Wednesday, January 23, 2013

being rich

I've been thinking a lot lately, about what it means to be rich.  It is an age old question...does money buy happiness?

As adults, we connect wealth with social status.  I believe that having money to pay the bills to maintain a balanced, quality of life equates more to peace of mind, not "being rich".  This in turn, alleviates any financial burden which then potentially leads to happiness.  And I stress the word, potentially.

Although children in general have a skewed idea of exactly what "rich" is ("Mom, I got $10 for my birthday...I'm rich!"), I love that purely innocent look they have when they begin to realize the potential of what that money can bring...not just to themselves, but to others as well.

Unlike adults, to kids, money is not about control.  It's not about being part of the "haves" and "have-nots".  It's really about the potential of all the sugary (or battery operated) glory of consuming candy or playing with new toys.  It's that pure feeling of anticipation of revealing what's inside the wrapper.  Sometimes it's that feeling of being able to share that jackpot with friends, as I witnessed during a recent school field trip when my son's classmate, with the biggest smile I've ever seen, bought candy to share with all the kids in our small group.  I think that child felt richer than any other kid that day.

Maybe being "rich" is not about the dollar value of money, but the emotional value it brings, when it is used unselfishly.  I stumbled upon Alfred Nobel's will, and was absolutely astonished with the kind of inspiration it instills. A very wealthy man himself (it was estimated that he would be worth $265 million today), he used his money for the betterment of society.

" executors, shall constitute a fund, the interest on which shall be annually 
distributed in the form of prizes to those who, during the preceding year, 
shall have conferred the greatest benefit to mankind."  {source}

I guess it doesn't take a lot of dough to be long as it's just treated as an ingredient to make even one person feel better.  And like this shortbread, sometimes all you really need are a few ingredients to be rich.  

Simple Shortbread

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup icing sugar
  • Preheat the oven at 300 degrees.
  • Mix all three ingredients in a bowl until it resembles a crumb mixture.
  • Form a ball and then press firmly into an ungreased 8x8 inch pan
  • Score the entire surface into squares then pierce each square with a fork (through to the bottom of the pan).
  • Bake for 50 minutes or until the edges start to golden.
  • Cut along scored edges, while warm into 25 squares.
Enjoy this rich tasting shortbread!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

get moving. be still. eat cake.

Last week, as we enjoyed above seasonal temperatures, that magical feeling of giving (and receiving) that we enjoyed during the holidays seems to have melted away with the snow.  It is now that time of year to get going...get in shape, make good with all the resolutions...just get moving.

I guess all this busyness helps us fight the winter blues as we settle into another year of promises, hope and dreams.  I actioned on my list of things to do, and began the year reorganizing closets.  Purged all the old to make room for the new. I know many people who have taken action on their resolutions of getting fit.  Fitness gyms have been bustling with business in the past few weeks. Get active!  Get exercising! Get moving!

There has been a lot of talk lately about how we sit still for too long during the day, as noted in the Harvard Business Review's article,"Sitting Is the Smoking of Our Generation".  It's true...I often wonder if we are raising a generation of children who spend more time behind screens than participating in active physical activity.

As much as I agree that our bodies need more physical activity, conversely I also think our minds need to be more still.  Although we may not be physically moving, our minds are always racing...juggling the balance of our personal and work life, while multitasking both lives on our mobile phones.  And while we may be communicating with various people at the same time, are we really connecting?

As much as we're getting more active and enjoying the winter activities, I also think we need to balance that by teaching our kids how to sit still and resist all the "i-distractions".  In the long run, it will help them stay connected to what, and more importantly, who is in front of them. To actually have a conversation beyond 140 characters.

To me, nothing invites conversation more than sitting together for a good meal or even just a coffee/hot cocoa (and maybe a small slice of cake). And yes, I know this cake may seem to defeat the purpose of exercise, it isn't too sweet and it is dense enough to allow even just a small slice to satisfy.  But it's real purpose is to gather together and savour each bite while enjoying each other's company. And with our devices put away, we can have our cake...and eat it too.

