December 30, 2008

More

Christmas morning - new clothes etc! Also Christmas day at Grandma's!






A few Christmas Photos

I am too tired to post much - I've been spending an inordinate time on my laptop doing research and the like (more on that later)... however, before I forget, here are some photos from Christmas this year! The first few are of Ian and the kids painting ornaments on Christmas eve (a tradition - we now have 20 hand-painted ornaments on the tree!) and then there are a few of Christmas morning... excuse the wet face of Luci - poor darling came down with a horrible cold a few days prior to Christmas day!





December 23, 2008

Violin Recital

With so much happening this Christmas season, it's hard to keep this blog updated! However, since I have abandoned my Christmas card letters (the cards themselves I still have hope for...), I had best do some updating on here!

Earlier this month we had Lili's very first violin recital! It was all very exciting. She got to wear her Christmas dress, and we spent the afternoon doing her hair and nails (she is a girly-girl, truly). She didn't seem nervous. I was. Anyway, it was SO adorable, seeing the three of them from her Prep class on stage, looking very shocked at all of the people. Funny thing - as soon as Lili walked up on stage, I noticed that she had a HUGE hole in her tights... I'm talking full-knee-hole. Pretty funny! Luckily, her tights were fairly sheer, so not many people noticed!

The Prep Class played 2 songs - the "Taka" song and "See the Pretty Flowers". Lili had these songs down pat - she'd been playing them 3x each every day for months. However, as those musician friends reading this know, the funny thing about performing is that anything can happen.

And, it did.

The first song is played entirely on the open E string. Lili must have got confused, because she moved to the A string for the second phrase. Her eyes got really wide as she realized her mistake, and she immediately looked at me for help. I smiled and nodded in encouragement. She finished the song fine, but I could see the worry starting to work its' way into her brain. The next song requires actually putting fingers down - just one! However, most likely because she was still thinking about her earlier error (oh how many times has this happened), her concentration was off and she forgot to even get her fingers onto the fingerboard. Thus, she played the entire song on the open E and A string. At the end of the song, I could see the fear in her eyes, but she still smiled and bowed.

When she returned to her seat, we heaped praise on her, and she seemed fine. However, later that night, I heard her crying in her room. I snuggled into bed with her, and we whispered back and forth about nothing at all. I waited. Finally, it came. "Mommy...did you ever make a big mistake while you were performing?" "ALL THE TIME" I whispered back. "Mommy... did you ever play the wrong song while you were performing?" "UH HUH" I whispered back, eyes wide. "Mommy... do you still love me even though I didn't do super-good?" "More than ever" I whispered back.

Even though it was a difficult experience, it's one that is smothered in lessons. Don't let your mistakes show...don't let one mistake distract you...anything can happen during performances, so be prepared...mommy loves you no matter how you play...and, always bring extra tights!

She seems eager for her next performance...I know I am! I just hope that she remembers how much fun she had, and doesn't focus on the small, tiny mistakes.

Here are some pictures, and the video of the "taka" song!



video

More Photos




Party Over!

Well, the party is over!

Honestly, it was both a success and a disaster. I baked and baked all week, and had a lot of fun. I ended up leaving 2 planned dishes off of the menu - only because the day of the party the phone started ringing and the cancellations started rolling in. Between delayed flights, illnesses and surprise visits from out of town friends, (not to mention the absolutely horrible weather), the party went from 20 to just a handful. We ended up with 6 people - just not at the same time.

Needless to say, there was more food than necessary. I will admit I was a little sad that all of my careful preparations were pretty much unnecessary. However, I had a great time putting it all together (thanks to a good friend and two bottles of wine the night before!) and have added some of the recipes to my all-time favourites list.

Food aside, we had a great time. I'll admit I started drinking early (read: as soon as the 8th cancellation called), and Ian joined me as soon as he got home from work. It was actually really nice to sit and enjoy an hour just the two of us! Once the guests arrived, we all mingled and ate for awhile. A few had to leave early to go to another commitment, which left us with 5. A perfect number to play Cranium! We had a LOT of fun with that - even if Ian got quite competitive (Ian? Never.) This was my first time playing this, and I thought it was hilarious.

After Cranium we played some Rock Band II, but I didn't get into it as much as usual - Luci decided that she wanted to join in the excitement and refused to go to sleep. So I called it a night and snuggled into bed with Luci... in many ways, it was the perfect end to the evening.

Anyway, I'm not sure that we will host another Christmas party. Everyone is just SO busy at this time of year. I had fun planning it, but with such an unreliable turnout, the cost just isn't worth it.

