Wednesday, October 31, 2012

playing with bugs

As a child, I remember spending summers with a neighbourhood friend, riding our bikes to the creek, looking for crayfish, catching grasshoppers and spiders and observing our “catches” under a magnifying glass.   I never gave it a second thought of holding those multi-legged creatures back then, carrying them around in the backyard like prized creatures from a safari excursion (okay, we had a big imagination!).  Now as an adult, the mere thought of holding a bug sends me running.

Looking back at those memories, I often wonder at what point in my life did my childhood enchantment turn into measured cautiousness?  Did experiencing life outside of my backyard and in the real world complicate my views of the very things that we were supposed appreciate in the first place?  In other words, can we ever enjoy the simple things in life or will we be distracted with all those shiny new virtual games and apps that bombard us daily.

As much as I love and totally embrace those amazing educational apps that have been able to teach and expose my children to the world beyond what I’ve EVER learned at their age, a part of me still wants them to just…get on a bike.  And to be honest, as a parent I struggle to maintain my own wide-eyed enthusiasm to go along with my kids to explore the outdoors.  However,  have we as adults, modelled this media obsessed behaviour…our noses buried in our phones (and I’m equally guilty of this, spending hours on Twitter or Pinterest) instead of getting dirty and enjoy what nature has given us?  

So, this past summer, I was determined spend more time outdoors and attempt more outdoor activities so we can be more active as a family.  With new helmets and bikes, we discovered more bike trails, climbed trees and discovered all kinds of bugs.

As the weather turns cold, I start to miss those hazy days of exploration in the dirt, and hope we will continue the momentum of playing outside…now exploring in the snow, skating, skiing or sledding down the hill.  And although I still haven’t built up the courage to hold a bug in my hand, I guess for now I’ll just have to settle for the costumed ones I make for Halloween. 

Spider Costume
(directions originally posted here)
For the eyes, we cut styrofoam balls
(found at the dollar store), 
and cut them in half

Paint and attach green sequins to the styrofoam balls.  

Add a headband with black pipe cleaners attached
(for the Pedipalp or “feelers” of the spider):

For the legs, sewed black stockings filled with batting cotton to a black shirt

For the tail/abdomen, cut a black garbage bag and filled it with
other plastic bags or newspaper.  Add details with black
construction paper. Attach with electric or hockey tape.

 (before we went out in the dark, for safety 
I added reflective tape to the tail too!).

Wear with black pants, socks and gloves.  

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

dress you up

Working on a film set in my previous life has given me the privilege of witnessing the magic of wardrobe geniuses create characters though either simple clothes or elaborate costume design.  One of my best wardrobe memories was working with a famous (gap-toothed) 70's model turned actress, who wanted her character to wear a high end designer suit for one particular scene.  Unfortunately the production budget didn't allow for such indulgence, so she made one phone call and two days later an outfit specifically designed (her sunglass-wearing-fan-waving designer friend had her measurements on file), was couriered to her from France, and it was worn for the scene. Oh the magic of movies!!!

Now that my "film set" is now a school gymnasium stage, I must admit that I still enjoy watching the creativity that's put into the costumes for school plays.  Although I rarely sew, since my daughter loves of all things hippopotamus, last year we created a simple costume for one of her school assignments that didn't require much sewing (as originally posted here)

What I loved most though, was working on this project together.  We worked on it much like a collaborative arts and crafts activity, and what was incredible to me, was watching her imagination soar as she was painting, tying and trying new things to make her costume work.    

When she put on her costume for school, she saw her handy work come to life.  She got into "character" and became a hippo.  She was happiest as can be...and to be honest, the world was her stage.  And to me, that was more magical than any movie set.

Hippopotamus Costume
Here's the directions of making this hippopotamus costume again.  The magic of this, is that it can be adapted to any animal you wish. The mask is a paper mache project and the "body" is a no-sew drawstring bag with armholes...easily done if you have kids who know how to tie knots.


For the mask

  • Newspaper strips
  • Equal parts of glue, flour, water (approx. 1 cup each)
  • Grey paint
  • Balloons (approx. 9" or the size of child's head)
  • Elastic
For the body
  • Approximately 2- 4 yards of felt material, depending on the size of your child. (check out your local thrift store for remnants...I found my felt fabric for $4 for 4 yards!  Just wash first.)
  • Scissors


For the Mask:
  1. Cut strips of newspaper, approximately 1 inch in width.
  2. Blow up the balloon. Gather all the materials.
  3. Create the "glue" by mixing equal parts of glue, flour and water.  I used approximately 3/4 cups of each.
  4. Wet the strips of newspaper with the glue and attach in layers on the balloon.  I only ended up using one balloon...for the snout, I attached scrunched up newspaper using the glued newspaper strips.
  5. Ensure that there are holes for the eyes, the side for the elastic bands to go through (to hold the mask onto the head).
  6. Creating mini cones with newspaper, attach as ears.  Scrunch up newspaper for the snout and attach.  Let dry overnight.
  7. When dry, paint with craft p.
  8. Attach the elastic bands to the holes.
  9. When the paint is semi-dry, paint the details
  10. Using a market, draw the snout.
For the no sew costume:

  1. Using a large piece of felt fabric, fold in half so it's approximately the size of the child. Cut one inch slits all the way down the open side.  
  2. Tie all the slits together, into double knots.
  3. Turn inside out, so the the "fringe" is on the inside (revealing the braid)
  4. Turn the fabric so the braid is on the back, and cut out the arm holes approximately 1 inch from the top.
  5. Cut the slits at the top, and then knot the two strips together.
  6. Fold the top and bottom approximately 2 inches, and cut slits approximately 1inch apart, all along the bottom and top.
  7. Taking a strip of 1 inch width ribbon (I used remnants of the fabric and cut strips), attach a safety pin to one end and weave through the slits along the top and bottom, creating a drawstring effect on the top and bottom of the costume.
  8. Pull the top drawstring and tie a bow on the front.
  9. Pull the bottom drawstring and tie a bow on the back (so it would look like at tail).

Lights, Camera...Action!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

beet ya to the finish line

As my son races past yet another birthday, I am proud of the incredible person that he has become.  I often flashback to the little toddler running to me in tears after being pushed in the playground, and I am astonished at how he has matured so quickly, especially in the last few months, and he seems to have all of a sudden, become a mature young gentleman...a respectful, kind human being with true leadership qualities.

With recent news about the heartbreaking story of the young girl who was bullied so much she ended her life,  just thinking that high school is around the corner can almost overwhelm me with emotion and worry...soon my little boy will be navigating bigger halls of friends, competitors, bullies and strangers.  Will he pass the finish line of high school unscathed?  Will he be okay?

My son joined his school's cross country team for the first time and after a month of weekly practices, he ran his first race. The race was larger than I had anticipated, as it was against a half a dozen other schools.  In a way, it was my first race too, and I found it interesting to observe him stretch and prepare, both mentally and physically for the race. 

After the starting gun went off...he went at a leisurely pace.  I didn't see him for quite a few minutes until towards the end of the last leg of the run...he was smiling and running at a calm and even pace.

At the end of the day, while driving home, he casually mentioned an incident that occurred on the bus en route to the race track.   A few rough kids were teasing him.  Taunting him and sneering that he'd probably be in the bottom half of the team, coming in 100th place or so, because they doubted his athletic abilities.

As my heart crushed hearing this, I calmly asked him how he responded (and the overprotective, emotional parent inside of me wanted to scream and throttle those kids).   He said he smiled, shrugged their comments off, and didn't bother to say anything.  He said he didn't need to.  You see, for the past month at all of the practices, he observed that they were unable to catch up to him, so he understood that they were acting out of jealousy and insecurity.  He knew he was rooted in his faith of doing well, and their harsh words, although rough and bitter at first, just gave him more determination to prove them wrong.

My son came in 4th place out of 100 (tops from his school in his division), and qualified to compete in the regional finals!  All day he was congratulated by friends, classmates, teachers and many other parents.  Prove them wrong, indeed!

But to be honest, more than how well he placed in the race, I am even more proud of how he composed himself before it.  He kept his chin held high, knew his strengths, maturely sympathized with their weaknesses, and didn't let the detractors discourage him.

And if you're wondering where those boys ended up in the race...they came in around 90th place.  And although I will always worry about my kids life in high school, for now...

...I think he'll do just fine.

Roasted Beet Salad
(adapted from Allrecipes)

  • 3-4 large beets 
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, divided
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped onion (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar (optional)
  • 1/2 red onion, sliced 
  • 1 cup of cooked corn kernels
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Feta (to taste)


  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (175 degrees C). 
  • Wash the beets thoroughly, leaving the skins on, and remove the greens. If you wish to peel the beets, it is easier to do so once they have been roasted.
  • Place the beets in a small baking dish or roasting pan, and toss with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. 
  • Line a roasting pan with aluminum foil and place the beets in the pan. 
  • Rub 2 tbsp. olive oil over the beets, and sprinkle with salt (optional). 
  • Cover the beets with another sheet of aluminum foil. 
  • Roast for 1 to 2 hours,  (until the fork tines go in easily)
  • Remove from the oven and cool for 10 minutes.
  • Peel and cut into quarters.
  • Add onions and corn.
  • Toss with olive oil and feta (or a greek olive oil salad dressing)


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

gathering with purpose

During this autumn season, I often find myself influenced by beautiful decor ideas featured in home decor magazines, Pinterest, and design blogs.  I especially love those images of beautiful outdoor Thanksgiving settings:  beautiful large harvest tables under large lantern-lit maple trees, with burlap runners, pumpkin and candle centrepieces and seating for 20!

