Friday, May 30, 2014

Convertible Bench/Picnic Table you can make TOMORROW!

I was looking for used patio furniture on Kijiji, and saw a bench that converted to a picnic table.  I LOVED it, but the seller wanted $250.00 so I checked my favourite DIY queen Ana White and sure enough - she had a free plan for a convertible picnic table/bench.

Click here for her free plans

The materials, including screws and accessories cost me under $100.00 to make TWO benches.  Actually, the stain/sealer was free from my neighbour - so unless you have some lying around it will cost a bit extra.  I suggest hitting up your local Habitat for Humanity before building, they might have some of the lumber you need and they always have a good stock pile of paints, stains and sealers.

I love birds.  Like mega-super-duper-would-build-a-nest-in-my-hair-if-I-could love birds.  Since my Nanny passed away I have been finding blue birds and putting them around my house to remind me of her (they were her favourite).  I also add blue birds to custom items in my home (like my house number) so that it's a theme in the house.  Not a crazy theme, just a subtle one.  Subtly crazy.  Anyways, I googled images of blue bird stencils and drew one free hand on the bench (there's no way I'm paying for a stencil!)  I painted it with standard acrylic craft paint and when it was totally dry I stained it with the rest of the bench.  I was going to add something funky to the second bench, like old railroad-y font or something - but I'm really bad at lettering and talked myself out of it.  The point is, the possibilities are endless - personalize and spruce up your bench/picnic table and make it unique.

So, I bought the lumber on a Saturday afternoon and had these put together by dinner.  I sanded them the next day (about an hour each unit) and stained them the following day (another hour each bench). This could definitely be done in a day, or two - and can definitely be completed in a weekend.  This took me a while because, well, I have six kids, and there was a birthday so I needed to take breaks and bake a cake, etc.  
If you're itching for some new outdoor furniture and want to try your hand at building something, this project is great for beginners!

I can't wait to plant my rear end on this bench this weekend and get some serious ukelele practice in.  If you're a neighbour, I apologize - Matilda requested I learn the theme song from Dora the Explorer,  and Let it Go (from Frozen).  
Do-do-do-do-do-Dora! Do-do-do-do-do-Dora!  Dora Dora Dora the Explorer!
A great use of my "talents" if you ask me.

Happy Friday, I love you.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Burden of Fear

My youngest son, Captain, lives in limbo.  He doesn’t know this of course, but I do.  I know it every minute of every day. 

You just thought to yourself, not when you’re sleeping.  
Yes, when I’m sleeping. 
If his snoring stops or even gets quieter I wake up as if a gun was shot off in the room.
He sleeps right next to me in a bed I made for him and I often wake up half a dozen times a night to make sure he’s still breathing.  Sometimes I just leave my hand on his chest or back until I fall asleep so I can eliminate the worry enough to drift off.   

He was born with breathing complications that brought him to the NICU.  
It wasn’t just breathing complications.  It was a barrage of issues that no one had an answer for.   

Breathing wouldn’t improve. 
His lungs were in the wrong shape and were so tiny.  
They were always “wet” from his heart.  
His enlarged heart with an open PDA.  
A PDA in itself isn’t such a big deal, but the best opinion we’ve had so far is that maybe it’s hiding a bigger problem because the PDA can’t account for the heart failure.  
Heart failure again.  
And again.  
And then the big crash we can't talk about.  
He retained fluids.  
His muscle tone was low.  
So low he didn’t even raise his hands or kick like a “normal” baby.  For weeks.  
His brain MRI was abnormal.  
Maybe the brain abnormalities meant something major, even a death sentence.  Maybe not.  
We might not know until he’s two, maybe later, maybe never.  
Enlarged kidneys, liver, spleen.
His foot has a crease.  
His neck is non existent.  
His eyes have “the shape”.  
He has a syndrome.  
So much blood it takes days just to get it all from him. 
Every.  Test.  Normal.   

Every single thing about my boy had something peculiar about it.
 From his head down to his toes - literally.
 Something off enough to cause concern, but not definitive enough to actually help him.  

After 49 days we were sent home.  No answers.  Just what to look for in the event of heart failure.

We were back in the hospital within a week.  Heart failure.  

During the ambulance ride I was writhing in pain.  I’ve never had such heartbreak that it hurt my body. 
My husband drove behind, crying in that primal yell you don’t know you have until something like this happens. 
Bargaining with God. 

After 2 days they let us go.  Without answers.  

