Sunday, September 29, 2013

Sunday Night Chit Chat: A Week Of the Impromtu

Hey Humble Readers...

I think you may have caught on to this fact, but I'm a very planned-out kind of person.  That doesn't mean that I'm opposed to spontaneity, just that I prefer things to go as I expected.  This week was full of changes in plans, mostly good, some not-so-good.  It meant that I was juggling a lot of my to dos, and many didn't get done. 

The Good

My friend Sira is moving soon, and she needed some help with packing, so I went over one evening this past week.  We managed to pack a good number of boxes, and got to chat and hang out in the process. 

And it was Sira's birthday on Friday, so she, our friend JJ (so named in bloggy land because she reminds me of JJ from Criminal Minds), and I went out for dinner and to a movie.  The pub we went to for dinner was new to me, and the food was fan-freakin-tastic.  I had a spectacular burger, but the fries stole the show... fresh cut, dressed with truffle oil and topped with fresh parmesan cheese.  This place has 8 or 9 different kinds of poutine!  Yum! 

When I got home from being out with the girls, my Beloved told me that his mom had called and wanted some wee-ling time.  So we got an unplanned date night.  We went a did a little browsing for Christmas gifts for the wee-lings (I wanted my Beloved's opinion on what I was leaning toward), went to the bookstore for a while, and then went for dinner (to the same pub where the girls and I had gone the night before...Yay!), and then to a movie.  Two movies for me in one weekend.  Crazy.

My MIL asked us to come down to Little Town To The South for the afternoon today, so after church and a not-so-healthy lunch (yes, that was my third meal out in three days... not good), we packed up the wee-lings and hit the road.  We got to hang out with MIL, her new 'friend' (he seems nice... her first date in more than 57 years), and a couple of my Beloved's brothers and their wives.  We ate (waaaaay too early), played cards, and bemoaned the Roughriders' four game losing streak. 

The Bad

Pip has had a rough week with teething.  I know I really don't get to gripe about sleep issues, because both of the wee-lings have been exceptional sleepers, but twice this week he woke up after midnight screaming, and not wanting to settle for more than an hour.  And his screaming wakes Ginny too, since they share a room.  The lack of sleep, and general fussiness and grumpiness of all of us has contributed to a lack of desire to do much of anything productive this week. 

I haven't had any motivation to go walking at all for far too long.  It's so dark, and so absurdly cold in the mornings (I normally don't turn on the furnace until well into October, but all week I've been contemplating it.  Definitely below freezing overnight.)  Of course I've gained back a couple of pounds.  I did, however join a gym, and am going for my first session with a trainer tomorrow night.  I got a pretty good deal on the membership, so I guess that counts as a win. 

I've been slacking off on my diligence on my carb balance too, so that begets the ugly cycle... blood sugars rise from too many carbs >>> higher blood sugars make me feel sluggish and dopey >>> feeling dopey makes me not want to be active and crave more carbs >>> more carbs means higher sugars... and on and on and on.  I must get back on track!  My sugars haven't been terribly high, but I can feel the difference in my energy level.  And, I have been struggling with the unpleasant side-effects of taking iron supplements (the opposite of my usual IBS battle), feeling generally icky.  But the kicker is, my iron was still too low to donate blood yesterday.  Grrr.  I missed the cut off by five points. 

And lastly, because of the impromptu time away from home this weekend, we are just now doing laundry.  *sigh*
Ginny with her grey 'glansent'. 
It rotates from being a cloak, to a tent,
to a toga, to a hiding place.

Ok, enough whining.  On to this week's chit chat.  Here's what I'm...

Reading... Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  I was re-reading it a month ago, but it got interrupted by a couple of time sensitive books.  I'm just now getting back to it.  Up next is Painted Girls, and after that Ender's Game. 

Watching... Nothing in particular.  Recorded another day worth of Doctor Who episodes today (thank you Space channel), which I will eventually get around to watching.  Beloved is watching You Gotta Eat Here (the Canadian version of Diners, Drive-ins, & Dives). 

Listening to... the washing machine do its thing. 

Cooking/Baking... Nothing for the last few days.  I did make a new recipe this week, Chicken Club Enchiladas and it was yummy.  Needed more cheese though.  Tomorrow night is my Lazy Sausage Casserole... lots and lots of roasted veggies (fennel, potatoes, carrots, parsnips, tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, and green pepper), with a balsamic vinaigrette and topped with slow roasted Italian sausage.  Yum!

Happy I Accomplished This Week... I'm proud of myself for making a big pot of veggie soup on Monday to use for my lunches all week.  It was yummy, cost effective, and generally healthy. 

Looking Forward To Next Week... Getting started at the gym.  Taking the wee-lings to the Fall Festival at a local farm and pumpkin patch.  And right now the forecast is for good weather.  Yay!

Thankful For... Extended family.  Laughter. 

***Bonus Question***  What's the largest sum of money you've ever found? Nothing substantial.  I think maybe a $20 in the pocket of my winter coat, from the year before. 

*****
This was posted as a part of Carla's Sunday Night Chit Chat.  Pop over and check out what the others are chatting about tonight!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Hobbit-ish Holiday Preparation

Hey Humble Readers...

First up, I want to remind you to scroll down to yesterday's post.  Check out my interview with author JR Vikse about his new book The Keeper Chronicles: Playing With Fire.  Make sure to enter the giveaway to win a free copy!

*****
On Sunday, Carla (of Sunday Night Chit Chat fame) asked if we had started thinking about or planning for Christmas already.  If we had started shopping for gifts already. 

My response was a resounding yes. 

I know you may think I'm nuts, but I have many reasons for starting my Christmas preparations long before Thanksgiving and Halloween. 

