Monday, December 2, 2013

A Christmas Arrangement for your doorstep...10 easy steps!

At our last KidLit meeting, the talk turned to Christmas and one of us remembered the beautiful Christmas arrangements our hostess had at her front door last year.  Well, "in a blink of an eye..." and a "hey, why don't we...", it was all set.  Six of us met one day last week and here's what happened.... 

Here are a few things I learned along the way:

1.  We used garden pots still full of soil.  If you live in Canada, defrost first by bringing inside the day before!

2.  Use a variety of twigs, branch trimmings and greens- cedar as well as green and blue spruce.  Some was purchased, but much of what we used came from our gardens.

3.  Start at the back of the pot with 2-3 spruce branches, then add a middle row.  Create a triangle shape with higher branches in the back.  Next, fill in with cedar.  Leave an open spot in the front for a bow.

4.  At the back, add a tall, glittery "branch" of something.  It should be slightly to the left.  This item should be quite noticeable - red or silver.  One person used purple! Another had a stake with multiple little balls on it.

5.  Next, again at the back, add some fine, gold stems.  I called them "curly wurlies".  Can you see them?  Delicate, they make a nice contrast to your branch.  Make sure they are in little clusters of three.  

6.  Start to fill in with ornaments, cones, and sprays of berries.  (Search through your Christmas boxes and make a trip to the dollar store first!)  We prepped each item by attaching it with

florist wire to a bamboo BBQ skewer. Use a glue gun for the cones.  Wrap the skewer with green florist tape, attaching a second skewer as you go - you'll need that extra length.

7.  Very important....think THREE!  Add three of everything you pick and make sure no two are in a straight line vertically or horizontally.  Think "back, middle, front" and "high, medium, low" so your arrangement is balanced and has depth.

8.  Friends are important!  Take time to stand back frequently and look.  Focus in on one colour or item at a time.  Is it balanced?  Do you have a variety of shapes?  Add a little more "curly wurly" stuff!

9.  Add your bow.  These bows used a whole roll of ribbon each (Only $1.00 at the Dollar Store!!)  Leave a tail (2 feet), then generously loop the ribbon and pinch between your fingers.  With your free hand, twist the ribbon and make a second loop the other direction.  Keep looping, pinching, twisting back and forth.  The last few loops should be slightly smaller.  Remember to leave enough for the other tail.  Use wire to twist around the middle and tie to a bamboo skewer.  

10.  Last check...  A cone or ball peeking out behind the bow, half hidden, looks nice.  Make sure you have enough greenery on each side of the bow.

This was so much fun.  Our arrangements are NOT perfect, but we're so pleased with how they turned out.  They didn't cost much either and we plan to save all the "bits" for next year.

It's starting to feel a bit like Christmas!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Butternut Squash Soup

Some winter mornings, it's all about the soup.  

Maggie's Butternut Squash Soup
This particular morning, it's Butternut Squash.  This is a "not really a recipe" soup.  Just some general guidelines... roast, blend, serve.  It's that simple.  Make a few pots and experiment. Measuring accurately is NOT critical.  You can't really go wrong. simple and
adds so much flavour!

Butternut Squash Soup

1 small butternut squash, peeled and cubed
2 apples, cored and cubed (don't peel)
1/3 cup chopped onion, chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, chopped

Spray or lightly oil large cookie sheet.
Randomly sprinkle on squash, apple, onion and garlic.

1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon Greek or Italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Sprinkle on seasonings.
Roast for 40 minutes at 425ºF.

2-3 cups chicken stock

In small batches, blend roasted ingredients...
Fill blender first with a cup or two of vegetables
and enough stock to just cover. Blend until smooth.
"Clean" blender at the end with a cup of stock, 
then stir this into bowl with a whisk.
Taste!  Add additional spices or salt if needed.
If necessary, thin a little more with additional stock.

Store for later or heat to serve.
Add a swirl of sour cream or Greek yogurt or serve plain.

NOTE: Adding more apple will make a sweeter soup.  Experiment!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Did you know...

From the Weather Network...

Did you know?

The world’s largest beaver dam was found on the southern edge of Wood Buffalo National Park in Northern Alberta. It spans 850 metres long, making it more than twice the length of the Hoover dam and it can be seen from space!
For those who live in the United States of America, 850 metres is just over 1/2 a mile...
All I can say is.....Wow!!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Young visitors this weekend? Here are 6 suggestions for things to do...

To our southern neighbours, Happy Thanksgiving!  Up in Canada, we can feel the excitement building!  Indulge!  Enjoy! The diet starts next week, eh?

