Sunday, 30 December 2012

Contemplating 2013

Today I found myself pondering the irony of planning a healthy 2013 while eating Lindor chocolate balls for breakfast. Maybe there are people out there who eat perfectly all the time, exercise every single day, and always get eight hours of sleep a night but I'm not one of them. Also, I got an absolute flood of chocolate for Christmas. Lindor balls, After Eights, Quality Street mixed chocolates, cookies filled with chocolate hazelnut, and a double handful of hot chocolate packets. The good news is I'll be starting the new year off with clean cupboards. Let's not talk about the bad news *glares at stomach*.

The chocolates are almost gone, just the After Eights are left unless son's been raiding the cupboard again. Nope, just checked and they're still there. Which is fine because two sticks are 50 calories so they'll make a nice treat on my lunch break at work. And onwards to my goals for next year...

1. See my friends more often

I'm starting off well with this one. I've made plans to visit friends on New Year's Day and am in the midst of making plans to hang out with two other friends. Hopefully this will continue throughout the year. The reality is I'm an introvert and I hate the phone. As my kids well know, I refer to it as that damn ringing thing and have been known to yell at it. I also approach it with the caution some people reserve for handling poisonous snakes, which makes it tricky to make plans. But I'm quite easy to entertain. I've had friends call up and say "Hey, we're washing the car and buying groceries. Do you want to come?" And I'm all "sure, I'll be right over". So if you're getting your oil changed and need someone to chat with, give me a call.

2. Write more

Now this one might not transfer to here seeing as I have been writing more and editing more. But it's been in my novel and not here. For years I have worked on my novel, Small Dreams for a few weeks or month then given up in defeat, declaring the novel utter garbage and walking away for several months until trying again. This time it's been different. I still read for pleasure but I'm also reading and picking apart novels. How do I get the characters to show emotion? How do I describe tone of voice? What transitions work better? I don't want to copy my favourite authors, I just want to get a general idea on how to make sections of the novel flow. And I'm cautiously optimistic it's been working. I've been using my teenage son as a guinea pig. Son has language based learning disabilities as part of his autism and has never enjoyed reading. I have bought all sorts of books over the years for him to read and for me to read to him, with minimal luck. Most of the books end up abandoned a few chapters in, with my son saying "Can't we just read tomorrow instead of today?" ad nauseam until I give up. Small Dreams isn't aimed at teenage boys, it's a novel about two young adults, in their early twenties. Jessica (the main character, it's a first person book) and Chris. The book starts the day they find out she's pregnant and ends the day she gives birth. It follows them as they struggle to make a better life for themselves despite Jessica's abusive family and a couple of false friends. Son loves the book and asks me daily if I've got another chapter to read to him. And he has favourite lines he'll remember and quote back a month or so later. I read a section to daughter yesterday and she laughed so hard she nearly fell off the couch. Thankfully it was supposed to be funny.

I submitted Piece of Mind back in October and, quite frankly, don't expect it to be accepted. I tried my best but I wrote 75% of the novel in three weeks and barely managed to scrape across the minimum amount of words for acceptance. I looked over the first few chapters a few weeks ago and realized it needs a lot of work, especially fleshing out Tamara (the main character). I have a great back story to explain why 17 year old Tamara is living on her own and working full time as a hairdresser instead of being in school. The only problem is I didn't add it to the novel. My daughter commented that she kept forgetting Tamara was a teenager as she seemed so much older. I need to add the farking back story. Also, Tamara's an orphan but for half of the book she might as well have hatched. She never once mentions her parents or older sister until she's giving birth, chapters into the book. She loved her parents, I need to have her think of them from time to time.

So my plans for this year are to finish editing Small Dreams and get that book submitted somewhere, hopefully by mid-January, then move on to Piece of Mind, flesh it out and get it submitted. Then resubmit Small Dreams and start fleshing out sequels to both books then resubmit Piece of Mind... and so on until one of them gets accepted. Then I'll run around like a chicken with it's head cut off and start revising.

In between all that I'll write in here.

3. Eat healthier and simpler

Simpler is the key part to this goal. I don't have the time to cook for hours each evening, not while working full time and writing. But I do have fifteen minutes to half an hour to cook pasta, rice, lentils, spinach, etc. And I need to make sure I've got handy things to pack in my lunch like muffins, yogourt, and rolls so I'm not buying extras at work. There is nothing at work (other than the tea and coffee) that fits into my real food diet. Nothing. Even the eggs have well over ten ingredients and the hot powdered beverages are scary. Pomegranate seeds and pistachios are a great snack... a lot better than a chocolate chip muffin with dubious ingredients.

4. Exercise

I have a gym and pool 30 seconds away by elevator. There is no good reason not to use them. Regularly.

5. Honesty

I need to stop using the monster under the bed approach to solving life's problems. You know, hiding my head under the covers and hoping it disappears. This only works for imaginary monsters, not the real ones. When I'm feeling bad, hiding and just saying nothing won't make things better. But sharing will bring support. Same goes for writing in my diary and doing a photo a day. It doesn't have to be perfect. It just has to be real.

And on that, I'm heading out to buy groceries so I've got healthy food for the new year.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Mid winter ramblings

I haven't been writing here in a while. Not that I haven't been writing, it's just that my writing time has been reserved for brief updates on Facebook and mostly working on my novel, Small Dreams.

Today, however, is different. Today I'm home with a cold and my thoughts are skittering around madly like cockroaches when the light's turned on. I'm not really focusing well enough to edit my novel so I'm inflicting my thoughts here where they're being read for free. Not that I'm actually getting paid for my novels yet but I'm hoping that will change some day. I've got no financial hopes pinned here.

I confess, I stink at editing. Small Dreams is continually bouncing around between 452 and 460 pages, kind of like a yo-yo dieter. I hack out some pages, mostly days where the main characters do nothing but go to work, come home, chat over dinner, and wash the dishes (what on earth was I thinking when I wrote those days?) then the pages creep back up in the form of dialogue and observations.

I've been observing my kids more and more for dialogue, especially now that they're teenagers and come up with interesting statements. My son, while hilarious, ends up saying things that don't really suit the characters so it's more my daughter I use. Son, I will share with you.

My son showed signs of his offbeat sense of humour years ago. Picture it. We're standing in a busy line at the movie theatre, waiting to buy tickets. He's the picture of innocence. Bright blue eyes, gleaming dark blond hair, and a smile curving his lips. He clasps both hands together, tilts his head and announces in the sweetest voice ever, "I'm a disturbing little boy." Right out of the blue.

Last week we were grocery shopping and I needed salad fixings (I pretty much always need salad fixings). I went to grab my usual mixed greens and son blurted, "No, you need to buy this one" then pointed at one of those packages of lettuce alive. It was fresh and green so I picked it up. That was when son noticed the root ball underneath.

His eyes widened. "Mom! We have to plant that as soon as we get home.We can plant it in the tree in the living room." Yeah, the ficus tree I have growing behind the futon. Because, a, it would grow so well behind the futon and, b, I want to do flips over the back every time I make a salad. So I reminded him that lettuce needs light and it was not the right time of year to grow anything on our balcony. He looked so disappointed I assured him we could grow lettuce in the summer then wanted to know why he wanted to grow it in the first place seeing as he treats lettuce like it's poison.

"Ben and Bean [our guinea pigs] eat lettuce and they're my friends. I want lettuce for them." He paused and we kept walking then he continued. "They're friends... friends I keep in a cage and never allow free."

Okay then creepy child.

