Making Me Happy: November 2016

November Reds

Here are a few things that are making me smile this month.

1. Discovering a new walking trail.

I love walking outdoors, especially where it is quiet and woodsy, and there are several awesome walking trails that I use regularly.  Recently though, I found a new one by chance that I had no idea existed! (Kind of shocking since we have lived in this area for eight years.) It was a lovely surprise, though, and I have been making up for lost time.

2. Gorgeous fall colors – still!

September and October are probably my two favorite months of the year, and we lucked out this year with mostly beautiful weather to get outside.  However, November is here and I am happy to say that although the leaves are swiftly disappearing from the trees, the weather is still seasonably crispy and there are beautiful reds, golds, and yellows to take in.  It is pretty cliche to go on about the weather this time of year, but with good reason.

3. A fun free printable.

I have been enjoying poking around Short and Sweets, which is where I found this pretty free printable.  I need this reminder constantly.  And it pretty much sums up my feelings on doing any kind of creative work.

Joy Thief

By the way, if you Google this quote, a number of great free images pop up.

4. Trick-or-treating with the kiddo.

Up until this year, the kiddo’s feelings toward Halloween would be best described as ‘meh.’ Like a lot of preschoolers, she just has not had much interest.  She was content to put on her costume and enjoy a few spoils from friends and family, but that was about it.  This year though, with a better understanding of the occasion and Kindergarten classmates, it was a different story. It was a lot of fun to watch her get decked out in her black cat mask and tail and be excited to visit the houses in our neighborhood.

5. This Rainbow Chicken Salad from Pinch of Yum.

Rainbow chicken salad

With some bread on the side, this delicious salad was our dinner twice last week.  Preparing the chicken and dressing ahead of time meant it came together really quickly, and the components are also great if you have kids who might like those things served separately (ahem).  Just delicious goodness. I will be making it in the future, repeatedly.

What is making you happy this month?

A Tale of Two Fishes

If you are more interested in eating delicious cake than creating it, then feel free to move on. However, if like me you are more of an amateur baker and could use a few extra tips, proceed!

kissing-fishes

A few weeks back, a friend of mine asked for some help with her wedding cake. I was little hesitant to say yes, as I wasn’t sure I was up to the task. However, it was a low-key cake for a lovely, low-key wedding, and it seemed like something I could actually do, so I agreed to help.

Our friends had the super-fun and playful idea of having two kissing fishes for their cake.  I worked off a template of a fish cake made from cupcakes and a smaller, divided 6-inch cake. (I love the concept of cupcake cakes; they are adorable, and you can just pull them apart! Plus, it’s a little like assembling a jigsaw puzzle.)

I love baking, but icing cakes properly has always been tricky for me.  Making them tasty is no problem, but more often than not they do not turn out exactly as I hope (largely due to the dreaded crumb lifting).  Usually this is no big deal, but presentation was obviously important in this case.  I was happy with the results, but there were definitely a few bumps along the way.

Here are a few things I took away from the process (some of them not for the first time!):

Practice ahead of time. Although the cake was a super-simple concept, I decided to make a test fish well ahead of time to see how things went.  I am glad I did, because it took me twice as long as I anticipated, and it turns out that crumb coating and icing a small cake with funny angles and corners is not as straightforward as it looks. Plus, no one in my household would be upset by the presence of extra cake!

test-fish

Batter dispensers are awesome. I stumbled across this handy little tool on clearance and decided to try it out.  I am so glad I did! I had to make a number of cupcakes and mini cupcakes and this sped up the process a lot.  Releasing the pressure on the piping bag immediately stops the flow of batter.  There is the extra step of adding the cake batter to the bag, but the ease of being able to squeeze just the right amount of batter into the pans made it worth it. This was especially helpful with the mini cupcakes where only a tiny amount was needed to fill the cups half way. (Note: The dispensers are inexpensive to begin with, so they are definitely worth trying out.)

