Cancer doesn’t get the final say

Today I learned the devastating news that a friend had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer two weeks ago. They suffered a stroke Friday and had maybe two days to live. They passed on this afternoon.

While we weren’t close friends, Liz has been part of my world for almost twenty years. She was a tiny marvelous force of nature, the commander in chief of any event, of her wonderful family. There was nothing beyond her masterful skills of orchestration and leadership. I will always treasure my memories of her Christmas parties and how she made sure to spend time with everyone who came. 

She raised four lovely girls into accomplished and confident women whose beauty shines from the inside out. Her faith was part of all she did. But it was her feisty spirit, that Pixie haircut and five feet of solid willpower behind the wheel of a massive Chevy Suburban that endeared her to me, and to so many. She is the Mom who brought her kids a hot lunch at school; who drove in pyjamas to make sure they made it to school on time. And whose five year old then announced that to all in earshot. 

That didn’t phase Liz. She did everything with grace and her own effortless style. And though I never felt like I deserved her attention, she never failed to acknowledge me, or make me welcome. Her home and hospitality made any and all welcome. 

I am grateful she did not suffer at length and that cancer did not get to drain her life force and steal her dignity. Rather, my memories of Liz are left intact as they should be, as she so deserves to be remembered: grace, beauty, strength, spirit. Her light shines on. 

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Let The Games Begin

Here we are all over again!

Mom's the Word

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Welcome to March Break at my house.  We’ve laid in the provisions, as you can see. Actually, this picture is misleading, because there is still another grocery bag full of artificial cheddar-dusted goodness to pile into those shelves. Plenty of good old fashioned sugar and refined carbohydrates to get us through a week of fun, fun, fun!

Yes, when it comes to keeping up with the kids, I go all out. And what will we do with all that pent-up energy? Why, we’ll constructively channel it into defending the universe against forces of evil; conduct dangerous missions and drop from helicopters onto rooftops surrounded by snipers who don’t speak English; and take out subversive billboards, lamp posts and other structures in our way while recklessly driving in the wrong direction at top speed. You should try it some time – after half a bag of Doritos and some Skittles.

Then…

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New Book Review: “Cold Light of Day” by Toni Anderson

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You’d Better Watch Out, You’d Better Not Die

Toni Anderson does not disappoint.  Just in time for Christmas, she delivers a thriller you’ll want to tear open right away. True to form, Toni has crafted another story for you to savour, twist by twist, page by page.  Unforgettable new characters, familiar friends, all set against the backdrop of the most powerful city in the world, Washington D.C.  At the most wonderful time of the year.  Just remember – happy endings don’t come easy.

Meet Scarlett Stone.  A feisty physicist with a sky-high mission: prove that her father is not the Russian spy he has been accused of being , and imprisoned for over fourteen horrible, long years.  Scarlett makes a bold move to prove her father’s innocence, crashing a party at the Russian embassy with her best friend, Angel, a senator’s daughter.  Fancy dresses, high heels and harmless lies lead to a brief but tantalizing encounter with a handsome man in uniform, everything Scarlett wishes she could have but knows she can’t. Then her simple plan goes very wrong, very quickly, plunging both Scarlett and Angel into terrible danger.

And as luck would have it, that handsome man in uniform happens to be Matt Lazlo, a former Navy Seal now working for the FBI.  Lucky for us, this guy is serious hero material: strong, smart, sensitive, with a tantalizing dash of wounder warrior thrown in.  Lucky for Scarlett, he’s in the wrong place at the right time. Because when the Russians make their move, Matt moves faster, and gets Scarlett out of harm’s way. There is no denying the initial attraction between these two, which builds along at the same breakneck pace as the suspense. Matt is distractingly attractive, and Scarlett has a way of getting under his skin.

But time is working against them; they don’t know whom they can trust, including each other.  Enter Rooney, Parker and Frazer, some welcome characters from earlier in this trilogy.  They must work together to save not only Scarlett and Angel, but uncover the real threat that has been hiding in their midst all this time.

Once again, Toni dazzles with her research and ability to drop today’s headlines right into her storyline. I have to say, this plot may be my favourite to date. Far from over, the Cold War still holds an icy grip over those who decide our freedoms and those who defend them.  Old enmities meet as enemies in Washington.  The skillful manipulation of cybertech as a weapon elevates the threat and the pacing in this story, making us all a little more aware of who might be watching us and how.  And this time, Parker shares the stage for being tech-savvy with the brilliant and courageous Scarlett.

