Winter Break

Health is a fickle thing. One minute you are great, the next…not so much.

My Christmas break was filled with sleeping, lab appointments, more sleeping mixed in with visits to my Doc. While I am steadily improving – not 100% – I am back at work and felt good enough to get outside. Sunshine and fresh air are magical elixirs that boost me up. The best part about getting outside is the sun is on its way back to me! Darkness isn’t always present and sometimes I can see the sun when I leave work. This is the best feeling – sure its dark when I get home, but sunshine in my mirror is lovely.

There is a National Park not that far away from me. Elk Island National Park is home to Bison, wolves, deer, moose…and a myriad of other creatures. I always ask the universe to show me some creature while I am there. I am never disappointed.

The Captain and I headed out mid-afternoon because I wanted to capture some twilight over Astotin Lake. We drove directly to the Bison loop in hopes to spot the heard. No such luck. I just caught the moonrise over the prairie.  The Red Chairs are a lovely spot to sit and contemplate.

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We left the loop to make our way to Astotin Lake but found a ‘bear jam’ on the way. It wasn’t really bears – but that is a common term for wild animal sighting. There was two bison across the beaver pond. They looked like rocks or boulders – but I knew they were the bison I was looking. ei7.jpg

After seeing those two fellas, I was hopeful I would spot a heard at the lake, or at least one more fellow. No such luck. everyone and their dog was at the beach today. I know it seems like an oddity to head to the beach in January. But Albertans don’t let the weather stop us from living our best life. We pack a lunch and make a day of it. Who doesn’t love the beach? Families were snowshoeing, tobogganing, skiing, sitting around a fire – there was a lot of fires. The smell was heavenly. It reminded me of winter cookout’s past. Pack snow around the fire as wind protection, roast hot dogs and apples and you are having a great time! The snow doubles as a cooler for beverages! Win/Win!

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We popped out of the car and started walking towards the lake, but the snow was deep and Cap didn’t enjoy it touching his belly. He is a big boy too so the snow must have been nearly a foot. He led me to a cleared path and we went exploring in the woods instead.

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There is a denseness I can’t explain unless you have experienced it. The snow absorbs sound so everything seems silent but yet you can hear voices carried across the lake. The crunch of the snow sounds different in January than it does in March. This is the height of winter and its perfect.

Further down the road, we discovered ungulate tracks – it looked like bison to me! Yet there were no large animals to be found. Cap loved the smell and followed the tracks for a while.

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Soon we found ourselves back a the beginning of our adventure. We did the full loop and that tired us both out. Cap slept all the way home and continued napping for the rest of the evening. He is a healthy guy but as he ages, he sleeps more. Kind of like me. Obviously, we are kindred spirits.

Elk Island National Park is located about 50km east of Edmonton on Hwy 16. You do need a discovery pass to enter. A single day is available at the gate. I have a yearly pass and try to make the most of it. Since I purchased the pass we have visited Jasper National Park, Banff National Park, Pacific Rim National Reserve and Elk Island National Park. I hope to get to Yoho and Waterton this year before it expires. Get out there and take in that blue sky!

 

 

Peasant life

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I read a column in the New York Times by Ann Patchett. If you have never read any of her, treat yourself and put one of her books on your reading list this year. When I read her columns, it’s like chatting with one of my pals. I thoroughly enjoy her style.

She wrote My Year of No Shopping in 2017. I read it then and revisited it over Christmas week 2018. She discusses how she outlined her year of no spending. No clothes, which seemed hard for her, she stopped various other spending but allowed books (although you can visit your local library) and discussed gift giving. She decided to only give books except for her editor who married and thought that a book wasn’t right for that situation. But if someone gave me a book for my wedding, they would be at the top of my list of favourite people. Can you imagine a collection of lovely books to start a library of your own as a newlywed? It sounds divine but that might just be me.

I gave no spending some serious thought in 2017. Then I met my friend. She sets aside several weeks throughout the year to live frugally. She calls it Peasant Week. The biggest change she makes is to not buy groceries for an extended period and uses up all the food in her freezer and pantry. I am guilty of having a well-stocked cupboard and replenish it often. She has a monthly allowance and does not spend over that limit – ever. She has a budget. $xxx for gifts comes off her paycheque monthly along with other items that come up unexpectedly throughout the year. All of this is because she has a goal of retiring at 55. Her house will be paid off and she has some tidy investments so she can live the life she desires. That isn’t saying she doesn’t love every moment of her life now. She is humble and grateful and refuses to do chores on the weekend because those are her play days. That is what she calls them, play days. She will only do what feels fun on those two days and does all her chores after work throughout the week. Her life is lovely.