batter-dispenser

Resist the urge to overfill cakes pans.  I have always struggled with this, and it’s another good reason to try a test run.  For the 6-inch cakes and all the cupcakes, the half-way mark was perfect. Anything more and you will often end up with a rounded, uneven top layer.

baked-cupcakes

Do not skip the crumb coat, no matter how tempting it is.  The crumb coat is a super-thin layer of icing that is applied to the cake so that the crumbs will adhere to it, helping them stay in place when the final layer is applied. This step feels somewhat frustrating, because it is not supposed to be pretty and it always feels to me like I need to keep picking at it. It is also time consuming, and requires some chilling to set the icing in preparation for the next layer.  But when the final layer goes on so much more smoothly, it is worth it.  Speaking of which…

All these finicky curves and angles need a good crumb coat.
All these finicky curves and angles need a good crumb coat.

Use more icing than you need. Really! When the crumb coat has chilled (I pop the cake in the freezer for about 30 minutes), applying far more icing than you think you need to the top of the cake allows the icing to run down the sides on its own.  This makes for much easier spreading, especially into finicky corners.  Usually, I try to apply it more sparingly which ends up pulling more on the cake, and is more likely to result in crumb lifting.  More icing also means that if you are using a buttercream, it should be easier to smooth it out.  I applied the abundant layer of icing and spread it out with a spatula, and then used a baker’s blade to gently take off the excess.  The blade worked great for smoothing certain areas, too.

final-orange-fish

Prepare icing ahead of time. I made my own buttercream icing (using shortening – ick, but holds up well at room temperature) and had to tint it in several colours.  Buttercream can be made well ahead of time and even frozen for up to three months.  It made life much easier to have the icing prepared and tinted well before the baking began.  Plus, when using colouring gels, the colour of the icing sometimes deepens over time.  So making and tinting at least a day or two in advance allows you to see if you will need to adjust your colouring or not. The icing may separate a little when made ahead, but easily mixes back together.

In addition to making it ahead, I made a couple of extra batches of white icing just in case!

burnt-orange-icing

A hot spatula is a good tool for quick fixes.  With larger cakes, in the past I have used parchment or wax paper and a large spatula to smooth out the icing once it has had time to crust .  This time, though, it was more difficult to do with the small surface area of the cakes as well as the finicky corners.  One tip that worked really well was to take a metal spatula, run it under or dip it in very hot water, then dry it quickly.  Applying the hot spatula gently to the icing allowed me to smooth over some rough patches.

This cake was definitely a bit out of my comfort zone, but it was a fun project to work on!  If you have any additional tips for making the baking process go more smoothly, I would love to hear them.

Some Encouragement for Hard Days

Tree Pose

Getting ready for a wedding this past weekend, a few old, familiar thoughts came up while I was figuring out what to wear.  Being someone who has struggled with body dissatisfaction in the past (to put it mildly), events like weddings sometimes stir up some old issues.  People tend to dress up and look their best, and there are lots of opportunities for comparison.

These days, I am pretty comfortable in the knowledge that no matter what I weigh, I am fine exactly the way I am. I try to make sure I have clothes that fit and that I am comfortable in, and hopefully that I love, for every occasion. It is very important to me that my daughter can learn to love and respect her body and reject the diet and scarcity narrative of our culture.  So I do my best to walk the talk.

However, since we are living smack dab in the middle of this culture that encourages us to continually shrink (often under the guise of optimal health), it can be hard to be comfortable taking up space. And I have the occasional bad day.

Frankly, this is aggravating, because when I have other things to do and life to live while I am lucky enough to have it, I would really prefer not to be worried about how large I look in a fun dress, and to not waste time comparing myself to others when I could just be enjoying their company.

As I was thinking about this today, I decided to sum up some of the main ways I fight back against these negative thought processes.

I do something physical that encourages body awareness and gentleness.  I love yoga for this reason.  It calms the body and mind, and it is hard to be angry with your body when you are taking such good care of it. Any kind of joyful movement or even deep breathing are great for this.

