strainer, put a bowl underneath, and strain away.  It takes a while.  This is a project that you can do at any time.  I have a bottle of strawberry / raspberry syrup in my fridge as we speak.  It really amps up the lemonade.
   Here is my lemonade recipe....

    1 cup of white sugar
    1 cup of hot water
    8 cups of cold water
    1 1/2 cups of lemon juice
    1 cup of the fruit syrup (the stuff we made by boiling sugar and berries)

    I mix 1 cup of sugar with 1 cup of hot water and give it a good stir.  The hot water melts the sugar so there are no bits of grainy sugar in the lemonade.  I then add the 1 1/2 cups of lemonade and the cup of berry syrup.  I stir it all up, then add the cold water.

    When I make this lemonade for company I like to scrub a lemon with hot soapy water, then slice it up and put it in my juice jug, and add some whole berries.  As the day goes on you will want to add water to the mixture because the longer the lemons sit in the mix, the stronger the lemon taste gets.
Lately I have been freezing batches of lemonade in large yogurt tubs.  I put out my gorgeous juice jug, drop the ice block into the top and I can leave it on my kitchen counter all afternoon.  Freezing the lemonade keeps it icy cold but not watered down.  It takes up no valuable fridge space and the kids can help themselves and most importantly I do not have to hear "I'm thirsty, what can I drink?"  

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Coffee House Anniversary

    In Canada 41% of marriages never make it to their 30th anniversary.  Those are disturbing statistics (although slightly better than the 50% our American neighbours report).  If there is a glass half full attitude to this then 59% of marriages will make their 30th anniversary.  When you win a sporting event you get a trophy, when you succeed in your chosen profession you receive accolades.  What do you get if you succeed at marriage?  Well for my parent's ... you get a party.

    The idea for my parent's 45th anniversary party came out of a phone call from my Mom.  My Uncle had dropped off a c.d. of my cousin Bruce singing.  Mom then played it for me over the phone.  "He's good, he's really good"  she said.  At that moment a little light bulb light up in my head.  I could have coffee house themed party for them.  My kids had been practicing their little hearts out for weeks in preparation for their school's talent show.  I could ask several talented family members (and my own little monkey's) to perform.  That is what I did.

    The decor had to be coffee shop style.  I purchased inexpensive table cloths from the local dollar store (although now nothing in a 'dollar' store is actually a dollar).  I borrowed wrought iron bistro tables from family to give it that coffee house feel.  Each table was topped with a table cloth and then a white napkin with a brightly coloured tea light candle holder.  The colour palate was rich brown, cream and bright blue.

    The food and drink were coffee house style too.  I brought in my Keurg coffee maker and baskets full of flavoured coffees and teas.  I filled two of my beautiful drink jugs with southern lemonade and the other with Malibu Sunset with a tag that read "no kids allowed".

    It was a night where the sweet tooth ruled.  A table filled with cookies and cup cakes and woopie pies (you may remember those from yesterday's blog), and chocolate peanut butter cups.  If it was sweet, it was there.  It saved me money having desserts instead of a big meal, and it was in line with the evenings theme.  It also allowed people to eat their dessert first, because dessert was almost the only thing on the menu.

    My parents sat at the front table, eyes glittering with tears of pride in their grandchildren.  They were able to share their love and pride in their grandchildren with their family and friends.  My hammy kids aimed to please and sang their little hearts out.  Each time the crowd of family and friends exploded with applause my kids little faces beamed.  They felt important.  The kids felt important and my parents got to share their love with everyone around them.

    One of my personal highlights was being able to check a big item off of my bucket list... "sing in public".  I love to sing, but have always lacked the courage to do it in front of anyone other than my kids and husband.  I think that is why I really encouraged my kids to perform.  Through their courage I could live my dreams.  I decided to do something that really scared me, I sang in public.  I kept talking myself through it with the mantra of "It's friends and family, they love you, it's friends and family, they love you, it's friends and family, they love you."  I practiced singing for weeks.  Every wrong note, everything less than perfection I rethought my decision.  I practiced until my throat was raw.  Finally the big moment came.  I stumbled onto the stage, trying to make eye contact with no one.  I sang.  I could not tell you honestly if I did well or not, but I made my Mom cry, and I did something that I desperately wanted to do but was always to scared to try.

     In the end the evening was a success.  My parents loved it.  The kids performed my professionally trained cousin Fiona (you may remember her from my Rocky Horror Picture Show Blog) sang and was accompanied on the guitar by her very talented husband Kevin.  The kids each performed three songs / acts.  Riley did her hula hoop act from the talent show, and played her guitar and sang.  I checked a huge item off of my bucket list.