You must understand, I love Christmas. Love, love, LOOOOOOOVVVVE it.  Not in a "I want my tree up for three months" or "I start playing Christmas music in July" kind of way.  I love the tradition, the family, and the faith elements of the season.  The first Sunday in Advent marks the beginning of the church year, and like Lent leading up to the celebration of Easter, Christmas just isn't Christmas without the period of reflective contemplation that leads up to it.  And I don't want that time distracted by worrying about if I've remembered to get this person a gift or if I forgot to bake cookies for the youth group's cookie walk. 

For many years, I worked in retail, and the advent journey and holiday spirit can easily get destroyed in that environment.  You see a lot of people at their absolute worst... bosses, co-workers, customers.  People get cranky, stressed, and frustrated with the crowds, the cost, and the demands of the season.  The way that I try to alleviate all that for myself, and as much as I can for my family, is by doing extensive prep work.  I want to be able to focus on the spirit of Advent and Christmas, without the distraction of having to get this and that and the other done, wrapped, or baked. 

Honestly, I start thinking about Christmas in January or February.  If there are any crafts or special projects that I want to do for décor or as gifts, I like to start putting together a game plan early.  That way I can watch for good prices on supplies, and make good use of my time so I'm not rushing at the end. 

The planning begins in earnest just after Labour Day.  I have a document on my computer that I use to map the holidays. (This is where I show my anal-retentiveness a bit... I actually have one for each holiday and special day throughout the year.  Christmas is just the most developed.)  I have all my info in one place...

Menu - What are we eating?  Trying a new recipe?  Do I need to do a trial run? 
Guests - Who's coming?  Will I need extra seating?  Any extra dishes or cutlery needed?
Greeting Cards - Who am I sending to?  Ideas for picture?  Where will I order them from?
Gifts - family, friends, my Beloved's co-workers, neighbours
Stocking Stuffers - immediate family only
Special Events - outside events (Santa pictures, Advent events at church, parties, etc)

New this year to my planning sheet is Elf on the Shelf.  Last year was our first with Hermy, and we had a lot of fun just hiding him around the hobbit-hole.  This year, I want to do some more creative things with our Elf, so I've mapped out the 25 days that he'll be with us.  That way, if I need some specific supplies, I know in advance and can plan accordingly.  I knew that I wanted to incorporate some service to others in amongst the fun and frivolity that comes with the Elf, so I've planned one service project a week.  Ginny is old enough to understand that it's important to help others, so the food bank, our congregation's Angel tree, neighbour gifts, and necessities for the homeless are all a part of my plans for Hermy. 

Shopping for gifts, of course, is a big part of my preparation for the holidays.  I'm sure you're all aware we live on a pretty tight budget most of the time, so I want to make the most of the funds we have.  To keep things under control, in a season when it's far too easy to go overboard, I use the five-gift rule for our immediate family.  Everyone gets something to wear, something to read, something they need, something they want, and something from Santa.  The things the wee-lings "need" is generally something educational, and the things they "want" is a toy.  Santa gifts are also toys. 

I know that there's a risk in buying gifts early.  The wee-lings' interests might change.  There might be something that comes up last minute that my Beloved wants more than what I've already purchased.  Clothes may not fit (and exchanges after 60 days can get a little tricky).  Heck, I may even forget where I've hidden something... it's been known to happen.  But I've found that the benefits outweigh the risks.  By spreading out my shopping, I prevent a big hit on our budget, and no gifts go onto credit. 

My goal is always to be done with my shopping and planning by the end of November.  That way, I can focus my mind and spirit on the Advent journey, and on allowing the magic of the season to seep into my soul.

One thing that we've just really gotten into is year-round saving for Christmas.  Our Santa's Choice grocery order will arrive end of November or beginning of December.  We pay a bit each week, and it gets us a boatload of staples (pantry and freezer items, including our Christmas turkey).  This is our second year doing Santa's Choice. 

We have also started using this savings plan. 
Here's a link to a printable.  Most people do this from January-December.  We decided to do it September-August, so that we have a budget for the holidays.  We've only just started it, so we'll see how it goes. 

This whole rambling post has been about what works for me, so that I'm not only able to survive the holidays, but truly enjoy them.  How do you plan for the holidays?  Do you start early?  Are you a last minute person?

Monday, September 23, 2013

Author Moment: An Interview with JR Vikse - Part The Second

Good Evening Humble Readers...

I hope you've all had a great Monday.  Or at least as good as a Monday can get.  My day has been wonderfully productive, and now I get to come and hang out with you fine folks!  Yay!
JR Vikse
Today I am privileged to bring you the second part of my interview with my friend JR Vikse.  His new book, The Keeper Chronicles: Playing With Fire, released earlier this month, and after I got a chance to read it, I fired a bunch of questions at him.  He was generous enough to share some insights into his process of creating a fantastical world, peopled with numerous races, intriguing characters, and power-hungry villains. 

On a personal note, I was blown away by this book.  As I told JR, in reading his book I became profoundly aware of the fact that I will never be fit to write fantasy.  I am already harassing him for the next installment.  If you enjoy young adult fantasy, you will LOVE this story.  I don't want to spoil anything for you guys. 

Many authors can pinpoint when or where an idea first came to them.  How did Tranthaea first come to you?  It's true, sometimes there is a moment, or an image, or an idea that you just know is going to be special. Tranthaea, and the stories that are encompassed within it, was one of those ideas for me. It originally came to me as a picture in my head. I had the idea of a warrior riding a silver, floating animal, both horse-like and fish-like, but at the same time like nothing ever seen before. The warrior and creature were slowly and silently weaving through the trees of a dark forest. 
A simple enough image, but one that held a great fascination for me, and quickly grew more detailed in my mind. This, thankfully, was expanded upon to great effect, and eventually the story and the world that you read about in The Keeper Chronicles: Playing with Fire came about. For you watchful readers, that conceptual image did make it into the book, so keep an eye out for it (although many other original ideas did not, but that's another story!).

