Friday, November 29, 2013

Tis The Most Wonderful Time…. of the week. Selfie Friday!

I should have asked for Selfie submissions for my birthday, because I only got TWO this week!  (Three including mine).  Listen folks, it's fun to laugh at me and the occasional suckers who join in this little game but it's WAY more fun if you join in!  
Send me your selfies!  And…. Happy Friday!

This face contortion is almost a gift to humanity.  Love it.  

Morning face at it's best.  Does anyone wake up NOT looking like this?

I thought I'd ham up my "good" selfie in top selfie form.  Lips pursed, eyes up - you get the idea. 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Homeless Man, The Homeless Chicken, and a Happy Heart.

I recently had a conversation with a 20-something about being "happy".  About how our culture tells us what we need to be happy.  A relationship that "makes us happy".  A job that "makes us happy".  A nice car and trendy clothes that "make us happy".  We seem to have this idea that the next thing will really do the trick and be our ticket to happiness.  

Happiness isn't something to be bought, found, or discovered on Oprah.  It isn't dependent on situations.  Relying on external situations to bring you happiness is a guarantee for misery.  

Enter the homeless man.

There is a local man who goes from home to home asking to do work in exchange for money.  His name is Dave.  My Dad runs the local homeless shelter, and knows this man.  He told me to be careful, that this particular person was an addict, very dangerous and would do just about anything for his next fix.  We never let him in the house.  Always kept the curtains closed when he was in the neighbourhood.  We gave him bags of groceries when he would knock on the door.  We would give him money if we had any.  We showed him love and kindness, despite being a little frightened of him.  

It was a Sunday afternoon.  The majority of my extended family had gathered at McMaster Children's Hospital to pray that my newborn son would see another day.  He was intubated.  Sedated.  Fighting for his life.  It was another setback in his short life of setbacks.  Two nights prior I was sitting with him in his isolation room in the NICU.  His oxygen levels were dropping despite being on a machine that forces oxygen into his lungs.  He was crying.  Writhing.  I tried cuddling him in every position I could manage with all the wires and machines attached to him.  His oxygen levels continued to drop.  His nurse called in the nurse practitioner, the nurse practitioner called in the doctor.  They decided to intubate.  I was asked to leave the room (which they almost never asked me).  I sat at the end of the hall, watching his room from what felt like someone else's body.  The nurse practitioner ran out.  He picked up the phone and I heard pieces of his conversation…. seizure… lungs filled with blood…. Nurses gathered at the glass doors of the isolation room.  One of them looked me in the eye with compassion I can not describe.  People in, people out.  People in, people out.  I truthfully can't tell you how much time passed.  It was no more than a second, and no less than eternity.  A nurse handed me her personal cell phone, asking me to call my husband.  I refused to call until I had news, one way or the other, to give him.  They stabilized my baby, made no promise of being in the clear,  and assigned him his own nurse which I thought nothing of until I was told that "was't good".   I was at the very base of my emotional and physical well, I had nothing left to draw.  I asked my parents, my in-laws and brothers and sisters to the hospital.  We tearfully gathered, prayed, and sang together - directly under his NICU room. It was one of the only times we left our little baby in his NICU room without his Mommy or Daddy there.  When it was over, I brought our other five children home while my husband stayed at the hospital with our son.  

We got home, everything seemed normal.  My then 7yr old couldn't find his laptop so I called my sister to see if she had taken mine home accidentally (we had the same computer).  I brushed it off, computers are left here and there and it wasn't a big deal to not find it right away.  I went to the kitchen to get everyone a snack, and noticed there was yogurt all over the floor and inside of the fridge.  My brother in law was the last one in my house, and I thought - man, what a slob.  Again, I brushed it off.  Snacks were served and I went upstairs to change into jogging pants (a must).  Suddenly, it all made sense.  My jewelry box was emptied out all over my bed.  My closet was tossed.  We had been robbed. 

He stole two laptops.  He stole jewelry that can not be replaced.  He raided piggy banks and took every penny.  He took a frozen ham, frozen spaghetti, and yogurt.  Wait, what?  He stole food?  It must have been Dave.  The man I fed, sat on my porch with and listened to his hardships, the man I showed nothing but love and generosity to.  It was his classic move.  Ask a family for work, get to know their house and schedule and rob them when they're away.

After a hard day, an indescribably hard day, my children had cops come to the house and document the break in.  They were tearful in realizing their money was gone, and afraid that he might come back for more.  

Before bed, I gathered all the children.  We held hands.  We prayed for Dave, that he would find help for his addictions and we each forgave him.  

We were hurt.  We were scared.  We felt violated.  
I felt like I wasn't in my own life.  Like I was watching someone in an HBO special:  A mother of six who is fighting to keep her family whole during the illness and near death of their new baby is robbed by a homeless man they have been helping.

Enter happiness.

