The Year Of Lessons Learned

Monday, 29 December 2014

I have been away. Not physically, maybe mentally. I just haven’t had the time or energy to post. I will try harder next year.

Next year, I will be 40 and I can honestly say that I have made very few of my ‘dreams’ come true in the last 39 years. Now, don’t worry. This isn’t going to be one of those sad, whiny, ‘look what I don’t have’ type of posts. On the contrary, this is a look at what I do have… and maybe a look at what I need to let go of.

I have a husband who I love very much. We don’t always see eye to eye, but he will always be my best friend. I have two beautiful children. They are my greatest accomplishment. Sure, they drive me bonkers most of the time, but when I think back to being told I’d never have children, his hyperactivity and her bossiness make me smile.

This year, I finally landed my dream job. In fact, I start it January 5th. I came to this country the manager of a cytology lab and was immediately bumped back to the lowest rung of my career—a lab assistant-- and I have worked my tail off to climb higher than I have ever been before. I have a gorgeous home, which is big enough to offer me a beautiful ocean-themed home office. I have a great, reliable little car that is the most beautiful color of blue and has a mermaid sticker on the back.

And I have new dreams.

I might not have accomplished everything I thought I would, or wanted to by now, but as I look back at what I have accomplished, many of the dreams of my early thirties seem unimportant. I guess your dreams shift as your reality does. Sadly, some of my hobbies—which used to be my world—are fading for me. I am moving to a time in my life where I long for quiet simplicity. 

This year I am going to be more selfish. That’s right, I said it. I am going to demand time to myself and I am going to do the things that I want to do and be quick to say no to the things that don’t move me forward in my goals. Because I still have goals—lots of them—and I still plan to work toward my dreams, my new dreams that is. 

I’ve learned a lot this year. I was hurt by someone I cared, maybe too much, for and I have put a lot of time and energy into something that brings me little joy. I’ve made other mistakes, too. I sort of excel at it. But most importantly, I have wasted time which could have been better spent. I think it’s time to pay attention to the people and things that do bring me joy. And that includes myself. 

My new job means I will be much more in the spotlight (even though that is not something I want), so along with the new knowledge I am working hard to gain, I am also looking to revamp my image. I have started a new wardrobe better suited to my new position, I get regular haircuts (don’t laugh, this is the first time in my adult life I can claim that), and my new hours mean I will finally have time to run again.

I would love to sit down and say that I have New Year’s resolutions I plan on sticking to, but let’s be honest, when do I ever stick to resolutions? I mean, do you? 

Last year I chose 4 areas of my life to focus on and that seemed to work somewhat. I did really well with 2 of them—Family and Finance (although Finance was shot to hell by Christmas…). The other 2—Fitness and Fiction--- seemed to get left behind. 

This year I am going to keep the same focuses, I think, but with more emphasis on Fitness and Fiction. I am hoping that my new job will automatically make it easier to sort out my finances (it’s quite a hefty pay rise) and being able to run regularly will help me keep my family happy. Never underestimate the power of a happy mommy. 

So, that’s it for me. I have referred to 2014 as ‘The Year of Lessons Learned’, but it hasn’t all been bad. Far from it. I have made more than a few memories and I hope this time next year I will look back on my year and have even more to smile about. 

What about you? Have you learned anything in particular or made any promises for 2015? I’d love to hear about them.

Old Fashion Donut Muffins

Friday, 10 October 2014

Donut Muffins, or Donut Loaf

You know, without a doubt, that I am procrastinating and have a deadline due if you find me baking. Not that I don’t love to cook or bake (I do), it’s just that when I am fighting a story or an article, I take cover in my kitchen and get elbow deep in brown sugar. My family rarely complains.

Probably the most popular thing I bake while procrastinating is muffins—old fashion donut muffins, to be exact. They are a big hit with my family. Seriously. A couple of weekends ago I made 14 muffins and there were 6 left within the hour. There are only 4 of us in the house and the little one can’t reach the stove where I sit the platter.

Yesterday, I tried the same recipe but in two loaf pans instead of muffin cases. As I suspected, it still had the same, spicy scent and flavor that reminds me so much of October. The only complaint was that the icing-to-cake ratio is better with the muffins. That led to my son sneaking icing off the second loaf every time I turned my back.

I can’t remember where I can across this recipe originally, or who to credit it to, but I have made my own tweaks to it over the years. I find the recipe makes on average 12-14 muffins, or two average size loaf pans. I have reduced the amount of water in the glaze to produce a slightly thicker, icing-type glaze which stays nicely on top of cooled muffins or loaves.