Here are some pictures of the food... I'm no photographer (honestly, I'm still using my first digital camera, which is about 4 years old this week - and about 4 megapixels) but I'm sure you get the idea.

The menu included:
Vegetable Christmas Tree
Peppermint Merangue Wreaths
Homemade mint fundge
Creme de Menthe Cheesecake
White Chocolate Cranberry Mousse Cake
Devilled Eggs
Rice Krispie Ornaments
Brownie Lollipops
Assorted Chocolates and Candies

The two items I chose not to make were - Christmas Stocking Cake and Garlic Mozza Breadballs.



PS - the veggie tree was my favourite...





December 18, 2008

Party Prep

This Saturday we're hosting our Christmas party. We've been hosting a Christmas party since we first lived together (11 years ago, my god), with the exception of the 1 Christmas when we lived in Cedarbrae and 1 year that we were in BC.

The thing about Christmas parties is that they sound like such a great idea in October. You don't think about all of the other events and commitments that you'll have to stress over during Christmas. Playschool parties, gift wrapping, baking, recitals, concerts, playdates, parties... yikes.

I have 3 days still. I think I'm doing ok. The Christmas decorations are up. Cohen and Lili will be having a sleepover at a friends house. I have planned the menu (OOOOOH so much fun!). I have help coming the day of the party (THANKS LEE!). I've already made some of the desserts. The shopping is done.

Still - it's stressful. Some of the baking can only be done the day of, obviously. I want to make sure I get it all done - and would you believe that with the exception of one dessert, every single thing I'm making is new to me? What can I say - I like adventure.

I probably shouldn't stress - because of the time of year, I don't think we'll have a full house. I know we won't have a full house, in fact. It's the last Saturday before Christmas... prime Christmas Party timing. We've been bumped for higher priority parties - staff parties, spouse staff parties, family dinners. We understand...but I sure wish I knew what I could do to avoid this. Other than having it in November or January.

Oh well. Large or small, we'll have a good time. I'm still making tons of food!

In the meantime, I can't forget that I still have a few gifts to shop for, Christmas ornaments to paint for the tree, ornaments to MAKE for the tree, non-party cookies to bake with the kids, at least one snowman to make, and LOTS of wine to drink!

Happy Holidays.

December 16, 2008

Christmas Card Stress

One my favourite things about Christmas are Christmas cards. I absolutely love everything about them, especially the ritual of getting them ready. Here's my trusty "how-to" list when it comes to the tradition of Christmas cards:

1 - buy cards. this is only necessary if you don't have time to hand-make your cards. each year i lament that i do not have the time to hand-make my cards. luckily, the kids at cohen's school make them for me. oh yes - ignore the vague notion you have that you bought cards after Christmas last year at a wicked discount. never happened. trust me.
2 - make a list of who you will send them to. make sure you leave at least 15 spaces on the list for a) people you forget and b) people who send you cards unexpectedly.
3 - fill out the envelopes. this step takes at least 3 weeks as you track down the exact same addresses that you spent 3 weeks tracking down last year. of course, you wrote them all in one place and put it "somewhere special". you know. the place where every important document of your life currently resides. relax, you'll find it all one day.
4 - start writing in the cards. remember, it is clearly against the rules to write the same phrase in more than one card. that means you will need to come up with 40-ish different ways of saying Merry Christmas and Happy New Year... and remember to add something personal. Good luck with all that.
5 - if you have children, it is expected that you will include photographs of said children. don't forget to write the name of the child as well as the month and year the photo was taken on the back of each photo. hint: don't use any gel pen. it never seems to dry and smudges whatever you bothered to write. for those who are truly "with it", get a family portrait taken with a Christmas background, and include that. Keener.
6 - spend 3 more weeks writing a family newsletter. this is harder than it sounds - you must be careful not to sound too boastful, too stressed, too happy, too sad, too Christmas-y, not Christmas-y enough... and, you must be able to sum your year up in 2 pages or less. in fact, 1 is preferable, but if you can't do it, don't worry, you're not alone. my letter is typically 5 pages. one you're done writing the letter, you must forget about it for at least 2 more weeks. and then you have to run to Staples to buy fancy paper. and then go back to Staples again, because you will run out of ink.
7 - time to put everything in the envelope. card, photos, letter. oh, and now is a good time to finish addressing the envelopes, which you gave up on after no-one returned your emails requesting their addresses. of course, you have already received their cards, and can now use their return-address label for reference. (note: don't be deceived. this is a nefarious practice utilized by people who want to one-up you by ensuring that you know that they can keep track of address's better than you, and are all-around more organized by you. in retaliation, you will need to hand-make their card. yes, this means going to Staples again.)
8 - take a break to celebrate Christmas with your family. in fact, take a week off. you've earned it.
9 - sometime in mid-January, go and purchase stamps. in fact, you might as well purchase next years cards while you're out, probably at a wicked 50% discount. put these "somewhere special".
10 - on Valentines day, mail them. go eat chocolate and drink wine - you've earned it!