No, I wasn't beaming with joy.  I didn't end the day with a dance party.  I was sorrowful, and frightened - but my heart had not lost its way.  I still had more things to be grateful for than to be sad about.

We climbed out of the sorrow.  I climbed out of the sorrow.  Because happiness is in us, not around us, and could not be stolen.  It could not be pulled away by each downward turn the baby took.  We found ways to be kind to each other.  To be kind to strangers.  To be kind to the homeless.  

Happiness does not mean you can't experience sadness, heartbreak, anger.  It allows you to experience those things without fear.  It's knowing that whichever way life turns, for the better or worse, that you will find your way through.

Enter the homeless chicken.

Five or six weeks ago, a woman was standing on our porch asking if we had lost a chicken.  We hadn't, but the chicken had been on her driveway for a few days and needed a home.  I went with her, brought the chicken home and made attempts to find her owner.  No owner was found.
We had a homeless chicken.  

The chicken is a risk.  She may have an illness she could spread to the other chickens and needed to be in seclusion for the first 30 days.  She will cause fights between the chickens as they work out their pecking order.  She will be more work - another chicken to clean after, to feed, to water.  

I talk to the children about continuing to help those who need it.  Even though we've been hurt by Dave, we won't allow him to change us in to people who are afraid to love and live generously.  
We tongue-in-cheek named the homeless chicken Dave.

We've used the homeless chicken as a way to remind the children, and ourselves, that helping others isn't always easy or smooth.   That the "risk" in helping others is nothing compared to the risk of living a life with an unhappy heart.   The key to a happy heart is not what can be attained, but what can be given.

“Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.” 
 Dalai Lama XIV

I'm not sharing this story to tout the abilities my family has to make it through hard times.  I actually haven't shared much of what happened while we were in the hospital with anyone - face to face or online.  I'm sharing so that I'm not preaching.  I'm sharing so I can say to you, this is what I feel has made the difference in my life.
I'm sharing to encourage you to find true happiness.  Happiness that can make it through hard times.  We will ALL live through harrowing experiences.  Illness.  Danger.  Financial strain.  Death.   
I encourage (beg) you to find your true happiness before these things happen in your life, so you can find your way back out of them in one piece.


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

My Mitten Solution!

Toddlers and mittens don't mix.  They pull them off as soon as they possibly can, and
cry that their hands are cold.  Their cause and effect thinking is not entirely developed and there is no way to explain to them that they NEED mittens.

My second, very strong willed, child was absolutely impossible to keep mittens on.  I could put them back on 100 times and he would still have them off in a jiffy - usually having the first one off before I had a chance to finish putting on the second.  I bought the long ones that go up to the elbow - still took them off.  I put elastic bands around his wrists to try to keep them tight - he still pulled them off. 
 The kicker is, he would stand at the back door crying to go outside.  I couldn't keep him indoors.  I had to come up with a solution.  

Listen, I know this is an extremely wrinkly shirt.  This shirt gets worn and worn and I certainly don't wash it every time.  Points for being real?  Haha.

Here's how to attach mittens to a shirt for your toddler.  I attached mine to a long sleeved t-shirt so it could be layered under a snowsuit, but you might want to attach it to a zippered or buttoned shirt to make it easier to put on.  Notice the stain on the arm?  I picked a shirt that was otherwise un-wearable so I could re-use something I was just going to rip into rags.  

This is a great way to limit what battles you have to pick with your toddler.  Eliminate the issue.
Do you have any tips for staying sane with a strong willed toddler?  Share with 
The Good Kind of Crazy
I'm always looking for great ideas!  

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Easiest Pizza you'll ever make…. and the BEST tasting!

We only turn the stove on during the weekends when energy prices are low.  I usually pick whichever day is least busy (Saturday or Sunday) and turn the stove on early in the afternoon and have it on until well after dinner.  I bake batches of whatever I think we might need throughout the week - muffins, breads, something special if company is coming, and ALWAYS pizza.  
If a weekend passes without pizza, the kids can't figure out what they did to deserve such deprivation!  
I have been using this recipe for years, and it has never failed.  It is quick, simple, and is truly better than any pizza you can order or pick up at a grocery store.  

Pizza Dough

1 1/4 cups lukewarm water (not too hot or you'll kill your yeast!)
1 tsp sugar
2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast (one package if you use individual packages)

Put warm water in large bowl, and dissolve sugar in it.  Sprinkle yeast on top and it will get kind of foamy looking.  If it doesn't get foamy, your yeast is dead - start over.

