Before Jonathon was born I went to the childbirth preparation classes that the General Hospital held. I felt prepared. I believed everything they told us - even the leg-puller about no pain, just discomfort. I had heard the story of my own birth since I was young. I was a month early and my mother thought she had a bad stomachache (I was her first child). Her doctor arrived just in time to catch me after a very short labor. I thought "Like mother, like daughter" - easy, peasy, piece of cake. (The fact that Jonathon was a good two weeks or more late should have been my first clue.) When I was pregnant with Eden I prepared like mad. I attended the best Lamaze class I could find. I practised daily and made David practise with me. I was not going to be caught flat-footed again!!
Fast forward a generation. Eden was pregnant with Deacon (my first grandchild). I was invited to be a support person during his birth. Once again I felt prepared. After all, I had given birth five times - naturally. It was hard work but what a high!!! Once again I ran smack into reality. Wow! Giving birth is a lot easier than watching/supporting your daughter while she has the experience. I would have given a lot to have done it for her - it would have been easier for me! So like my own second experience with childbirth, when Merin was expecting Ysa and wanted me to be there with Mike and herself, I was much less sanguine and much more apprehensive - only this time there was not much that I could do to prepare for the experience. A large part of me wanted to not be there. I knew from experience that it would be hard to watch my daughter give birth. But Merin wanted me there...more, she absolutely expected me to be there and so I was.
The memories of those 34 long hours are precious to me. It was, as I expect most births are, a very intense time. A lot of hard work was being done. I will never forget the way that Merin worked through her labor. She preferred to stand, alone, in the center of the room. She had brought classical music with her to the hospital - the music that she had worked (hard) to for most of her life, the music that was not only comfort but discipline to her - and it was playing softly. As each contraction began she gathered herself as I had seen her do so many times when she danced. Only now she closed her eyes to center herself and gracefully swayed from side to side until the contraction ended. She looked so incredibly calm and beautiful - so full of grace. (Later she told me she was not feeling calm. lol.)
What a wonderful privilege to be present at the moment of birth. To witness a brand new person enter the world. To witness the joy of the new parents. To feel intense gratitude - not only for that new life but also for the well-being of my own child. The pride in the accomplishment. The humble awareness of God's goodness and power. For these things I am twice grateful. Sharing the experience - being there - with both of my very beloved daughters is a bond and a blessing that I cannot find words to express. And it is a bond to those children.
Perhaps Ysa's birthday will always be closely linked in my mind with Merin as the day of her birth was one of the last, intense memories I have of Merin. I am extremely grateful to have been present that day. I can tell Ysa the story of her birth because I was there. I am the keeper of that memory for her. I see it as a tender mercy, an evidence of the grace of God. On the eve of her daughter's birthday I remember Merin and her labor of love and joy.
Ysa is blessed in having wonderful parents - now and at her birth. It is an incredible comfort and joy to me that although she has two mothers, both are my daughter. Eden is the very best mother that I can imagine for Ysa, the mother that Merin wants for her. The circle feels complete.
Unwisely, I would have done the work for Eden if I could have. Now I can see how cheated she would have been if that had been possible. We are pushed so far beyond what we think we can do/stand/be when we give birth and I believe that very pushing teaches us not only to treasure our babies but that we are so much more than we think. Capable of so much, much more. It is the first great lesson of motherhood.
Sweet summer. School is out. Life slows down. The sun comes up early - lighting my bedroom slowly and waking me gently a little before 5:00 AM - and goes down late, still light at 10:00 PM. I love the glorious long days. The garden grows. Watermelon is a valid meal (in my opinion). Time stretches out most deliciously. When I was a child summer seemed to last forever but now I know that it is over in a minute. Summer is sadly short here in Calgary, every moment a tiny treasure that wants to be enjoyed.
One of the signals of 'real' summer's arrival is making the first pitcher of "Fruited Iced Herbal Tea". I have had the recipe forever and cannot recall from where. We love it. Love it. I made gallons of it for Eden's wedding and again for Merin's. And then just gallons more for everyday summer relaxing. If it is summer there is a pitcher in the fridge at my house. Super easy and very refreshing it is a much cooler option than pop, best enjoyed in the shade with a good book and a lounge chair. Or at the park with a picnic. Or while watching the kids play in the sprinkler. Or when you are just hot and thirsty .... you get the idea.
