Friday, December 21, 2012

o' christmas tree

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
How lovely are thy branches!
For every year the Christmas tree,
Brings to us all both joy and glee.
O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
Much pleasure dost thou bring me!

Wishing you and your family a very 

Merry Christmas 
Happy NewYear

DIY Christmas Trees
For those of you who are putting final touches to your Christmas decor, this is a quick and easy way to get the kids involved with a craft, and is something that is simple to do this weekend, just in time for a pretty display for Christmas next week.

Tools and Materials
  • Cereal boxes
  • Glue
  • Tissue paper 
  • gift ribbon (the curly ribbon kind)
  • Scissors

Take the cereal box and cut it into a square shape.  Roll the box into a cone shape and hot glue together.  With one of the cones,  I hole punched throughout and wrapped with tissue. (to make the tree illuminate,  place a  battery operated tea light candle underneath).

Glue and wrap with tinsel, tissue paper, ribbon...whatever is pretty in the house.  (I've seen music sheets, twine, you name it!).

Oh Christmas lovely are thy branches.

See you in January 2013!!!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

pop of colour

I've been hoping to make cake pops for a while, but there is something that sounds too complicated while I'm in "trying-to-uncomplicate-my-life" mode right now.  So, I found a great cheesecake on a stick recipe that basically uses frozen cheesecake, rolled in chocolate chips.

Since I make a pretty good cheese cake, I thought I could make this on my own, without the crust.  But again, while in "uncomplicated" mode, I was thinking of alternatives (other than buying store bought).

I stumbled upon a chocolate chip cheese ball recipe that sounded intriguing.  But what struck me was the reviewer said it tasted like chocolate chip cheesecake.  Bingo!

Without having to bake, I made little cheese balls.  Then I dipped them in melted chocolate.  I made a few to look like Christmas ornaments by adding cheerios on the top.

I was originally going to add sprinkles to give these a pop of colour, but then I stuck to my plan to keep things simple (and less messy), so I just added the sticks, and then said...

"Nah...I think chocolate is colourful enough".

Chocolate Chip Cheesecake Pops
Makes 12 cheesecake pops
(adapted from the "Chocolate Chip Cheese Ball" recipe found at Allrecipes)


  • 1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese,softened
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup confectioners or icing sugar
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips
  • White chocolate or semi sweet chocolate, melted to dip.
  • Lollypop sticks or popsicle sticks (found at craft or the baking section of your local store).


  • In a medium bowl, beat together cream cheese and butter until smooth. Mix in confectioners' sugar, brown sugar and vanilla. Stir in mini chocolate chips. Cover, and chill in the refrigerator for 2 hours.
  • Using spoons, a melon scoop or a small ice cream scoop, create little balls. Place on wax paper.
  • In the meantime, melt chocolate until it becomes a sauce (I melted them gently in the microwave on a lower heat).
  • Roll the cheese ball in melted chocolate.  Do this quickly, as the cheesecake will melt.  
  • Place on wax paper (add stick if making cake pops). 
  • Refrigerate until the chocolate has hardened.  You can decorate by piping frosting or more melted chocolate onto the cheesecake pop.  

Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.  The pop them into your mouth.


Monday, December 17, 2012

i am grateful

Sending my kids to school felt very different this morning.  
{But I am grateful that I can do this today}

This morning, I didn't stress to get the kids to school on time.  It briefly crossed my mind to just keep them home with me today. Just so I can hold them.  But they are unaware of what this morning feels to me, so they went to school as normal.  I did however, look down the halls a bit more carefully as I watched them enter their classrooms.  We can not be afraid.  We shouldn't. And although that feeling will disappear as we go back to dealing with all the cries of frustration about busy traffic, kids arguing in the backseat, and being late for school (again!), sometimes I need to remind myself to sit back and look at the big picture, and not worry about being late.  Because those are cries that twenty families wish they were having instead of the tears they have today.

