Tuesday, April 15, 2014

On the Eve of the Second Anniversary of Dad's Passing

F. David Alger
Nov 9, 1947 - Apr 16, 2012

Two years have passed since I lost my Dad.  Two years.  Wow, that's strange to say.  In some ways it feels like he's been gone a lot longer and in other ways it seems like only yesterday. There are days when I couldn't shed a tear if I tried to and there are days when the pain is still raw. 
My Dad sure wasn't perfect and he was the first to admit it. There were times when he infuriated and frustrated me and times when he disappointed me. But there were also lots of funny, happy times and the thing I never doubted was his love for his kids and grand-kids and how fiercely proud of us he was.  Sometimes the way he would brag about us made me wonder if he was looking at us through rose coloured glasses :)

I miss Dad terribly and I have regrets.  Things I should or shouldn't have said, times I should have invited him over, times I should have called.  He didn't even get to be a senior citizen and he's missing seeing my children grow up.  He is missing Rob Ford's antics and he doesn't know that Brayden has tattoos (wait, maybe he wouldn't want to know those things...).  It all really sucks.

But the last thing Dad would want would be to see us cry. He'd want us to laugh, celebrate, succeed and be happy.  His death changed me and not for the good...yet.  I'm trying and I think I'll get there. 

Me and Dad on my wedding day
October 31, 2010

Not only does this week mark the two year anniversary of his passing but it's also the last days of my 30's.   *GULP*.  There are lots of things I've learned in my almost 40 years but there is also a lot I still need to learn and many things I need to change.  I plan to work on those changes and make my 40's the best decade yet - for Dad, but more importantly for my husband, my children and for ME.

If you are lucky enough to still have one or both of your parents living, hug them, appreciate them and be kind to them.         
I miss you Dad and tomorrow on what we've coined, "Dad Day", I will think of you and your wild stories, booming laugh and big heart with immeasurable love.

Dad and Oliver
February 2012 

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Does The Biebs Deserve a Break?

Let me start by saying that in no way do I condone drug use, driving under the influence of anything, and generally acting like an irresponsible idiot.  I would also like to establish that I am not a Justin Bieber fan. The only song of his that I am vaguely familiar with is the one with that annoying hook that goes something like, "baby, baby, baby, oooh, baby, baby, baby".  Lyrical genius right there.

I also don't profess to know anything about the lifestyles of the rich and famous, the law, or psychology. But, what I do know a bit about are teenage boys. I know that many (not all) can be immature (naturally), and have a difficult time making good decisions or thinking long term. Even teenage boys who have zillions of dollars and whatever they want at their fingertips are still just that - boys. There is lots of research out there that says that the teenage brain (and yes, even 19 year olds) aren't fully developed and aren't completely "wired" yet.  They are a work in progress.  Google it if you want more info about that.  

So what am I getting at?  I know that Justin Bieber has made a real ass of himself lately and has been doing things that are inexcusable.  But I do feel for the kid.  And even more-so for his mom.  Without getting into details that would make my own teenage son disown me, we've had some rough patches in the past few years and it is hard.  HARD.  Heart-breaking. Gut-wrenching.  You feel like a failure as a parent, absolutely helpless, sad, worried, like you are to blame and that everything that boy is doing is in some way your fault.  It sucks.  I don't know anything about Bieber's mom, but I would guess that she's feeling at least a little bit of this.  This is her CHILD.  Think of your kids.  Do you wish them any harm? Do you hope that they'll grow up to be charged with assault or test positive for drug use?  No, of course you don't.  And I'm sure she doesn't either. 

I feel for the kid growing up on the world's stage.  It's a choice, I know, but in the end, he's someone's child. He's just a kid.  I never thought I'd say this, but I actually kind of agreed with the oh-so-controversial (and big TURD for lack of a better word) Toronto mayor, Rob Ford, when he defended The Biebs. You can read about that HERE.  We need to stop bullying this kid and hope that he gets the help he needs and doesn't end up six feet under well before his time. 

A friend at work recently passed along a poem called "Letting Go" (author unknown) that really hit home to me.  I don't know Justin's mom, but maybe, somehow, she'll find this post or maybe stumble across these incredible words somewhere.  In the meantime, I truly hope they find help, peace and that they are always there for each other. 