December 13, 2008

TOO funny!!!!

December 10, 2008

High Praise

Here is the article that was recently in the Herald regarding Cohen`s school. High praise, indeed! Have I mentioned how completely inspired I am by his school...

Link to the Article


Learning through art leads to a fuller life



By Eugene Stickland November 15, 2008 - Published in the Calgary Herald



Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to visit the Calgary Arts Academy--a gem of a school in the city's west end. I had been asked to give a speech that same evening to friends and staff of the school on the theme of the importance of art in our society.

The Calgary Arts Academy is the only school of its kind in North America. Students learn about all subjects through the fine arts, not the other way around. It's a noble experiment. Yet as the school is in its seventh year, it's beyond being an experiment. It's an idea whose time has come.

There are no desks at this school. There is student-generated art everywhere. Classical music playing from the speakers.

The effect of the colours, the textures, the beauty and the energy one feels in the corridors is almost overwhelming. It's like when you walk in the door, you are visiting a magical kingdom where the children have been allowed to create the environment, with maybe just a little help from the adults.

It's just so far removed from the grim institution that I attended when at elementary school. I remember the monotonous buzz of the neon lights, the squeaking of chalk on the blackboard and the hiss of the radiator. A couple of fights at recess. The rest is but a blur.

What follows is an excerpt from my speech. I began by referring to a piano teacher I had in university, who said to me one evening, over a number of Pernods, "Art is a way of life."

Strange words to be spoken in Regina in the late 1970s.

It's a concept I've been exploring in the intervening three decades.

Yet maybe exploring is almost too active a verb, because if you truly believe in the power and processes of art, then maybe you just end up living it--good or bad. Some days I'm not sure which, because it's never an easy journey.

What our politicians and funders don't seem to realize is that at the end of the day, the events and concerns of a society are by and large forgotten; fortunes made and lost don't really figure into the final measure of a time or place. Only art does.

One thinks of the broken statue of Ozymandias in the desert. There's a poem that should be required reading for prime ministers and the CEOs of large corporations. "Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!" And yet there is nothing left of the mighty king, but for the statue, a work of art created by a sculptor: "The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed."

There's another sentiment about art that I find interesting. My favourite quotation, the words I live by on a day-by-day basis, are by the Irish author Samuel Beckett who said, "No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."

Maybe the study and creation of art remind us that we are not perfect, we do fail and, yet, if we do as well as we can, then we haven't really failed at all. This is a radical notion to those who routinely sacrifice the journey to the end result and who grow old very quickly.

As the American poet E. E. Cummings (who did capitalize his name) once said, "and even if it's Sunday may I be wrong, for whenever men are right they are not young."

Life is short, art is long. Perfection is an illusion. We all know this. I'm preaching to the converted.

Obviously, living as I do, I have a deep respect for the goals and aspirations of the Calgary Arts Academy, and everyone involved with it, from those who help run it and fund it, to parents with the vision and courage to place their children there, and of course the students themselves.

One hopes that whatever they become-- artists or prime ministers, perhaps--they will take into the world a healthy attitude toward living, and everything that goes with living. The most important thing, the thing that living should be about, and yet something we seldom talk about because most people have forgotten how to do it, is the act of creating something from nothing.

Once a person learns how to create something from nothing--be it a painting, a poem, a song, a movement across a stage--then he or she has the skills to create his or her individual self. And from there, can create family, community, society.

It is so much more interesting to create than simply to consume, or even worse, to tear things down.

I believe that places like the Calgary Arts Academy--although I realize after my tour that there aren't really any other places quite like the Calgary Arts Academy, anywhere --so maybe I mean the study of the arts in general and the acquisition of knowledge through the arts--helps to form the kind of people we want in our midst, who will make this city and this world a better place for all of us.

Like the school itself--a world that's kinder, safer, more beautiful and oh, so colourful.

Eugene Stickland Is A Calgary Playwright

December 9, 2008

Violin Lessons - Halloween Photos

These are a little late, but cute nonetheless!



December 8, 2008

Lili's First Recital

This Tuesday is Lili's first music recital. It's a big deal! I can still remember my first recital. Of course, I was 15, not 4! Regardless, she has been working so hard for the last month, and it's amazing to see the progress she has made since September, thanks largely to her fantastic teacher!