Later on we were walking home and son informed me that his class is learning about people and who to trust. His teacher had a page with pictures of various people and asked the kids who they would pick off the page to trust. Every child but one picked the shot of an innocent looking child. My son picked the 6ft tall man with a mohawk. Curious, I asked him why. Not that I have anything against 6ft tall men with mohawks, it just seemed like an interesting choice.

Son rolled his eyes. "Doesn't anyone watch movies? You never trust kids that age, they're the ones who know where all the bodies are hidden."

The plus side is, if I ever decide to write a horror, I just need to follow my son around with a pad of paper and a pen.

Now my throat has convinced me that an ice cream sundae is a splendid choice for lunch. The chocolate ice cream has calcium and the marshmallow fluff is full of egg whites and protein. And the salted caramel sauce has... well it has... it doesn't matter I'm sure it has vital nutritional requirements my body needs.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

My life? What life?

That title pretty much sums up my last four weeks.

Last month I went onto some forums I frequent and discovered a post saying Harper Voyager was starting a new line of ebooks and looking for new authors. You can imagine my excitement. Then reality came crashing down on me. The books were fantasy/sci-fi and could only be submitted from October 1-14th.

I have two books. One is a completed novel called "Small Dreams" that I was in the process of proof-reading, the second was not even named and maybe a quarter completed. The second was young urban fantasy. Small Dreams isn't.

I'd started the second novel after a weird dream. The dream was so bizarre I just had to write it down. Once those couple of paragraphs were written, I expanded on it. What could have happened? Why did it happen? Who did it happen to? How did those characters meet? Soon I had the makings of a novel.

I'd set the main character, named Tamara, as a 35 year old woman and created a love interest for her by the way of 37 year old Thomson. However, the remaining characters were all in their teens. By close to halfway through the book, Tamara and Thomson were relegated to the role of babysitters. I tucked the book away and ignored it.

A year later I opened it again and decided to change Tamara from a 35 year old to a 17 year old. Thomson followed suit, turning into an 18 year old. They were still older than the other characters but close enough in age to be friends instead of babysitters. And frankly, Tamara's relatively immature personality suited being 17 instead of 35. As a teenager she comes off as smart and mature for her age, as a 35 year old she ended up being immature and a bit whiny.

Faced with rewriting this novel or brushing up on Small Dreams, I chose the latter. It was a lot closer to being ready to submit and it made more sense to focus on it. Then came this opportunity. My first thought was despair, there was no way I could finish this book in time. I work full-time and have my autistic teenager living with me. There's only so many hours in one day.

That was when it dawned on me. If I never tried then I was right, there really was no way I could finish this book. The only way I'd know for sure was if I tried. When I opened the novel, it was at just under 30,000 words with at least 10,000 words needing to be deleted. I needed to bring it up to a minimum of 70,000 words.

My life for the past month has consisted of me waking up, getting ready for work, and racing out to the bus. On the bus I sit with a notepad and pen and jot down novel ideas in point form. I work for 8 to 8.5 hours then take the bus home again, re-reading my notes. Then I sit at the computer and write, squeezing out a brief time for eating dinner with my son.

Slowly the framework for the novel built up, I hacked out everything that spoke of "babysitter" and chucked in a new murder to keep it a bit more face paced. Everything in my life revolved around my novel. My son came home from school one afternoon and asked me how my day went. My response? It went fine. Tamara and Dre are on the bus now and she's in labour.

Another evening he asked me what I was making for dinner. I turned around wild eyed and said "I can't make dinner right now. Tamara's giving birth and having rape flashbacks". Son shrugged then said "okay, I'll get out the leftovers". My life? My life was the book.

October first came and went. I was halfway through my novel word-count wise and rapidly running out of plot. Co-workers would ask me if I'd have the novel ready on time and I'd smile and say "of course" and "I'm giving it my best shot". In reality I felt only the second was true. I was trying my hardest but still had 30,000 words to write in two weeks, while adding a lot more plot. I didn't think I could make it but still, the only option was to try. I'd never make it if I gave up. Thanksgiving flew by. I cooked ravioli and begrudged the time it took for the water to boil. We ate and I went right back to my room.

Yesterday morning I sat down at the computer with 60,000 words written... 10,000 words to go. Then I did nothing but write. Our fire alarm went off in the afternoon. I picked up my netbook and wrote downstairs outside our building. By evening I was averaging 1,000 per hour. I was going to do it.

Just before midnight I was at 69,200 words. I decided to save my novel in Word format and finish it up there, just so I knew I had the right word count for submission. My heart sank. Open Office counts every  word written for their word count. Word ignores small words like "a", "and", and "the". Within seconds I'd gone from being 800 words away from minimum to being 3,500 words away. I'd hoped I'd have the novel finished by midnight. By 1am I was up to 68,000. By 1:30am I decided I'd open the submission form and get that finished so I could just attach the novel when I was done. I had the form bookmarked but, when I scrolled down it wasn't there. Instead was a bunch of letters wanting to know why the page had closed so soon. I closed the page and went to bed.

I woke six restless hours later and decided I was going to just keep on trying. I'd find a submission email on the page and email my novel instead. It wasn't the best option but it was better than sitting in my bedroom and crying. I sat back down and wrote the last 1,500 words then edited what I'd written the previous night, adding a few badly missing transitions (note Kathleen... your characters are telepaths, they can't teleport). It was done. At least as done as I could make it today.

I went on the website and found a message saying there'd been a technical error and the submission form was going back up soon. I felt like singing. I felt like dancing. Well not really, that was when I realized it was 1pm, I'd been up for five hours and I hadn't eaten anything. I was also so exhausted my eyes were crossing and I desperately needed a shower. By the time I woke back up and had a shower the submission form was up. I ate before my nap, I think I had soup, I wasn't that awake.

Of course there were a few glitches after that. The biggest, most heart attack inducing was when I made a new word document so I could make sure I had 1,000 words for the submission. I saved it as "first thousand words" then closed it and opened my novel. Piece of Mind opened up as 1 of 3 pages, 1,005 words. I usually save my novel every single night but, last night I'd just gone to sleep. My last saved version was Open Office and I'd written almost 5,000 words since then. I was able to retrieve the novel and restart my heart.

And I am so grateful for my friends who really came through for me, answering questions on Facebook like "what colour is the umbilical cord during birth?" "if someone got shot, where would the best place be?" "are chest tubes removed through surgery and would a minor need someone to sign paperwork?" "what would people grow and raise on a small farm?" and my all time favourite:

Also, lets say someone's killed by a mental attack, described as a thought that pushes into the mind like a knife. In an autopsy, what would make more sense to find, a stroke or an aneurysm? I'm waffling between the two and frankly don't know enough about either to make a decision.

A friend of mine emailed her mother multiple times before we decided it was six of one half dozen of the other, both were similar and an aneurysm could cause a stroke.

And my friends pulled through for naming the novel as well. I tossed out a synopsis and asked for name suggestions. My friend, Robert, came up with Piece of Mind. Which doesn't even get him a cup of coffee but will net a mention in the credits if this ever gets published.

If my friends didn't know I was insane before I started this writing blitz, I'm sure they've guessed by now. A friend of mine posted this on my Facebook page and I felt it summed things up nicely:

And now I need to restart my life. I haven't set foot in our pool in a month. It's in the basement, a 30 second elevator ride away. I haven't read a book other than briefly on the bus. I haven't gone for a walk. And you don't want to see my kitchen or living room. I don't want to see them either. It might be easier to burn them and start fresh. I haven't blogged here either.

