Wednesday, 18 December 2013

In Case You Think Your Christmas Isn't Perfect

We are all heading into that final week before Christmas arrives.  All of the things that I did in late November/early December to avoid that last minute Christmas rush don't seem to matter when there are STILL things on my to-do list, but I'm glad that I got as much done as I did back then or I'd be wearing a straight jacket right about now.
 
I told Andrew that I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Christmas.
 
I.  Must.  Learn.  How.  To.  Do.  Christmas.  Easier.
 
Please grant me some grace - I avoided making homemade things (except the baking) like the plague this year, I struck things off my to-do list that just aren't going to get done and I haven't shed a tear over one single strike.
 
But when you're in charge of music at church at Christmas......well, it's demanding.  So is work.  Home.  More work.  School programs. 
 
Ben and I went shopping last night for the gifts he wishes to give.  Last year went a little smoother than this year.  We nattered at each other crossly for most of the outing.  We finally sat down over fries and gravy and could hardly look at each other.  He was the grown up when he shrugged his shoulders and said "I'm SOOOO tired".  I was too.  We confessed and left the crankiness behind us. 
 
And all is well.
 
So I was thinking about the merciless to-do lists and the inspiring-but-ever-so-discouraging-Pinterest posts that make one think that every corner of the house has to be picture perfect in order for Christmas to arrive properly.
 
And...........I think I'm brave enough to do this......
 
.........I thought I'd let you peek into Christmas 1992 in Maureen's world.
 
Ahem.  It wasn't picture perfect.

 
Back in 1992, Dean and I were friends and nothing more.  We both hung out with a group of 10-12 other young adults - they were all married and in spite of our singleness, we somehow fit in in our own independent ways. We all had music to tie us together.  These friends - we made some sweet music, let me tell you!  So many good memories.  We were family, we were friends, we loved, we squabbled now and then, but at the end of the day we had friendship of the nicest sort.
 
(I haven't asked any of these friends for permission to post their picture.  I may be sued.)
 
Anyway, one December night in 1992, Janelle told me that her husband, Byron, was going to the bush to cut down a Christmas tree.  Oh!!!  How I'd love a tree!  This was long before I ever had money to buy an artificial one and I had grown up on a farm where trees were plenty but I didn't have time to go to the farm to get one either so wouldn't it be nice if Byron could bring one home for me too?!! 
 
So, I asked Byron if he would mind bringing one home for me, too, and he graciously replied that he'd be happy to do that.
 
It was a Saturday.  I waited all day for them to get back to the city.  Couldn't wait for the arrival of this tree!!!!
 
Finally, they pulled into the parking lot of my apartment building.
 
Oh boy!!!
 
They walked up the sidewalk with big Christmas smiles!
 
I can't wait!!!  A real tree of my own, delivered to my doorstep!!!
 
And then they produced THE TREE.
 
I smiled.
 
Sort of.
 
Then I gave a little giggle....."is this it?"  I remember wondering.
 
Actually, I remember thinking that it must be a practical joke.
 
But Byron kept smiling that million dollar smile of his as he joyfully handed over THE TREE.
 
And I graciously accepted it.
 
Yes.......graciously......reluctantly, er, graciously, indeed.
 
I'm thinking that that evening, these friends came over to help me decorate THE TREE after a banquet that they had to sing at.  I don't remember that part ...... but pictures don't lie.
 
Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you (TA-DA) THE TREE of 1992.
 
 
"THE TREE"
See how we had to tie it to the wall to get it to, um, stand up, uh, straight?
It was, er, firmly planted in probably the only available plant pot that I had.  High tech, I tell you.
But look at Byron's million dollar smile - who could refuse a tree from this long haired hippy musician gem of a gentleman!


Again, the pictures don't lie - they must have stayed to help me decorate the whole blessed tree.  How's that for good friends?  Love of the best kind!

I'm giggling - look how pathetic the tinsel looks.  Trying to fill in the gaps.  TRYING!!!
And the garland, bravely trying to pull the whole thing together.
Five red satin balls.  FIVE!!  I remember how proud I was of those satin balls - they were high fashion for Christmas trees....in 1992.
 

What does one do when one has a tree like THE TREE at Christmas?  Why invite more friends over, that's what!

I remember Elisa trying to hold back a giggle when she entered the living room.

A couple of other noteworthy things about this photo - this was my very own apartment that I lived in by myself.  Six years of my life were lived there and I was always proud that I had lived alone because you learn a lot of things about yourself when you are the only company you have.  Dean and I eventually courted here.  I made friends with my neighbor and we loved each other dearly.  I had a dog (hi Fluffy!) and the TV on the left was my very first COLOR TV that I bought BRAND NEW at Zellers.  It wouldn't fit into my little car and some nice Hutterites offered to deliver it to my home for $10.00.  I refused, we persisted and the tv eventually fit.

Anyway, my tree wasn't perfect but it was given to me with great affection and made THE BEST memories that year.  Perhaps the lesson to learn is that perfection is over-rated and bland? 

Quick recipe to share tonight - a new and very easy favorite that I will repeat.

Creamy Salmon Penne

3 cups penne pasta, uncooked
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
450 gram package of salmon fillets cut into bite sized chunks
3 green onions, thinly sliced
3/4 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup milk
1 250 gram tub of Dill Philadelphia Cream Cheese

Cook the pasta in salted water.

Meanwhile, sauté garlic in olive oil until soft.  Add salmon chunks and stir fry until lightened in color (desired doneness).  Stir in the tub of cream cheese, chicken broth and milk and stir together/melt until well combined.  Drain the pasta and add to the fish/sauce pan.  Stir to combine and serve!

Make some happy memories this Christmas!

