Friday, 28 September 2012

5-minute plan: Why is my house so messy?!?!

Want a quick tour of my house? Well, come on in....
If you look straight ahead, you'll see the empty boot tray, right next to several pairs of kids shoes scattered around the foyer. Try not to trip. The closet seems tidy enough, but only because it's easier for sweaters to be dropped on the floor underneath their hooks.
Continue with me through the hall where you'll find a bag of flotsam that was rescued from the floor of the car....Look to your left, please. That's where the living room used to be. If you look closely, you may even see a sofa....
Oooh! Take a quick glance up and to your right and you'll notice a Barbie doll on the stairs next to an Air Hog racer that's been separated from it's controller. Rare indeed!

I could go on, but you may start feeling nauseous. I know I do.

So, why is my house so messy? I guess the easy answer is: because I don't clean it up enough. Simple, right? I just don't understand how it can go from one toy left out over night to a thousand toys taking over the whole house. Where am I losing those precious hours? What's happening? It just gets so overwhelming at times and now that I'm working outside my house, I feel lost.  I've said it before: I am not a good housekeeper. I know this, but I have not made this transition well... I need a new plan. [Not that I had any plan before.]

This is the new plan: 5 minutes.

Everything starts with small steps. I can do something for 5 minutes. 5 minutes in each room. Eventually it should accomplish something, right? Here are the rooms in my house that need attention:

Front Hall
Family Room
Dining Room
Upstairs Hall
Main Bathroom
Girl's Room
Boy's Room
My Room
Secondary Bathroom

Why, yes. That is every room in my house. :-) If I were to do them all in 1 day, that would mean a total of about one hour cleaning. You'd think I'd be able to find an hour. Frankly, I'd rather do anything else rather than clean. So, I'll shoot for 2 rooms a day to start. 10 minutes won't kill me, right? That's the goal for this week. I'll just keep the rooms on rotation. If I manage to do more than 2 rooms in a day, then that's a bonus! Can I keep this up for a month? a week? 2 days in a row? We shall see. 

I'm almost afraid to put up before and after pictures. No, I'm afraid of putting up the before pictures for fear of having my house condemned. (Okay, I may be overreacting a bit.)

I know I'm not the only person in the world in this situation, but I certainly feel that way. Anyone else been here before?

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Word on the street - Toronto

On Sunday, after dropping off The Man at the airport, and drowning our sorrows in a cup of fruitopia, my sister suggested that we check out the Word on the Street festival at Queen's Park. We decided to take the subway to avoid the mayhem that is parking downtown.
Riding the Rocket like a pro already.
What is Word on the Street? From their website:
The Word On The Street's Exhibitor Marketplace offers festival-goers a window into the Canadian literary scene, presenting everything from the largest publishing houses to the smallest niche magazines and everything in between. We also feature a World Food Market at various locations throughout the festival.

There was so much to do and see, it was almost overwhelming. My sister and I, both logophiles, could have happily spent all day there listening to speakers and authors, and browsing all the new and used book stands. However, it's a little difficult to do that with a couple kids in tow. The Boy is a great reader already and goes through 5-7 novels a week [We love our library!] but wasn't all that interested in seeing or talking to authors. The Girl, even less so. The KidStreet seemed geared more towards the younger set, not the 7-9 years that I am currently dealing with. So, while I secretly wanted to wait around to see the Polkaroo, the Kids wanted to grab some pad thai (but only because the hot dog line was too long).
This series is next on our to-read list!
We did manage to score some sweet swag though, including free books! Woo hoo! We got some books signed by the authors too. There were new books being given away every half hour, all along the festival route. it was pretty amazing. I picked one up for the Man about a woman's adventure along the Bruce Trail. Again, my sister and I would have waited happily in every line, for every book, but it just wasn't possible with the Kids. We collected buttons, pens, a bag, book marks, more buttons and even book lights!