I don't know what will happen now. I won't stop writing, that's for sure. I've got Small Dreams to whittle down and polish and I left enough open ends for sequels to Piece of Mind. This opportunity was just that, one opportunity. But first I'm going to go grocery shopping and shovel out my kitchen and then I'm going for a swim.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Parenting, prejudice, and tough love

Update: When I first posted this entry, the photo was fairly new. I searched Facebook and discovered the person's name was there and had the same profile picture as the photo. She was friends with the person who replied and that profile picture also matched. I couldn't find the matching status but her profile wasn't set to public and, if I had a status making the rounds on Facebook (in not a positive manner) I'd have deleted it too. Then I found a non-grainy photo of the status, it looked real. I searched Google for final confirmation and found about 3 or 4 entries under her name. An Etsy, Twitter, and a MyLife account. I think there might have been one more. I couldn't find the age of her son but did confirm she was a mother. I didn't tag her in this blog as I was writing more to discuss my feelings on what was written and not the author of the status, but I didn't see the point in removing names and photos from the picture.

Several days ago I posted a link to this entry on a forum I frequent. That day the woman who set up the forum posted the picture on her own blog, Regretsy. Yesterday someone came onto the forum to claim the person was her niece and had been framed; she also posted a reply on my blog. I sent her a message asking her for more information but heard nothing. Thankfully Helen, the pseudonym of the woman running Regresty, was able to talk to the person who supposedly wrote this status. Her son is three years old, no where near old enough to walk home on his own with anyone. She hadn't written it.

Now comes the scary part. Within a half-hour of my blog entry, someone had already created a Facebook page, "[name]: Homophobe and Child Abuser?" with people sending her messages and threatening violence. And, remember I said I found three or four entries under her name? Google now brings up 17,500 results. Many of which show up as "Let's draw some more attention to [name] and her friend, [name]. ... How absolutely disgusting and disgraceful, thank you, [name] and [friend's name] ..." Page after page of identical listings. I got up to the 16th page before I found an entry that didn't have anything to do with her (one of those "Did you go to school with anyone named [first name] or [last name]? Find your friend here" entries). Note that wasn't where the entries against her ended, it was just where it stopped being all her. There are many pages beyond that.

I removed the reply to this post as it mentioned her by name. I have also removed her name from the picture and from my blog. I'm keeping my blog entry up but please keep in mind the photo is fictional. And, if you have written a blog about this photo and the women involved in it, please un-tag them and remove their names. They've had enough negative attention and would like to fade out of the public eye.


I have seen this picture on Facebook several times since last night and each time it makes my heart heavy. Here's a mother determined to stamp out what should be nurtured in her child; kindness, open-mindedness, and empathy. It makes me want to give both those kids hugs. Both deserve to be able to walk home with their neighbour without threats of violence.

Her friend's comment about tough love baffles me. Obviously this person has no idea what tough love is. Tough love is allowing your teenager to deal with the consequences of their actions. They do something wrong and you do not step in to fix things for them, hoping that the results will show them in a way lectures won't. Tough love involves stepping back, you are not the consequences and you don't deal the consequences. It is not an excuse to violently pass your prejudices onto your children.

The other part that confuses me is their ages. How old are they? If they're prepubescent children then how does she know this boy is gay? Is she assuming because of interests or personality? My son was uniformly described as "sweet" when he was a child. He used to bring his baby doll to school and loved the colour pink. He's 15 years old now and hanging out with his girlfriend as I type. You can't judge kids (anyone for that matter) based on stereotypes. And, if they're old enough for this kid to have actually come out, then why on earth is she spanking her son? If she is putting her hand on her teenage son's backside, I hope someone from child protective services is investigating this family.

One proud moment in my life came one afternoon when my daughter got home from school. This was back when she was in grade eight and, for some unknown reason, the school decided it would be fun to invite all the boys and girls in the senior classes to stay at school for a sleepover. It was going to be heavily supervised and my daughter was eager to attend. All the kids were talking about it. That afternoon, however, my daughter was angry. Sarah*, a classmate of hers, had confided in one of her friends that she was bisexual. On the bus ride that morning, the friend had spread that information around. Her excuse was that she felt everyone should know before the sleepover. And, of course, that information spread within minutes of the buses arrival. Daughter got to school in time to hear a group of her classmates loudly proclaim that there was no way they'd sleep anywhere near Sarah. That was when my daughter walked up to her and told Sarah that she could put her sleeping bag beside daughter's bag. She wasn't going to spend the sleepover alone.

Anyone who's had a preteen/young teen girl knows what these years are like. Sleepover central. Two days later my daughter got an invitation to go for a sleepover at Sarah's house. What does a parent do? In my home, I request to go and visit the parents. I spoke to the Mom and got a general idea of what their home was like. Squalid and disorganized but I didn't see anything that would actively harm daughter and hoped maybe the rampant messiness would be an eye opener to prod her into cleaning her own room (it wasn't). They slept over at each other's homes a few times before Sarah moved.

I allowed daughter to deal with the consequences of her actions, with support and praise from me. If you stand up for someone in front of bullies you paint a target on your shirt. Daughter learned this as vandalism of school property (namely graffiti against Sarah) quickly occurred and was blamed on daughter by the same girls who had refused to sleep near Sarah in the first place. What did daughter learn from her actions? She has about three friends now who are "out" (I'm sure she will tell me the exact number once she reads my blog) so I figure one thing was standing up for friends and supporting them.

This woman too has learned one thing from her actions, her page is no longer totally public since her status went viral (her friend, on the other hand, seems to have missed this lesson). I can only hope she's learned something as well that her son already knew, kindness and empathy.

* yes, I just picked a name at random

Saturday, 1 September 2012

The weirdest guests ever

It was almost twenty years ago and my now ex-husband T* and I were engaged. He was chatting on the phone with a friend of his when the friend got a call from another high school classmate and drew her into the conversation on 3-way. T was not impressed as he remembered the classmate as someone who thrived on drama and created it wherever she went. By the end of the call he'd decided the classmate had changed and exchanged phone numbers with her. Over the course of several months they chatted back and forth and eventually we decided to get together for a visit. Her kids were living one town over from us with her parents and she and her boyfriend visited them every weekend. They could come over for lunch... tomorrow.

This was back in the early 90's when internet was dial-up and rare and cellphones were as big as cordless phones and equally as rare. They didn't know where we lived and Google Maps and GPS devices weren't options. We settled on having them call us once they reached her parents' house to get further directions and to give us a head's up they were on their way.

T rolled out of bed the following morning, walked to the window and announced "they're here". I laughed and told him to quit joking. He ran to the closet and pulled on the first pair of pants he found (thankfully his) then said "I'm not kidding. They're walking across the street right now. I'll try to stall them so you have time to get dressed." And off he ran, pulling on his shirt as he barrelled across the living room and down the stairs.

I jumped out of bed and looked around in a panic. I was in my pjs with messy hair and unbrushed teeth, the bed was unmade, I had nothing ready, food-wise, at all. Of course it was only 8:30am and they were supposed to be coming for lunch. I pulled up the sheets and got myself presentable as quickly as possible. Finished brushing my teeth as they were walking up the stairs.

T's friend announced she was tired and needed coffee then made a beeline for the kitchen. The little girl raced right to the bookcase and started throwing books around the living room. The little boy ran for the furniture, where he alternated between trying to poke holes in the fabric so he could rip the stuffing out and jumping off the back of a chair, narrowly missing the coffee table. The boyfriend glanced around then scoffed, "This is it? Where's the rest of your apartment?" then started detailing how much bigger and better their place was.

