Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Awesome People and Ibuprofen.

Today is the kind of day that makes me thankful to be alive and healthy. It comes after seven agonizing days under the duvet, downing ibuprofen and various other cold meds at my bedside.


I'm not one to exaggerate but I nearly died. 


Okay not really, but this whammy of a virus really wiped the life out of me. And, as if not being able to do normal activities, enjoy Christmas, and even drink wine, wasn't bad enough, being ill gave rise to a new side: lady hypochondriac extraordinaire.

At various points over the last week I've conjured numerous diseases for myself, including strep throat, meningitis, mono, throat cancer, and other undesirable ailments. I'd wave a snotty tissue from behind my lap top and hoarsely whisper my fateful prediction to J, who would then shove another mug of honey and lemon in my direction and tell me go back to bed and hurry up and get better soon.


Thankfully J has been at home the entire time. As well, his step-mother was staying with us last week and was an enormous help with the kids, the cooking and housework. Heaven knows what I'd have done if it had been a regular week and I'd been here alone. Oh, right, yes, I do remember.



I have this suspicion. I suspect the body remembers all the times you've been bad to it: all the nights you haven't slept; all the healthy things you haven't eaten; all the glasses of wine and late nights; all the not resting; all the times you didn't give your body a chance to recover. And then one day, when you're not expecting it, it creeps up and taps you on the shoulder and... "oh hai, it's me, your body, and now that you have a few weeks to rest, guess what? It's pay back time asshole."

You know, like when you go on holiday and get sick - ever done that? It's your body, waiting, waiting, waiting for you to take a much-needed rest, and then, POW.



But anyway, despite all my incorrect diagnoses, I'm on the mend, today feeling about 90% better.

Which brings me to my point, that basically, I'm thankful.

I'm thankful for all the awesome people in my life. For my husband, who has been superstar husband / father over the past week. For my step-mother-in-law, who kept everything running smoothly while I was incapacitated. (This sounds like an award speech doesn't it?) For my in-laws, who took the boys sledding and fed them hot chocolate and watched movies for the day so that J and I could have a little peace and quiet. For my parents, though thousands of miles away, who offered me words of comfort and support over the phone. For wireless technology so that I could watch (and become hooked on) Mad Men from my bed.


And, most definitely, for ibuprofen.


So. How was your Christmas?
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Friday, December 24, 2010

May Your Christmas be merry and your belly filled with cookies.

Merry Christmas dear readers. I hope your holidays are happy, your bellies are stuffed, and your wishes fulfilled.

I'm sending this fleeting message from my bed, where I've been propped up for the past few days, fighting off a horrid virus that's invaded my head and caused my ears and throat to feel like they're on fire.

In lieu of anything coherent (give me a break, I'm incapacitated), and because I've been a bit cookie-obsessed these past few weeks, I bring you the best cookies I've found online this year.

Gingerbread Man Cookies

I've tried several different gingerbread recipes, and this is the best one I've come across. The cookies aren't too chewy or tough, and have a nice, light, spiced flavour too them.

(From allrecipes)

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup margarine
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Directions

  1. In a large bowl, cream together the margarine and sugar until smooth. Stir in molasses and egg yolk. Combine the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and nutmeg; blend into the molasses mixture until smooth. Cover, and chill for at least one hour.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to 1/4 inch thickness. Cut into desired shapes with cookie cutters. Place cookies 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets.
  3. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven, until firm. Remove from cookie sheets to cool on wire racks. Frost or decorate when cool.

Chocolate mint squares

These are a bit more fiddly to make, but taste really good - especially the mint buttercream icing, which I couldn't stop scooping straight from the bowl. 


Chocolate Mint Squares: Butter (or use a non stick cooking spray) a 9 x 9 inch (23 x 23 cm) pan.

Bottom Layer: In a saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. Stir in the sugar and cocoa powder and then gradually whisk in the beaten egg. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens (1 - 2 minutes). Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract, graham cracker crumbs, coconut, and chopped nuts. Press the mixture evenly into the prepared pan. Cover and refrigerate until firm (about an hour).

Buttercream: In your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer) cream the butter. Beat in the remaining ingredients. If desired, add a little green food coloring and beat until the filling is uniform in color. If the mixture is too thick to spread, add a little more milk. Spread the filling over the bottom layer, cover, and refrigerate until firm (about 30 minutes).

Chocolate Topping: In a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, melt the chocolate and butter. Spread over the filling and refrigerate.

To Serve: To prevent the chocolate from cracking bring the squares to room temperature and then, using a sharp knife, cut into pieces.
Yield: Makes about 25 squares

Chocolate Mint Squares:

1/2 cup (1 stick) (113 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated white sugar
1/3 cup (30 grams) unsweetened cocoa
1 large egg, beaten
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups (200 grams) graham cracker crumbs
1 cup (65 grams) coconut (either sweetened or unsweetened)
1/2 cup (50 grams) walnuts or pecans, coarsely chopped

Buttercream:
1/4 cup (56 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 - 3 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons vanilla custard powder (Bird's) or vanilla pudding powder
1/2 teaspoon pure peppermint extract
2 cups (230 grams) powdered sugar (confectioners or icing) sugar
Green Food Coloring (optional)

Chocolate Topping:
4 ounces (115 grams) semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 tablespoon (14 grams) unsalted butter




Crescents (Mexican wedding cakes)

These are really easy to make, and taste delicious. They have a crumbly texture that's unique to other cookies.

(From the Food Network)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar, plus more for coating baked cookies
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting hands
  • 1 cup pecans, chopped into very small pieces

Directions

Preheat the oven to 275 degrees F. Line cookies sheets with parchment paper.
Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar at low speed until it is smooth. Beat in the vanilla. At low speed gradually add the flour. Mix in the pecans with a spatula. With floured hands, take out about 1 tablespoon of dough and shape into a crescent. Continue to dust hands with flour as you make more cookies. Place onto prepared cookie sheets. Bake for 40 minutes. When cool enough to handle but still warm, roll in additional confectioners' sugar. Cool on wire racks.


Toffee Squares

I came across this recipe on Epicurious, and was intrigued by the combination of toffee and toasted almonds. The end result was good.

