Our beans have started producing!

From little spouts in early June...


That started taking root by June 20th...


 And now they are fully grown and offering up tasty beans to eat! Yum!



It's the time of year for them, as my sisters-in-law brought over some yellow beans from their garden, which I promptly ate with some leftover pizza.


I love green and yellow beans from the garden!

Garden 2014 Updates
2014 Beans and Tomato Garden
2014 Garden Planted
2014 Garden Taking Root


Posted by Jen B On Thursday, July 31, 2014 11 comments
We attended a wedding in Toronto last weekend that was held on Ward's Island (Toronto Islands). It is a beautiful location that allows visitors to have the feeling of cottage life in (or near) the city.

Here is the Toronto skyline captured from the return ferry on Saturday evening.


Posted by Jen B On Wednesday, July 30, 2014 7 comments
John's great Aunt recently had to go into a nursing home and was unable to take her ten year old cat with her. Aunt Jean is devastated to have to leave Trudy behind, but is finding some comfort in knowing that family will be caring for her.

Here is a photo of our new friend Trudy, the newest member of our household.


She has been living with us for a week and is adjusting to her new home as well as can be expected. She is going through a really hard change - the loss of all things familiar to her. We brought over a pillow from Jean's house and we keep the radio on for her so it sounds like home, but everything is new. New sounds, new smells, new people, and other cats. Trudy is getting loads of care and attention from us, but loss and change are hard things to deal with, even for cats.

We are slowly introducing her to her new home and the other cats. We started Trudy off in a room by herself and let her adjust to it and feel safe there. The other cats smelled her through the closed door, and she smelled them. Yesterday we moved her to a different room and let the other cats explore the room she vacated. Trudy transitioned really well into the new room, and our resident cats seem to be accepting of the new smell in the house. A few more days and we are going to try a visual introduction.

The slow introduction process seems to be going really well and I hope it results in positive relationships between the cats.

Posted by Jen B On Tuesday, July 29, 2014 13 comments
Today marks the 50th anniversary of My Grandma Barb's death (Mom's Mom). Grandma Barb died tragically at the hands of a drunk driver, in an accident that also took her sister-in-law and her niece and two nephews. Mom was only 15 at the time.

I can't imagine 50 seconds without my Mom, let alone 50 years, so I wanted to do something to remember Grandma Barb today. A few years ago I wrote a blog post about a hand me down coat that was knit by Grandma Barb, a woman I never knew. I thought it would be appropriate to re-post it today as a tribute to her life.

And in case anyone out there needs reminding: Never drink and drive.

*****************************************************************************************************************

Getting to Know My Mother's Mother.  Originally posted on April 28, 2010.

A year ago, my parents moved out of the family home they lived in for more than 32 years. During the clean up and move we got rid of literally tonnes of junk and donatables, and discovered some treasures that had been accidentally hidden many years ago. One of the treasures we found turned out to be incredibly important to me: Grandma Barb’s knit sweater.


I didn’t know my Grandma Barb. She was my Mother’s Mother, and she died in a car accident in 1964. It is somewhat awkward to write about because the Grandma I do know, Grandma Sue, has been married to my Granddad for 43 years, so calling her “step” Grandma seems weird to me because she is not my step anything - she’s my Grandma. Finding the knit sweater reminded me that Grandma Barb is my Grandma too, and wearing it gave me a connection to her that I had never really known how to find before.

My parents move was overwhelming in a lot of ways, so when I brought the sweater home last March, I didn’t know how much I would fall in love with it and how much impact it would have on my life. That is why it spent some time on the floor with the countless other things I brought home that day. At least Gary knew it was special right away and showed it the love that only a cat can.

Gary knows a great sweater when she sees one

The story goes that Grandma Barb knit five sweaters in 1960, one for herself, her husband, and each of her three children. They were made from Mary Maxim patterns, each sweater having a particularly Canadiana type theme; my Mom’s sweater had figure skates on it. Adorable. The sweaters were put away for the summer in 1961, stored in garbage bags, which resulted in four of them mistakenly being taken to the dump and lost forever. The only survivor was Grandma Barb’s sweater, the one I have now, and it has amazingly made it all the way to 2010. It is hard for me to wrap my head around it, but this sweater is fifty years old! What a life it has had.