T's friend wandered into the living room. She was wearing spandex pants and a ratty t-shirt with a huge hole over the nipple... and no bra. I spent our whole conversation alternating between staring at her feet and the wall behind her. She was heartbroken she hadn't gotten us a wedding present but was great at doing nails and had all sorts of colours and rhinestones that she could use. Wouldn't it be so cool? We'd have matching nails.

Before I could answer, the little boy announced that his sister had peed on one of our cushions... that she'd placed on a stack of my books. I raced to grab the books and asked the parents to deal with their little angels. The Mom immediately remembered that her coffee wasn't finished yet and scuttled off to the kitchen. Her boyfriend informed me it was his meditation time, then proceeded to sit cross legged in the corner with his fingers beside his head and hum loudly. Both kids were screaming by this time and jumping off any furniture they could find onto yet more of my books.

I grabbed every book and shoved them into my room then announced I was making lunch. It was 9am. I'd had some ideas for lunch but those plans had revolved around me getting up and cooking for a few hours before our guests arrived. And, by this time, I didn't want them in our house any longer than necessary. I hauled two cans of soup out of the cupboard and chucked them in a pot then tossed together a salad. It didn't seem like much of a meal so I pulled out one of those microwavable powdered sauce and cake mixes. Then I called Mr Meditation and kids into the kitchen to eat.

While I was childless at the time, I wasn't an idiot, and I'd placed the kids half full bowls of soup in the freezer to cool. The boyfriend walked in and immediately started complaining. He never bought canned foods, he made everything from scratch. He had at least twice as many spices as us and couldn't imagine cooking with that few. And our storage space, or lack thereof, he had no idea how we could function with so little space.

As I placed the bowls on the table, the boyfriend started telling us about how he'd been badly abused as a child and this had left him super macho and totally impervious to pain. Just then I put the girl's tepid bowl of soup in front of him, he knocked it onto his lap and immediately started screaming about the pain and how badly it was burning him. Thankfully he shut up when I told him the bowl had been in the freezer for the past five minutes and the soup was almost cold. T was obviously trying to stifle laughter by this point.

The soup was finished fairly quickly and I started making dessert. Once again the boyfriend complained. His desserts were all (of course) from scratch and he hated packaged desserts. He hated it so much he inhaled his helping then took seconds before T and I had a chance to get our first serving, finishing the bowl.

T saved the day. He hated to be rude but we'd been invited to a (nonspecific) family function and we needed to leave now. It was great seeing them and, oops, don't forget your purse or your son. We'd finished lunch and had them out the door before 10am.

That was the last time we ever spoke to them. Heartbreaking, I know. I'm sure she would have decorated my nails up really fancy for my big day too. Pink and purple leopard spots with rhinestones or something equally tasteful. It would have been a memory to remember.

*T has nothing to do with my ex-husband's name. It's just the key I jabbed while picking an initial.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Chocolate cake with salted caramel sauce

I came home from work yesterday afternoon absolutely craving chocolate. My daughter was coming over a half hour after I got home and I decided to splurge and make cake for when she arrived. I was making the frosting when she walked in the door. Got the butter softened, went to measure the icing sugar then cursed under my breath, I only had half the amount needed. With half the frosting I wouldn't have enough to cover the whole cake. Then I had the brilliant idea of making a caramel sauce to drizzle on the cake as well. As you can see from the picture above, it worked really well and the kids and I  have pretty much demolished it.

The recipes come from a variety of sources. The cake itself came from a member of an online forum I frequent. I don't think she's been on the forum in a year, but I got the recipe a year ago and have used it frequently since then. Here it is... Pixie Holly's cake recipe in her own words:

Pixie Holly’s Cake Recipe

My go-to is the old family recipe... it's more of a method than a recipe, really, since it's so scalable. Equal amounts of butter, sugar and self-raising flour, and an egg for every 2oz of the other ingredients. So for a small batch of cupcakes it would be 6oz of flour, 6oz sugar, 6oz butter, 3 eggs. For a double layered cake I'd do 8oz and 4 eggs.

The equal parts + eggs thing is BASICALLY just a pound cake (the name of which comes from using a pound of each ingredient) but that would make a FUCKOFF GIANT CAKE so I tend to go a bit smaller. ;)

You cream together the butter and sugar, then add the flour and eggs alternately a little at a time until all of the eggs are in and there's a little flour left. Fold in the remaining flour and then stick it in the oven @350 until it passes the toothpick test. If you have milk or cream, adding a splash of that is even better.

You can alter it up by replacing some of the flour with cocoa or putting in lemon or coconut or chocolate chips or WHATEVER YOUR GREEDY LITTLE HEART DESIRES.

I love this recipe because it has 4 basic ingredients as opposed to the 50 fucking things they put in a box mix and they're ingredients you can have on hand whenever you need them. Also, you get to say "I baked it from scratch" and look all smug even though it isn't ANY more difficult than making one out of a box. ;)

My only advice if you add chocolate chips, toss them in some flour first before adding them to the mix. I made my daughter a vanilla cake with chocolate chips for her 16th birthday and all the chips fell to the bottom of the pan while baking. I also find the cake makes very small layers. When I make the cake as a double layer cake I use 8 inch instead of 9 inch pans. Yesterday I poured the whole double layer version into one 9 inch pan and it worked well.

Next comes my Nana's Butter Frosting recipe, again in her words:

Butter Frosting

1/4 cup butter
2 cups icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla
3 tbsp cream or milk

Cream butter till fluffy. Add half the sugar gradually and beat. Add flavouring and cream and beat. Add remaining sugar and beat.

1) Butter can read margarine.
2) Beat with a spoon or an electric beater. Make sure your bowl is not too big.
3) Cream/milk - I sometimes use hot water
4) If it's too runny, add more sugar
5) If it's too stiff, add more liquid - carefully, a little goes a long way.
6) Half this recipe will frost an 8 inch single layer cake

Variations for butter icing

Chocolate - add 2 or 3 tbsp dark cocoa or 2 squares melted

Orange or lemon - use 1 1/2 tbsp grated rind and 3 tbsp orange or lemon juice in place of vanilla and cream


As for the salted caramel recipe, I found it on a website called Alli 'n Sons while looking for a chocolate and salted caramel ice cream recipe. I didn't need the ice cream part for this recipe but the caramel sauce came in quite nicely:

Sea Salt Caramel Sauce
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter (1/4 cup)
  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, mix together the butter, brown sugar, half and half, and sea salt. Cook while whisking gently for 5 to 7 minutes, until thicker. Add the vanilla extract and cook another minute to thicken further. Turn off heat and pour sauce into a jar. Refrigerate until cold. Caramel will continue to thicken as it cools.

I didn't have any unsalted butter so I skipped the teaspoon of sea salt, sprinkling a little over the top of the sauce to taste.

So there you have it, a symphony for your mouth. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

It can happen to you

A couple of year ago my, then 14 year old daughter argued for her right to go forth and chat with other teenagers online. I didn't like it but, after multiple conversations regarding online safety, finally let her sign up for an account on a site called TeenSpot. I can't remember how long daughter went on the site, a half year maybe. She'd gone there to chat with kids her own age and grew tired of being propositioned instead. She left the site with two friends. Erik, a teenager near her age in a town an hour from us and Brad, a 17 year old from Ohio.