3 days later we were in the hospital again, with you guessed it - heart failure.  
This time we were there for 10 days until we were sent home, again, with no answers.

I understand why people experiencing trauma share their suffering.  Ask for help.  Lean on friends.  Lighten the load.  
Now I understand even more, but when we were going through this I just couldn’t.  
It was my mess. 
  Our family huddled down and we protected the big festering sorrow that was a sick child.
The festering sorrow that is a sick child.

This protectiveness made leaving the hospital very scary.  
Everyone thought we were out of the woods.  

Every single person.  

Out of the hospital does not mean out of danger.  

My husband and I live with the potential of what could happen over our heads.  
Every second of every minute of every hour of every day.  

Like an old Bugs Bunny cartoon - an anvil just hanging over our unsuspecting heads.  Day in day out.
Will he die today?  Do we get another day with our baby boy?  

In our first few months home, I felt as though my chest would implode any time I had a moment to myself.  I would lay down (collapse) and scenes from the hospital would play on repeat.
Captain’s face when his lungs were filling with blood.  The beeping.  Every needle.  IV.  PICC line.
The feeling that would overcome my body when the doctors came in our room during rounds.  Terminology.  
Something like how post traumatic stress disorder is described.  
Every night.  

And while I felt it would be better to leap off a cliff than to live with this, I still had a sick little boy to tend to.  
I also had his five older siblings that needed their Mom.  A Mom who didn’t love any one child more than the next, and still found time to make meals, listen to stories, make crafts, take walks, laugh...   

I don’t know how I did it.  How we did it.  All I can say is we took Captain’s lead.  

He fought.  Every day.  We fought right along with him.  

He fought his own body.  Learned how to eat well enough to get him off his g-tube.
 Learned how to sit up, crawl, walk.  He started physiotherapy unable to roll over (either way) at 6 months old, and was discharged 16 months later, right on target for his age.
He still fights - every day.
His breathing is always laboured.  He still retains fluids.  Any time the temperature warms up, he loses every bit of his energy and can't move.  His little tummy will double in size, often, and stay that way for days.
At two years old, he struggles to communicate without any words.  

We fought the sorrow knocking at our door.  Refused to open up and let it in.  
We chose joy.  
Joy for each day we were lucky enough to have.  For the wonderful children in our home who were healthy.
 For a healthcare system that didn’t bankrupt us.  For the family members who lifted us up when we needed it most.
We chose joy…

Because that’s what my Captain chose.  That’s what he brought in to the house and filled it with.  
Joy.  Hope.  Light…  

And that anvil.  

That dark, heavy anvil over our heads.
Casting the shadow from the Psalms, the shadow of death.     

It makes answering flippant questions like “how is he?” difficult,  because most people just want to hear “fine”.  
I’ve actually come to realize most people won’t ask how he is unless they expect the answer to be “great!” 
  But, really, my boy is living with that anvil over his head.  

I know the peripheral part of my vision that can see the anvil won’t go away.  I can’t close my eyes to it,  
and I don’t want to. 
  Remembering our traumatic beginning makes each day, with it’s ups and downs, easier somehow.
Makes the heart meds, the monitoring, the worrying, the advocating, the frustration - easier.  

A blessing, not a chore.    

Martin Luther King Jr said  “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” 
  I believe that, in all its forms - and for my son:
I have decided to stick with joy.  Fear is too great a burden to bear.

For those of you who live this too:

Reaching out (in a very small way) and joining a group of Moms/parents who have babies with heart conditions made me look at our family harder.  I hear their worries, their questions, and think to myself, how do they do this?
Then I remember I have the same worries and questions.  How do we do it?

 Life for my son will never be normal - every time he has a common cold, has to go to the dentist, starts to choke, sleeps for too long, seems too agitated, every time his tummy gets distended, every time he cries too hard… is all under the shadow of that anvil.  But I’m not alone.  There are many (too many) parents living with sick children, and we are all striving to live in the present and be present.

And then there are the parents who do not live with the anvil.  Whose child has passed away.  The unthinkable.  The indescribable.  What makes the complications we fear real and shocks us to our core.  And we grieve with those parents like no one else can.  

Even then, especially then - we choose joy, and love.  Sorrow will not overcome.

You, fellow parents of sick children, are a wonderful and special kind of people.  Biological parents, adoptive parents, foster parents - we all live this.  Hospitals, sleepless nights, tubes, syringes, gauze. 
We bankrupt our bodies, starve our souls, and give every thing we have to help our little person make it another day.  
I just wanted to share (kind of like AA but for parents of sick children) and say thank you.  I am humbled to be in your company and pray that I can lift you up as you have done for me.  

