Every now and then, I follow a recipe

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Although I was able to attend the gift opening portion(s) of the day, I missed Christmas dinner and the family fun that followed. It seems one of my Christmas traditions is to get sick during the holidays and this year was no exception. I could have handled the sore throat and cough, but the fever did me in. I am always hot but, when I asked for a blanket on Christmas day, my brother knew I was sick. The pellet stove was cranking out some warm air, the oven was set to an ambient temperature to cook the bird and I was wearing jeans, a sweatshirt and a blanket. On a normal day under those circumstances, I would have become the victim of spontaneous combustion but I was still shivering. I left before dinner began and after a couple hours on my couch watching Christmas movies, I drifted off into a twelve-hour sleep.

The fever finally broke shortly after one o’clock today. I didn’t have a lot of energy but I knew I needed to muster what I had to spend some time in my kitchen. I had an order for an Apple Streusel Cheesecake and I had three pounds of mushrooms in my fridge waiting to be finely diced and made into my mother’s famous mushroom soup.

It’s no secret I love making soup. More often than not, I channel my father’s method of throwing a bunch of ingredients into a pot and turning it into something wonderful. I love to experiment with flavor combinations and have created an amazing Cauliflower, Pear and Blue Cheese soup that is outstanding. But I cannot “wing it” with my mom’s mushroom soup. The cocky wannabe chef in me has tried, on many occasions, to make a mushroom soup that would compare but I have fallen short every time. Today, I opened the recipe book and followed it step by step. The result is divine. Both the smell and the taste transported me back to the kitchen I knew and loved as a teenager.

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This weekend, I will be given the turkey carcass and whatever leftovers remain to make what I like to call Christmas Soup. Every leftover, minus the turnip, becomes a part of this delicious soup my dad used to make after our festive holiday dinners. Turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, peas, gravy – all of it gets thrown in with the freshly made turkey stock to make the best turkey soup ever! There have been years when the leftovers were almost non-existent, so I made a fresh bowl of stuffing, a new pot of mashed potatoes and created a gravy so the soup would be perfect.

If my dream of having a soup truck ever comes to fruition, I am sure the only soup sold on the truck that is made from an actual recipe will be my mom’s Mushroom Soup.

A few glitches in the software

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Technology is a wonderful thing. Several years ago, my place of work took the leap from the traditional punch clock to a facial recognition clock. How easy it was in the past for our staff to ask their co-workers to punch their time card when they knew they were going to be late for a shift and how quickly that all changed. This new software meant each individual employee had to stand in front of the scanner to be recognized by the clock and punched in at the precise moment they arrived for their shift.

It was a seamless transition in the beginning. Each employee face was recorded in the system and I had easy access to be able to update photos and download the daily activity. No longer could employees get paid for time they were not physically at the lodge. Making necessary changes when employees forgot to punch in or out was as simple as a few key strokes and did not require any manual calculation of hours as we had to do with the old system. It seemed like the perfect strategy to circumvent any future problems with the time clock – until we hired identical twins.

For the life of me, I could not figure out how two girls could manage to have so many problems with their ability to punch in and out. My job has many facets and spending so much time correcting their time cards was not an anticipated part of my day. I later realized when one twin punched in, the clock would think it was the other twin and the problem was effortlessly fixed by changing their photos and having one twin wear glasses.

Cut to yesterday. We are preparing for a month-long social media blitz of Elf on the Shelf being found doing mischievous activities at the lodge each day. I have created a list of twenty-four activities and many pictures have already been stored, ready to be sent into the world wide web. My co-worker and I have been having a great time setting up all these scenarios and when I go home for the day, she places the Elf in different locations for me to find upon my return the next morning. Yesterday morning, the Elf was sitting on the facial recognition clock.

For those of you who know me, or read this blog on a relatively frequent basis, you know my imagination is a bit “off”. As soon as I saw our Elf on the punch clock, I wondered if we could have the clock recognize her face and set her up as a lodge employee. The software system did not disappoint. After a lot of laughter, aching stomach muscles, several close calls almost peeing our pants and a great deal of patience, Clover became an official employee in the eyes of the time system software. When you hear the clock say “thank you” in the video below, Clover has officially punched in for her non-existent shift.

There may have been a moment when I questioned the validity of the software, but unless our employees are going to make miniature three-dimensional versions of themselves I think we are safe to continue on with the status quo. I can’t wait until our bookkeeper calls down to ask who Clover is when she gets the time sheets for the next payroll.