At the beginning daughter primarily chatted with Erik and he was the one who made my shit-meter skyrocket. The kid had enough drama in his life to fuel a dozen soap operas. His girlfriend was pregnant and abusive. She tied him down and burned him with a lit cigarette when he tried to break up with her. Then had a miscarriage. Then raped him and became pregnant again. He'd been living with his Dad and step-mother, who was pregnant with twin girls. His sister was also pregnant with a girl and due at the same time. Suddenly his Dad and step Mom couldn't deal with all the kids and the new babies so him and his sibling were off to his Mom's house to live. At least he got along with his step Dad. But wait. Mom's having an affair with her abusive ex-boyfriend who moved in at the same time as the kids.

The story continued through planted drugs, two beatings by the boyfriend (requiring hospitalization), going to juvenile detention (where he could apparently borrow phones and text for hours at a time)... and culminated with his Mom being beaten to death by her boyfriend, first giving birth at 18 weeks to a healthy baby girl while in a coma. Apparently the baby was taken home by the boyfriend since no one could prove the Mom hadn't fallen down the stairs a few times and accidentally killed herself. And his girlfriend gave birth to twins, also born months premature and fine. All babies went home after a few days. And, of course none of this ended up in the paper.

That was only some of the drama. I knew Erik was a liar. I knew most of the stories were false. I also knew daughter was no where near ready to hear that her wonderful online boyfriend was fake. Through it all she quietly chatted with Brad and slowly decided that he was the one she wanted to date. My first reaction was a sigh of relief. He lived in another country, unlike Erik who could hop on a Greyhound to visit, and I never heard any drama from him.

Brad had talked to daughter about how he wanted to come up to Canada to go to college, which didn't faze me at all. I didn't think either of them had thought of the logistics of him applying for school in another country. What concerned me more was his talk of coming down to visit for her birthday. These talks went on for months and I grew more concerned as summer grew closer. I flat out insisted on being there for the initial meeting and bringing a friend with me as my middle-aged 5ft 3in self isn't that intimidating. I assured daughter that I was not going to embarrass her, we'd sit on the other side of whatever restaurant they picked. But I had to be there. My parents meanwhile offered free use of their trailer to Brad. Said trailer is parked in their driveway under their bedroom window.

This is when my shit-meter started rising with Brad. He disappeared for two weeks and didn't resurface until my daughter changed her status to "single" on Facebook. He immediately reappeared with a tale of a horrific car accident that left him with two broken legs, a concussion, second and third degree burn, and a bunch of other injuries. A very convenient accident and an even more convenient reappearance. And, once again, I couldn't find a single mention of this horrific accident online in his local paper.

Thankfully daughter began to have some concerns of her own. Brad had been stocking shelves in a grocery store one day and working at a plastic factory the next. Then she looked at his Yahoo ID and realized he had a different last name on there. I promised to search up with I could and ask a friend to help me. I had daughter on one Facebook chat and friend on another. She's messaging me to see if we'd found anything and my friend's messages popped up. Thirty-six years old (as of last year)... 275lbs... married father... new baby. I'm relaying messages to daughter and consoling her at the same time.

Since then we've gone to the police, who aren't sure if there's anything they can do. She's over the legal age and talking, even if you're pretending to be a teenager, isn't illegal. The big concern is his interest in coming for a visit.

There's not much I can say to parents. You're totally hampered by what your kids want to hear. All you can do is be there and be ready to listen when they want to talk. As for the kids. Please, please trust your instincts. Don't assume nothing could ever happen to you. Don't assume that just because you've been talking to someone for ages, everything's obviously fine. This guy talked like a teenager. He acted like a teenager. Daughter had been texting him for year. He had a cellphone and she'd been talking to him. Never, ever meet someone for the first time alone. Thankfully my daughter could see no reason why he couldn't meet her with someone else there. Please don't be the one who does meet him because it would be fine to show up on your own. It can happen to you.

And here are my daughter's words: Daughter's blog

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Ethics, rights, empathy, and fried chicken

A couple of weeks ago my son came up to me. He was furious with Tide for discriminating against men. I haven't seen their ad as I don't watch TV, but my son explained they showed women doing a variety of household chores while thanking them for using their products. It wasn't fair that they didn't share clips of men doing household chores while thanking them.

I tried to explain to him that women, overwhelmingly are stuck with the day to day chores. Chores which no one seems to notice, let alone offers thanks for a job well done. Even in families where both the man and the woman work, the woman still has the majority of the chores land on her shoulders. Son found this hard to grasp. He lives in a house run by me, his single Mom, and he doesn't see his father often. To him, life is pretty much run by women and he's the one scrubbing dishes while I call him on the way home from work saying, "I'm on the last bus, please make sure they're done before I get there."

The discussion ended with frustration on both sides. Frustration for son because I didn't understand how he felt and frustration on my side because he wouldn't listen to what I was saying and understand the facts. Neither of us got anywhere.

Around the same time as our discussion, I began seeing discussions about Chick-fil-a on Facebook, in the online news, and on a forum I frequent. Before this I'd never heard of the restaurant. We don't have it in Canada. The basic issues of unfairness and discrimination reminded me of the discussion I'd had with son; along with the feelings of frustration on both sides.

I've done a lot of thinking over the past few weeks, helped along by copious amounts of Facebook pictures, comments, online articles, and discussions, and have finally organized my thoughts enough to share.

My first thought is on rights. We talk a lot about our rights as a society in general. When you get right down to it though, none of us have rights. We have privileges based on where we live. Just ask an Iranian woman who was a university student in the 1960's if she still has the same rights she had back then. Human rights only exist when the majority of people are willing to treat everyone relatively equally and fairly and create and follow laws to uphold those values.

That being said, I am strongly for equality and fairness. I think a society should be judged on how well the weakest members are treated, not the strongest. I feel that all people should have the right to live their lives fairly and peacefully and that children should be protected. Rights are not something that happens automatically. They are something to strive and work for. And they are worth working for.

Tightly tied to rights comes the concept of discrimination. Discrimination is being treated less than equally compared to others around you. The key words there are "less than equally". I had an interview at a fast food restaurant that ended when the owner of the store realized I was a single mother. She seemed interested in hiring me right until then. I was a great prospective employee right up until "So what does your husband think about you working?" "You don't have a husband? But you have kids. Oh. Thanks for coming in. We don't have a position for you." That's discrimination. Granted, I did nothing about it but I couldn't see the point in trying to fight to work at minimum wage for a busy body who was that interested in my personal life.

Less than equally also means in similar situations. It's discrimination if you're getting less hours at work because of your religion or skin colour. It's not discrimination if you're getting less hours at work because you show up 10 minutes late every day and call in "sick" two Fridays a month.

I am also tired of hearing about discrimination where it's being defined as "I used to get special privileges above everyone else. Now I'm expected to be treated equal to others, that's discrimination". Some handy tips to distinguish between discrimination and wanting special privileges. Discrimination is being told that you cannot pray silently to yourself in a public place or that you cannot marry another consenting adult due to gender. Wanting special privileges is when you're fighting to keep other consenting adults from getting married because it's against your beliefs or insisting that a court house is the perfect place to showcase the 10 commandments because you feel everyone else should live by your beliefs. Discrimination is a lack of acceptance for your beliefs while wanting special privileges is a lack of acceptance for other's beliefs.

And, while I'm on the topic, a lack of religious displays is not discrimination or pandering to atheism (a complaint I've heard before). A public place with no religious displays is simply a public space. Last time I checked, the library and local park were not hotbeds of atheist activity due to lack of religious symbols. If you ever see a public building with a giant scarlet A prominently displayed and the third Humanist manifesto carved in the wall, you can talk to me then about discrimination.

