New toys

When our kids were little, the family room was full of toys. Thomas train sets, Rescue Heroes, toy fire engines and dump trucks, teddies, and dollies, and so much more.

Despite being determined not to fill our house to the brim with toys, we had a lot of toys. And yet, whenever there was a holiday, or a birthday (or a rainy Tuesday in July, let’s be honest here), a new toy or two would make its way into our home, much to the kids’ delight. Mine too, truth be told, since nothing makes Mama happier than when the people she loves most in the world are happy.

Often times, the toys served a dual purpose. Board games that taught math skills and money handling. Playmobil that taught careers and adventure loving and opened the door for many a conversation on values, behaviours, and life in general. Musical instrucments for noisy play that set the foundation for the wonderful musicians they have become. Those wonderful science kits from the Young Scientists’ Club. And the LEGOs…Oh, how we love those!

Over the years, the toys changed. Some have stayed constant – the Playmobil sets, the science kits, and of course the LEGO blocks. Others were around for a very short time indeed — well loved at the time, but not for long, like Rescue Heroes, play kitchen, and Pokemon cards.

Lately, the nature of our toys has changed. Imaginative play is slowly being replaced by sports and books and video games. Craft kits have been replaced by drawing lessons thanks to Craftsy and YouTube. But most surprising of all has been the latest obsession: baking.

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you know that I bake a lot. Cakes and cookies, squares and brownies…the kitchen is one of my favourite places to spend time.

As a result, I have quite a few toys in my kitchen, though there are a few still on my wishlist. Most recently though, we added three new toys to our stock of kitchen things: A meat slicer, a dehydrator…and this:

IMG_1032

IMG_1033

IMG_1034

We came across it at Canadian Tire and both kids instantly started chattering away in that very earnest and somewhat frantic and wildly pleading way they haven’t used since they were rather a lot younger. It was clear in an instant that this was to be one of those toys that would see a thousand hours of use in just a few short days, and then quite possibly, having been used to exhaustion, be then soundly ignored for weeks, and then months, and maybe even years.

But they were so excited at the possibility of owning such a thing, explaining how the band teacher for years has done something similar, and how awesome it is, and how they could do it all by themselves, and it would be AWESOME!!!!!!! (Though I’m not sure there are enough exclamation marks in the entire world to express exactly how awesome, so you’ll have to use your imagination.)

So we bought it. (It was on sale, after all.) And it was put to use almost immediately, much to their delight.

To my delight, too, since they are now of an age where they can be completely independent in the kitchen, trustworthy with sharp edges and hot surfaces, and confident that they can follow a recipe.

So what is our new toy? It’s a cake pop maker.

IMG_1039

They’ve already made at least two dozen cake pops, and they have plans for more, though we have run out of sticks. And sprinkles. (Oh, the horrors of not having enough sticks and sprinkles!)

The way I see it, though, is that a cakepop without a stick and covered with a little bit of sugar glaze or powdered icing sugar is rather remarkably similar to a Timbit, which opens up a whole new world of possibilities, as far as I’m concerned. Though I will have to figure out how they get the jam in the middle of the raspberry jam ones.

I think, when the kids have decided they’ve had enough of this particular kitchen toy, I just might have to play with it myself.

Fourteen years ago today…

Fourteen years ago, this happened:

Sleeping2

Last week, on our family camping trip, this happened:

IMG_1021

This kid, this young man we call K…he’s amazing. He’s so full of love and kindness and caring. He’s so good at nurturing his cousins, big and small. He’s so full of silliness, too, with a great sense of humour and so many stories to tell.

Novem011

We love him so much. Even when he’s hiding in cupboards. Or riding in canoes.

IMG_2696

Or waiting for something to finish baking, like pies. Or cake pops.

PIC00027

His smile makes me smile, and always has.

IMG_3023

IMG_2540

IMG_4017

Happy birthday, son.

 

 

 

 

Teenaged appetites

I have teenagers in the house. It’s true that one of them has been a teenager for almost a year now, and the other is still a few months shy of officially qualifying as a teen, but judging by the growing push for autonomy and the endless hours of sleep being had…I’ve got teenagers in the house.

It’s been a long time coming, but at the same time, it’s been so very, very fast. Part of me still can’t believe these two wonderful people have sprung from those tiny babes I held in my arms just a minute ago (or so it seems). But somehow, they have. Tiny little fingers and toes have morphed into something rather more adult-like, but no less fascinating to watch in action.

Mostly, I am fascinated by their minds. The things that interest them, the passions they pursue, and their marvelously wicked senses of humour…it’s so much fun to spend time with these people who used to be inside of me and now don’t even fit on my lap, or even on the couch (we tried to fit us all four across for a TV-watching takeout dinner last night. It was not exactly successful).

Over the past year and a bit, we’ve gotten used to watching our boy K inhale serving after serving of dinner. Where he puts it on his skinny frame, I have no idea, but put it he does…two hamburgers and a couple of hot dogs, or three plates of spaghetti with meat sauce, a slice or four of pepperoni and bacon pizza…it all vanishes almost faster than you could blink.