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Christmas Baking 2013

Yesterday was my big baking day for 2013!  I got up early(ish) for a Saturday and had myself rolling by 9:30.  No breaks for this gal, although my energy did start to lag right around supper time....and I did beg for help around eight o'clock when it was time to put these treasures in the freezer.  Around that time, I turned to Dean and said "we're not going to have room for these in the freezer, are we?"  I thought I'd get that out there in the open .... before he told me the same fact. 
 
Aaaand, having said that, I'm not going to elaborate on WHERE I STORED THE BAKING. 
 
Ahem.
 
Let's just say it's safe.  And frozen.
 
 
See! 
Pardon the browning bananas, two random apples, PS2 controller, mini speaker set, cell phone, and too many cd's.  Aren't islands a good thing?


Anyway.

Now that the baking is done and the shopping is pretty much done, I should be pretty close to ready for Christmas 2013.  I can't say that I have been completely successful with "Operation:  Avoid Becoming Captain Grumpy-Pants".  There have been some moments where it seems like everything I did in advance to ease the stress didn't do a blessed thing to prevent the inevitable stress but I think I'm still ahead in the long run.

I had some moments of inspiration the other night on what to do to decorate the living room.  Keep in mind that I live in a house with two teenaged boys - when asked "remember my snowman collection?  Should I put it up again?" - they are most likely to yawn and reply "don't bother".  Harumph. 

But I decorated anyway.

However, we have a little problem with the nativity.


The members of the cast are having a hard time keeping themselves in line for their performance.

It's a beautiful hand carved set that I think is from somewhere far away.  Of course, that is supposition on my part at this point.  I thought that I scored pretty big when I saw this on a second hand table a few years ago for $10.00

However....


There are four animals.  Maybe the two in the back are sheep. 
But these two guys at the front?  I'm guessing that they are donkeys? 
.....but I think he looks more like a rhino....
.....and I don't think there were any rhinos in the stable in Bethlehem....
 
 But we have another issue...


I think these guys are sleepy.
Or maybe imbibed on too many fermented grapes on the trip in.
They can't seem to find their feet.



These two are taking their role very seriously.
But the guy in the back has fallen and he can't get up.
I don't think the other two fellas are very pleased with him.
They look angry.


Come to think of it....

I'm having a little bit of a hard time deciphering who's who.
We always assumed that there were 3 wise men, and I realize that is open for debate and probably scripturally inaccurate.
But was it really necessary to send 5 wise men?

And is this Joseph?  Mary?  Or a shepherd?
Or are some of the above wise men actually shepherds with really important looking hats?
It's rather hard to tell if there's a Mary to be found....after all, they're all in a skirt...of sorts.



And please, I mean no disrespect, but I thought Mary wrapped the Babe in swaddling clothes.  This poor baby appears to be, um, unclothed and unswaddled.
In fact, if I had to venture a guess I'd say he's making snow angels.
Snow angels in the stable....now that's a new thought.

The camels, however, have got it together.
My, they are mighty fine looking camels.



So I've just decided that regardless of who's who, they all need to be in the stable around the Babe. 
They can sort it all out between them.
"I want to be a wise man."
"Shh, you're a shepherd, for crying out loud.  We've rehearsed this a million times."
"Where's Mary?"
"She's IN THE BATHROOM!"

She's probably trying to find a quiet place to get away from all of these men, having just given birth and all.

All in all, I'm pretty pleased with my little nativity.

....and we have another jumper.....
...and the tree fell down....again.


I think I'll just leave them alone for now.  I'm sure they've got this nativity gig under control.


Wanna know what I baked?
1 batch of butter tarts
1 pan of Nanaimo bars
1 batch of gingerbread cookies, decorated by the fabulous Ben and mama
1 batch of tourtiere hand pies*
1 pan of those seven layer bars that start with graham wafer crumbs and end with sweetened condensed milk and have a variety of layers in between.  Love this year's recipe which included mini marshmallows
1 batch of whipped shortbread cookies (have to confess, not my best batch but they'll do)
1 batch of hazelnut Lintzer cookies*
1 batch of Candy Cane Kiss Shortbread bars*
1 batch of Lemon Sugar Cookie tarts*
1 loaf of Caramel pull apart bread*

The titles with a star* are new recipes that I tried this year.  A couple of them were easy to cut and paste so I'll share the recipes for the Candy Cane Kiss Shortbread bars and the Lemon Sugar Cookie tarts.


Candy Cane Kiss Shortbread Bars - THESE ARE A HUGE HIT!

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup brown sugar

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1/8 salt

1/2 cup macadamia nuts, chopped

2 (10-oz) bags Hershey's Candy Cane Kisses

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 F. In an electric mixer, combine the flour, sugar, butter, vanilla, and salt. Press the mixture into the bottom of a greased 13 x 9 pan. Spread the chopped nuts evenly over the crust.

Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven.

Place the unwrapped candy cane kisses in a blender or food processor and pulse until roughly chopped. Spread the candy pieces evenly over the hot crust/nuts layer. Allow to sit until the heat from the crust has melted the candy. You may need to use a spoon to evenly spread the melted candy. It doesn't need to be smooth, just make sure all of the crust is covered.

 Allow to cool in the refrigerator until the candy has hardened and set back up. Cut into bars. Eat and enjoy!

 Recipe Notes:

The recipe creator says that she experimented with several ways to spread the candy on the crust. Spreading the blended pieces was the best way to keep the pretty swirly effect of the candy cane kisses, while getting even coverage. Melting the candy beforehand then pouring over the crust will result in a solid pink candy layer, rather than the swirled effect. Also, when cutting the bars, make sure your knife goes all the way to the pan and your cuts are clean. Otherwise the candy layer will separate when trying to remove the bars.