Here is a video of her playing "The Monkey Song". It's not her best (as soon as the battery died on the camera, she played it flawlessly), but it's still pretty darn good, in my totally non-biased opinion.

video

Santa, Take 1

We recently attended Ian's EMS Christmas party. It was a little strange, I must admit. First, it was in November (the 30th). Second, it was a balmy 10 degrees that day. Third, the party started at 11am. Yup. I don't know about you, but I am SO ready to party at that hour. Yes, it was a kids party, but still!

Actually, we didn't end up even leaving the house until noon. There was just no way we could get all 3 kids ready to show off (let's be honest) before noon.

The party was ok. I'll admit, I was quite disappointed. The location was terrible (I won't say where we were, but try and guess: I asked Ian if bullet-proof vests would be handed out at the door). The decor was slim to none. There was no Christmas music. Food-wise - boxed cookies, candy canes, and for the main course... Pizza Hut.

Seriously?

For the kids, there was a FANTASTIC face painter (if I'd caught her name, I would have put a nice plug in here for her!), and a bouncy-castle. Oh, and Santa.

I was pretty disappointed. Ian defensively mentioned that the party was planned by a handful of men.

Oh. I see.

I may offer to help out next year.

Anyway - as we were driving home, I got thinking. About all the changes I'd make, how I'd execute them, and what could possibly go wrong. Yup, I pretty much had the spreadsheet done in my head before we got home.

Which made me realize, hey, maybe I should start my own event-planning business? Mount Royal has a diploma in event planning... which I could do, even though I'm confident that I could stumble my way through without it. I wouldn't do corporate events (not to start, anyways), but I could focus on planning kids' parties for busy moms. Retirement parties. Christmas parties!

I would LOVE it.

So, I'm thinking about it. In January I'm taking "Intro to Event Planning" online, and we'll see how I feel after that. This spring, obviously, I have to go back to work, so I'd have to find a way to manage in my spare time. Don't laugh!

Here are some pictures from the party!






Best Chocolate Cake

I've been getting behind in posting... Such a busy season!

As promised, here is the recipe from the amazing cake that I made for Ian's birthday (she says, modestly). I found this recipe written on a scrap of paper in my box of random recipes. I have no idea who wrote it down, where I got it, or where it came from. It's a mystery. I'm glad I went for it. This cake was extraordinarily rich, moist, and is for serious chocolate lovers only. I was suspicious at first because the recipe calls for cocoa powder rather than "real" melted chocolate, but it didn't matter.

In the interest of time, I used just a standard icing recipe (you know, the one that's on the bag of icing sugar). Next time, I plan on being a little more creative with the icing.

Note: This is a 3-layer cake - luckily I had had 3 cake pans, but if you have to, you can bake this one layer at a time.

* 2 cups boiling water
* 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (use a high quality brand)
* 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
* 2 teaspoons baking soda
* 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 1 cup butter, softened
* 2 1/4 cups white sugar
* 4 eggs
* 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

-Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease 3 - 9 inch round cake pans (I grease with shortening, and then cut out a round piece of wax paper and place it in the bottom of the pan. Just don't forget to remove the wax paper before icing... trust me on that one.) In medium bowl, pour boiling water over cocoa, and whisk until smooth. Let mixture cool. Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt; set aside.
-In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at time, then stir in vanilla. Add the flour mixture alternately with the cocoa mixture. Spread batter evenly between the 3 prepared pans.
-Bake in preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes. Allow to cool.
-Frost each cake and layer together (trim top off cakes to keep level)

Here's my finished product:

Save Me

From my laundry. Here's the mountain that awaits folding. And this is only about 1/4 of it.

December 1, 2008

Ready, Set, GO!

Tomorrow is December 1st. I have to admit, the thought of December being here already sets of little ribbons of panic in me. This is when things in my life have a tendency to get out of control slightly - eating, spending, parenting, baking, etc etc!

So I'm trying to keep some semblance of control here, but I totally feel like time is slipping away from me already! I need to schedule some big blocks of time to just get stuff done. Yeah, I know, with a 6 month old!

Tomorrow, I thought. Tomorrow I can get some major stuff done. Oops, not tomorrow, I volunteered at Lili's school in the afternoon... and I have a doctor's appointment in the morning... and Lili has swimming lessons in the evening.

You see what I mean.

So, if you don't receive your Christmas card from the Swaffield's until January, please be sympathetic! They are on the list... but the list is long!

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