Once your yeast is proofed, add:

2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup milk (you can use water)

3-4 cups flour

This is where you will start adding flour.  Use no more than 4cups, starting with two.  I add two cups (I'm going to be honest here, I haven't measured flour with this recipe for years because I've been doing it so long) and mix in with a wooden spoon.  When the dough is difficult to stir with the spoon, take the spoon out and start kneading by hand.  I knead IN the bowl so I don't make a mess in the kitchen and have less dishes when it's done.  Add flour until the dough isn't totally sticking to your hands.  You may need to rub the flour in your hands before mixing it in to help remove the dough. This kneading process shouldn't take more than a few minutes.  You want the dough to be well mixed and retain a ball shape - once that happens, just leave it.  A tip I read at the beginning of my bread making adventures is "the wetter the better" - so don't go crazy with the flour trying to get a dough that isn't sticky at all.  

2 tbsp olive oil

Leave the dough in the bowl and drizzle olive oil around the sides.  Roll the dough in the oil until it's coated and cover with wet cloth or saran wrap.

If your kitchen is FREEZING like mine, you may need to proof your dough somewhere other than the counter.  Sometimes I turn the oven on for 5 minutes and turn it back off - putting the dough in and giving it a warm place to sit for half an hour.  When I'm already baking I proof my dough where the heat vents out from my oven.  This can take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour.  If you're busy - you can leave it proof on the counter for up to 2 hours, or put it in the fridge and take it out when you'd like to use it.  

When the dough is doubled in size, rip off a piece to make your pizza.  I make two large thin crust square pizzas that fill a cookie sheet with this recipe.  You can make your dough as thin or thick as you'd like.  I roll mine out with an oiled rolling pin directly onto the parchment paper I will bake it on.  Once rolled out, move it to cookie sheet and begin to assemble sauce, cheese and toppings.

Bake at 450 for 15 minutes.  Let rest for 5 minutes before cutting and ENJOY!

Want to make your own sauce?  It's easy, delicious and you know what's in it!

I still have canned tomatoes from the summer of 2011, but if you don't have any you can use fresh or canned whole tomatoes.
It's as simple as pulsing tomatoes in a food processor until it's as liquid-y as it's going to get.  Add fresh herbs and spices, or dried (I only had dry for this batch) and stick to the classic Italian herbs - basil, oregano, parsley.  I put the sauce right back in the jar I got the tomatoes from and will have enough  left over for pasta during the week.  

Other Pizza Making Tips

- Buy cheese when it's dirt cheap and freeze it!  I always have a few bricks of mozzarella in the freezer, and take it out on the morning of pizza making day.
- Let your kids join in the fun and make their own personal pizzas!  They can get creative, and they always love eating something they've made on their own.  I love hearing my kids brag about what a good job they did and how they can't believe how good it is!
- Have fun with toppings!  I'm going to be honest - I go through phases of what I want on my pizza pie.  I'm in a major garlic and hot pepper phase, that's all I want.  I sliced HUGE chunks of garlic and lined my whole pizza with it, topping that off with mounds of hot pepper.  I also enjoy doing a veggie mix of broccoli, peppers, fresh tomato slices, asparagus, and anything else I can find in my fridge.  

Happy Baking!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Word of the year….. Selfie

It's true, Oxford Dictionary named "selfie" their word of the year!  The definition is:
 "a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website" 
You read the definition, take a selfie and upload it to ME so I can share!  Thank you to all my contributors this week - I la-la-love getting your pics!

That's right, leave your dignity at home.  Love it.

Kids love Selfie Friday!  

The longer I stare at the "bad" selfie, the more I love it.  
This is truly remarkable.  Truly.

What I think I look like as soon as I wake up vs. looking like a puffy troll when I wake up!

I love male submissions.  I'd like to call them Melfies, but I know someone with that last name - so…. 

Thanks again and Happy Friday! 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Cheesecake Brownie Bars

I've tried several of these recipes - where you mix brownie and cheesecake together and bake them magically into a bar that is both chocolatey and creamy.  They've never turned out.
I'm not a professional baker, but I bake a lot so when a recipe doesn't work, I automatically assume it wasn't my fault (insert laughter here).  
Whether or not it was my fault, I've FINALLY come up an excellent recipe that even I, the lowly home baker, can manage to pull off. 

Preheat oven to 350

Brownie Batter
3/4 cup butter
1/4 cup semi-sweet or bitter chocolate chips

Melt butter and chocolate in saucepan on low heat.  If you don't trust yourself not to burn the chocolate, use a double boiler.  

3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs (be sure the mixture is cool enough not to make scrambled eggs)
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup 0% greek yogurt, or sour cream

Mix well

3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup dutch process cocoa
1/2 tsp baking powder

I like making as few dishes as possible.  When adding dry ingredients to wet, I simply add the flour first and then add the baking soda, baking powder or salt on top - and mix it a little before incorporating it fully into the batter.  It always works for me, so take that Martha Stewart.  Full disclosure, I love Martha Stewart. 

Cream Cheese Batter
8 oz cream cheese (one brick), softened
4 tbsp sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla

Be sure your cream cheese is really soft before beginning.  If you forgot to take it out in enough time, just cut into cubes and pop in the preheated oven for five minutes or so.  Be sure to use an oven safe bowl.  Once it's out, use an oven mitt to hold the bowl and mash with a fork until creamy and smooth.  