Ingredients

Crust
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
Topping
  • 7 to 8 ounces milk chocolate, broken into pieces, or 1 1/2 cups milk chocolate chips
  • 1 cup chopped almonds, toasted
Preparation

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with parchment.
2. Prepare the crust. In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, beat together the butter and sugar on medium speed until light, about 2 minutes. Beat in the egg yolk, vanilla, and salt. On low speed, gradually beat in the flour just until mixed. The dough will be stiff. Pat the dough evenly over the bottom of the baking pan.
3. Bake in the center of the oven until pale gold on top, about 20 minutes.
4. Remove the pan from the oven and scatter the chocolate pieces evenly over the crust. Return the pan to the oven for 1 minute. Remove the pan again and, using a knife, spread the chocolate evenly over the crust. Sprinkle evenly with the almonds.
5. Let cool completely in the pan on a wire rack. Using a sharp knife, cut into small squares, then carefully remove from the pan with a small offset spatula or an icing spatula.




Sugar cookies with icing

Christmas isn't complete without good old fashioned sugar cookies, and it's always fun (or disastrous, depending on which way you look at it) to get the kids to help decorate them. I've been using this rolled sugar cookie recipe and icing recipe from allrecipes for the past few years, and they always turn out well.


Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups butter, softened
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Directions

  1. In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Stir in the flour, baking powder, and salt. Cover, and chill dough for at least one hour (or overnight).
  2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Roll out dough on floured surface 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Cut into shapes with any cookie cutter. Place cookies 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets.
  3. Bake 6 to 8 minutes in preheated oven. Cool completely.



Sugar Cookie Icing

Ingredients

  • 1 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 2 teaspoons milk
  • 2 teaspoons light corn syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • assorted food coloring

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, stir together confectioners' sugar and milk until smooth. Beat in corn syrup and almond extract until icing is smooth and glossy. If icing is too thick, add more corn syrup.
  2. Divide into separate bowls, and add food colorings to each to desired intensity. Dip cookies, or paint them with a brush.




Chewy Molasses Spice Cookies

Ingredients

Makes 36
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup molasses

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. In a shallow bowl, place 1/2 cup sugar; set aside.
  2. With an electric mixer, beat butter and remaining cup of sugar until combined. Beat in egg and then molasses until combined. Reduce speed to low; gradually mix in dry ingredients, just until a dough forms.
  3. Pinch off and roll dough into balls, each equal to 1 tablespoon. Roll balls in reserved sugar to coat.
  4. Arrange balls on baking sheets, about 3 inches apart. Bake, one sheet at a time, until edges of cookies are just firm, 10 to 15 minutes (cookies can be baked two sheets at a time, but they will not crackle uniformly). Cool 1 minute on baking sheets; transfer to racks to cool completely. Store in an airtight container up to 4 days.
Christmas Nipple Cookies -- I mean, Peanut Blossom Cookies

From Joy of Baking.

Ingredients

1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup (185 grams) peanut butter (smooth or crunchy)
1/3 cup (70 grams) light brown sugar
1/3 cup (65 grams) granulated white sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons milk
1 1/2 cups (195 grams) all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Coating:
1/3 cup (65 grams) granulated white sugar
Garnish:
48 milk chocolate Kisses, unwrapped

Directions 
Line three baking sheets with parchment paper. Set aside.
In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat the butter. Add the peanut butter and sugars and beat until light and fluffy (about 2 - 3 minutes). Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat to combine. Beat in the milk. In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Add to the peanut butter mixture and beat until incorporated. Cover and chill the batter for about an hour, or until firm enough to roll into balls.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) and place rack in the center of the oven. 
Roll the batter into 1 inch (2.54) round balls. Place the granulated white sugar in a shallow bowl and roll each ball in the sugar. Place on the prepared baking sheet, spacing about 2 inches (5 cm) apart.
Bake the cookies for about 8 - 10 minutes, or until the cookies are lightly browned. Immediately upon removing the cookies from the oven, place a chocolate Kiss in the center of each cookie, pressing down until the cookie just starts to crack. Cool completely on a wire rack. 
Makes about 4 dozen cookies.



 
Ho Ho Ho!

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Traditional or electronic kids' books. Which are best?

On Friday night I went with J to his work Christmas party. After swapping secret santa presents, embarrassing ourselves with band hero and testing out a few crantinis, he and his colleagues were presented with their Christmas gifts, ipads.

Admittedly, I was a bit aloof about the ipad. I was all, oh great, yay, looks nice, mm hmm, okay - with a slight eye roll. All the while wondering what the enormous deal was, as whoops and gasps filled the room. It seemed to me just like a larger version of the iphone. 

I was wrong. Oh so wrong.

The ipad is all kinds of unimaginable awesomeness. I keep trying to steal it away to have a go myself, but it's pretty hard to steal when the thing is physically attached to the person you're trying to steal from. Ever since we've acquired the ipad, communication in our house has been disrupted. In order to get my husband's attention, I have to raise the decibel level of my voice, wave frantically, or tug at his sleeve.

We've had some of those "...so, I saw a pink elephant flying over the house earlier..." conversations too.

I can't blame him though. And the truth is, I'm jealous.

There are applications for everything: online newspapers, magazines, stores, recipes, TV guides and games. The screen is the perfect size to watch movies, read the entire front spread of an online newspaper, or look at a whole bunch of photographs at once.

Did I mention, it's awesome?

Some of the best applications I've seen so far are the children's stories. As well as being beautifully illustrated and narrated, the stories are interactive: in one you can shake a tree and see apples fall to the ground, or touch jingle bells to hear each individual jingle or touch a clown to help him cast toys around the room. If you tip the ipad one way or the other all the characters and objects fall as though gravity existed in this small, intelligent computer.

Of course, our kids are completely captivated by the interactive stories. They can participate in the adventures and have an actual impact on the way the tale unfolds. 

It's a completely new concept to me - reading books like this, online, on a screen, with bits of the story moving a wobbling in an all-too realistic way. And I can't help but wonder if this will be the future of reading?

I hope not. I never got into the Kindle. I don't advocate those electronic kids' toys that teach reading and writing and spelling.I've never bought a leap frog pad thing, or downloaded an application from the Internet.

When it comes to learning to read and write, I'm firmly old school. I want my kids to learn the way I learned: with a pencil and a piece of paper and years of practice, and some good old fashioned paper books printed with real ink.

Like I said, I never got into the Kindle. I still prefer to hold a real book in my hands and turn the pages with my fingers, I like to see the print of the ink on paper. I still prefer to read my news on a broadsheet which, I know, is not the most environmentally friendly option, but that's the way I like it.