Lemon Sugar Cookie Tarts

Ingredients

For the crust:

8 Tablespoons (115g) unsalted butter, softened

½ cup (100g) granulated sugar

1 egg

1 and ½ cup (190g) all-purpose flour

scant ¼ teaspoon baking powder

pinch salt

For the lemon filling:

2 eggs

3 egg yolks

¼ cup whipping cream

juice from 1 large lemon

¼ cup granulated sugar

For topping

4 Tablespoons powdered sugar, divided

½ cup whipping cream

Instructions

To make the sugar cookie crust, in a standing mixer (or by hand) beat the butter and granulated sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes oh high. Add the egg and mix on medium until fully incorporated. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt all at once and mix on medium just until no spots of flour remain, about 20 seconds (do not overmix). Wrap the dough in parchment paper and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a mini muffin tin with butter or cooking spray.

While the oven is preheating, make the lemon filling by whisking together the eggs, egg yolks, whipping cream, lemon juice, and granulated sugar until smooth.

Remove the cookie dough from the refrigerator. Divide the dough into quarters and divide each quarter into six even balls of dough. Press each ball of dough it into a space in the muffin tin. Using your thumbs, press the dough into the tin so that it is evenly distributed along the sides and bottom. (Don’t worry if it is a bit thinner in some places than others.) Pour the lemon filling into the center of each sugar cookie cup, stopping just below the top of the crust.

Bake until the filling is set and the crust begins to turn golden, 10-12 minutes. (Do not over bake – pull the tarts out just when you see any golden color on the crusts.) Allow these to cool completely at room temperature. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Before serving, dust the tops of the tarts with 2 Tablespoons of powdered sugar. Beat the whipping cream with the remaining 2 Tablespoons of sugar until stiff peaks form. Pipe or spoon the whipping cream on top of each tart. Serve chilled.
 
Mine are frozen and I'm hoping that they will keep their nice texture when thawed.
 
....I'll probably eat them regardless.....
 
 
I know that Christmas baking isn't for everyone and none of us need the extra sweets in our diet.  However, for me, it's tradition and it's the day that I look forward to the most, out of all of the Christmas activities that I put on my list.  I think that's probably because being in the kitchen is therapeutic for me and giving myself a day to spend puttering in the kitchen is, in reality, giving myself a day of self care with some sweet treats as the end result.
 
Happy 17 Days Till Christmas!

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Driven

I am on an absolute and complete mission this Christmas - to not become Captain GrumpyPants by Dec. 25.  Christmas is busy for everyone so there's no pity to be sought here, but, sheesh, some years there is just so much to do that by Christmas morning all I want for Christmas is a nap.

Thus, "Operation Christmas Organization" was put into place for myself this year.  Think ahead, plan ahead, achieve, accomplish, arrange.

And as of today, I'm officially sick of myself.

Grin

Yup. 

Note to self:  JUST STOP IT.  Stop thinking!

I think I know what therapy I need tonight.....Season One, Episode Two of The Partridge Family.  I watched Episode One last night and reacquainted myself with the whole family, dog and Reuben Kincaid included.  My but that Shirley Jones looks barely old enough to have borne five children and she sure picked up 'millions-of-record-sales' singin' awfully fast.  All that in 23 minutes.  From a bank teller to a music star, driving her own bus to Vegas.  23 minutes flat.  Wow.  And I've been doing music for years.  I have yet to own a multi colored school bus capable of touring me and my family, complete with music instruments and a dog, all over the country.  I must be doing something wrong.

I do acknowledge that some of you (KELLY?) will probably have a little giggle at my expense.  A grown woman of the 21st century, still entertained by The Partridge Family!  Yes, I am a geek. 

You might also be interested to know that my personality swings on a wee bit of a pendulum.  I can be a confident public speaker/leader and yet the social scenario of attending a garage sale intimidates me to the moon and back.  There is no social situation more awkward than pulling up in front of someone's driveway, their garage door open, stuff spread out on their makeshift tables inviting me to peruse and purchase and make them happy.  I hate the whole scene, and could happily drive right on by....except I DO like a good deal and I DO like to see your junk.  I'd just like to do all that without you watching me and, really, I probably won't actually buy your junk and if I do, I just might offer you more than you're asking, I'm kinda funny that way, too.

My personality quirks know no bounds - my house is often chaotic and cluttered.  However, when taking an egg from the egg carton in my fridge, there is an absolute order in which to do so.  The first egg should be removed from the front row of the back two eggs.  The second egg should be taken from the front row of the first two eggs, thus creating a perfectly balanced carton at all times.  None of this willy nilly egg selection for me in my house.  Everything (in my egg carton) has its' place.

Getting back to my Partridge Family watching quirk, I can get quite melancholic about things from the past that hold strong memories for me.  For the longest time, the theme song to the Mary Tyler Moore Show could easily induce a lump in my throat simply because it reminded me so much of watching TV in a little farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by my parents and sister.

Perhaps the egg carton isn't the only thing in danger of being slightly off balance.

So much sorrow here lately, this year even.  Five of my Facebook friends have departed from this world in 2013.  I'd give a lot to have them back. My melancholy pops up over this fact a lot too.  Some days I struggle not to live in fear that I'm the next one - that my headache is the sign of something more serious, that my kids in someone else's car outside of my careful watch is a sure recipe for a major (and I mean MAJOR) disaster, that my drive to get my Christmas things done means that I'm banking my resources so that when calamity strikes Dec. 12 (or thereabouts?) I'll be 'ready for it'.

If only I could carefully control every event so that nothing goes all willy nilly, like the well arranged eggs in my carton.

