Monday, January 28, 2013

On the important things in life: Planning my first cake for 2013

In the fall I spent every Thursday night sitting in a room reading texts with a bunch of other women. I was part of an amazing class co-taught by a very talented friend of mine, where Jewish and Muslim women gathered each week to read religious texts with each other. Was it a good time? Oh yes, it was.

Is this post really about cake? Yes, I promise. We'll get there.

I've written a little before about my conversion to Judaism, but I haven't written very much about my academic research, because I didn't want to bore you to tears was happy to have a space to write about things other than my interest in feminist theory and religion because for crying out loud the essays I have written. In my early graduate work I studied early Indian and Tibetan Buddhist literature as a way to learn about gender. It was a good time. No, seriously. My later graduate life was consumed by research into the way feminists study religion. All of this is to say that while I've spent many, many years learning about women, religion and studying texts, I've mostly only done this as an outsider, since I myself was not religious.

Since converting to Judaism this has changed. Reading religious texts, especially those that describe and debate religious law, can be very different for me now. I perk up when I read about religious dietary laws because now I keep a kosher kitchen. I want to know more about laws dealing with sexuality because I am a woman in a tradition that divides its believers along gender lines (in many different ways, according to many different traditions).

What made this course all the better, was that it wasn't a class filled only with Jewish women, but a group of Jewish and Muslim women reading together. We read from the Torah and from the Qur'an, from the Talmud and the Hadith. We read texts that prescribed laws about how to eat, who to touch when we are menstruating, and who we ought to marry. Then we talked about it. For a very long time.

Some of us followed our religion's laws closely, some of us didn't. Some of us covered our hair, some of us didn't. We all identified as Jews or Muslims, but none of us were the same. But same or not, we were connected by religions that had a lot to say about women. People write-off religious women too often, both from inside and outside religious traditions; I wish they wouldn't. There are as many different religious women as their are women on the planet. No matter where they fall along the spectrum of religious observance, women make critical choices about how they interpret their religious texts all the time. I loved reading a text and then hearing thirty different interpretations from the women around me. What I found limiting, others found freeing. What I read with great interest, others cared little for. We didn't always agree with other but that's ok. Repeat after me: we don't always have to agree. I'm pretty certain that I'll never cover my hair and I feel very strongly about this, but holy cow do I love learning about why other women do.

I learned so much and met some of the kindest, most engaging women this side of Toronto. We met as a class only for a few months, but, as women do, we are getting together to cook for each other early next month. How could we come and go without sharing a meal? Impossible. So this is where cake comes in. I'm bringing dessert.

It is one of my 100 Resolutions to make more cakes. I usually play it safe with cookies or squares (or brownies or breads or scones), but it's time for cake. The problem is I just can't decide which one. Can you help me? I've narrowed down some possible cake recipes, courtesy of my some of my favourite food bloggers. Which one?

This lemon olive oil cake from In Jennie's Kitchen? I do love olive oil.

What about cardamom? Food52 rarely lets me down.

I just can't decide. Please, with your help I can start tabulating votes by sundown. Do you know of another fabulous cake recipe I should look at? Please do share. A large room filled with Jewish and Muslim women depend on it. If you can't share a great cake together, what can you do?

P.S. Happy Monday!

You can find the cake print for sale here.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Do good by your friends: Food for new parents

Do you know anyone who could use some good food? Over at my doula blog I've collected some of my favourite recipes to make for new parents. No one you know had a baby? Maybe you know someone who could just use some extra love. They like food, too.

What are your favourite things to make new parents?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

#11 Take Alyce ice-skating

This post is part of a new series I'm excited about at Most Days I Win. I've written a list of (mostly) small and manageable resolutions that I'd like to attempt in 2013. I've included things on my list that will continue to inspire me and lead me toward the kind of joy-filled life I've always loved. I'm using this list to commit, again and again, to doing things that make me laugh, make me happy, feelings I hope rub off on other people in the process. You can see the list of my 100 Resolutions Project (in two parts) here and here.

Can I tell you how much fun it was to kick off my Resolutions Project with ice-skating? I had decided to steal Alyce away for a surprise date this past weekend, just the two of us, and I wanted to make it a surprise.

I kept my secret for an entire two hours.

When I spilled the beans her face almost broke in half on account of her excitement and she asked a zillion questions, including, but not limited to: could she wear ice-skates? (Yes.) Will I skate with her? (I'll do my best.) What happens if I fall down? (You get back up.) Could her skates be pink? (We can only hope.) The next day we headed to Dufferin Grove Park, one of my new favourite Toronto destinations. There we found free outdoor skating, $2 skate rentals, and hot chocolate for fifty cents. Fifty cents? I know. (They also host an organic farmer's market each week, so I'm thinking of moving in.) If you're looking for other City of Toronto outdoor rinks (some with skate rentals), you can find a list here.

Alyce was glorious. And her skates were pink. Don't let that sad face above fool you. She was just exasperated because she had to wait around until I got my skates on, clearly a tragedy. But then she looked like this:

Alyce had never been on skates before, and had certainly never experienced a Canadian outdoor rink. There were hockey players next to us, a figure skater practicing with her coach, and a collection of happy-faced novices with rosy cheeks and laced up skates. Taking Alyce skating for the first time was one of those parenting moments you remind yourself about when you're having a particularly rough day. It was golden. A perfectionist already, I was a little worried she might be too hard on herself, something akin to the struggle she feels when her drawings don't look "right." (Nothing makes me sadder than Alyce tearing up because she thinks her unicorn picture looks stupid. It is always a spectacular unicorn.) I prepared myself for mixed feelings from her, a combination of too much excitement and disappointment with not immediately skating like an Olympic athlete. I would have understood both reactions.