I love Toni’s heroines.   They are smart, brave, passionate and real.  Their insecurities and imperfections are what make them wonderfully readable characters with whom readers can instantly identify.  Scarlett is fiercely loyal and independent, willing to fight for what she believes in and for those she loves, like Angel and her father.  She’s tired, wounded, and desperate for a shower.  Yet, she faces her Herculean task with determination and humour, wishing for a hairbrush when any of us would, and wishing for the guy she doesn’t think she can ever have.

And that’s why the romantic heat in Toni’s novels hits the sweet spot.  When that moment happens for Scarlett and Matt, as it did for Parker and Rooney, we’re so ready.  And trust me, it really does feel like Christmas morning.  Too bad it has to end.  We’ll just have to hold on until the next story.  Because good things are always worth waiting for.

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Hand over the remote – Now!

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It’s the new fall TV season. Excited doesn’t even begin to describe how I’m feeling. Hours upon hours of amazing, exciting, scintillating TV piling up inside the PVR, just waiting for me to watch. Of course, the kids will now have to watch regularly scheduled programming on the TV downstairs. With, dare I say the word, commercials? They’ll keep pressing the fast forward button and nothing will happen.  They’ll move on, eventually. Kids are resilient.

But I digress.  With so many new shows, and then favourites returning, how is an avid TV afficianado to choose?  Fear not. I present to you a few picks from MY Fall 2014 TV Lineup.  And given how little time in a day I actually have to spend watching TV, you’d better believe anything on this list is worth the watch.

RETURNING SHOWS

The Blacklist: I cannot wait to watch James Spader resume his role as “Red” Reddington in this action-packed, twist-a-minute thriller about a rogue agent who has cunningly cultivated a list of the world’s best baddies, only to hand it over to the FBI to help hunt them down.  James does bad with such suave intelligence it’s addictive.

Sleepy Hollow: I liked this from the start and I want more. We have the headless horseman and a very hot Ichabod Crane fighting each other in the ultimate battle to save the world from evil.  Book of Revelations anyone?  Throw in a spooky small New England town, demons, ghosts and decapitations and Ichabod’s not-quite dead wife who is also a witch. Just what nice cookie-baking, church going, PTA moms should be watching.

Scandal: My guilty pleasure. And apparently everyone else’s. For good reason.  Shonda Rhimes knows how to craft these shows. Very watchable people with tormented lives and backstories full of twists. Lots of heat. Great wardrobes. And insane storylines you just have to watch to believe. So much fun and no kids allowed.

NEW STUFF

Gotham: It looks dark. I already like it.  A prequel to Batman. Yet one more reason to watch.

Madame Secretary: I am a political junkie and Hilary Clinton is one of my heroines. Tea Leoni plays Secretary of State a la Hilary Clinton.  I’m in.

The Flash: A spin-off from the hit series “Arrow”.  I thought Arrow would be some cheesy, cheap take on the cartoon super hero. I’ve never been so glad to have been proven wrong. If they do with this what they did with Arrow, you can colour me very happy! And my kids.

Have fun with the remote!

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What Happens When You Mix Rice Crisps, Peanut Butter and Chocolate? This!!

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I think we’ve all had these at one time, and then spent years wondering what the heck they were called and what went into them.  I can tell you from experience that my mad science experiments in the kitchen to recreate them produced varying yet tasty degrees of failure. Yes, I did go on the internet, but nothing was quite right. Until this. Chewy, crispy and  with the just the right taste of peanut butter. The secret has got to be the corn syrup and brown sugar combo. But I’ll let you decide.

First, line a 9″ x 13″ pan with, my fave and yours, parchment paper. Remember – if you keep tasting it, it won’t fill the pan.

Now, in a large microwave bowl, combine 1 1/4 cups corn syrup, 1/2 cup packed brown sugar and 1 1/4 cups white sugar. Cook until this reaches a boil and the sugar melts completely. About 3 minutes.  You can also do this in a pot on the stove when you are watching rain fall out your cottage window, and listening to your kids complain. This is guaranteed to stop the complaining.

Mix in 1 1/4 cups of peanut butter. Any brand, any kind – your choice. In a very, very large bowl, pour in 7 cups of Rice Crisps (we all know the cereal, and please please please do not use puffed rice). Then, pour the hot peanut butter mess over top and stir. I find one of those fun coloured silicon spatulas works great to combine thoroughly. Dump it into the prepared pan and pat down. Remember – if you keep tasting this will never stretch to the edge.