Letting Go - author unknown
To let go doesn’t mean to stop caring,
it means I can’t do it for someone else.
To let go is not to cut myself off,
it’s the realization that I can’t control another.
To let go is not to enable,
but to allow learning from natural consequences.
To let go is to admit powerlessness,
which means the outcome is not in my hands.
To let go is not to try to change or blame another,
I can only change myself.
To let go is not to care for,
but to care about.
To let go is not to fix,
but to be supportive.
To let go is not to judge,
but to allow another to be a human being.
To let go is not to be in the middle arranging all the outcomes,
but to allow others to effect their own outcomes.
To let go is not to be protective,
but to permit another to face reality.
To let go is not to deny,
but to accept.
To let go is not to nag, scold, or argue,
but to search out my own shortcomings and to correct them.
To let go is not to adjust everything to my desires,
but to take each day as it comes.
To let go is not to criticize and regulate anyone,
but to try to become what I dream I can be.
To let go is not to regret the past,
but to grow and live for the future.
To let go is to fear less and love more.

Updated February 3, 2014:  I wanted to update with some more thoughts that came to me after reading comments and thinking about this more.  I do not in any way excuse Justin Bieber's behaviour and I completely agree that he needs to be held responsible for his actions.  You do the crime, you do the time.  Also, as a role model to many, he has a responsibility to act in a certain way.  I totally get that.   My point really is that unfortunately, when someone is in the spotlight it seems OK to judge, condemn and bully.  That's got to stop. And again, I feel for his family and especially his Mom.  Following the tragic and untimely death Phillip Seymour Hoffman (again, do not cast stones, we do not know about his personal journey), it brings to light the downward spiral that can happen to those both in and out of the public eye.  Did you read that interview where PSH said that if he was 19 and had all that money and fame that he wouldn't have lived very long?  BIEBS - READ THIS!!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Dr. Seuss Canada Offers Unique Gifts and an Affiliate Program!

Dr. Seuss has always held a very special place in my heart and brings up warm, fuzzy childhood memories.  My grandparents had the entire collection of hard cover Dr. Seuss books on a shelf in their family room and I can remember what a treat it was to sit down and flip through them even before I could read.  My Dad loved to read these stories to us and always did so with great enthusiasm.  After Oliver was born, Dad told me that he was going to build him a library of Dr. Seuss books of his own and was so excited about this.  Unfortunately, my Dad was taken too soon and he didn't get a chance to build the library.  

Having said all of this, there's a happy twist to this post!  I was recently referred for the Dr. Seuss Canada affiliate program by the so kind Michael at 2 Blue Ducks (read this post for another fab product I reviewed that Michael carries).  I was delighted for the referral and even more so when I learned it was for Dr. Seuss products.  

DrSeussCanada.com is THE online retailer for Dr. Seuss products in Canada.  Simply put, their goal is to continue Dr. Seuss's outstanding legacy by offering wonderfully fun Seuss products to both adults and children across Canada.  I can definitely get behind that!   The offerings on the site currently include cute products like receiving blankets, sleepers, pajamas, bibs and dishware.  The selection will continue to grow as they source more Seuss merchandise from around the globe.  I have seen many of these products in person (via Michael) and they are great quality and so whimsical and fun!  Take a look at some of the images below from the site:

If you're looking for a fun and unique gift, give Dr. Seuss Canada a try!  It's not too late to shop for Christmas!

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Book Lovers Take Note: Penguin Canada Daily December Delights is on!

If you love to read as much as I do, then you don't want to miss Penguin Canada's fabulous holiday program that launched at the beginning of the month called Daily December Delights. Think Advent Calendar but with BOOKS.  Does it get any better than that?

Each day in December, Penguin will feature a different book on their website and through their social media channels (Facebook and Twitter). Visit each day this month for exclusive content, recipes, quizzes and... PRIZES.  And lots of them!  As a Star Blogger I've been sworn to secrecy, but I can tell you that there are some amazing titles this month, many of which are on my Christmas list, that you'll have the chance to win!  

There is also a contest to win an entire library of books worth $750 and you can enter each and every day.  Dream. Come. True.  You can get started by visiting Penguin Canada right now! 

Good luck and Happy Holidays! 

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Make-Ahead Meals and Miracles

Several times a year my job takes me away from home for a few days at a time and I like to prepare meals for my family while I’m gone.  This week I’m heading to Orlando, Florida for the annual Children’s Miracle Network Celebration, an incredibly moving conference celebrating children who are battling or have overcome serious illness or injury.

The most rewarding part of my job at Dairy Queen Canada (and my favourite part) is the work I do to support Children’s Miracle Network – a non-profit agency that raises funds for children’s hospitals across North America.  DQ has a number of initiatives throughout the year to raise funds for these hospitals in Canada (the biggest being Miracle Treat Day) and I’m thrilled to be a part of the team that makes these programs happen. 