Once cream cheese is soft and creamy - add sugar, egg and vanilla.

Line a 9X9 or 7X11 baking dish with parchment paper, or grease well with butter.  Add blobs of brownie mixture and do not spread.  Fill the remaining spaces with your cream cheese mixture.  If your brownie blobs run into each other - don't sweat it, it will still be delicious - just less swirly looking.  Use a butter knife to cut the brownie and cheesecake batters together, creating a swirl effect.  You want your bars to have even amounts of cream cheese and brownie so keep that in mind while swirling. 

Bake for 20-25 minutes, let cool for at least an hour and ENJOY!  The leftovers should be refrigerated…. if you have leftovers.  

The next time I make this, I will prepare ahead of time and purchase a tray of raspberries to make a raspberry compote to accompany.  Raspberry compote is delicious on ice cream, lemon sorbet, lemon cheesecake, well… any cheesecake, and lots of other things.  It's an easy way to add pizazz to a recipe without a lot of work.  If you have raspberries, give it a try:

Bring 4 cups of water to a boil.  Add 1 cup of sugar, and a pint of raspberries.  Boil for 20-25 minutes on medium high heat until it reaches desired consistency.  

Happy Baking!

Green Eggs & Ham

Most children love Dr.Seuss books, and my kids are no exception.  While reading Green Eggs & Ham, my 5yr old asked if green eggs were real and I said I would make him some.  

I think these would have turned out nicer as scrambled eggs.  They tasted GREAT, but I only made it into mini quiche because I already had the oven on.  Scrambled would have been just as nice and the colour would have been brighter.

For 12 mini crustless Quiche

-Chop and carmelize 1 onion and a few cloves of garlic until soft and brown.  I used coconut oil, but any oil or butter will do.
-Add 4 cups of loose baby spinach and keep covered on the heat until the leaves wilt and become dark green.  No liquid is needed, the spinach will weep out moisture during the heating process.  
-When onions, garlic and spinach cool - blend in a food processor with a few tablespoons of milk until it is as pureed as it can get
-Whisk puree and 7 eggs together in a large bowl

Cook as you please from this point on.  This could be an omelette, scrambled eggs, or go ahead with the rest of the recipe and make quiche....

Preheat oven to 375

I used parchment paper muffin cups (they don't stick to ANYTHING), and filled each paper half way with the egg mixture.  I then added a pinch of shredded cheese and continued to fill muffin cup to the 3/4 mark.  The eggs will expand while baking and look like a giant cupcake or muffin while hot, but will quickly shrink back down once out of the oven.  Bake for 20 minutes, and if you're a carnivore - serve with a nice slice of ham.  

So... what did the kids think?
With the exception of my egg-hater, they all LOVED it.  My 5yr old said it was just like the book: he didn't think he would like green eggs, but as soon as he tasted them he loved them and would eat them... in a box, with a fox, in a house, with a mouse, etc.

Do you have a creative way you like to add veggies to meals?  Share with me in the comments box or send an email and I will share with The Good Kind of Crazy readers.  Happy Baking!

Monday, November 18, 2013

The right way to do dishes

Yes, I know this showcases my insane need to control things - but as far as this house goes there is a wrong and right way to do dishes.  I talk to my children about their responsibility to the Earth and being  a mindful consumer.  Whether or not you believe in global warming, there is nothing wrong with teaching your children to use things responsibly - water included.  I teach my family that being grateful for clean water means using it with respect.

World Vision reports that Nearly 2,000 children under age 5 die each day from diarrheal diseases caused by unsafe drinking water and spread by lack of basic sanitation and hygiene. This is more than HIV and malaria combined.    

When people visit my house and clean the dishes after a meal, I usually grit my teeth and accept that they are trying to help - letting their kindness override the fact that they are running water, running water, running water.  If you care about conservation, or even just your water bill - here's how we do things around here.

Starting with a full sink, the dishes get scrubbed and set aside in the empty sink.  We have a utensil caddy we use to hold all the soapy utensils in the empty sink as well.  We are lucky enough to have a double sink.  If you don't have one, just use the counter for the soapy dishes.  When the sink that was full of dishes is empty, use the scrubby/sponge to clean the sink out.  Cleaning the sink after every round of dishes is important!  Rinse it and put the stopper back in.

All ready for part two.

Start by rinsing utensils and glasses/mugs.  Rinsing with hot water is key to clean dishes, so if your young'uns can't handle it, pick up some rubber gloves.   Once cups and utensils are rinsed, there is enough water in the sink to dip and rinse the plates and bowls.  Leave the rinse water in the sink.

This little man gets 25c for every chore he does around the house.  I'd say this was 25c well earned.