How much of this story, and Tranthaea itself, was inspired by your time in Australia?  (If any)
Very little of the story itself (plot, etc.) was inspired by the years I lived in Australia, but some of the characters were. One old and wise character in particular (not to give too much away, though if you've read the book, you might just know who I mean!) was inspired by a neighbour of mine, and plays an integral part in the story of Tranthaea. I actually have a picture of said neighbour on my website in the Author's Blog section, for those readers who are interested in a sneak peek!  I have been fortunate enough to live in some of the most beautiful countries in the world, traversed continents and hemispheres, and seen many sights, and though I have not purposefully based any locations in the book on places I've visited, I'm sure that similarities abound. After all, we write what we know. We shall see if the next book reflects my new home in any way!

The relationship between the natural world and the peoples who inhabit it becomes a large part of the story (rather Tolkein-esque, in my opinion ðŸ˜Š).  Was that intentional, or did it sneak up on you? An intentional happiness. I knew early on that I wanted to start the trilogy with a very segregated group of societies, and for me those groups were naturally constructed based on their environments. A large part of my pre-production for the book was the creation of characters, peoples, societies, and creatures that would feel like they have a long and strong history with the world they live in, and with each other. I really wanted to give the feeling of a fully developed world with its own challenges and beauties that has a history outside of its interactions with Humans. I'm very glad that came across in the reading! 

You said previously that writing Jingwei’s character was ‘incredibly freeing’ and a ‘pleasure’.  She certainly isn't shy about stating her opinion.  Were there other surprises from your characters?  Characters who were harder to control or make do your bidding?  I think each character I write is surprising to me in the end. There is some unknown point in the writing of a book when the characters begin to have more input into what happens to them, and the personalities that you've created start to affect the storyline and the other characters in ways that you didn't expect. Certainly there were characters that I fell in love with that I didn't intend to, and other characters who simply decided to write themselves a bigger part than they were originally intended to have! Callum Swift (the other lead character, along with Jingwei Li) was a pleasant surprise for me. When I started the writing process, I wasn't sure if I was going to like him as much as Jingwei, (not that I disliked him, but against such a strong personality, it would have been easy for him to disappear) but he grew on me very quickly, and is now a favourite of myself and my readers!

I'm in awe of the breadth and depth of your cast of characters.  Were there any races that were more difficult to envision or create?   Thanks very much! Yes indeed. The design process was an extremely fun and challenging part of the writing of the book, and  and I knew very early on that I didn't want this to be "just another fantasy series," so I steered clear of placing any elves, dwarves, or unicorns in my world. As I mentioned before, the peoples and creatures that I created were meant to show connection and history with the environment around them, so as I designed the races, their place in the world, both figuratively and literally, helped create their physical appearance as well as their political affiliations. The gru'Esh and the Aru Faylen were a couple of tricky species to work with, because once their... unique physicalities were decided upon, some common actions, such as talking or breathing, became very difficult for them. Figuring out the solutions to these little challenges was a great deal of fun, and paid off with some intricate and interesting ideas and details that really bring the races a depth and personality that translates well in the book.

The conflict that arises in Tranthaea, while based in the immediate, stems from some pretty major decisions made in the past.  Will those decisions, made by past leaders continue to haunt the Keepers and the peoples of Tranthaea?  Will we get to learn more about Tranthaea’s history in the rest of the trilogy?  Ahhh, a very astute observation. Yes, the past is extremely important to the events of the first book of the trilogy, and will continue to be so in the next two books. I have a very thorough chronology that details major events in Tranthaea's history, going back hundreds of years, which I often refer to as I write. Tranthaea's history is long and rich, and the decisions that have been made, the baggage that has been carried, and the effects that those have on the present are driving forces in the trilogy, as you have seen, and will see again as the next two books are written and released.

I hope that you all are intrigued, Humble Readers.  This book is a wonderfully entertaining read, and creates a new and exciting fantasy world for us all to escape into. 

The Keeper Chronicles: Playing With Fire is available from Amazon.  And don't forget to check out JR Vikse's website to learn more about Playing With Fire, The Lazy Postman, and his other projects. 

And, Humble Readers, I am offering you a chance to win a copy of Playing With Fire.  Tell me in the comments what your favourite fantasy series is, and why everyone should read it.  Giveaway winner will be announced on September 29, 2013. 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Sunday Night Chit Chat: Happy Hobbit Day!!

Hey Humble Readers...

Happy Hobbit Day everyone!  Today is my hairy-toed cousins' (several times removed, of course) birthday!  I should have planned a bit of a celebration, but you know what?  I kind of forgot *gasp* until just a little while ago. 

I was in a great mood all day, even with Pippin having a major meltdown at church this morning, until about an hour ago.  Then I had to use power tools.  That involved a lot of foul language, an injured finger, and a few ugly scratches on my newly painted bathroom walls.  But at least the new mirror is finally up, as are the towel hooks.  Whew!
Just realized that Pip was wearing the WRONG colours!
He's wearing Lions orange.  Bah!
Gotta find that kid something in Rider green. 
Today was a football day for the residents of this little hobbit hole.  Ginny was particularly excited because she got to wear her own "jersey shirt" this afternoon.  She's had it for a while but it was way too big last year, and way too warm to wear it until now.  Sadly, the Riders lost it in the last 30 seconds of the game (personally, I think they came to the game too late).  But Ginny was having a blast cheering for "da green guys".  At least she was most of the time.  Sometimes she would cheer for the wrong team, but she thought that was terribly funny. 
She told Daddy that she wants to be a
football player.  Too cute!
Tomorrow's post will be the second half of my interview with actor, director, author, and my friend, JR Vikse.  I heard a rumour that there might even be another give away... You better stop by to check it out.  :)

On to this week's chit chat.  Here's what I'm...