I also have a personal connection to Children’s Miracle Network as I’ve had to draw on the expertise of my local hospital, McMaster in Hamilton, many times.  From B’s specialized care by an orthopaedic surgeon after a bad break in his arm to O’s first days in the neo-natal intensive care unit and several trips to emergency, McMaster has provided us with incredible care and service. 

Now, back to the meals!  Today I spent a couple of hours preparing dinners for my boys to enjoy while I’m gone.  Don’t get me wrong, Jason is more than capable and willing to cook meals in my absence, but I like to make things at least a little bit easier for him while he’s single parenting for a few days (note I did NOT say babysitting!!).  Not to mention, cooking is really my “thing” in this family and it makes me feel like at least they’ll still have a little bit of my love when I can’t be there with them.

So, while I’m applauding and wiping tears as I watch the Champion children tell their stories and receive their medals, here’s what the boys will be eating:

Tuesday:  Lasagna and steamed broccoli
Wednesday:  Mexican Pasta and green beans
Thursday:  Crockpot Chicken Stew
Friday:  Take out!

These are really easy meals that are no-brainers.  Truly. They simply take a bit of time, that’s all.  No expertise required.

First up, lasagna.  Do I really need to write about it?  I mean, who hasn’t made a lasagna before?  Take the easy way out and buy oven-ready pasta and a jar of sauce if you want to.  I usually have some home made tomato sauce in the freezer for just such occasions, so that’s what I used today.  Cooked some ground chicken, mixed in the sauce, some cottage cheese (shhhhh don’t tell the teen!) and then layered it all with some mozzarella.  Seriously easy. And lasagna freezes well. When Jason puts it in the oven to finish cooking, he'll grate some more cheese on top and cook it uncovered for about 30 minutes. 

I don’t really like to have pasta more than once a week, but it’s fast and easy and it’s not going to hurt anyone once in awhile to have it twice one week.   So, next up is Mexican Pasta.  We had this for dinner one night last week and knowing that I was going away this week, I made a double batch.  Again, super simple.  Ground chicken (or turkey), cumin, chili powder and garlic powder; just cook it all together (I wing it with quantities for spices but if you really want specifics go for say a tbsp, a tbsp and a tsp respectively).  Add some black beans and frozen corn then about a cup of salsa (I much prefer the fresh salsas you can find in the deli section of the grocery store).  Add in some already cooked elbow macaroni (approx 2 cups cooked) and then grate a bunch of Monterey Jack cheese into the mixture and stir.  Cheddar would work too, but the Monterey Jack we buy from the market is so good and worth every penny.  Top it with some avocado slices, some more grated cheese and some sour cream if you like.  Cook a green veg on the side or have a salad and call it dinner.  

Chicken Stew is next on the list.  I just wing this one too – no real recipe, but here’s what I do.  Peel and chop two carrots, two parsnips, one small rutabaga, two potatoes and put it all in a large bowl. Add some salt and pepper and some frozen peas.  Cut up a couple of chicken breasts into small bite-size pieces and add to the vegetables.  Crush up a chicken bouillon cube into the bowl.  Add a few sprigs of fresh thyme.  Stir it all up and put it in large freezer bags.  When it’s time to cook it, dump it in the crockpot (frozen is OK) with a cup to a cup and a half of water, stir it and let it cook on low for 6 to 8 hours.  About a half hour before you’re going to eat it, turn the crockpot to high.  Mix a tablespoon of flour with 2 tablespoons of cold water and add to the crockpot, give it a stir and let it bubble for about a half hour.  This will thicken it a bit, but this step is totally optional.  Done like dinner.  For real.

Making meals with real ingredients isn’t that difficult, it just takes a little bit of time.  To me, it’s super important to meal plan, eat dinner as a family and make fresh meals.  You can do it too.  It’s really pretty easy as I hope these meals have shown you! 

Monday, September 16, 2013

If it Swims... I Don't Eat it!

Dear Fish,
I'll cut right to the chase.  I'm just not that into you.  I've tried to like you, I really have, but the bottom line is, you're fish, you taste fishy and you smell fishy.  There's this mental block in my brain that just can NOT get over the thought of how you look all scaly and slimy and ugly swimming around when I'm about to put you in my mouth.  Yuck.

And then there's seafood.  All you lobster and crab lovers out there, I apologize, but I just don't get it.  It seems like an awful lot of work for a little bit of reward.  Not to mention it's messy and it isn't cheap.  

I recall going to Red Lobster once with a friend and her then boyfriend (you know who you are, SD) and watching the two of them devour the all-you-can-eat crab legs like a couple of savages.  While being subjected to the overwhelming aroma of the sea, I tried to choke down my pathetic and tasteless chicken counting the minutes till I could get the hell out of there.  

