Friday, December 30, 2011

Insta-Friday in real life

My husband just got a new cell phone. It takes pictures.
Seems normal to you, I’m sure. Not to us. Our previous two cell phones were about eight years old, and on pay-as-you-go plans. I’m not a big fan of talking on the phone. I’d much rather talk over a cup of tea.

Inspired by Lindsey, however, I have used the new cell phone to do a bit of a photographic week in review.

Here’s what I managed to capture…some everyday inspirations.

My husband made a delicious curry yesterday, from Robin Robertson’s Vegan Planet.

Everyone got a little something sweet in their Christmas stockings…and I don’t mean the clementine in the toe. Here’s the kids’ candy stash.

The grown-ups have a candy stash too. We haven’t used much because we are too busy eating Christmas cookies.

I made another banana bread today. With eight kids in and out of the house, it didn’t last long. My niece liked it. She said banana bread usually makes her gag. She had a second piece.

My daughter had the rare opportunity to play games with three of her female cousins today. So cute.

My husband took five kids skating. Brave man.

I made some pasta while they were gone skating, along with Nonna’s peas and mushrooms.

For dessert, I made some “classic chocolate chip cookies” from How it All Vegan. I used chocolate chunks for a change.  Yes, I made dessert, even with a bunch of Christmas cookies still in the freezer and a candy stash in the pantry. I can’t be stopped.

I am not generally a snow lover, but it does make the front path look pretty.

The trees are wearing fur coats.

Our family room looks so cozy with the Christmas tree. If only we could actually sit down. You’ll see that there’s a book on the table. It almost looks like people read here…but the kids won’t allow that. My husband tried today (while I just knowingly smiled), until the banging in the basement got too loud to ignore.

Have a great New Year’s Eve!

Friday, December 23, 2011

C is for...

I’m supposed to be going to the gym right now. But, I find myself thinking about making more cookies instead. After all, tomorrow is Christmas Eve.

Christmas Eve has always been my favourite part of Christmas. My mom would make tea and put out a lovely three-tier cookie stand full of various cookies and squares. Friends would drop by for a short visit before heading home to prepare for Christmas Day.
The cookie stand is mine now, and I intend to fill it up for our guests tomorrow night. My kids and my nieces expect it, just as I did when I was a child. I have made four recipes so far, and I have (at least) a couple more planned.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Vegan Hot Chocolate & Our After-School Snack Schedule

Vegan Hot Chocolate - a warm treat for a cool fall or winter day! Much healthier and more natural than buying hot chocolate or preparing from a conventional mix. With a touch of cinnamon for flavor. #hotchocolate #vegan #nondairy #dairyfree

Every day the kids come home from school hungry. Until a couple of weeks ago, I picked a snack just before they got home, or even just after. But two weeks ago I decided to create a formal, written snack schedule. I came up with some ideas, printed a weekly calendar and asked the kids to join me for a meeting to discuss the selections. What I hadn’t expected was just how excited they would be about the whole thing. I knew that they were accustomed to snack schedules from their days in daycare and after-school care, but I didn’t realize how well they would respond to the idea of doing it at home.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

It's beginning to look...

We haven’t had much snow yet this year, so it took me awhile to realize that Christmas is coming soon.

No, I haven’t done all my gift shopping or baked my holiday cookies, but at least we have the outdoor lights up and the Christmas tree decorated.

Baby steps…

When I was growing up, we had the colour-coded artificial tree. You had to match the colour on the stem of the “branch” to the colour on the “trunk” of the tree. Trouble is, the colours wore off. After that, nobody in my house was eager to put up the Christmas tree.
Maybe that’s why nowadays I prefer the real Christmas tree to the fake, although I am sure that will change when the kids get older. We alternate between cutting one down at a local farm and buying a fresh tree at the store.

You might notice that the angel's head is touching the ceiling. Our last house had a very high ceiling in the family room. I can't quite get past that, so we get as large a tree as possible.

My favourite ornaments are the pewter picture frames my mom gave the kids.