Seems, though, that as Janet would say about many things in life - "it is what it is" and it's probably best if I just settle myself down and live in the moment.  And if a little Partridge Family helps me find my balance, then it shall be so.  ;)

When Janet died Feb. 1, I had this compulsion to create something in her honor.  I had to do it and I had to do it in the moments of my fresh grief.  Given that her death didn't follow her recent life pathway (she died in a car accident, having recently beaten cancer) - my mind went to lessons that I had learned from her during her fight against cancer.  The word COURAGE shouted through my mind and I put my heart and hands towards creating this little thing in her memory.  I knew right away that it would go on my Christmas tree this year and that it will be part of our annual sentimental Christmas tree tradition for as many years as God gives me to honor and remember her. 

As if I could forget.

I initially stitched the words in honor of how I saw her face her cancer battle - with great and deep courage.  Not to say that she didn't have fear - I know that she did.

But I've come to realize that this would probably be her word TO ME too.  If she could whisper one last thing into my ear, I'm quite sure that she would tell me to carry on; that in regards to my sorrow - "it is what it is"-you-can't-change-that-so-keep-moving-on.  So even in my moments where I just simply haven't wanted to move on, I've known that the best way to reflect Janet at her best would be to find some courage and keep walking.




So, as I look to finish up the year 2013 in one short month, I guess I've come to realize that life is seldom balanced.  Some upsets are easily righted by a little escape into retro TV or can be manipulated by establishing some crazy sense of 'eggs-in-the-carton' order......and some upsets are not easily righted at all and require a great deal of courage and time to face.

....and it was Janet who reminded me, only a couple of years ago, to aim to have PEACE at Christmas....

And so I shall, Janet.  So I shall.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

This 'n' That

 
Well, here I am again, enjoying every day of my week off!  I scrolled through my pictures file for some specific shots and thought that there were a couple of things that might be interesting for you.
 
 
I saw something like this on Pinterest and thought I would give it a try for supper one night!  Yum-o!  I used my mandolin to evenly slice equal sized potatoes and, once sliced, re-formed them into their general potato shape.  Oiled my cast iron frying pan well, placed the potatoes on top in spiral fashion, seasoned with salt and pepper and rosemary, then drizzled (too much) melted butter on top and a few bacon crumbles as well.  Baked it for around an hour or so and it made for an enjoyable potato dish that night.  I think this would be a nice presentation dish for company?



We carved our pumpkins last week.  This is a tradition that I just go ahead and plan for, I don't ask anyone if they want to do it because, hey, if I asked, they'd all mumble something about not being that 'into it' or something like that and I'd get all discouraged and not bother.  However, if I just do it, it makes for a fun family night.

Loves his Minecraft!

Music, music, music!

The school band puts on a quarter carnival every year on Oct. 31.  It is a hefty fundraiser for the school band so we put our shoulders to the wheel and help wherever we can.  This year, however, I had just finished a 'more-than-usual' number of shifts at work, ending with 3 days of immunizing, so when Dean and I arrived at school, I was not quite awake yet.  The carnival started promptly at 0900 with the older students of the school bursting through the doors and all of a sudden this carnival had begun!  Noise, candy, a hawker announcing "POP-corn, get your POP-corn", water started to hit the floor from the 'bobbing for apples' booth, screams came from backstage of the haunted house. 

I looked at Dean - "All day?"
He replied - "All day!"

And so we drained our coffee cups and were soon in the thick of things, mopping up water, sweeping up popcorn, getting apples ready to be bobbed for - and then onto rolling quarters.  We made over $1700.00 that day - that's a LOT of quarters, just sayin'.

We came home after 4 p.m., exhausted and yet happy to have been able to be part of it.

I got thinking - the things that weary me the most are probably the things I will soon miss the most.  And the things that deplete and drain me are equally the things that give me cause to jump out of bed to be part of.

There's some irony there, methinks.

I have tried, all through my motherhood career, to enjoy the stages and to not wish them away.  And so, we spend our days in the school gym, counting quarters, sweeping up popcorn, mopping up water - and are very happy to be part of something special.

Speaking of school, we attended our first Parent/Teacher interviews at the high school last night.  I have to say that we walked away shocked and surprised.
















I thought I'd leave you hanging with that sentence to see what kind of conclusions you came up with.
















The teacher from whom the child received the poorest marks (that were, unfortunately, deserved) thinks my boy is succeeding. 

Her idea of success? "He wants to be here, he is a happy boy, he is respectful, he is getting along with others, he always participates, he is succeeding!  .....    And his marks will improve; I'll help him."

Huh?  I mean, WOW!  I have to say that I didn't expect that from high school.  I so appreciate a teacher seeing the bigger picture of what it takes to succeed.

Darn near made me bawl.

Happy sigh.



 

We got bombed with a major snowfall this week and it seems to be here to stay.  On Saturday, we spend the afternoon cleaning up the yard.  It was warm(ish!), sunny, and was simply a gorgeous fall weekend.  Sunday we woke to inches of snow and it kept snowing all day and into the week.  I had this emotional moment on Sunday when I realized the back yard of Saturday had disappeared and wouldn't be seen again until spring.  So final.

It was a perfect day to go to the park outside the city.  We had some photos we wanted to try to get and the snow was falling from a blue sky and everything sparkled and I couldn't help but gasp a few times at the beauty. 

I had to think about my emotional reaction on Sunday - sometimes we get slammed with changes that we aren't ready for or don't want and sometimes you have to dig deep emotionally to find something beautiful, hey, even likeable, about it. 

This morning, there was beauty.