I did that to some extent only with a different goal in mind. It wasn’t about saving money for me, only at first but that changed over time. I went through a financial crisis and curbed travel spending for three years. (But Tourist, you travelled a lot in the last three years! I did, but I will get to that.) My goal was to live a simple life not complicate it by financial obligations. I have to admit it was hard watching friends travel to Disney when I could not. I unfollowed most acquaintances on facebook because I needed to change my thought patterns of jealousy and envy to appreciation and gratitude. Hard to be grateful for what I have when I am longing for what I don’t have.

Simplify is what I call it. I simplified everything from facebook followers to items in my home.

The first thing I did was join a facebook group that gave things away, didn’t sell them. That was important to me. It wasn’t about the money. It was giving things to people who needed them far more than I did. It was about helping people who are starting out in life. I gave away a dumpster full of things. A side benefit, I don’t miss a thing. I have more to give this year. I want to come home to a minimalist house. I live with three other adults. two of them have a hard time parting with things because they don’t know what to do with it. We are also working on that, so this is a process. I have all the time in the world to remove things, there is no rush. I check the site daily to see if anyone is looking for something when I have it, I give it. Simple. Occasionally I see something I need. Like a crockpot. I never had one before and am grateful for one!

Before the tree comes down this year I am getting out four small boxes to sort. One for my son, he has a collection of Santas for his grown-up tree starter kit. One for my daughter, she has an angel grown-up tree starter kit. Decorations I want to keep for a small adult tree of my own and then a give-a-way pile. I do not need an entire storage room of Christmas decorations. clutter around the house stresses me now. Those will go to a new home or Good-will.

Last summer my daughter went to Disneyland. Her first adult trip without her mom. She had travelled with her school and for work, but this felt different. She stayed on Disney property and understood how much I wanted to do that. She knew how much I love the soaps and creams so she saved them daily and brought home a giant bag full of sample sizes. I have travelled a lot for work and was gifted trips when the hubs retired. I collected some of those fantastic smelling items and brought them home. I enjoy ‘free’ souvenirs. When she returned, I went through my cupboard and discovered several bags of these things. I consolidated all of them and decided I needed to use them up instead of buying any new product. Five months later I am one-third of the way through the bag of beauty products. I haven’t bought anything including toothpaste since August. Toothpaste will run out next month but the soap and shampoo will last me until summer.

I brought this lifestyle into my work-life. We had a Secret Santa exchange. There were three rules, one for each week:

  1. The first gift must be from the dollar store and cannot cost more than $3.
  2. The second gift must be something from your home that you no longer use and can be re-gifted.
  3. The third must be home-made.

Surprisingly, everyone participated. People received amazing things. Re-gifting was magical. It felt like we did more with less. This was a huge validation for me. I did the same thing with items in our warehouse. I used up what we had before we bought new. That is important to the bottom line, but more importantly to the environment.

As I think about 2019, I know I don’t need any new clothes. I would like new boots, but mine are fine and not worn out yet. I had a hole in my puffer jacket but taped it with black electrical tape and now its fine for at least another winter so it will take me through until 2020 and I will reassess then.

I have more sheets and towels than I know what to do with, so I will sort through those and put them in the give-away pile. I went through appliances and utensils and gave them to my nephew, but I think I can do better. My pantry is the real challenge for me. I will work my way through the freezer and see what I can do with those items. I want to start a standing garden so I can easily harvest my own food. I think that will be my project for this year. I will focus on food.

Back to the “but you travelled extensively Tourist, what gives? I thought you didn’t want to spend money on travel?” Truth and I didn’t spend money on travel – sort-of.