Jolene likes to cozy up on a chair in front of the Christmas tree. She is a rescue dog, with unknown origins. We originally thought she was street-wise and tough, but it turns out she doesn’t like to go outside when it’s cold (she actually pees on the deck when there’s snow) and she prefers to sleep on a soft blanket.

Jolene gradually seems to grow tired of my picture-taking.

We also celebrated my husband’s birthday this week, with a quiet family dinner.  I decided to make a cake I’ve never made before. I settled on this recipe for chocolate cola cake that I spotted on Pinterest. It is more decadent than my usual recipe, but nobody seemed to mind. It turned out to be quite delicious, nice and firm with lots of chocolate icing.

Here's the fam, just waiting to dig in.

 How are your holiday preparations coming along?


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Favourite Holiday Films

I am a movie addict. You name it, I’ve probably seen it. Let’s face it, there’s not much to watch on TV nowadays (although I just finished watching and loving the first four seasons of Mad Men on Netflix).

The lack of suitable TV shows makes me turn to movies for entertainment all the more. So, here it is, my tried and true list of favourites to watch during the holiday season. Although I took a couple of electives in film when I was in university, you won’t see any Kurosawa here. The older I get, the more I watch movies just for fun—they don’t necessarily have to be funny, but they have to at least be absorbing and compelling in some way. Grab some popcorn, snuggle up and enjoy!

1.       Home for the Holidays (1995)

This is a Thanksgiving classic, directed by Jodie Foster. I’m going to take this description right off the package, because it pretty much sums it up. “In a span of 36 hours, Claudia Larson (Holly Hunter) has managed to lose her job, make out with her boss and learn that her daughter (Claire Danes) is planning to go all the way. But Claudia’s fortunes actually take a turn for the worse when she flies home to endure an even more gruelling trial: the family Thanksgiving!” One thing they should have mentioned is that Robert Downey Jr. is hilarious as Claudia’s gay brother, who is also home for the holidays and making Claudia’s life more difficult with his practical jokes. You will love this dysfunctional family, including the mom, played by Anne Bancroft, and the lovable dad, played by Charles Durning.

2.       The Ice Storm (1997)

This Ang Lee film has Kevin Kline, Joan Allen and Sigourney Weaver portraying life as parents in the 70s. Memorable moments include the wife-swapping key party (let’s hope that didn’t happen in my neighbourhood) and the beautifully depicted but tragic ice storm that causes the characters to re-adjust their priorities in a big way.

3.        The Family Man (2000)

Somehow Nicolas Cage is the perfect fit for this tale of a single, wealthy Wall Street trader who one day at Christmastime magically wakes up in a suburban New Jersey home with a wife (Tea Leoni) and two kids—the life he might have had if he had made different choices as a young man. I’m not saying it’s not predictable, but I never fail to enjoy watching as he comes to appreciate all of the lovely imperfections of everyday life with kids.

4.       The Family Stone (2005)

They call this a comedy, but it’s not all fun. Sarah Jessica Parker plays the uptight and ultra-conservative Meredith Morton so well that her comments are often cringe-worthy. But, when Morton leaves Manhattan to meet her boyfriend Everett Stone’s tight-knit family during the holidays, she meets her match with Everett’s mother (Diane Keaton) and sister (Rachel McAdams). Thank God for Everett’s brother (Luke Wilson) for lightening things up a bit.

5.       Love Actually (2004)

This is the only one on the list that my husband won’t watch with me. Yes, it’s pretty much a chick flick. But, I’m not apologizing. I love the way several storylines skillfully intertwine in this feel good romantic comedy, which is set during Christmastime. As the cover says, the movie features an all-star cast including Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, Colin Firth, Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman (who brings me to my next selection).

6.       Die Hard (1988)

Okay, so this one doesn’t exactly scream holiday cheer, but the sentiment is there. New York City detective John McClane is newly arrived in Los Angeles to spend the Christmas holidays with his estranged wife (Bonnie Bedelia) and kids. As he waits for his wife’s office party to finish, terrorists take control of the building.  While McClane wages a one-man war on the terrorists, including leader Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman), he also learns to re-evaluate his priorities and remember the importance of family. This movie is a holiday tradition for my husband and me.