Having said all this, when I look at these ipad stories, with their interactive stories and their characters that come to life, I wonder how traditional books will be able compete. My generation is already Internet-obsessed, and I can only imagine the next generations will be more so.

Are we going to see a decline (or worse, an end) to the printed book?

How do you feel about your kids reading books on a screen as opposed to in printed format? Do you encourage it or hope they'll stick to the old fashioned way?



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Friday, December 17, 2010

I used to like fashion.

I used to like fashion. But these past few years, my desire to experiment with clothes has dwindled almost to the point of non-existence. My getting-dressed routine consists of throwing on a t-shirt and a pair of jeans - whichever are the most accessible at the time. If I'm feeling really creative, I'll put on a scarf or a pair of earrings. Whoop.



I was never stylish, but I used to enjoy playing with different styles and putting things together. I liked finding pretty things at markets and stores and it became almost like a hobby, collecting things.


I've no idea where most of those items even are now.


And then, this year, with things getting a little easier with the kids, I've found myself wanting to experiment again. I enjoy reading fashion blogs more than magazines - they're authenticity is far more intriguing to me than the professionally-styled photoshoots in their glossy pages.

I love Rebecca Woolf's Gone Style series. It's inspiring to see what everyday people (i.e. not celebrities) are doing with fashion, and how they make different pieces look good together that I would never even have considered.


Realistically, I wear about one tenth of what's in my wardrobe. Going through it yesterday, I discovered items stuffed right at the back and high up on the shelves, where I could hardly reach, entirely forgotten about. I pulled out a couple of items and tried them on. I felt suddenly inspired to experiment again, even if it was only with my dusty old stuff.

I put on this outfit, and took a picture, and as you can see, my son was "helping" me by chanting "oooooh mama!" and tugging on my skirt.



I felt kind of silly, experimenting, and the outfit was nothing special, but it was the first time, in a long time that I'd felt inspired. Unfortunately it didn't last long, because the tights were too, um, tight, and were cutting into me (they were from slimmer times), and the soles of the boots were too slippery for the snow outside. Eventually I returned to my jeans and t-shirt. Oh well.



But it was nice to play around for a while. Or even just to want to.
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Thursday, December 16, 2010

What being a parent has taught me about money.

Aside from having a brand new baby to care for, one of the biggest adjustments to parenthood, has, for me, been the tightening of our financial belts.

Ours was the typical story. We graduated, then worked and lived in the city, single young earners. We were used to a healthy bank balance and never thought twice about eating at restaurants twice a week or booking expensive holidays on a whim. Conveniently, my job was located just down the road from a rather lovely shopping area, and at least once a week, I'd wander down there in search of a treat for myself.


We had no idea how fortunate we were at the time - to never have to worry about money, to never have to think about budgeting and cutting back. To be that free. And I'd never really been very good with money. Thankfully, J was. He'd previously helped me clear the hefty credit card balances I was lugging around when we'd met. He ensured we were putting money away into savings, paying our bills on time, and generally taking care of things.


We moved to Canada and basically continued with our double-income lifestyle. I remember waking up one weekend, about a year after we'd moved to Calgary, and suggesting we needed a bar table and stools for the kitchen, and within four hours, we'd scouted the city and purchased a set without even the blink of an eye. It was nothing to drop cash on purchases then.



Then, when I was about six months pregnant, I quit my job, three months earlier than planned, due to stress. I'd decided it was more important to have a healthy pregnancy that a healthy bank account. We were just going to have to make our adjustments earlier than anticipated.


We went down from two salaries to one, plus maternity benefits, which in Canada are quite generous and last one full year. But still, it was a shock. I realized we were going to have to drastically change our spending habits, our lifestyle. No more dinners out twice a week, no more weekly clothes purchases, no more splashing out on furniture.


I consulted a friend on how to economize. She advised me to start planning my dinners for the week ahead. To make grocery lists accordingly and stick to them when shopping. To buy in bulk. To cook in batches and store leftovers in the freezer. To never shop when I was hungry. To join coops and share the cost of buying products with a group.


Gradually, I got the hang of it. But not without a fair amount of anxiety. I was determined we were going to live within our means, and if that meant cutting back on almost everything, then so be it. It didn't always work, but we tried.


Occasionally I still needed to treat myself.


Then, this year we were faced with a whole array of unexpected expenses (why do they all seem to come at the same time?). I retrained, and there were school fees and books and supplies. Our car needed new breaks. Our dog needed vet visits for his newly developed cataracts. Etc., etc. You know - just life.


One of the hardest things about cutting back was the present-giving. We've had to be very conservative with the gifts we've given to family and friends. We've learned to be, let's say, creative, with our gifts. For Christmas, many family members simply receive photo calendars - now a yearly tradition.Charity giving has been temporarily slashed, too.



But, like any period in one's life that presents challenges, there's hope in the end. I've been working now since September, and though building a therapy practice is a slow process, it's beginning to happen. And it's hugely satisfying to me, to be able to contribute, to hold a pay cheque in my hand, to feel like I'm helping get us slowly back on track. (And also to start thinking about all those deliciously impractical things I'm going to buy for myself next year!)


Despite all the times I've cursed this financially-trying time, I'm thankful for it too. I've learned to understand and appreciate money in a way I never imagined. My relationship with it is changed for good. I'll never again take for granted the ability to afford groceries, pay bills and keep a roof over our heads. And perhaps the meal-planning, economist mentality will stay with me always, that's okay. Because I look forward to being better with my money from here on. And, more importantly teaching my kids how to be sensible with their money too.



Besides, I would really like to retire one day in the distant future, too.



How about you, readers, what has being a parent taught you about money?
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Monday, December 13, 2010

Contradictions of Motherhood

Neat Freak Vs. Chaos Keeper.
I've no idea when I became a neat freak. As a teenager my family would poke fun at me for hoarding empty tea cups in my bedroom and leaving plants to die in the corner. In my twenties I became a little more concerned with keeping my apartment clean and tidy. But, if you'd told me that I'd be vacuuming every single day, I'd have thought you were two figs short of a figgy pudding. Being a neat freak and having kids is... basically... lunacy. But I am. On a positive note, though, being a neat freak means I can eat more cookies because I'm constantly burning off calories with all the cleaning. Uh. Right...?