Also, the reason of "it's always been done this way" isn't a reason either because nothing has "always been done this way". Even if you've had every single person in the room pray before a public meeting for the past 20 years... twenty is not the same as always. And in 20 more years people will be equally convinced that meetings have "always" started without a prayer. Don't think I'm right? Listen to the people in the States who claim there's "always" been the words "In God we trust" on their money then do your own research.

The twin excuses of "it's always been done this way" and "these are my religious beliefs and you can't discriminate against them" are playing out almost daily in the States lately to the detriment of both gays and women. Like I said above, discrimination is when you are personally being affected by someone else. Wanting special privileges is when you want to be treated above others because, in your mind, your beliefs are more important than others' rights. If you personally are against birth control, the answer is simple. Don't use freaking birth control. But you have no right or reason to ban others from using it because you don't like it. Your religion keeps you from even prescribing birth control. Don't get a job where you'll need to prescribe it. If you want to be a doctor, specialize. I'm willing to bet that ophthalmologists and gerontologists are never asked to prescribe birth control.

As I mentioned above, around the same time my son was upset with Tide, there came a tidal wave of discussions regarding Chick-fil-a... a company I hadn't even heard of before. From what I understand it's a religious fast food place that sells chicken and has the weirdest slogan ever. When I first saw the slogan I thought one of my friends was mocking them. It wasn't until yesterday that I realized it's supposed to be on signs held by cows.

I was already pretty much the last person on their list of potential customers. As a Canadian I live nowhere near their restaurants. As an atheist I have no interest in going into a restaurant where the food wrappers have religious slogans and praise music blares through the speakers. And as a vegetarian I don't think they've got anything other than fries for me to eat. So my boycott of Chick-fil-a was pretty much symbolic.

What I want for all my friends is for them to be able to marry the person they fall in love with (or live common law if they so choose). I want them to be able to have kids if they want. I want them to be able to share dental benefits, go broke on a mortgage together, and in the worst case scenario be there in the ICU signing papers and speaking to doctors.

If your religious beliefs don't allow for same sex marriage, the answer is pretty simple. Don't get married to someone of the same sex. Same sex marriage has been legal in Canada for about a decade now and our country is chugging along just as usual. God did not smite us. Marriage between straight couples still occurs. Children are still being born. There are still Christians. There are still churches. There are still Christian churches who won't perform same sex marriages. And there are Christian churches who willingly do.

The thing about prejudice is it's an "us versus them" situation. Once you lump people into a group, you lose sight of individuals and see nothing more than a formless mass of "them".

My great-grandmother was born in Northern Ireland in a small town near Belfast. She moved to Canada when she was a little girl, maybe 7 or 8 years old. In Ireland, she used to drive her own little pony and cart to and from school. My parents still have her little wooden riding crop. Every morning her mother would warn her to "watch out for those Catholics... if they catch you they'll drag you off your cart and throw you over the cliffs". Nanaimo Nana lived to be 83 years old and to the day she died she believed there were Catholics and then there were good Catholics, the ones she knew personally who were different from the rest.

That's prejudice; the scary, faceless them. An amorphous mass of other, identified by nothing more than a name. How many of you who are against gay rights are thinking of people when you hear the word "gay"? Are you thinking of the red-headed teenager ringing in your order? Are you thinking of the women ziplining at a nearby park? Or the two men sitting quietly at an outdoor concert? Are you thinking of your child's music teacher? Someone in a military uniform.You probably aren't thinking of any people at all. And if you are, are they the "exceptions"? Because there are no exceptions when you're talking about a group of people. If you know one person out of a group, you know one person. An exception assumes that everyone else in the group is pretty much the same.

I tend to rant about prejudice in general. I don't want to hear about "them". You start talking about Hindus and I think of my boss who gave me a bunch of peppers out of her garden. Muslims and I think of my young co-worker who shyly explained the bracelet on his wrist, symbolizing the love between him and his sisters. Blacks... I think about my coworker who shares her lunch with me (I share too) and the friend I used to go camping with when the kids were small. The list goes on. I'm a white, middle aged Canadian female. That doesn't make me the same as every other white, middle aged Canadian female. As soon as you start referring to a group of people like they're all exactly the same, I know you're prejudiced.

All I'm asking is that when you start thinking of people as a group, stop and think. Get to know people, listen and learn. Don't just go with feelings in an argument. Your religious beliefs are just that. Yours. Use them as a guide in your life, live by them, but please remember they are yours. You  have no right to tell others how to live based on your own beliefs. Let them have their own lives and their own beliefs.

Above all be kind and be fair.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Dear Canada Post, a break up letter

Dear Canada Post,

I loved you when I was a teenager. I could write a letter to my friend, pay you thirty cents, and you would send my letter to her. Even when the envelope groaned under the length we made our addresses. Canada, North America, Earth, Solar System, Milky Way Galaxy... you still got it there within two days.

When I was an adult, I lost a lot of respect for you over one word. Insurance. To my way of thinking, when you pay for a service you should get that service. I pay you my money to send a parcel from my local post office to a friend or family member. That parcel is in your possession until it's picked up at the other end. Until my friend or family member picks up the parcel, it is your responsibility. That is what I paid you for, to deliver my parcel safely and efficiently. So why do you refuse to promise this unless I pay you extra?

When I go to the grocery store, I don't have to pay extra to ensure the cashier rings my products in correctly. In fact, if they screw up I get the product for free. When I go to a restaurant, I don't have to pay extra to make sure the waiter brings me what I order and remembers to serve me. And when I order a product from a store with shipping, I don't pay extra to ensure it gets delivered. If I don't receive the product, they ship it again. Your insurance reminds me more of the mafia or, at the very least, the mafia as seen in fiction books and on TV. You know, the old, "You never know when someone might just come in and rob your store and break your kneecaps. If you give us insurance, we'll make sure this doesn't happen."

I've been slowly breaking up with you over the years. My friends and I email each other now instead of sending letters for example. About the only things that go through the mail now are cards. To me it's just not Christmas or a birthday without a real card you can pick up and hold. An ecard just doesn't have the same feel.

I picked up a birthday card for my sister. Nothing huge or glittery; just a nice, simple, standard sized birthday card. And, since it's my sister and I wanted to send her something (while avoiding "sell a kidney" shipping fees plus urging to buy insurance) I added a gift card.

I went to your counter at our local Shoppers Drug Mart to pick up a local stamp. The cashier informed me it was 69 cents. I fished out all my change but only had 61 cents. A total irony as when I went online later to double check stamp prices for 1982, I discovered the set price is 61 cents. However, you allow kiosks with your name and products, staffed by people in Canada Post uniforms to set their own prices. In order to get the real Canada Post price, you have to go to an actual outlet. I don't know where that is. The one  building I knew is for sale. It was moot anyways as the cashier plunked my card down on a scale and informed me my standard birthday card was "oversize" by 0.04g and therefore twice the price. Apparently gift cards are too heavy for letter mail and glitter can tip the scale too.

I paid my extra money and, as I was walking away, the cashier chucked the card into a sliding drawer and cheerfully informed me that since I hadn't paid for any form of expedited parcel delivery, my card would be delivered in six days. Six? What happened to 2 - 3 day service? Heck, I walked past a mailbox on my way home and it claimed four days for national service. Still a day more than I remember but two less than I was told.

