Friday, July 04, 2014

A Treaste on Positivity

For the past 6 weeks I have been doing mediation. I have really been enjoying it and I will write more about it at another time. However, in my quest to learn to let go and be happier, my husband pointed me to the blog: Zen Habits. A lot of what the author talks about nicely overlaps with what I am learning through mediation. Today, the author of Zen Habits had a link to an older article he wrote called: Happiness is Uncovering What You Already Have. It inspired me to post this article that I wrote last year, but has been languishing in my drafts folder. 

As I get older there are a few things that I have started to realize I really dislike in myself and others:

-the inability to recognize when you have made an ass of yourself and the need to apologize 
-the inability to let bitterness go and work towards positivity.
I had an incident the other day, of which I am not proud. I took a small problem, which, really wasn't a big deal, and turned it into a big deal. I don't even know why I reacted the way I did. All I can say is that I was feeling defensive and angry, and wanted to push back. I felt like if I pushed back, the guilt or bad feelings I was experiencing, would become somebody else's problem. Presto, someone else is to blame. 

But part of being an adult is realizing that you have to take responsibility for that shit. The problem is there is no training out there to show you how to embrace taking responsibility. What isn't obvious about taking responsibility is that by doing so you are actually reclaiming your power. We worry so much about looking stupid, or admitting fault that we often avoid responsibility. It's easier to blame someone or something else. We tell ourselves this absolves us. We couldn't have changed the situation, we were just flotsam subjected to the vulgarities of circumstances.

So I was actually very happy when I realized I was acting like an ass. That I could end these horrible feelings I was experiencing, and bring things back under control by admitting I was acting like an jerk. It allowed me to make amends and apologize. Or I could just go on just trying to prove that I was right. That I never do anything wrong, and everybody else is against me and it's never my fault. Not the path to a healthy life.

What I've learned over the last few years is that this is a sign of a bad attitude. Bad attitudes get you absolutely nowhere. Not at home, and certainly not at work. People want to be around people who know when to take responsibility and approach things with positivity. No one wants to be around people who always make excuses, blame others, or refuse to apologize. And we all have points where we need to apologize. 

I know when I meet someone and all that is coming out if their mouth is that life is always knocking them down, I want to flee. No doubt, they've probably gone through some hard knocks, but what defines people is how they come through those times. Will they continue to get more cynical? Or take control to the best of their ability and make lemonade? I'd rather be with people sipping lemonade. 

Friday, May 09, 2014

Sad and Very, Very Mad

I am a huge tea drinker, or should I say, I WAS a huge tea drinker. Something weird has been happening to me and, sadly, I think I've narrowed it down to two things: tea & Splenda. 

You see, I am done buying any tea (especially from David's & Teavana) that have artificial or natural flavourings. As almost all the teas these two giants of the tea world sell have artificial or natural (read just another type of artificial) flavourings. I have been horrified by what I have been reading on the web. And not a little bit pissed off at what I feel is grossly misleading marketing. 

Recently, I've had a few issues. My anxiety has been sky high, I've been getting random head aches for no reason, I want to eat endlessly and I am just constantly gasy and bloated. I went to see my Dr. and she decides to send me for some blood work, it all comes back perfect. I’m totally floored, I ask what could be causing this, cause I know it’s not weight, lack of exercise, eating too much salt, or having too much caffeine. The first thing she says to me is “are you eating any processed foods?” Of course not! I make almost EVERYTHING from scratch. She’s stumped, I’m stumped, and I go home feeling clueless.

So I am wracking my brains. What could be causing this? At first I thought it was too much wine. But I had put operation drink less wine in action for weeks already as I trained for my summer triathlons. I had been practically abstaining for 2 weeks to be properly hydrated and rested for my first race. I'm just perplexed.

Two days later I'm going to a baby shower where I know there will be wine, so I pack my Blue Lagoon tea from David's. I make it up in the kitchen and add my splenda to it. Not two sips in and my heart starts to race and I start to feel sick to my stomach. WTF?? I stop. Is it the tea? Is it the Splenda?? I Google Splenda. The more I read the more upset I get. This stuff is practically the most toxic stuff on the planet. One website says it has more in common with DDT than sugar. 

Thinking about what has been going on with me, I realize I have all the negative symptoms associated with using Splenda. Most of which are on the chart below. I had no idea that this product could cause all these problems. 