In a glass bowl, put 2 tbsp. margarine or butter with 8 oz of chocolate chips (two big handfuls or one typical package).  Microwave for just over a minute and stir. Now the fun part – attempt to spread over the giant cereal bar. Kids will appear out of the woodwork at the smell of melting chocolate so just do your best to apply this before fingers start dipping.

I have no idea how long this takes to set. We’ve never actually made it to that point. Go ahead! Enjoy with a spoon!

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Reblogged for You!

A friend of mine, Vaishali Patel, is a talented psycotherapist who specializes in wellness. And not the kind that comes from my snack cupboard. She has a blog that I greatly enjoy helping edit (not so much editing as actually reading!) and I’ve included the link at the bottom so you can read her anytime you like. This was her most recent article. The topic was so relevant, and so well-written, I thought I would share it with you.

Are We Passing Superwoman Syndrome to Our Daughters?

Growing up, I used to look at my mom and think “This is what I’m supposed to be when I grow up”. However, my mom wanted more for me than she had, and she often told me that in our conversations. She did not get a university education; she did not pursue a professional career; in fact, she didn’t make most of her life decisions. So, growing up, I had mixed signals between what my mom did, and what she told me to do when I grew up.

Because of the internal confusion, I now struggle with how to divvy-up household responsibilities between myself and my partner. How do I show love through cooking wonderful meals, when I only have an hour between after school pick-up and dinnertime? Or, how do I speak up to be heard when sharing my valuable knowledge to an audience? You see, even though my mom told me about the opportunities that she and my dad worked so hard to ensure that I had, she exemplified a woman’s life without those opportunities. And that was the disconnect: experience had shown me how to live without the opportunity, but now I had to learn how to live with it.

When we run ourselves busy/crazy, we seldom consider the implications of our behaviour and how we are perceived by our loved ones. Mainly our daughters are affected, who learn most from what we do, not what we say. Case in point, when we don’t say “no” to people even though we know our plate is beyond full, our daughters see that as what they are going to have to do when they grow up. When we apologize for having a messy house when people come over, our daughters learn that there is shame in showing a home that appears “lived in”. Perhaps worst of all is when we say to everyone that we’re happy, but we look tired and are snappy to the people closest to us; our daughters learn that this is what happiness as an adult is supposed to look like.

Not only do we pass this on through our own actions, but also in our expectations of our girls. We enroll our children in classes and activities that give them an increasingly busy schedule, to the point where they understand the meaning of “fright night”. We teach them that it is important to be “well-rounded”, with the not-so-hidden implication that they have to be great at everything, or at least most things. That means they have to excel in extracurricular activities as well as to continue to do well in school. We snap at our daughters to do what they are told, and “be nice! It’s common to use the phrase “Hurry up!” when talking to our children. But by doing that we are teaching them that rushing is acceptable, and that their pace is wrong.

Instead, why don’t we teach our daughters to be the women they deserve to be by modeling what we want for them? Is our mothers’ way of living so engrained in us that we hold back from being effective role models for our daughters? Why, when we have so many resources available to us, do we keep making choices that hold us back from living the lives we want ourselves and our daughters to live?

It’s time that we become more real with ourselves, and be aware of the decisions we make. As nurturers, we might be convinced that setting a personal goal to be well and happy seems self-serving. However, if we reframe our perspective, maybe we can acknowledge that setting this goal is in the best interest of our loved ones. Maybe, if we show how important our well-being is to our daughters, they too will learn that we women not only have and deserve the ability to be happy; but that when we are happy, we make greater contributions to our society.

So, I propose from now on when you are faced with a difficult decision that compromises your health in even the smallest way, ask yourself, “Do I want my daughter as an adult to have this same experience?” If the answer is no, then you know what you have to do!

By Vaishali Patel 12/06/14
http://www.vaishalipatelpsychotherapy.com/self-worth/passing-superwoman-syndrome-daughters/

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NEW! Book Review: Cold Pursuit by Toni Anderson

When I’m not doing laundry, storing mattresses or baking Beer Bread, I like to read. Given how precious little time I have between the rinse cycle and the dryer, that book has to be riveting. I figure if it is good enough for me, then it is good enough to share with you. So let me introduce you to one of my favourite authors, a talented Canadian (who also does laundry) and who just happens to be climbing the charts as we speak. If you like a really good thriller with a healthy helping of hot, steaming romance then read on!

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COLD PURSUIT

Toni Anderson’s new Cold Justice series is sizzling suspense and hot romance – the perfect summer read! The first book, A Cold Dark Place, really set the tone well for these gripping new thrillers. But this second novel just blew me away! And I can’t wait to read what comes next in book 3.

