Tuesday, 24 December 2013

When the boughs break

I was going to do a silent Sunday post but then it became Monday and we were still without power.  I needed to conserve the power on my phone to do important things like text or call people to find out what was going on.

It rained all day Saturday.  Slowly but surely, freezing as it landed.  The snow wasn't melting instead it was getting covered by a thin layer of ice.  I went out and took some pictures.  It's always beautiful when it's freezing rain.  It can be deadly but it is beautiful.


We lost power on Saturday night.  First it flickered and then about thirty minutes later it went out completely.  We could see lightning flash through the dark sky.  I regretted not turning the dishwasher on earlier.  We went to bed not having anything else to do on a dark winter's night.  

By Sunday morning it looked like someone had painted over the landscape.  The trees sparkled with an inch of ice covering each branch.  Christmas lights have nothing on the beauty that is nature.  I kept wanting to step outside to take pictures.  But photos (with my crummy camera)* or words don't really do it justice.



I'd like to say that my children were angels - well behaved in the face of adversity.  The power was still out.  It was cold, they'd been inside too long and were feeling a little under the weather.  They kept fighting and we encouraged them to stay positive: "In an emergency we all work together." and finally, "If you can't play Lego nicely together then you're not allowed to play it at all!"  Instead we snuggled in my bed for warmth and stories.  The little one (he's 3) kept asking why we couldn't use the microwave or the lights or the t.v.  The answer was the same each time.  I'm still not sure he really gets it.

It took 20 minutes (maybe longer) to chisel our way into the car.  Another hour I think to break the ice to create a path from the house to the car.  Those skating lessons are paying off - "bend your knees and march" were the instructions we gave to the children. 

It wasn't until we were on the road that we saw the destruction.  Trees were bowed down to the weight of the ice.  Once majestic and tall. they stood broken.  Some in half.  Some with lost limbs.  Others were completely uprooted across lawns or the roads, power lines brought down with them.  It was cold.  More wind the following night meant more trees fell.  When it all clears up the landscape will be much different.  I saw branches on cars.  I saw ones that missed narrowly missed homes.  We were lucky.



Road block

On Sunday night we slept, the five of us, huddled in one room generating warmth from our bodies.  Outside our room the temperature was at least 10 degrees lower.
They're working on restoring power but it looks like some people might be in the dark for Christmas. The community has come together.  People are huddled up at their neighbours' homes.  Families are getting together earlier than expected.  When things fall apart, people come together.  There is beauty.

This picture was taken on Saturday.  That big tree in the background on the right looks much different now.  I'll post a photo once I can access the ones on my other camera.

I can't end this post without being a little pragmatic.  We are staying warm.  Our house is still without power but it is intact.  We are lucky that we have family around us who do have power.  We spent one night at the house and then last night we bunked at my in-laws.  The children are enjoying the company of their cousins and grandparents.  And I am at work.  I'll go by the house this afternoon to empty out the fridge and freezer.  Life goes on, doesn't it?

Where there is light
I'm not sure I'll get another post in before the New Year so wish you all a very happy, healthy 2014!

*I took all these photos with my iPhone.  I have some on my other point and shoot but can't get them off without the wire thingy which I left at home.


Update: The power came back on this evening and we're going home tomorrow.  The ice has started to crack and it's slowly falling off the trees.  The drive home this afternoon was absolutely lovely - the ice shone in the sun - I now know the inspiration for tinsel.  I took these ones this afternoon.







Check out that tree on the left

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Money Matters

Scene: Daddy and little boy come to pick up mummy from the subway station.

LB: Why does mummy need to work?

Mummy: Because we need money to eat.

LB: Why do you eat money?

On another day, in another part of town, the same mummy has a conversation with another child.  This one, not quite as endearing.

My older daughter is into Rainbow Loom.  She asked for it sometime in September. It is apparently THE thing to have if you're a little girl right now.  A contraption that allows you create all kinds of jewellery using little elastics.  I didn't run out and get it for her.  I said we would think about it.  And after thinking about it I said I would get it for her for Eid.  I've never seen a child look so happy.  I would have prefered she got one of those friendship bracelet kits that use thread - in my mind, thread is a little more environmentally friendly.  I can just imagine landfills filled with these mini neon elastics discovered by scientists of the future who would wonder, "what on earth did people use these for?"  But I digress.  I got it for her.  And she's loved it.  It's a creative outlet for her.  She's been making bracelets and necklaces and teaching her little sister how to make them too.  But now, she needs more elastics.  I got her a couple of refill packs but told her she'd need to save up for more if she wanted.  "But Mummy," she said, "How do I save up?  How do you get money?"

Well I obviously didn't think this through.  So I offered to give her pocket money so that she can save up.  A good skill to have.  But again, not thinking, I offered to pay her a quarter (25 cents) if she gets up every morning and does her morning routine without whinging and on her own.  "That includes making your bed and making sure your bag is packed for school."  She figured out it would take 24 days to earn enough for refills.  Too long apparently.  So I said (again not thinking) that I would give her another quarter for the evening routine.  We made a list of things she has to do after school.  If she does them, she gets a quarter.  So far it's been going great.  In fact I would say the nagging has decreased exponentially.