What are your favourite holiday movies? Please let me know. Maybe I haven’t seen them. That would make me so happy.

Monday, November 28, 2011

(Not So) Raw Food

For the first time ever, the book club gals and I decided to hold our meeting at a restaurant. We chose to go for Sunday brunch at Live Organic Food Bar, Toronto’s top organic raw food restaurant. With rain coming down outside, we all opted to warm up with food from the “Not So Raw” area of the menu, as well as a few hot beverages, like soy cappuccinos and loose leaf teas. The meal was creative, lovely and delicious and the company was outstanding. The only down side is, with all of the menu choices, including some ingenious desserts, we didn’t spend a great deal of time discussing the book…oops.

We all left with a desire to try making some raw food recipes of our own, and we added Live’s three recipe e-books to our Christmas wish lists.

We did manage to spend a bit of time discussing the (very worthy) inspiration for our gathering, Lawrence Hill’s The Book of Negroes. We shared some favourite quotes, including one that comes early in the book, as the main character, Aminata, looks back on her life as a slave and laments the loss of her family. It's a poignant reminder of the special everyday moments we share with our children, and the fact that some people (even today) are deprived of the continuity of family.

“But nothing—not a man’s body, or a sip of whiskey, or a peppered goat stew from the old country—would give anything like the pleasure I would take from the sound of a baby breathing in my bed, a grandchild snoring against me. Sometimes, I wake in the morning with the splash of sunlight in my small room, and my one longing, other than to use the chamber pot and have a drink of tea with honey, is to lie back into the soft, bumpy bed with a child to hold. To listen to an infant’s voice rise and fall. To feel the magic of a little hand, not even fully aware of what it is doing, falling on my shoulder, my face.”

tofu omelet with potatoes and gluten sausage 

French toast with bananas

raw Black Forest cake

raw tiramisu

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Best Banana Bread Ever (and it's vegan!)

Even if you don't bake often (or at all), having a great banana bread recipe is a kitchen necessity. A warm slice of banana bread can turn a bad day around. (If your day really sucks, add a heaping handful of chocolate chips to the recipe!)

Banana bread is a treat, yes, but it's certainly healthier than other baked goods. There are bananas in there after all! I have been making banana bread for years, yet I have never truly been satisfied with any of the recipes. This recipe is what I was waiting for. It's simple to make and comes out reliably well each and every time.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Personal Pursuits

Speaking of spending time with each of your children individually, my own mom spent this week visiting with her youngest child. (Yes, it’s me.) We did some shopping, watched my son’s basketball game, did some more shopping, went out for lunch at a new Mexican restaurant and watched my daughter’s tap class. We also attended a workshop at a garden centre, with hands-on instruction in the art of making winter urn inserts from fresh greenery.

My mom was reluctant at first—she hasn’t done the arts and crafts thing for quite a while. She (and I) recall a period when she was dedicated to perfecting her macramé skills. And, there were a number of other arts and crafts over the years. I also thought about the introduction to knitting class I took this past February and the scarf that I had abandoned at the halfway point. Inspired by our discussion, I have returned to knitting my scarf, just as the first winter snow arrived here overnight last night.

Sarah Ban Breathnach believes that each of us must carve out time for personal pursuits that bring contentment. “We’re afraid to hear the promptings of the woman who wants to learn how to draw, dance, raise orchids, re-upholster a chair, cook Szechuan. We might have to take a class or buy a book, a pad and pencils, a leotard, a plant, a fabric, or hoisin sauce. No time to be passionate, we have to be practical. Essential, uncompromised longings will have to wait until there’s more time: when the children are back in school, when Mom’s feeling better, when things let up at the office. How about an answer we haven’t heard before? How about, ‘My authentic passions will have to wait until I’m ready to admit that pursuing them is essential for my happiness?’”