The sink has hot clean water for the next round of dishes to go in and barely any water was used.  

Other ways to teach your children to conserve:
- Use newspaper to clean windows and mirrors.  They will love the black ink that transfers to their hands
- Use cloths instead of paper towel.  We only use paper towel (recycled) for cleaning the toilet and everything else is a cleaning cloth that gets reused again and again
- Remind little ones water isn't for their amusement.  If you have a water lover, fill the bathroom sink once and let them slosh toys around in it.  When it's gone it's gone.  
- When washing hands and brushing teeth, the water only comes on at the beginning and the end - not the whole way through!
- Lights come on when it's dark only.  If someone isn't in the room, the light is off.  Most of my kids freak out when they find someone has left a light on in an unoccupied room. Brainwashed, haha.
- Talk about packaging.  Do we really need cookies that come in a box, and then are packaged again?  I can't believe how many things are individually wrapped, and then boxed/wrapped again.  Just make a batch of granola bars or cookies at home and save all the garbage!  
- Aim for a litterless lunch.  Fruits, veggies and sandwiches don't need packaging if you're sending tupperware.  The prepackaged stuff is usually junk, so try filling lunches with food that doesn't create garbage.  
- Compost.  Whether or not you have a garden to use it on, composting is a great way to eliminate sending things to a landfill.  My kids love collecting worms and putting them in the compost to "live a happy life".  

Taking steps to reduce the size of your environmental footprint isn't as taxing as it may seem.  Start small and slowly add to the positive steps you've taken.  If you already implement a lot of environmentally friendly practices, remember we can always improve.  Garbage and waste may seem like an insurmountable problem, but all we can do is be the change we want to see.  
You could also write a preachy blog about how to do dishes properly.  Haha.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Friday of Self Portraiture

Let's get to it!  If you want more pics, check out anything with "Friday" in the title.  If you love it, submit a picture for next week.  Happy Friday Muchachos. 

My personal fav of the week - I love when I can barely tell the second shot is the same person as the first shot.  Excellent work beautiful lady.

Ok, close tie.  This was submitted after the first one - love it so much!

I feel I need to point out that this little man could be Chris Farley.  Look tat that face.  He cracks me up.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Thinking outside the box.... The Gift box.

Why we do Christmas differently.

The real treats of Christmases past were
having things like an orange, or a piece
of sausage!
Most adults in first world countries answer the question what does Christmas mean to you? the same way.  Family getting together, winter activities, and the warm fuzzies that are felt throughout the season.  Some people are honest and add presents to the list.  

Unfortunately, there seems to be a stark difference between what is said and what is actually happening.  I see parents and grandparents fret over getting the right gifts, how they are going to pay for everything, who likes what this year and complaining about having to buy for certain people they don't like.  

So really, REALLY, what is Christmas for you?  Is it stress and line-ups at the register and panic until Christmas morning when you feel the supposed elation all this work was for?  Is it paying credit card bills for months?  Is it disappointment that you didn't get something you wanted?  I understand there is more to Christmas than feelings of being let down and stress, I'm just noting that this is what I observe for the most part.

If Christmas really was so fulfilling, why do people line up at 3am the next morning to buy more stuff?  To buy the things they wish they got, or the new things they think they need now they have all the other things they wanted.  Why do people literally get trampled by other people trying to get a Boxing Day deal?  If all our emotional and physical needs were just fulfilled by the event of the year, what is with the immediate spending spree directly afterwards?  

Boxing Day morning lineup.  

We have lost our way.  And whether it is slowly or not so slowly, we need to find our way back.

If you are part of this culture - this gift giving, gift buying, credit using, manic, commercial Christmas culture, press pause on your pre-Holiday brain (I know you're already planning) and ask yourself if it's what YOU want.  Not what your kids want, not what your parents expect, not what your family wants - YOU.

This isn't going to turn into a post about doing things for you - I don't operate that way, just keep reading.

I did the "big" Christmas just like everyone else.  The tree, a zillion presents (wrapped in ONLY matching and complimentary paper), lights on the house, the whole shebang.  I did bag after bag of unnecessary garbage and recycling.  I saw gifts given that were never used or broken and forgotten before the winter was over.  I'm not judging anyone who chooses to do it this way, who says they enjoy it this way, but I've found not doing it this way is much more fulfilling.  It's better for my children, definitely better for my husband who never knew what to get me, and better for the earth on many levels.  