My Mother wore the sweater constantly throughout her twenties. She recently showed me some photos of herself, at twenty years old, wearing it out to a winter carnival in Barrie, circa 1968.  Somehow the sweater is still as colourful now as it was then.  My Mother is too, actually.

My Mother and the coat circa 1968

My Mother is a beautiful person - inside and out

Every place my Mother moved, the sweater moved with her. It eventually ended up in the house I grew up in, hidden in plain sight in the coat closet. My sister wore it for a few years in the ‘90s, but returned it when she was finished, and back into the closet it went. I claimed it in March 2009, and began wearing it non-stop when the temperatures got colder in Autumn. I fell head over heals for this sweater, decided it was a coat, and was determined to wear it all winter long, regardless of how cold the temperature got.  I wore a fleece jacket underneath the sweater, providing it with a make-shift lining that every northern Ontario coat needs, and wore it for the entire winter.  I even knit myself a matching winter hat to go with it - I could not leave home without this coat!

I would be the first one to tell you that I don’t know a thing about fashion. I don’t follow trends and I definitely don't know anything about what’s “in”. That is why it completely floored me when every outing I made in the coat led to compliments from, and conversations with, strangers. I started wearing the coat when the world was gearing up for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.  The official Olympic clothes riffed on the Canadiana style, so Grandma Barb’s coat was fashionable. A stranger even told me I was “sooooooo in right now”. For the first time in my life I was fashion-forward, and I just so happened to be using a coat that was fifty years old to do it!

Every time I got a compliment, I would tell the person: “My Grandma made this coat in 1960!” This lead to conversations about legacy at the grocery store, discussions about how awesome knitting is, and being able to share the Grandma I never knew with strangers who fell in love with her coat as much as I had.  Over the winter I got to know Grandma Barb a little better by taking her with me and telling people about her. I also got to tell everyone that I stole the coat from my Mom, which brought her along with me as well.  All this heritage surrounded me, just by wearing and loving a pretty amazing old coat.
Me, Mom, and Grandma Barb, all in one!
The Olympics are over now and Spring is here.  I still don't know anything about fashion, so I don't know if this coat will still be "in" this coming winter.  I'll still be wearing it regardless and if anyone asks, I'll gladly tell them all about my Grandma Barb and the sweater she knit, all those years ago.

Posted by Jen B On Friday, July 25, 2014 8 comments

I've been doing a lot of reading this year (I'm trying to read ALL the books). So far I've read twenty-one books in 2014, five of which were read in July alone (I'm almost done a sixth one, too). I'm able to read so much because of the amazing Public Library system. New books, old books, hidden gems, all are available for free. Libraries are the best!

One of my favourite features of our library system is the Interlibrary Loan. If my library doesn't have the book/dvd I'm looking for, they can request it from other libraries to try and get it for me. I was speaking to one of the librarians recently about how amazing the service is, and she let me know a little about how it works. A library puts out a request through the interlibrary loan system (which I believe is province wide) and other libraries can choose to fulfill the request if (a) they have the book and (b) there is low demand for the book with their patrons. Many different libraries see the request so chances are it will be fulfilled (I've used the service ten or more times and have always received the book). Books are then sent through an internal library courier that takes between 1-4 weeks for delivery.

It amazes me so much that (1) this is even possible and (2) it is a free service with my library card. It also gives me a feeling of great pride that everybody can have access to all the books, no matter how big or small their local library is. I absolutely love this service!

I also get a kick out of knowing where the books come from. My pick up location is in Elmvale, Ontario, and over the years I have received items from the following Ontario libraries: Niagara Falls, Keswick, Markham, Ajax, Orillia, and most recently Guelph. A number of those locations are two hours from my local library. How cool is that?