There was a method to our madness of traipsing through the snow this morning.  We want to enter a photo challenge from TRX (his fitness system) that depicts TRX-ers TRXing in extreme weather situations.  I'm not totally convinced that we got the photo that we wanted today (and I won't post the one that we're happy with so far...) but here's Dean doin' his thing, northern SK, Nov. 6/13, -11C.  (I know, for us die-hard northern SK folks, that's a balmy day....)















It was just a gorgeous morning.  Soon we will dig out our snowshoes and make some trails.




I came home and whipped up 2 batches of cookies and neither one looks particularly......good.  I've been having all sorts of bad luck with my cooking lately - meals are either too salty or too bland, my buns and cinnamon buns are flopping.  Kinda hard on the ego, ha ha!  And then Son #2 announced to his friend the other day that "my mom cooks more but my dad's a better cook."

Well, then.

Harumph.

How's that for honesty?

.....a little too honest for my liking......


Anyway, I did manage a decent meal the other night and thought you might like a new recipe to consider for your own meals!  It is a one-pot dish and we all enjoyed it.


One Pan Cheesy Smoked Sausage and Pasta Skillet

Ingredients

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 lb sausage, sliced (I used farmer's sausage)

1 cup diced onion

1 Tbsp minced garlic (about two fresh cloves)

2 cups Chicken Broth

1 (10 oz) can diced tomatoes

1/2 cup milk

8 oz dry pasta (any small pasta will do - I used small bowties)

1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper, each (I found it too salty - maybe my sausage was salty too?)

1 cup shredded mozza cheese

1/3 cup chopped scallions, for garnish

Instructions

Add olive oil to a 4-5 quart pan over medium high heat. Add onions and sausage and cook until lightly browned. Add garlic and cook for about 30 seconds.

Add chicken broth, tomatoes, cream, pasta, and seasonings. Bring the mixture to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to low. Simmer for about 15 minutes, or until pasta is tender.

Turn off the heat and stir in 1/2 cup of cheese. Sprinkle remaining cheese on top and cover for about five minutes to allow cheese to melt. Top with sliced scallions and serve.

Makes about 4 servings.
 
 
 
 
That's all from our house to yours for this time!  Stay warm!

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Because You're Mine, I Walk The Line

It's been a juggling act around here this month!  I've had many extra hours at work and am hanging on until the end of the month, hoping to find my sanity again then.

Sometimes, okay, most of the time, I feel like I have bitten off more than I can chew.  What to give up, without feeling like I've abandoned something uber important?  Important to ME anyway...

So, most days I find myself walking the fine line between being happily committed to my commitments.....

.....and hanging on to my spiralling stress level by the wee tips of my fingers....

Commitments to 'outside-the-home' activities aside, it's my family that counts.  At the end of the day, how I spent my time with them, how well I fed them (body, soul and spirit) is the measuring stick to my days' success.

I'm not a hero in that department.

Not every day around here meets the needs of any of us, though.  Sometimes we blunder, sometimes we succeed.

Last week, when my days off were far too short, I, um, yeah, I had a HYSTERICAL MOTHER MOMENT.

Ahem.

Mother-Grumpy-Pants arrived in full force, spent her anger, and demanded a group apology (which she got).  Too many episodes of undone dishes and wasted food and the occasional lack of appreciation fueled my fire.

The next day, my blessed sons walked through the door after school to find a bright orange poster greeting them, taped to the island, entitled "HOUSE RULES".  It started with seven directives, followed by five asterisks and two FYI's.

Mama laid the smack-down.  She meant business.

Son #1 walked through the door with a big smile, read the poster, looked at me, re-read the poster, looked at me....

....and wondered how long the poster would remain plastered to the kitchen island.
 
"Until you do all of these things without reminders!!", was my reply.

My supervision of said chores that night wasn't particularly enjoyed but, sheesh, someone's sons have gotta learn how to be responsible.

Or else Mama might cross that line between sanity and insanity!!!
 
Here's my domestic nod to Johnny Cash, my version of "Walk The Line":
 
"I keep the fridges full so we can dine
You have clean shirts and pants most of the time
I go to work so you can spend my dimes
Because you're mine - I walk the line!!!"
 
Everyone's participated rather well with the new house rules, thank you very much.  It's notable that having help with even the tiniest tasks spreads the load, eases the burden.
 
And sometimes, the most important part of my day is laying aside house rules and to-do lists and chores and expectations - to take advantage of opportunities to be a mom - a cheerleader on the sidelines of the volleyball court, a cheerleader in the midst of someone's discouragement, a cheerleader when someone needs a little help to find their mojo.




I took this picture last night at Ben's volleyball game.  I wish that I could show you the full picture but these aren't my kin and I don't expect that they or their parents would appreciate me plastering their picture on the www!  But this was a moment that was sweet to find when I uploaded the pictures last night.  Seven lanky 11-12 year old boys, sitting on the bench, talking, anxiously waiting for their next game (the competition was steep!) ... some great facial expressions were captured as they, being boys, posed for the camera!


But the deeper message of the picture to me is knowing that we all have our own lives to live, our own lines to cross, our choices to make.  We are as different and as varied as the shoes and feet represented here.  What works for you doesn't work for me, what I need may not be what you need. 

But, walk on, my friend, walk on.  Find your "line" of things that are important to commit to and go hard!  Insanity may strike on occasion, but go walk your line with joy!



Thursday, 3 October 2013

Walking The School Block


I've been thinking a lot today about the changing of the seasons.  Just days ago, the weather was warm, the sun coaxed my hoodie off, flip flops were acceptable and the days held the split personality of half summer/half fall.  Today, the "chill" is in the air, you know, the chill that you can't ignore, that bites through your jacket and makes you turn away from the wind.  The chill that makes you dress in flannel and hoodies, don socks, plug in the ignored-all-summer heating pad and start searching for those cheap gloves that you get at the dollar store, 3 pair for $3, or some such 'deal' that are warm enough until the real cold shows up.

