07 January 2010

A long overdue update...

Wow, it's been a horribly long time since I've posted here. In case there is anybody left who still reads this (which I seriously doubt, so we'll just call this a journalling post, for posterity), my blog has been dormant, but is still active. I am hoping to post a little more regularly. I'd like to say I'll post once a week, but realistically, once a month is something I think I can achieve. And now, I'll share the reason for my extended absence: I've gone back to work!!

Going back to work is kind of a big deal for me, because I'm an academic with a Master's degree in political science, which means that there aren't a load of jobs in my field. In fact, here in Grande Prairie, there is exactly one job in my field: teaching at the local college. And while I had a sessional gig there back in the spring of 2008, I really had no reasonable expectations that I might be able to work there again. However, fate or god(dess) or whatever you choose to call serendipity intervened, and voila! I have been working full-time for the last semester, teaching political studies! This really has been a godsend, because teaching is what I love to do. It has been a ridiculous shitload of work, but it's a ridiculous shitload of work that is incredibly rewarding and so, I am very thankful for it.

Because of the whole back-to-work thing, Baby A, my darling-ist girl, has been in daycare since July. And I have to say, I was really kind of worried about daycare. I always kind of assumed, in that foggy-distant-plans sort of way, that I'd stay home with my kids for the first few years. I didn't have any good reasons for this plan, as I've always been somebody who enjoyed working, but the amorphous plan was there nonetheless. However, when the opportunity to teach came my way, I really couldn't say no. It's a major step towards my long-term career goals, and one that is VERY rare for someone with only a Master's degree, as opposed to a Ph.D. Plus, financially, staying home really wasn't an option.

So, in an incredible stroke of luck, Baby A was offered a spot in the College's daycare, and off she went. And I just need to take a second to rave about the daycare and the incredible staff there. I just cannot tell you how amazing it is to feel like your child's caregivers truly, honestly care about her. The ladies there really worked at helping Baby A adjust to being away from me, and made my transition so much smoother for their caring and love. I feel like I had a whole team of people working to help raise her - they helped teach her to walk, to sign, to sing songs (and do the actions - let me tell you, her rendition of The Wheels on the Bus is fab-o-luss!), and so much more. It really has been an incredibly positive experience, for which I will be forever grateful.

This semester, I'm down to part-time, and Baby A is now staying, with my wonderful Seester a couple of days a week, Grandma once a week, and home with me the rest of the time. I'm only in the first week, but all indications are that this is going to go fairly well.

I'm going to leave this post for now, on the promise that I will be back with further updates before the end of January. And pictures. Lots of pictures!

22 June 2009

Turning one, my baby girl...

As warned, dear readers, I've been absent for a shamefully long period of time. But here in Northern Alberta it is our all-too-brief season of sunshine and warmth, and I cannot bring myself to spend precious sunshine-y hours inside when I could be outside, walking or gardening or playing with BabyA or just being. And so.

Yesterday was summer solstice, the year's longest day and my darling girl's 1st birthday. I can remember this weekend last year, the excitement and fear and pain and relief and joy of it all. After leaking amniotic fluid, waiting a day and a half, being induced and labouring for most of the evening, we had a C-section, and shortly after one in the morning, this beautiful vision appeared.

And yesterday, along with our fabulous families and friends, we celebrated her first birthday.
My heart nearly burst with pride as our girl was passed from one set of arms to the next, from grandma to auntie, to all these people who are helping us raise her. And when she started to get overwhelmed, she reached her arms out to her proud papa, something new-ish for her. As her at-home parent for the last year, I've been the go-to comforter, so it was really wonderful to see her seeking out her daddy for that role.

This last year has been... good lord, I'm not even sure how to describe it. When you have a baby, your world focuses down to this incredibly narrow field of view - you and baby, you and baby and daddy, you and baby and daddy and the house, etc. You know everything else is out there, but it doesn't really register. Your body heals and your hormones fluctuate and you adjust to the fact of a monumental shift in your sense of self. And more than anything, you begin to know this new person around whom your world revolves, their habits, what makes them happy or sad or frustrated or joyful. You watch a body unfold and a personality develop.

Our girl, my Baby A, how do I describe her at her first birthday?