Kids coming to visit?  Sometimes it's stressful thinking of things for them to do, especially if there are no kids (and therefore no toys, games, books, etc.) in your home.  Here are a few suggestions...

1.  Family walks, visiting your local playground and even a trip to your local indoor swimming pool should all be on your "list".  

2.  In addition, stop by your public library and stock up on books.  From the fiction section, check out stories by these authors: Patricia Polacco, Roald Dahl, Ursula LeGuin, Jan Brett,  Eric Carle, Doreen Cronin, Barbara Reid, Joanna Cole. 

3.  Kids love to cook.  As long as there's some supervision as they use the mixer and cut the cherries, this cookie recipe is a simple recipe for kids to try.  It's a family favourite in our house.

Whipped Shortbread
from The Best of Bridge
Whipped Shortbread
from The Best of Bridge

1 cup butter
1  1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup icing sugar

Beat for 10 minutes in mixer.
Drop from teaspoon onto cookie sheet.

maraschino cherries

Cut cherries into four.
Dry on a paper towel.
Place cherry bits on cookies.  
Bake at 350ºF for about 17 minutes.

Note:  Check out the Best of Bridge website if you haven't already.  This recipe is listed there, but be careful.  The time on the website is incorrect.

4.  Another recipe kids love to try is Kool Aid playdough.  You'll need one packet of Kool Aid powder plus flour, salt and oil.  A hunt around the kitchen - cookie cutters, toothpicks, straws, plastic knife and fork - and you're all set to go.  

5.  Since it's Thanksgiving, you might want to view these four short videos so you and your young visitors can learn more about the first Thanksgiving.  They're very well done.  You'll enjoy them, too.

6.  For older kids, teens and adults, viewing Into Poverty: Living on One Dollar, would be very relevant and a great starting point for a meaningful discussion this weekend.  This video is about four young people who visit rural Guatemala.  They allow themselves 56 dollars each for 56 days.  They learn a lot about themselves and the reality of what life is like for so many people.  Heather Sanders, a guest writer on The Pioneer Woman, provides a link and describes this documentary and sharing it with her children.

Have a great weekend,

Monday, November 25, 2013

Book suggestions for kids under six...

Yes, yes!  Today is November month until Christmas Day... 

I'm making a (book) list and checking it twice...

Some of these book ideas might be just right for the younger kids in your family, too.

Here goes...

1.  The Night Before Christmas by Barbara Reid  

This is the classic poem by Clement C. Moore, freshly illustrated by Barbara Reid.  Just published a few months ago, this sweet version features a mouse family.  Reid's plasticine illustrations are  so appealing.  (Note: If you live in Canada, pop into Superstore.  Yesterday, I picked up my hardcover copy for 40% off the Canadian list price, $19.99.)  If you buy this for someone five or older, you must pick up some plasticine as well.  On Barbara's website, there are multiple links for great little videos showing how she makes her pictures.  

 One of my favourite Canadian author/illustrators, I've often given a copy of Sing a Song of Mother Goose (board book; 14 familiar nursery rhymes) as part of a baby gift.  Welcome, Baby (board book; published in February, 2013) also makes a perfect present  for a new little one.  For a toddler, Zoe's Year is a great conversation starter. This book introduces the concept of the four seasons and all the fun activities a little girl can enjoy.  

2.  Gingerbread Baby and/or Gingerbread Friends by Jan Brett 

Any Jan Brett book would make an ideal book gift for a child under ten.  In addition to these two, her website lists at least seven other Christmas titles.  Wouldn't a Gingerbread House kit go along perfectly with one of these books?

3.  Block City by Robert Louis Stevenson, illustrated by Daniel Kirk

A classic poem to go along with some wooden blocks.  No batteries needed!  So many toys on the market today don't encourage imagination or problem solving.  Sometimes simple is best.  I actually have two copies of this title and two boxes of blocks hidden away in my 'stash'.

 If you have the coloured Melissa and Doug blocks, I'd suggest a copy of Changes, Changes by Pat Hutchins.  A wordless picture book, it can be "read" and enjoyed by even the youngest child.  

4.  Last, but not least, consider some CD/book nursery rhymes.  Here are some titles I've tucked away.  All three books come with a CD - perfect for in the car.

*****Nursery  Rhymes (Roger Priddy; board book)

*****A Child's Treasury of Nursery Rhymes  by Kady MacDonald Denton (75 songs, rhymes, and tongue twisters divided into 4 sections: baby, toddler, schoolyard and 'all join in').  I love this illustrator's work.  This copy is softcover and quite large in scale - fine for looking at with your child, but not particularly kid friendly. 