I remember the research.  Some truths:  Weight is generally linked with health in a much less straightforward way than we tend to believe. The size of your body is not indicative of how you live, what you eat, or what kind of person you are. Fat is not a moral failing.  For more on this, the Health at Every Size movement is a great place to start.  See below for a few extra resources!

I remember that body dissatisfaction is a very slippery slope.  I am a fairly average size and weight that I have maintained for years.  In years of yo-yo dieting in my teens and early twenties, I have been much larger and much smaller.  I know from experience that no matter how low the number on the scale, you will always feel like it could and should be lower.  If you happen to reach a goal weight, you will live in fear of it creeping back up. The work is never done.  And we do not need to be fixed.

I do something that I enjoy and am good at. I can write. I can spend time with my daughter. I can master a difficult yoga pose, organize large events, paint a picture, take nice photos, cook a delicious meal and craft two kissing fishes out of cupcakes (more on that later).  There is so much we are each capable of, and doing something I love reminds me there is much more to us than our sizes and shapes. Plus, it never hurts to get out of your own head for a bit.

Be kind to yourself.  There are not certain conditions that have to be met first.  You deserve it right now!

There are lots of great resources that deal with the science around weight and health and the social and cultural influences on both.  Here are two great books to start with that are thorough but very readable:

Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon, PhD

The Diet Myth by Paul Campos (formerly The Obesity Myth, which is the edition I have)

And a recent favorite of mine:

Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls by Jes Baker. It is a well-researched manifesto of self-love and body acceptance.

 

Five Children’s Books We’ve Loved Lately

Extra Yarn

One of my favorite parts of being a parent is discovering cool books and authors that I might not have known about otherwise (Sandra Boynton, to wit). Once in a while we come across a book on a library excursion that we end up borrowing again and again.  Here are a couple we’ve loved recently that are in the preschool to early-grade-school range:

Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett

About a little girl and a box of colourful, seemingly endless yarn she finds in a town that has become devoid of colour.  The story is sweet, it has a fairy tale quality to it (a random archduke shows up!), and the illustrations are beautiful. It is probably up there with my favorite children’s storybooks.

Froodle by Antoinette Portis

A little brown bird decides she is tired of making the same old sounds every day.  Clever and silly.

Kindergarten Diary by Antoinette Portis

By the same author and illustrator of Froodle , Kindergarten Diary features daily diary entries from the perspective of a Kindergartener’s first month at school (especially relevant to our family right now).  Very cute and addresses some common fears. (The main character, Annalisa, also physically resembles a certain rough-and-rumble four-year-old I know.)

Big Bear Hug by Nicholas Oldland

Our whole family loves Nicholas Oldland’s books; we’ve been hooked since getting Up the Creek a few years back.   They are hilarious and have a very distinctly Canadian feel. Big Bear Hug features a lovable black bear who loves hugging and spreading his love around, especially to trees. It’s curious to him that not everyone is receptive to being wrapped in his embrace.

Charlie the Ranch Dog by Ree Drummond

My daughter has had three television loves: Bubble Guppies, Doc McStuffins, and The Pioneer Woman. :)   We love curling up together and watching Ree Drummond prepare recipes and showcase various goings on at her family’s ranch, especially the animals.  So when we stumbled across this series featuring the basset hound Charlie, who makes frequent appearances in the show, it was pretty exciting.  There are three books in the series and they are told from Charlie’s witty perspective. They also include a recipe at the end to try out. This first book in the series is a good place to start!

What are some of your favorite children’s books?

Checking Off the Summer Bucket List: 2016

strawberries

Fall is here! It’s my favorite season, but lately I’m in a stretch of time where it feels like things are moving way too quickly.  Two weeks ago, the kiddo finished up preschool, and this week she is a full-fledged Kindergartener! The passing of time feels surreal.