Fruited Iced Herbal Tea
4 tea bags*
10 cups water
3/4 cup honey
2 lemons, juiced
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp almond extract
Boil 2 cups water, steep tea. Add the honey, lemon juice, vanilla, and almond extract. Mix well, then add the remaining 8 cups of water. Serve over ice.
Note: if you don't serve this over ice, add more water. It is much better when it is not too concentrated - more refreshing.
*I use a combination of different herbal teas when I make this. There is some flexibility in what I use but I always include at least one tea bag of mint tea. From there it varies - fruity or berry teas are popular for this at our house and look very pretty as well, rooibos teas (an Earl Grey flavoured rooibos is fantastic), anything you like but personally I don't like the licorice or cinnamon teas for this recipe. (Although I seriously love them otherwise!)
So my selection for a recipe of iced tea may look like this:
1 mint tea bag
2 tea bags of an Earl Grey flavoured rooibos tea
1 fruity tea bag (like Berry Zinger or something similar)
I love tabbouleh. I like quinoa. I am always trying to "eat healthy" and still enjoy the experience. Put it all together and quinoa tabbouleh is a natural conclusion. Not the only conclusion by any means but a pretty good one to arrive at. This tabbouleh would be good with some fresh pita breads. Or with hummus and pita bread. As for me - I just like to eat tabbouleh. All by itself. And go back for more.
2 cups water
1 cup quinoa
2 cups diced tomatoes
1 cup diced cucumber
2 large bunches fresh parsley, finely chopped*
1 cup fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
1 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
4 green onions, thinly sliced
1 can chick peas, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tsp sea salt
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp cumin
few drops of hot pepper sauce
Bring the water and quinoa to a boil in a medium saucepan. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Turn the heat off but leave the covered saucepan on the burner for another 4 minutes. (Set the timer or check your clock - you want the quinoa to be al dente. Leaving it longer will tend you give you softer results than are optimal for a salad.) Fluff with a fork and cool the quinoa.
Meanwhile mix the tomatoes, cucumber, parsley, mint, cilantro, onion and chickpeas together in a large bowl. Add the cooled quinoa.
Combine the oil, lemon juice, salt, garlic, pepper sauce and cumin. Mix well and pour over the vegetable/quinoa mixture. Mix well. This is best if allowed to sit for at least 30 minutes before serving. Super delicious the next day - or for about 3 days after making.
* I like curly parsley because I prefer the way it tastes. If it is chopped finely enough it doesn't feel like you are eating a fur-ball - which is all to the good.
How to articulate my thoughts and feelings right now.... kind of sad, but not a bitter sadness. Memory upon memory. Such tender, tender memories. Why? We just watched the movie Mao's Last Dancer - based on the autobiography of Chinese dancer Li Cunxin. I honestly don't know if it was a 'good' movie or not. It may be terribly melodramatic or politically inaccurate, I can't say but I don't care - there was some incredible dancing. Other than the Christmas performance of The Nutcracker watching this movie is the first dance I have watched since last August and the watching brought to mind many evenings spent with both Merin and Eden. Giselle, Bayadere, The Red Shoes, Don Quixote, Coppelia, Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet, Center Stage (to be a little less high-brow but honestly?....seriously watched and re-watched by a young Merin), Nutcracker - to name a few of the movies and movie versions we watched and Merin studied carefully. The ballets we attended. The ballets Merin danced. The passion for all of it. The beauty. The discipline. I am remembering.
I am grateful for those years and times together - to be able to remember that we did share many nights absorbed in the beauty of ballet. I miss that and this evening I miss my Merin. I miss her dancing - in my kitchen, in the studio, on the stage. I miss the intensity she felt for dance...that passion and joy. I miss her curling up beside me to watch the movie. I just miss her. But I keep coming back to the thought that I am so profoundly grateful for all she brought us and all we will always have because of her.
One of those things is that I will always love ballet. And probably always love a ballet movie too. As for the movie? If you enjoy ballet I would say - watch it.