One of their favourite booths was the Science Centre (to which we have memberships that are worth every penny). Here's the Boy getting his mind blown by the power of reading:

His head isn't really that big. :)
All in all, a great day walking around Queen's Park circle. The trees provided relief from the light showers and one downpour that we experienced - not nearly enough to dissuade the book lovers of Toronto!

We'll definitely make a note to head out again next year.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Daddy-Leaving Blues

Sunday morning, at the crack of ridiculous, the alarm went off to wake The Man and I. I had to have him at the airport by 8:30 (or so I thought) for him to catch his flight to Orlando where he's attending some conference or other.

Turns out, when The Man told me the night before: "Oh, I think we should leave the house around 8am", what he really meant was "If we don't leave the house by 7:45am I'm going to start getting really twitchy and nervous and start snapping."

So, after a 7 second shower, I race downstairs to discover that he was kind enough to make me a breakfast sandwich [2 pieces of untoasted bread with a leftover breaded chicken strip - I honestly don't even know where he comes up with these things] but he's pacing uncontrollably. Piling everyone into my car he informs me that we don't have time to move his car back into the driveway, I'll just have to do that when I get home. Okay. At the top of the street, we realize that he didn't have his sunglasses. No time, no time to turn back the 200m. Fine. Time? 7:58am.  [Behind schedule! Behind schedule!!]

Normally, on a day with regular traffic, it can take about 30-45 minutes to get to the airport. Shocker: on Sunday morning, not so much. He got out of the car at 8:16. *8:16*. :/

Then came the tears. Not from him, or me, but from The Girl. "Oh, Tata!! Don't leave me!!" and so on, and so forth. I peeled her away and strapped her into the car, but I couldn't manage more than a peck on the lips for him. I was a little too stressed. And I feel kind of guilty for that. Mainly because I know that he's a nervous traveller. I should have been prepared for him to act the way he did. I'm sure I'll make it up to him when he gets back, because I already miss him.

However, less sappy: having to comfort the kids who think that 4 days away from Tata, is akin to an eternity. What's a mom to do? This:

Yep. I took them to a McDonald's with a play area and got them a juice. :)

Slides cure all heartaches for kids.

Come home soon, Tata. We miss you.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Practical joke?

I'm not going to say that I'm obsessed over my age. My friends might say I have a major slight problem with growing older, but they would be wrong. I can't help it. And I think that anyone who says that they have absolutely no issue with their advancing age is lying. I will follow that with the fact that I do not miss my younger years. I don't try to act like I'm twenty, because I'm not. I simply appreciate the present. I've never wished to be younger, and I've never wished to be older. SO.....

....what the hell is this????

Which joker decided to subscribe me to this magazine? Because it sure wasn't me! This was was how my after school shuffle went down:

After picking up the kids from school, I cart them over to the grocery store because I have to buy some supplies for dinner. Pulling into the driveway I notice that there's a bag peeking out of the mailbox. Ooh! What could it be!? Before I can check, I have to make two trips lugging various backpacks, computer bags, purse, groceries etc from the car and into the house. Then, lo and behold: yay! A new magazine. Hmmm...I've never heard of this one before, and I certainly didn't subscribe, but there's my name and address. Let's take a look. "MORE: for grown-up women with smarts, spirit, style." I guess that could be me. Oooh! Salma Hayek. She's pretty. "Why her forties are her favourite decade." Ha! "Look better with age" Hmmm. "Caring for aging parents". Okay... Let's look inside:
"Easy on the knees workout"
"Anti-aging beauty awards"
"Osteoporosis action plan"
Yep, it's a magazine for old ladies mature women. Or supposedly for women over 40. I am not over 40. I'm not even close. Well, I'm kind of close, but I've still got a few years left. Here's the kicker though. I DIDN'T HATE IT! It's a decent mag. I appreciated the advertising not displaying grotesquely thin children to peddle their wares.[Did you know that there's such a thing as a purse with an illuminated interior!?]  The articles are engaging, if not completely relevant to my situation. And frankly, I'm not sure it's all that relevant to most women in their 40s either. I have friends who have long passed that age threshold, but they still have young children. They, like me, are still reading parenting magazines, not wondering how to support adult children who have moved back home. We're still concentrating on getting them through grade school. 