Being the proud Mama that I am, I thought I would share the kid's talent show performances with you.  These are the acts that they performed for the coffee house.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Woopie - It's Woopie Pies

    We first came upon the "Whoopie Pie" on vacation in Lancaster County in Pennsylvania.  It was at a little Amish place.  Both the Pennsylvania Dutch (who really weren't Dutch at all, but instead German.  German's call their country Deutschland.  That part of Pennsylvania had a large number of German immigrants.  To their English neighbours Deutschland, sounded like "Dutch Land".  This is where Pennsylvanian Dutch got it's name.) and New Englander's alike both lay claim to originating the the Woopie Pie.  Legend has it that the reason they are called Woopie Pies was because when children would get them in their lunch pails they would shout "Woopie".  Whatever the origin, where ever the name came from they are delicious!

    Since that first taste of Woopie Pie, I have searched for a good recipe.  I finally stumbled upon not only a really good recipe, but an easy recipe.  I found it, where else but my glorious Pinterest (did I mention that I am addicted to Pinterest).  I am including a link to the cleaver lady that I stole this great recipe from.  This recipe has now become a family favourite!

    I started with Betty Crocker Devil's Food Cake boxed cake mix.  I added three eggs, 1/2 cup of vegetable oil and 1/2 cup of water... easy!  I blended it up the same way I normally would for a cake mix.  When it was all mixed I dropped batter onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.  I used my small Pampered Chef scoop to ensure that the batter was all uniform, or as uniform as I could get it.

    I baked them in a 400 degree oven that I had preheated for about 45 minutes.  They bake for just 7 minutes.  I had three pans going, one to cool, one for just out of the oven and one with batter waiting to into the oven.  
    I discovered the hard way that the woopie pies are sticky little devils.  After my first nightmare batch that all stuck to each other, I put about 1/4 of icing sugar onto a plate.  By letting them sit face down in the icing sugar, it not only made them look pretty, it stopped them from sticking.

    My first batch of woopie pies, I followed the directions from the blog and used butter cream icing.  I love butter cream icing, but it was so thick.  I decided to experiment, and that experimentation led to a delicious experiment, creamy icing.

    I whipped a package of powdered dessert topping according to the package directions.  I just used no name brand and it cost $3.50 for a box that contained four envelops of topping.   When the dessert topping was mixed, I put it to the side.  I then mixed 1/4 cup of vegetable shorting and 1/4 cup of room temperature butter together.  I added 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract and 2 tablespoons of cream (milk will also do the trick).  Last but not least, two cups of icing sugar.  When the butter cream icing is ready, I carefully mix in the dessert topping.  The result is creamy goodness that I easily spread onto the cookie/ cupcake top using an icing knife.

    With the creamy icing the woopie pies taste a little like Jos Louis, oh so tasty.  They are a big hit at my house, and the kids beg for them in their lunches.  My guys also say "woopie" when they see them in their lunches.
    The one cake mix made all of the above woopie pies.  That is 28 pies in total!

Saturday, 19 April 2014

The Tweed Flooding

    I was prepared to write today's blog about our vacation.  Somehow it just felt wrong to talk about our amazing vacation when my friends and neighbours are in crisis.  This winter was a very tough winter.  We had more snow than I can ever remember.  It was cold and it was tough, and I breathed a sigh of relief when it finally began to melt.  Unfortunately snow is frozen water, which means that when the warmth comes, the snow returns to it's watery form.  

    Almost every single year the water at our local park/ lake finds it's way up to the playground.  Most years the little guys soccer is either rescheduled or relocated due to the soccer pitch being flooded.  None of us think too much about it, it's just part of the spring thaw.  This year has been different.  Our community and communities around us have declared a state of emergency.  Many of the local roads are posted with  yellow "Flooded Road" signs.  There are people being evacuated from their homes.  

    I wanted to do something to help, but I didn't know what I could do.  I offered to share our home with good friends of ours, but what else could "I" do to help?  Our municipality began making a plea for volunteers to help fill sandbags... I could do that.  I think that I have shared this view before, but I'm going to share it again.  I feel compelled to help others in crisis.  It's not because I am so good, my sainthood is on a permanent hold.  We have insurance for our home, incase something happens to our home.  We have insurance on our car incase we have an accident.  We have insurance on our very lives incase something terrible should happen.  We pay hundred of dollars every year for "just in case".  I think of helping my neighbours as insurance.  If we all lend a hand when a community member needs it, then when it's our turn, and we need help, our community will rally around us.  I assure you that the latter insurance is the cheapest premium of them all.

    Thursday morning my friend Theresa emailed me and asked if I wanted to go and sandbag with her. This was something that I had been thinking about doing, and now I would have company.   I put my gear on and headed over.  I had decided before I went that I would give one hour of my time.  I have chronic pain as a result of our car accident.  I have to think ahead what I can physically do before hand so that I do not exacerbate my injuries.  It is of no good to anyone for me to give my time to help others while killing and injuring myself. 