Here's how we do it differently and why:

1. One gift per child.  
Yes, we really only give our kids one gift each.  Sometimes the gift has more than one component (art kit with paper, pencils, etc) but it's still one gift.   We heighten the receiving of the gift by creating a treasure hunt of clues around the house until they finally find the jackpot.  The oldest ones then read out the name is on the bags and hand them out.  The kids knowing they only get one thing really forces them to think about what THEY want - truly.  Not what is popular, not something they happen to see walking down an aisle and shout "I want that!" but something they've been hoping for and really thinking about.  The other clincher is we won't buy new toys so we have to be able to find the gift used or be able to make it.  I've mentioned being "appropriately honest" with my kids, and how things are made is one of the things I tell them the hard truth about.  The truth is, the majority of our products (clothing, toys, sporting goods, shoes, etc) are made by people who aren't paid very well or treated very well.  I love my children, very much, but they are humans - and equal to other human beings.  I will not buy something for them at the expense of another human being.  End of story.  They know I have to be able to find what they've asked for second hand or be able to make it, and also know if I can't find/make it they may not get what they've asked for.  

My kids know other children get a lot of gifts at Christmas and birthdays.  They think it's crazy.  They can't understand that system because I've raised them to think and feel otherwise.  It's not too late, your kids can make the switch too.  You can make the switch.  The reality is, it's harder for US to not buy than it is for others to not receive a tangible gift.  

I read another blog with a Mommy who feels a little bit the same way, and she is AMAZING at compiling lists of ways to shop ethically for different calendar events.  Her blog sometimes feels like I wrote it, which - yes is narcissistic, but it's nice to find other people that make you feel less crazy.  Read her list of ethical gifts here:

2. No gifts for Mommy and Daddy.
My husband and I try to choose things that we would like for Christmas that can be given without money or wrapping.  He usually picks a stay-at-home date night, which can range from watching a horrible action movie with hilarious amounts of chips or Scrabble and baked brie with tunes from the 90s playing in the background.  He also always adds a back rub to the list.  My gift is always the same - a back rub without a time limit, I get to say when it's over.  Insert evil French laugh - honhonhon.  Not worrying what to buy your partner is AMAZING.  It's hard to buy something for someone with their own bank card and income, and even more difficult to buy something for someone who never wants anything (my hubby).  Chances are your spouse might really appreciate no gifts. Maybe fix something that is a two or three day job and let them know it's their gift (be sure to clean it up properly afterwards!)  Cooking someone's favourite meal is also a great way to show them that you love them - same rules apply, clean up afterwards!  If you're quite comfortable financially, and I mean - don't go into debt for this - you could plan a special night with theatre, a hotel stay or a meal at a restaurant with a 3 month wait.  

3. Create the REAL memories you say Christmas is about.
If Christmas is about family and people you love, spend less time in checkout lineups and spend some time with them!  Suggestions from our roster of winter activities:

- Snowmen & Toboganning, duh!

I do not own the rights to this bodacious comic.  Oh Calvin.

- Ice skating.  Most cities have free outdoor ice rinks.  Pick up some used skates (I got skates for all of my kids for less than $4.00 each) and bring a thermos of hot chocolate for a great afternoon.

- get tickets to a family friendly Christmas concert.  Most cities have their own philharmonic or band playing in a local theatre - it doesn't have to be Carnegie Hall for the family to have a great time

- Find a local conservation area that is open during the winter.  Lots of trails are cleared and there may even be a special attraction - at one of our local places, the chickadees are dependent on visitors bringing food and will eat right out of your hand!  We always plan to have hot milk and something yummy when we get home so when the little ones get cranky they have something to look forward to.  

- Visit an indoor play place.  Some of these places can be pricey (especially with more than one child) so make it a treat, let your kids know it's special and to enjoy it.  Pack lots of snacks so you don't have to leave and stay for as long as everyone is having fun (that is hours and hours for us).  

- Local theatre!  Not-so-local theatre!  I love being treated to a high end production in Toronto or Stratford.  Kids LOVE LOVE LOVE theatre.  Why not see what your local guild is putting on this season?  I brought my now 8 yr old to see Peter Pan for his 6th birthday, and can still remember him jumping out of his seat in disbelief when Peter Pan began to fly.  We brought the whole fam-jam to a small production of Cat in the Hat last year and every last one of them (including the baby) had a great time.

- Bake!  Try your hand at making a gingerbread house from scratch, or just make gingerbread people (I HATE gingerbread houses).  If you don't have any children to amuse, spend the day baking with adults you love (or at least enjoy) and deliver goodies to your neighbours.  

- Carolling.  Yes, seriously.  Carol.  Carol like it's nobody's business.  I remember carolling in high school and having such mixed reactions - people slamming doors in my face, asking if I wanted money, but for the most part - happy faces and kind words.  I don't door to door carol anymore, but for years my whole family would visit the nursing home my beloved Nanny lived in and sing to the residents.  It may seem small, or even embarrassing, but the residents (and staff) truly did appreciate it and would sing along. 

- Classic Christmas Nights.  20 years ago, my Oma taught me how to make popcorn on the stove and I have made it that way ever since.  Pop a big bowl of popcorn, pick a classic Christmas flick and grab blankets and pillows so everyone can snuggle together and enjoy a movie night at home.  We watch the same films every year - Home Alone, Elf, A Christmas Story, and Rudloph the red-nose Reindeer.  We don't watch everything all in one night, but with kids being out of school and weather that isn't always co-operative, there can be a lot of down time.  