So, June this year marked the return of the summer bucket list. I am often aware of the push and pull in wanting to take things slowly and one at a time. Yet, if I don’t put some thought and planning into what I would like to do, it can feel like the things that would be nice to do get pushed to the wayside in the momentum of summer. Like last year, I drew up a quick list of a few things I would like to see happen, made some plans in advance where possible, and crossed my fingers.

Here are 25 fun things that happened that were on our summer bucket list (and a few that weren’t!):

  1. I finally got the hang of grilling pizza. (Keys to success: High heat, having ingredients and supplies at the ready, and making personal-sized pizzas.)
  2. We got (and used!) lots of super-fresh veggies and fruit from Lester’s.
  3. Speaking of the farm, the kiddo and I visited and fed the goats, ponies, llamas, cows and bunnies several times.
  4. Homemade popsicles.  (Include these crazy delicious peach melba popsicles.)
  5. Several ice cream cones were eaten.
  6. Playing at the park.
  7. I read some good novels.
  8. Some of this reading happened outside in the hammock! The kiddo loved doing this, too.
  9. Early on, we did the Lighthouse Picnic in Ferryland.
  10. We visited some fun restaurants (including including the Bonavista Social Club).
  11. We had several meals and snacks on our back deck.
  12. Grilled shrimp tacos. Yes.
  13. A lovely trip out of town to Trinity. (Worth it just for the homemade s’mores at Aunt Sarah’s Chocolate. Swoon.)
  14. The summer was punctuated with some out-of-town house guests, which was nice.
  15. We visited Middle Cove Beach, otherwise known as the Gray Sand Beach with Rocks in our household. (Bonus: Included a whale sighting.)
  16. Summer Carnival at the kiddo’s preschool. She tried her hand at some carnival games and had a blast.
  17. I walked a few of my favorite trails.
  18. Taking a picnic to the park.  We did this several times.
  19. Yoga in the backyard. (In the interest of being real, this happened one time. But the kiddo and I enjoyed having our bare feet on our mats and grass in the warm sun).
  20. A weekend trip with one of my best friends.
  21. Finally taking the kiddo berry picking.  This has been something I’ve been wanting to do for a few years and finally managed it. I was glad to catch the strawberry u-pick while it was open, which was only about a week! It was one of those kid outings that could go either way, but she had a blast hunting through strawberry bushes, the strawberries were warm and delicious, and it was marvelous.
  22. We took the kiddo for her first theater movie. (When asked what her favorite part of the movie was, she said the mini M&Ms.)
  23. T-ball and catch in the backyard. I have my own glove I am breaking in (we are a baseball-loving family) and after about a 30-year break, I discovered I still love catch!
  24. After several months of saying we should really try it out, we finally visited the waterShed Coffee Shop in Petty Harbour.
  25. Driveway art with sidewalk chalk.
Artsy and delicious dessert at the Bonavista Social Club.
Artsy and delicious dessert at the Bonavista Social Club.

The summer felt slow and relaxing, and yet it was also filled with fun things we wanted to do.  I really love how having a rough bucket list seems to make the summer feel more full.  It also meant that it was punctuated with smaller, fun things to look forward to, and doing some tourist-at-home outings made it feel special.  (Plus for me, lists = happiness.)

I’m looking forward to working through my fall bucket list.  What would be on yours?

 

Homemade Happiness: Iced Coffee

Half-finished iced coffee

While I generally love all things coffee, I have never been a big fan of cold coffee drinks, especially those that are just regular coffee over ice.  I think to me, it feels counterproductive, as I am usually trying to consume my coffee before it gets to that state. (Many moms of small children likely feel me on this one.)

However, on a particularly humid day recently, I found myself ordering an iced coffee instead of my usual hot brew.  To my further surprise, I loved it! It got me wondering how easy it would be to make at home.

In my past experiences trying to reproduce lattes and the like, the results have been disappointing.  (The one exception to this has been the Oh She Glows version of the Pumpkin Spice Latte, which I would argue when made as instructed is even better than the original.) Recipes for iced coffee usually call for pre-made coffee concentrate, so I wasn’t sure how this would go.