But when I start to think back I can see the signs have been there for weeks. I was ingesting between 8-10 packets a day! Because its natural, right? It says it tastes like sugar, because it's made from sugar. Only that now appears to be a clever marketing lie. I keep following the rabbit hole and I am just horrified by the stories I am reading from people who have adverse reactions to Splenda and it appears aspartame  is no better. In fact it appears that there are only two things on the market that sweet and not toxic lab concoctions: sugar and stevia.
I had completely bought into the marketing crap.
Years of worrying about my weight had me so twisted up that I was panicked about putting 'fatting, bad for you' sugar into my tea. I was so concerned about the 16 calories from a teaspoon of sugar that I had steadily increased my consumption of one of the most processed foods on earth for months. I was completly oblivious to the fact that it was processed, or could have so many side effects.&nbsp

And guess what those side effects are? Increased anxiety. I had been feeling for months that my Effexor had not been working as well as it normally does on my GAD. Splenda has been shown in studies to DECREASE the effectivness of medications. This is a study done by Duke University. Well no wonder I feel like my medication wasn't working. Splenda also casues acid reflux, gas and bloating, and those random headaches? Yup, gone as soon as I stopped using it. I have dumped all my Splenda, and within two weeks all of these issues had corrected themselves. If I hadn't of experienced it myself I wouldn't have belived it. 

But I had to think, what was causing me to use so much Splenda to begin with? I never had used that much in the past. Why, tea, of course. This all started when I began drinking 3-4 cups of tea a day in the Fall. I figured tea was healthier for me than the 2 cups of coffee I drank a day. Even though I drank caffeine free coffee, I thought it would be healthier to substituted tea, and I put Splenda in it.

But, wait, the story gets more complex. So I had been off Splenda for a few days when I went to work and made myself a cup of tea (this time Fig Rose from Teavana). I add 2 packets of REGULAR sugar and settled down to drink it. Once again my heart starts to race. Not nearly as bad as before, but enough that I am noticing it. What is going on? Hadn't I pinpointed the problem? I grab the tin of tea and start to look for a label, no label, hmmm. So I do the next best thing, I look it up online. What I can find, and it wasn't easy, is that this tea is made with artificial flavours. What EXACTLY does that mean?
Are these "artificial" flavours Splenda or aspartame? I don't know, because that is all the infromation I can find. It is now becoming apparent to me that these "artificial flavours" don’t agree with me. Again I start going down the rabbit hole and I don't like what I am finding. A simple Google search on David’s and Teavana and I find that almost all of their teas have either artificial or natural flavourings. Again, what is meant by natural flavours? If they are "natural" why do they have to be listed as "natural flavours"? A whole seperate category ingrediant on the label? Why not just put: natrual mango flavours, etc.? I am realzing that natural flavourings are just another way of saying "artificial".If they were truly natural they wouldn't have to be listed seperately. 
But it's not just David's and Teavana, the majority of grocery store brands are full of artificial flavouring, GMO's and Pesticides. This is horrifying. Almost all the teas I have from David’s and Teavana are so full of artificial this, and that, I didn't even realize I was consuming 3-4 cups of processed food a day. For months. I can see now I have been putting my body through a double whammy in my attempt to be healthier. So here is what I am thinking sitting in my doctor's office: I am not ingesting anything PROCESSED! Yet, now I learn I am actually consuming 2 of the most processed products on the planet!!

I'm not a dumb person. Nor have I blithely ignored labels, or where I buy my food, and what I eat. I have worked extremely hard to cut out almost all processed food in this house. I cook most of our food from scratch. I buy clean products (or so I thought). Yet, this Trojan horse has been sidling up to me for months and I had no idea. Because, again, I bought into the marketing. I was making a healthier choice. 

So let’s look at this situation. I was drinking 2 cups (2!) of coffee a day and doing great. But coffee is so ‘bad’ for you, I decided to changed to tea. Does that qualify as ironic? Ultimately, I only have myself to blame. You have to be vigilant, and constantly be educating yourself on what your buying and eating. Question, question, question marketing messages about so called 'healither' alternatives. And if there is a natural product that they are substituting an ingrediate for, just use the natural product.

Guess who is going back to 2 cups of coffee a day.

What to know what's in your tea? Read this.