Posted by Jen B On Thursday, July 24, 2014 5 comments
I have been lifting some light weights recently, trying to add some strength to my arms and shoulders. It is going to be a long but worthwhile process, as I currently have close to zero upper body strength. I'm starting really slow (3 lbs weights), but the plan is to keep at it until I have enough strength to do a push up. I'm not entirely convinced I'll be able to do that, but John is encouraging me so I'm going to show up and see what happens.

I start my arm workout with a five minute warm up to loosen up.
I wanted a song to go with the warm up, so I searched through my playlist for songs that were around the five minute mark. The one that jumped out at me was Bob Marley's "Wake Up and Live." It's a pretty motivating song and perfect for getting me moving in the morning. Plus after this song plays, iTunes shuffles through my Bob Marley playlist, which provides a great vibe for my workout.


What songs help you get motivated or moving? I would love to know your favourites.

Posted by Jen B On Wednesday, July 23, 2014 5 comments
I can't remember where I first saw zebra cake posted, but I do remember how fun and easy it looked to make. It had the zebra name because it was chocolate and vanilla cake baked together to look like the stripes of a zebra. I made one for fun a few months ago and I'm a sucker for any sort of surprise-inside cake, so I liked it. This time around I wanted to add some colour to it (pink!), which ended up looking like leopard print to me. I'm sure this cake could also be called marble too. Whatever you want to call it, it is a fun and tasty cake to bake.

Ingredients:
1 box white or yellow cake mix, prepared as per package directions.
            (sidenote: I always prepare cake mix with unsweetened applesauce instead of oil. It makes
             for a flavourful cake that has way less fat).
2 tbs cocoa powder
Food colour of choice (if desired)

Method:
1. Prepare cake batter and separate into two bowls. A box of cake mix will make roughly 5 cups, so I very roughly measured out 2.5 cups into a new bowl.

2. Add 2 tbs of cocoa powder to one bowl and stir to combine. Add food colouring to other bowl and stir to combine (or leave white if you want the zebra look).


3. Using a 1/4 cup measure, alternate batter into the center of greased cake pans. Just keep adding the batter to the center and gravity and the baking process will spread it all out for you. Check out this brief kitchen video I made that shows me alternating the colours:



4. Bake cake in 350°F oven. I used 8 inch round cake pans and the box suggested 26-31 minutes, but it actually took a little longer (about 38 min). I just kept checking every 3-5 minutes to see if a toothpick would come out clean. It finally did.

5. Frost and decorate to taste. I used a white frosting so that the inside would seem more surprising when cut open. The frosting I used was marshmallow buttercream (my favourite).


Once the cake was iced white I noticed I still had some buttercream leftover, so I added 1 tsp of cocoa powder to it and piped some designs along the top and bottom. Fancy eh?




Posted by Jen B On Tuesday, July 22, 2014 5 comments
Inspired by Plowing Through Life's post about Cats Stealing Dog Beds, I thought I would post this video compilation of pets interrupting yoga. As someone who has done yoga with a cat on her mat (see: cat yoga), I can totally relate to this video.


Here is my version of this. Cats like yoga too!


Happy Monday!!

Posted by Jen B On Monday, July 21, 2014 6 comments
My sister-in-law is from Newfoundland and was the first one to let me know about Newfie Fries: french fries topped with stuffing and gravy. The stuffing is made with a type of savoury that is specific to Newfoundland. I made a home made version of the fries last year, but didn't go for the authentic stuffing, so they had the right idea but they weren't quite Newfie Fries.

We have a fish and chip wagon near us called Perky's Fish and Fries and a second location recently opened in Elmvale. On a recent drive through Elmvale there were signs leading up to Perky's that said: "Newfie Fries Ahead". Amazing advertising, because it definitely got my attention! So I checked our location and they have them there too. So it was only a matter of time before I tried them. I discussed the Newfie fries with my Newfie sister-in-law, and she has not only tried them, but tells me that the stuffing is made with the Newfoundland savoury so it's the real deal. Awesome.