While I was grocery shopping last weekend, I could already hear parents barking "I will get it for Christmas!" and "be good or Santa won't bring you anything" at their children.  I've heard people ask, "are you ready for Christmas?"  I've read Facebook complaints about how expensive a certain toy is.   THIS IS NOT WHAT CHRISTMAS IS ABOUT!!!!  This is not what life is about.  

Creating a beautiful life for you, your family and your friends has nothing to do with what can be bought. Trust me.  Try it.  

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Ooh Baby Butterscotch Buns

A lot of buns taste better warm out of the oven - and slowly lose their appeal as they sit around.  If there are any buns left by the next day, they're practically inedible in comparison to what was experienced when they were literally hot out of the oven.  Not with these buns!  
These actually taste better when you let them get to room temperature.  They are great the whole day, the next afternoon - and even the day after that.  If that's not enough, they're also very simple to make - I'd say beginners level baking.  Turn the oven on, you're making Butterscotch Buns!

Butterscotch Buns
Preheat oven to 425

1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup plus 1tbsp packed brown sugar 

Cream butter and brown sugar together until light and fluffy.  Set aside.

2 cups cake and pastry flour (or all purpose flour)
2 tbsp white sugar
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

Mix dry ingredients together in large bowl

1/4 cup chilled butter or vegetable shortening*

Cut butter or shortening into cubes and put in flour mixture.  Cut into flour mixture using a pastry cutter until crumbly.  Make a well in the middle of the bowl.

3/4 -1cup milk

Slowly add milk 1/4 cup at a time.  You may not need to use all the milk, please don't add it all at once!  You want just enough liquid to hold the dough together.  Once combined, knead the dough in the bowl a few times to ensure it's fully mixed.  

Transfer dough to floured board and roll out to 2cm thickness, roughly a 10X10 inch square.  Spread butter and sugar mixture evenly on dough - spreading right out to the edges.  I usually do this with a butter knife so I don't get overzealous and rip the dough with vigorous spreading.  Tightly roll the dough into a log and slice into 1 inch pieces.  Place a few centimetres apart from each other on a parchment lined baking tray and bake for 15-20 minutes.  While buns are baking prepare a second cookie sheet with parchment paper.  Once buns are done baking, place second tray over the first and invert the buns (flip them over on the clean tray).  If you're a butter-a-holic, you can brush melted butter over the tops of the buns before they cool to keep the edges from getting too dry.  If you can manage to wait until they are cool, they are better at room temperature - but I'll admit, knowing they're better cool hasn't stopped me from eating one hot almost every time I make them! 

Happy Baking!

*Biscuits are traditionally made with lard.  They turn out lighter, flakier, and truly scrumptious.  I've tried this recipe with both butter and vegetable shortening and I prefer the shortening.  They are delicious either way, but if you eat anything deep fried at restaurants you're eating lard so just try it the proper way :) *  

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Remembering.... Every Day

Remembrance Day is unfortunately being clouded by arguments surrounding the white poppy, red poppy, Christmas lights on too early, etc.  While all of these issues can be discussed (hopefully with civility) it is important we don't let them overshadow why we remember. 

Pacifists.  War supporters.  Soldiers.  We are all called on to Remember.  

Beyond wearing a poppy or shedding a tear at a Remembrance Day service, what do we do to truly remember?  Honour.  Show gratitude.  

This Remembrance Day, and every other day - live a true life.  A life that doesn't trivialize what so many have sacrificed on our behalves.  

Consider what a soldier might have wanted from the life they gave.  Consider the regrets expressed on deathbeds.  Yes, it is morbid - but war is grim, and we need to remember that deeply enough to cause change.  Spend time with those you love.  Real time.  Sit down at the dinner table together.  Enjoy the freedom to walk outside.  No curfews.  No armed soldiers on sidewalks.  Take time, every day, to appreciate living in a peaceful country.  Educate yourself on what war was like for your family members who lived through wars past.  Rations.  Children shipped away from mothers to "safe zones".  Talk to a family with someone in service now.  What do soldiers need from us?  Letters?  Care packages?  Do families left behind need support?  Beyond our peaceful borders, there are many war zones.  Support a trusted charity helping those in refugee camps.  Refugee camps filled with children, the elderly, and men and women without the opportunity to work, grow food, or create a life for themselves.  

There are so many ways to live a life that Remembers.  Let's spend less time arguing over poppies, when the Christmas season should begin or whether or not we agree with war - and focus that energy on living a life that honours the freedom we are fortunate enough to have.  

Friday, November 8, 2013

Friday of Selfies

Selfie Friday makes me so happy, and this week is the best week of submissions EVER!  
Happy Friday!