What the real 'skinny' on Splenda? Read this

Asian Flavour Braised Oxtail with Pimento Polenta

Recently, I bought a cookbook, Ottolenghi, and it had a recipe for oxtail. I only looked at it in passing, probably because I hadn't heard the term oxtail in refererence to food before. Cattle, yes, food, not so much. But I was in the meat section of the grocery store and there it was! Suddenly it clicks in my brain, I've seen a recipe for this! I'm going to buy it and try it out at home.

When I get home I open the cookbook and realize the recipe is for oxtail stew. I'm really not into stew at the best of times; I want more of a formal meal. So I go to Pinterest looking for an oxtail recipe. Again, all stew recipes. I'm coming up high and dry again. What am I going to do with this oxtail?

Finally, I find this recipe from Cairns Manor. I like the Asian influence in the recipe and figure it will be a good jumping off point. But what to make with it?? I don't want to serve it with something that's going to overpower all those flavours in the oxtail. I need something that can offer a good counter balance to the texture of the meat, so I decided on polenta. But polenta with a little bit of kick, because as those who have made polenta before know, it can be a little bland. I decided to use this recipe  Pimento Polenta recipe from Jezebel as my inspiration, though I changed it up a bit.

The end result is the meal below, it might not look great, but it was very tasty. Oxtail is a winner. It is a lovely, heavy meat that I will definately be buying again.

Cooking the oxtail takes the longest amount of my time in this recipe. It needs to cook for about 3 hours all toether. What I did was cook it for an hour and a half on one side, then flipped it and cooked it for another 90 minutes on the other side. If you have a braiser or a Dutch Oven these would be the best instrument to use. However, if you have neither, this might be the time to invest in one. I highly recommend a braiser. I love mine, and I have found that since I bought it it's replace most of my pans and pots. Its perfect for browning the meat on top of the stove, then it can go directly into the overn (as can a dutch oven). However, in the meantime if you don't have a braiser, brown the meat in a frying pan, then put it into a cassoulet or casserole dish for the oven.  

What I really like about this recipe is the Asian flavor due to the use of Chinese 5 Spice Powder, Thai peppers, soy sauce and ginger. Enjoy!

Asian Flavour Braised Oxtail

-An Ox-tail cut into joints
-.5 cup red wine
-2 cups beef broth
-Half an onion, finely chopped
-2 Thai chillies cut length wise
-5 disks of ginger
-4 cloves of garlic 
-1.5 table spoons of Chinese 5 Spice Powder
-1 teaspoon of anise seeds
-1 teaspoon ground cloves 
-1/3 cup soy sauce 
-2 sprigs rosemary
-Zest of 1 orange
-2 tablespoons olive oil 

Pre-heat the oven to 325F. 

Put the 2 tablespoons of olive oil into your Braiser or pan and bring it up to a medium-high heat. Be sure to pepper and salt your oxtail, then put the 2 tablespons of olive oil into the pan to heat up. Brown the meat on all sides. Once your done browning, remove it from the pan and put it onto a plate. Reduce the tempture to low. 

At this point you should add the 2 cups of broth to a bowl. Then add the 1/3 cup of soy sauce, Chinese five spice powder, cloves, Thai peppers and anise seed. Mix with a spoon. 

Add the wine to the braiser. Bring it to a boil for a few seconds. It will burn down pretty quickly so make sure you are ready to add the broth mixture. Combine and stir until it is simmering. Add in the Oxtail, cover, and put it in the oven for 90 minutes. 

At 90 min, uncover. You'll notice the juice will have reduced a lot. Turn the oxtail over and resume cooking for another 90 minutes. About 40 minutes before the oxtail is ready, start on the Pimento Polenta.

Pimento Polenta

-1 cup corn meal
-3 cups water
-1 cup heavy cream
-1/4 bar of butter
-100g sharp cheddar
-6 tablespoons pimentos
-3 tablespoons kosher salt

-Add the salt to the pot, then bring the water to a boil. Slowly whisk in the cornmeal and stir vigorously, adding the heavy cream as you go. 

-Continue to cook the polenta over a medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until it is soft and thick, and the water has been absorbed. About 10 to 15 minutes. If it's too runny, add more cornmeal.

-Cover the pan and allow the polenta to sit for 5 minutes. Stir in the butter, the pimentos and cheese, to combine. Serve under the oxtail.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Bucket of Trash Paella

This is kind of a weird name for this dish. I was originally going to call it something like fridge surprise, but then I thought - this dish is literally everything in my fridge that was about to go bad. So if I hadn't made this is would have been trash. However, I can guarentee it is far tastier than the name implies!