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My hubs was given a lovely retirement gift of travel. Boom, that was how I travelled. I have a new job that lets me travel across Alberta. Boom, I saw parts of the province I had never been to before. On my down time while away for work, I would explore the towns and areas. Alberta’s Coulees are gorgeous. Prairies are beautiful. I learned that appreciating your own backyard has significant benefits and is just as beautiful and wonderful as exploring towns and villages in Europe, Australia or the US. People travel far and wide to come here. I live three hours from a world-class destination. I am lucky. I get to see Northern Lights regularly – as in ALL THE DAMN TIME. Very few people will ever see those in their lifetime. Grandpa was right, Canada is awesome.

2018 taught me about appreciation. The more I appreciated what I had, the more I received. It was crazy but true. People gave me stuff for being kind. I won things like small lottery wins, books, dinner out and movie tickets.  I learned joy doesn’t come from things, it comes from experience. Help those who need it. Don’t put a price tag on things, just give it away because you can. You will receive more in ways you never thought possible.

Abundance is a gift.

Happy New Year, may 2019 be abundant for you.

Gratitude

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year

I have been here typing away since 2010. At the start of every new year, I usually make a list of the things I learned and the things I want to achieve for the new year. I decided a while ago that I want to just see how the year will unfold without any predetermined goals or items I need to cross off my list. I have one goal for 2019, and that is to make more memories with family.

I have no idea what that is going to look like, but I have a feeling moments and opportunities with show themselves without me manipulating situations to fit my list. I have general thoughts about things to do, but we will see what happens. 2019 is shaping up to be an expectation-free year for me.

Self-awareness and reflection are key components of my growth. It’s important to look at my actions and learn from them. Everything is a learning opportunity, and I like to think about how I could have done something better, behaved nicer or examine a missed opportunity. Many changes happened over the last twelve months. Some things were horrifyingly terrible and hurtful, and some things were so completely wonderful I don’t want to forget. I think I have learned from the lines I drew in the sand, behaviour modifications and decisions. I will still reflect and continue to learn, but thinking about what I am grateful for is more important.