 Not to offend any other submissions, but this may be THE best selfie set I have ever seen.  I wish I had an award to hand out - this is just so amazing!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Saving your Children's Artwork

I have a lot of little people in my house, and for now they are all young enough to adore me.  I get cards and pictures like you wouldn't believe.  I don't think children should feel like they are the centre of the world and all their art should be cherished as if drawn by Picasso himself, but they did make something they're proud of and probably shouldn't see it sitting in the recycling the next morning.  

I'm pretty honest with my kids.  Age appropriate honesty of course.  I don't like recycling their art without telling them that's what is going to happen, so if they're feeling attached to what they've made I take a picture with a digital camera and then recycle it.  They feel happy that their paper is going off to a plant to make more paper, and also feel like all their work wasn't for naught.  

This was a sign my son wanted me to take a pic of and post to facebook so he could "get work".  Is this one saved on the external hard drive?  You betcha.  The print says he will work for one week, for $5.00 - but that's only for people 45 and under, for "old" people it's free!  

I usually wait until our art table is crammed with paper (every four months or so), take 30-40 minutes and sort out all the artwork and take digital pictures of all the "special" pieces.  Computers have a lot of digital space these days, and if yours doesn't there are external hard drives and online storage like iCloud.  Your kids will get to "keep" their art, and you get a tidy art corner again!  

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Get Handy!

I know a lot of us wait for someone to get things done for us.  A sink that is leaky, a step that is wobbly, holes in walls waiting to be filled.  Ladies and Gents, wait no more, YOU can do it!

I'm not sure why this is the image I see when I type "YOU can do it", but it is - so remember Uncle Sam's face when faced  with an around-the-house job!

I live in a beautiful old home that I am lucky to have.  It was completed in 1920 by a company who helped build this city and made it what it is today.  I love living in an old home, and couldn't imagine myself anywhere else.   The problem is, the people who lived in this home before me may have loved it, but they didn't love it true.  The hardwood floors were covered with nailed in particle board (whaaa?), walls were half painted, there was a garbage bag in place of a window.  You get the idea.  Slowly, my family (husband, father and myself) have been restoring this beauty.  This next project started with a light fixture.  

I found a beautiful light fixture at an antique barn.  Ten bucks.  Couldn't beat it.  My Dad saw the light and started rewiring the front porch so we could hang it.  I didn't even have to ask - now that's a Dad! The box for the light had been boarded up and the light moved to the side of the house prior to us buying it.  It took days longer than he expected (brick cut, holes in walls, etc) but the light was up.  The light shone bright on my hideous front porch ceiling.  It had to be fixed.  

This paint was make-shift for a few years - the original ceiling colour was the yellow you see where the light fixture should hang.

Older homes usually have wood panelling lining the porch ceiling and at one point my house would have had it too.  For whatever reason, it was replaced with particle board.  

I debated painting and stenciling it.  Maybe tin.  No... it would have to be wood panelling, true to the house.  And I would do it on my own.  

I shopped for wood slats or panelling, ultimately deciding on tongue and groove.  Most older ceilings have much smaller slats but I couldn't get the length I needed in the thickness (needed to be very thin and light) required.  

I bought the wood, quarter round and stain.  I brought everything home, remeasured my dimensions and cut all the wood (not the quarter round).  I used a little mitre saw I picked up at a yard sale, and guess what - I still have all my fingers!  After it was cut, I stained it prior to installing so I didn't have to torture myself staining something so far above my head.  

I borrowed my Dad's air compressor nail gun to install the panels of stained, cut wood.  It's big, heavy and noisy but it does a great job and is totally worth getting your hands on (borrow or rent) if you're doing a project like this.  The panels were just shy of 7ft, and I needed my husbands to help to hold them up, wedge the tongue into the groove and nail it.  

I brought the quarter round and the mitre saw to the front porch so I could cut each piece as I went along.  Angles are not my friend.  It took an insane amount of time for me to figure out what angle I needed and how to achieve that angle with the saw.  After installing all the quarter round I gave myself a giant pat on the back for sticking it through, not calling my Dad to come do it for me, and not compromising on the quality of work.  I lastly took a small paintbrush and stained any nail marks that left a hole big enough to see the unstained wood.  

That's it.  Four days*, $100.00, a lot of sweating and cursing - and I have a beautiful front porch that suits the home.  If you have a project you've been waiting (maybe nagging a little) to get done, just try doing it yourself - the results might surprise you!

*Four days with prepping/making meals, changing bums, cuddling, breaking up fights, running the household included. It might take a lot less time without so many little ones to chase around*


YouTube is a great resource for learning how to do things.  Watch a few videos related to what you'd like to do and give it a try.

Just say Yes

Utilizing a budget means making small choices that add up to big numbers.  No impulse buys (even when it’s only a dollar or two) , and n...