A few weeks ago I had bought an absolutely excellent cookbook, What's for Dinner by Curtis Stone. I'd like to say I bought it because I knew who he was, or because I watch Top Chef, but I'm afraid it was much more mecineary than that: it was on sale. However, after cooking a number of recipes from this cookbook, I can say that it is a fantastic! Everything I've made has turned out perfectly. 

So last week I made a Paella first time, based on a recipe in the book. I've never made anything like this before. I was a little worried, throwing everything into one pot like that, but It turned out terrific!  In Stone's book, the Paella is made with chicken drumsticks and chorizo sausage; however, what I had in my fridge was ribs and leftover bacon. Hmmm, I started to ruminate through my crisper. I realized - oh my gosh - I've got a Thai peppers, two potatoes and half an onion. I started to think, this will all taste great together, let's get out the braiser. 

I have to say that my braiser has been one of the best investment I have ever made. I have been using this thing nonstop! 

I love the fact that I can take it from the stovetop and then throw it into the oven. Plus, it's deep enough that you can add all kinds of liquid when you're cooking recipes that need broth, wine, or milk. I've used it - surprise - for doing a lot of braising, as well. I think I have tried braising every type of red meat in it over the last few months. If you're looking a versatile kitchen tool, my advice is to spend the money on a braiser. Mine is Le Crueset, which is pricey (I hunted and found it online for $250), but I have heard Staub has a nice one as well, and it is cheaper. I've found mine has almost completly replaced my regular pans. I just prefer to use it.

So first thing I did was cut up my rack into individual ribs. Then I salted and pepped each piece. While I was doing this I let 2 tablespoons of oil heat up in my braiser (use medium- high heat). Once the ribs were seasoned I put them in the braiser to brown and then removed them to a plate. Then I heated the oven to 400 Celsius, as once your done preparing the vegetables on the stove top, you'll put everything into the oven to finish cooking. 

Next I added the left over bacon (about 6 strips). I lets that cook of a minute so that the fat would release. Next I added, my 2 roughly chopped potatos, 1 whole pepper (julienned, use whatever colour you have), 1 onion finely chopped, the Thai chilli (cut length wise), and 2 cloves of garlic, mined. I cooked this up for 2 minutes to soften. Then I added 2 teaspoons of paprika and 2.5 cups of arborio rice, and tossed for a minute or two to coat with oil and juice. Finally, I added 3 cups of beef stock (if cooking chicken, use chicken stock). Then I gave everything a minute or two to cook, re-added the ribs (give them room to breathe, don't stack) and moved the braiser to the oven to cook for 30 min. 

You'll know it's done when you see that the moisture is all gone from the pan, and the rice doesn't stick. Then just give it 5-10 min to rest and dish it out. Easy as can be. 

I hope you enjoy your 'trash' as much as I did!

Bucket of Trash Paella
-1-2 rack of ribs, cut into individual pieces
-6 strips of bacon, cut into pieces
-2 potatos roughly chopped
-2 tbsp olive oil
-2 tbsp paprika (smoked if you have it)
-kosher salt & pepper to taste
-2.5 cups arborio rice
-3 cups beef stock
-1 onion chopped finely
-1 pepper julienned 
-2 cloves garlic minced
-1 Thai chilli

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Berry Galette

As I have been working on my cooking skills I have entered the final frontier - pastry.  I had heard pastry was difficult. But I did not realize how intimidating it actually was until I started trying to do it. First of all, my first attempt didn't look anything like it was supposed to as described by my cookbook. It also turned out nothing like it was supposed to. So I think we can safely say, my first attempt was not memorable. 

So when I decided to try making a galette I was not condfident. But I was going to beat the pastry demon if it killed me. Well I don't know whether you pronounce it gal-lay or gal-let, I was going to give it my all. So below is the recipe for my berry galette, which I have been informed by my husband is 'a keeper' so, apparently consider the pastry demon spanked. 

Pre heat the oven to 375. 

Berry Galette

-2.5 cup all purpose flour
-.5 table spoon salt
-225 grams of butter
-.5 cup sour cream or Greek yogurt
- 1 table spoon white wine vinegar
- 1/3 cup ice water

Combine the flour and salt & then add the butter. Using a blender mix the butter & flour is the texture of  small pebbles. Then in a separate bowl mix the sour cream, vinegar and water and pour this into the flour mixture. Combine with a rubber spatula until the dough forms, needing it as necessary to bring it altogether. Then wrap it in a piece of plastic wrap and put it into the freezer for an hour. 