Food Lover Vs. Family Nutritionist. 
I've mentioned a few (hundred) times, how much I love food. Cooking it, eating it, reading about it, staring at it with drool running down my chin, etc. But, when it comes to making healthy choices, I'm not so clever. It's like the rich foods cooked in half a block of butter and cream call out to me.... eat me I'm soooo tasty and you deserve me. Cooking Light magazine? Don't even dangle that thing near me. There's nothing yummy in there and you know it. When it comes to food, the only thing that goes in my favour is that we do eat a lot of fruit and vegetables (along with all the butter).

Independence Seeker vs. Primary Care Giver. 
Until I started working again this year, I struggled with being home all the time. I was always seeking an out. At the weekend I'd leap at any opportunity to get out on my own. If anyone so much as murmured the word babysitting near me I'd pin them to the wall with masking tape and flee. Sometimes I'd lock myself in the bathroom for ten minutes just to hear my own solitary thoughts. Going back to school and starting a new job this year has helped me create a bit of balance again.

Internet Whore Vs. Dedicated Parent.
The Internet is a beautiful thing and at the same time an evil temptress. And like many people I've found myself drawn into its pretty, shiny, funny, fascinating, entertaining, time-wasting lure. So this year, I was ruthless. I cut back on Facebook and Twitter, and spent more time blogging and reading blogs (the important stuff). 

Impatient Creature Vs. Teacher. 
I'll just be honest, I have about as much patience as a Jack Russell with a treat dangling in front of it. I try, I try, and I try, to be a patient mother, but sometimes I'm not. It's why most of the time I clean up the toys myself at the end of the day, instead of patiently teaching the kids how to clean up and waiting for them to pick up each toy and put it away (writing this is making me impatient) (and also, do you know how many Lego pieces there are in our house? A lot.). And why I restlessly do things all day, without - you know - resting much. I need to do more yoga.

I think Alanis had it right when she sang... 

*And what it all comes down to* 
*Is that I haven't got it all figured out just yet* 
*'Cause I've got one hand in my pocket* 
*And the other one is giving the peace sign*


What are your contradictions?
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Friday, December 10, 2010

Suburban mum spotted in trendy urban store buying sparkly reindeer brooch.

I walked into Urban Outfitters, hoping to find a secret santa gift for a party I'm going to in a week's time.

"Hallo!" Yelled a young guy ("young guy") up a ladder.

"Hi." I said, pretending I didn't just jump a little.

It was 8:45 pm and the store was packed with droves of moody looking twenty-something shoppers browsing party clothes and expensive jeans. I wandered over to the toys. There were head massagers and pink Buddha statues and sock monkey wine warmers and Lego key chains and test tube shot glasses and indoor alien lights.

I picked up three different items and wandered around and around and around like a customer in a restaurant with too many choices on the menu. I couldn't decide on anything, and my winter coat was suffocating me and it was almost closing time.

Unable to choose, I put everything back and began to walk out of the store. On the way, I passed a cute little dress with a ruffled skirt, a row of graphic print t-shirts and a rack of scarfs. But I wasn't in the mood for clothes. I carried on toward the door.

There was nothing in this store for me tonight.

Although - wait! What was that? (I know how to create a suspenseful moment oh yes) On a stand in the corner of the store, was a small tray of ....... wait for it ....... CHRISTMAS BROOCHES. You know, those ones little old ladies wear on their cardigans, with little gems and sparkly lights? Yes. Those.

So drawn to them, was I, that I actually picked up a few, stroked them lovingly, and began the mental process of convincing myself I NEEDED a Christmas pin. They were kind of tacky in a fun, kitsch Christmas way - at least that's what I told myself. In the end I didn't buy one. But it was close.

* Who thinks I should go back and get it? * :-)


The truth is, what it comes down to, is this: I'm a suburban Mum who used to shop in Urban Outfitters but now prefers sparkly Christmas pins, and will soon own a whole collection that I'll store away each year in a special box specifically for holiday brooches, and I'll wear sweaters with snow flakes and reindeers (I already have my eye one - don't judge me), and cookie jars and poinsettias.

It's happening.

HALPS ME!
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Thursday, December 9, 2010

If you stare hard into a glitter-filled snow globe, you might find a little Christmas magic there.

Every year I wait for that feeling to hit me - ahhhh, it's Christmas! You know, the one where all the real world stuff shrinks away into the background and all that's left is a warm, enchanting feeling of good things to come. And every year, the feeling comes later and later and is increasingly dwindled, until it's Christmas morning and only when I'm caught up in the excitement of tearing open presents, does it happen.

Each year I'm more wrapped up (so to speak) in commitments, obligations and responsibilities to find the time to stop and think about and enjoy it.

And it's not for want of trying. Our tree has been up in our living room for two weeks now, our lights strung up outside the house, I've written and sent most of my cards and even wrapped a few presents. And still, nothing.

It used to come easily. Almost anything would spark the feeling: listening to carolers, walking down a high street lit with Christmas lamps, watching a holiday movie, or even just wrapping presents with Baby It's Cold Outside playing in the background and a cup of cocoa by my side.

Now I have to work at the magic. And really, magic shouldn't be worked at.

Despite my attempts at surrounding myself with Christmas, I've felt not even a hint of the twinkly, round-as-a-bowl-full-of-jelly, magic stuff.

Until this afternoon. 

This afternoon, I went into my son's preschool as the parent volunteer, and for the first time - which, really, is not bad considering it's only December 9th - experienced a little Christmas magic.

It might have been when I was helping my son's classmates paint Christmas bells with red and green glitter, or the way the jingling bells gave rise to a rambunctious rendition of jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way... Or it might have been the candy cane mouse tails. Or maybe it was when the kids sat in a circle and listed aloud their Christmas wishes.

(I watched closely when it came to my son. "I want a pontipine." He said. A what? His wishlist changes every day. First he wanted a car wash, then a race course, then a combine harvester. Now a pontipine. "A porcupine?" Asked the teacher, curiously. Obviously she's never had the pleasure of In The Night Garden.)

As I watched their excited little faces, eyes shining, innocent and full of marvel for this mysterious forthcoming event, I felt it. Magic. It was as though, through them, I could recall the feeling I'd been looking for.

When I was a kid, like most kids, I thought my parents shared the same excitement about Christmas as me. Now I know, though their magic had probably worn away as mine is now worn away, they were reliving some of the magic through me (and my brother), as I'm now reliving it through my kids.

How about you? How do you get into the spirit of the holidays?