I found myself wondering - how did that cold sneak up on me?  It was warm just the other day

Like a chameleon adapting to its' environment, I've adapted to mine too.  Fewer meals come from the BBQ; soups and stews fill my cooking pots; I time my cookies so they're baked in time for the boys to burst through the door after school.  We've survived the first month of school and have become slaves to the school schedule.  We've abandoned the freedoms of summer and have learned to embrace, or at least abide, the fundraising and early morning volleyball practices and packing lunches and evening homework and tired by Friday/sleep in Saturday bodies.

I went for a walk around the school block this afternoon.


I walked this path dozens of times when the boys were little and needed, or wanted, company on their way.  We would hold hands, maybe only until the playground came into view, then it was hands off so they could be cool.  Before we reached the playground, we exchanged lots of hand squeezes - two squeezes = "I love you". 

I will squeeze your hand while no one's looking and you will know in that moment that my heart is ever so full of love for you.   


Back in those days, the school seemed to me to be a big fat monster, ready to suck up my child and influence him with Lord-knows-what information that I may or may not like, influencing him to prefer their company over mine and I sighed and worried about how this kid would still love me at the end of the day when all I was was 'mom'.

I needn't have worried.

No one takes the place of mom and dad and home and family.




I walked a little further around the school block.



Two, maybe even three hundred kids are out on the school ground at recess and I can't believe the noise.  I can't believe that I don't know these little ones who are climbing the monkey bars and swinging high on the swings and fighting some imaginary foe on the ball diamond.  A green dodgeball lies abandoned on the sand pit while some group 'playing pretend' trumps throwing a green ball at each other until someone gets touched.  Where did all these babies come from and why is my boy not on this playground?  Oh, he's over there, with the big kids, because, it seems he IS a big kid.  And he's my baby.  How did that happen?  We're in our 10th year at this school, and my baby is one of the big boys on the playground. 

I guess it happened one year at a time.  We morphed from being kindergarten parents of one into being parents of two Division One students into being the mother and father of boys in growth spurts and facial hair and then one hit Grade 8 grad and moved on, leaving the other one flying solo, kicking butt at being a well respected leader on the playground.


Someone, please make it stop.....






At least, couldn't this all just slow down - those are MY kids growing up, making their way across unknown paths. 



In my mind, I'm still walking them to school, squeezing their hand ... twice, of course ... reminding them secretly that I love them.  But they walk to school alone and that's all good and I'm glad and grateful that my happy healthy boys can maneuver their way in their own worlds with a great deal of success and competency.  That is exactly as it should be.



So I'll guess I'll keep the warm fires burning for them at home.



Seems that my fears of the school monopolizing their affections were unfounded.  They want to come home at the end of the day.

Of course they do!  How silly I was to doubt that.

Yeah, and about that big bad monster (school) that I was so afraid of?  Get this.  I stopped in at the school this morning to pick up my boy for a quick appointment.  Mr. A.'s former Grade 7 and 8 teachers hovered around me - "How's Andrew doing in high school?"  I shared with them all of the ways that he is happy and adjusting and succeeding and they smiled and nodded.  When I mentioned that he has a whole new circle of friends, they smiled even bigger - "we knew that would happen!".  We shared for a few moments some of the struggles that Andrew had had to endure while in public school - specifically - how his class hadn't been a friendly place and how he often stood out by virtue of being not like any of the others.  When I mentioned that it had just seemed like he never did fit in at public school, a teacher looked me in the eye and said "that's okay, we saw that, but WE loved him." 

A statement I won't soon forget.  This big bad monster school that I feared back in 2005 loved my boy in some of his darkest moments.  They had his back all along.

Sweet.  So much for being a monster.

I'm glad we have a couple more years to hang out there - I think I have some teacher appreciation moments to fulfill.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Pumpkin Cakies

I have been a cooking machine this last week!

Our youth group made a pasta meal for our church as a fundraiser on Sunday so I was busy with that.  Then I hosted a board committee meeting here for supper last night so I made soup, buns and a sweet treat for a few extras around the table.  Add into that cooking suppers for the family ever since I started my week off (a few days at work eating leftovers is inspiration enough for this chickie to get cooking as soon as I'm done my set of shifts).  I'm almost getting tired of cooking.

I said 'almost'.

;)

I'm making sweet and sour meatballs for supper tonight.  We had a 'round table' discussion at work the other day on how to make the best meatballs.  We debated the merits of soft bread crumbs vs cracker crumbs, small meatballs vs large meatballs, wondered (or was it just me?) how to properly brown a meatball so it stays round instead of turning into some sort of wicked pyramid thingy.  Ah, the things we talk about around the lunch table.

While I searched through my recipe binder for the handwritten scrap of paper with "Linda's" sweet and sour sauce recipe on it, I noticed that I've been collecting recipes for a loooong time. I have so many handwritten ones in that orange binder - many recipes from my mom - some for things that I've made, some for things that I thought I should make (hello homemade perogies....ain't gonna happen); signature recipes from special people - like Great Granny's chocolate roll recipe handwritten on the thinnest of papers in her signature green ink; somewhere in there you'll find a monster cookie recipe from my mother-in-law long before she became my mother-in-law; recipes from friends spanning many decades, co-workers through the years, classmates from my Grade 12 year (can you imagine - that's what I wanted from each classmate as a souvenir of our 12 years together - a hand-written recipe from their home!!).  Seems I've been a geek for quite awhile!! ...(no comments please)...  I can't bear to throw any of them away, whether I've actually used the recipe or not.  I can't imagine re-typing any of them into a recipe data base - they are precious to me in their current scrappy handwritten state, representing the lives of those that have shared them with me - bits and pieces of unique people that have graced my life with theirs.