 

And how does that make you feel?

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With December rapidly approaching, I am anticipating many social media posts about the Elf on the Shelf phenomenon. What seemingly started as an innocent way to get children to behave during the month of December has morphed into an epic competition to see which parent can get more creative with the benign holiday character.

Many blog posts and articles have been written with very strong emotion regarding this cherubic creature. Parents either love him or their contempt is so strong they hold ill feelings towards those parents who embrace his presence.  Some argue that he is the Elf on the Shelf, with a strong emphasis on the word shelf. He may stealthily maneuver his way around the house in the darkness to take refuge on another shelf, but that is his only purpose. Others, holding tightly to their innovative genes, have created a list of 101 ways the Elf can get into mischief during the night.  Spoiler alert – most of those creative ideas require extensive clean-up the following morning although I’m sure the children would be thrilled to see what mess the Elf made while they slept.

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Had my life been different and I had kids of my own, my children undoubtedly would have been in therapy either during or shortly after the Christmas holidays.  I blame my choice of reading material but my sense of entertainment tends to lean towards the macabre.  Picture Dean Koontz or Stephen King finding indecent ways of displaying the Elf and you have entered the world that my Elf would have had to endure.  There would have been crime scenes, possible Elf DNA and an abundant amount of Police tape. This is the stuff that my dreams are made of, the stuff that helps me write my books. But this is also the stuff that would have a child sitting in the waiting room of an analyst’s office at least once a week.

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For those of you able to remember to innocently and creatively display your Elf each evening after your children have fallen asleep, I applaud you. You are creating memories that your child will inevitably pass on to their children.

As for me….perhaps I will get out the Elf my brother gave me and track his bizarre habits in a journal.  CSI – Elf on the Shelf.  Hmmmm…..I may be on to something……stay tuned.

When old houses make new noises

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I consider myself very lucky to live where I live. Not only is my neck of the woods considered to be one of the most desirable and most beautiful vacation spots in Canada, I won the house lottery when I was looking for an affordable rental back in 2000.

I had just moved back from having lived in Halifax, Nova Scotia for a year and April is not the nicest month to be trekking through Central Ontario looking for a place to live. It was an unseasonably harsh winter that year and I received a tip from a friend about a little house that would be advertised for rent in the near future. My parents and I drove two minutes out of town and ventured down the snow-covered driveway to get a closer look.

The snow was piled high in front of the house but I trudged my way through the banks and climbed a mountain of snow to a window that looked into the kitchen. I was smitten. After making my way around the house to peer in the rest of the windows, I had surmised the kitchen was the biggest room in the tiny house and I knew I was meant to live here. I rented the house for four years before I finally convinced my landlady to sell me the property. She loved having me as a tenant so she agreed to deduct the rent I had paid from what was deemed a fair price for the property and I became a homeowner in 2004.

Fast forward to today. Although this six-hundred square foot gem has been my refuge and the place that has allowed my greatest amount of creativity, it is beginning to show its age. This tiny building, nestled into almost three acres of property, was crafted in 1940 and designed to be an out-building of a long-forgotten farm property. It has given yeoman service as a principal residence but lately it has begun to make noises I have not heard in my almost twenty years as a resident.

There are now creaks in places where once there had been silence. The clicks from the baseboard heaters have become much more pronounced and, when the mercury slips down below minus 30 degrees Celsius, the argumentative pops and bangs from the house are much louder than I remember.

Through no fault of its own, my house has aged. If I consider how much I have changed since I have lived here, I should not be taken aback by the deep wrinkles and age lines of the place I have called my home for almost two decades. Although it is tiny in square footage, it is a giant in its presence on my property. I can only hope its perseverance is as strong as mine and we can tackle a few more years together on this land we call home.

Let the sunshine in

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I had not realized I was suffering from the winter blahs until this past Saturday. I have successfully maneuvered myself through many winters and this one, although highly unpredictable, seemed no different. How wrong I was.

Saturday morning, I awoke to the sun beaming through my bedroom window. I was initially confused by the brightness in my room as I had become so used to the monochromatic mornings of December and January. I had not registered what the beautiful light represented.

The mercury reminded me the morning was frigid so I accomplished all of my needed tasks as the sun continued to warm the day. When I got home in the middle of the afternoon, the temperature was much more comfortable than the morning and all I wanted to do was sit in the sun. It was at that moment I realized I had nothing to sit on. I had sold my patio set last fall and had not thought about my winter sun tanning until now. I raced to the local hardware store and bought what seemed to be the only folding chair in stock in February.