She is a sweet, smiley baby, who will get so excited by nothing more than the joy of living that she scrunches up her entire face into a squinty-eyed grin, lifts her shoulders to her ears, and extends her clenched fists in a whole-body expression of pure joy. She has three teeth, two on the bottom and another on top, and a fourth that just cut through the gum yesterday. Dark blonde wisps of hair frame her face, curling around her ears and blowing wild in the slightest breeze.
She refuses to crawl, instead choosing to toddle around the house grasping the fingers of whatever adult will accommodate her, even marching up the stairs on determined feet. If we are sitting, she will grab our hands and walk as far away as our arms will allow, and then hoot loudly as if to say, "Hey, get up, can't you see I'm trying to walk here?" She pulls herself up on her crib bars, or the coffee table, but she is cautious when trying new objects, preferring to stick with the tried and true. She points imperiously at wall hangings or magnets, or at something on the table that I can only guess at (plate? cup? magazine? plant?).

She is moving away from my baby towards my toddler so quickly that it terrifies me. She grows and changes every week, day, hour, minute, second, so that I am afraid to blink for missing some milestone, precious smile, joyous hug. But I am also overjoyed at her progress, her joy in discovering new things. As always, the fear and pain and joy live altogether in my chest. This is, I think, the truest, most defining element of parenthood, the constant presence of all of these emotions.

Happiest of happy first birthdays, my darling girl. I love you more than you can ever know. MWAAAAHHHHH!!!!

10 May 2009

To the Mothers in my life, on your day...

Letters to all the amazing moms in my life...

To GeekDad's mom:
You are an amazing example of why families come in so many different shapes and sizes, and how they can raise wonderful kids. You raised GeekDad on your own two feet, with the help and love of your fabulous family. You have taught him to embrace responsibility, to have a sense of humor, to love passionately and to share all of himself. I cannot thank you enough for raising him, so that he and I together can raise our little girl. And I also need to thank you for being in my life, for being so supportive and caring and loving. I know exactly how lucky I am to have you for a mother-in-law, lady!

To my Grandma:
You amaze me all the time, Grandma. You have given everything to your children, and then to those of us lucky enough to be your grandchildren. You continue to greet your great-grandchildren with the same brilliant smile and absolute joy that we were blessed with. You have lived through difficult times, and yet you pull it all of with such a sense of poise and grace. Even now, in your twilight years, you simply look forward to whatever milestone is ahead, and enjoy each day as it comes. We, your children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, can never thank you enough for lessons in humility and patience and love which you have taught us. Thank you.

To my little Seester:
I don't know if you know this, but you set a fantastic example of motherhood for me. I see you with your Munchkins, facing each new challenge, braving every obstacle. You take it all in stride, looking for solutions to the problems, rewards for the milestones achieved. You cuddle and play and wrestle and discipline and cherish and love them, and the love that flows back and forth between you and your children is a joy to behold. I am so lucky to be following in your footsteps for once, and to be benefiting from the lessons you have learned and so generously share with me.

To my Mama:
You are the one who taught me what motherhood meant, long before I joined you here. Even as a child, I knew that being a mom, my mom, meant you would do whatever was in your power to... To what? Not just to make things easier, although you did that when you could. Not just to make me a better person, although your example and you unconditional love makes me strive for that. You have taught me to embrace life, both the easy times and the difficult ones. You also taught me that it is OK to make mistakes, so long as you can own up to your mistakes (even to, or maybe especially to, your kids), apologize if necessary, and learn from them. You taught me that respect must be earned, even between parents and children.

I don't know if you remember, but a few weeks after I had BabyA, I asked you if it ever gets easier, this business of loving your child. Because for the first time, I understood just how much heartbreak and worry and fear are a part of this love. Joy is a greater part, certainly, but also the worry that I need to get this right, the fear that something will happen which I cannot control or account for, and that things will go awry. But the lesson you have taught me, which I pray I can pass on to my little girl, is how to take the awry and accept it and allow it to shape her into a stronger, happier, more loving person. If I can be half the mother to her that you have been to me, we will both be fine. Better than fine, really. Excellent, in fact.

And if, like you and I, my daughter and I are one day more than just mother and daughter, but also friends, I will truly have learned the lessons you taught. It's a lot to live up to, but then, I've got a great example to follow.

To all the mothers in my life, thank you for the love and the lessons and the joy. Thanks for welcoming me into your club. BabyA has given me the basic requirements for membership, but I hope I can become gold star members like all of you.

29 April 2009

Sweet Potato Pecan Muffins, and other adventures in baking.

So I posted on Twitter/Facebook the other day that I was making Sweet Potato - Pecan muffins. And suddenly (ok, maybe it took a few hours) I had a flurry (ok, it was two) requests for the recipe. Hey, that's a lot of feedback for me, so excuse me if I got excited. I'm easily excited.