The hubs, on the other hand, loves fish.  He eats it every chance he gets (outside of our home, obvi) and doesn't understand how fish can taste "fishy". "It's fish!" is his response.  The teen isn't into fish at all but the toddler will gobble it up. I know it's good for you, blah, blah, blah, and I want said toddler to be open-minded when it comes to food.  So, over the years I've tried to like it and have attempted to cook it a handful of times. 

But... it doesn't matter what I do to it, I just don't like it.  I am pretty sure it's mostly a mind-over-matter thing, but the mind wins every time.  

Take tonight for example.  I made Fish Taco Bowls with a recipe I pinned from the blog, Pinch of Yum. Doesn't this LOOK good?

Black beans, corn, brown rice, onions, garlic, chili powder, cumin, red peppers, tomatoes, Monterrey Jack cheese, avocado (my fave thing ever) - all delicious. Topped with some salsa and sour cream.  Even better, right?  But underneath all that goodness, there was the FISH.  The fish was a RUINER!  A ruiner, I say!  I should have stuck to a Meatless Monday and left out the fish.  Dinner FAIL.  For me, not for the hubs and the toddler, they both liked it.  The teen and me - not so much. 

Fish recipe ideas (that don't taste AT ALL LIKE FISH) for me or suggestions for types of fish I should try would be greatly appreciated - leave me a comment!

I should note that the recipe is fab and I actually might try it with chicken (surprise, surprise...).  No disrespect meant at all to Pinch of Yum.  It's not you... it's the FISH.  

Thursday, September 05, 2013

What in the World Has Penne Been Up To?

Wow, it’s been a few months since I last wrote a blog post – shame on me!  I am going to plead extreme busyness (wow, that IS a word…) over the summer both professionally and personally.  Obviously, summer is the craziest time of year for us at DQ Canada and with our annual Miracle Treat Day fundraiser and a Guinness World Records event in Calgary for world’s largestfruit sculpture, I barely had time to catch my breath and do the regular stuff.   

In my home life, we kept super busy this summer with day trips to places like Port Dover on Lake Erie and African Lion Safari for O's 2nd birthday. We mostly stayed local and enjoyed lounging in our back yard on warm summer days.   Jason and I also went on a one-night getaway to Fergus and Elora where we hiked, ate, drank and rode our bikes.  If you've never been to this little gem in Ontario, you must check it out! 
World's Largest Fruit Sculpture.  3.06 meters tall!

Brew House on the Grand, Fergus, ON

In the kitchen, I’ve been up to my usual antics.  I continue to meal plan religiously and try a couple of new recipes every week.  Boy, I love to cook.  Like, really, really love it.  Had I known this 20 (OMG) years ago, perhaps I would have went to culinary school.  Although, given that I am the furthest thing from a night owl there is, I probably would have had to specialize in breakfast.   And, given that I am not a fan of breakfast (eggs – no thanks, waffles – yuck, pancakes – oh no) I just don’t see it working out for me as a chef.  But I digress….

Here’s something super cool that I’ve been doing in the kitchen though!  It’s no secret that I love Chatelaine magazine and its recipes, so when I saw that I could apply to be a home recipe tester I filled out those forms at lightning speed.  And, guess who was chosen to be a tester?  Yes, that’s right – ME!  I have now tested recipes for both the November and December issues of the magazine.   I’m sworn to secrecy on those recipes until they are in print, but I will tell you this – the ones I tested were delicious, fast and easy, true to Chatelaine form.  I could potentially be quoted in the mags when the recipes are printed, so I’ll let you know if I’m now a famous home-recipe-tester when they show up in my mailbox. 

I’ve cooked several super delicious meals lately and I don’t have time to elaborate on all, but I will tell you about one from last weekend.  This. Chicken. Is. Unbelievable.
Caprese Chicken with Balsamic Reduction
The original recipe is from this blog and I followed it pretty much to the letter.  I did buy one of those mozzarella balls which I think is much better than the brick mozzarella, although more expensive.  Fresh basil leaves are essential and I used Roma tomatoes as they tend to be less juicy and more firm.  One thing I did that the recipe did not call for was to marinate the chicken.  I threw it in a bowl with some olive oil, balsamic vinegar, S and P and garlic powder for a few hours before BBQ-ing it.  I think it was a nice touch and added more flavour. 

On the side we had grilled asparagus and a very rich and delicious (read: full of butter, cheese and calories) Parmesan and garlic farfalle pasta.   It was a great meal shared with wonderful friends that I will most definitely make again.  

September always feels like the time for new beginnings for me, so I am going to make a concerted effort to blog at least once a week.  Mark my words!