Being the eldest child by a lot (my youngest sister is 16 years younger than I am), I remember being struck most by the way a child suddenly morphs into something not-child, yet not-adult, seemingly overnight.  Growth spurts and hairy man legs, deepening voices and suddenly-too-tall friends…of such things are adults made.

But most striking is the massive teenaged appetite that practically inhales food one day, and isn’t hungry at all the next. The suddenly enormous appetite is, to my mind, the single greatest indicator that teenagehood has arrived.

After watching my tiny slip of a girl inhale three huge platefuls of take-out Chinese food in less time than it took to watch an episode of Musketeers, I think I can safely say that, numbers notwithstanding, I now have two teenagers in the house.

It’s a good think I don’t mind grocery shopping.

 

 

Needle and thread

Life has been crazy busy lately and it has been ages since I’ve had needle and thread in hand for a little bit of embroidery. A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to join a lovely group of women for a community craft night.

IMG_3980

Amidst much laughter and yummy treats, I managed to make some progress on one of my crazy quilt blocks. I had set this block aside for a while, knowing the look I was aiming for, but unsure of how to get there.

IMG_3983

In adding a few small pieces, it is starting to move closer to what I see in my mind’s eye, but it is still not there yet. I keep turning the block this way and that, letting my eye follow the lines of stitches, chasing down seams where the fabrics come together too harshly and need softening, or points that need a little bit of focus to draw the eye in.

IMG_3982

And always, I think back to Sharon Boggon‘s insightful advice during the Encrusted Embroidery class I took several years ago now: “Add more.”

With her words so fresh in my mind, I’ve started visiting her blog again recently – coincidentally, just as she returns from a blogging hiatus. I’ve been searching for more inspiration for seam treatments. This morning, what should I find but the happy news that the Antique Pattern Library has put up an entire 100-page book of hand embroidery patterns, many of which would be perfect for seam treatments! And as they are out of copyright, they are absolutely free.

It’s going to be hard to keep my mind focussed on work this morning when my fingers are itching to pick up needle and thread instead!

Strawberry season

It’s official: Our own little strawberry season has drawn to a close. The last of the berries have been picked and there are no more to be had.

strawberries

You wouldn’t think this would bother me much, given as how I don’t like un-jammed strawberries, but I am curiously sad.

The Man We Call Dad adores strawberries, as does our dear friend B (who knows exactly who he is, and reads this blog, and probably is wondering why I’m teasing him with pictures of strawberries he won’t get to eat, seeing as how he lives on the far west end of town and we live in the east).

We had a surprisingly quick strawberry season this year. Last year, the berries came a few at a time over several weeks, not enough at once to contemplate making jam.

This year, they came fast and furious, cupfuls at a time, and completely finished a mere week after they first started to blush. And once again, not enough to make jam.

But little by little, our strawberry patch grows. I have hopes that someday in the not so distant future, there will be enough strawberries for eating and jam making, and both The Man We Call Dad and I will be able to enjoy sweet berry treats from our very own backyard.

mango chutney

In the meantime, I have been blessed with an abundance of fruit in our weekly CSA box and with the help of a well-loved book on preserving, have done up some mango chutney, and now with a little canning done and a batch of chocolate chip cookies cooling on racks in preparation for an end of year party for the grade 8’s, all feels right in the world.

 

What’s cooling on my kitchen counter

toffeesquares

They’re called “toffee squares,” they smell like pure sugary caramel goodness, and they contain a full cup of butter.

The base layer is a mixture of butter, flour, and brown sugar. The middle is sweetened condensed milk, corn syrup, butter, and vanilla. And because that isn’t sweet enough, they’re then drizzled with semi-sweet chocolate.

I can’t wait to try them!

Base:
Cream together half a cup of brown sugar and half a cup of butter. Beat until fluffy. Gradually beat in 1-1/2 cups of flour. Press the mixture into a pan lined in parchment paper and bake at 325 degrees for 30 minutes until golden.

Filling:
Melt half a cup of butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Mix in one 300 mL can of sweetened condensed milk and 2 tablespoons of corn syrup. Stir constantly for 5 minutes or until bubbly. Remove from heat and add 1 teaspoon vanilla.

Assembly:
Pour filling over base and let cool completely. Drizzle melted semi-sweet chocolate on top.

On mornings, bears, and husbands

This morning was most definitely a Monday morning. One seventh of my time here on earth has been occupied by Monday mornings and I have to say, after all this time, I still don’t mind them.

Mondays mark a return to school after two days off. Ditto for work for The Man We Call Dad. As for me, I work Tuesdays through Saturdays most weeks, so technically for me, Tuesday is Monday.

Though Tuesday mornings don’t bother me either.

Maybe I’m a bit of an odd duck (and those of you who know me well can stop laughing now), but I’ve never minded Mondays (even when they are really Tuesdays).  I’ve never minded birthdays, either. They are, like every other day, an opportunity to do something fun. Or something hard. Or something incredibly worthwhile.