Reading - I'm about a third of the way into The Cuckoo's Calling.  Mystery isn't usually my taste, but I'm liking this one, and no, not just because JK Rowling wrote it.  The main character is intriguing, and I'm liking the grittiness of it.  Who knows, there might be more mysteries in my future. 

Watching - A Mike Holmes show.  Not sure which one, he has a bunch on HGTV.  But I love him, and what he does to make things right for people who have been screwed over by unethical contractors. 

Listening To - My Beloved, making his lunch for tomorrow.

Cooking/Baking - Tonight was a roasted turkey breast, mashed potatoes, and broccoli.  Pretty tame.  Tomorrow is Chicken Pesto Pizza and salad.  I'm also making a big pot of vegetable soup (for my lunches next week) and I'm thinking I'm going to try altering my favourite pumpkin bread recipe into something a bit lower carb.  I've been craving pumpkin bread.

Happy I Accomplished This Week - All my cooking.  The pesto, the tomato sauce, the plum jam.  I managed to get the hobbit-hole cleaned, and I remembered to go to the eyewear place to get them to fix my frames (yes, I had a screw loose). 

Looking Forward To Next Week - Hopefully seeing some movement on the scale.  Donating blood.  Trying a couple of new recipes.

Thankful For - Awesome sales (see the Bonus Question), children who fall asleep before the bedtime story is over, free movie rental from our cable company that allowed us to see "Silver Linings Playbook" (GREAT movie). 

***Bonus Question*** Have you started thinking about Christmas? Shopping yet? Planning anything??  Of course I have!  I started really thinking about it last month, and started my planning right after our little mini-vacation.  I have I have a few gifts already, including my Beloved's main gift.  I went out today, just planning on pricing out a few options, and ended up finding a smoking good price on what I was looking for.  Seriously, I saved more than 50% on it (sorry I can't tell you all what it is, but my Beloved reads this from time to time, and I don't want him to find out).  I was stoked.  I also got a few ideas for the wee-lings, and decided that some of the ideas I thought we would go with just wouldn't work.  I start early so that I can watch for good sales, and to spread out the shopping so that it's not as big a hit on our budget.  I actually have much more to say about how I plan for the holidays, but I think I'll do a whole separate post for that later in the week. 

*****
This was posted as a part of Carla's Sunday Night Chit Chat.  Pop over and check out what the others are chatting about this week. 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

September ICLW: Hobbit-ish Randomness

Hey Humble Readers & ICLW Visitors...

I hope you all have some fun stuff planned for your weekend.  Ours is going to be pretty laid back, with only a few errands on the to do list. 

I wanted to come up with some nifty little intro for ICLW, but I'm drawing a blank, so instead I'm just going to share some random tidbits about me and my family.  If I can manage to come with something that I haven't shared in the last five years. 
  1. I am a potato-aholic.  And I'm particular about which kind of potatoes I use for different recipes.  Russets for baking and for oven fries, red potatoes for soups and stews, baby potatoes for roasting, and Yukon Gold for day to day boiling and mashing.  It's a terrible thing given the Big D, but I seem to be making it work.  (Five months in and I'm still using a measuring cup to portion my starches.  I just don't trust myself.)
  2. You all, I'm sure, are aware of my love of books, and I've mentioned previously that I cannot be trusted alone in any office supply store (school supplies are intoxicating), but did you know that I love typewriters?  My favourite toy when I was a kid was my red and white typewriter.  I long to start a collection of antique typewriters... they just so rarely show up for reasonable prices around here.  And where in the world would I put them in the hobbit-hole?
  3. I have appalling handwriting, unless I'm writing with a fountain pen.  Something about using a fountain pen just makes my handwriting look awesome. 
  4. I have blue eyes, and so does Pip.  My Beloved has beautiful brown eyes, and Ginny has the most amazing shade-shifting hazel eyes.  One moment they are blue-green, others they are grey, and even the occasional golden hues. 
  5. My favourite flowers are tulips and peonies.  I also like lavender, lilacs, and wisteria.  I don't like dahlias. 
  6. I have rather strong toes.  When I was a child, I was known to rip up board game boxes and books (without realizing I was doing so) while laying on the floor playing a game.  I can grip a pen in my toes, but don't have the coordination to write. 
  7. Ginny has many words of her own creation including, but not limited to, glansents (blankets), frinkles (freckles) and patos (interchangeably potatoes and tomatoes). 
  8. Pippin, when he gets excited (like when my Beloved gets home from work), does this crazy thing where he throws himself backward.  It can get dangerous depending on where he's hanging out at the time. 
  9. I can't do spin-y rides, or those ones where you are in a seat that moves to go along with the movies shown on the screen... I will hurl.  I promise.  I love roller coasters though. 
Ok, so that's all I can think of right now.  What's something totally and completely random about you?

Friday, September 20, 2013

Hobbit-ish Potpurri: Glorious Autumn!

Hey Humble Readers...

Have I ever told you all how much I love the fall?  It has always felt like a time of new beginnings, a chance to start over, for setting goals and planning ahead.  I love it.  It has cooled off tremendously in the Shire, and it is much more comfortable in the hobbit-hole.  We have had frost warnings the past few nights, so I'm very thankful that I got my basil and thyme harvested. 

*****
As I write this, the most intoxicating aroma of tomatoes, basil, and garlic is wafting through the hobbit-hole.  A big batch of my oven roasted marinara is gently bubbling away in the slow cooker.  It's so nice to be able to use fresh, local ingredients in this recipe.  The tomatoes come from just a bit down south of us, the onions from a local Hutterite colony, the garlic is from a local grower, and the basil is mine.  Woohoo.  I really should have started making tomato sauce much earlier in the summer, to take advantage of the tomatoes at the farmers market. 