The parenting struggle feels different now.  
{But I am grateful that I can do this today}

Before last Friday, when I wrote about the gift of kindness, I talked about the parenting struggle of teaching kindness and good will, while at the same time, teaching caution (and maybe a little mistrust?) in a world that sometimes isn't so kind.  Like many parents, in order to cope with anxieties derived from tragedies, we would always say "those kind of incidents could never happen to us", reasoning that children are rarely the target.  I need to keep saying "it won't happen to us".  I NEED to say it for my children, even if a part of me isn't quite so sure anymore.  I need to say it, despite knowing that twenty families will never be able to say "it won't happen to us".

Fussing over the little details have a different meaning now.
{But I am grateful that I can do this today}

Sometimes it's the little things that take up a lot of time.  And I've been told I fuss too much over the little making sure the cookies are the same size so there is no argument over who's cookie is bigger when the kids decorate it.  Or when I painstakingly go over each Christmas gift to ensure they look "equal".  But as small as these details may seem to adults, I know that some details mean the world to my kids.  And for me, it's just another small way for my children to know that I love both of them. Equally. That nothing is insignificant, and every minute I spend fussing is for them.  And I notice all of their little details too. Their smile.  The way they breathe while they sleep. Their tears.  I will continue to do the little things that make a big difference to them...that make them feel special.  Every day.  Although I still need to attach those evenly sized ribbons to each of their Christmas gifts, I will remember that there will be twenty little gifts unopened this year.

Spending time with my family will be different now.
{But I am grateful I can do this today}

I will, more than ever, try to take the kids to see and explore our beautiful world.  To attempt that "bucket" list of things like surf in Hawaii, or visit the Great Wall of China.  Or just to spend more time doing the small but meaningful things over the Christmas holidays.  Like decorating gingerbread cookies together.  Reading books with flashlights under bed sheet tents.  Or just drinking cocoa while we watch our annual Christmas movie together.  I want to create so many more, beautiful memories.  Because twenty families will have a different memory for Christmas this year.

 “These 20 children lit up this community better than all the Christmas lights we have.”
And with a gentle nod upward, he added, “There are 20 brighter stars in the heavens.”
(Monsignor Robert Weiss, pastor of St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church, in Newtown, Connecticut) 

And I will forever be grateful, that my bright stars are here on Earth with me today. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

the gift of kindness

Sometimes teaching kindness to our children is harder than it seems.

Within one week, two very different stories with very different outcomes have made me wrestle with how to teach my children the gift of giving and helping in a world that sometimes, honestly, doesn't really care.

Last week, a man was pushed onto a subway track, and I was appalled not just because a photograph of the man, mere moments before his death, was splashed on the front page of a gossip newspaper.  But that no one, including the photographer (who had the time to take 49 snapshots), came to his rescue.  

For reference, in a calm, unrushed situation it took a solid
15 seconds for me to take this one unfocused photo.

I think this story hit a nerve with me because my husband also takes the train....well, I'm sure it hit a nerve for many people as we let our imagination go into over-drive just wondering what we'd do if a loved one was in that position.  

So how do we teach our children the lesson of being cautious wherever they go, if they live with the faith that there will always be people around them (much like them), willing and able to help if they were in trouble? Would they be able to depend on the kindness of strangers?

Well, two days after this subway incident, I received an email from the school.

One of the families recently lost their home due to a massive fire.  Thankfully no one was seriously hurt, but they lost almost all of their belongings in the tragedy.

I must say first, that I am very proud of the school that my kids attend.  Our school community rallied behind this family, providing clothes, household items and a place to stay during their ordeal.  Within hours of the news, I was amazed to see, when I dropped off some extra clothes for them at the school office, that there were already 4 large bags full of necessities.  An outpouring of support, donations, help and prayers still continue today.  Although the journey ahead of them will be difficult, they are grateful, just knowing that they are not alone.