Cookbooks, food magazines and Pinterest (again!) also tempt me to create so many made-from-scratch, delicious recipes that feature this season of bounty.  Garlic & herb infused roasted turkey!  Homemade apple and pumpkin pies!  Garlic infused rice and sausage dressing!  Yes, yes, yes please!

I'm also realistic that as a mother of two active children, my schedule is also filled with birthday parties, school volunteering and extracurricular activities in full swing.  And sometimes it's hard to find the time (or patience) to plan, prepare and create every organic-hand crafted-photograph perfect element of autumn into our Thanksgiving plans.

So this time of year, I try to keep it relatively simple.  By nature of the layout of our home, we serve our meal "buffet style", and Thanksgiving is a potluck dinner.  Our guests get to focus on bringing one or two special dishes.  Home made pies and garlic sausage rice dressing? Check.

This way I can focus on the main food attraction...the garlic herb butter infused roasted turkey!  Organic fresh turkey, infused with fresh herbs, roasted garlic and butter (and yes, I baste my turkey every 20 minutes).  And I keep the table setting relatively focal point: a gathering of tea lights and pinecones around a single candle.  Simple, but with purpose.

And with purpose is key.  As much as I dream of having a picture-perfect, lavish outdoor Thanksgiving setting, smiling while cooking the whole organic-locally grown in my backyard gourmet meal made from scratch...on the morning of Thanksgiving, I watched my daughter wait by the window in anticipation for our guests.  She didn't care about the table setting, or the enticing smell that came from the oven.  She reminded me of the real purpose of the meal....the gathering of loved ones.

Simple Garlic & Herb Infused Butter 
(Baste for Turkey, Chicken or Pork)

Although this recipe might come a little too late for my Canadian readers (who already celebrated Thanksgiving...sorry about that!), I've used this recipe for chicken and pork...equally useful for a weekday meal.

Ingredients (for a 20 pound turkey):
  • 1 cup of butter, room temperature
  • 3 tbsp. each chopped fresh rosemary, sage, thyme
  • 2 heads of roasted garlic
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper

  • In a medium sized bowl, mix together all the ingredients together.
  • Loosen skin of the turkey and rub half of the herb butter under the skin. 
  • Rub with remaining  herbed butter onto the turkey skin.
  • Season generously with salt and pepper. 
  • Roast according to the size of your turkey, making sure you baste every 20 minutes with pan liquids.

Gather around your turkey, and enjoy!

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

three sweet things

Our daughter celebrated a birthday recently, and we are so proud of the young lady she is becoming.  Her sweet smile, her kind heart, her love for all those around her: family, friends, neighbours, classmates...sometimes I don't think many of us deserve her endless ability to love and see the light in all of us, but she gives us her all, every day.

Sometimes I think of her as a little girl...and she is.  However, she surprises me with the amount of mature awareness she possesses.  How she fully understands how to extrapolate the good in all of us, and how her presence makes everyone want to be better human beings.

The one thing that my daughter inspires me to do is be a kinder human.  (Just being in the same room evokes the need for people around her to just give her a big hug!)

So, here's the top three things that my daughter does that I will try to emulate back to her, so I too, can be as kind and sweet as she is.

1)  I will tell her more about my own childhood stories as she tells me hers...allowing her to identify (and feel comfort) with the trial and tribulations of being a little girl in a big world.
2)  Out of the blue, at no particular time or reason, I will remind her of all the wonderful things that she does that makes her beautiful and special. Every day.
3)  I will be patient and remember that "you can't rush art". (Even if that "art" is brushing her teeth during the morning rush).

Even if I don't become even half as sweet as she is, I hope she never changes...and remains sweet as can be.

Three Layered Sweet Square
(Chocolate, Peanut Butter, Coconut)


Bottom Layer
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 1/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup all purpose flour
Middle Layer
  • 175ml/ 5 oz (about 1/2 can) sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 1/2 cups of unsweetened coconut
Top Layer
  • 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 2 tbsp. smooth peanut butter
  • Preheat oven to 350degrees
  • Melt butter in microwave and stir in the next three ingredients.  
  • Press into an ungreased 8x8 pan.
  • Bake for 10 minutes.
  • Meanwhile stir condensed milk with coconut (do this just before spreading onto the bottom layer, or else the coconut would absorb all the milk).
  • Once the bottom layer is baked, spread the coconut mixture evenly over top.
  • Bake again, for approximately 10 minutes, or until coconut mixture begins to turn golden on the edges.
  • Meanwhile, melt chocolate chips and peanut butter in microwave intermittently every 25 seconds, stirring in between until melted and smooth.
  • Once the first two layers are baked, remove from oven.
  • Spread chocolate mixture evenly over second layer and let cool.

Makes approximately 18-24 squares.