    When I arrived at the public works there was a school bus parked along the road.  Local high school students had volunteered their time to help.  As I looked around at all of the faces, majority of them were Tweed Kids.  At first I began by tying sandbags that others had already filled.  I then held the bag while my friend Theresa (what an amazing girl she is) tirelessly shoveled the sand into the bag.  I tied, she moved the filled bag, and we began the cycle again.  We got into a good rhythm fill, tie, move, fill, tie, move.  It became very obvious to me that she is indeed a farm girl, an exceptionally strong, farm girl.  We weren't there long when another friend came along and began to help.  In that hour we as a group went through two huge piles of sand.

     While we were filling sandbags, pick up trucks would arrive to fill their truck beds with sandbags.  Their faces looked tired and worn.  Many times they would drive away with some of the high school boys in their vehicles to help them unload and pile.  My back ached (I'm so out of shape) as I hunched in the unfamiliar position to hold the bag, but my heart felt filled.  I was doing something small, that took very little of my time, that did not exaggerate my chronic pains.  I was giving so very little, and yet I was giving to my community, my community who needed my help.

    After I had finished my hour, I jumped in my van and drove around to see the destruction.  I was near tears as I saw homes that were being destroyed.  The water was up to the bottoms of some people's windows.  The water was claiming them for it's own.  Even if their insurance covers the damage, they will be months cleaning up, trying to put their lives back in order.  Many have been displaced from their homes... they are homeless.  Many of  those people are elderly, many have small children.  I drove through water so deep that I feared that it would effect my van.  It made me appreciate my warm, dry home.  The safety I was returning to.

    I took a few pictures of the destruction, but it felt obscene to me.  I was taking from those who were in pain.  I was capturing their pain, gawking at their damage, while I was going home to a dry home.  They were laying awake nights terrified of what would greet them when they awoke.  Good friends of ours own the local motel. The water has crept up to their  front stairs and is threatening to invade their home, destroying everything in it's path.  This is not just their home, but their livelihood.  I know that they have been awake checking their home / business. I know that they are living in fear.  They were told that sandbags would do nothing to help them, all they could do was watch the water gradually intrude, and devastate.  
    I gave my time to help, I plan to help again.  I say this not because I am looking for recognition, not because I need a pat on the back.  I say this because I want to share how easy it is to do something.  Volunteering need not be painful.  It's a matter of finding something that suits you, and your skills.  I did so very little, and yet a made a difference.  Not only did I make a difference, I felt amazing for giving such a little bit.  

   I have included a link to a recent Global news cast. It does not properly do justice to the destruction, neither do my pictures.

    I am also including a link to the Municipality of Tweed's website, and included the latest press release for my local readers.

The Park Place Motel

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Our Family Vacation - Old Cape Henry

    There is something to be said for walking the path of history.  Walking on the same ground that others came before you.  I always like to try to include some history on our vacations.  Mainly because I am a big history nerd.  This vacation we visited Old Cape Henry in Virginia Beach.

    Cape Henry is just a few miles from our hotel in Virginia Beach.   I don't know why but I have a thing for lighthouses, they fascinate me.  I went for the lighthouse, but left with the history.  Let me say that I am impressed.  To get to Old Cape Henry you have to travel on to the Fort Story military base.  We pulled up to the guard posts and had Christopher had to show his driver's license and proof of insurance (I get the driver's license but the proof of insurance baffles me).  Stoney faced young men dressed in blue and grey camouflage signaled us through.

    Cape Henry is the first light house built in the "United States of America".  When I say that I mean that it was the first one built after the United States won their war of independence.  It was authorized by George Washington himself and overseen by Alexander Hamilton.  George Washington stood where we stood.  He hand picked the first lighthouse keeper.  For almost one hundred years it kept the boats on the Chesapeake Bay safe.

    The admission to climb the lighthouse was $8.00 for adults, $5.00 for those 12 and under.  I was not so certain that I would indeed climb said lighthouse stairs, but the money goes to the preservation of this  beautiful heritage site.  As we climbed what seemed like the thousand stairs to get to the lighthouse, my legs were burning.  Half way up as I clung to the metal railing I decided that I would most likely not be climbing up to the top of that lighthouse.  I am both afraid of heights and of small spaces, and I was pretty sure that Cape Henry had both.

    Christopher took the kids up to the top.  I stayed at the bottom.  I was serenaded by a mockingbird.  I have always wanted to see a mocking bird and this trip afforded me both hearing and seeing one.  It's song was beautiful.  I sat in the warmth of the sun looking down at the beauty of the Chesapeake Bay.  As I sat there occasionally I heard the rat a tat tat of machine guns, reminding me that I was on a military base.  Surprisingly it did not detract from the beauty around me.  I sat there, basking in the beauty and thinking about the sights that this lighthouse had seen.  It saw a new country formed, and it saw brother fight with brother during the civil war.  It bore witness to those freed slaves gain the same rights as those who were once their masters.  There it stood it's vigil, lighting the way through the darkness.