Except.

Except I never wanted to tie money to chores or things you have to do just for being part of the family.

Except that I forgot to talk about the charitable aspect of earning money.  You know - save some, spend some and share some?

I now have to re-evaluate.  Is 50 cents a day too much for 7 years old?  How do I introduce the concept of giving?  How do I ensure that she learns about money but at the same time learn that being part of a family means that you have responsibilities (that aren't necessarily attached to money)?

Agh.  The perils of leaping before thinking.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Signs

There's a hospital next door to where I work.  It's the cancer hospital.  Every morning I walk by it to get my morning latte from the hospital next door to it (there are 4 hospitals on that stretch of the street).  It's a sad state of affairs that I have to walk half a block for a decent coffee (and even then it's hit and miss). But that is not what this post is about.

Last year they began some construction  and boarded up the front entrance of the hospital.  The boards quickly started getting covered in graffiti.  People leaving messages up in memory of their loved ones or messages of thanks to the doctors and nurses that had helped them.  There were some quotes from the Bible, quotes of inspiration and even some poetry.

I passed by them all the time.  I'm not sure I really gave them any thought.

My dad started feeling unwell around this time last year.  Probably earlier but it was in October he got a cold that took awhile to shake off.  Mum kept saying "dad's not feeling well."  And she'd keep my little boy with her instead of sending him out with my dad.  Eventually, sometime in December it was confirmed that he had cancer.  They saw it on his liver.  It had originated in his stomach.  It explained his loss of appetite.  It explained why he was turned off by what used to be his favourite foods.  The man who used to drink gallons of tea (slight exaggeration) was down to one cup a day.  If that.

Writing this makes me immensely sad.  It constricts my chest.  A weight sits upon me.  Sometimes I can barely breathe.  We are coming on a year. And the weight - it seems to be getting heavier.

Around this time I noticed someone had written a verse of the Quran on one of the boards.  The person had written the verse in Arabic and then in English had added, "You're promised hope - take it."  I could read the verse but had to look up the translation: "Verily, along with every hardship is relief. Verily, along with every hardship is relief. (Surah Inshirah 5-6). " 

I shared it with my dad.  "Dad, you're promised relief.  In every darkness there is light.  You just have to look for it.  It's not at the end of the tunnel, it's in the tunnel."  It gave me great solace - that verse did.  I saw it every day.

My dad succumbed to the disease in early February - two months after the diagnosis.  I was off work for a couple of weeks.  When I got back, the boards had been covered up.  Replaced with marketing for the hospital's fundraising efforts.

I like to think it was written there for me.  A sign to tell me that relief is never far.  It may just not look like you might expect.

Immediately after he died we felt relief - consoled that he didn't suffer for too long, privileged to have been a part of his journey.  A little shell shocked perhaps.  But now, ten months on, I feel the tightness in my throat, the sting in my eyes, the weight on my chest, the lead in my feet.  They're all a little harder to ignore.  In our family, we don't do grand displays of emotion.  We pull our socks up and get on with it.  So it comes to me when I am alone and off guard - sitting in a dark room waiting for my children to fall asleep, on a train full of people, walking home.  

They say grief is all consuming.  They are right.

I want to know when it goes away.  I want to see the light in this tunnel.  

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Online Shopping Drag

The Internet is supposed to have opened up the marketplace.  You can now (theoretically) order anything from around the world (so long as you're willing to pay for postage and duty, taxes, etc.).  I say theoretically because it often ends up being the case that you can't.

My cousin is visiting from the UK in a couple weeks.  She's agreed to bring back some things for me.  So I've been shopping - online shopping.  The best kind - the kind where you don't have to leave the comfort of your own home.  So here I am, sipping my tea, clicking away.  My basket is full.  I've enjoyed the experience.  I'm a little excited.  Got some pyjamas for the girls, trousers for the little guy, along with socks and a pair of swim goggles.  All from a reputable store (rhymes with Text) - I know their sizes, the quality is good and I'm thrilled with my purchases.  I can have it all delivered to the store nearest to her house and she'll pick it up.  All is good until it's time to check out.

That's when I hit my first hurdle.  I have to register and I can't register with my Canadian address.  No worries, I've got her address and phone number.  But then when I enter my credit card number it won't approve it because it doesn't match the billing address.  It's a little irritating but I can pretty much buy everything I need here.  Except for the swim goggles.  They're nice looking swim goggles and perfect for my younger two.

Ever resourceful I go to the website of the company that manufactures them.  They deliver worldwide and Unless you live in the UK, USA or Japan, you can shop from their international website.  Cool.  Until I realise that they won't deliver to Canada or anywhere else in North America.  So then I go to the American site.  I must really want these goggles.  I'm going to the States next week, I can have them delivered to my hotel.  Yay.  But they don't carry the same products.  Same company (well known swimsuit company founded in Australia), different products - go figure.