Marscopone Filling

- 4 oz or 110 grams mascarpone 
- .5 cup creme fraiche or double Devonshire cream
-1/4 tea spoon vanilla extract
-2 table spoons icing sugar

Combine everything in a bowl using a whisk.  Heat for 10-15 seconds if needed. Then spread over the pastry. 

Berry Filling

1.5 cup mixed berries. In this case we used blueberries, raspberries, passion fruit and 1 red plum. Then scatter a handful of minced almond and a teaspoon of cinnamon on top of the berries. Then I put 3 pieces of star fruit on top. 

Put it in the oven at 375 for 35 min. 

What I love most about this recipe is that all you have to do is roll the pastry out into a circle, spread the marscapone cream on it, then scatter the berries on top, and finally top with a little bit of cinnamon and chopped almonds. Finally, you just bend over the sides. I especially like this part, as the bending over the sides is super easy to do. It's pretty much my pastry speed.


Saturday, February 01, 2014

The Shut-ins Dinner Menu

For those of you who do not live in Alberta,let me just tell you about the winter we have been suffering through. I've come to refer to it as the Snow Apocalypse. It's been this way for the last month. Dump after dump of huge snowfall. Anywhere from 5 to 10 to 20 cm all in a 24 hour period. Needless to say our snow clearing crews have been getting a valiant job working nonstop  for the last month. We have gotten more snow here than in the last 112 years. So that's saying something.

Because of all the snow it's made the roads absolutely treacherous. So, of course, you don't want to go anywhere. So it's winter, the roads are crap, and the snow just keeps coming - what's a girl to do? Well if you're this girl, you decide to get some good old fashion cooking in.

Here are a couple recipes that I've tried &  had a lot of success with.

The first (which I font have pictures for) is for Mexican Ribs. I got the original recipe from Donna Hay's magazine, but wasn't overalls happy with it so I mixed it up a bit to give the ribs more heat and spice. I found them a little too sweet last time. So for my recipe calling them Diablo Ribs (although the have it they are not that spicy). 

Diablo Ribs

2 kg of baby back ribs
1 tbsn ground ginger (fresh if you have it)
1 tbsn chilling powder
1 tbsn ground cloves 
1 tbsn Dutch Cocoa
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 jalapeño pepper chopped
1-2 Thia chillies, sometimes called bird chillies (for less heat 1, more 2)
2 tbsn onion salt
1/3 cup olive oil
Kosher salt & cracked pepper to taste. 

Then we combined it all in a bowl, rubbed it into the ribs and let it marinate overnight. The original recipe doesn't require marinating, but I had the time so thought I would. 

When ready to cook lay the ribs fat side down on the pan and broil for 5 min. This will carmalize the brown sugar, but also seal the meat so that it cooks nicely in its own juices. Once done broiling, turn the oven to 300 and cook the ribs for 1.5 hrs. 

Mark ate them so fast I was shocked. He now wants to make them for our next dinner party. 

Last night we made fried chicken, which may not sound like a lot, but my attempts in the past have never resulted in the glorious KFC chicken Mark produced last night. 

Mark's Fried Chicken

-Chicken cut into pieces, or a bunch of chicken pieces (preferrably bone-in)
-Seasoned flour (3 cups all purpose flour, 2 tablespoons salt, 2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper, 2 tablespoons paprika, 2 tablespoons garlic powder, 2 tablespoons onion powder, 2 tablespoons cayenne pepper, 2 tablespoons thyme, and 2 tablespoons tarragon). Used 1.5 cups, and ziplock the rest for later. 
-2 eggs, splash of milk.  Whip with a fork. Use to dunk the chicken. 
-3 cups oil. 1.5 cup olive oil & 1.5 cup canola oil. 

Heat the oil to medium-high heat. Run a piece of chicken through the egg mixture then in the seasoned flour, then repeat an put into the oil. Turning as needed. When each piece is done place on a piece of paper towel to rest and drain. 

But I did have a lot of success with the Acorn Squash I made. My father grew a ton if squash this summer and have me a ton of these. Never having really eaten them before I must admit they've been sitting in the fridge for a whole. Luckily, they keep like crazy when cool. 