It is this time of year when we are provided many lessons on giving, and there are many wonderful opportunities this season to show our children gratitude and generosity.  With the many charities and food drives in high gear, it's a great way to show how we can help those in need.  Watching the response at the school has given me a glimmer of hope that maybe our children will become the next generation of kindness.  Maybe as parents, we need to backlash against the selfishness of society and model kindness to our children so they understand that when someone falls...they help them get back up.  

Someday, maybe kindness will no longer be tagged as a "gift" that happens just for the holiday spirit, but something that happens on a more regular basis for the rest of the year.  Now that would be a true gift.

DIY Gift Tags using old Christmas cards
Every year, my kids like to bring a little gift/treat to share with the class before the Christmas holidays. 
Trying to share their resources, we used whatever we had remaining from last year's mini-greeting cards.  Each card was split it into two gift tags so there is enough for each classmate. Although this is very simple (and economical!), you'd be surprised how many parents have told me they had never thought of reusing old Christmas cards this way, until now.

First, cut the card in two.  Using the cover and a hole punch, create two large holes on the side of the card.  
This is where the candy cane goes.  On the back, using address labels, I printed out multi-labels with 
"Merry Christmas, from your friend..." printed on them.  The child signs them all.

Using the inside of the card, I cut out a rectangular shape of the greeting.
Cut the corners off one side, create a hole with a hole punch, and attach with a ribbon.
The other child signs all of these.

With just one set of cards, you can double your gift tags.  Now that's a gift tag that is easy to give.


Wednesday, December 05, 2012

something blue

According to research at top wedding sites, the most popular time of the year to get engaged is in December.  With so many sales promotions enticing us to buy for jewelry for the holidays, it's no wonder that it's a good time of year to buy that one special piece of jewelry...the diamond engagement ring.  And despite the economy, it seems that people are actually spending more than ever for that once-in-a-lifetime occasion of a wedding.  According to the statistics, couples are spending on average $30,000+(US) for their nuptials.

The other weekend, I caught a glimpse of a television show that followed a celebrity bride (a morning talk show host) who hired a wedding coordinator to plan every little detail of her wedding.   He chose the most expensive ribbon to tie around her flowers.  The flowers had to be flown in from a specific location because they perfectly matched the decor.  A dance floor had to be re-constructed because it "wasn't perfect".  Her eyes almost popped out of her head when her coordinator presented her with the six-figure dollar invoice. "The wedding has to be right", he exclaimed.  I'm sure the wedding coordinator of last year's over-the-top, 10 million dollar "celebrity" wedding would agree.  A 65 carat bridal headpiece, an homage to Audrey Hepburn, was apparently worn by that bride {source}. This for a marriage that lasted for a mere 72 days.

Is it me, or have weddings become more like a broadway production?  And are the grooms becoming less and less part of this "production"? Maybe as I watch all these wedding shows, I'm prematurely worried.  I couldn't help but wonder...what kind of bride would my daughter be someday...and how much would it cost?

Although I agree that a wedding is one of the most special moments of a lifetime, sometimes I wonder if all those sparkly details of the event overshadows the reason why you're there in the first witness that "sparkly look" in the newlywed's eyes.  I don't know if having a diamond encrusted tiara like a princess necessarily means you'll "live happily ever after".

As Christmas comes to a near, I think back to when my husband proposed to me (yes, it was in the month of December), and all the planning...not just our wedding, but planning our lives together.  It was that kind of planning that made us a team.  Although we have a long time to worry about our kid's weddings...I hope that they remember the reason for having a wedding in the first place...a union of love between a couple, the start of a beautiful journey.  And that your family and friends will join in that journey, no matter what designer cake or dress is at the wedding.

Although there may not be any diamonds under the Christmas tree this year, after more than a decade of marriage, I can look back to when my husband proposed and smile.   And say that we are living..."happily ever after".  And no tiara was required.