And we only get some 30 000 of them in our lives, if we are lucky. Why on earth would I spend 4 285 of them being miserable by choice?

Every so often though, there comes a Monday (or Tuesday) that just needs a little extra grit to get through. Take this morning, for example. It began with a little bit of alarm ignoring after a busy weekend, was followed by the discovery that a thermos one was planning to use for lunch was not, in fact, as clean as it should be, and was topped off by the sudden and smelly discovery that the child on kitchen duty last night failed to take the compost out, much to the delight of the fruit flies that seemingly appear from nowhere overnight.

(The fruitflies, on the other hand, are most certainly having the sort of Monday morning that lottery ticket holders have when they discover upon checking the news one Monday morning that their ticket is worth 9 million dollars, or some other such staggering sum of joyful incredulity followed by much whooping and hollering and jumping up and down.)

After an emergency compost evacuation followed by thermos washing and fruit fly chasing, I plopped myself down on the couch and must have let out a sigh for the girl we call B gave me an empathetic look and told me I looked tired. Not as tired as a girl who spent the weekend travelling to Jouvence to perform with the band and then run obstacle courses, go kayaking, and participate in a kid-sized version of the lumberjack olympics, but Monday-Morning-Mama tired.

And so she gave me a bear.

Well actually, it was a stuffed cat which was then followed by a bear, but you get the idea.

The bear is a small one, white and fluffy (though it’s fur is now rather more well-loved and fuzzy than downy soft, and its colour is no longer pristine and snowy), and its legs have the most adorable curve to them that give the impression that the bear has knees.

I love that bear.

B handed me the bear in all seriousness, telling me how good the bear was at cuddling, and how the thing she loved most about that particular bear was how it was such a good cuddle bear, but not too big, and not too small.

I smiled, cuddled the bear, and told her that the thing I had always loved most about that particular bear was the fact that it had knees.

“I know, right?!” came the answer, followed by a frown and a puzzled “But I don’t remember when I got the bear or who bought it for me.”

I couldn’t help but smile.

I just might have hugged the bear a little closer, too.

For you see, our little Miss B did not get that bear at all. That particular bear is mine, and I have had it for a very long time.

Way back in the middle ages (or perhaps even before the age of the dinosaurs, it’s hard to remember exactly), when The Man We Call Dad and I were only 3 or 4 years older than our oldest child is now, he gave me that bear. We were walking down the street one warm summer evening, hand in hand, when he stopped and dug something out of his backpack and held it behind his back for a moment before presenting it to me.

“She’s got knees!” I exclaimed then, delighted. He smiled at me, that funny little crooked smile he gets when he’s feeling particularly vulnerable, and I kissed him, the bear crushed between us, before we continued down the street.

That moment, in the peculiar way certain moments do, engraved itself in my memory, though it wasn’t particularly significant in any way at all. I can still see the shine of the streetlights against the dark sky and feel the humidity in the air and the way my hair tickled the back of my neck, pulled up in a ponytail as it was, though I can’t remember if he said anything, or what else we might have talked about that night.

That bear has seen me through a quarter century of adventures… my first night away at university, my first time stuck in an airport in a foreign country trying to get home, my first apartment. It has seen me through some sad times, too, like losing our first baby, losing family members, losing friends. More often than not, it sat on a bookshelf in my bedroom rather than on my bed, but every so often as I passed by I would stroke those adorable little knees, or take the bear down and give it a squeeze.

And then my kids were born, first K and then B, and somewhere, somewhen, the bear stopped living on my bookshelf and started living in a child’s bed.

This morning, when B couldn’t remember where she got the bear, I told her the truth of where the bear came from. She had the funniest look on her face as I told her, half wondering and awe-struck, half highly amused.

“That bear is more than twice as old as you are,” I informed her.

“You’re so lucky,” was her reply.

“I am?”

“You are.” A firm nod of her head let me know she was serious. And then a hand went on her hip and her head tilted sideways.

Very serious.

And then came the Grand Pronouncement:

“When I grow up, I want to be lucky enough to have a husband who gives me teddy bears. Teddy bears with knees. A man who gives you bears is one worth keeping, I think. You’re very lucky, you know.”

There are moments in parenthood when it is extraordinarily difficult to keep a straight face.

Especially when I agree so wholeheartedly.

And lest you think the bear from our teenaged years was a one-time event, you should know that last weekend on our way home from camping, we stopped in at Mastermind Toys and spent fully 10 minutes debating whether or not it would be reasonable to acquire a gorgeous, soft, cuddly stuffed elephant for our family room. The softness definitely counted in its favour. The fact that it is life-sized and would most definitely block our view of the TV was a point against, but what can you do?

(Buy your wife a Metal Earth R2D2 model to build, that’s what. And a millenium falcon, too. And yes, he smiled that smile I love so much as he dragged me over to see R2D2 in all his shiny glory. And yes, I may have kissed him just a little.)