So I'm left wondering why.  Why can't I get what I want to get if I'm willing to pay for it?  Why can't I (the consumer) order the same items from a UK site or a US site?  Even Amazon (that usually has everything) doesn't have these particular goggles.  And since I'm on the topic, why is it, that I can get something at half the price on an American site than the same company in Canada?  And I'm not allowed to buy it on the American site because of course, they won't deliver it here.

So my message is - open it up.  Let me buy what I want, where I want to buy it.  Give the postal workers something - they're losing money these days you know.  I'm happy to pay the duty and taxes if I have to.  Right now I feel like the kid outside the candy store looking in through the window with money burning a hole in my pocket.  But they won't let me in the door.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Let them eat cake - Part two

It's October and there's another birthday around the corner.  I have to say I lucked out in the birthday department.  In our family our birthdays are somewhat spread out so that there's a bit of a break between the festivities.  In addition, we don't have any winter babies which helps in that I don't have to plan any snow related birthdays.

We're away just before birthday comes so I'm not sure he'll get a party though he will get cake.  Probably this one - which I found on the internet here.  I have to say she's a genius.  The cake tastes good, is always moist, and easy carve into fun birthday cake shapes - all good things in my book!

Here you go:

Basic Yellow Cake (a really moist vanilla cake)


Ingredients
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (do not sift the flour or sift AFTER measuring)
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1-teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
  • 2 ½ teaspoons Vegetable oil
  • 1 stick butter (not margarine), softened
  • 1-tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs 
Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 350°
  2. Cut wax paper to fit the bottom of (3) 9 x 1 1/2-inch round pans. Spray the pans with cooking spray, place the wax paper in the pans and spray the paper.  (I never do this - I usually just grease the pan and hope for the best)
  3. In a large mixing bowl combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt, mixing well
  4. Measure the 1-1/4 cups of milk in a 2 cup measuring cup….then add enough vegetable oil to bring the liquid up to 1-1/3 cups (it works out to be about 2 1/2 teaspoons)
  5. Add the milk/vegetable oil mixture, butter and vanilla to the flour mixture and beat with an electric mixer on medium to medium-high speed for 2 minutes, scraping sides of bowl as needed
  6. Add the eggs and continue beating an additional 2 minutes. Pour batter into prepared pans
  7. Bake at 350° for 20 to 25 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted near center of cake comes out clean, or until cake springs back when touched lightly in the center
  8. Cool cakes on wire racks for 15 minutes; remove from pans and cool completely.
Makes 24 cupcakes, 2 9x1.5 inch pans or 1 9x13 oblong cake

My Notes:
  1. The recipe says it takes 20 - 25 minutes to bake but that's because she made it in three cake pans.  I usually put the timer on for 20 minutes and then keep adding 10 minutes.  Next time I make the cake I'll take note of how long it takes and update this.
  2. In my experience the cupcakes take 20 minutes.
  3. My kids and I love a lemony flavour so I sometimes add the rind of 1 lemon, and a tablespoon of lemon juice.  If you do that also add 1/4 tsp baking soda (to counter the acidity of the lemon - I am not a baking guru but can pretend to be one with the help of the internet).  You can reduce the amount of vanilla or not, depending on your taste.
  4. I usually make a buttercream icing to ice them.  I use this recipe - though I sometimes substitute lemon juice for the vanilla (or go half and half).  They ask for unsalted butter but I never have any so I always use the salted kind.
Sorry I didn't have any photos again.  I do take a lot of pictures they're just on my computer not at all organised and very difficult to find.  Have to fix that!

If you do make these, do let me know how they turn out.  Bon Appetit!

Saturday, 5 October 2013

On grief

Last year, around this time, my friend lost her father.

As is customary, I went to her house to pay my respects a few days after his death (I had missed the funeral).

My dad had just flown back into town and he too had missed the funeral.  I remember seeing him at her house.

"Hi Dad" I might have said.  "How are you?"
He would have smiled and said hello.

The gathering would have been divided - women on one side, men on the other so there wouldn't have been much opportunity for us to interact.  Plus we were there for someone else.  His friend.  My friend's father.

I had carpooled with my cousin.  I thought, as we left, that I could catch a ride with him.  But it would have been out of his way so I didn't.

I think I took him for granted.  Do all children take their parents for granted?  I regret every day that I ignored him.  I regret every time that I got upset at him.  And the times that I upset him - the man who rarely got upset.

We didn't know that within a few months it would be my friend who would be condoling me at his funeral.  "I have nothing to say except that I know," she said as she hugged me.  If we had known would it have been different?  Don't we know that death is inevitable?  Don't we know that it can claim anyone, anytime, any day?  Why don't we behave like we know this?  Why do we forget? 

When he died we got accounts from all kinds of people who told us the impact he'd had on their lives.  As I listened to them I wondered how I, who lived with him, did not see this side of him.  What is it about family dynamics that skews our perceptions of each other?