I loved the way it turned out on the first try, and have made it several times since.

  1. Brew a cup of hot coffee as you normally would.  I use a vanilla-flavored decaf.
  2. Add any sweetener at this point so it can dissolve in the hot liquid.  I add about a teaspoon of honey.
  3. Refrigerate until the coffee has cooled to your liking.  I generally refrigerate overnight.  You could also use the freezer – just don’t forget to keep an eye on it!
  4. Pour the coffee over several ice cubes in a glass.  Add milk or cream to taste, and enjoy!

While pouring coffee over ice doesn’t seem particularly noteworthy, apparently a good iced coffee is more straightforward than I thought.  If you like them too, it is worth giving this super-simple method a try.  I have a feeling it will be adding some extra happiness to my summer!

Getting Back To It

dandelions
Freshly-picked dandelions.

It has been a while since I’ve updated here.  About eight months to be exact…yikes!

Things dropped off a lot in the fall last year.  It felt like a lot of my posts, while I was writing about things I am genuinely interested in and am often passionate about (yep, I am truly passionate about smoothies), were a little wooden.  Being somewhat reserved, I hold back a lot, and additionally I wanted to write about things that very often did not fit with the theme of my blog, such as it is.

However, I want to continue to blog and feel it is a great outlet to get some of my thoughts out into the world.

So where to go from here?  As I have discussed in previous posts, being a stay-at-home mom is my  primary occupation at the moment.

As such, a lot of what I am compelled to write about concerns things like cultivating contentment, day-to-day life with a preschooler, finding outlets to maintain sanity, juggling priorities, food, the joys and tribulations of feeding kids, meal planning…and the list could go on.  While I have not wanted to have a ‘mommy’ blog per se, it is a key part of my identity, so some of my writing is naturally going to fall into this category.

The fact is, there are a lot of things going on right now.  We are all so many things and our roles change as we pass through different seasons.  I am a wife, mom, writer, friend, feminist, daydreamer, music lover, avid reader, and home cook. I am a trained researcher and am interested in social change. I like finding ways to be creative, and I like exploring the minutiae of everyday life.  I want to write about the other things that are of interest to me, too.

To a certain extent, the theme of my posts will not change dramatically, for the aforementioned reasons!  But since this is a personal blog, I want to write a bit more generally, and see what sticks in terms of a more specific focus.

If you are reading this, I hope you will follow along to see how it goes! See you in a week or so.

Thinking About Time + Chalkboard Art

This one should really be tattooed on my forehead. But the chalkboard will do for now.
This one should really be tattooed on my forehead. But the chalkboard will do for now.

As my friend Sherrie mentioned in a recent post, when care of a small child is your full-time job, it is taunting the universe a bit to make any declaration as to how you will regularly spend your time. Particularly in regards to taking specific actions at specific times.

Such as making a statement, if only to myself, that I am going to try and post weekly on the blog. This was my intention when I first started out in January. I was able to keep up with this for a while, and I have more ideas for posts than I know what to do with. However, as any parent knows, a change in circumstances (as in the loss of naps in my case – RIP) means you need to work a little differently to work in what’s important to you. It is possible, it just requires some imagination and tweaking. Until there is finite time to regularly devote to writing, I will just have to squeeze it in where possible! I would much rather post less often than I would like than give up in frustration because I have set a standard I am not able to meet.

Speaking of tweaks, I intend to spend some time rethinking and sharpening the direction I would like the blog to go in. (Ahem. As time permits, of course. ) Over the next little while, I am going to continue to post what interests me and see what comes of that.

Recently I have been having a little fun with a chalkboard we put up in our kitchen/main hallway area.

Have Courage and Be Kind

It turns out that it not only brightens up the area quite a bit, but it’s nice to encounter a positive message each time I walk by. And it’s a reason for me to regularly play with coloured chalk and be creative in tiny chunks. Chalkboard art for the win!

Happy Friday, everyone!