So, thanks, but no thanks. If this magazine was sent to me by a well-meaning friend, then I say: not yet, friend. Not yet. If it was sent by a misinformed marketing company, then I'm not surprised.

While I usually read articles online, and get most of my information there, I do like the shiny new feel of a magazine. When I do read hard copies [at the library!] I read Canadian Living, Canadian Family, Chatelaine, Today's Parent, the occasional Martha Stewart Living and various wedding magazines to keep up on trends for work. 

How would you feel receiving this type of mag in the mail, unsolicited? Am I over-reacting [again]?

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

How to make easy deviled eggs.

As part of my food offering for my father's toga party, I brought deviled eggs. I was asked for my "recipe" so many times that I thought I'd post it here:

Fresh Chives (optional)

Medium sandwich bag
Large star tip (optional)

1. Boil your eggs for about 10-15 minutes. Let cool completely.
[I boiled them the day before I needed them and put them in the fridge overnight.]

2. Slice each egg in half, vertically. Remove and reserve the yolks in a medium bowl.

3. Store the empty halves in a deviled egg holder or tray. 
This tray has holders that are actually ice packs. It holds items cool for 4-6 hours: perfect for picnics!

4. Mix in mayo to taste. Use a fork to mash it all together.
I started with about 3 tbsps for 15 yolks, but ended up using about 1/2 cup. Add a little at a time until it's as creamy as you want it to be. 

5. Cut a hole in the corner of a sandwich bag and insert a large star tip. 
If you don't have a star tip, just cut a 1/4" hole in the corner of the bag.

6. Fill the bag with the yolk mixture. Zip the top of the bag!

7. Squeeze out the yolk mixture into the waiting eggs. Add sprigs of fresh chives as garnish.

You can mix it up as you'd like. Try using salad dressing, adding paprika or other spices. I like to keep it simple. 

Do you add anything else to your deviled eggs?

Learn to Bake Your Own Croissants!

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Party Weekend!

It's raining, it's pouring and Mr. Puss is snoring.

I missed posting yesterday, but I have a good excuse reason: I was still recovering from a super busy party weekend. (That usually works with your boss, right?)

My cousin celebrated a milestone birthday on Saturday night. There were about 60 guests. She and my aunt made their home into a "sports bar" to reflect my cousin's love of sports. Jerseys were hung from the ceiling with care, there was a beer tent in the back yard, amazing food and of course, a cake provided by yours truly:
Hockey Jersey Cake
We all came dressed in our favourite team jerseys or colours. Anyone who didn't come dressed appropriately was given a choice of several t-shirts from my cousin's collection. All in all, a very good time. 

Following that revelry, we had to wake up way too early on Sunday morning to set up for my father's birthday. Also a milestone: 60. He loves a good party, and this year he asked for a Roman/Gladiator-themed bash. Naturally, we obliged. If there's anything everyone knows about our family, it's that we love themes and dressing up. Come Halloween, we usually go nuts [this one notwithstanding]. So, my sister, my brother, my mother and I set the stage. We hand-delivered scroll invitations instructing guests to come in their finest Roman vestments for the celebratory Games and we were not disappointed:

 We all wore gold leaves in our hair, and even the smallest baby was dressed in a mini toga. Golden [chocolate] coins were given to the victors of each of the games. A scale model of the roman Colosseum was built by my brother to hold a massive fruit bowl. [Yes, we do go that far.] We ordered a roasted pig, which was delicious, by the way, in addition to all the other food we brought along to the park. And, naturally, the cake. Because every birthday needs a cake:
Roman Temple Cake
Good times. Good times. Salve!