Grief hits you when it's least expected.  And I have been finding these past few weeks particularly difficult.  I have felt that I don't deserve to cry for him.  That somehow had I behaved differently I would then be allowed to cry.  I don't deal with confrontation well.  I don't show my emotions easily.  Well I do, it's just not the ones that count.  I can make all the excuses in the world but it doesn't change the fact that I don't think I treated my dad the way he deserved to be treated.  I'm not sure where to say it so I'm saying it here.  I can't actually speak the words.  

But I did love him.  And it was the last thing I said to him.  He was a beautiful man.  He was my father.  The memories are filling me up.  And I still can't believe that he's gone.

Grief.  It's a crazy weird process.  I'm still trying to figure my way around it.

I hope that I am not exploiting his memory by revealing this here.  Just that this is cheaper than therapy.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Homework Dilemmas

I've been thinking a lot about homework lately.  In fact I wrote a post about it which I never ended up publishing (I have a few of those - posts that I write that I then wonder if they are indeed for public consumption - it's an internal debate that I keep having).  Anyway, homework.

They don't get that much homework.  The 5 year old got more at her preschool than she does now that she's in Kindergarten at public school.  I think the rule of thumb around these parts is a half hour a week for each grade level minus a half hour.  So for kindergarten they get none.  For grade one they get a half hour, grade 2 they get an hour and so on.  Generally the teacher sends it home on Friday and it isn't due back until the following week on Thursday.  Which is plenty of time to get the work done.  In addition there is a reading requirement every day and spelling tests once a week (last year it was once a fortnight).

So the question becomes - do you insist that the work gets done as early as possible to avoid last minute scrambling?  How much participation is required of the parent?  How much quality control do you engage in (if at all)?

Up until now I've been somewhat laissez-faire about school and the work involved.  In preschool I let the children do what they wanted to do.  I didn't believe in pushing them into reading if they didn't want to read though I read them tons of stories.  I didn't insist they learned their alphabets though I sang the songs so they learnt them anyway.  My kids picked up books on and off as desired.  They wrote stories and poems if they felt like it and if they just wanted to play they did.

Both girls were able to read by the time they started Kindergarten although it wasn't until this summer that my older daughter (she just turned 7) really got into books.  She can't read them fast enough now.  The younger one is happy to look at pictures but she won't read the words unless we make her do it.

Last year my older daughter was in grade 1.  I made sure she did her homework, helped her prepare for spelling tests and generally participated enough to know what she was strong at and what she needed extra help with.  This year, I am finding myself a little more rigorous.  She's in grade 2 now and I think the expectations should be a little higher.  If her writing is messy, I insist she redo it.  If she makes spelling mistakes, I correct them - especially if they are words she should know or words she's copying from one list to another.  I insist that she does the homework at the weekend so that we're not scrambling during the week to get it done.  On Tuesday or Wednesday night I ask her to review the work she did to catch any errors.  I sit with her while she does her reading and I ask her questions to make sure she understands what she's just read.  We're learning how to use a dictionary.

I just wonder though - am I doing too much?  Would it be so bad if she handed in sloppy work?  Would the teacher say anything to her?  Can I trust the teacher's expectations?  How do I get my children to be intrinsically motivated?  Does that just happen over time?  Is discipline taught or practiced?

A teacher friend of mine once said to me that teachers can't do all the work -  that the children whose parents participate in their education tend to be more successful that ones whose parents left them to it.  And that really in high school, when most parents tend to back off, is when children really need the most guidance.  But, she said, you can't very well leave them all through elementary school and then suddenly show up interested when they start high school.  So right now, I am just laying the groundwork.

Honestly I never thought I would have to go through school all over again when I had children.  And the irony that I was somewhat of a slacker student is not at all lost on me.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Oatmeal Pancakes

During the week our breakfasts tend to be rushed.  In fact I generally skip breakfast in favour of a latte when I get to work.  The children usually have either toast, cereal or eggs depending on how much time they have.  My daughter's current favourite is toast with cream cheese and avocado (though I substitute the cream cheese with some goat cheese - delicious on rye toast!)

The breakfast discussion over here a few days ago led to a request for my recipe for oatmeal pancakes.  Pancakes are our weekend breakfast staple.  And if there are leftovers, I keep them in the fridge and stick them in the toaster for whoever wants them during the week.  I've read about people freezing them and doing the same but to be honest I've never tried it - they don't last long in our house.

Pancakes were one of the first things I learned to cook and for years I used the recipe from Jean Pare's Muffins and More cookbook.  Recently though, I discovered this recipe for oatmeal pancakes.  And I have to say I love them.  They leave you fuller (you don't eat as many) for longer and are delicious.  The one thing I noticed though is that if you don't soak the oats, you get a bit of a chewy, grainy texture in the pancakes.  Soak 'em and the texture is much smoother.  In fact, I've been known to mix the batter the night before, stick it in the fridge and cook 'em up in the morning.  