So last might I felt it might be time to get serious about cooking them and I found a recipe on Epicurious that looked good, but as I didn't have all the ingredients I improvised. I'm calling it Red Mushroom Stuffed Squash. 

Red Mushroom Stuffed Squash

1 1 1/2- to 1 3/4-pound acorn squash, halved lengthwise, seeded
1/2 cup of dried cranberries and currants
1/4 cup hot water
5 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
4 ounces fresh wild mushrooms (such as shiitake), stemmed, chopped
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 teaspoon dried rubbed sage
1 cup breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 425°F. Place squash cut side down in 8x8x2-inch glass baking dish. Put in 1 tablespoon of butter on the squash. Cover dish tightly with plastic wrap. Microwave on high 10 minutes. Pierce plastic to let steam escape. Uncover and turn squash halves cut side up. Season cavities with salt and pepper. 

Combine dried cranberries and currants and hot water in small bowl. Melt 3 tablespoons butter in heavy medium skillet over medium heat. Add mushrooms, onion and sage and sauté until beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Add breadcrumbs and stir until crumbs brown lightly, about 3 minutes. Mix in cranberries and currants with soaking liquid. Season to taste with salt and pepper. 

Mound stuffing into squash halves. Dot with remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Bake until heated through and crisp on top, about 10 minutes.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Probably Unsurprising to Everyone But Me

Well I've gone through quite the (expensive) experiment in face cream lately. I spent a lot of money on some high end brands of skin care that, sadly, did nothing for me. In fact, I have come full circle and ended up with almost the same skin care products I stared with. What I have learned is $$$ doesn't = quality.

Having recently entered my 40's I figured it was probably time to kick up my skin care regime. It's not that I haven't looked after my skin, I have, but with the appearance of lines around my eyes I wondered if I was doing enough. The problem was I had no idea what enough was. Before I started this journey, about 6 months ago, I had never even heard of serums. I though all you need was a good moisturizer with sunscreen. I didn't realize SPF 15, as found in most moisturizers, isn't even close to the amount you need daily to stop sun damage. In fact, you probably need to apply sunscreen (50 or higher, preferably) on top of your moisturizer

So I've been trying to educate myself on what works, what products I need (toner - yes or no?) and why some products are better than others for certain skin types. I have to tell you there is a whole lot of contradictory info out there. Do you believe what is recommended in magazines? How do you parse out if a product is any good when looking at glossy ads for high end products? What I have learned is that you can't even judge a product on its ingredients until you learned a whole new lexicon. BHA? Packed with antioxidants? Which ones? What do those do? Fortified with Vitamin C? Is that good? BB? Do I need that? So many questions! And I had no way to answer any of them. 

It appears I spent hundreds on fancy products that are classified as 'toxic' by Paula's Choice (, the skin care website I have come to rely upon. Because if there is one thing that is true about skin care products, it's that you need guidance to try to make sense of where to put your cash. There is so much marketing, celebrity endorsements and magazine editorials devoted to the multitude of products available it's almost impossible to understand what you need. Let alone what ingredients it should contain to be worth your hard earned cash. For instant, did you know you are throwing your money away if you are buying products that come in a jar? I had no idea that jars expose fragile ingredients & chemicals to germs, air and light that render them moot? How would I know that?

I have also come to hate stores like Sephora. I though these places would be great repositories of skin care knowledge. What I've learned is that the staff at Seohora no nothing. They only actively push products they are prompted to. They have very limited information about any of the products they carry. The staff have rarely tried any of them, and when you asked them questions, their response is to read the box or label. Exactly what I could have done myself. There is no insight offered on the ingredients they read off or why one might be better than another or for certain skin types. I could have done the same thing myself, and ended up in the same bewildered state. 

I did have better results with the staff at Shopper's Drug Mart. They also recommended expensive stuff, but were able to answer my questions without just regurgitating what could easily be read on the packaging. In a few case, they were even able to suggest cheaper, worthy alternatives. They didn't appear to only push certain products (pay for play) & asked enough questions to at least get a sense of what skin type I had, and what I was looking for. 