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Friday, May 16, 2014

Chocolate Cake you CAN NOT mess up!

I've made this cake a bajillion different ways

gluten free
oil free
with beets to make it red velvet
it's already vegan

Ok, so I've made it four ways that I can remember - but I have been making this cake for years and I have honestly never messed it up.  
I mess up a lot by the way.  Especially when I refuse to use measuring devices.   
this chocolate cake is my go-to-cake and I will never make another chocolate cake recipe again because this one is just so good.  

We are entering birthday season in my house (all 6 kids in four months)
and I made this cake 3 times for two birthdays.

Apparently cupcakes aren't real cake.  3 year old girls I tell ya.  
These are blue raspberry cupcakes that I kept calling Razzamataz Cupcakes for some reason.
They tasted like a slushie - but way better because it's cake.  I just added some raspberry flavour to the icing and threw in some blue colouring.
Boy oh boy were they good - and perfect for a little girl who loves blue!

This was made on Tilly's actual birth date to make up for the cupcakes (sheesh). 
Her favourite colour is "every colour of the rainbow" and this cake was a big hit!

Tilly didn't really complain about the cupcakes, she just said she wished she had a birthday cake.  I told her she did have one, the cupcakes, and she replied with "that's not a real cake!"
If she fussed, or complained or demanded a "real" cake I would have never made another one -
but she didn't, and birthdays are sensitive for me, so I made her a cake.
I think her reaction says it all:

Birthday or not, this cake is easy to make - stays moist for a good few days and is tasty tasty tasty!
With no further adieu...

Crazy Good Chocolate Cake 

Preheat oven to 350 and prepare pan.  This recipe doubles nicely, but single recipe needs to be baked in an 8X8 square pan, 10"round cake pan, or even an 11X7 rectangle pan.  Grease the cake holding vessel lightly, and if using a metal pan grease & flour.  

1 1/4 cups flour (yes - you can use gluten free mix)
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients.  Break up any clumps before adding the wet stuff.  Create a little well, exposing the bottom of the bowl.

1 cup warm water
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup vegetable oil (you can use applesauce, or melted coconut oil)
1 tsp vinegar

(add up to 1/2 cup of steamed and pureed beets for red velvet)

Add warm water, vanilla, oil and vinegar to dry ingredients.  Mix well.  You can use a hand blender or just good old elbow grease (with a whisk).  Pour into prepared pan and bake for 25-30 minutes.  Cupcakes take roughly 25 minutes, and adding beets will extend your bake time by 5 minutes or so.  

When I'm making the cake for something fancy (a.k.a. not eating it out of the glass dish while the kids are sleeping) I line the bottom of whatever pan I'm using with parchment so it will flip out of the baking device easily.  

My son wanted a red velvet cake with cream cheese icing.  Vegan.  Hilarious request for an 8 year old.
  I just used a fermented soy cream cheese and made the icing like a regular cream cheese icing and it was deeeeee-licious I tells ya.  

PS If you're a fan of using flavours like I am - the BEST combo of this cake is making the icing... banana flavour.  Oh my banana-lovin-brains it's good.  

Happy Baking!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Our favourite snack: Popcorn!

Something we ALWAYS have in the house are popcorn kernels.
  My husband is a major night snacker.  Major. 
 I like tea at night, he likes to eat the entire contents of the kitchen. 
 Popcorn saves the day.  

We've always made popcorn on the stove, in a big dutch oven - the way my Oma taught me when I was young.  I love popcorn on the stove.
Air poppers are for losers (sorry if you love your air popper)
and we don't have a microwave.

We've never had a microwave by the way.  
They're from the devil.
Anyways, my hubby's parents knew how much we loved stove top popcorn and bought us a Whirly Pop. Whirly Pop isn't paying me to write a commercial for them and they will probably send me a threatening letter from a lawyer when they see I'm talking about them BUT it is the best thing to happen to popcorn in all of history.

1 tbsp of oil, 1/2 cup kernels = huge bowl of tasty tasty popcorn.
We don't even add butter afterwards (we pop it in coconut oil), just add salt and it's ready to eat!  

We top the popcorn with pink Himalayan sea salt and unashamedly mow down.
Himalayan sea salt sounds snobby, but seriously this crap is good for you AND tastes awesome.  
Don't ask me how salt can be improved but this salt tastes better.  