Image from istockphoto.com

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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

One fine day, seven years ago.

Seven years ago today, I woke up in my parents' house and saw, out the corner of my eye, my dress - a great big shiny white vision of five kinds of fabric, hanging by the window. It was time to get married. I leapt out of bed like a six year old on Christmas morning and ran downstairs. My Mum had prepared my favourite breakfast, scrambled eggs with smoked salmon on toast.

My hairdresser turned up at ten o'clock, and to her horror (and mine) I told her I didn't like my hair when she was finished. It was too fru-fru, curly, fancy, bouncy, bundled up on my head. She had to take it all apart and try to fix it. And really it was my fault because I should have done the trial-hair-run like everyone told me.



By midday my hair was sort of mended and I scurried around my parents' house wrestling with my enormous dress and getting ready.

When I arrived at the hotel, I was so nervous I could hardly breathe. That, and my dress was squeezing the air out of my lungs. But I took my Dad's arm, and breathed as we walked up the aisle to J who was waiting there for me.


After we'd said our vows, we slipped away from the party for a few moments and took a drive around the Suffolk countryside. It was cold and crisp and a frost hung in the air and on the ground. It was one of my favourite parts of the day.



It went by fast, that day. We chatted with friends and family, posed for thousands photos, ate dinner and pudding and cake and drank and danced into the evening.

And as everyone left to go home, we retreated to our suite to open presents by the fire and finish our champagne.

It was one of those days I wish I could revisit for just a second, to take in some of that magic again. So many great moments, so many laughs, so much love.

It was a fine day, and it was a sign of things to come.



Happy Anniversary sweetie.
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Sunday, December 5, 2010

How To Survive The Winter: A Guide For Europeans.

Coping with winter is serious business, so I've discovered these past five years. When I moved to the Arctic Canada, I really had no idea how to deal with it. I spent my first winter attempting to stay warm, drive safely and basically, survive, while fellow Calgarians pointed and laughed at me as I fell face-flat in the white slush, the poor, unsuspecting Brit. Okay not really, but they weren't much help so they might as well have been pointing and laughing.

Unless you've been living in an igloo for the past week, you'll have seen on the news that unusual weather conditions have hit parts of Europe. My brother, who lives in Surrey, England, was snowed into his apartment. My Mum sent me photographs of her garden in Eastbourne covered in eight inches of snow. A friend in West Sussex posted pictures well over a foot of snow outside her house, her kids happily rolling around in it.


Seeing how the weather has affected England - schools have shut, public transport stopped running temporarily, businesses closed - it puts into perspective how manageable it is here, where the snow ploughs are out clearing the roads before we even wake up for work, our snow shovels are kept within reach, our winter clothes at the ready.



So, being now a little better equipped to dealing with this weather, I thought I'd share a few tips with those folks losing their minds and their nose hairs in these unexpected weather conditions across the pond.



1. Drive safely. 
Obviously it doesn't help if the roads haven't been ploughed before you leave in your car. In some instances, if it's really bad, I'd say don't bother going out at all. But if you dohave to drive:
- keep your distance from other cars. Very important because if you do start to slide, or need to break quickly, you want to avoid the car in front.
- drive slower than usual. It's harder to control the car and come to a stop if you're driving too fast.
- if you loose control of the steering, take your foot off the break, off the accelerator, and continue steering toward the direction you want to go, then ease back onto the break slowly.

- always keep at least half a tank of gas (petrol) in your car, in case you break down and need to keep the car running for warmth.
- keep a charged phone with you at all times. 







2. Keep an emergency kit in your car, including:

- snack bars
- water
- gravel (to put behind your wheels if you get stuck in deep snow)
- several heavy blankets
- a large candle
- matches
- emergency phone numbers
- a flashlight
- a shovel



3. Get proper cold weather clothes.  
Get thee some long johns. Oh yes I did say it. They'll keep your legs warm if you have to walk anywhere in the cold. And thermal socks. And I always find keeping your head and hands covered is very important - a good hat and gloves.A down coat. Snow boots with deep tread. And throw in a completely unnecessary fur vest for good measure.


Image from Keela.co.uk


4. Look after your skin.
I notice changes in my skin almost immediately when the weather turns cold here. My hands are very dry and begin to crack and even break out in rashes during winter. Invest in a good hand cream, or, if it's very bad, smear your hands in Vaseline before bedtime, and wear gloves overnight. The same goes for the skin all over your body - over the winter it's bound to be drier and itchier. I usually switch to a cocoa or shea butter and a heavier face moisturiser.

5. Remember the GOOD NEWS. 
Whatever activity you do in cold weather burns more calories than in regular weather, because your body is having to work harder to stay warm. Yay! See? There is an up side to the cold and the snow. It means you can indulge in an extra ten Christmas cookies and an extra glass of wine.


Other people living in cold climates: what would be your tips for people dealing with harsh winter weather conditions for the first time?
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Thursday, December 2, 2010

It's my Birthday and I want Three Wishes and a Pony.

It's my birthday! Today! I'm thirty two years old! And I'm going to use exclamation marks all day!

On this day, thirty two years ago, I was born in a hospital in London, and there began the story of my life.... Oh gawd no, I'm not really going to bore you with the details of my life story. Not today anyway. But here's a cute baby picture for good measure.
Instead, I'd like to send three wishes out to the universe. And, as much as I'd like to see world peace, an end to poverty and warm beds for all fellow arctic dwellers over these frosty winter months, today my wishes are purely selfish.

Wish #1: These past few weeks (touching wood) we've seen a glimmer of hope in the sleeping-through-the-night department. Please, universe, let this be the start of many, many long, uninterrupted nights of sleep over the coming year.

Wish #2: Universe, you know me and my fondness for rich food and wine. Well, it's December, and December officially marks the beginning of my month-long indulgence fest. I try to be good most of the year, honest I do, but in this month of merriness, I'd like to enjoy the highly fattening cheeses, cookies, cakes and wine, without gaining fifty pounds. And since I just bought myself a new pair of jeans and since it would be awesome if they still fit me in January, do you think you could do me this one small favour and magically erase the calories this one time?

Wish #3: A birthday cake. Not just any cake, but one like this one my Mum used to make me as a girl. 


Kthnxbai. xox
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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Cheer up Thomas, you miserable git.


My kids love Thomas the Tank Engine. Especially my younger son.