I also like that they don't have anything extra in them.  My SIL will put cinnamon or vanilla in pancakes.  I guess it works for some but for me, I like them a plain as possible to make room for the toppings.

In our house, it's maple syrup and nothing else will do.  While in Aus, we had people bring us pints of the stuff whenever they came to visit.  It's always easy to know what to give a Canadian who's living outside of Canada (if you're visiting them from Canada).  We really rationed the stuff while we were there.  We had Canadian friends come to stay with us while we were there and I remember watching in horror as they poured our liquid gold extravagantly over their pancakes.  Little did they know that we savoured the stuff knowing that it would be awhile before we got anymore.  (Maple Syrup is available in Australia but costs an arm and a leg for what they classify as Grade B.  Not that I'm a connoisseur or anything).

Anyway, back to the recipe.  It's a good base.  You can add cinnamon if you like or even apples to make some sort of fritter.  But as I said, for me, it maple syrup...and maybe some fruit.

Here you go.  Enjoy!

Oatmeal Pancakes
(Modified from this recipe)

Ingredients
  • 1 tbsp. cooking oil
  • 1 tbsp. honey
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 c. milk (I am sure I use way more than a cup and a half)
  • 1 1/2 c. oatmeal (dry, I use quick cooking oats but regular ones should do - just maybe soak them for longer)
  • 1 c. flour (can use ½ all purpose and ½ whole wheat)
  • 2 1/2 tbsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

Directions
  • In a bowl add milk to dry oats.  I usually add enough milk to cover the oats.  I think this ends up being more than a cup and a half of milk.  Let the oats soak for at least 5 minutes while you get the other ingredients together.  (If you're not using quick cooking oats, then soak them for at least 2 hours.)
  • In a medium bowl, thoroughly mix the oil and honey - the honey lightens in colour as you mix them.
  • Add the egg and beat until well combined using an egg beater (or a whisk or a spoon).
  • Add the oat and milk mixture.
  • Add the dry ingredients and beat the mixture just until the batter is smooth.
  • Add more milk if the batter seems too thick and sludgy.
  • Grease an electric skillet with 1 tablespoon of oil and heat to 375 degrees.  I use a frying pan on medium heat.  I usually use a non-stick pan that I grease with a little butter (the butter is unnecessary if using non-stick, it just makes the pancake taste a little buttery :) )
  • Use about 1/4 cup batter for each pancake (I use 2 tablespoons for each pancake).
  • Cook until the edges look a bit dry, and bubbles start to form and pop on the top (you may need to reduce the heat a little to prevent the first side from burning while it cooks through), then flip over and cook about 1 1/2 minutes longer.
  • Serve with maple syrup or any other toppings you like.  A friend of mine used to cook up her strawberries/bananas/mixed chopped fruit in a pan with some maple syrup - makes a delicious topping.
Note: If you do decide to refrigerate the batter and cook the pancakes the following morning, you might find that the batter has a lot of bubbles and is stiff looking.  I just start scooping from the bowl without mixing it up - I figured that the bubbles are good thing.  I'm no expert though, it's just what I did.

My partner heard a podcast once where the person was talking about the perfect pancakes.  According to the podcast, the ratio of baking soda/powder to flour is 1 tablespoon of baking powder OR 1 tsp of baking soda for every cup of flour.  In this recipe I counted the oats and flour together (2 1/2 cups) and adjusted the baking powder accordingly.  I have used this ratio in my regular pancake recipe as well and found that it totally makes them fluffier :)

If we make these at the weekend, I'll work on taking some photos for you.  In the meantime, let me know how they turn out!

Thursday, 12 September 2013

A perfectly good egg

Upon hearing a rendition of Humpty Dumpty from a CD that her little brother had insisted on playing in the car, my older daughter piped up from the back seat, "Too bad Humpty Dumpty didn't crack straight into a frying pan."

Meanwhile her Knock Knock jokes have a way to go.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Labour Day

What is it about Labour Day Weekend that indicates that it is the end of summer?  

Last week we were melting in 30+degree weather.  It was hot and humid and altogether uncomfortable (which makes me then question what I'm on about now).  It was summer.

Monday was Labour Day.  The last day of the holidays.  It threatened rain all day and then there was a burst of sunshine long enough for us to enjoy a barbeque and a swim.  I'd say it was the last until next summer but we're Canadian - we'd barbeque in minus 20C.

I don't go to school.  This year I even worked through most of the summer.  So why is it that Labour Day weekend triggers the same awful feeling in the pit of my stomach that I'm sure hundreds of thousands of children feel around the world (well, where ever they have Labour Day as the last day of summer holidays)?

The children went back to school on Tuesday.  The air was crisp and the wind sent a chill through our clothes (which were foolishly a little lighter than was called for).  Where does summer go?  Does it smell the scent of school and decide to skedaddle?  And why does 15 degrees in September feel colder than the same in March?  