So for $6.50 we got 1.5 lbs of fries, stuffing, and gravy (I weighed it). John and I split it and ate it with homemade turkey burgers. It was filling and I almost needed a nap after, but it was really good. I totally get the authentic savoury stuffing - it had a really lovely flavour.



Posted by Jen B On Friday, July 18, 2014 4 comments
A few weeks ago I had a fun experience on Twitter with 1992 World Series Champion and Blue Jays alumnus Kelly Gruber.

The Official Blue Jays Twitter feed participated in something they called #ChirpChairs. Basically, selected people (some former players and broadcasters) took over the Blue Jays twitter feed for about 20 minutes each, answering fans tweeted questions. I didn't pay too much attention to the other guest tweeters, as all my excitement was focused on tweeting with Kelly Gruber.

Kelly Gruber was my favourite Blue Jay as a kid. I had two different Kelly Gruber posters (not including the 1992 World Series team poster). He was on a t-shirt I wore frequently, and he was my favourite player to watch when I watched Blue Jays baseball with my Dad. He was so much my favourite, that when I played little league, my Dad always announced my trips to the plate with an enthusiastic: "Kelly....Gruuuuuber!" So I was super excited to send him a tweet to say hello and I really hoped he would see it.

Kelly Gruber doesn't actually have his own Twitter account, so this may have been his first time tweeting, which could explain how our interaction went.

Here is a picture of Kelly Gruber tweeting. Spoiler Alert: he is tweeting at me!


When it was Gruber's turn to tweet, Blue Jays Official announced he was there and I sent him a welcome/you are the best tweet:


To my complete joy and surprise he tweeted back to me. Ten year old me was over the moon that I got a response.


But then I got another tweet from him - and I knew instantly that it wasn't meant for me.


And then another one came. Again, not for me. Twitter is tricky and it was his first time, so instead of replying to the fans who asked the questions, he kept replying to my twitter handle. I didn't mind.


It was a lot of fun, actually, and a reminder of how magic Twitter can be. But I felt bad that the other fans weren't getting their responses so I tried to let him know what was up.


But I got one more tweet, which is actually my favourite one from him, and it seems to go with my original tweet, so me (and ten year old me) think this was the tweet that was actually meant for me.


Isn't that the best?

I summed up my Kelly Gruber encounter that night with the following tweet, which is still how I feel about the whole experience:


Posted by Jen B On Thursday, July 17, 2014 4 comments
I know I am probably driving John nuts, but for the past 24 hours I have been listening to the following two songs over and over: Weird Al's "Tacky" and Pharrell's "Happy". It happens that the first is the a parody of the second and why both are so incredibly stuck in my head.

The joy of Weird Al's "Tacky" is the video, the best part of which is Jack Black, who is just too funny. It is all one big camera shot, which also makes it super fun to watch.


And it's hard not to get a perma-smile while watching (and dancing, obviously) to Pharrell's "Happy". I've been bouncing around the house to this song over the past few months, but the past few days I've increased my daily "Happy" level.



Posted by Jen B On Wednesday, July 16, 2014 5 comments
This spring/summer I've been pretty excited about baseball. I started following the Toronto Blue Jays at the start of the season and have had a fun time learning about all the players, MLB rules, and watching the team hit a tonne of home runs (see: Edwin Encarnacion in May).

I haven't been this into baseball since I was a kid and played Oro Minor Softball during the summers. My dad had two boys who weren't interested in baseball (they liked farming and computers respectively), but his baby daughter loved baseball. I can't say I was great at it, but I loved playing and there's a trophy on my shelf that says my team won First Place in 1991, so we must have been pretty good.

Thinking about my childhood baseball days always makes me think of Peter, Paul, and Mary singing "Right Field". Not only did Dad get me interested in baseball, but great music too. Adult me can't get to the end of this song without tearing up (just like I can't get to end of Field of Dreams without tears in my eyes...). There is just something about baseball.