"ToTo!" He cries, whenever he sees the blue train, which is often, because Thomas-branded merchandise is everywhere. We can't go out, it seems, without passing a Thomas book, some toxic bubble bath, a pair of pajamas or a toy.

So when I offered the boys the chance to rent one movie each from the library last week, Oliver naturally went for Thomas.

I put the DVD on so that I could get dinner ready. Not paying attention, I caught the odd line from the show here and there. After a while, all I could hear was a bunch of whining, self-pitying trains, constantly complaining about something or other.

"Toby wasn't very happy because he didn't feel like an important train!"


"Gordon was grumpy because he wanted to go a different way but the other trains didn't want to go with him!"


"Percy was angry because no one was listening to him!"

And so on. It was like this, all the way through the show. Bloody hell. It was like watching a conversation between Simon Cowell, Grumpy the dwarf and Scrooge.

I don't remember Thomas and his pals being such a bunch of bad-tempered grouches, having watched the show as a kid.

But maybe it's because now I'm used to modern kids' shows like Dora the Explorer and Max and Ruby (shudder) where everything is super-positive and super-fun and super-awesome all the time and the messages are all positive and nothing is negative. Or maybe it's because North American kids' shows are more bright and cheery than English kids' shows?

Some kids' shows are so happy-clappy it's practically unbearable. If you've ever watched an episode of Ni Hao Kai-Lan, you'll know what I'm talking about. She is ALL ABOUT the positive messages, forever turning a negative situation into a positive one.

Which is equally irritating. I'm not sure what's worse: pouty, gloomy trains or hyper cheerful, slightly preachy Japanese cartoon girls.

Maybe Ni Hao Kai-Lan should get together with Thomas and scatter some of her euphoria on him. 

What do you think? Have kids' shows have changed much since you were a child?





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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Where I'm from, people don't stand on the escalator, they run down it.



I'm officially sick of Christmas shopping. And it's not even December. How is this possible?

I remember when speed-walking through stores on December 24th in a sweaty panic was practically a tradition for me. It wasn't truly Christmas unless I was sprinting from John Lewis to Selfridges on Christmas Eve, grabbing last-minute gifts and wedging myself onto a packed train with ten shopping bags beside other equally loaded-down shoppers.

It must be to do with being a parent. Being organized isn't a fantasy any more - it's a necessity. So I prepare. I make lists in advance and I start early. And in October and the first part of November I genuinely enjoy Christmas shopping. I feel ahead of the game as I wander around smugly ticking things off my list all the while thinking about how organized I am and how I'm going to cleverly avoid the last-minute crowds.

Only, I'm not going to avoid the last minute crowds at all, because despite being organized since October, the list of Christmas things to do and buy never ends. Ever.  

And now, holiday shopping madness is in full swing in the shops, the malls and even the grocery stores. The hottest kids' toys, the best Christmas decorations and the coolest outfits are flying, FLYING I tell you, off the shelves. People are getting that twitchy-holiday-chaos-irritation look about them - the one it would serve you well to stay away from. Especially in parking lots.

And all this holiday madness is bringing out the Londoner in me. I cannot wait for a second. I cannot stand still. I cannot walk at a normal pace - I have to half-walk, half-run everywhere. I've rediscovered my spidey senses - scoping out space in a crowd, a gap to fit through, the nearest exit, the fastest route.

Last week at the mall (for the second time that week) (and LAST time for real) (okay maybe not really the last time but it's a nice idea) I squeezed past a man standing on the escalator and rushed down the steps, accidentally brushing my bags against his. I distinctly sensed him look at me, as if walking down the escalator was weird or something.

I almost thought I heard him mutter "slow down!". Or maybe it was my imagination. And in my imagination I responded "Where I'm from it's okay to be in a hurry.". Because in London it's okay - more than okay, to brush past people on an escalator, to scurry down the steps as though your urgency was justified. Everyone was in a rush, and it was okay.


Shopping for the holidays has turned me back into an impatient Londoner. And maybe, once the shopping season is done with, I'll slow down. Maybe I'll stop running down escalators past unwitting patrons and charging around as though I was training for speed-walking championships.


Or maybe the Londoner in me will always be in a rush.

How about you? How does Christmas shopping affect you?
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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

They'll never find their Christmas gifts!

When I was about five, I discovered that by poking a tiny little hole in the corner of a wrapped gift under the tree, I could figure out that the odd shaped package was, in fact, the True Heart Care Bear I'd been wanting. All without making it obvious I'd found out.

And because I was a nosy little bugger, it became a kind of tradition for me to hunt down my presents each year, and try to figure out what they were, either by poking a hole in the wrapping, or by inspecting the outside of the package.

One year, I actually unwrapped each one of my gifts, one by one, carefully peeling the tape off the wrapping paper to see exactly what was underneath. I know, it's awful and terrible. I am a terrible person.

You'd think all that sneaky present peaking would have ruined the fun of opening the presents. Bizarrely, it didn't.

My parents (here's where I try to redeem myself) had a knack for always getting me the perfect gifts, and so I was never disappointed. If anything, the sneaky peaking seemed to heighten the thrill of the forthcoming day. 

Anyway, remembering this leads me to think that, since my kids are - you know - my kids, and since they may have inherited some of my personalities traits, I suspect that they too, when they're older, might try to hunt down their presents before the big day.

Which? No WAY dudes. Your mother will outdo you every time, mark my words.

So adamant am I, that my kids will not find their presents in the manner I did as a child, that I even considered building a secret compartment into our basement when we were renovating a few years ago, specifically for this reason. Unfortunately, due to time and budget constraints, the secret compartment never materialized (at least I don't think it did!).

And so, in lieu of a secret compartment, we've unearthed the next best thing. In the last unrenovated room in the house, in the corner of the utility room, with a pile of tools and miscellaneous objects in it, as inconspicuous as a candy cane on a Christmas tree: the old, non-working refrigerator.

And now I think I deserve the evil laugh. Yes?

Mwahahahahahahahahahaha.

That's better.



Where do you hide your kids presents?


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Monday, November 22, 2010

The photographs tell a different story.

"We should take the kids and Bongo out for a walk." Said J.

I tried to do my best I'm invisible impression by sinking as far into the back of the sofa as possible and pulling a blanket over me.

"Really? Is that a good idea?"

I looked out and saw roads, roofs and trees covered in what looked like thirty inches of snow and more falling from the sky.

"If we don't go out when it's -14, we'll never go out when it's -25."