While a great plot is essential for any story, it’s the characters who make the connections with the reader. Toni has a gift for creating very real, very compelling people in her stories, both heroes and villains. You are as drawn to the plight of the heroine as you are drawn in by the twisted desires of her foe. And as for heroes – these are no cookie-cutter, 2 dimensional solutions to a problem. Toni’s men are fascinating alpha-males with a whole lot of angst to work out and work through, requiring a potent combination of high-powered action and steamy sex. Oh yes, bring on those frosty patio drinks and savour what happens!

Cold Pursuit has all the right ingredients for a summer block-buster. Vivi Vincent is a gutsy single mom willing to do anything to help her young son, Michael. He hasn’t spoken for 4 years. But an ordinary trip to a suburban shopping mall becomes a nightmare when terrorists open fire. I had pretty much bitten off all my fingernails and given up hope when enter Jed Brennan, an FBI agent on forced leave dealing with issues of his own. He’s the right man in the wrong place at the right time. He manages to save Vivi and Michael, but things are far from over. They have now been ensnared by something far more sinister than anyone ever could have imagined. Unwittingly they become the key witnesses to a horrific event, and the truth about these terrorists and their ultimate plot may be locked inside a terrified mute little boy. At the height of a Midwest blizzard, local law enforcement can’t seem to keep the terrorists from finding Vivi and Michael, and once again Jed Brennan must play the reluctant hero, only to determine that Vivi and Michael aren’t going to stay safe without him now that the CIA, FBI and NSA are all involved in an alphabet soup of chaos. Nobody can be trusted. Willing to risk his career and his life, Jed must convince Vivi he will keep keep them safe. But Vivi has some serious trust issues, since her domineering and highly connected ex, David, dumped her and Michael at their most vulnerable point because they didn’t measure up. Note: Hating David is an excellent source of tension relief!  Desperate to keep the terrorists from finding them, to keep David from using this against her, Vivi reluctantly agrees to Jed’s plan.

Hiding out from the bad guys is one thing, but mutual attraction was never part of the plan, and the timing couldn’t be more imperfect. Jed knows better, but he can’t stop his growing fondness and admiration for the feisty redhead and her brave, engaging son. Vivi has only given him brief, ugly glimpses into her earlier life with Michael’s father without telling who the man really is. Jed can’t believe anyone would willingly abandon or berate these two people who now are the center of his world. As for Vivi, she has finally met a man willing to step and be a man without making her less of a person. Jed’s natural tenderness and affection for Michael only make him more attractive. Jed and Vivi are only human, and when they finally give in it’s spontaneous combustion! Of course, that’s when the plot goes into overdrive, and I won’t tell you more because that would spoil all the fun.

Let’s just say that Toni has a reputation for doing her research, and she puts together a plot that reads like a blockbuster summer movie. You won’t believe who is involved and what the real endgame is. You’ll have to read this all the way to the end to appreciate the connections between all the intricate twists and turns in this roller coaster ride of a thriller. Plus, by now you must want to know what happens to Vivi, Michael and Jed, don’t you? I’ll give you this much: Toni doesn’t make it easy on anyone, but she makes it all so worthwhile.  Welcome to the club!

 

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Beer Bread – Because I Love You

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Breathe it in  – the intoxicating aroma of fresh bread, bathed in melted butter.  Tender, melt-in-your mouth inside with a salty, tangy crust. Ridiculously delicious. We devoured the entire loaf in under an hour.   And all this sublime goodness can be yours in – just over 30 minutes. Honest. From mixing bowl to breadboard. This is easier than pouring cereal in a bowl. And you – well, prepare to take on hero status at your house. Now, I can’t take credit for this recipe – just for sharing it.  And you’re welcome!

Ingredients

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 tbsp. baking powder
  • 3 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 12 oz bottle of beer, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a loaf pan.
  2. Combine all the dry ingredients in a bowl.
  3. Now, pour the beer in all at once. It will fizz spectacularly. Stir enough to combine but leave some lumps.
  4. Pour the batter into the loaf pan.
  5. Now more fun – pour all the melted butter on top. With this much butter and beer, what’s not to love?!
  6. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes.
  7. Remove from oven and please, please, please let it cool, just a few minutes. You can’t enjoy this if you burn your tongue.
  8. Repeat steps 1-7 as necessary. Be ready to bake another loaf after the first one is gone.