For the muffins:
1/4 C butter, softened
1/3 C vegetable oil
1/2 C caster sugar
1/3 C brown sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 t baking powder
1/4 t baking soda
3/4 t nutmeg
1 t cinnamon
3/4 t salt
1 t vanilla extract
2 2/3 C flour
1 C milk

For the glaze:
3 T butter, melted
1 C powdered sugar
1 t vanilla
1 T hot water

1.     In a large mixing bowl, combine the butter, oil, and both sugars. Using an electric mixer, if possible, whip these until smooth.
2.      Add the eggs one at a time, making certain they are mixed in well.
3.      Add each of the baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg, cinnamon, salt, and vanilla, again, blending them in well.
4.      Add 1 C of flour. The batter will become thick and sticky like dough, then add 1/2 C of milk to loosen the batter.
5.      Add another 1C of flour, followed by the remaining 1/2 C of milk, and finally the remaining 2/3 C of flour.  
6.      Line a muffin tin with cases or loaf pans with parchment paper and spoon the batter into the cases or tins evenly.
7.      Bake until the muffins or cases have risen and are lightly browned. A toothpick or metal skewer should come out clean when used to pierce the center of the cakes.
8.      Allow your muffins or cakes to cool completely before icing them so that the glaze does not melt and run off.
9.      To make the glaze, combine all of the ingredients in a bowl, adding the hot water last, and beat with a wire whisk until smooth. If you prefer a thinner glaze, add additional water a few drops at a time until you reach a consistency you are happy with.
10.  Ice the muffins or cakes by spooning the glaze over them. If you like, you can allow that layer to dry and harden and then follow it with a second layer.

And there you have it! By now you should have a tray of muffins or loaves which smell heavenly and taste like the kind of old fashion donuts you used to buy at the fair when you were a child. Enjoy them, but beware—they won’t last long, especially if you have little monsters in your kitchen. J

Friday! Yay!

Friday, 5 September 2014

Well, sort of. I mean, I do have kids so I won't get to sleep in or have ice cream for dinner or anything.

Come to think of it, I would rather skip this weekend (and avoid going back to work) and re-do this week instead. This week, I took off to make sure Hunter was okay in his transition to the new school. He loves it. What I loved was the lifestyle I have had a taste of.

Every morning, Elly came over to watch Scarlett and after walking Hunter to school (yes, walking!),I was able to settle into my home office and write.  It has been fantastic. And it has made me want to write full time even more.

I won't have another week off any time soon, but maybe someday I will spend every week this way...

A Tribute

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Our gorgeous boy.

A little over a year ago-- or maybe it's closer to two years, I don't know, the days seem to be slipping by so fast-- I made a decision. It turned out to be an unpopular decision, but it was an important one.

We discovered that the house we were living in had a major gas leak, one that had started small over a year, possibly two years, before and was now to blame for my family's ill health. We had to move-- and fast. We found a house we all loved. We loved the ares-- closer to work, good schools, etc. It was a good future for our family. Only it meant we couldn’t take our dog with us.

I was devastated. You see, I am a bit fanatical about animals. I have always believed they are family, not pets. The though of losing my best friend made me sick to my stomach. It didn't help that at least two of my co-workers slammed me for the decision and I was constantly seeing 'A dog is for life...' all over Facebook. Still do.

Yes, there were other houses which accepted pets, but there was more to it than that. I knew I was in for a struggle with my son. He has a number of health issues which make daily life difficult for us. The time I could give to Buddy was going to suffer.

Mostly, I worried that we weren't really giving Buddy the kind of life that he deserved. When we adopted him-- over four years earlier-- I was working part time, he went everywhere else with me, things were easier. Then I had to go back to full time and I wasn't around much. I missed him, probably not as much as he missed me, though. He used to watch me drive away from the living room window and to this day the look on his face haunts me.

One of my best friends, she's family really, told me her aunt was looking to adopt. This woman had lost her husband and was very devoted to her elderly dog. She wanted another dog, to see her though when she was inevitably alone, but she didn't want to wait until then.  She didn't want it to seem as if she was trying to replace her dog. Instead she wanted to bring a new dog into their home before it happened, but not a puppy who would likely drive her old dog crazy.

He had so much love to give.

Buddy was the perfect fit. Within days the two dogs were like an old married couple. She sent us texts and pictures letting us know how he was doing and she promised to give him extra love from us. He settled in fine. My family never really got over it. My son still asks at least a few times a month if we can call her and ask for Buddy back. My husband often tells me that he misses that old dog. I miss him every day.

Not long after Buddy moved in with his new mommy, the older dog passed away. I was so grateful that he was there to comfort his new mom during that time. She really needed him and no one could have asked for a better companion to see her through. It was then that I came to terms with my decision. She needed him. No matter what anyone says, I still think I did the right thing.Especially now as my son's health gets increasingly more difficult to manage.

She took Buddy everywhere with her. I'm telling you, that dog went on more vacations in the last year than I went have been on in my whole adult life! Sadly, last weekend he went on his last.

On Saturday, Buddy's new mom contacted me to let me know that he was gone. He had collapsed on one of their trips and was diagnosed with advanced liver cancer which had spread to his lungs. At that point, he wasn't suffering, but it was likely he would soon. The only loving thing she could do was let him go. And she did. And throughout the procedure she held him, stroked him, and told him how much he was loved. He was lucky to have her, too.

I cried all morning. I am crying now, writing this. Even though he hadn't lived with us for so long, it was like he never left. He certainly never left my heart. It is amazing what a profound effect Buddy had on all of our lives. 

He will be forever missed.

RIP Buddy Bear

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