"Someday" I'll put them in order and glue the scraps onto paper.  Maybe. 

For today, I'm happy to be "in" rather than "out".  I'm happy to be "done" rather than "starting" a big project.  I'm delighted to be on "days off" rather than "days on". And I'm happy to have my house clean (kinda), my supper on the go, cookies in the cookie jar and a good book waiting to be read.  Go ahead, go out, shop, run your errands - you'll find me watching from the comfort of my warm house, on a cosy couch, wrapped in a soft blanket, cupping a warm mug between my hands, breathing a happy sigh.



Here's a new cookie recipe that I tried out yesterday.  When I took a look at my "Sweet Things" board on Pinterest, I found it to be dominated with pumpkin and apple recipes, with a smattering of chocolate/peanut butter combos mixed in between.  I smell a sweets preference....

These cookies have a cake-like texture - thus, I made the recipe exactly the way I found it, but re-dubbed it "Pumpking Cakies"!!  Please, do make the icing with the browned butter - really nice flavor!

Pumpkin Cakies with Brown-Butter Icing
Yield: 48 cookies
 For the Cookies:
 2¾ cups all-purpose flour
 1 teaspoon baking powder
 1 teaspoon baking soda
 1¼ teaspoons kosher salt
 1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
 1¼ teaspoons ground ginger
 ¾ teaspoon ground nutmeg
 ¾ cup (6 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
 2¼ cups light brown sugar
 2 eggs, at room temperature
 1½ cups canned pumpkin
 ¾ cup half-and-half
 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the Icing:
4 cups powdered sugar
10 tablespoons unsalted butter
 ¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon half-and-half
 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg; set aside.
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter and brown sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the eggs until combined. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the pumpkin, half-and-half and vanilla. Beat until very well blended, about 2 minutes (the batter may look grainy at this point, but don't worry, it will come together). Keep the mixer on low and gradually add the dry ingredients, mixing until just combined. Use a rubber spatula to give it a final mix, incorporating any flour on the sides and scraping the bottom of the bowl.
4. Use a large cookie scoop to scoop balls of the batter onto the prepared baking sheets, leaving about 1½ inches between them. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the tops of the cookies spring back when lightly pressed. Transfer the baking sheet to a wire rack and let the cookies cool for 5 minutes then remove them to the rack to cool completely. Repeat with the remaining batter.
5. To make the icing: Add the powdered sugar to a heatproof bowl. Put the butter in a small saucepan over medium heet and let it start melting. Continue cooking, swirling occasionally, until the butter becomes golden brown and smells nutty (be paitent and watch carefully, it can go from brown to burnt quickly.  I found that this step took a little longer than I thought it would but don't walk away from it either - hover and watch, hover and watch!). Remove it from the heat and pour it over the powdered sugar, scraping the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the half-and-half and vanilla and stir until the icing is smooth. Using a small offset spatula or a table knife, spread icing on each cookie. (If the icing stiffens before you get them all frosted, stir vigorously to lighten it up.)

Sigh, yawn and good night.

 

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Finding Our Autumn Stride

My last post, by the way, hit the mark for a lot of you and is one of my most-read posts thus far.  I thank you for your encouragement and comments - I came away feeling like it had been a meaningful experience for a lot of us and resonated some truth that we must have needed to hear.  I'm just the pencil.

That makes me happy - that I could share a story and some thoughts and have it impact others like it did me.

And, as a silly little nursey-wifey-mama blogger, it also terrifies me to pick up my fingers and write again.  My thoughts must often be mundane to you.

And yet I keep talking.

......Make her stop......

:)

However, you'll be relieved to know that I don't share nearly as many things with you as I think about sharing.  Like how I've been on some medication and I finished it yesterday and for the first time in two weeks my mouth doesn't taste like I've been sucking on a metal fence post, worst taste ever, that seems to have disappeared now that I've finished the medicine, praise God, and how I'm not totally convinced that I should have taken the medicine in the first place but it was a long shot at trying to make me feel better after I had been feeling sick for too long and, well, now, I feel better so will never know if it was the metal tasting medicine that made me feel better or time or I just 'got over it' or what but it's all good and I can sleep better at night and I'm so glad we had this little talk.


Anyway, this little garden of mine - she continues to be a bossy master.  I pulled all of the carrots yesterday - 40 pounds worth!  Oh my, if you read my post on Facebook, I have been offered a few options of what to do with those carrots, including the 'interesting' options of "carrot Frappuccino's", "chocolate dipped carrots" and "carrot lattes".  Oh dear.  Well, I bagged them all (11 large Ziploc bags) and I gave some away to some favorite people, and will give some more away to a few more favorite people and then I hope that my family can eat the rest over the winter.

Today I worked on the first batch of tomatoes - I only got a small amount from my own garden this year and they were either pleasantly ripe or disgustingly rotten today so I worked at a bit of salsa, etc.  Once I get into it, canning food is a good deal of fun for me. It's like riding a bike - you start washing the jars and packing them and getting the canner boiling and soon I feel like I'm carrying the torch for the work of my mother and my mother's mother and her mother's mother - providing food for my family, upholding my heritage. It's not that noble but I'm kinda pleased with myself even though there is this little voice that occasionally whispers "you know you can BUY salsa, right?"

Now I'm sitting here counting "pops", hoping everything has sealed.  No better sound!



Beauty.

Changing subjects now.