*****Chansons Douces, Chansons Tendres  - rhymes chosen by Henriette Major (simple, sheet music included in addition to the CD)

Happy Reading!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Little Christmas Ornaments to Knit and Crochet

Jingle Bells

My little stack of bells is growing!  

I love little projects!  Easy to carry around, simple enough to do while watching a movie, quick to finish... : )

Last year, I knit little toques and stockings to give away.  I also tried a few bells - here are the directions.  

This year, I've also been crocheting little stars.  Lucy from Attic24 has a free pattern you can try. 

A Tiny Star - from Attic24

My first little stars were made with the same wool I used for the bells and toques -

Vanna's Choice by Lions Brand.  I then experimented with some finer, gold yarn (3.5 hook) and then the Winter Red Lustre-Sheen by Red Heart.  

I'm pleased with how these little ornaments are turning out!  


Wednesday, November 13, 2013


...from a ski trip a few years back.

So, this picture has absolutely nothing to do with today's post.

Except, it does feature a valuable, Canadian commodity - SNOW!

In the mail this morning was a copy of Westworld, an Alberta Motor Association publication.  On page eight, there's an article on Yukigassen.  Have you heard of this new sport?  Apparently, it's basically an organized snowball fight for adults.  Teams of seven aim to capture the other team's flag.  "Dodgeball, Meet Snowball" is the title of the article.  

Originating in Japan, this new sport has Rules and Regulations, an official playing field, pre-made snowballs and National Championships!  The Canadian Rockies Snow Battle will be held in Jasper, Alberta on November 23rd and 24th this year.   

Welcome winter!

Monday, November 11, 2013

November 11th

Some poems I taught my grade one students during November...

Six or sixty, there's a message here for all of us.


Today and EVERY day. our children remember.

Poppy, we are but children small,
We are too little to do it all.

Children. you may do your part.
Love each other is how you start.
Play without fighting.
Share your games and toys.
Be kind and thoughtful,
To all girls and boys.

Remembrance Day
We wear a poppy
On Remembrance Day,
And at eleven
We stand and pray.
Wreaths are put
Upon a grave.
As we remember
Our soldiers brave.

Little Poppy
Little poppy
Given to me,
Help me keep Canada
Safe and free.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Author, Lisa Genova

Sitting on my bookshelf (or more accurately, loaded onto my mini Kobo reader) are three amazing novels by author, Lisa Genova.

It started earlier this fall with a friend who insisted, "You must read Still Alice! "

And I did.  

Still Alice  literally takes you inside the head of a woman with early-onset Alzheimer's disease.  A powerful book, you feel Alice's pain as she and her family cope with this devastating illness.  

At this point, it's important to point out that Lisa Genova has a Ph.D in Neuroscience from Harvard University, has done brain research at Yale Medical School and has taught neuroanatomy at Harvard Medical School.  She knows her subject!

I visit a "secure" residence daily to provide company and help feed a family member who has stroke related dementia.  Needless to say, through Lisa Genova's writing, I've gained tremendous insight into how people with dementia perceive the world.

After finishing Still Alice, I began Love Anthony.  This story examines autism and is told through two voices - a grieving mother  rereading her journal as she comes to grips with the death of her young, autistic son, Anthony, and a writer who unknowingly uses  Anthony's voice and tells his story in her writing.  Sounds complicated?  It was.  There were too many coincidences and weak connections between the grieving mother and the writer, but if you can see beyond that and just live the story of Anthony's life as told through the writer and the mother's journal entries,  you will come away with a much greater and more compassionate view of autism.  

 Lisa's third book, Left Neglected is about a woman who has a traumatic brain injury - hemispatial or unilateral neglect.  Her brain ignores everything on her left side. In addition to not having control over her left arm and leg, her brain refuses to acknowledge everything she sees on the left as well.  As in her other two books, Lisa Genova uses her medical background to paint a clear and comprehensive picture for the reader. 

All three books are great reads and well worth consideration next time you head to the library!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Graham Tea Biscuits

Good morning!

I thought you might be interested in a recipe I've just tried for the very first time.  It's from (probably) my favourite cookbook, Muffins & More by Jean Pare.

The "unusual" ingredient for me was graham cracker crumbs... Jean Pare was right - these little biscuits DO have a distinctive flavour.  Try them!

Graham Tea Biscuits
by Jean Pare
Graham Tea Biscuits

1  1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
2 tablespoons sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix dry ingredients.

1/2 cup butter

Cut in butter until crumbly.

3/4 cup milk

Add milk.  Stir in lightly with fork.
On a lightly floured surface, knead lightly ten times.
Roll or pat out.
 Cut out biscuits and place on ungreased baking sheet.
Bake at 425ºF for 10 - 12 minutes.