Anyway, the recipe is from my The Joy of Cooking cookbook, which I (and by I, I mean we, GeekDad and I) got for our wedding from our friends Dan and Gail. Actually, they're really friends via the in-laws, but regardless, they are great people. Plus they helped out tons with the wedding, so we would owe them big time, even if they hadn't given me (us) an awesome cookbook. Which it is. The Joy of Cooking is like a how-to guide for almost anything you can imagine. Want step-by-step instructions on making pickles? How to plan a backpacking menu? Brine meat? It's all in there and then some, man.

Anyway, I've been drooling over this cookbook for awhile, but this is the first recipe I've made. And it was all I hoped it would be.

So it starts with a basic muffin recipe. I don't know if the people at Joy of Cooking will care that I am posting their recipe (modified by me). If they do, I figure they can let me know, and I'll take it down. So here goes.

Whisk in one bowl:
2 c. flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
*1/3 c.sugar (I used white sugar here)
*1 tsp. cinnamon
*1 tsp. ginger

*These are the alterations to the basic recipe, which called for 1/4 tsp. nutmeg. I switched out ground ginger for the nutmeg and increased the amount, but my ginger wasn't very fresh, so it wasn't as prominent as I'd hoped. I think I need fresher ginger for my next batch.

In another smaller bowl, whisk together:
1 c. milk (or cream if you don't care about muffin hips)
2 large eggs
2/3 c. sugar (I used demerara here)
1/3 c. canola oil (You can use whatever oil or butter here, up to half a cup. The cookbook suggests that is you are making them to last more than a couple of days, you should use more oil/butter, to keep them from drying out.)
1 tsp. vanilla
*1 c. mashed sweet potato (In my case, it was a can of sweet potato puree. Because with a baby, I just do not have time to make sweet potatos and then mash them just for muffins. However, if you happened to make sweet potato anyway, and then happened to have leftovers, this would be a fabulous use for them.)

Then you mix the wet ingredients into the dry, being careful NOT to overmix. The batter should still be lumpy. After a couple of swipes, I added about a 1/2 c. of pecan pieces, and then finished mixing.

The muffins were good - moist, not too sweet, and with a bit of crunch.

For my next batch, I might add some crystallised ginger, because I love the chewy bite of it, and because in my mind, you can never have too much ginger. I might also leave in the nutmeg, because I like baking spices. The more the merrier, in my opinion. Also, if you wanted to fancy them up a bit, you could put a crumb topping on them, with a little brown sugar, butter, flour, cinnamon, and maybe some finely chopped pecans.

In case you're wondering about the wrappers, they are Wilton brand silicone cupcake/muffin tines, available from Michaels. They come in other shapes and colours, but the triangle-shaped pink and purple ones were on sale for $4.99, instead of the regular $16.99, which is why I have them. You simply put them on a cookie sheet, fill with batter, and bake.

I was quite impressed with these, actually. They baked up nicely, even though I filled them a bit over the fill line that is marked on the inside. They gave the muffins a nicely browned bottom, as you can see.

And they're reusable, which is cool, ecologically speaking.

These muffins are tasty, and you know what. THEY COUNT AS VEGETABLES. Seriously, how much better can you possibly get??!!!

26 April 2009

Nine bags of leaves and weeds later...

Ok, now you get to see what I've been spending all my time on, instead of blogging. Our yard!!! At least, that was what I've been doing the last couple of weeks. This weekend, our yard looked like this.

And this.

Regardless of today's weather, what I'd like to do is let all of you see the progress of my gardening work as the spring and summer progresses. Because some of you might be interested. And even if nobody cares, at least I'll have a record of my progress for posterity.

As I'm sure I've said here before, our yard this winter was in a state of unkempt laziness. All the beds were overgrown, the lawn was overgrown beyond any excuse, and things were generally horticulturally unhappy. These photos of the back patio bed and the raised garden bed (behind the swingset) should give you an idea of how bad it was.

I emailed the lovely people at Hole's Greenhouse in St. Albert to get some advice on where to start, and they actually got back to me. Which is pretty cool, because I know they must be crazy busy, especially at this time of year. And they gave me advice, which mostly consisted of a hell of a lot of elbow grease, and knee grease, and lower back grease. Which I wasn't especially thrilled to hear, but still, it was really nice of them to get back to me regardless.