I opened up my new purchase and set it to directly face that glowing ball of goodness in the sky, I closed the gate so I wouldn’t have to be concerned about my dog, I poured a glass of wine and I sat. And I sat. And I absorbed ninety minutes of glorious sunshine.

The warmth of the sun was welcomed like an old friend we spent some time getting reacquainted. It is a long-standing tradition in our family to cover ourselves in layers in the middle of winter and soak up some much-needed Vitamin D. I’m sure my parents were smiling as I carried on that tradition. The photo below is circa 1975 ish.

As the sun sank into the horizon, I reluctantly folded my chair and went inside. Besides the noticeable pink hue in my cheeks, there was an immediate change in my demeanor. I was invigorated. I felt happy, effervescent even. I went from feeling like I had been sleep-walking through the last few months to feeling recharged. My mood was elevated and I spent the rest of the day smiling for no reason.  At least now, I have the chair ready and the next time that sun is out all inside tasks take a back seat. You’ll know where to find me.

 

Music is good for the heart

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I was sitting at home on Tuesday night listening to Barry Manilow songs. Yes, you read that correctly, Barry Manilow songs. My aunt will be thrilled when she reads this post. I think she is one of Barry’s biggest fans and we were certainly caught in the vortex of her Barry mania back in the day.

There was one particular song of Barry’s my mother absolutely loved and I forgot I had downloaded that song on my iTunes. When I decided to shuffle all of my songs while making dinner, this song came on and, in a few seconds, I was back in the living room of my childhood home singing this song with my mom at the top of our lungs. My mom could hit a few notes here and there but her enthusiasm certainly made up for her lack of musical ability.

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The song is called his VSM or Very Strange Medley. It consists of several television commercial jingles Barry wrote and he was sure his audience had no idea he had any part of writing. I was a teenager again dancing around my kitchen as Barry went through his advertising repertoire and, in my mind, I could see my mother ramping up for the big finale.

The McDonald’s tune started and, for whatever reason, I started dancing in my kitchen like I was on stage with Barry himself. My arms were keeping time with his Doo doo doo doo doo’s and when the song reached its crescendo I threw my arms in the air as my mom always did and I started to cry. They were such happy tears remembering how much fun we used to have singing that song together and I must have listened to the song another five times, throwing my hands in the air like bad seventies jazz hands each time because my mom could not listen to that song without doing the same thing.

The Musical Daily says music is good for the mind, body and soul but they forgot the most important thing. Music is good for the heart. After I stopped listening to the VSM and wiped my eyes for the last time, I asked my Alexa to shuffle more Barry Manilow tunes and I enjoyed my teleportation back to a time when everything was right in my world.

I ended my Tuesday night with a head full of music and a heart full of memories.

 

Stuffing all you can into the holidays

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There is much to be said about the joy the holidays bring – or any celebration, for that matter.  Whether it be a birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas or a reunion, the ease of the conversation, the steady flow of wine, the melodic sound of laughter and the joy of being with a close-knit group of people is unrivaled. There is an undefined comfort level that allows us to become absorbed in the festivities that surround us. The fact that we can gorge ourselves and have an excuse to eat everything in sight with only a few fleeting moments of guilt is sublime.

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The molecules change in the room when family and friends get together for a holiday celebration. There is something intrinsically sacred about holidays and the memories that are created within those moments. Time has a way of strategically obliterating those precious seconds as it marches on at a frantic pace, but our shared memories have a way of stopping that clock, if only for a few moments.

Holidays are a portal. They can freeze time and create a vortex that allows us to travel back and relive certain periods in our lives. The memories wrap themselves around us like a blanket and soothe us with the warmth of the times that have engaged us and truly breathe a bit of life back into our frenzied existence.

Although many holidays have passed and are collecting dust on the books in the library of my mind, watching my brother “float” his dinner in gravy brings back a rush of nostalgia. Sadly, I was unable to be at Thanksgiving dinner this year because I had to work, but I poured enough gravy on my dinner at the lodge to make my brother proud. That is what the holidays are truly about, the personal moments that any other person would find arbitrary but, to me, define my holiday experience.

Embrace your family, enjoy the moments and get stuffed with the memories your family helps to create.  We all have so much to be thankful for. Happy Thanksgiving everyone.