Friday, 14 September 2012

How To Fill Cupcakes

Filled cupcakes are, in my humble opinion, the best thing ever. The. Best. Just a little bit of cake to snuggle the creamy goodness all without having to lift a fork. Fantastic, right?

Here's the method I use to create filled cupcakes that look amazing when cut or bitten into, without the sides of your little cake bursting or having a "bubble" top. 

Step 1: Using a paring knife, cut a circle about 1/4" from the edge of the cupcake. Do not go all the way down to the bottom of the cake. Pull out the circle and a little flat-bottom cone will come out.

Step 2: Slice off the bottom of the "iceburg". Keep the top. Discard the bottom or use for cake balls.

Step 3: This is worth considering a step. Line up your tops with your cupcakes so you know where they are going later! Don't just throw them in a pile or your cupcakes won't have that finished look!

Step 4: Fill your cups 3/4 full with the filling of your choice. Here, I've used Strawberry Italian Meringue Buttercream with chunks of strawberries.

Step 5: Put the tops on. If you lined them up, the cuts will match exactly.

Step 6: Decorate as usual.

Step 7: Surprise! Enjoy.

What's your favourite filling for cupcakes?

Are there any other cake mysteries you'd like solved? Let me know and I'll put up a tutorial!

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

WW: Chicken and Potatoes in the Oven!

I like using red potatoes so I don't have to peel them, and they make the dish more colourful.

Using a wedger makes everything so much quicker. It literally takes 2 seconds to cut up each potato. 
All the same size! Yay!
I toss everything together in the cooking pan.

 I skin the chicken pieces and rub in coarse sea salt and rosemary. Bake at 375F for about an hour or until  the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 180F [170F if you're using breasts].

Monday, 10 September 2012

Olive Oil For Hair Too!

If you read my last post, you'll know I was enamored by AThriftyMrs's suggestion for oil and water as an eye make up remover. She's also done posts on egg and mayo in her hair as a conditioner. That was the inspiration for my own "mayonnaise" experiment.

While I usually have some form of mayo in the house, I only had salad dressing when I wanted to try this treatment. Of course. And since I didn't want to wait until I went grocery shopping again, I decided to improvise. (Is impatience the true mother of invention?)

What is actual mayonnaise but oil and egg, right?

I put equal amounts (okay, I eyeballed it - this isn't exactly rocket science, or baking ;-) of egg and olive oil in a cup. I then used my magic bullet mixer (I'm sure any blender would do) and mixed until the mixture was thick and creamy. It was not quite as thick as store-bought mayo, but definitely easier to manipulate than just egg or oil alone. I slathered this goop on my head, paying special attention to the ends, which are seriously splitsville. I left it on for about 20 minutes.

I read a chapter of this while waiting for the mayo-y goodness to steep. Yay for libraries!
I was worried that this would be stinky, sticky and gross, but was pleasantly surprised to find none of the above. After the initial "ick" factor of dipping my hand in to the cup, there was no more unpleasantness than any other leave-in treatment. It smelled like olive oil - surprise, surprise. Olive oil makes me think of bread and tomatoes so I was kind of jonesing for a picnic.

After a good wash and conditioner my hair was definitely shinier - not dull at all. Sadly, my ends are still nasty and I know the only cure is to cut them, but the frizz was GONE.

So, it's off to the salon for me!

Have you ever tried anything like this before? What's your fave homemade hair or beauty treatment?

Friday, 7 September 2012

Olive Oil For Homemade Beauty

I have to be honest, I'm not usually one to give beauty advice, but I do love trying out everyone elses. Especially if it's something homemade and natural.

One of my fave blogs is A Thrifty Mrs. She's so entertaining, informative and fun. She posts quite a bit about homemade...everything. One post that intrigued me was about the use of olive oil as a eye make-up remover. I had to try it. No, really - I had no eye make-up remover and some super stubborn mascara to get rid of.
She suggested the use of 1 part pre-boiled water to 2 parts olive oil and add a few drops of rose water. Shake well and use a cotton ball/pad to remove the eye make-up.