    In 1881 the "new Cape Henry" was built.  The Old Cape Henry lighthouse was deemed unsafe, cracks were appearing in it's brick work.  There it still stands atop it's hill of sand.  The new lighthouse (although it seems funny saying that something that has been in operation since 1881 is "new") is still used by the military.  It still lights the way for the ships on the Chesapeake Bay.  

Monday, 14 April 2014

Our Family Vacation - The Virginia Air and Space Center

    This past Christmas we gave a family gift of a one year membership to the Toronto Science Centre.  We decided that the membership had almost paid for itself on the first visit.  We could return to the science centre as many times as we wanted to this year.
It was a really great gift, but I did not entirely know how great until I read the fine print.  Our membership not only allowed us to visit the "Toronto Science Centre", but 300 other science centers in North America!  WOW!


    On the third day of our Virginia Beach vacation the weather was cool and looked like it might rain at any time.  We decided that it would be a good day to explore the area of Virginia Beach.  We looked at taking the kids to the Aquarium, but then we remembered our Science Centre membership.  Grace checked her ipod and found the list of science centers that we could visit.  One of those was the Virginia Air and Space Center in Hampton, Virginia.  It was not too far from Virginia Beach, so we decided to make it our destination, and we found out how smart we were.

    The Virginia Air and Space Museum is endorsed by NASA, you know the people to send astronauts into space.  I was impressed just walking in through the doors.  Suspended from the roof were dozens of full sized airplanes from the different aviation ages.  It was amazing!

    It was amazingly hands on.  There were exhibits that were hands off,  but there were even more hands on exhibits.  The kids were delighted to be able to explore and touch and learn.  We picked a great day to go because it was really quiet.  We were able to leisurely explore and enjoy without having to fight off crowds of other people.  That is my kind of day!

    Below is a picture of Christopher and the kids sitting on the wing of an old plane.  Your eyes are not deceiving you, and I am not one of those idiot parents who allows their children to climb all over things that they have no right to be touching.  That was the seating for a mini movie about the history of flight.  It was only a few minutes and held the kids attention while educating them.  It was such a neat way to see a movie.

    The kids could explore a full sized a fighter jet and a full sized commercial airplane.  They excitedly climbed up the stairs to explore.  They had fun sitting in the seat, pretending to fly a plane.

    Not only could they "fly" a plane, they could be air traffic controllers.  They each took their turn guiding planes onto the runway.  A mini movie guided them through the correct arm gestures.

    The most fun part of our day was hands down the funniest.  There was a station that allowed you to make paper airplanes.  It gave step by step instructions as to how to fold three different types of paper airplanes.  It also explained why each one worked.

    When the planes were finished there was an area that you could fly your plane to test it's flying ability.  There were even target circles that you were to try to aim for.  My plane looked pretty good, but did not fly so well.

    Christopher's plane looked like a piece of origami that was created by a blind person with no fingers. Suffusive to say, his plane flew as good as it looked.  We all laughed until we were in tears and had stomach cramps.  We stayed there for almost three quarters of an hour, doggedly trying to make an airplane that flew.  It was not long into our quest that this little boy of about 6 came over and made a perfect airplane on his first try.  He then attempted to show us his techniques.  We had him in stitches as well, and in the end he just shook his head because we were beyond help.

    For me the star exhibit was the Apollo 12.  It is the actual Apollo 12 that landed on the moon in 1969.  You could peer into that small compartment and see the way those first astronauts made their way back home.  I got claustrophobia just looking at it.  I was seeing actual history!

    The weight of what we were seeing was lost on the kids.  I kept saying to them "That actually was on the moon!", they would roll their eyes like it was no big deal.  I am still in shock that the gravity of that passed them over.  It is not every day that you can say that you have seen a piece of actual history, or that you have seen with your own eyes something that has been on the moon.  I am shaking my head while I write this, still baffled by their ambivalence.

    They also had a piece of moon rock on display.  Again it's gravity was lost on my modern jaded children. 

     We had an amazing day!  We shared laughs, I was awed, and shook my head at my kids lack of awe.  It was a great day, and best of the best it was FREE!  Our family's Christmas gift granted us more knowledge.  If you have a science centre near you, I strongly urge you not to just visit it, but to purchase a membership.  I now know why they say that "membership has it's privileges".

                                           Admission Prices
Active Military/NASA/
Riverside Employees
$ 9.50
$ 10.50
IMAX (45 min) 
$ 9.00
$ 7.00
$ 8.00
Full-length IMAX (90+ min) 
Combo 1

Exhibits & IMAX (45 min)

Combo 2

Exhibits & Full-length
IMAX (90+ min)