Monday, November 29, 2010

Baking granddad's cookies

The other day, I was frantically searching through my recipe box (which is an embarassing disaster, but that's a story for another day) in search of what I was planning to make for dinner, when I came across an index card labelled 'Granddad's Shortbread Cookies'.

I stopped what I was doing, looked it over and put it aside. Not the kind of put it aside that you do when you're finished with something and are now moving on, but the kind of put it aside where the wheels are turning in my head. I was thinking, I can make these.

Before I go on, here's where I have to retract a statement I made here on this blog almost four years ago. At that time, I was pretty emphatic in the statement "I don't bake." I didn't like doing it and so I didn't. Any yummy home-baked treats in my house were always courtesy of Ryan.

But times have changed -- and so have I. Four years ago, I was still a new mom. Now I'm a stay-at-home mom of two. Now, I enjoy baking, sort of. The sort of is that it's something I enjoy doing with the kids. It's an activity we do together -- taking turns measuring, pouring, mixing, scooping and finally watching whatever it is we've just made, baking in the oven. The idea of baking up a storm all afternoon, or in the evening after the kids go to bed, is not something that appeals to me (late-night cooking, yes, baking, not so much). But baking with the kids is fun.

So this year, for the first time ever, I started Christmas baking. And I started a little over a week ago. So far we have plain ol' chocolate chip cookies and magic squares in the freezer just waiting for Christmas.

I had already been thinking of shortbread as our next baking adventure, and when I saw my granddad's recipe, I just knew I had to try it.

When I was growing up, every Christmas my granddad would bake up dozens and dozens of shortbread cookies. And he always made sure that us kids ate many more than my parents knew about while we were visiting. They melted in your mouth and were the best cookies I ever had. Every year, we all looked forward to eating these cookies. And I'm pretty sure he enjoyed making them just because we all enjoyed eating them so much.

My granddad died a little over 10 years ago.

But sometime since then (or maybe it was before then, I don't remember) I copied down the recipe while visiting my grandmother. I don't know why I copied it down, because I didn't bake. But I did. It's a super simple recipe, it just always seemed so difficult because the idea of baking in general was difficult for me.

So today after lunch, the kids and I set out to make granddad's shortbread cookies. We measured and poured the ingredients, mixed it all up, rolled out the dough and cut out Christmas shapes (with my newly-bought Christmas cookie cutters). After the first batch was done, I baked the second batch as plain old circles, just like my granddad used to do.

A lot has changed since I ate way too many shortbread cookies as a kid, but when I tasted the first one that the kids and I had made it felt like some things never change.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A mini-vacation at home

On Friday afternoon, right after lunch, I drove the kids to my mother-in-law's for the weekend. She lives in London -- two hours away -- and the kids stayed for 48 whole hours.

Now, I love being home full-time with the kids, but I've been counting down the days and the hours to this weekend all week. And by the time I picked Austin up at school at 11:30 on Friday morning, I was doing a little happy dance (much to the jealous dismay of my mom friends at school).

I've been away from the kids before but it is a very rare occurance that the kids have gone away and I have stayed home. In the summer, the kids spent four days at my parents house while Ryan and I went to Chicago. They also spent three nights at my parents house in May so that we could go to Niagara-on-the-Lake as a sort-of anniversary getaway. All of these getaways are nice, but to ship the kids off and stay home is pure luxury.

And so, I arrived in London just after 3 p.m. and was back on the road heading home just after 4 p.m. (having been delayed because Alex fell asleep in the back seat about 10 minutes from my mother-in-laws so I sat in the car in the driveway with her for awhile). At about 6:30, I was back home in my house.

And what did we do? Go out. Being able to spontaneously say, "hey, you want to go out for dinner?" was too good an offer to pass up. So we went to this great little barbecue restaurant on Bayview -- ate, drank and listened to live music for a few hours.

Saturday morning rolled around and the first thing I noticed when I woke up was that I got to wake up on my own (which sadly was around 8 a.m., but that's not the point). No one was yelling 'mommy' from down the hall. The house was quiet and it was heavenly.

We spent the next few hours Christmas shopping -- buying stuff for our kids and other kids without having to drag two kids around from store to store with us. Then it was home for a few hours where we sat and watched TV -- a show we like in the middle afternoon, not Mickey Mouse Clubhouse -- before getting ready to go to Ryan's company Holiday Party.

That was the real purpose for shipping the kids off this weekend, the holiday party. It's always a big event, with hundreds of people and free food and booze all evening. We ate, we drank, we partied, we came home to a quiet house. Heaven.

Around noon, Ryan left for London to get the kids and I've been home alone all afternoon -- another first, as I don't remember the last time I had a whole afternoon by myself in my own house. How did I spend it? Well I spent three hours cleaning -- cleaning Austin's room, cleaning Alex's room and cleaning the toys in the family room. Going through and purging all the stuff the kids don't need without them around means they're not standing over me saying "but I want that".

I did find some time to relax this afternoon, which has been nice.