Summer is officially Two Days Long now. We had a second day (that's two in a row!) of beautiful blue skies, fluffy high clouds and (cue fanfare) Sunshine!!!!! No rain, no wind, and no cold misery that we have to try to pass off as spring. Again in celebration I offer my very favorite "go-to" - a salad that I love every time. It is what I make when I have neglected to plan ahead, when I am too tired to do anything else, when I am eating alone, when I want to impress, when dinner needs to be on the table and ready five minutes ago. Really. It is all that. At least, I like it - and nobody complains about eating it so I figure they agree with me. And to ice the cake it is very, very good for you. When we eat this, it is dinner - even for a man. Even men who have approached it with a healthy dose of scepticism and a jaundiced eye.
When I make this salad I do an individual plate for each person as opposed to tossing a big bowlful. It looks much prettier and everyone gets their fair share of the goodies.
My Go-To Salad
(this is more or less a 'pattern' for salad - I vary it according to what is in season - or in the fridge, ha!)
2 or 3 generous handfuls of spring greens - depending on how hungry you are
1/4 avocado, sliced
1/2 cup fresh fruit (berries, mango, tomatoes, pears, apples, oranges, grapes - choose one)*
1/4 cup chopped nuts (almonds, walnuts, or pecans)
1/8 cup crumbled feta or fresh goat cheese
1 Tbsp milled flaxseed or hemp seed hearts
Go-To Vinaigrette - enough for 2 salads
(actually that needs a way more important title because....it just does. You'll see. This is a good vinaigrette)
1 Tbsp flax or hemp seed oil
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp balsamic or rice vinegar
1/8 tsp agave nectar
a few drops of hot chili sauce
pinch of sea salt
freshly ground pepper to taste
Arrange your choice of salad ingredients on a plate - or better in a large-ish bowl.
Whisk together the vinaigrette. Pour it over the salad. Done.
If you want to add some grilled chicken or steak to this - it is a very yummy embellishment.
*sliced cooked beets are also great in this salad.
Finally! It is summer. At least for today. That's the way it goes here in Calgary. The calendar doesn't really have much to do with when the seasons arrive or leave, or how long they stay. Winter totally overstayed its welcome this year and spring never did come but today, today it is summer - right on schedule! Bravo Summer! To celebrate that most welcome arrival (and hopefully entice the season to stay a while) we had a very delicious, fresh, and summery salad for dinner tonight. It was so good that I wanted to eat and eat and eat. It was all I served and all I wanted.
Asian Chicken Salad
(adapted fairly liberally from marthastewart.com)
5 cups shredded cabbage
3 cups shredded carrots
1 cup chopped cilantro
1 cup lightly packed mint leaves, chopped
2 green onions (white and green parts), sliced thin
3 Tbsp black sesame seeds
2 cups chopped, cooked chicken
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
2 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp almond oil*
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp agave nectar
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp hot chili oil
Combine the cabbage, carrots, cilantro, mint, onions, chicken, and sesame seed in a large bowl.
Whisk together the dressing ingredients and pour over the cabbage mixture. Serve immediately. And enjoy a most delicious way to eat your leafy greens.
*I used almond oil because I like the slightly nutty taste. I think there are many oils that offer a healthy advantage. I do not however believe that most vegetable oils including canola are wise health choices. In this salad I wouldn't use olive oil although I generally love it - too strong a taste. Hemp oil would be another good choice - for health and taste.
Sorry - I have been trying to resist this but I just really
can't don't want to. I have been working on flower girl dresses for Mark and Tiffany's wedding and Jane tried on the prototype for me yesterday. Eden snapped a few shots so that I could show Tiffany what the dress was looking like and both Jane and Eden's eye (even when it was just for an email 'this is what it looks like what do you think?') were so sweet I had to show off. The dress will be fine but Jane feeling beautiful is what I love.
Isn't she just delicious?!!