Sometimes you just need a little inspiration.  I read a LOT of cookbooks and recipes - both in book form and online.  But the other day, we were standing in line at St. Arbucks for the DRINK OF THE SEASON (Pumpkin Spice Lattes) and, being a tad snacky, helped myself to one of their food samples, a glazed scone (of some sort, see, I already forget.  Must have been the metallic tasting meds that I was on, fried my memory bank).  Anyway, that taste bite was an eye opener.  "Something isn't right with my scones".  I've always thought my biscuits and scones are pretty darn good.  I KNOW my biscuits are good because they are always a hit with me and the household.  But my scones - well, I think that most scones should be of the "drop" variety - a little rustic and loose.  However this Starbucks scone - smooth, rich, creamy texture, nicely rolled and cut.

So I spotted this recipe on Pinterest yesterday morning and whipped them up for breakfast.  Instead of babying the dough by under-kneading, I kneaded that dough (GENTLY of course) until it came together nicely and didn't have any raggedy edges then I rolled it until I was satisfied that it was just right and cut it into triangles and baked it up and it was the best batch of scones ever.  It wasn't tough or over-worked.  It.  Was. Perfect.

Glazed Cinnamon Scones
Scone Ingredients:
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter
1 egg, separated
3 Tablespoons honey (different sweetener, hey?!!)
1/3 cup buttermilk (or 1/3 cup milk mixed with 1/2 teaspoon of lemon juice)

Crumb Topping (can be adjusted to your liking):
1-2 Tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Glaze Ingredients (can be adjusted to your liking):
1 cup powdered sugar (you can make your own homemade unprocessed powered sugar)
1-3 teaspoons milk (enough to make a glaze)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Cut in butter until mixture is crumbly.  Separate the egg white and yolk. Set the egg white aside. 
In a separate bowl, mix egg yolk, honey and buttermilk (or milk/lemon juice mixture). Add to the dry ingredients and stir until just combined.

Form dough into a ball on a floured surface. Roll or pat out to half an inch in thickness and eight inches in diameter. Cut into eight equally-sized pieces.  Transfer to a greased baking sheet. Whisk the egg white until froth forms and brush over the tops of scones (I used about half of the egg white).  Sprinkle brown sugar and cinnamon over egg-white-topped scones.  Bake at 400 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes.
Mix together powdered sugar, milk and vanilla until glaze forms. Drizzle over scones after they bake.




I think Starbucks will be hiring me soon as their baker.  Just sayin'.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Racing Towards The Finish Line

A week ago, a large group of students and parents gathered at a local school for the first competitive Cross Country run of the year.
 
Both of our boys have demonstrated some skill in cross country running so we loaded up the car with our kid and one extra and headed over to the race.
 
We've been to this race for a few years already.  And, as luck would have it, the weather was sweet - the sky was clear blue, the sun was warm, the wind was on the calm side.
 
The competition has changed a tad - when we first started taking our son to this race, it included all of the school divisions in the city and there were HUNDREDS of kids there to compete.  They lined up the Atom boys/girls, Peewee boys/girls....all sorts of age groups one by one....and at the sound of the starter gun, a veritable herd of kids headed off across the football field, across the street and through the park, shoes flying off, elbows out, serious expressions.  Must.  Run.  This.  Race.  Well.
 
This year, the separate school division didn't join us.  The race was a lot calmer.  And as we looked around the field, we saw a lot of familiar faces - parents from the band trip last spring, music students, youth group friends.  It's nice to be in a friendly place.
 
Mr. B. ran his race and did his best.  He has fine form.
 
 

Doesn't he?!!
 
 
 
 
 
 
But his defining moment came when his friend raced.  Being senior students on the field, his friend's race was last.  Parents were going home.  Kids were dispersing.  And this oldest group of boys had some fast runners in it.  It was probably the quickest race of the day.  Before we had time to engage in another conversation, the first runners were heading home already.  The finish line is always lined with coaches, parents, students cheering on runners from their schools.  I always get a lump in my throat as I hear the encouragement and see the delight on both runners' and spectators faces when another one makes it across the line. GOOD JOB! We're proud of you!!  Wow, are you ever good at running!
 
Mr. B.'s friend, well, we've known him for a couple years. Nice kid.  He's gained a little weight and hasn't stretched into it yet as Grade 7 boys are wont to do.  He's not the fittest kid on the block and certainly wasn't the fittest kid at the Meet.
 
Mr. B:  "He's not going to do well, Mom."
Me:   "That's okay; he's going to do his best."
 
The runners started coming one by one.  Sprinting towards the finish line.
 
And no sign of the friend.
 
People started to pack up their things.
 
And no sign of the friend.
 
We waited by the finish line, looking through the trees in the park.  "Is that him?" we asked each other.  "No, not yet".
 
Finally, after it appeared that everyone else had crossed the finish line, we caught a glimpse of yellow through the autumn trees.
 
He was finally coming.
 
Mr. B. looked at me and said these words that changed my heart forever....
 
"I think I should go run with him, Mom."
 
Through leaky eyes, I nodded..."yes, I think that would be nice."
 
And Mr. B. ran away from me and towards this young man who was going to cross the finish line well after everyone else had finished.  He would no longer have to cross the finish line alone.
 
His friend would cross the line with him.
 
And they ran, side by side, to the end of the race.  Their arms pumped and their legs worked and their lungs panted for a fresh breath and smiles plastered their faces. and we cheered and applauded and my heart burst with joy that my son knew that being last sometimes sucks and being alone sometimes sucks and having someone with you can make all the difference in how you finish a race.  And I wonder how many 'races' are being run around me by people that I love and how often it feels like we're losing the race and I suspect that all we really need, all we really want, is someone to come alongside us and help us cross the finish line.




Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed.








10 If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble.







12 A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer.



A race I will not forget, Sept. 11/13.

Eccl. 4:9-12.