In the end, as is often the case, my mom and I were both happy that we chose to attend the class and we enjoyed exploring our creative sides. We stumbled a bit at first, but, with help from the instructor, we were both pleased with our arrangements. And, even more important, we got to spend some valuable alone time together.
When I was taking this photo of my mom with her arrangement, she said, “Just don’t put it on your blog.” It's not the first time I’m not listening to her.

To be fair, I am including this photo of me with my urn arrangement.  I dislike being photographed as much as mom does.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Stealing Away

My kids spend a lot of time fighting with each other.  So, I spend a lot of time disciplining. With all the techniques I have tried, I have to say that separating them is about the only thing that works for any extended period of time (like greater than five minutes). If I can send one child in one direction (maybe for an outing with daddy) and keep one to myself, I enjoy the added benefit of getting to know more about his or her unique characteristics and desires. I am always surprised by how totally different their personalities are when they are alone. Suddenly, I realize, this is a complex little human with lots of interesting things to say.
This weekend, my son and I managed to steal away for an hour for a walk on and around the beach near granny and grampy’s place. We took pictures of each other and enjoyed some companionable silence, while he gathered stones and twigs and we both examined our surroundings.

“We all know that children need some special one-on-one time with their parents,” writes Katrina Kenison. “But sometimes we forget that we parents need this kind of time alone with our children, too. And, unfortunately, when the pace of life speeds up, one-on-one time is often the first thing that gets squeezed out.”

Kenison adds, “Given our other obligations and the length of our to-do lists, it is all too easy to forget the good stuff—namely, how much we actually like our own kids as people, how much we enjoy their company, and how important it is for us to have fun together. Mothers can get so caught up in the caretaking that we may overlook each child’s need to be seen as an individual, with unique tastes and temperaments and gifts…Alone with our children, one on one, we have a chance to see and hear and accept them as they really are, right now, in this moment. We see them not in relation to their siblings, friends, or peers, or as a piece of the larger family puzzle—but as unique individuals, each with a particular destiny to fulfill on this earth.”

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Little Things

Tucked inside my grandmother’s poetry book, I found a smaller book of poems, called Little Things, by Dorothy Harrington.  Inside the back cover is this note: Copies may be procured from the author, Dorothy Harrington, Freeport Sanatorium, Kitchener, Ontario, At 50 cents each, postpaid.

I don’t know how my grandmother came to possess this now-worn little poetry book, but she would have found it meaningful. She herself twice spent time in sanatoriums, once for a year in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia when she was in her twenties. That time she had tuberculosis in her lungs.

In 1970, she was sent to the sanatorium in Point Edward, Nova Scotia for a couple of years. This time, tuberculosis affected various organs, including her brain. Doctors didn't think she would live and were certain she would have mental incapacities if she did
. But, she survived and was smart as a whip until she died in her nineties a few years ago. My other grandmother also spent time in a sanatorium as a young woman.

In the foreword to Little Things, nurse Alice E. Bingeman writes, “There comes a time in the experience of everyone, and frequently in youth, when life, with all its dreams, ambitions and desires, suddenly finds itself thwarted, and faced with uncertainty. The way ahead may seem long and weary, footsteps falter and hearts fear, but God in His great mercy, will provide sufficient strength to sustain you through this new experience…With renewed strength and hope you will march on, bringing new inspiration, courage and joy to others who will cross the same path, and knowing that you have crossed it successfully, will follow courageously in your footsteps."

It speaks to Dorothy’s strength that, whatever troubles she faced, she thought it fitting to publish 16 pages of poems celebrating life’s simple pleasures, like sunsets, a brass teapot and a deserted nest. She also paid tribute to her loved ones, including her mother and her son.
Little Things
The little things make life worth while,
As we travel on our way;
It’s the kindly word, and cheery smile
That makes the happy day.
It’s the helping hand, the word of praise,
That lightens the weary load;
It’s the light we put in the dullest days
That helps us along the road.
It’s the little things we do that count,
Like fixing the broken toy;
It’s the cup we place beside the fount
That brings some fellow joy.
It isn’t the gold or silver we give,
That mends the broken heart;
It’s our inner selves, and the way we live,
That play the biggest part.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Cooking Skinny Bitch Style

I bought another cookbook. What can I say…it’s an addiction. This one has been well worth the expense, though. I bought it a few weeks ago and I have already made several of the recipes, some of them more than once.