NOTE:  These are best eaten warm and would be great served with a hearty soup.


When cutting out biscuits, it's important to "press and lift".  Don't twist the cutter as you lift up!! Here's a picture to show what happens to your biscuit if you forget that rule.

Don't twist as you cut out biscuits!!
Look what happens...  sigh!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Fuarag - a new Hallowe'en tradition?

Fuarag - a Gaelic Hallowe'en dessert


A ring, a button, a coin and a thimble....

What do those four items have in common?

You need them to make Fuarag (pronounced FOO-uh-rack), a Gaelic Hallowe'en dessert.

If you'd like to try a simple, fun Hallowe'en tradition with your kids, check this post from last year.

Happy Wednesday!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Maggie's Lemon Loaf

Maggie's Lemon Loaf

Today's baking was good motivation...

... I cleaned six pantry shelves while it baked!  ; )

After making Cranberry Orange Loaf this week, I had a "What if... " moment and decided to try using lemon juice...  

Hmmmm.... not bad!

Lemon Loaf

1/4 cup softened margarine
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
juice of two lemons plus water to make 3/4 cup liquid

Grate lemon rind and set aside.
In mixer, beat margarine, sugar and eggs.
Continue mixing as you slowly add liquid.

2 cups all purpose flour
1  1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
grated rind of two lemons

Sprinkle dry ingredients evenly over liquid mixture.
Mix slowly until just blended.
Bake in a greased loaf pan at 350 degrees for 1 hour.

Yes, this loaf has two eggs.  The Cranberry Orange Loaf has one.

Can be baked in two small (half size) loaf tins about 45 minutes.

OPTIONAL:  Make a lemon glaze and spoon over cake before removing from tin.

Lemon Glaze

1/4 cup sugar
juice of one lemon

Heat and stir until dissolved.

Friday, October 18, 2013

You Were the First by Patricia MacLachlan

Before I tuck it away, I just want to share a children's book I purchased recently in Ottawa.  I chose this book for one of my granddaughters.  She's expecting a little brother in December and this book, I'm sure, was written just for her!

You Were the First is a brand new (2013) picture book written by Patricia MacLachlan and illustrated by Stephanie Graegin.  Patricia MacLachlan has published many books over the years, including Sarah, Plain and Tall which won the Newbery Medal in 1986.

This heart-warming story reminds a firstborn of all the special "firsts" a family enjoys...

"You were...

... the first to smile.

... the first to lay your head on our shoulders to sleep.

... the first to bundle up in the red snowsuit and make snow angels.

... the first to teach us how to be parents."

What a lovely snuggle time a parent and child could enjoy as  they read this story and remember all their own "firsts"!!

Best of all, the book finishes with a gentle reassurance: 

"One day there may be a second - or a third - to sleep in the basket with the yellow ribbon wound round. But you will always be the first."

I can't wait to give this book to a very special "first" grandchild in my life!

Happy reading,

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Cranberry Orange Loaf

My goodness!  It's been ages!  Sit down and enjoy a slice of Cranberry Orange Loaf while we catch up.

Not only is this a tasty bit of sweetness, it's NOT made with milk, so a perfect solution if you're expecting a visitor who is lactose intolerant.

Credit for this recipe goes to Company's Coming cookbook author, Jean Pare, who published a great little book Muffins and More in 1983. You can tell my copy is well used!

I have simplified the directions (I'm a bit of a Lazy Daisy...) as I'm not into washing a lot of bowls after I bake.

Cranberry Orange Loaf
Muffins & More by Jean Pare

Cranberry Orange Loaf

1/4 cup margarine
1 cup sugar
1 egg
3/4 cup liquid (juice of 1 orange plus water)

Grate rind of orange and reserve.
In mixer, thoroughly beat softened margarine, sugar and egg.
Slowly add and beat in juice/water mixture.

2 cups all purpose flour
1  1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
grated orange rind

Evenly sprinkle dry ingredients into bowl.
Beat on low speed until just mixed.

1  1/2 cups whole cranberries

Fold in cranberries.
Bake in a greased loaf pan (350 degrees for 1 hour).


Normally, dry ingredients are mixed first in a separate bowl, however, if you evenly sprinkle each ingredient over the liquid ingredients, you can make the whole loaf in one bowl.

Also, Muffins and More suggests adding 1/2 cup of chopped pecans or walnuts with the cranberries.  

If you decide, like me, to bake your loaf in two smaller 1/2 size pans, allow about 45 - 47 minutes baking time.