However, it was such a loooong walk from the computer to the kitchen [at least 4, maybe even 5 metres] that I somehow contorted all those "complicated" instructions and ended up with something like this:

1 part olive oil
2 parts pre-boiled water
Mixed both into a repurposed maple syrup bottle (every good Canadian household should have a couple lying around:)
Shake it before every use.
Be amazed!

I admit I was skeptical. I thought it would leave my eyes greasy and gross. Au contraire, mes amis. First of all, the make-up seemed to just slide right off, no serious rubbing necessary. A couple swipes and it was gone. I followed that by washing my face with my usual Noxema cream, avoiding my eyes, and by the time I had dried my face, any residual oil had absorbed into the skin around my eyes leaving it super soft, but not greasy. Amazing! Thank you, Thrifty!

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Back To School! Yippee!

Yesterday was the first day of school and the most exciting day of summer (for me)!
If you've been following my instagram, you may have noticed that the girl and I have been trying to find a pretty back-to-school hairdo. In our interweb travels we discovered the aptly named Each hairstyle has a video attached with easy instructions. After watching and then doing, I felt like a pro. Here are a few of our experiments:

Waterfall Twists:

Cage Braid:

Winner: Bundle of Braids

To be honest, I preferred the cage braid, but after a few hours it was crazy. In our trials we did the bundle of braids with a french braid head band to control her fringe, but she didn't want that on the first day of school because she wanted to cover up a huge mosquito bite on her forehead. :(

My two bugs on their first day of school:

Monday, 3 September 2012

The long and the short of it.

I realize that some people may read this post and wonder if I am being serious. I am.

A little back story if you will: my parents are Italian. As in, born and (mostly) raised in Italy. I was born and raised in Canada but with a very pronounced Italian heritage. My husband is decidedly neither, having immigrated to Canada 11 years ago. Now, whether this situation is more culturally- or foodie-based, I'm not sure, but I'm willing to bet it's at least a bit of both.

We had about 5 or 6 ripe tomatoes coming off our vines a couple days ago and I decided to make pasta with fresh, cut tomatoes that had been lightly sauteed in some olive oil with garlic, salt and basil. I put the pot of water on to boil and went to through the pantry to search for the pasta I wanted. So I searched, and searched, and finally had to accept that I had NO long pasta. None! There was rigatoni, penne lisce, penne rigate and even pennine, but no angel hair, or spaghettini, spaghetti or even linguine!! How had this come to pass?? Where did I go wrong in life to bring me to this point?

My husband doesn't understand this part of me that needs to match the sauce to the pasta. *Yes*, it does make a difference to the taste. He did not agree that it would be prudent to run to the store to get a long pasta, when we have at least 3kg of pasta already in the pantry. He doesn't understand that those should be reserved for thick and chunky sauces, not thin ones!! Oh, the humanity!

It was with sadness and not a little bit of disgust that I dumped 450g of rigatoni (no.20) into the pot. (Later I noticed that I had fusilli hiding on a different shelf. Even that would have been better!) As I brought the finished dish to the table I wondered if my kids would even eat the slop. They did. So did the Man. So did I. I gagged a little on the first bite, but quickly recovered. It turns out that it wasn't as bad as I thought. However, I stand by my original belief that the sauce must match the pasta! Off to the grocery store!

My recipe for fresh tomato sauce to be used with a long, thin pasta. :-)
2-3 tbsp olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
3-4 large, fresh, ripe tomatoes
10 leaves fresh basil, hand torn
Pinch of salt

1. Heat olive oil over medium heat for a minute. Add garlic.
2. Meanwhile, over a bowl to catch juices, roughly cut up tomatoes. Pour cut tomatoes and accumulated juice over oil and garlic. Add basil and salt. Stir.
3. Cook for about 5 minutes or until heated through, but tomatoes are still red, not orange. Pour over your favourite cooked, long, pasta and enjoy.

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