He made a good point, but still, not going out was tempting. I thought about whether staying inside for the next four months - just riding it out in our pajamas with mugs of hot chocolate and movies - would really be such a bad thing.

Nevertheless, we got ready to go out, bundling the kids up in so many layers it was difficult to tell whether there were still people under there. Oliver, who could hardly move, lay on the kitchen floor as though making a snow angel, arms and legs flapping helplessly.

About twenty five minutes after we left the house, we returned, unable to venture any further into the deep snow with the kids, who were constantly falling over, face-forward in the snow, begging to be carried, and losing gloves every second. Bongo was happy - he merrily rolled in the snow, covering his fur and whiskers in white sprinkles. 

Back inside, sweating and a little screwy from the whole kerfuffle, there's a slight chance I might have muttered something along the lines of "I'm NEVER bloody going out for a walk AGAIN!".

Me = Grinch.


But, later, when we were settled down for the evening, I was looking back through the pictures I'd taken of our walk. And there it was, the miracle of photographs. Instead of all the turmoil - all the getting clothes on and off, wiping runny noses, slips and falls, sweating, etc., I saw a different story: two happy little boys, exploring in the snow, making snowballs, giggling, playing, enjoying it. And I'll bet in a year's time, or ten year's time, that's all I'll remember.





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Thursday, November 18, 2010

To Blog is to Err.

Originally this post was going to be about the mistakes I made as a new blogger and how I'd advise others to avoid making those same mistakes. For instance, I once asked a blogger I barely knew to add me to her blogroll. (In my defense, it did say "If I've left you off this list please let me know." and I wasn't on there! Duh.)

But as I was writing out my list of mistakes I realized they weren't really mistakes - rather, things that happen as a natural course of beginner blogging. Then I began looking around to see what other people had to say on the matter, and, of course, came across approximately thirty million articles titled things like "common blogging mistakes".

The more I read about these so-called blogging mistakes, the more I didn't agree with (all of) them. And maybe they're aimed more at business blogs than parenting blogs, but for me, anyway, they don't all add up.

Here are a few "common blogging mistakes" that I've noticed seem to pop up repeatedly in different places.


Don't post too little or too often.
My view is, as long as you're posting once or twice a week, and not just randomly once every few months (a guaranteed way to lose readers), there's no need to post every single day. Of course, if you want to post every day then by all means, do it. I blog two to three times a week, and that, in itself, is quite a time commitment.

You must go forth and spend wads of cash making your blog pretty or be doomed.
I like a nice looking blog, of course, and I definitely think good design and typography enhances the overall experience, but beauty isn't the principal thing for me - content is. One of my favourite bloggers is Mom 101, and though hers isn't the flashiest, prettiest blog on the block (sorry Liz), it's her thought-provoking content and writing that keeps me coming back for more.

If you're serious about blogging you should ditch Blogger and move to WordPress.

I've been back and forth about this and I'm still undecided. I research things a lot before I make these kinds of decisions, and honestly? I've yet to see the true benefit of moving my blog to WordPress. Yes, I understand WordPress provides more flexibility in terms of design, format, typography, etc. And yes, I get that WordPress is superior when it comes to SEO. But is it really better for me? For my little parenting blog? Not convinced.

What do you mean you're not self-hosted?
I do plan on buying my domain name in the near future, but, I don't think it's essential. Sure, if the purpose of your blog is to generate an income, then, yes, a self-hosted domain is probably the way to go. For a parenting blog like mine? While it does look more professional, I'm not sure that having the .blogspot extension is really harming my blog at the moment.

You're not commenting on enough other blogs.
The first year I started blogging, I was determined to get around to every single blog in my reader, whether or not I really enjoyed reading it. It was a tiresome waste of energy. Now? I read the blogs I like, end of story. And oh, it's nice to have finally realized that it's okay to do so.

You need to be more useful to your audience.
Useful schmuseful. There are tons of articles out there on how it's essential bloggers make themselves useful to their audience. I suppose, in a way, it's true. (Another of my favourite bloggers is Design Mom - she finds the most beautifully designed things and writes about them on her blog.) But most of the blogs I read - you know what they offer me? Sweet Fanny Adams. (What? You've never heard that expression?) Nilly noo. (Sorry, I just made that one up). Nothing. I read their amusing, touching, sometimes sad, sometimes hilarious stories about their lives. And that is all.

Don't jump on the bandwagon.
Why not? I like jumping on the bandwagon, and I like reading what other bloggers have to say when they jump on the bandwagon too. Opinion posts are often the most interesting and draw passionate discussions. Jump, I say, jump.

You're not selling yourself hard enough.
If I want to sell myself I'll strap a sandwich board to myself and go down to the local market, thank you. I write my blog because I enjoy writing and I like the blogging community I've found myself a part of. Should there be an opportunity to earn money down the line or sample a product I love? I'm not going to say no, (I got bills to pay too y'know) but it's not why I started this thing.


One of the biggest mistakes a blogger can make, in my humble opinion, is spending too much time worrying about all these "mistakes" and trying to figure out the right thing to do rather than just being who they are and doing what feels right to them. Hey, if you want to fill your blog with widgets and ads, I'm not going to desert you. If you want to talk about something that's already been hashed to death? Okay. Fine. If the only thing you offer me is a giggle with my morning coffee? I'm more than good with that.


What about you? What are your thoughts on these blogging"mistakes"?
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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

S'now Joke

Before I moved to Calgary I received a number of stern warnings (mostly from friends and family who were trying, not very subtly, to dissuade me from moving here) about the harsh weather conditions of Alberta. Comments like "Do you know how cold it gets there?" and "How are you going to survive?" were bandied about only part-jokingly.

And I was all "Oh hahaha don't be ridiculous! How bad can it be? People live there and they're perfectly fine.".

I pictured cozy nights in front of a roaring fireplace, gazing out at the snowstorm from inside, hot chocolate in hand, cashmere throw over my legs. I pictured wool scarves and mittens and fur trimmed vests on a ski hill and dog-sled rides in the moonlight.

So maybe the dog-sled rides were a bit too far, but whatever. It was going to be fine, just fine.

The first winter here, I was in for a shock. One morning in October I stepped outside and straight into a foot of snow (more than England typically sees in a whole year). It was like someone had gone overboard with the white foam spray on the entire world.