  1. New Friendship. In January I prayed for a friend who I could have deep and meaningful conversations with. I thought it might be someone I was already friends with and we could take it to the next level. That didn’t happen. What did happen is something so unexpected I am overwhelmed with gratitude. A new person entered my life, and we have deep and meaningful conversations about books, circumstances, spiritual connections and guidance. We help each other navigate complicated situations. This person is a gift.
  2. Synergy. Way back in the days of University in the ’80s (not to be confused with University of my 40’s) I was working on a project where we needed to achieve synergy with the team. It didn’t happen, and I said so. We were docked marks which annoyed me because I was honest. They were actually marking us on how we gelled as a team, not on the work we did. I was so angry. I didn’t believe synergy was something contrived. I still don’t. You have it or you don’t. My first teaching experience I worked with two other women and we just connected. Our planning was legendary. I naively thought my professor was correct. That this level of connection was always possible. The 1990 planning team was euphoric. It was an excitement about the work. I felt like it was my calling. It was magic for one year. Fast forward to 2010, the last time I taught in a classroom. I never found that same connection ever again. I was able to work well with others but I didn’t achieve that same feeling. I began to hate the people and the work. I left. I went back to school and changed careers. I never expected to have that same connection with staff. I just did the best I could and kept moving forward. I had a taste of something close in the job I have post graduation. The guy I worked with was a genius and I loved working with him. Our planning was creative and fun but our hands were always tied. It was close. Then I moved on again. Seven months into my new position I figured I wouldn’t stay long. I was alone. I didn’t have anyone to throw ideas around with. Then a shuffle happened and I found myself sitting next to someone who was also alone and wanting more. We began talking and sharing ideas. Suddenly I was back in 1990 and found that synergy again. I not so naive this time that I will have this forever. People move on. But I will be grateful for it as long as it lasts.
  3. Doctor Nurse Surgeon Angels. My son was injured and bed-ridden for two years. He suffered and thought his life was over. He was misdiagnosed and was told he would have to suck it up. My husband was training for a marathon with a friend and was talking about our frustrations with our son’s situation. She said she had been to a conference where the surgeon talked about this type of injury. She gave us his name in October. By April my son had a diagnosis and a surgery date. In post-op, he said he was pain-free aside from the surgical pain. He could tell it worked and walked. He climbed stairs 4 hours after surgery and never looked back. He has his life back and has made a complete recovery. His future is bright.
  4. Angels. A few times I had experiences where I couldn’t explain what had happened. Yet it did, and it was miraculous. Angels.
  5. Health. 2017 was bad. BAD BAD BAD. My daughter calls it the time I died. I didn’t die, but I was damn close. My doctor figured it out. We have a plan and its working beautifully. I have had a temporary slip back into that dark sickness again. Only this time I recognized it earlier, I sought treatment immediately and am recovering quicker. I am so grateful I understand it better. I have a lot of life to still live plus I want to meet grandkids. I will be an amazing gran or nan or oma or lola. Whatever, I will be great at it when it happens way down the road. I have lots to be healthy for.
  6. Bake-off. I had stopped doing things that brought me joy. Why did I do that? That was the stupidest thing I ever could do. I love to bake, and I love to eat baking. There is a lot of pressure to look a certain way.  I am telling you this, fuck that. My Great Grandma lived to be 99. She ate whatever the hell she wanted from cookies to jellies. Eat the damn cookie. Lick your fingers. Enjoy that glass of wine. Moderation is key. Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith got me baking again. I loved every second of it, and I ate the cookies. I am thinking about all the voices who told me I should be… I needed to be… Here is what I learned: I need to do right by me. This is my life, not yours. I don’t care what you think. I am over you. The line is drawn. My life is peaceful and happy, and I have cookies.  You can continue to be angry just stay out of my yard.
  7. Siblings. I am the eldest. I don’t have a memory of being an only child. I usually spend my birthdays alone doing fun things. This year I invited my brother and sister over. It got me thinking about the shenanigans we got into as children. We talked about it and laughed. I need to do that more. I went to visit both of them over Christmas. Big hugs from both of them. More hugging is important. I am going to have them over, and we will do stupid stuff like operation or monopoly or beer pong.
  8. Captain. Me and my pal the dog went on epic adventures this year. He barked at bison, saved me from a raging river, pulled me up an icy hill and ate snacks while I ate dinner. He looks after me and is always gentle with me. He nips at my hubs playfully but never with me. I get loving kisses. He is the best thing to happen to our family.
  9. Ocean. I stood in the ocean and let the stresses wash away. It made me cry.
  10. Skype. My parents live in Europe for part of the year. I chat with them more when they are overseas than when they are home. I like feeling connected with them and am excited to see them when they come home. But I never feel like I can see them when they are home. There are lots of demands on their time from others, so I stand back. I am not going to do that this year. They are my parents. This is my line.
  11. Wildlife. I have travelled to Whistler, Vancouver Island, Jasper, Banff, Southern Alberta and Vancouver. I asked the universe to show me an abundance of wildlife. I saw two orcas swimming across the Georgia Straight. I watched a mama, and her three cubs eat tender grass in the spring up at Whistler. There was an abundance of whales, bears, elk, bighorn sheep, coyotes, eagles, hawks, sea lions, harbour seals, deer, mountain goats, moose and wolves everywhere we went this year. Those creatures are always the highlight of any year.

 

Make the most of what you have. Gratitude brings more great things into your life. Let the anger go and be grateful for what you have before its gone.

Happy New Year friends!

Perfect Poach

It was a Christmas miracle. The most perfect poached egg I have ever created. My daughter let me know it was better than the one she had for breakfast Christmas Eve morning at a restaurant. It was visually beautiful, tender and tasty. All the things you hope for your own poached egg when making Eggs Benedict.

Fun Fact: In 1894, Lemuel Benedict, a Wall Street broker, who was suffering from a hangover, ordered“some buttered toast, crisp bacon, two poached eggs, and a hooker of hollandaise sauce” at the Waldorf Hotel in New York. *Does anyone know what a hooker is in reference to hollandaise? A vessel? A measurement? A gal to join at breakfast?

I have been trying for years to achieve the perfect egg to lay across my back bacon (Candian Bacon for you out-of-towners. No, we do not call it Canadian Bacon, its back bacon and its nothing like bacon. Its ham.) I have tried the vortex method – stirring the water to create a vortex, but you can only cook two eggs at most using this method. I have tried baking them in ham cups in the oven, delicious but easily overcooked plus I miss the tang from the vinegar in the cooking water. My eggs always come out shaggy. Then one day I found the secret!