DIY Tiffany Inspired Christmas Decor

After browsing the beautiful jewelry at the Tiffany's website, I was inspired to re-create that beautiful blue hue in our home this Christmas.  It's amazing what a small can of spray paint can transform.  The closest colour to that "Tiffany" blue, is Krylon's Blue Ocean Breeze. (found at your local hardware store...I bought mine at Canadian Tire for $5).

Here's the transformations...

Here's an old dollar store pail that held cake pops from my husband's company Christmas party last year.

Here's my old, weathered ornaments from last year, now rejuvenated.

And here's an old cookie tin...with a plain white ribbon, tied like the iconic Tiffany boxes...

It goes to show that you don't need to spend a lot of money to look like a million!

With some ingenuity and using old ornaments and items around the house, our Tiffany inspired tree is complete.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

christmas merger

Sometimes I'm torn between making it or buying it.

It's the struggle between quality and time...daily decisions (dinner) or seasonal (gifts and decor). And with more quality ingredients or materials available, it seems like we've been invaded by a DIY nation.  When I browse through this season's magazines and blogs, there are so many inspirational custom and DIY cards seen on Pinterest (or check out SavvyMom's list of "18 Best Holiday Cards") that it's difficult to not feel the urge to make hand crafted cards, wrap and decor?

When we were first married, at Christmas we would spend hours handwriting each greeting and address (we send about 60 cards at any given year) on store bought Christmas cards.   Then, we had kids.  We started enclosing those cute, wallet sized Christmas portraits done at a department store photo studio.  (again, more handwriting of names and dates on the back of the photos).  And honestly, the greeting card companies have really stepped up their selection to compete with e-cards.  With so many pretty embellishments and sparkles, store bought cards really takes away the labour of gluing things ourselves!

So what do you do when you love the look of personalized custom cards, but don't have the time or craftiness to make them from scratch (all that handwriting, gluing, cutting!?!)  And what do you do with those boxes of cards you bought at last year's boxing week sale? (admit it...the prices after Christmas makes those card purchases very tempting!)

Merge the two.

I think I've found that happy medium of being creative but efficient with my time (and budget) with my Christmas cards.  I create collages of photographs, add text (yea, no handwriting!), then add the photos to pretty, glitter covered store bought cards.  I hole punch the photos and the cards and attach with a ribbon. (Of course, you just print your photo collage on card stock and say you're done!)

So in the spirit of Christmas, I thought I'd show you two photo collage ideas.  I used Picasa (it's free) so my instructions below are for that program.  But this can be done with any photo editing software.  They're pretty simple...and you can check off one more thing on your Christmas to do list.

Layer two photographs. 
(Picture Pile Method)

1)  In Picasa, click the "Create a collage" button.  The button looks like this:

2)  Choose 2 photographs...the one with the family portrait and the other of a beautiful background picture...something simple (the pine cone pic here was taken at the cottage with my phone and an Instagram filter).

3)  Add photos as a "Picture Pile" where the photos are scattered on the page. I like this so I can position and the size the photos as I please.

4)  Choose a photograph as your background image.

5)  Adjust your photo to the desired size and position.  Add text and filters.

Here's some examples:

Split Screen Photo with clip art 
(Mosaic method)

1)  In Picasa, click the "Create a collage" button.  The button looks like this:

2)  Find  or layer free clip art onto a word document, then add your text to create your message or find already created free clip art Christmas messages (the chalkboard one I found here), and save it as a gif or jpg file.

3) Choose your portrait.

4)  Add both portrait and your clip art photos using "Mosaic" where the photos are automatically fit into the page), pick your portrait.

Here's some examples:


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

that's the spirit

Ahhh...the spirit of Christmas!

You know it's time to start making that gift list a reality when the big guy in the red suit waltzes into town.  And did he ever make a grand entrance into town this past weekend at the Santa Claus parade. (with a cool wireless headphone mic, no less)

After years of going to the local parade, since the kids are old enough to brace the long wait with little complaints (ha!), but are still young enough to appreciate some Santa related festivities, we decided to go to the main parade in the city.  So we bundled up and headed on the train with blankets, snacks, and hot chocolate filled thermoses in tow, and arrived early to meet with friends and get a great spot to watch "the BIG" parade.