Autumn, Fall, whatever you want to call it, is a beautiful season.  And I love it.  But somehow, as the possibility of sun-filled days diminishes, it fills me with desperation.   I become obsessive about making the most of each sunny day, anxious to soak it all in, savour it and bask in its warmth and glory, desperately trying to hold on to it, willing it to not disappear.     

For those of us who live our lives around the school calendar (which is all of us at some point or another), it is this day - the first day of the school year - that holds far more significance than New Year's.  It is in many ways a milestone.  It is inevitable.  As is the end of summer.  A marking of the passage of time.


The first day of school (and the end of summer) is full of new beginnings - new teachers, new friends, new experiences.  To celebrate, the leaves begin to show off with beautiful hues of red and gold before revealing the branches for what they are.  

Even endings bring the beginning of something else.


A taste of what's to come -   this particular bush on our way to school,
 turns a beautiful fuschia before succumbing to winter

The theme over at Tara's Gallery this week is "Back to School".  Just as I've been inspired by other blogs to start writing, her blog inspires me to take more pictures.

Sticky Fingers Photo Gallery







Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Let them eat cake - Part 1

Ok so not the most original idea for a title.  But I was so very flattered when I was asked for my delicious, fool proof cake recipes (it really doesn't take much).  Have to say I am often asked for the recipes but never by someone who hasn't tasted them is really is just going on my word (which is good but at the end of the day, is just that) and as they say, the proof really is in the pudding.  

I can't very well share the recipes without revealing their sources.  Recipes over time become our own, but really they almost always originate from somewhere else.  

The chocolate cake recipe was my aunt's - when I was growing up we would often spend our summers visiting cousins in either Kenya or Canada.  My aunt in Kenya would make this cake.  And my cousin was an expert at making the most beautiful looking cakes out of these cakes.  She made me a guitar once (out of cake).  For the record, I don't play the guitar - but I think I was going through a phase where I wanted to.  You can find this recipe on the internet by the way and I've seen versions where they use sour cream instead of yoghurt but I got it from my aunt first and I always use yoghurt.

COCOA FUDGE CAKE

Ingredients:

  • 1 2/3 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 c. sugar 
  • 2/3 c. cocoa 
  • 1 1/2 tsp. soda 
  • 1 tsp. salt 
  • 1 1/2 c. plain yoghurt 
  • 1/2 c. shortening (butter, softened)
  • 2 eggs 
  • 1 tsp. vanilla


Directions

  1. Measure all ingredients into a large bowl
  2. Blend on low speed then beat on high speed for 3 minutes.
  3. Bake in 9"x13" greased and floured pan for approximately 30 to 35 minutes (until toothpick comes out clean) at 350 degrees (176 C).
It really is that easy.  But I make notes every time I make a recipe (helps for the next time) so I've copied them here in case you need them.

My notes:
  • Last time I made 1 ½ times the amount - I found it fit in the rectangle tin better (i.e wasn't so thin)
  • For a layered cake, this recipe fills 2 9” rounds nicely  - just remember to split the batter in half so that the two cakes are even
  • The cake is fudgier on the second day.
  • Obviously if you make more of the recipe and put it all the same pan, it takes longer to cook.  Check it after 30 minutes and add the time according your own oven and how much of the mixture you've put in there
  • The recipe makes great cupcakes.  Fill the cupcake liners 3/4 and adjust the bake time (about 15 minutes for large cupcakes, less for mini ones) - it makes just a little over 12 regular sized cupcakes
Icing Options (totally optional - it's great without): 
  • Sprinkle icing sugar on top
  • A buttercream icing or other icing
  • Make a strawberry coulis/sauce (boil strawberries, sugar and water).  Put in the middle of the two rounds.  Whip fresh cream and put on top and through the sides.  Make sure the coulis & the cake are well cooled before putting on the whipped cream or the cream will separate.  Decorate with fresh strawberries on top.
  • Make a chocolate ganache by melting chocolate chips with cream (check internet for recipe).  Pour over the cake and allow to harden.  This option makes the cake seem a lot richer.
Do let me know how it goes if you try it.  Unfortunately I don't have photos for the steps... it would require me to make the cake again and honestly I think I need to hit the gym after all the cake I've consumed in the last couple of weeks!  Maybe next time.

Off I go to Kindergarten orientation - round 2 here we go!  More on that next time.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Birthday Party Brag

So the birthday party was awesome.  Brilliant fun.  Great even.

We'd invited guests for 5p.m. and the first showed up at 4:45.  We were far from ready but it worked out ok.  My mum and brother had dropped by and helped me get all the last minute stuff together.  The birthday girl, my oldest, greeted her friend and took her off to play. 

The children played games from different countries, ate food from around the world (nothing fancy just birthday party staples - pasta bake, phyllo triangles, fairy bread, chips (crisps for the English), fruit, and of course cake.  C, my other half so to speak, acted as tour guide and captain of the "aeroplane".  (C doesn't stand for his name but rather a title he once chose as a lark but has since followed him around).