I was watching Bon Appetite on Facebook – I love the test kitchen videos. Brad from It’s Alive is hilarious. Priya is new but is my favourite. I love Carla and her blind instructions. Andy is just really great to look at. Don’t even get me start on Claire and her series on replicating store-bought stuff. She made Skittles from scratch people, FROM SCRATCH! Then there is Molly. She is pretentious, but she is always right, so I listen to her. She was bang-on about the Caesar salad so I figured she would be correct about eggs benedict for a crowd. Who can poach a dozen eggs at once? Molly can. She is a genius.

You can watch the video like I did. I didn’t expect it to be so spectacular. Cracking the egg over a sieve was amazing. You lose the watery bits of the egg white but not enough to lose the egg.

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I dropped it into the water (laced with salt and vinegar). It was just six eggs I was making, only three of us for breakfast Christmas morning, I cooked them for longer than three minutes. I like my eggs almost firm. My girl likes them runny – so that was fairly easy until her egg kept cooking and wasn’t running at all. So she will get a three-minute egg when I make Christmas Breakfast for my parents when they return home from Europe.

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LOOK AT THAT PERFECTION!!! This was an egg without the sauce. I made more the next day and used up the back bacon and added cheese. I put another half English muffin on top and called it a breakfast sandwich. Eggs done this way are magical.

Thanks, Molly!

 

Sugar Cookie Fail

I think I prefer to have fond memories of sugar cookies rather than eating them in real time. I loved making them, sneaking tastes from the bowl and licking the beaters of buttercream frosting. My aunt made the absolute best cookies. Sometimes she would make a million dozen for my dad’s classroom (give or take 100 000) and sometimes she would make some with me after my music lessons. The cookies were always hearts and always had pink frosting.

My embossed rolling pin arrived this week and I was super excited to try it! I had made all the shortbread and ginger cookies I needed for Christmas but I hadn’t made any sugar cookies yet. So, I dug out the best recipe and decided to try the rolling pin. I discussed technique with a gal at work, who bakes amazing creations, the best way to keep the dough from sticking to the rolling pin. We thought flour would make the cookies too tough, icing sugar too sweet, but thought cornstarch might do the trick.

That was my first fail.

Let me start at the beginning.

Sugar cookies are a familiar friend. I roll them and cut them and frost them. I would make hippy daisy flowers for my daughter’s birthday treats in elementary school. I know how to make an excellent sugar cookie.

I pulled out my favourite recipe where you don’t have to chill the dough because it rolls best at room temperature and is not crumbly. Very important things. I mixed the batter and placed it between two pieces of parchment paper so I didn’t have to handle the dough too much. It makes for a more tender cookie the less you manhandle it.

It rolled out beautifully. A lovely rectangle the right size for my new pin which is weirdly small. Thanks, random store on Amazon. I then put cornstarch on my pin to get it in the nooks and crannies. The detail is very fine and I wanted definition.

I tried using the handles, but my hands are too big – I don’t have large hands fyi. The I rerolled the dough to a flat surface. I ended rolling using the French pin method – with my hands on the long wooden dowel. I pressed too hard and I pressed too light. In true Goldilocks form, three tries was just right.

Kinda.

I pulled out my cookie press for comparison. The grooves in the press are deeper than the pin. The pin was too shallow. So the design which is gorgeous on the pin is too faint on the cookie dough. My dream of having the cookies look like a sweater was dashed. I cut them into hearts because that is what shapes sugar cookies are supposed to be. And in the right light, you can kinda see if you squint – the outline of the deer and snowflakes. All that fluffing around and I have shaggy hearts.

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The next step in my plan was to sandwich these with buttercream frosting. Crave Cupcakes in Edmonton (and probably Calgary) make these amazing sandwich cookies. I always get one for my birthday and by always its been two years in a row because I only just found out about that place.

Fail #1:

The cornstarch gave a weird texture to the top of the cookies – so don’t use cornstarch.

Fail #2:

The embossing was too shallow for the cookie dough. It might work better on shortbread or gingered bread. It’s too close to Christmas to experiment now. Thanks, Amazon for taking six weeks to get here. I am pretty sure a Keebler Elf whittled it thus explains the length of time getting here from some distribution centre – probably China so it likely came by barge. Then dogsled. Then an obscure white van with the mirror attached with duct tape.