I made pita bread. I did and it is so easy and delicious that I cannot believe anyone buys it! (... well, actually I can because I am aware that there is a huge segment of the population that would apparently rather buy convenience pre-made everything than make just about anything themselves but that's another discussion for another time.) But this was really exciting for me because making pita bread is super easy and really fun. It is even relatively fast given that it is a yeast dough and needs a bit of time to rise. I decided quite late* in my dinner game-plan to take a stab at this bread and I am so glad that I did - it tastes so very much better than the somewhat uninspiring rounds one can buy at the grocery store. I had so much fun and success that I am looking for another reason to make more. Really, I don't know why I have never tried it before!
I used a recipe for Lavash Crackers that I found in The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart. In a side bar on the page he suggests that the same dough can be used to make pita breads. I doubled his recipe and we all wished that I had doubled that. (My recipe yielded 9 breads that were roughly 6" in diameter.) This dough is kneaded by hand rather than by machine and as I was kneading the dough I wondered why so many people resist doughs that need to be kneaded by hand. I find it to be an extremely enjoyable and even soothing process. Folding the dough over on itself again and again I remembered how I had loved working with clay - largely because I loved kneading the clay in preparation for working with it (that and I loved the whole glazing process). This dough is fairly stiff and becomes nice and silky as you knead it.
The recipe here is the amount that I made...
(tweaked slightly from The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart)
3 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp instant yeast
2 Tbsp honey
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup warm water
Mix the flour, salt, and yeast together in a mixing bowl.
Add the honey and olive oil to the warm water and mix, then add that mixture to the flour mixture and stir just enough to bring it all into a rough ball.
Sprinkle a bit of flour on a table or counter and move the dough to that surface. Knead for about 10 minutes. The dough should be medium-firm, not sticky at all, and stretchy when pulled.
Put the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a towel. When the dough has risen for about 2 hours, punch it down and it is ready to roll and bake.
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. Divide the dough into eight or nine equal portions. Roll each portion into a rough circle that is slightly less than 1/2" thick. The breads can be baked on a baking stone or simply on a cookie sheet. (I used a cookie sheet because my oven was already hot and I had forgotten to put the baking stone in - the good news is that the cookie sheet method worked beautifully.) This next bit is the important part. Bake just until the breads inflate and form a pocket. Count to 10 and take them out of the oven with a spatula before they brown. You will want to do this and pay attention to the baking (I know this because I didn't pay close enough attention with the first three pieces). The breads are still delicious when allowed to brown slightly but the whole pocket thing is kind of lost and they become a bit heavy, whereas if removed at the count of 10 mark they are lovely and light as air - very tender and moist. The entire baking time is really very short, just a few minutes but it is quite entertaining to watch, so just enjoy the process
We ate our pitas with kebabs, Greek salad and a yummy Feta-mint dip. Absolute yummy heaven.
This would be totally fun and do-able with young children. Next time some of our littles are around I think I may do it with them just for fun.
* late in the plan as in at 2:00pm for a 5:00pm meal. To be truthful I probably wouldn't have started them much before then anyway but I may have worked out a bit more of the other meal details in a different order....but that's another story entirely. lol.
Apparently some people have a bias against carrot cake. I was shocked (and saddened) to be made aware of that but there you go ... as they say, it takes all kinds to make the world. We love carrot cake. And that is not the royal we but actually includes the entire family. Whenever the question arises as to what kind of birthday cake somebody wants, carrot cake always makes the short list and often wins the day. Of course it is also an everyday favorite as well.
A few weeks ago Eden needed to take a dessert to a dinner party and after a bit of discussion re options she decided to take a carrot cake. After all we reasoned, who doesn't like carrot cake?! That's when we found out that there are a lot of people that don't start to salivate at the mere thought of it. The response to her contribution was initially disappointing but the other guests at the party were (fortunately for them) too polite to refuse dessert and they consequently had a life-changing experience. Eden came into the kitchen some time after dessert had been served to find one of the men eating cake straight out of the pan with a fork, mumbling through his full mouth that this carrot cake was amazing!!! That's when somebody else piped up with much the same opinion..."I don't usually like carrot cake but this carrot cake is amazing" and more of the same ensued. Huh! Well, we were dumbfounded. Dumbfounded but happy to know that in the end we had spread a bit of carrot cake goodness to previously unenlightened souls.