Posted by Jen B On Tuesday, July 15, 2014 8 comments
One minute mug treats are just the best. They are quick, easy, use on hand ingredients, and they save me a trip to the store (and some money) if I have a craving that just won't quit. They also produce no leftovers, which stops any secondary snacking that could happen later. They really are the perfect treat solution for me. My go to is normally Mug Coffee Cake, but Mug Brownie is perfect for chocolate cravings.

I recently got some coconut oil and wanted to try it in my baking. It initially felt weird to use it, as I normally purchase and use coconut oil as a moisturizer or bath oil. I had to remind myself it was food and perfectly good to eat. I replaced the butter in the mug brownie recipe with coconut oil and was really pleased with the results. The brownie was pretty much exactly the same as the butter version but with a subtle hint of coconut (which was lovely).

For my Mug Brownie, I use the recipe found here. I cut the original recipe in half as I found the full recipe made a little too much brownie for me.

Mug Brownie
1 tbs coconut oil (or butter), melted
1 tbs water
splash vanilla
dash salt
1 tbs cocoa powder
2 tbs sugar
2 tbs flour
Coconut oil, sugar, vanilla, flour, cocoa powder
Method
1. Choose a mug perfect for the occasion. I chose my Care Bear Cousins mug, as I wanted to "treat myself to something special" as they suggest.


2. Melt coconut oil in mug. Using a whisk, mix oil, water, vanilla, and salt until mixed.

3. Add coca powder and whisk until mixed. Add sugar and whisk until mixed. Add flour and whisk until mixed.

Pre- microwave
 4. Microwave for 60 seconds.

1 minute brownie!
Enjoy as is, or got nuts and add whip cream and dark chocolate chips to the top.


Have fun!
Posted by Jen B On Monday, July 14, 2014 8 comments
This past Canada Day I was feeling festive and tried making butter tarts for the first time. I used some pre-made tart shells and Mom's recipe for the filling. They were delicious and really easy to make. They were the perfect addition to my Canada Day. I'm really excited to make these again - I just love them.

If you want to learn more about this fun little dessert, check out the Wikipedia page which has lots of great info.

Butter Tarts
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup corn syrup
3 tbsp soft butter
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp vanilla
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 cup pecans (or walnuts or raisins or nothing)
12 pre-made tart shells


Combine sugar, corn syrup and butter until mixed. Next add egg, vanilla, salt and pecans. Stir.


Place mixture into 12 tart shells, aiming for 2/3 full.


Bake at 425°F for 8 minutes. Lower temperature to 350°F and continue baking until filling is set and pastry is cooked, about 18 more minutes.





 Enjoy!!

Posted by Jen B On Thursday, July 10, 2014 6 comments
We've been off coffee since November and I have to say I haven't really missed it. I replaced my morning beverage with Green Tea and then realized I like Orange Pekoe too. Mom recently gave me a hand-me-down tea pot and some of my Nanny's old tea cups (with saucers) so now I'm not only a tea drinker but a fancy tea drinker to boot.

John likes tea too, but periodically has a craving for coffee and reminded me recently of some coffee mixes I made a long while back. I misplaced the recipe I originally used, but I'm pretty sure it's the same as or was the recipe found here.

Vanilla Coffee Mix (recipe is from here).
1/3 cup instant cofee
1 cup instant skim milk powder
1/2 cup coffee whitener
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup vanilla pudding mix

Mix all the ingredients in a blender and blend until mixed. I thought I would use my Magic Bullet to blend it, but I realized once I measured in all my ingredients that it was super full and probably wouldn't blend right (magic or no). It made for an awesome photo, though!


I used my stand up blender to blend, and it took 30 seconds at most. So quick and easy.

 
Add three tablespoons of mix to mug and just add hot water. Adjust to taste. We have big mugs (ha!) so we keep adding scoops until it tastes right.


Add whip cream and cinnamon sugar to top of your bevy if desired and enjoy!

Posted by Jen B On Wednesday, July 09, 2014 11 comments
Walking around outside is the best, especially since all these beautiful flowers are now out to say hello.






Pretty!

Posted by Jen B On Tuesday, July 08, 2014 7 comments
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