Fail #3:

White cookies and white frosting blend together in whiteness. I am opposed to food colour because is it necessary? Also, is it good for me? Also, have you seen me use glue? Food colour is problematic for me and I don’t need to have it all over my face when I am going out for breakfast Christmas Eve morning.

Fail #4:

Hearts aren’t very Christmasy.

Fail #5:

I have terrible pipping skills.

Win #1:

My cookie recipe is outstanding.

Win #2:

The buttercream is delicious.

Win #3:

I dolloped loads of buttercream on the cookie and it squirted out the sides. If I had been thinking, I could have dipped the sides in peppermint shards (broken candy canes) or mini chocolate chips or BOTH. (I am grasping at straws for a win people, just give it to me.)

Here is the recipe, don’t do what I did, just roll them and cut them using hearts or whatever you fancy. I have Ninja shapes I should have used but I was nostalgic for my auntie’s cookies. Also, Merry Christmas from me to you.

No Fail (see the irony?) Sugar Cookies

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 cup salted butter (room temperature. I think its an American thing to keep the butter in the fridge. It’s useless in there.)
  • 1 cup sugar – white granulated in case it isn’t obvious
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla – the really good stuff, mine is imported from Mexico (is anyone going and can bring me back more?)
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 6 cups flour

 

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Add butter and sugar to your mixer.  Cream it together until lighter in colour and the sugar is dissolved.
  2. Add vanilla and egg and mix until completely incorporated.
  3. Add baking powder and mix. – this step is weird, usually, you put baking powder in with the flour. Don’t this time, mix it first. It makes a big difference.
  4. Mix in the flour two cups at a time, then one cup. (if doubling the recipe – do it two cups at a time)
  5. Do not chill the dough, the cookies will bake better if the dough is at room temperature.
  6. Roll a handful of the dough out on a prepared surface until it’s about 3/8″ thick and cut out shapes with a cookie cutter.
  7. Bake at 350 degrees for 6-9 minutes depending on the size of the cookie.  Do not over-bake. I do it for 9 minutes. They are done in that magical stage between translucent and golden.
  8. Frost with buttercream and sandwich together.

Buttercream:

In a mixer combine:

  • 1/2 cup butter – salted
  • 2 cups of icing sugar or powder sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla or more or add orange or peppermint or brandy – whatever floats your boat.
  • I drizzle in no more than a tsp of milk – just to smooth it out.

They taste way better than they look.

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Any tips for embossed rolling pins people? I may just stick to stamps, I have that down pat.

 

Tradition

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Every year I take a day off close to the holidays and spend it Christmas shopping. The hubs and I plan an entire day to get everything done. I was inspired to do this by my sister who loves shopping with several packages hanging from her arms. She always wanted the packages to be like hat boxes as seen in several holiday movies, but plastic bags made do for her fantasy.

We start the day off by going for breakfast, the most important and most delicious meal of the day. This year the destination is Cafe Bicyclette, a lovely French cafe in the heart of the French quarter here in Edmonton. I love their coffee and think its some of the best the city has to offer. The days they serve Eggs Benedict are my favourite so fingers crossed that will be on the menu with their grilled grapefruit!

Over breakfast, we make a list of shops we need to visit. This year its places like RAM, AMA, a great bookstore, a toy shop, a dollar store and Southgate Mall. I haven’t shopped at a mall in a very long time so this will be unusual for me. After shopping is complete, we head to Bon Ton Bakery for the best fruitcake, I am one of 7 people in the world who loves fruitcake, don’t judge. I will pick up some other treats for Christmas and then leave with the need to remortgage the house. Aside from that small detail, it is a lovely day.

The thing that is different this year is I don’t have a list for me. There is nothing I want or need other than grandbabies and those will be a few years down the road. The hubs and I are not exchanging gifts this year because we have changed. I credit 738 consecutive days of meditation for this change. I don’t desire things like I used to. I much rather experience things. Life has become a way to experience things rather than get things. Unlike previous years, I don’t have a list of goals. There are a few things I want to do but mostly I want to spend 2019 being present and see what unfolds.

I imagine the Universe has many things planned out for me but I have only one thing.

  1. Make memories with my family.

Sounds simple but also exciting. I have never been as focused on being present before and this is also a credit to the shift I made. I plan to use my inner compass to guide and dictate where and what I will do. I anticipate it being the best year yet.