The result of this experience is my deciding to share the recipe for The Carrot Cake that we love so much. I know that carrot cake is not new and that there are lots of recipes for many variations floating around but ..... seriously, this carrot cake is amazing. It is not the kind of cake that will win any kind of notice at the Carrot Cake Beauty Pageants. Definitely not showy, it is in fact a bit of an embarrassment in the looks department. But like many good books it should not be judged by its cover. The ingredients are simple but the combination is divine.
2 cups flour
2 tsp soda
3 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp sea salt
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups oil
2 cups grated carrots
Whisk dry ingredients together. Combine the eggs and oil - mix into the dry ingredients. Add the grated carrots and mix until well combined. Bake in a 9 x 13 pan for 50-60 minutes at 350 degrees F.
(As you can see this is an old recipe - a lot of oil and not much for method. Ha! but trust me it is good!)
Cream Cheese Icing
8 oz cream cheese
3 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
Cream the cheese until smooth, add the sugar 1 cup at a time (unless you want to powder-sugar coat your kitchen - in which case go for it and add it all at once) beating until smooth. Add the vanilla and mix well.
Frost the thoroughly cooled cake and enjoy.
Today is Thomas's 29th birthday. He is about as middle as one could be in a family - he is the third of five children with both an older brother and an older sister and a younger brother and a younger sister. But anything else about Thomas is definitely not middle of the road. He is a first rate kind of guy in every significant way.
Thomas is the father who plays pirate with his kids on an evening when his wife is out. Plays pirate with all the fun props - the skulls and bones dug out of the Halloween box along with other pirate bits - and honestly enjoys it. And then baths the kids and puts them to bed with a story after saying prayers.
Thomas is the guy who loves the outdoors - rock-climbing, hiking, backpacking, camping, snowboarding.He is also the guy who learned how to drywall by watching youtube videos and then did his basement - and it looks great! Really. And made cool light fixtures for their home out of odd parts. And they look great too. Really.
Thomas is the son who uses a day off work to spend the entire day (from 8:00 AM-10:30 PM) helping us with our recent interior painting project. The brother that helps build decks or paint or work on renovation projects. The chemical engineer who paints beautiful pictures.
He is a man who is honest and ethical and trustworthy, absolutely. Who is committed to his family, his God, and his faith. Thomas is the man who will stay the course. He is fun, funny, loving, strong, nerdy sometimes and cool always.
In response to a birthday email I sent him this morning he said:
Moms should really be given something on their children's b-days. After all it was YOU who did all the hard work on this day 29 years ago!
What he doesn't know is that he is the gift - he was the gift 29 years ago and he is every time I see him. I love him so, so much.
Happy Birthday Thomas!
Babies grow so fast and Ysa has outgrown the pretty little quilts that Merin made with such love and anticipation - which gave me the opportunity to make her a new one. When Eden suggested the project I knew immediately which of the fabrics I would choose from the stash in the sewing room closet. Merin had wanted to make a larger throw-quilt and we had chosen fabric for it but never got around to making it. The fabric was just sitting there wanting to be used and this was the perfect thing.
I gathered those fabrics plus a few more that had significance*, got a bit inspired with a design, and had the most wonderful time creating a quilt that I must admit I am very pleased with. In fact, I think it is one of the very best things I have ever made. I love it! (laugh at me!)
The design and process are both very simple. I used a linen/cotton blend for the background fabric and hand appliqued the fabric circles onto that. To make the fabric circles nice and round I sewed featherweight iron-on interfacing together with the fabric, right side of the fabric and iron-on side of the interfacing in. I sewed around the entire circle, then cut a slit in the interfacing and turned the circle right-side out. Simple finger pressing of the edges made the line nice and clean, and then it was time to experiment with placement.
When I was satisfied I pinned the circles in place and ironed them down. Sadly, as great as the iron-on concept is it is not good enough to stand multiple washings and constant wear (which I really hope this quilt gets) so I hand-stitched each circle in place. Next step was to layer the backing fabric (Merin's first choice of fabrics for her quilt and her favorite of them all - a lovely soft, satiny rayon/cotton blend), the cotton quilt batting, and the top. I hand basted those together and finally got to the quilting - around each circle as well as a few "shadow" circles in the negative spaces. A simple binding with the same fabric as the backing and the quilt was complete. Simple....but I must admit it took me a while.