Cleaning these out is a HELL of a lot of work, let me tell you. Here are instructions, in case you're interested. What, somebody might be interested?! First, clip down the weeds with shears, and clean that debris out of the bed. Then break up the weedy soil with the garden claw, and and pick out the worst of the crab grass (including roots), dandelions and chickweed out of the the resulting mess. Then break up the soil some more with the garden claw. Then, according to Julie from Hole's you let the soil sit some more, until the weeds start sprouting again, and then you start back at the beginning. And THEN you put in your plants. If you have any energy left.

There is also a raised garden bed in the backyard, which is in an equally bad state. But I'm chipping away at it slowly. I'm also working on a rock garden on the north side of our deck, but it's still in the beginning stages. Really beginning, as you can see.

The front bed was just as bad as the back one, but last week when the weather was nice, I was able to spend some time cleaning up the front yard. After removing nine (!!!!) bags of leaves, weeds, and various other debris, it's looking pretty good.

(The front deck, with 6 of 9 bags of debris)

(The bed in front of the house)

(The caragana bed)

The front bed has, or at least had, irises coming up. During the cleanup I discovered a forgotten roll of chicken wire which we had laid over the bed to keep out the neighbourhood cats which were using it as a litterbox. In retrospect this obviously wasn't such a good idea - I had to tear it out to work up the soil in the bed, and ended up taking up a good portion of the irises with it. Now, a lot of the flowers were dead, probably due at least in part to neglect, but I went though all the debris, pulled out the tubers that were showing signs of life and replanted them. I'm not sure if they'll still bloom this year, but the effort has been made. I'm also planning on transplanting the bleeding heart from the back bed to the front one.

I also have a bunch of pots and planters on the front and back decks.

(Front Deck)

(Back Deck)

I'm planning on growing tomatoes, herbs and peas in the clay planters. The plan for these pots with the beautiful willow baskets

is to buy a couple of clematis from our local greenhouse to plant in there, and then move them out by our garden shed.

I've started a lot of perennials indoors this year. They were only started in the middle of April, so they're pretty small yet, but I'm hoping they'll be hardy enough to put out mid-May, or at the latest on the May long-weekend.

These are (from top right) Coleus, Lavender, Catmint, Sweet Williams, Columbines (which are just now starting to germinate), Campions (also called Maltese Cross), and Delphiniums.

Pinks, Scabiosa Japonica (which look a bit like chives to me), Carpathian Bellflowers, Asters and Hollyhocks.

The big ones are Nastutiums, which have totally taken off, and I may need to transplant to larger pots soon. In the middle are Icelandic Poppies, and the Pansies are on the right.

These are my poor Fragrant Pinks and Snow-in-Summer, which I tried to transplant, as they looked over crowded. I think I may have killed them. If I did, I figure I'll just sow seeds directly into the beds mid-May.

Tomato Plants, and a Hen-and-Chicks, for the rock garden.

While the yard isn't anywhere near where I want it to be yet, it is at the point where we can enjoy it. As evidenced by the wiener roast we had with Seester and her family last weekend. You know, before it started snowing.

This is really the reason I want to get the yard cleaned up.

Because nothing says summer like having a bunch of people over to your yard for a bar-be-que, letting the kids run around in the sun all day, and then wrapping up with a fire as the sun sets. I can't wait, people!!!

19 April 2009

So much to share, and so little time.

For once I have lots to write about, and yet I haven't posted in forever. The weather has been beautiful around these parts. The snow is almost entirely gone, and I've been out in the yard trying to remedy the neglect of the past couple of years. I would apologize for the irregular posting, but the truth is that it's much healthier for me to be out doing stuff than sitting inside. And while my computer is my lifeline, especially during our long dark Northern Alberta winters, once spring hits, I tend to spend waaay less time on it. This isn't an excuse though. I'm beginning to accept the fact that I'm an irregular blog poster. That's just the way it is in my world I guess.

So, in the post I will address Easter, which was almost two weeks ago already. It was busy for us, since we live close to both our families. Friday was at home for Brunch with some of my closest friends,

From For Blog
(with BabyA still in her pj's)

Saturday as at GeekDad's mom and step-dad's,

From For Blog

Sunday was at Seester's with her munchkins.

From For Blog
(Seester, her Hubby, and Munchkin #3)

From For Blog
(Munchkin #2 showing off her Easter dress)

From For Blog

(SeesterHubby, Uncle Tim-MAY, and Munchkin #3)

Also my dad and his wife,

From For Blog
(My dad talking family history with GeekDad)

From For Blog

(Dad'sWife is on the far left)

my grandma (my dad's mom),

From For Blog

and my Uncle George (my mom's brother).