*****
It's happened, Humble Readers.  Pippin has hit the "I can take off my diaper" stage.  Three times yesterday.  Thankfully, I caught him each time just after, so the mess was minimized.  Of course, he thinks it's hilarious.

This situation does reiterate something that I've noticed and mentioned before.  He's hitting milestones about four to six months behind when Ginny did.  I'm really trying hard not to be too concerned about this, and I know I was worried about Ginny's lack of vocabulary, but this seems different.  Pippin is 16 months old and hasn't spoken a word.  He makes noises, but nothing that seems intentional, except occasional car noises when he's playing with his cars.  The family anecdote is that my Beloved didn't speak until he was almost five.  Forty years ago, there wasn't much known about Aspergers and we both recognize now that he is somewhere on that spectrum (his tics, obsessive nature about certain things, his difficulty with some social cues).  When do I stop just being concerned about Pip, and actually start actively seeking intervention?  He has a well-baby check up coming up in a couple of months.  Do I wait until then?  Am I being ridiculous?

*****
I had a pretty major "Yippee!" moment yesterday.  The two plus-size clothing stores here in town both have points cards, and of course I am a member.  One of the perks is getting a special coupon to use in the month of your birthday.  I went shopping last night, and had a couple of truly awesome moments.  First, I needed some new yoga pants.  The ones I wear for walks are capri length and with it getting much cooler over night, it's getting a bit too chilly to wear them.  I also knew that the pair I have now are a bit too big.  So, for kicks, I tried on a pair two sizes smaller AND THEY FIT!  They are an X.  Not 1X, not 2X... just an X.  Yay!  I also tried on, just for curiosity's sake, a pair of size 18 jeans.  AND THEY FIT TOO!  (I confess, I did try a size 16, and that was absolutely a no go.)  Jeans weren't on the shopping list (waiting until Boxing Week sales), just yoga pants and a couple of long sleeved t-shirts (down to a 2X from a 3X last spring), but with the coupons I saved a bunch and came of there smiling.  Also of note, I FINALLY busted through the 70lb wall.  I'm down about 71.5 and hopefully things continue.  After the splurges around my birthday, I need to get back on track. 

*****
Does anyone know if there is a connection between teething and eczema?  Pip's eczema has flared up again (I had hoped we were getting it under control) and the only thing I can think of is that he's been teething pretty hard the last couple of weeks with his canines. 

*****
The second part of my interview with author JR Vikse is coming up in a few days.  I hope you'll come back and check it out! 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Special Days

Howdy Humble Readers... 

Well, I'm officially 39.  The year when no one will believe me when I tell them my age.  *sigh*  I'm not one to put a lot of emphasis on my age.  30 didn't bother me, I don't see why 40 should.  And besides, I've still got a year to get there. 

Am I where I thought I'd be at this age? 

In some respects, yes.  I'm married, with two adorable wee-lings.  I have a mortgage and car payments.  I've travelled some.  I'm still 'fluffy', just not as fluffy as I was a year ago. 

In other respects, I'm not.  I'm not a published author.  And I had thought that my children would be older by the time I reached the end of my thirties (I mean, when my bio-mom was 39, I was 21).  I don't have a brilliant career, never have had.  But I love being a stay at home mom, and heck, Julia Child didn't even start to cook until she was 37, so I still have plenty of time to make my mark somewhere. 

Yesterday was a nice mellow day.  The wee-lings and I just hung out, playing and reading books.  My Beloved brought me flowers, take-out Chinese food (terrible for my blood sugars but oh so yummy), and a double chocolate cupcake from a super awesome cupcakery here in town. 

I ended the day by diving into a new book.  Finally getting to start the Cuckoo's Calling.  I've been looking forward to this since July. 

*****
Today is also a special day.  It's my fifth blogoversary.  Five years ago I set up this little corner of the internet in hopes of using it to share the joy of our growing family with my friends and relations.  Sadly, the day after I set it up was the day I lost Emily. 

This virtual hobbit-hole has been my place of solace.  You all have become my friends, my consolation, and my cheerleaders.  Through the spectacularly painful to the giddy mountain tops of joy to the mundane day to day, you all have walked with me, sharing my tears and laughter.

Thank you all for joining me on this journey.  I wonder where I'll be in another year. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Productive Day

Hey Humble Readers...

Considering how I felt when I woke up this morning (the crud has developed into a cough), I'm actually very proud of how much I've accomplished today. 

I made plum jam.  My first time making jam since cooking class in junior high school.  Most of it is going into the freezer, to be used throughout  the winter.  I'm happy with how it turned out.  I'm actually feeling confident enough to attempt making my own marmalade.  In a few weeks, maybe after Thanksgiving (first weekend in October for those of us north of the 49th parallel). 
All my beautiful basil
I also harvested my basil.  Can I just say how proud I am of myself for keeping two basil plants alive and thriving throughout the summer?  Me, the hobbit with the black thumb.  I'm thrilled.  I paid $8 for the plants, and given that a little bunch of fresh basil at the store costs $4, I was already ahead just with what I used fresh through the summer months.  I made a total of three cups of pesto sauce (recipe below), dried enough to fill a medium Ziploc bag, and have several branches in a jar with water to be used when I make my marinara later this week (and to be used over the next week or two). 

I figure I spent $8 for the plants.  I used probably $30 worth over the summer.  A cup of pesto at the grocery store costs about $4, multiplied by three is $12.  Dried basil in the amount that I have now is probably worth about $3.  Plus another $15 worth in fresh that is making a nice bouquet on my kitchen table right now.  So that's $8 spent, and $60 worth of product.  Not a bad return on investment.  If I could actually make growing from seeds work for me, I would be able to save even more. 
Dried basil, done in the oven (200F, on convection setting)
for an hour
I also harvested my thyme.  I have it tied in bundles and hanging to dry in the storage room.   