Making this quilt was a real labor of love. I can't decide exactly who I am expressing love for - Ysa, Eden, Merin... so perhaps it is a hand-stitched statement of my love for all three. Certainly I feel like it is a bridge of sorts. Lots of unfocused thoughts here that I am not sure I really want to articulate but they are good, positive, pleasant thoughts that look back as well as to the future. Most likely this quilt will not mean nearly as much to anyone as it does to me but that is just fine. I have gotten my money's worth and I am happy.
Happy snuggling Ysa and Eden.
*There are bits of fabric from Japan, scraps from Merin's old pajamas, a piece that was leftover from an apron making project that Merin did one Christmas, a piece from a skirt that I made Aubrie last summer, bits from the baby quilts Merin made, and you might recognize the voile I used to make the up-cycled baby romper for Ysa. Lots of pretty color, texture, and memories.
Short and sweet - these cookies are almost (but never quite) as irresistible as Theo. Honestly, have you ever seen anything quite as delicious?
But back to the cookies. A few simple, quality ingredients and an equally few minutes of time, a tiny bit of magic, and presto! magically delicious cookies with an addictive chewy/crispy, salty/sweet combination. (Really, these cookies are very good.)
Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies
(adapted from Gluten-Free Girl)
1 1/2 cups organic, natural extra-chunky peanut butter
1/2 cup almond butter
2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup light brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
2 large eggs (I use free-run, organic)
1/2 tsp sea salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
In a large mixing bowl cream together the nut butters and sugars. This is easiest to do by hand rather with with a mixer - just use a good bamboo or wooden spoon. Mix in the baking powder. At this point you will be quite certain that this mixture will not make successful cookies. Time for the tiny bit of magic. Add the eggs and mix well. The moisture in the eggs makes the whole thing 'seize' much like melted chocolate does when water is added to it, and voila! all of a sudden you have perfect cookie dough.
I use a small (1" diameter) scoop to form small balls but you could use your hands if you prefer. Place evenly spaced on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and flatten slightly with a fork. Bake for 10 minutes. Cool on the baking sheet* for 10-15 minutes before moving to a cooling rack. The cookies are fragile when warm and need to harden before they can be moved.
*If you use the parchment paper then you can slide the whole batch off the pan and onto the cooling rack in one slick move, thereby freeing up the pan for the next batch to bake. More cookies faster!
Just for fun I thought I would see how the addition of some really superior dark chocolate chips would work out. Not too surprisingly, I think the chocolate made excellent cookies even better. I was generous in the amount of chocolate chips I added - I can't give any precise amount because I just shook about 2/3 cup into the last bit of cookie dough in the bowl and mixed them in. It was enough to make 10 yummy little cookies. These I didn't fork-flatten.
Before I was a mother I was not aware that I had a
But here's the news! On my last trip to Vancouver I had a personal preview tour of the newest attraction at Capilano Suspension Bridge and I (very) bravely walked the entire thing. (okay, I had to be laughingly shamed into it but I did it!) Jonathon took a few minutes out of his busy work day at The Bridge to show me the sights and it was amazing.
Cliffwalk opens tomorrow to the public and the promo is absolutely right that it is a "heart-stopping cliffside journey". Built into (onto...out of..?) the granite cliff face above the Capilano River as it runs through the park, Cliffwalk is a series of very cool and cooly engineered walkways. It is very high and very narrow and in some spots made of thick glass (and yes, I did walk on it ... very scary! but I am so brave) and totally breathtaking and beautiful.
The salmon are actually concrete sculptures. I thought they were so beautiful - wish I had one or two to swim in my garden.
The views from the 'walk' are incredible and opportunities to be educated about the rainforest abound. I am so glad I gathered my courage. One more reason to love Vancouver!
These two shots are from the official promo material and show Cliffwalk from an angle that I couldn't/wouldn't. That's Jonathon mugging for the camera in the red jacket! Ha!