Honey

I had a boyfriend once who called me honey.  We were casually dating and called each other normal names then boom, he called me honey and I felt weird about it. It was as if that was the name he used for his wife. Turns out I was right.

Honey was a favourite food of my son. Part of that had to do with his relationship with Winnie the Pooh. If honey was good enough for Pooh Bear, then honey was good enough for him.  Plus eating local honey has the added benefit of building up your immune system to ward against hay fever.  

I love honey. I especially love local honey. So much so that I think I want to become an urban beekeeper.  Save the bees, eat local honey and grow an amazing garden. All things I think I want for me. Or at the very least it is a romanticized version of what I want for me.  

Disneyland had this great popcorn cart over in Pooh Corner. They served honey popcorn. The smell was amazing. Warm honey gives off a pleasant sweet fragrance that has a blend of clover mixed in. The popcorn was a crisp and sweet blend of honey caramel. I loved it. It was one of my favourite treats available at the park until it was gone. Now they appear to have just a plain popcorn cart, but it has been years since I have darkened the doorstep of any Disney Park, but I like to do little things that remind me of great vacations past. 

After I first tried the honey popcorn at Pooh Corner, I went home to try to recreate it. It took me several attempts but I finally got the proportions right.  It has become my signature recipe that I make only once a year.  Usually, my mom makes the popcorn for me and I do the rest. Making popcorn is not something I am good at but I figured out another way to do it while she is in Ireland.  Here is my Honey popcorn the way Pooh Bear likes it. Don’t blame me if you have a sudden urge to play Pooh Sticks or search for Heffalumps and Woozles. Eat at your own risk. 

Robyn’s Pooh Corner inspired Honey Popcorn

  • 4 qt popped popcorn (I use Orville’s microwave with butter and salt)
  • 1 cup nuts (almonds and pecans are what I prefer but anything will work)
  • 1/2 cup salted butter
  • 1 cup light brown sugar (I have used dark brown but light gives a better colour)
  • 1/4 cup of honey (local clover honey not creamed – regular drippy honey)
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla (the best you can get your hands on. The Barefoot Contessa is correct)

Pop your popcorn and place it in a prepared roaster. I spray it with pam but if you don’t so that, grease it or you will be frustrated when its time to stir the popcorn. Sprinkle nuts over the top of the popcorn.

In a heavy bottom saucepan, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add sugar and honey. Stir consistently until it comes to a gentle boil. Turn heat down to medium and let it gently boil for 5 minutes without stirring. You do not want the sugar to become grainy – so leave it alone! After 5 minutes, remove from heat and add vanilla. It will bubble up and appear angry. Beware. Then give it a stir to incorporate the vanilla throughout. 

Pour over popcorn and nuts, stir until well coated. Bake at 250 F for 1 hour. This is the secret to the perfect texture. Skipping this step makes the popcorn soggy and gooey. Every 15 minutes, remove from oven and stir. The honey caramel settles to the bottom and you want it to coat the popcorn evenly. Cover your counter with parchment paper. Once the popcorn is done (one hour in the oven!!!) turn it out on the parchment to cool. This prevents it from sticking to the pan. Soak the pan in water for easy cleanup.

Variations: I have substituted pure maple syrup for the honey. Maple popcorn is decedent. It is expensive but so good. 

 

Disneyland

I am dreaming of a vacation.

My mom and I have been tossing around the idea of a vacation with her, dad and me. No one else. I want a memory of just the three of us. No stopping the car to let my brother out for a run. No having to share a seat with a sister who hogs all the cuddle time with mom and dad. No grandmas tell us where they want to eat. Just me, mom, and dad on the kind of vacation we have never had before. But I also want a vacation together that we have had before…like Disneyland. 

I began going to Disneyland at the age of six. I have been upwards of 30 times to the various parks in the United States and France. This may seem surprising to many who know me but it has been years since I have darkened the doorstep of any Disney Park, years. My last few memories were tainted by situations and relationships that needed to be purged by me. Moving forward I will spend future Disney Park time with family. I want to recreate my first memory and make new ones. I want to have a great memory of the parks with my children and my parents. So I think this year will be that opportunity. 