From For Blog

We ate ham until it was coming out our ears. We at rice and potatoes and beans and peas and then we ate Fresh Strawberry Pie and Cake Pops.

The Cake Pops were a bit of an adventure, let me tell you. I read about the idea for Cake Pops on Bakerella's blog. In Bakerella's world, they look like this.

In Seester and mine's world, they look like this.

From For Blog

Ummmm, the similarities are blowing my mind. Really.
The good news is, we had fun making them. The two youngest munchkins helped out by eating sprinkles and candy melts. And also feeding them to BabyA. Then I stayed for supper and the munchkins wacked out a bit from all the candy. It was a blast.

In other news, BabyA is 10 months old in two days. How that happened I have no idea. She has no teeth yet, but her smile is still amazing.

From For Blog

She doesn't crawl, but turns in circles just fine, and pushes herself backwards so that she gets stuck under things like coffee tables and couches and dining room chairs.

She has started mimicking us - coughing like Nana, laughing like Mama, hooting into a glass like Daddy. She no longer wants her food cut into little pieces, but prefers large chunks she can grasp in her chubby little fists and gum into submission. She is a joy and wonder.

05 April 2009

Variations on a Theme: Spring might, maybe, be cometh-ing.

Once again, it's been too long since I've posted here. BabyA has been/is teething, or at least I'm assuming that's the problem, from the drool problem she's developed.

(Note the shiny chin)

She has been waking up every hour to hour and a half, needing soothing and/or nursing. Since she's usually a very sound sleeper, I'm assuming this is being caused by teething, although as yet we lack any concrete evidence. Whatever. All I know for sure is that waking up every hour to hour and a half is wreaking havoc with my sleep schedule. I've been up since 5am, which is wrong on more levels than I can tell you. However, it should give me a chance to catch you up on what's I've been doing.

1) I discovered The Pioneer Woman. She is high-LAR-ious, and obviously ridiculously talented, as she not only has four young kids, but also homeschools them. And blogs about it. And also about cooking, and gardening, and photography, and her enduring romance with her husband. What a show-off. Sheesh. Seriously though, you should totally check out her site, it's the awesome. So is her Chicken Scallopine, which I made this week.

2) I also made Fresh Strawberry Pie, with this recipe from Epicurious.com. It consists of fresh strawberries in a kind of homemade strawberry gelatin base, and a shortbread cookie crust, which is good because I DO NOT make pie crust.

This pie tastes like summer. It's a good thing the snow is finally starting to melt, or it might just make me cry.

3) I am working on quantifying the magic that is my homemade burger.

Seriously, if I am remembered for anything after I die, it will be these burgers, they are that good. But I've never actually measured any of the ingredients - it's more of an 'Add rolled oats until the mixture feels dry enough' sort of thing. But my Bonehead Brother asked for an estimate so he could make them, which inspired me to attempt to create an actual recipe. My Bonehead lives in Calgary, which means they were cooking burgers outdoors about a month ago, the jerks. But since the snow has finally melted enough for us to get to our BBQ, and the weather has been above zero (Celsius), I made enough burgers for 2 or 3 meals. I'm freezing some of them for later.

4) You may have discerned somewhat of a theme from my activities, all centred on the idea that it is finally starting to feel like spring around here. It's still early spring, mind you, because our yard still looks like this.

But that's a hell of a lot better than it was at my last post, and it's a close enough approximation of spring that I can bbq, and make strawberry pie without crying. Which also means, I can start to garden. Not outside, of course, at least for another month or so, but I have started planning our yard for this year, and I'm hoping to get my seeds started indoors this week. Yay!!

Our yard, and especially our flower beds, are going to be alot of work this year, as they've been kind of neglected for the past couple years. Last year was kind of torture for me, as I was teaching all of May, too pregnant in June for much gardening, and then spent the rest of the summer recuperating from my C-section. The only gardens I got to enjoy were my lovely cousins' and the ones in Dunvegan. This year, with a lot of luck and hard work, I'm hoping to get the yard back into shape. I'm starting a bunch of perennials indoors, and hopefully some veggies (especially tomato plants) in my mother in law's greenhouse. I will be soliciting suggestions, so stay tuned for pictures of my beds and yard.

5) And finally, there's this.

Which I'm always working on. Or with. Or whatever. However you say it, this project is the one I can't live without.