After securing our spot for 2 hours (apparently some people waited for 5 hours!), we watched as those who arrived late (as in, after the parade had already started), waltz in like VIP grinches and stand in front of little kids who waited for hours in the front row.  Ahhh...there's that spirit again...

Using a newly developed iPhone app (which was embraced by no one more than me..."When IS Santa showing up!!!!"), we were able to track Santa on his route down to where we were standing, so we knew "if Santa was around the corner or not".


Float after float went by, not necessarily to wish us a Merry Christmas but more to remind everyone to act quick and get the hottest pop group's CD, video game or DVD movie.  Call it my imagination, but the very next day, parking lots at the malls seemed a little more crowded.  Mmm.....hey, that's my spot!

I'm not sure if it's just my age, but I'm starting to miss the simpler activities around Christmas.  A time when a Christmas tree wasn't a pink and purple lit upside down cone, but a tree with branches and pine needles.  A time when a Santa parade had floats with signs that actually said " Merry Christmas" on it, not "Get the latest CD, just in time for the holidays!"

Or maybe I just need to remind myself to look a little harder and find those really wonderful Christmas "spirits" at the parade, like the Toys for the North program and the Red Nose program (where toy donations and proceeds from the sales of the Rudolph noses went to various charities).

And of course to enjoy the most important (to me)... happy, spirited kids. When I asked them what they thought about the parade, they said the floats were cool, the iPhone app was handy and shrugged when the big guy showed up at the end.  But it was after the parade when they really started to get excited because they knew that when all that "hoopla" was done, the REAL FUN was going to begin...spending more time with family and friends.  And with smiles on their faces, laughter with friends, and hot chocolate stains on one exhausted Mom...they laughed, hugged and said "Merry Christmas" to EVERYONE.

Maybe the spirit of Christmas is here after all...

Homemade Hot Chocolate with Baileys
(approx. 4 servings)

  • 4 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (chocolate chips would also work fine)
  • 2 ounces of butterscotch chips (optional)
  • 1 ounce Bailey's irish cream (optional)

  • Heat milk, water, sugar to a boil. (also add vanilla bean seeds, from pod, if using).
  • Remove from heat and stir in chocolate and butterscotch chips until they melt into milk. 
  • Pour into small mugs or cups and add "spirits" for adults, as required.
  • Top with whipped cream or marshmallows.

Enjoy the spirit of the holidays!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

the alternative

"Please eat."

Lately, I feel like a say that phrase a million times over a course of one meal.  "Please stay seated...and EAT!"  And I admit...sometimes in the rush of our schedules, I turn to old standbys and the meals can be less than appealing if you've had it a few times in the past few weeks.

However, last week during a cold weather spell, instead of "please eat", I told my kids "you need to eat to stay healthy and stay warm".  My son smiled and proclaimed that statement should be a life rule!  "Stay healthy and stay warm!!!", he chanted.  After some discussion, we then thought that those still recovering from the Sandy/Nor'easter storm would agree with that statement, and wish they had more healthy choices and options.

Silently, both kids started to eat.  They started to think of those who still don't have electrical power to keep warm and that the only choice they have to meet their basic needs is to ration their gas, line up at food trucks, shower stalls and power stations to sustain themselves.  That for now, this is the only choice they have.  The kids asked "if they are still struggling to get back to normal in such a prosperous city like New York, what would it be like if it happened to us?" 

Then we started to think of the children that receive the Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes that we fill at school around this time every year before Christmas.  That on a grander scale, those in North America are still so much better off than children in many other countries who continually struggle to find basic food, water and shelter.  Those children don't have the luxury to make alternative choices, if any.