I think I have enough pesto to do me until February or March.  Jam will probably last until Christmas, as will the thyme.  The dried basil will last me until the end of November.  No where near the end of winter of course, but still I'm proud of my work today. 
Before washing
Marinara will be in process tomorrow or Thursday. 

Now I need to stop procrastinating on cleaning the hobbit-hole.  The only cleaning I did today was a load of towels (which still need to go into the dryer). 

Here's the pesto recipe.  It's pretty basic.  I use almonds instead of the traditional pine nuts simply for cost.  Pine nuts are three times the price of almonds. 

I cheated a little and bought the peeled garlic, lemon juice, and
shredded parm. 
Basil Pesto

4 cups fresh basil leaves, washed
1/2 cup olive oil, divided
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
5 cloves of garlic, peeled
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/3 cup shredded parmesan cheese
salt & pepper to taste

In your food processor, combine the basil, 1/4 cup olive oil, the almonds, and the garlic.  I finely chop or grate the garlic, because I don't like biting into big chunks of raw garlic.  Process on low for a about half a minute, until a thick paste forms.  Add the salt and pepper, lemon juice, and the parmesan.  Run the food processor for another half a minute or so, while drizzling in the remaining olive oil.  Taste the pesto and adjust seasonings if needed. 
The finished product
You can either use this right away or freeze it.  I put it into medium sized Ziploc bags, and laid them flat on a baking sheet and stuck them in the freezer.  I pressed dents into the full bags, so that when I want to take some out, I can easily snap off a third (about 1/2 a cup) of what's in each bag.  That's usually enough for some pasta or a pizza or whatever. 

Let me know if you make it, and how it turns out. 

Ok, now I REALLY need to go start making supper. 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Sunday Night Chit Chat: Insult & Injury

Hey Humble Readers...

This week has been a challenge, that's for sure. 

AF did indeed show up, on time, just as she was supposed to (and was always likely to... both partners having had 'procedures' done will generally ensure that), but I was still relieved anyway when she showed up.  The after-effects of that dream took a couple of days to shake.

The problem is, on top of the usual joy of cramps, bloating, and pms-craziness... we all got sick.  All of us.  That never happens.  Usually, it's just me and one or both of the wee-lings.  This time, even my Beloved has succumbed.  And in case you don't recall, I just got over the prolonged crud less than a month ago.  Snot abounds in the hobbit-hole.  Yay us!  Oh yeah, and my eye won't stop twitching.  Fun times. 

No news on the weightloss front, but I did have to break down and buy new shoes... AGAIN.  My baby toes were bruised and blistered beyond recognition, and given the whole big D situation, I'm more concerned with the health of my feet than with the state of our bank account.  Ok, I actually feel sick about the money I've spent on shoes in the last month or so, but I don't want to risk damage to my feet. 

I know I still haven't posted about our trip to the Big City to the South.  But I want to tell you about one of my shopping victories while we were there.  I have been in need of a new purse for a while.  I'm not someone who buys a new handbag on a whim, or very often.  The one that I had until recently has been in continual use since 2009.  It was a good bag (Fossil), and served my purposes, but it was looking very tired.  Thus began the great purse search of 2013. 

I'm picky when it comes to purses.  It has to be durable, with a number of pockets for my keys and phone (I hate the vast abyss bags), something that is generally neutral, and absolutely no gold or brass coloured do-dads.  Oh, and it has to be big enough to hold whatever book I'm currently reading. 

I searched and searched... shoe stores, bag stores, department stores, online stores, Pinterest.  I kept coming up against the same problem.  The only handbags I liked were obscenely expensive.  We're talking Coach, Burberry, Michael Kors expensive.  Nothing else came close to being what I was looking for. 

Throughout our whole weekend in the Big City, I kept my eyes open for something that might fit the bill.  It wasn't until we stopped at a large mall just outside the Big City that the miraculous happened.  We got to there a little early (forgot about holiday hours), and we were just killing a little time wandering down the mall.  I saw a line forming in the middle of the walkway, and I had to check it out.  This particular mall had a Coach factory store, and this particular Coach factory store was having a 50% off the lowest price sale. 

When they opened, we joined the crowd, and I swore I was just going to check it out.  Until I saw this...
please forgive the setting... the kitchen had the best lighting

And I fell in love.  It meets all my criteria.  The price tag said $349.  The sign on the shelf said $199.  And with the sale they had on, I paid $99.  Woohoo!  I can totally justify that for a purse that is likely going last me for three or four years.  I love it!

Anyway, onto this week's Chit Chat.  Here's what I'm...

Reading... The Keeper Chronicles: Playing With Fire by JR Vikse!  :) 
It arrived about mid-week, and I'm now 3/4 of the way through.  I'm not going to share any of my thoughts on it just yet.  Watch for my review and the second part of my interview with JR later next week.  On deck: Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith/JK Rowling. 

Watching... Nothing really, my Beloved is watching Mythbusters.  Although, seeing as my dvr is now full of Doctor Who episodes, I should probably be thinning those out a bit.  Last week I watched the first season of Boardwalk Empire, and the usual HBO gratuitous sex and language notwithstanding, it was really good.  Looking forward to seeing the second season.  Steve Buscemi is awesome!

Listening to... The Mythbusters intro music.

Cooking/Baking... Tonight was 40 Clove Garlic Chicken (in the slowcooker).  So yummy.  Served with mashed taters, and sautéed kale & tomatoes.  This next week is going to be a busy one for my little kitchen.  I'm making big batches of marinara sauce, pesto sauce, and plum freezer jam.  I'm also going to be drying my thyme that I grew on my balcony this summer. 

Happy I Accomplished This Week... Ummmm.... I got all the laundry folded and put away before it was time to start doing laundry again.  Does that count as an accomplishment?  Oh, and I went through the wee-lings' clothes and got rid of everything that was too small (including all but one pair of Ginny's shoes).  And started my Christmas shopping. 