After months of experiments and research I've ended up using  Oil of Olay, which is what I had started with. Of course, I'm using a more expensive and supped up line of the brand then I had been using, but the point is: I thought I needed to get serious about my skin care & get off the cheap stuff and ended up using something very similar to what I started with. It appears what I was doing wasn't so too bad to begin with. I might not have been the best I could do, but in the attempt to throw money at the problem I ended up using products that were far worse than what I had been using. But finally, the most important thing I've learned is: it doesn't matter what your using (serums, moisturizers, toners, etc.) or what brand, if your not using a strong sunscreen everyday your skin will continue to deteriorate. Period.  

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Thing About Small Towns....

Is that they microcosims of eccentricity.

I recently had a friend say to me, there's just something weird about these small towns isn't there?

Well, yes, there is. 

But it's what makes them so interesting.  These places are packed with locals who consider city idiots, like me, truly perverse for wanting shops to stay open past 5pm. Why would anyone want to go out for breakfast before 11am on Sunday? 

Sunday's are a real battle field day in small towns with bedroom communities. People like us, who work in the city all week, want weekend amenities. Like restaurants that open to offer breakfast during breakfast hours. Locals want shorter hours, because they've been running their business all week and want a break. The fact that you - literally - can't buy a coffee on Sunday anywhere in town, outside the Fast Gas, has been a major problem for us. When they announced that a Tim Horton's was being built Mark fell to his knees and fist pumped like he had just scored the winning goal in the final game of the World Cup. I worry he may wander into our local coffee shop with a double double just to make a point. 

The other major debate, in any small town, is the pool. Stop in at the coffee shop, when it's open, and you're sure to hear someone talking about it. If the town doesn't have a pool, there is a major push to get one. Like having a school, towns have major inferiority complexes around pools. They don't feel like they are taken seriously until they have one. On the other hand, if the community has a pool, you have a major push to close it because it costs too much money to maintain and isn't used enough. Never bring up the pool with an unknown local. Innocent comments like: I might go lane swimming can land you with a tongue lashing about the inherent waste that is the the pool. 

The other topic everyone worries about is the state of the curling club. They worry that not enough new people are curling. That the club is slowly dying through attrition. Meanwhile, if you try to contact the curling club to find out how to join, no one ever calls you back. If they don't recognize your name as being connected with some local (Oh, that's Bob's boy) no effort is made to return your call. You just wouldn't fit in. You won't understand the inside jokes or the value of traditions that they've established over the years. Worse, you'll probably bring your big city ideas and want to do things like establish set practice times or use email to communicate. Once that internet thing is brought up the end is near. The unspoken rule of curling club is, no new people wanted, but lament the fact that every year you have less teams. 

Overall, small towns are in a constant battle against themselves. Half the town wants things to change, half the town wants things to stay the same. The problem is, nothing ever stays the same. Todays's new idea becomes tomorrow's outdated one. But small towns, unlike cities, have long memories and cling to things. Sometimes this results in wonderful traditions that benefit everyone. Other times it just means your driving to a bigger town to get coffee on Sunday. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

A Change of Scene is a Good Thing!

So this was my Monday. 
This was my Tuesday. 
Looks like fun doesn't it?

Tuesday night I stayed at girlfriend's place in Calgary. We were into week 2 of the snow apocalypse. I had decided that should it continue, I would at least be able to make my commute to work in the dim glow of street lamps. 

If you have never gone into the ditch let me put your mind to rest. It's f$cking scary! On Monday I was attempting to turn around to go home. I knew I was in an untenable position. I shouldn't even have ventured as far as I had in such weather and road conditions. I was only going about 10 km an hour! I was desperately trying to limp home in a storm that had eliminated visibility outside a 1 inch radius around my headlights. I knew I was driving in the middle of the road, because I could hear the bump-bump sound of the raised medium under my tires. The fact that I had no idea where the rest of the road was was absolutely terrifying. You can't see anyone coming, but you know you're in their way. I thought I was close enough to the side of the road to turn around. Obviously, I misjudged. In a scene reminiscent of a sinking ship the car was just sucked into the soft, thick snow until I was so deep physics just stopped it from sliding further. The snow reached up to the passenger side window & when I saw a man - an Angel, really - stop to check on me, I had to shoulder check the door to get it open enough to slip through. I barely got it to close. I was scared if I didn't get it shut I'd run the battery down. Obviously, your brain doesn't work properly in times like these. When your car has become the central core of an snowberg a dead battery is really towards the bottom of the problem list. I scrambled out so quickly to get to my angel's car I left my keys in the ignition. Just imagine how impressed I would have been had someone managed to steal it. 