It’s called Skinny Bitch: Ultimate Everyday Cookbook, by Kim Barnouin. I also have a copy of Skinny Bitch In the Kitch, which I picked up at a library book sale, but I never warmed to it. Something about all of the intentional swearing and the use of fake meats turned me off. But, I have so enjoyed this newer book that I might just give the other a second chance.
First, I want to say I don’t think there is anything particularly “skinny” about the recipes. But they are healthy, and they use mainly whole foods that are already on my shopping list. (I don’t know if almond milk is on your shopping list, buy hey, give it a try if it isn’t! ) I hate nothing more than a long list of hard-to-find (and expensive ) ingredients.

Butternut Squash Soup with Poppy Seeds
I did do some planning after I bought this book, though. I picked out a number of recipes from it and then shopped for the whole week.  Having a clear plan sure makes it easier when it’s time to cook.
Barnouin’s Banana and Cinnamon Muffins offer a new and delicious twist on the vegan banana muffin, with a crunchy topping that makes them look nice for company. Next time I’m going to make sure there is some company around when I make them, because they are best eaten the first day. The Coconut Banana French Toast was sweet and tasty, and my son said it tasted like “deep fried banana tempura.” He also liked the Coconut- and Almond-Crusted Tofu, which he called a “treat.” I have also made the Pumpkin Pecan Banana Bread (pictured at top). It was so yummy, I made it again (minus the pecans, so the kids could take some to school).

Coconut- and Almond-Crusted Tofu
with mango salsa
I am looking forward to trying the Spaghetti with Spinach in a White Wine Garlic Sauce and the Strawberry Cupcakes. If only someone could make them for me…

You can also get some great health and nutrition info at

Monday, October 31, 2011

Coping with Stress

Whenever I am feeling particularly stressed, or the weather has got me down, I turn to my well-read copy of Simple Abundance for comfort. Usually I read my Simple Abundance in the bath. As all of you parents will know, that is often the only place you can get any privacy. Even then, I sometimes see shadows under the (locked) door. Don’t feel guilty. Tell them to go away, like I do. Surely you deserve this moment alone.

The warm bath water has restorative powers, and the quiet provides a nice opportunity to clear your head and set some priorities. Oh, and add some epsom salts for your sore muscles. I know you have them.

The October 9th Simple Abundance entry is called “Coping with Stress,” and there is a list of suggestions for doing so. I want to share some of them with you, because I know many people who are stressed right about now.

Cultivate gratitude.
Carve out an hour a day for solitude.
Keep your house picked up.
Don’t overschedule.
Never make a promise you can’t keep.
Allow an extra half hour for everything you do.
Create quiet surroundings at home and at work.
Go to bed at nine o’clock twice a week.
Always carry something interesting to read.
Breathe—deeply and often.
If it’s not delicious, don’t eat it.
Be instead of do.
Laugh more often.
If you don’t love it, live without it.
Don’t answer the telephone during dinner.
Nurture friendships.
Savor beauty.
Express love every day.
I love the fact that the author, Sarah Ban Breathnach, incorporates some ideas for your home, because we all know how the state of our homes can affect (and reflect) our state of mind. I also appreciate the advice about taking an extra half hour for everything you do. This is particularly applicable to parents, because those kids can take a remarkably long time to get out the door, and there is bound to be less threatening and yelling if we give them more time. As for the going to bed at nine o’clock, that takes care of itself, because I fall asleep whether I want to or not. And, I look forward to spending more time breathing deeply, enjoying quiet surroundings and nurturing friendships.  Just don’t call me during dinner.

A plaqued black and white Marilyn Monroe poster makes
a nice addition to the bath. I use a vintage
tea cup to scoop epsom salts (below).

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