And now I'm pondering Christmas. If a simple plastic gift card doubles my price, what are a picture and a letter going to do? Heck, according to you, even if I skip the letter and picture, some glitter on the card might bump me over the weight limit. You might have me by the short and curlies there. I can't think of another organization that will deliver Christmas cards for any decent price. But today was my last gift card. From now on presents will be bought and shipped through companies offering free delivery.

So Canada Post, it was fun while it lasted. And while I'd love to leave you with the face saving "it's me, not you" speech, this time it really is you. You might see me over the Christmas holidays, but if you don't you'll know why.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

You obviously don't have a sense of humour

How many of you have heard that phrase before? How many of you have said it? I think that phrase exemplifies one of the problems in our society, a serious lack of empathy.

I started thinking about it last week when a certain comedian* fervently defended his rape "jokes" and his subsequent "joke" of asking members of his audience to gang rape an inadvertent heckler. I say inadvertent as she admits she hadn't gone to the show to disrupt it, something I think most hecklers set out to do.

I thought about it some more this week when someone* on a craft website made a t-shirt regarding the shootings at the movie theatre in Colorado. A shirt with a print of the murderer's* face on the front and "It's WAY too soon to wear this shirt" typed in bloody font.

I wouldn't have known about either except through social media. In the first case it was through friends on Facebook who were horrified by the so-called jokes. In the second it was through a forum I belong to and, in that case, the responses generally circled around freedom of speech.

Freedom of speech. I get that's a big thing, especially in the United States where it seems to be brought up as frequently as the right to bear arms. But whatever happened to tact and decency? Do the people who claim this as a right for anyone to say whatever they want, whenever they want, think this was what their ancestors had in mind? Hint, your ancestors were wanting you to be free from oppressive governments, not allowed to trash talk your neighbours and insult bereaved family members with impunity.

When my children were small I spent a lot of time teaching them tact and empathy. "Yes honey, I know the man we just passed was very fat. He knows that too and it hurt his feelings when you yelled it. You don't need to say everything you think, you can keep some things in your head."

To me, that was just part of being a human being. Think about what others are feeling. Be respectful. Don't say something if you know it's going to hurt someone else needlessly. Try to be kind. Something my parents and grandparents would simply sum up as "good manners".

There seems to be a growing number of people who either missed those lessons or flat out ignored them. They seem to think of tact as a form of weakness, a fear of sharing your thoughts. They see themselves as strong, blunt, or brutally honest. Sharing truths everyone else is too weak-willed to share. People who disagree are too stupid to see the truth. The people they hurt are dismissed as weak and too sensitive.

In one forum I go on, people who disagree and think some things simply shouldn't be said are regularly referred to as "drama llamas"; a name that was once saved for people who constantly lead and share overly dramatic lives. The sort of person who posts "OMG FML!!! Nothing good ever happens to me!" when all that happened was they ran out of milk after the store closed and they'll need to make eggs for breakfast instead of cereal. Now, however, if you post that making a t-shirt about a recent mass murder is disgusting, you're dismissed as a "drama llama".

I see this as part of a bigger issue. A lack of empathy means dismissing whole groups of people as being different from you and not worthy of the same rights and benefits as you. Welfare "bums"... of course they should be tested for drugs and alcohol then turfed off assistance if they test positive. I don't want "my money" being used for this. Ignoring that alcohol isn't illegal. Ignoring that people who abuse drugs are in the minority. Ignoring that it will cost more money to test everyone on assistance than it will save so we'll lose money. Ignoring the question of where will these people go? Someone who's addicted to drugs and already unemployed isn't going to suddenly find a job once they're penniless and on the street. Ironically the same people who want this to happen are also frustrated and fed up with beggars on the streets. So they're advocating for more people to be on the streets while demanding that someone do something and get these people out of their sight. And anyone who disagrees with them is a leftist dreamer with "pie in the sky" ideals.

Or, in the States, the whole gay marriage issue. Herds of people stampeding to polls to vote that their State never allow same-sex marriages ever. Or, in the case of North Carolina, stripping the rights of people in common law marriages too just to ensure no same-sex marriages occur. Under the misguided idea that, just because they personally don't want same-sex marriage, no one else should be allowed to. Refusing the right for millions of people to marry the person they love because it's "icky" and they don't want to have to think about it.

And, in Canada, there's Omar Khadr, a 15 year old boy convicted of war crimes and sent to Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp. He's been there for a decade now, despite an initial agreement of an 8 year sentence with a chance to come back to Canada after one year. No matter what he's like now after a decade of imprisonment and torture, no matter what his family beliefs are regarding western society, he is a Canadian citizen. I can't see how ignoring our Charter of Rights and Freedoms is a good thing. If we ignore one young man because of his family beliefs, his religion, who he visited at 10 years old, or the colour of his skin... where do we stop? Personally, I think he should have been hustled back as a 15 year old child. We're Canadian and we should take care of our own.

Do I have any solutions? No. But one thing I refuse to do now is sit back and shut up in the face of intolerance and just plain meanness. You think I don't have a sense of humour? Fine. But you'll have to listen to me tell you that I think you're the one lacking in humour if you think gang rape and mass murder is funny. If you don't like it, don't share your so-called jokes with me. They're not funny.

* I'm not adding names because I refuse to give these people any more time in the spotlight.

Monday, 9 July 2012

My time to shine

I wrote this blog in January and it's so true: I wish I were a bear. Every winter I'm so tired, slow, and cold. I don't want to go outside. I live in front of our electric fireplace and wear slippers to bed. I'd wear slippers to work too if I could fit them in my shoes.

But now it's July and I'm at the opposite end of the energy chart. I got up this morning and used the Wii My Fitness Coach. Then I dragged my son out for a hike. Drag was almost completely literal. He did not want to go at all. Of course, when we got to the conservation area he was thrilled and loved the walk.

The walk was great. We walked up and down steep hills, as seen in the photo, and climbed on rocks across little creeks. We joked around about the signs. One trail sign showed a white bear with an arrow pointed from the mouth down toward the backside. We immediately had to go on the "eaten by a polar bear" trail... where we saw nothing more than mosquitoes.

After lunch we went to our outdoor pool and splashed around for a good hour. Racing each other back and forth across the pool. Diving to the bottom just to see what was there (a white ball). Then racing each other some more.

Now that we've had dinner, I'm all set to go out again. Another walk? A half-hour on the treadmill? How about a bike ride? A bike ride sounds wonderful and I know son loves to ride his bike.

Son's already had a bath and is tuckered out from all the exercise we've done today. He's too tired to go on a bike ride. So now I'm heading out on my own while he tries to recuperate. I hope he rests up because I've got plans of heading out for a bike ride first thing tomorrow morning.

And this winter I'm hoping our indoor pool and gym (with a sauna) will be enough to lure me out on dark chilly nights, when all I want to do is sit in front of the fireplace and doze.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

I want it and I want it NOW!

I left for work yesterday just before 5:30am and got home just after 4pm with plans of making either pancakes or waffles for dinner. Both were nice and easy and both could be used for a quick lunch for son today. I checked the fridge as soon as I walked in and we had just enough milk left. Of course, a half hour later when I went to make the pancakes, son had already drank over a cup and we no longer had enough.

I grumbled and we headed out to the grocery store to pick up milk and something for dinner as by that time I didn't really feel like making pancakes. We headed down the dairy aisle first then son started down the ice cream aisle. We looked at the huge row of tantalizing confections and son burst out, "It's not fair. I can't get ice cream because of your stupid diet". I assured him we could go back to the dairy aisle and pick up cream then he retaliated with, "No! Then we'd have to wait until tomorrow and I don't want to have to wait. I want ice cream now!"