That day after AMA had sent the nicest guy to tow we out, I started to cry. It was stress coming out. I hadn't realized how much adenline and emotion had been corsing through my system all day. I literally collapsed into bed at 8 pm, emotionally exhausted. 

Of course, nothing stopped the snow from blanketing the landscape with another 4 inches over night. Tuesday morning I barely made it out of my neighborhood before my winter tires caught a bank of snow and propelled the car into another ditch. I couldn't stop the slow sideways slide I was in. I furiously pumped the brakes, but nothing helped. Again, I wasn't going more than about 15km an hour. However, this time I wasn't in a ditch on the side of a major highway. I knew I wouldn't be a priority for AMA to pull out. I could be there for days while they fished out all the other chumps like me on the major arteries. So I did what you do in situations like this: you call someone with a truck. 

Thankfully, my brother-in-law, Brett, lives in our town and possesses a truck. And unlike me, he had wisely called his employer that morning and told them he'd be late. No sense getting on the roads until the sun came up. So he packed up his chains and came to fish me out. Only I was so deep we had to have a lovely Samaritan (who kindly stopped) hook up to his truck to get enough traction to pull me out. One thing I will say for Albertans, they are a hardy, helpful lot. 

Long story short I eventually made it to work. Took me 2 hours to drive at 40-50kms an hour, but I got there. Finally, on Wednesday the 2 week snow apocalypse stopped. Right now it is +7 in Calgary. I'm sure snow crews are out working furiously to try & clear as much snow as possible, because if there's one thing you can be sure of in winter in Alberta, there is another snow storm around the corner. This is just the calm. 

The good news in all this?
This where I got to end my week. Mark & I flew into Palm Springs this weekend to sign all the paperwork for our condo purchase. We've been running around like crazy, but can't believe how much we have gotten done. I'm currently sitting on the deck soaking up as much sun as my D deficient body can take in. It's amazing how a little change of scenery can make everything better. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

DYI Winter Pine Cone Wreath

We are having a silent auction at work to benefit The United Way this week. I wanted to create something that could be submitted and I was inspired by a similar wreath at Victorian Studio. So I decided to attempt it, and sell the result for charity. I went to Michael's and picked up 3 bags of pine cones, little red bulbs, and some red birds.

I spray painted the pine cones with white paint, and then covered them with a glossy shellac of silver glitter. It's hard to see it in theses pictures, but it gave the wreath a nice glimmer. Perfect, to match the moon glittering off the snow outside. 

Once the pine cones were done - I had to spray paint them twice to get them a nice white - I started to glue them onto a white foam form. It took quite a while to place the right sized cones next to each other to cover the form. This will take the most amount of time in this project. Once that was done I started to place the birds and bulbs, looking for the right symmetry. 
Before affixing the last pine cones, I glued a red ribbon to the top of the wreath so that it would hang nicely. This wreath is very heavy once done, so make sure your ribbon is solidly attached. Voila! You should have something similar to the picture below. 
I think this is a perfect wreath to take you through the holiday season, as well as the rest of winter. Hopefully, someone at the silent auction on Thursday will feel the same & bid good money for it!

Update: My wreath sold for $45! The lady who bought it was very excited and was planning on hanging it up as soon as she got home.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

DYI Light Bulb Wreath

First off I have to admit this wreath looks better in the pictures than it does to me in the flesh. 

This is due to one thing, I cheaped out: I had a green form and I am cheap. It had nothing to do with the snow storm yesterday (no, I'm not joking). I could have driven into Calgary to buy a new form from Michael's, but I just didn't feel like it. I know, first world problems. Therefore, I had to use the green form. So I tried to spray paint it white, and it just didn't work out. I think this would've been prettier if I had had a form that I could have sprayed silver.

However, if you are not perturbed by this silly tirade and wish to attempt this  wreath, which actually is very pretty (ignore the form), here is how you do it.

First off I went to the hardware store and I bought bulbs in about five or six different colors. Old-style, large bulbs. I know this because I was told so by a guy in line who said: wow, those are old fashioned bulbs. 

Then I found some little blinking lights, made for craft projects, also at the hardware store. 

They just wrap around the form, and you glue them in a place however you like. Easy peezey. 

Finally, attach the bow to cover the batteries that power these lights, and you are finished. Your light bulb wreath is ready to hang!