At one point, we almost had a mutiny on our hands.  The games we'd picked were off the internet and it turns out seven year olds are better at making up their own games.  "This is boring," moaned one boy (the same boy declared at the end that it was the best party he'd ever been to).  Luckily our tour guide is a quick thinker - "No worries, you don't have to play," and he directed them over to Italy for their supper.  After which they had participated in a treasure hunt. 

I think the treasure hunt was the piece de resistance.  C put that together as well.  His riddles were clever and it was fun to watch the children run around the garden and house, en masse in search of the next clue.  I'm not sure if they had more fun or if we did, putting it together.

I made 2 chocolate cakes and 2 vanilla cakes.  I have a recipe for each that are fool proof, taste great and work well for sculpting.  This cake was easier than ones we've done in the past though (last time, for her 5th birthday she wanted an aeroplane cake).  This time, we stuck the cakes together to make a big slab, covered it with buttercream and the "drew" a map of the world using a stencil we printed from the internet.  I say "we" but in all honesty, it was all C.  She described what she wanted and he delivered.  And the cakes tasted great (I can take credit for that).


Not bad for an amateur eh?

I love the Aussie tradition of giving three cheers for the birthday person after singing Happy Birthday.  It's one we've tried to continue since coming back to Toronto.  Unfortunately it often falls flat around these parts.  Not that stops us from trying...

We had a couple of trampoline casualties - one fat lip and one of the girls got checked in a basketball game and her glasses fell off.  Luckily she wasn't hurt too badly, her glasses were intact and her mum (who was already there to pick her up) was very cool about it.  She sat and had her cake while icing her eye while my sister-in-law applied mendhi (henna) for her (the last stop on the tour was Pakistan/India).

Afterward we invited the children's families to stay for an outdoor movie night.  We set up a screen behind the garage and blankets on the grass to sit on.  The moon was out, the weather cooperated and the mozzies weren't too bad which all made for a lovely end to a fun afternoon.

Thank goodness I don't have to do it again for a couple of years. 

(Well I do - my little guy turns 3 in October - but it was a good way to end this post.)



Monday, 19 August 2013

Birthday Party Angst

My oldest child just turned 7.  And it's birthday party year (we only do birthday parties every other year in our family).  I have a love-hate relationship with birthday parties.  Right now I'm having a hard time figuring out the love part of that relationship.  And I really wish I'd worked harder at outsourcing this party.  I feel that's a cop-out.  It's not a cop-out.  But I feel like it is.

So we have a theme - we're going on an adventure "Around the World".  And we came up with some cool invitations (boarding passes - can't say I came up with the idea myself - the internet is a very handy tool!).  Little people have said they're coming and now begins the hard part.  Menu, games, cake, prizes, agh.

The thing is, I pride myself in not making waste.  I hate the plastic kitch the children get in loot bags.  I despise loot bags.  They're wasteful and not at all environmentally friendly.  So the last time we had birthday parties we made cookies (biscuits/bikkies).  Beautiful butter ones that we iced ourselves.  It was a LOT of work.  I'd done it for my middle girl's 3rd birthday and so was obliged to do it for her sister's 5th but by then the baby was crawling and though I wasn't working it was not easy and I vowed that I would NEVER do it again.  

Planning a birthday party when you're not working full time is tricky.  Doing it when you are seems downright impossible (I know it's not, but at this point I'm still at the bottom of the hill mountain looking up).  So the question now is what do I do for prizes and "loot"?  We're going around the world.  I thought we'd visit China where they could paint a paper lantern/do something with chopsticks.  Then we'd visit Italy/Mexico where they could make pizza/tacos (and eat them).  Then Australia where we'd play a game (haven't figure out which one yet).  We'll go to India where my sis-in-law will apply some henna (have to get permission from the mums before I firm up this one!)

And finally we'd head to "Treasure Island" for a Treasure hunt.  I thought perhaps I could put some back to school supplies in the Treasure chest.  But the truth is, children have all that stuff.  Way too much of it.  Erasers, pencils, stickers, markers, crayons, we have them coming out our ears.  They're happy for a minute and then it's discarded for the next thing.  Sigh.  How do you teach children to be appreciative?  To value what they do have?  Perhaps I should just get a bunch of change and put that in the treasure box.  Can I do that?

The party will be fun.  I'm obviously someone who waits until the last minute to sort these things out.  I've got until Saturday at 5p.m. before the first guest arrives.  I'm not at all artistic and my creativity is limited (thank goodness for the internet!).  I love designing and making the cake.  It can be fun.  It will be fun.  Really.

I've been hesitant about blogging.  There's a level of anonymity that I want to maintain and it feels like the world is so small I'd get found out.  And then there's my state of mind.  It hasn't been very positive of late and really, who wants to be around a wet blanket.  If you're working hard in real life to maintain a certain level of togetherness and happiness it's difficult to do that in your writing and thoughts as well.  I have to say though this venting thing might work for me.  I've been invigorated.  I have some fresh ideas.  Onward and upward.  This party will be awesome.  Yay!