We usually have organic kernels stocked up from whenever they're on sale, but while I was frolicking down the aisles of Costco I found these.  
The shiny bag and the bright sun did not produce a decent photograph.  Sorry. 

They aren't organic, but they are part of the Non GMO project
so I picked up a bag. 
Somewhere in my 4 year old self, I was hoping the popcorn would be all the colours of the rainbow, 
but I also knew they wouldn't be.  
They are different shades - the red kernels pop bright white and the regular kernels pop yellow, so they are multicoloured, just not rainbow coloured. 
Rainbow coloured or not they are TASTY and they pop so nicely!  
Yes, different brands of kernels pop differently.  Don't buy garbage or they won't pop nicely for you.

Angie's also isn't paying me.  No one pays me.  If they send me free popcorn for spreading the good 
news I'll let you know.   

Well, that's it.  
After the interest in my cupboards I thought a few of you might like to know some of the other things we love around here and our go-to-favourites.  

Give it a try, I promise promise promise
you will love it and that it can replace the stuff you're buying in packages. 
Send it to school in lunches, serve it at parties, make it your late night pig out...
just try it.  

This is the only way to eat popcorn.  Fistfuls shoved into face.  
I never understood why people go to the movies for a date and buy popcorn.  There is no cute way to eat popcorn unless you do it a kernel at a time which is lame and therefore no second date.  
I've been married for long enough to eat popcorn the proper way.  
Please note the small bits of popcorn on my face - that's included in the proper way to eat popcorn. 

Bye, love you.

Friday, May 2, 2014

It's Baaaaaack

So it won't be back every Friday, but we can't let Selfie Fridays die altogether!
Duck faces just won't die, and until they do (which is probably never) Selfie Friday must live on.
You take your "ideal" shot and immediately take the least flattering pic of yourself imaginable.  
I LOVE when I'm sent pics, it makes me happy to have people join in my mission
well, there is no mission. 
 Just a small social commentary on duck faces.  Selfies.  Whatever you call them.  
Selfie Friday!

Love this one!  Seriously talented face maneuvering. 

This was sent with a message saying "hurt my neck doing this"
But it was WORTH IT.  Love it.

This looney bird from Bushel & A Peck sent pre & post work out faces.
The pre is ALMOST funnier than the post!  

I actually just rotated my arms for this set.  Didn't change the duck face or even move my eyes! 
The difference perspective can make.... ahhhh, deep.  

Happy Friday (I want to say BITCHAAAS) here, but that's probably inappropriate.
Happy Friday my Friends! 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Hippie Cupboard Expose

A recent encounter with a blog reader led to a question that I originally thought was a joke.  
He said, I'd love a blog post about 10 things that are in your cupboard that might not be in mine.  
It wasn't a joke.
He said he was going to make a recipe I posted but didn't have one obscure ingredient.  
The funny thing is, I don't think any of my ingredients are obscure.
  I'm starting to learn I'm not the norm... that no one is the "norm". 
So... by way of an apology for my obscure ingredient in my recipe, here are my cupboards and some of the things I keep in stock that you might not. 
PS - Any time there is an ingredient you don't have, just comment on the post and ask what it can be replaced with.  Chances are I've had to substitute it for something else at least once or twice. 

7 Things I have in my cupboard that you might not.

1. Something my Dad always tried to talk me in to (but never succeeded) was to try alternative grains.  He was a food pioneer and had couscous in our house growing up before people ate anything other than white rice!  He caught me a little too late in my palate development - it's hard to convince a pre pubescent child to try new, hard-to-spell-and-pronounce, foods.  Well Dad, the tables have turned.  You proclaimed me a "hard-ass" about healthy food,  and I'm happy to share my first staple we always have in this house: Quinoa.

Quinoa is the business.  Seriously.  This is a super food that you need to feed yourself and the ones you love.  It's good hot, cold, in salads, in cookies, in just about everything.  Eat. Your. Quinoa.
I also have flaked Quinoa and Quinoa Krispies (cereal) in my cupboard.  

2. I don't think this next one is "weird" per se, but I don't know a lot of people who have it in their cupboard.  

Rice Paper!  Do you love fresh wraps at your local Thai place?  Even if you don't, pick up a pack of these at your grocery store so you can try your own version.  The wraps are dried rice and will never go bad - which means they're handy in the event of an apocalypse.  
You wet the paper, and that softens it enough to use it as a wrap.  
Fill them with as many fresh veggies as you can think of and mow down.  I've tried a lot of foods I wouldn't normally enjoy (fresh beets) and mixed with some lemon juice, pepper and other veggies - it's never turned out poorly.  
Rice Paper.  Get some.