My best memory of Disneyland when I was six was sitting on the corner of Main Street with my dad. We were holding spots for my mom and brother. They were shopping at the Emporium for warm sweaters for us. It was August and the evenings become cooler. We were waiting for the Main Street Electrical Parade. It was that parade’s debut that summer. A fun fact that I only know now because I am a fan. I was oblivious of that fact as a kid. 

Mom came out of the shop with grey sweatshirts with Mickey Mouse on the front. The park still sells that style only its called vintage now. We snuggled into the sweatshirts and munched on popcorn. We shared a box between all of us. I remember my dad being amazed by the lights and music. I was mesmerized. 

Fast forward to the year I brought my kids for the first time and we sat on Main Street wearing newly purchased sweatshirts watching the Electrical Parade. We didn’t munch on popcorn we had dole whips and Mickey bars instead but we were enchanted with the parade. It was as magical as I remembered. The next day we met Pooh and Pigglet and my son was transfixed. He whispered secrets into Pooh’s ear and was happy beyond words.

My children are now adults and my parents are seniors. I am not that little six year old who had crushes on Robin Hood and Thomas O’Malley, now I crush on Spanish Mode Buzz, Bert and Ramone who likes it low and slow as he cruises through Carsland. We have all decided we want to have a family vacation together in our old haunt. We want to explore Galaxy’s edge, ride the Matterhorn on the Tomorrowland’s side at night, ride Pirate’s and Splash and maybe even sit on a bench on Mainstreet and watch a parade or two. I want to pop into the Emporium with my mom and buy sweatshirts for everyone because the evening is cool. I want to share with my parents the secrets I have learned and make my dad take a photo with his doppelganger Han Solo. 

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I want to be amazed by magic. It’s been a long time since I felt happy there. I am ready to get that back. It will be 47 years since my very first visit. There is a theme park where the parking lot used to be. Rides have changed and evolved but there is still a lamp above the firehouse on Mainstreet that I am looking forward to seeing again.  I can’t wait for 2019 and all the vacation magic it will bring. 

Lights

What are your best holiday memories as a child? Mine always included some yuletide light display around the city. Edmonton has an abundance of festive events available for a nominal fee, some are quite expensive for a small family and the best kind in my book, FREE.

As a kid, my best memory was Fort Edmonton Park. It included a hayride through the dark village and heading over to Egge’s barn for hot chocolate and cookies to wrap up the evening. I am attending Fort Edmonton’s panto Red Riding Hood on Thursday so that fun place is checked off my list for 2018! I, of course, will report back. I also really enjoyed the teddy exhibit at RAM but they haven’t collected bears in years. But mostly I loved driving through the different neighbourhoods to see how people decorated their homes. Late at night with car blankets on our laps, Christmas sing-a-long music playing on the radio and late night hot chocolate before bed. 

I did a variation of those activities with my kids when they were little. We would load them up in the toboggan and pull them along Candy Cane Lane (several blocks in Edmonton that decorate for the season with magnificent displays). We would visit the  donkey where my daughter yells “HI DONKEY!” The donkey and sheep were part of the living nativity scene at City Hall. We would do the drive-by light display at the park and go look at the tree at the Ledge. All the things that my kids reminisce about even today.  

Last night we all piled into the car and drove to a dark empty parking lot in the city’s east side industrial area and wait for the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train. It travels across the country and sets up a party in different cities to raise money and awareness for local food banks. I produced a series of events for Alberta Food Banks this fall so I felt I was covered. Sitting in the dark and seeing the glow of the train was magical. It made me wish this was a thing when my son was little. Never have you met a bigger train enthusiast than my boy. Even today he still says ” oooooooooo a train!” and then spouts off knowledge you didn’t think you needed to know. 

We stood on the side of the tracks (a safe distance away) a watched the lights. The passenger car that held the entertainment was playing Elvis’ Blue Christmas so festive music added to the charm in the dark.  This is a thing I plan on going to as long as CP Rail participates. It was magical. I recommend checking out when it will visit your neighbourhood or a the very least do a rail-by. Go to Instagram and follow #CPHolidaytrain for more beautiful photos.  

Even you can’t see the CP’s display, then for sure visit your local neighbourhood. Lights just bring me into the spirit of the season, I hope they do for you as well.