And now it's almsot 6 p.m. Ryan and and the kids should be home any minute. And I'll be honest. I miss them. Saturday morning when I woke up, I didn't. But now, I do. My house has been quiet long enough -- they can come home now and make some noise. At least until the next time I really need a break.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Problem? What problem?

In January, Alex starts preschool. Two mornings a week, for two hours a day. It's the same preschool that Austin went to last year and Alex is really excited to go. (Which is a good thing, because I did worry that she'd have separation anxiety.) Almost daily, she asks me how many more months until she goes to preschool.

So, last night at dinner, right after she asked "when do I go to preschool", for the 100th time, Austin and I had the following conversation:

Austin: Mommy, we have a problem.

Me: What is is?

Austin: Well, when Alex is at preschool and I'm at Kindergarten, you're going to be all by yourself.

Me: (Trying not to laugh, smile or start fist pumping at the idea of two whole hours to myself, not once but twice a week) That's ok Austin. I'll be ok.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

My kids are conspiring against me

Last Saturday night, Ryan and I went out to a concert (Mumford and Sons...great band, great show, if you haven't heard of them, I highly suggest you check them out). It's not something we do often -- heck we don't go out just the two of us more than, maybe...maybe once a month.

This particular Saturday night involved having my sister-in-law babysitting (yay for overnight babysitters!), six friends and just one or two (or three or four or....) beers. We got home just after 1 a.m. and I hate to admit it, but I'm too old to be out that late and drink that much.

I don't easily remember the drinking days of my youth (hmmm, I wonder why?) but now days, when I do crash after a night out, I don't tend to sleep well. That iddy biddy bladder of mine keeps waking me up.

And so, I was up twice between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m. And then, at 4:45 a.m., Ryan's alarm clock went off. Yes, it was Sunday morning, and his alarm starting buzzing like a Monday. Except he was so quick to hit snooze that I barely registered what it was before dozing back off.

He hit it out of habit and this scenerio repeated itself four times until, at about 5:25 a.m., my beer-induced brain finally forced itself to wake up enough and register what was going on. I nudged Ryan awake, told him to turn the damn alarm off and rolled over.

At 6:15 a.m., my *bleeping* alarm started to annoyingly try to tell me that it was Monday, not Sunday. I turned it off, cursed and went back to sleep.

The kids woke up around 7:30. (Thankfully it wasn't my morning to get up, but still...)

Why, you might ask, are our alarms going off at ungodly hours on the morning after a night of partying and drinking? Little fingers are the answer. Both kids like playing with our alarm clocks -- turning on the music from time to time. On Saturday afternoon, it was Alex who was fiddling with them -- and in the process, turned them on.

Moral of this story: (other than don't let your kids play with your bedside clock) the kids know when you get that one rare night out and conspire to ensure you pay for it as much as possible!

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

I'm on a decluttering mission

Some days, I feel like my house is just one giant space filled with clutter. That's one of the downside to being at home all day long. You can never escape it. And with two kids and a work-from-home job, some weeks and months, I'm stretched so thin that the clutter just builds and builds until not only is every surface covered with stuff that doesn't belong there, but everywhere we would even casually toss stuff 'to be dealt with later' is full of stuff too.

So this weekend, I went on a clutter kick. Since I have a bit of downtime with my workload right now, I am determind that by the time Christmas comes (and we have a whole new level of clutter), that this house WILL BE decluttered. Every. Single. Room.

And yes, that even means you spare room.

On Saturday night, I started posting things on Kijiji like a mad woman. Sadly, so far I've only had one bite, but that's not the point. Whatever's not gone in a week is going to Goodwill with the other two boxes of stuff I filled. And those boxes go alongside the two boxes of toys that will be donated to the Early Years Centre tomorrow. (Why the Early Years Centre? Because I have been dropping in there for four years so this afternoon I called and asked if they take toy donations. They do -- and whatever they can't use they in turn donate to other charities, so I know that it will all go to good use.)

It might sound like a lot of decluttering has been done already, but that was the easy part. You see, a lot of that stuff has been hanging around in boxes and bins, stacked against a wall in the basement for months. All the stuff that has been removed from circulation but never taken that one step further.

Later this week starts the hard part. The storage space underneath the stairs that you can barely walk into anymore. It's mostly filled with Rubbermaid bins of kids clothes and shoes and God knows what else. Then will come the kids' rooms. Some toys and dolls are going to have to go to make room for the truckload of stuff they're bound to get for Christmas, and I have to empty out their closets of all the clothes that don't fit.

After then comes the *gulp* spare room. It's gotten better over the years, but it's still the place where things go to die. In other words, if we don't know what to do with something, it goes in there. And years later we finally realize it needs to be thrown out.

You may ask, if that system is working, why mess with it? Well, in the new year, we're going to be turning that spare room into an office for me. (Don't worry all you out-of-towners who have slept in that room in the past, there'll be a futon in there.) And I refuse to have it cluttered up with a million things that we don't need or want in the first place. The shelves full of my canning can stay and old photo albums can stay. But mountains of CDs and hundreds of old Ranger Rick magazines (don't ask) may just have to go.