3. Flavour 

Yes, flavour. 

When I learned about human trafficking and slavery in the food industry - especially the food industry my kids were enjoying (chocolate, sugar) I started making our own sweets.  Homemade suckers, toffee, caramel, candy, even candy canes.  While I don't make candy too often these days (lots of organic and fair trade options in stores now - yipee!) I still love having these flavours on hand to jazz up icings and other baked goods from time to time.  

4. I have this thing, where I seriously forget that everyone isn't like me.  Honestly.  I hear about people scouring their cupboards and making something from what they had and it's things I would NEVER dream of buying.  When I'm scouring my cupboards I usually find chick peas and Tahini.  Chick peas + tahini = hummus.  I'm still trying to remember that I am just as weird to someone else as they are to me - you'd think I'd have that engrained in my head by now, but I really don't.

5. Yeast.  I don't know who hasn't tried to make bread on their own, especially with those bread makers everyone seems to love - but feedback tells me that yeast isn't a common cupboard staple these days.  I've cultured my own yeast before, to make authentic sourdough bread, but for the most part, I use regular old instant yeast.  Not the individual packages that come in 3's either... I use the Yeast like you mean it yeast.  

6. I love sugar.  Truth is, I'm probably a sugar addict.  I avoid it for the most part, because as soon as I even think about sugar I go into a tailspin.  Do I still have white sugar in the house?  Yes, of course I do - birthday cakes and Christmas cookies need to be "authentic" and I use white sugar.  In daily life, I bake a lot of recipes with dates or figs to sweeten things up, but sometimes figs just don't cut it.  Enter the white sugar alternative super team!  

Yeah, that's a one pound bag of maple sugar.  

I also have some other sugars in my cupboard (honey, agave nectar, molasses) and I use them for different recipes depending on what taste I'm looking for.  The berry sugar (fructose) in the back is strictly for my Crying Cookies and the palm sugar is for recipes from Oh She Glows (she loves palm sugar).  I use Stevia in my green tea because it's just SO bitter (I don't sweeten any other tea).  The maple sugar is for eating off the end of a spoon (duh) - but I also sprinkle muffins with it sometimes.

6.  As if having every sugar alternative wasn't annoying enough, I also have an arsenal of 
flour alternatives.  

We buy sprouted grain bread (pre-made, so that's kind of normal) but when I'm making biscuits or cookies I try to use sprouted grain flours.  Do I have regular flour?  Yes.  Even some cake and pastry flour.  It all depends on what's being made and who it's being made for.   I use coconut flour for gluten free baking (watch out, it's the most absorbent thing in the universe) as well as an assortment of other weird flours.  Rice flour (white and brown), arrowroot starch, quinoa flour, gluten free all purpose mixes and the bees knees - chickpea flour.  I love chickpea flour, mostly for homemade pakora and baji - but it's helpful in other things too.  

7. These next two items aren't from my pantry and are from my fridge, but I think they count.  Did your Mom put something in everything?  Like raisins in your oatmeal, in your cookies, on your cereal?  Well, I put chia seeds on everything.  Pancakes, cookies, pudding, shakes, all with a good tablespoon or two of chia seeds.  The hemp seeds are mostly for my husband's veggie shakes because I suspect I'm allergic to them - but they are nice to eat on top of a salad or in a wrap.  

Not pictured, but no less important is flax.  The flax lives next to these guys in the fridge and he's a major player at our house.  I buy the seeds and grind them in my blender, but you don't have to do that with Chia or Hemp which is why I love them so much.  

8.  I feel like this is the Hippie Holy Grail.  Nutritional Yeast is a great additive to a wide variety of foods.  Popcorn, kale chips, pasta, rice - you name it, it could do with a sprinkle of nutritional yeast.  

You don't have to be a hippie to enjoy these staples that are common in our house.  Truth is, I don't really identify as a hippie - but I embrace that I am seen as that, and refer to myself as one with jest.  

More on that another day.  

Bonus peek into my cupboards

Here's my full cupboard (tidied of course)
I have two large pantries and no overhead cupboards in my kitchen.  

I hope you enjoyed exploring my cupboards, and 
if you have a question or blog suggestion don't hesitate to ask!  
I loved this little project, not because I particularly wanted to share my cupboards
but because I knew it was coming from you, my most beloved readers!  

That wasn't sarcastic.
Yes, a little "Anne" from Anne of Green Gables,
but genuine.  

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...