Cherry Almond Pound Cake with White Chocolate Ganache Icing
(adapted from:

  • 1 cup unsalted butter 
  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 6 eggs
  • 3 cups all purpose flour 
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. almond extract
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup chopped cherries

White Chocolate Ganache
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips
  • 2 tbsp. butter or shortening
Gently melt and stir in microwave for about 1 minute, intermittently stirring to not burn.

  • Preheat the oven at 350 degrees.
  • Grease bundt pan with shortening/flour.
  • Cream butter with the sugar until it is light.
  • Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each.
  • Slowly add flour, salt and baking soda
  • Add sour cream.
  • Add almond extract.
  • Gently fold in the chopped cherries.
  • Place in bundt pan, and bake for 1 hour 20 minutes or until done.
  • Cool for about 10 minutes before removing to wire rack to cool.
  • Top with White Chocolate ganache

Enjoy your cake.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

a blanket of snow

'My security blanket soaks up all my fears and frustrations'
~Linus, from the Charlie Brown movie, "Happiness is a Warm Blanket"~

My husband always told me that it is beautiful up at the cottage in the winter, and that one day we should try to ring in the New Year with a feast of snow crabs and lobster, then cuddle under cozy blankets, drinking hot chocolate in the snowy cottage in the woods.  Honestly, I'm not sure how much I really like snow. And there seems to be so many excuses obstacles that I made to avoid going to the cottage in the winter.  "There's two feet of snow!"  "We'll have to lug all that luggage, food and snowsuit-bundled children through this snow!"  "We have to drive two hours just to see more snow!"

So as the snowflakes fell on Boxing Day, as I was thinking about all the shovelling we had to do, I heard cheers of glee and bewilderment outside.  I peeked out of the window and in their backyard, I saw my new neighbours, who just moved to this country, playing and photographing each other in the snow.  It was their first time to ever see it. Snow.  I couldn't help but smile as I watched them (both Mom and kids) gingerly touch, smell and make shapes out of the white fluffy stuff.

The "Mom" of the house told me that she was so excited to shovel the snow (we'll see how long that excitement lasts...).  As she was taking endless phone pics of her children playing road/snow hockey on our driveway (to Facebook the photos back home to her friends), I realized we had more in common than I originally thought.

When we had them over for a hot cocoa and tea, she almost beamed as she told us about the 24 hour flight across the seas with 3 children, starting from scratch in a new home she barely saw on the internet, navigating this new country speaking her second language (her family attended international school, so they learned English back at home), with no vehicle (or drivers license), a spouse that travels for months between two countries, and how she missed her Mom and sister.  She said the only reason she moved to this country was for her kids.  There was no other reason. Because she too, wanted to create a life of beautiful memories for her children in this land of the free.

So I took her stories of all the obstacles and challenges she faced this past year as a new way to look at 2013. Although I don't make New Year resolutions, I do generally try to experience a new year with a new outlook or shall we say, "theme".  Last year the "theme" of the year was to "create memories".  Whenever I was at a crossroads, I would ask myself if the choice I made would create a lasting impression or memory.  And then take the road towards creating a beautiful one.

This year my theme is "do".  Even if it's difficult.  Especially if it is difficult.  Having an obstacle would give me even more of a reason to overcome it, because I believe the saying "good things don't come by easily" is very true.  It takes a lot of work. There will be struggles.  There will be frustrations.  I will be tired.  However, I will take the title as "parent" as my own security blanket...that no matter how worried, tentative or just plain exhausted I feel...I will use my role as this "security blanket" to soak up all the fears and frustrations, and "just do it for the kids".   Just do.

So on New Year's Eve, against my perceived "obstacles", we packed our bags on a last minute whim...and just drove.  We dealt with the snow, the luggage, the food and bundled up the kids.  We had our seafood feast, cuddled under cozy sleeping bags and enjoyed our snowy cottage in the woods.  It was an entirely new and amazing experience for us as a family.  And it just took a few hours for us to feel revitalized and renewed in our familial bond.  Although we didn't get to ski (our original plan) or party with friends (our usual plans), this "new" celebration made me feel like a kid again.  And through my children's eyes, I was able to experience the bewilderment of the season.

My husband was right.  It really is beautiful at the cottage during the winter.  And for the first time in a very long time, I truly enjoyed that blanket of snow.