Monday, 12 August 2013

Same same but different

Living in Australia was very much like living in Canada but not.  The people are friendly (though Australians take friendliness to a whole new level), we love the outdoors, and our histories are somewhat similar (I think - actually don't take my word for it, I was just looking for a third thing to finish of that sentence).  But though we speak the same language, are a part of the commonwealth and have a high immigrant population (particularly in the urban areas), there are things that set us apart.  The weather for one but that's easy.

When I moved to Australia there were a number of things I had to get used to.  For one, they drove on the other side of the road.  Not a big deal since I didn't really drive - I just had to get used to looking the other way first when crossing the road.  (I can't actually tell you if it was right or left because I can't tell the difference in my head and have to go through a convoluted physical process of figuring out right from left which is impossible to do and type at the same time - but that's a post for another day perhaps). 

Anyway, there were things I had to get used to.  For one, instead of "How are you?" or "How's it going?" or "How are you doing?" they said, "How're you going?" to which I almost replied "on foot" on more than one occasion.  I was chatting once with another mum.  Both of us pushing our prams.  She was pregnant at the time and was asking me how it was with two children.  "How do you go with them?"she asked.  (How do I go with them?  Where?)  "Oh I just use the double stroller" I replied, a little confused.  Well you can see how that went.  We speak the same freakin' language and yet...

There were differences that I quite liked - they put sauce on pizza (in addition to the base sauce in case you were wondering if we don't put sauce on ours), they put rocket on pizza (which I love!), they call rocket, rocket (as opposed to arugula which is more difficult to spell), their love mom&pop type cafes (Starbucks closed up shop in Sydney which I think says a lot?), there was always poached eggs on the breakfast menus (and they were always done well - as opposed to well-done) and of course the banana bread.  They toasted it.  Once you've had toasted banana bread (with butter if you're feeling particularly indulgent) you really can't go back.  Well you can but it's not the same.

It's funny how when you move somewhere the differences are so apparent and then you get used to them. And when you get back you wonder why we don't do it that way.  We complained bitterly (ok not quite that much) while we were there that all four wheels on their shopping trolleys swivel.  Over here it's just the front two that swivel, the back two just go backwards and forwards.  When all four swivel, it can be difficult to navigate.  Until you're stuck between two stopped trolleys and decide that going sideways is the only way out.  Then the four swivelling wheels are something you remember fondly.

Same same but different was the name of a hotel that we saw in Thailand.  We didn't stay there but we loved the name.  It's a phrase we use often in my house.  Same same but different.  It's the way things are sometimes.

Friday, 26 July 2013

5 years ago

My passport and drivers' licence were both up for renewal this year.  Both were last issued 5 years ago and it got me thinking about all the things that have happened in the past 5 years.  So here goes.  10 things about the past 5 years.


5 years ago...

  1. I turned 36.
  2. I gave birth to a little girl at home.  She was red faced and grumpy looking. Now she's a gorgeous 5 year old who's starting Kindergarten in September.
  3. I went on mat leave and followed my partner for 3 years in Australia.  It'll be 2 years this summer, since we've been back home.
  4. I had 2 children under 2.  Now I have 3 and technically the littlest one is no longer a toddler.  When do they stop being a toddler?
  5. I was really busy at work and worked right up until my due date.  I facilitated a workshop the day before I left.  I loved it.
  6. I got a really bad haircut because the regular girl was away and I couldn't wait because I was flying to another country.  After that, I let my hair grow until I came home so she could fix it.  Hair grows quite a lot in a year.  She wondered where I'd gone.
  7. I couldn't imagine what my children would be like as they got older.  My youngest is now older than my oldest was at that time.  Those days were structured around naps, diaper changes, playgroup.  These days the only naps needed/wanted are mine. (not totally true but it reads better)
  8. Life was full of possibilities.  Somehow I feel like I've lost sight of those possibilities.  Repatriation has been difficult.  Getting back to work full time has been difficult.
  9. I moved close to a beach.  I'd forgotten how lovely it is to see the ocean every day.  It is by far my favourite place to be.
  10. I thought about starting a blog.

5 years.  The stamps on my old passport were mainly for Australia, the US and Canada.  And the US ones only because we flew through there on our way to and from Aus.  The one before that was filled with exotic visas - Thailand, Cambodia, Europe, Africa.

5 years.  4 house moves, 2 country moves, 2 cars bought, several prams bought (that's a post for another day), 1 more pregnancy, 10 pounds lost and then gained back after each move, 2 children through preschool, a million photos taken waiting to be sorted.


5 years. Lots of births. 3 deaths.  Funny how before a birth or a death you can't possibly imagine what life will be like.  But then it happens and we keep rolling along. 

5 years.  Loads of friends made.  Some of whom have managed to stay in touch.  Others whom I am certain if I saw today would pick up where we left off.


5 years from now I wonder what my list will be.