At the time I simply empathized with him. It wasn't fair. Why does our food have so much stuff in it? I'm not talking about added vitamins and minerals. I'm talking about edible fillers used so our food is almost the same as the original but cheaper to produce. High fructose corn syrup instead of plain sugar. Cellulose gum in cartons of 35% whipping cream. And I said to him, "What does it do to our bodies when so much of our food has fillers added so they can be made more cheaply? Things that are edible but taking the place of food with real nutritional value. Why can't we buy a carton of ice cream at the store that has nothing but cream, eggs, sugar, milk, and vanilla? Why can't I buy a simple carton of whipping cream that has an ingredient list comprised of cream?" Or more specifically why can't I buy a 500mL carton for under $9 when the rest of the cartons are $3.99?

This morning I thought back to one day last week. It was a hot sunny day and I knew I had an hour ahead of me, after work, before I got home. This includes a walk around a city block through downtown to transfer from one bus to another (thanks darn one-way streets). But I'd made two different batches of ice cream the night before and was looking forward to having a bowl after dinner. I couldn't wait to open the freezer and pick my ice cream. That's when I realized we're missing out on one other crucial ingredient these days. Anticipation.

My Mom commented once about credit cards and layaway. That up until the 1950's, people simply didn't have credit cards. If you wanted something, you saved up your money until you could afford it then bought it. If there was something you wanted desperately, like an engagement ring, and were worried it would be gone ahead of time then you put it on layaway and made payments towards it until you'd paid it off. But you didn't get it until you'd made your final payment.

These days there's no waiting. If you want something, go out today and get it. From the little things like a bowl of ice cream to the big things like furniture. We live in the NOW. Not mindfully, not the Buddhist tradition of "living in the now", but like toddlers who can't wait for their cookie. "I want it and I want it now", versus "I will not fret about the past or worry overmuch about the future, instead I'll savour today and live life for this moment".

That afternoon, while I pondered my ice cream, felt a little like Christmas. Something good was going to happen when I got home. Something tasty. Something I liked. And I couldn't rush it. It was going to happen in it's own time.

These days anticipation happens less and less frequently. It doesn't matter what we want (especially in urban areas) we can get it right away. Our grocery store is open 24 hours a day and so is our drug store. At least one of the local fast food outlets is open about 22 hours a day and several more for the full 24 hours. If you want burgers at 2am, they're good with it. If I want to watch a TV show, on demand television brings it to my living room any time I want. If I want to read a book, I can buy it and instantly download it to my ereader this second.

Each one individually isn't a bad thing. I love being able to pick out a book to read at bedtime. And when we moved in here and were still unloading the moving truck at 11pm, it was great to be able to run to the store for cold drinks and food. But as all these conveniences move into our lives, we experience anticipation less and less. I could run across the street and buy a loaf of bread right now. I could go a few more blocks to an actual bakery and pick up a loaf of fresh bread. But we'd miss out on the aroma of fresh bread permeating the apartment for the last hour before the bread was done. We'd miss out on that first slice, the one where the bread is finally cool enough to cut but still warm enough to melt butter.

And that's what I want for my kids. Eat an apple, have a piece of cheese, but otherwise you have to wait because Mom's making real food for dinner. Anticipate. It's good for you.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

A Thousand Little Lies

I moved in with my fiance in my early 20's. Until then I'd lived at home with my family. My Mom had struggled with weight issues for most of her life and worried about me. I felt like everything I ate was watched and measured, that if I ate just a little less... weighed just a little less, I'd be so much better. I found it overwhelming and was relieved to discover my fiance simply did not care what I ate. Tub of chocolate frosting for dinner? Go for it. It took me years to realize that not caring was not a good thing.

The novelty of eating a tub of frosting wore off pretty quickly and I soon began pouring though easy recipes. I'd become a vegetarian in college and was basically learning how to cook from scratch. I grew up in a home where meat was the centre of the meal and veggies were an afterthought, boiled and placed on the side of the plate. I've always been interesting in cooking healthy food and soon worked out several recipes we enjoyed. Nevertheless I slowly grew fat under the weight of a thousand little lies.

It's easy to lie to yourself. Easy to let things slip past. I'm young, I don't need exercise. I'm busy chasing after the little ones all day, that's enough exercise. I deserve a treat after the day I had (totally ignoring the fact I'd already had several "treats" that day). I'll exercise tomorrow. Sure I've gained weight but it doesn't show. It's just PMS weight, it'll be gone soon. A life without chocolate isn't worth living. Maybe my life will be shorter but it'll be a good life with food I love and enjoy.

My favourite treat was milk chocolate. I'd buy a bag of milk chocolate chips to mix into brownies. Then I'd have a little bowl as a treat... and another... and another. Within a day or so I'd need to buy a new bag so I could make brownies. Days later, when I finally made a pan of brownies, I'd have to buy yet another bag. But the brownie mix made two batches and, while I only needed half a bag of chips per batch, I'd usually snacked enough that I needed another bag in order to make the second batch. And so on.

My daughter commented once that brownies weren't a treat when we had them all the time. At the time I was annoyed because I still felt they were my treat but she was right. A treat is supposed to be something special and out of the ordinary. I was making two batches of brownies every single week. And eating other treats besides.

Then came more lies. It's just that one pair of pants that don't fit. Elastic waistbands are more comfortable anyways. That photo was simply taken at an awkward angle (same with that photo and this one). If I stand at this exact angle with my head tilted just so, I look fine.

There's only so long I could blame the camera and/or crop photos so that all of me wasn't in the shot before admitting it wasn't the camera, it was me.

Now I'm working at telling myself the truth. The more exercise I do, the better healthy food tastes. I crave junk food less when I take care of myself more. There is time every day to exercise. We all have 24 hours and it's not hard to squeeze in 15 minutes to a half hour. Cooking a pot of rice, lentils, garlic, and herbs while tossing a salad takes just as little time than popping a frozen pizza into the oven and is infinitely more satisfying. If you have 15 minutes, you have time to cook a healthy meal. If you routinely don't have 15 minutes, you need to organize your time better.

The one I'm struggling with right now is exercise. Now that I've moved, I need to leave for work just over an hour in advance. I start as early as 6:30am and, when I'm up at 4:30am and walking out the door just before 5:30am, it's hard to get up a half hour earlier to exercise. And it's equally as hard to come home and exercise after working on my feet all day. Plus I need to be in bed around 8:30pm those nights, leaving little time to work out after dinner. This week, however, I start at 7:30am every morning. I'm hoping that a solid week of daily workouts will help get me into a routine of regular exercise again.

As for today, I've been out for a walk, exercised with the Wii My Fitness Coach, and am heading downstairs for a half-hour on the treadmill before dinner. No more lies, no more excuses. It's time to shape my life and be the me I want to be.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Easy Vanilla Ice Cream

I promised yesterday that I'd post my vanilla ice cream recipe on here today, and here it is. It came in the booklet with my ice cream maker but I've modified it a bit.

Easy Vanilla Ice Cream

1 cup sugar
2 tsp lemon juice
3 cups 18% cream
1 tsp vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients, mixing well. Pour mixture into ice cream machine.

I keep it in the machine for about an hour then put it in the freezer for a day to let it set. If you don't have a machine I'd recommend mixing it well then stirring about every 10 minutes for at least an hour to let it set well. I stir it every couple of hours until it's fully set.

Also, if you want a yummy chocolate sauce to go on top, try this recipe.