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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