Looking Forward To Next Week...  All the cooking I'm going to be doing.  Getting back to a really regular exercise routine.  Moving that number on the scale!  My birthday...

Thankful For...  an epiphany about what I'm going to do for exercise during the winter.  I'm not going to go into detail yet, but I hope it works out. 

***Bonus Question*** Do you still have on your air conditioning or have you kicked in the heat already?  Ok, first, we don't have A/C in the hobbit hole.  We have fans (one of which we burned out this summer)... and they are still running on low most days.  I'm sure that will change next week as the autumn weather is supposed to set in mid-week.  As for the furnace, I'm a cheapskate.  I won't turn it on until we absolutely need to.  My goal is to get through October without needing it. 

*****
This was posted as a part of Carla's Sunday Night Chit Chat.  Pop over and check out what others are chatting about tonight. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Flashbacks

Hey Humble Readers...

I fully intended a different post for today, but something has pre-empted it. 

I had a horrible nightmare last night.  This morning actually, as I was woken from it by my alarm.  I will say, when I told my Beloved about it, his initial response was to chuckle a bit. 

You see, in the nightmare I was pregnant. 

In the dream, I had just found out I was pregnant, and I was distraught.  Beyond all the practical concerns (like the fact that the hobbit-hole is just too small and we're stuck here for the next couple of years, and that we have been systematically getting rid of all our baby stuff as Pip has outgrown it), I was terrified because I wasn't sure I could face another pregnancy and delivery.  In the dream, I was racing to the doctor's office (which oddly was in the mall), praying that I wasn't really pregnant, and then at the same time battling guilt over not wanting another baby, and fearing that my not wanting the pregnancy would cause me to miscarry. 

I know that there are many women who deal with so much more than I had to during pregnancy.  But with the constant fear that dogged me, particularly during my pregnancy with Pip (inconclusive test results, fear of miscarriage, etc) and my health concerns (gestational diabetes, blood pressure issues, placenta previa), I am 100% happy with the assurance that I won't ever be pregnant again.  Not to mention, the fact that I never ever want to experience a delivery like the one I had with Pip... the C-section from hell with little to no anesthetic. 

I tried to shake off the fear and the anxiety that the dream elicited, but it took until my third lap of the neighbourhood on my walk before I felt the tightness in my throat ease and my anxiety start to let up.  At one point, when I was passing the hospital (on the far end of my lap of the neighbourhood) I actually almost started to cry, just because I couldn't imagine having to make myself go back in there to have a baby.

I have a pretty good idea where the dream came from (not that it's been my first pregnancy dream since Pip was born).  Call it the perfect storm of baby-ness. 

When I transferred all of my clothes from my old dresser to the new last week, I came across a couple of old hpts.  I thought I had gotten rid of all of them, but there at the back of my bottom drawer was a Ziploc bag with a couple from my pregnancy with Ginny.  It was just a little jarring, because they triggered so many memories of how I felt when I first got the positives with my wee sweet girl, as well as how hard it was for me to throw away the positive tests I got from Emily and Olivia (our lost ones... those tests had been the only tangible link I had to the reality of their existence). 

Also, two years ago tomorrow, we found out that Pip was on the way.  We were thrilled, even though I was intensely anxious about how to handle a pregnancy and a 16 month old.  I had no idea how that anxiety would increase over the coming months.  My current cycle has followed that particular cycle almost exactly (was ovulating on my Beloved's birthday, just like I was two years ago), and the coincidence has been niggling at the back of my mind the last few days. 

And lastly, tomorrow is also noteworthy because five years ago I was 11 weeks pregnant, and I woke up spotting.  It was supposed to be my first day back at work after a week off.  Instead, it was the day that I stopped trusting my body.  Our Emily Hope would be four now. 

I think all of these things, piled up together, contributed to the dream.  But no matter what, it was a scary dream that I want to fade into oblivion. 

AF is due by the end of the week, if not before, and honestly I've never been so ready for her to get here.  The legacy of IF is a bitch...

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Sunday Night Chit Chat: Busy Week

Hey Humble Readers...

I totally meant to be here earlier this week.  I have pictures from our trip to Big City to the South (including some great restaurant recommendations if you live in the vicinity) to share, and Ginny-isms that I think will make you laugh.  Hopefully, this next week won't be as busy. 

The first week of the month is always hectic for my Beloved, being an accountant.  Throw in the fact that we were out of town for the weekend, the fact that he was left in charge of training a new person in the office, and that he had a final exam in his most recent CGA course.  Because of all that, I was wanting to lessen his load at home as much as possible, so that he could study. 

I know that I am very blessed to have such an incredible helper in my Beloved.  He does so much around the hobbit hole, and particularly with the wee-lings, that when he wasn't available it was really apparent.  I don't know how single parents make it work.  They have my profound admiration. 

One of the things that I was able to do this week, much to my great pride, was put together our new dressers.  We hit up Ikea when we were on our weekend away, along with a few little doo-dads (a frame, some magazine holders, and one of their hardware kits), and picked up two Hemnes three-drawer dressers.  I decided to go with the Hemnes (over the Tarva) because I just didn't feel confident in my ability to stain the other style we were looking at.  Also, the Ikea we were at was sold out of the Tarva style, so that settled it.  It took me all day on Thursday to put them together, but I'm happy with how they look in our room (although they are bigger than I had in my head). 

The weightloss journey has taken a hopeful turn.  I was sure that all the indulgences I allowed while we were away would add up to lots of pounds on the scale.  Happily, I didn't gain an ounce while away, and I have actually almost regained the 70 pound mark (was .4lb away this morning).  I'm starting to notice a few changes in my body... I can wear my wedding rings on my thumb, I've seen the outline of my collar bone, and just yesterday I noticed a change for the better in my stomach, up near my rib cage.  Very exciting. 