By January, temperatures had dipped to horrific proportions of somewhere in the minus twenty- to thirty-degree range. We'd recently adopted our dog, Bongo, and I was determined to continue with our daily dog walks, so I traipsed out into the dog park, naively wearing my jeans and trainers and semi-winter coat. And almost died of frost bite and hypothermia and other cold diseases.

Finally someone showed me the ways of the arctic people: I was introduced to Sorrel snow shoes and goose down coats and, to my horror, long johns. Yes, long johns, under everything. Sexy, slinky long johns that cling so tight they make your legs itch like a bastard.


I quickly discovered that small things like nose hairs freezing within seconds of being outside and fingers turning blue from cold were just, you know, normal every day occurrences. Not things to worry, complain, or throw tantrums about, according to Calgary folk. Around this neck of the woods, you get on with it. Never mind the cold, the snow, the frozen nose hairs and the fingers almost gangrenous from frost bite.


My parents came out to Calgary to visit, the year after I moved here, during the coldest of the winter months. And basically, they were horrified. I tried to put on a brave face and show them "Ha, see, I can do this! This? Snow? This is nothing. I will even wear my flip flops because I am a tough Canadian now!" And then I quietly locked myself in the bathroom and wept, remembering how manageable the English winters really were.

Me with my husband and father, seven months after moving to Calgary, 
showing how magnificent! the snow really was (Lake Louise).
 

For me, one of the worst things about the snow was the driving. Even with winter tires, I was sliding around like a deer on ice, terrified of crashing into other motorists or veering into bus shelters. But, not to be put off, I enrolled myself on a winter driving course and learned the proper way to handle winter driving conditions. And things really started to look up when they let me drive out on an ice field and do a handbreak turn. Awesomeness.


After a few years I got used to the snow, kind of, and things were relatively normal again.


Until I had kids.


And then it wasn't the driving that I dreaded, nor was it the fear of freezing my face off, but the fear of going out with the kids, in the minus-ridiculousness temperatures.


Because, as anyone with young kids will attest, preparing for an outing with little ones during winter is about as simple as strapping a zebra and four goats to an elephant.

First there are the snow pants, which go over the regular pants, then the coats, then the hats, the mittens, the boots. Did I leave anything out? And after all the dressing is done, there's hardly a child left to be seen under all the layers. 




 But, like I said, I'm tough to this now. Right? And I shall not be deterred by a little snow. I shall go forth and brave the cold, carry on with my life as normal, I shall not transfer my hatred of winter to my sons. I shall find the bright side to this cold, slushy nightmare.


Insert smiley face here.



How about you? How do you cope with bitterly cold temperatures?



People from places like Florida need not reply. Seriously, if you still want to be friends.
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Monday, November 15, 2010

There's No Place Like Home.



Dorothy was definitely onto something when she clicked her heels together and uttered those words.

I've never really considered myself a homebody. Even the few years I was at home with the kids all the time, even then. Instead of enjoying it, I was always preoccupied with all the things the house demanded of me. I couldn't sit still for a minute without eyeing a ball of dust in the corner or a pile of things needing to be put away. Damn housework. 

Sidenote: If I had a pair of those sparkly red shoes that granted wishes? I'd wish for a team of cleaners to come to my house every day for an hour. 

Working away from the house a few times a week has given me a bit of perspective.

On Friday I left the house for work at two in the afternoon and returned, somewhat worn and depleted, at nine in the evening. The moment I stepped through the door, I felt enormous relief to be back in my own house. I suddenly appreciated it like never before. Without even taking off my coat, I went to the sofa and curled up there. I was simply happy to be home. 

I was like Dorothy, only with scrubs and sneakers instead of a blue gingham dress and ruby slippers.

Looking at my house when I come home from work is like looking at someone else's house. I'm not scrutinizing the crayon marks on the wall or the scratches on the floor. Instead I'm looking at the house as a whole, seeing the colours we picked out together five years ago, the things we collected over the years, the way we've made our house a home.

Of course, that lasts about two minutes, and then I start with my finicky ways again. Still, it's good to see things from a different angle for a change. 


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Thursday, November 11, 2010

My Top Ten Christmas Books for Kids 2010.

Is it too early to talk about Christmas? Well if it is, I apologize. I'm already well into the spirit of things this year, with half my shopping done, lists made, food ideas swimming around my head, etc.

As usual, books are prominent on my Christmas shopping list - books for everyone. Here are a few of my favourite books about Christmas. I'll be doing another post on the kids' books I'll be giving as gifts for Christmas soon too.


Olive The Other Reindeer by J.otto Seibold and Vivian Walsh.
I bought this special edition of the 1997 classic a few years ago for my kids, and it's become a clear favourite at our house. It's a charming little story about a dog who thinks he's a reindeer. This edition is pop-up, and inside, the book is very pretty.



That's not my Santa... by Fiona Watt. 
I just bought this one for my kids, not because I love it, but because they do. We've read it over and over and over already... I think it's something about the touchy-feely fabrics inside.




How the Grinch Stole Christmas! By Dr. Seuss.
A classic tale of grinch hates Christmas, grinch tries to destroy Christmas, grinch discovers Christmas is not so bad after all. And the hard cover book has this amazing shiny red cover, and that's enough for me.



The Nightmare Before Christmas by Tim Burton.
A creepy tale of Christmas that's not even remotely suitable for my kids yet. Brilliant. 

The Twelve Dogs of Christmas by Emma Kragen.
Don't judge me, but I like this. It's like the twelve days of Christmas! But with dogs! Get it?!?!


The Snowman by Raymond Briggs.
Probably one of the only books with no words that I enjoy. A sweet tale about a boy who builds a snowman, sees it come to life and goes off with the him on a magical adventure.



A Charlie Brown Christmas by Charles M. Schultz.
This clothbound edition of the classic Charlie Brown story brings back memories. And it's just a really nice book.



Christmas Cookies by Amy Krouse Rosenthal.
Asweet (pun intended) book with pretty water colour illustrations, that uses the concept of baking cookies to teach kids the meaning of vocabulary such as "tradition" and "hope". 


It's Christmas, David by David Shannon.
This is new this year, about a naughty little boy who can't wait for Christmas and tries to sneak a peak at his presents and gets into all kinds of mischief.



The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore.
This book - this exact copy, is, to me, pure magic. I've been reading this (or having it read to me) for as long as I can remember on Christmas Eve. Now I'm making it a tradition for my kids. Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without it.


What about you? What are your favourite Christmas books?

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