Credit goes to Stephan Pyles on Epicurious. http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Beer-Batter-Bread-104160

 

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My Mother’s Day Rant

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Ordinarily, I’d write some uplifting and generous piece for Mother’s Day, celebrating all the wonderful women I know and respect, women with whom I learn and laugh and share the rocky road of motherhood. I’d reflect on how amazing our lives are because we have given life, and we treasure those lives, willing to defend them with our own. We are mother bears with our cubs, protective and nurturing. Even when they forget who we are, along with any civility. I have one of those under my roof right now, and I very much doubt their attitude will improve in time for Mother’s Day.  Consequently, this blog will now be me venting, instead of me waxing poetically about motherhood and butterflies.

I am sick of the mess in my house. The mess that I did not make. Like the piles of stuff heaped on the dining room table that magically reappeared only hours after I cleared their predecessors off. Other people, civilized people who eat with forks and not their fingers, have tables for eating and shelves for storages. Apparently, not at my house. And why is it that even though I put three bath towels in the bathroom, there are now four sopping wet ones on the stair railing and none in the bath when I go in? Or, how is it that we currently have no crackers, not a box, in the snack cupboard (you’ve all seen pictures. If not, please check previous blog posts. We had enough crackers to last out nuclear winter). And not a word is written on the grocery list whiteboard over the sink. But I digress.

In today’s post I want to acknowledge the adage that being a mom is the toughest job you’ll ever love. Famous and fabulously wealthy celebrities, like Oprah, have openly declared how hard our jobs are, and how invaluable we are. IF this is so, and it must be if Oprah says it is, then why the hell do people on my planet make asinine remarks about how I don’t work, when will I be going back to work, and what do I do with all my time since I don’t work? I’m sorry. When did making meals, cleaning, doing laundry, planning menus, budgeting, landscaping and making 1200 sq feet function like 2000 NOT count as work? Never mind that no mother I know gets weekends or stat holidays off. Hell, we don’t even get Mother’s Day off. And just for you individuals who need to see me working in order to quantify my existence, I actually do have a job – I negotiated part-time work so I could take my youngest to and from school and avoid paying what I made back into day care fees. And in this age of cutbacks and restructuring, I managed to even get benefits with that. Yeah!

So – Happy Mother’s Day! Got anything else you wanna add?

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The Things We Do For Love

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We do anything for our kids. Drive them 400 clicks up the 400 to summer camp alternating weekends in the summer. Craft creatures of clay for French history dioramas. Bake an entire gingerbread sub-division for their friends to decorate at their birthday party. Sculpt chicken wire into  a stegosaurus (Really! I’m not making this up. I’ve got the scars to prove it!)

Yes.  That is a mattress. In the living/dining room.  You have to shove it against the coats to sit at the table. Then shove it against the table to get at the coats.  It weighs about 900 pounds. We couldn’t push it any further inside the house last night. Which is where this story begins. See, this weekend, we replaced our old mattress with a new one. We had planned to get one for our youngest, but they didn’t have any in his size.  Too bad. But they had this one, just perfect for us. The price was right (any lower and it would be below sea level), and it actually didn’t cave in when we lay down on it. Now I understand what back support really is.  I can walk upright when I get out of bed in the mornings. Amazing! So, with four people we stuffed that puppy in the minivan to bring home (we used to have anF150 pickup; we still think like we do). In hindsight, I really should have taken a picture of that. I can verify that a Mazda MPV will hold 7 happy people or a firm top queen sized mattress. Not both.

We managed to get the new mattress out of the van and inside, no problem. We told the youngest the truth about what happened to his mattress – that we were abducted by aliens and threatened with planetary disintegration if we didn’t have over his mattress. Ours was too big. When he didn’t believe that, we told him that his blew off the roof of the minivan and onto the highway. When he didn’t buy that (damn these kids are smart) we told him they had three ugly, really really ugly mattresses for his bed, and this perfect one for ours. And he could jump on it to test it out. That worked. So next step – remove the old mattress.  Easier said than done.  We managed to flip it over the banister and let gravity do the rest. Shoving it those next twenty feet to the front door was another story, and another hour. We finally got it outside, and left it there. For the raccoons, squirrels or anyone who could haul it off.

Well, our darling daughter got word of the new mattress and sent me a garbled text that she wanted the old one. Only, that got mixed up with her request for peanut butter and cheddar cheese. I thought by old she meant the cheese and didn’t realize what she really wanted until very late.  Thankfully, the local wildlife hadn’t move in on it yet. So, braving that wonderful bone-numbing cold we’ve all grown to love, we dragged in the behemoth. As you can see, that is as far as we got.

And, because we will do anything for our kids, you know who is going to be hauling back out and driving that mattress off to Kitchener-Waterloo. Just not in the MPV.

 

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