On to this week's Chit Chat.  Here's what I'm...

Reading - I finished "Mistress of My Fate" by Rubenhold and I'm still not sure if I liked it.  I found the lead character to be rather Bella-from-Twilight, always waiting for her true love and bemoaning the fact that they couldn't be together.  I'm not sure that I'll bother reading the next book when it comes out.  Right now, I'm suffering from a plethora of options for reading.  I started re-reading "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" last week, my turn on the hold list at the library for "Cuckoo's Calling" has come up, and I'm expecting my friend J.R. Vikse's new book "The Keeper Chronicles: Playing with Fire" is due to arrive any day. BTW, it's now available to order on Amazon, and he's got excerpts posted on his website!   Woohoo!

Watching - Just clearing up some space on the dvr.  Watching last week's episodes of Graceland and Who Do You Think You Are?  I need space on the dvr because I made a rash decision yesterday.  Every Sunday for the next few weeks, the Space channel is showing marathons of Doctor Who.  I haven't seen any of the recent (as in anything after 1985) incarnations of the Doctor, and so I started recording them.  It's going to take me a while to get through them all, I'm sure. 

Listening to - My Beloved, running a lot of stuff through the shredder. 

Cooking/Baking - I tried a new recipe tonight that didn't turn out as well as I had hoped.  It was a Greek chicken (marinated in yoghurt, lemon, garlic, oregano), but the flavour was a lot milder than what I was looking for.  Also did Greek roasted potatoes and my Not-So-Greek salad (no olives or raw onion). 

Happy I accomplished this week - The dressers, getting the weightloss back on track, managing to wrangle both wee-lings through almost the entire service at church this morning (ducked out just before the last hymn as they were both in meltdown mode), and looked at the possibility of upgrading my cell phone (decided to wait until the Boxing Week sales). 

Looking Forward to Next week - A quiet week.  Hopefully Pip will be done with his most recent round of teething (four teeth at once, poor guy).  Reading, reading, reading. 

Thankful for - My Beloved, our time away, and coming home. 

***Bonus Question*** Do you have a celebrity crush?  LOLOLOL, of course I do!  Many!  Donnie Wahlberg, Shemar Moore, Benedict Cumberbatch (yup, he's new to the list), Chris Pine, and Zachary Quinto (notice a trend?).  I'm sure I'm forgetting somebody. 

*****
This was posted as a part of Carla's Sunday Night Chit Chat.  Click over and check out what the others are chatting about tonight! 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Food of Love: My Beloved's Birthday Dinner

Hey Humble Readers...

Well, we are home from our trip, and it was a great time.  I loved the time away, and I loved coming home.  I'll tell you all about our adventures tomorrow. 

Today's post is dedicated to food po.rn.  :)

Every special occasion, even if we go out to a restaurant for dinner, I ensure that I make a special dinner for us to enjoy at home together as a family.  Putting together the menu is always fun... I look for things that are outside our normal rotation, things that maybe require a little bit more effort or a few luxury ingredients. 

This year, for my Beloved's birthday dinner, I started looking for ideas about a month ago.  I wanted it to be different.  Maybe something I hadn't made in a long time, or ever, for my Beloved. 

First, I found the cake... but you'll have to wait for more on that. 

Then, I found one of the sides.  Prosciutto wrapped asparagus.  I don't know why, but asparagus is always a special occasion food in my mind.  And of course, prosciutto is just a treat.  I wrapped about half of a bunch of asparagus, and then roasted them in the oven laid on top of the rest of the bunch, so that any drippings would flavour the rest.  Turned out very well. 

After I decided on the side, I started thinking Italian.  And then, I started thinking, braciola... super thin steak stuffed with whatever, rolled and braised in a tomato sauce.  I used to make it for my parents a long time ago, but I don't think I've ever made it for my Beloved. 
My Beloved's plate.  He practically licked it clean.
I bought inside round steaks, already sliced and pounded thin (my grocery store calls them rouladen).  I toasted off some pine nuts, and then some panko breadcrumbs.  Then I sautéed up some onions and spinach, and combined all of them together.  Then I spread the stuffing out on the steaks, rolled and tied them (with kitchen string).  I browned them off in a pan before transferring them to the slow cooker.  Then I made my favourite tomato sauce and poured that over the top.  I cooked it on high for two hours in the slow cooker, but ideally, I would have preferred to do it on low for four.  Served it up with some whole wheat spaghetti and lots of the tomato sauce.  The only thing I forgot to add was basil. 

And then there was the cake...
Doesn't look very pretty. 
Ginny 'helped', which of course meant that ingredients ended up all over the place.  Here's the original recipe I found.  I am going to state right up front, mine did NOT turn out as pretty as hers did.  I think I used a lot more of the filling between each layer than she did. 

Here is my Chocolate Irish Coffee Crepe Cake. 
Twenty-three layers!
Where the original recipe called for amaretto, I used Bailey's.  I also added a couple of teaspoons of instant espresso powder into the whipped cream. 
My Beloved's piece, with a  couple of the truffles.
Basically, it was crepe, chocolate ganache, whipped cream, crepe, chocolate ganache, whipped cream... over and over and over.  Twenty-three times.  It was a lot of work, and as I said, mine didn't turn out very pretty.  I was able to make a few truffles out of the left over ganache to use for decoration.  One big added bonus of this cake was that I didn't have to turn on the oven.  Oh, and I used lactose-free whipping cream (no carbs!!!) and that worked out just fine. 

Overall, I'm pleased with how it all turned out.  It was enjoyed by my Beloved and Ginny... I really liked it too.  (Pip was being a stinker and not wanting to eat tonight, so no cake for him.) 
Ginny, post-cake.  She's covered in chocolate. 
What's your favourite special occasion meal?