And while my kids are pretty healthy eaters and occasionally may still be a little picky with what they eat, I am glad that they are appreciative of the opportunity to be able to be that picky.  And appreciate that the storm passed us, and we're warm and safe here at home, instead of the alternative just south of the border.

Quinoa Bean Salad
Quinoa is a complete protein rich grain, and is a great alternative to meat.  This salad keeps well (and could sustain without refrigeration longer than most salads), and actually tastes better as it sits longer for the quinoa to absorb the flavours.

  • 1 package of quinoa
  • 1/2 cup of vinegar (white or apple cidar works)
  • 1/4 cup of vegetable oil
  • 1 celery sticks
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1/2 chopped red or green pepper (optional)
  • 1/2 cup of cooked waxed beans (optional)
  • 1 can of red kidney beans
  • 1 can of chick peas
  • Cook the quinoa as directed on the package.  Set aside to cool.
  • Rinse the beans & peas in cold water then place in hot water for 2 minutes.  Drain.
  • Add all of the above ingredients in a large bowl and refrigerate overnight.

Serves 8.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

a light in the dark

Sometimes the light shines brightest when it's dark.

When my kids were little, they were frightened by shadows on the wall when I tucked them into bed at night.  I would always tell them, that there must be light somewhere in the house, or else the shadows wouldn't exist.  That even when you think it's completely never really is.

Last week, Hurricane "Sandy" proved that.  When the storm came in that night, all we could see was a singular spotlight casting light and shadows on our mammoth 20 year old maple tree in our backyard, which was swaying and bending with the 90km/h+ winds.  Miraculously, it didn't come crashing through our house (like so many larger trees did, as shown on a multitude of newscasts).

However, what was more miraculous, was the events after the storm.  My faith in humanity was renewed again as I read story after story about the kindness of strangers...people coming together to help each other in need.  Even the simplest of things like providing power to strangers so they can charge cell phones and communicate with loved ones.  These stories of kindness has been the bright light in this (continuing) darkness.

Photo courtesy of Mashable

While I cannot directly help those in affected areas (other than through donations), the aftermath of the storm did however, shed some light on my own emergency preparedness, and beyond the "extra flashlights, batteries, candles and food" list (a handy list of what should be in your 72 hour emergency preparedness kit can be found here at Red Cross), I thought I'd do my small part and share with you some interesting things that I've read and learned that might help you with your own emergency preparedness plan.

1)  Add a "text-to-tweet" option on Twitter.  I know, this may sound like my Twitter addiction is overrun, but seriously, communication is key and if there is no internet access available in my area to email loved ones, at least I can send one message out to the masses (i.e. more than one family member) by sending a tweet via text.  For info on how to do this, click {here}.  Conversely, I've added my husbands' tweets, so I can receive tweets from him via text, if for some reason we've been separated.

2) Make sure your OUTDOOR solar garden lights have been charged.  So often we hear about fires that start with candles (we use mason jars with tea light candles), so a great (and safe) alternative light source in the house would be those outdoor garden solar powered lights (we have the solar coach lights that can be removed from the post and placed flat on a table).

3)   Update our emergency contact list on my phone to include some government phone numbers that I normally do not have handy (in case of hydro outages, downed trees or sewer back up/flooding emergencies).   In Toronto, you can find the list of phone numbers. {here}

4)  Make sure you have an updated hand crank radio.  The one we currently have is a radio/flashlight combo, which can be operated by hand crank.  I realized it could also recharge my phone, if I had the proper phone cord attachment.  But I didn't.  I'm considering purchasing this hand crank radio that has the USB option. {here}.

5)  Pack an extra travel charger/ power outlet along in the emergency kit, like this Mini Surge Protector with USB outlets. {here}.  If you have to evacuate, there is a possibility that your destination will not have enough outlets.  This is a small but good one to have handy.

And while we are very fortunate to have no damage or lives lost in our family and we have the luxury of learning from the devastation of others to prepare for ourselves in case there's a "next time", I hope that in the midst of darkness, we can all be each other's shining light.

Red Cross