Alyce took to the ice holding one of those magical walker-type skating aids. Since I had only been on skates one time in the past twenty years, I could have used one myself. Thankfully for everyone around us I had enough nostalgia-fueled skill to skate enough that I could keep up her my five year old. Alyce never looked back, except to declare to me how much fun she was having. We skated for about an hour and she fell about every 90 seconds for the first half of that. But eventually she found her pace, even managing to tackle what she called "Figure Eights" (what you and I would probably call a circle), all while holding on to her walker. She tried to skate without the walker a few times, but quickly returned to the walker without shame. Skating with Alyce was joyful, even if my feet hurt because I don't actually know how to lace up a pair of figure skates.

One down, ninety-nine to go. It was a great place to start.

Have you written a list yet? Will you share it with us?

Be well!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Around our house

Around our house today:

... Recovering from one of those Monday mornings where all of us should have returned to bed and started over again. Keys were lost, mysterious leg ailments abounded, snow pants zippers refused to budge, and school bells rang before we had arrived at the kindergarten door. Also, it's one million degrees below zero.

... Working on an important application letter. Again.

... Crossing my fingers that Shira is only painting on the paper in the next room.

... Packing up piles of books for a trip to the library this afternoon.

... Plotting my work plan for the week. It's a busy one. 

... Planning for Tu B'Shevat and Shabbat this Friday night and excited to welcome some of our favourite people to celebrate with us. Alyce started painting trees this morning in preparation. Also on my list: buy parsley seeds, fruits, nuts, and olives. If you're celebrating Tu B'Shevat, you can find some ideas here.

... Preparing a post for tomorrow, when I'll share with you the first thing I accomplished on my 100 Resolutions list!

I wish you the most warmest of weeks. May it be filled with wool socks and fire places!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

How to stop breastfeeding my two year old

I have no business posting any advice for how to wean your child. The only advice I really have is how to stop breastfeeding Shira, because that's what I did. Four and a half weeks ago. Thirty-three days ago. Thirty-three missed naps ago. Six hundred tantrums ago.

Can I tell you a secret? Shira is completely fine. I know she misses her milk but she's coped, well, like a child who was ready to stop breastfeeding. It's sort of how I imagine I'll feel when I finally curb my sugar intake. I have no true desire to stop eating sweets, but once I get them out of my system I frantically hope expect that I won't miss it. Maybe it's nothing like that, but my point is that Shira has shined as a non-breastfeeding toddler. The first few days were filled with requests to have milk, but even when she cried to nurse her tears were not the sobbing, devastated kind. They were more like the annoyed, not getting her way kind.

Can I tell you another secret? I am not completely fine. I miss breastfeeding Shira so much. So much that I want a support group. I listed all the reasons I love breastfeeding Shira here and here, so I won't bore you with the details of my feelings, except to tell you that I miss her with my entire body. I feel a magnetic pull to sneak her into bed and nurse. I would not be lying if I told you that more than one night I *almost* woke her up in the middle of the night to breastfeed her just one more time. For Pete's sake.

So while I can't really offer any definitive how-to lists on how to wean your toddler, I will offer you a few things I learned along the way, since some of you have asked. If anything I'm here to tell you that there are many ways to stop breastfeeding, many reasons for doing so, and many, many feelings you will probably experience along the way. And so this is parenting.

Try and try again

I actually tried to stop breastfeeding this August when I was heading out of town for a wedding. I knew we were getting close to the end of breastfeeding, and since I was going to be away for three days and two nights, it seemed like the perfect time. Turns out we weren't close yet, not even really in the same neighbourhood. Or city, even. Shira was fine while I was gone and then collapsed in some combination excitement/horror/judgement, weeping for milk when I walked in the door. So we continued.

When the time came for us to try again (this was around mid-November), I began talking with her about it. She continued nursing five, six, or seven times a day, but we'd talk in between about how my body made milk for her when she was born, but now she had grown and grown and finished all my milk! Once I chose the day that would be our last nursing together, I got right to it. Shira, I told her gently, Mama's milk is almost gone. You ate it all up! You have grown and grown. She pouted a bit, but agreed. She continues to accept that I no longer have milk, though sometimes she still accuses me of having milk in my breasts. One day she even claimed to smell it, asking me where I put it. If only she knew that when she wasn't looking milk was actually spilling out of me.

Not breastfeeding feels kind of terrible for awhile

At least it did for me. Some mothers wean more gradually than I did. I went from constant nursing to nothing. I never claimed to be very smart, but I will say in my defence that Shira would have none of that nursing only before bed business. I tried that for weeks, in fact, it was part of the reason I decided to stop completely. Shira wanted milk all day, all the time. Had she reduced the number of breastfeedings to one or two a day I'd probably still be nursing her. (Sob.)

My drastic weaning meant that I was faced with some very uncomfortable weeks ahead of me. I expected to feel engorged for a few days, but obviously I was delusional and still drunk on my last breastfeeding high. The first few days were actually pretty easy, breast-wise. They grew in size and defied gravity a bit more, but otherwise just a little sore. Then came the plugged ducts, self-expressing, hot showers, and tears. This lasted a week. I would also leak in my sleep and whenever Shira spoke. But after two weeks most of the pain and discomfort went away, along with a cup size.

It's a great excuse to buy a cute toy.

We decided to give Shira a special stuffed animal to help her with the transition, and I think it worked out really well. I found her a red corduroy puppy (she has a thing for puppies) and I let Alyce give it to her on the last day I breastfed her. Alyce explained to Shira that my milk was going to be gone the next day and that if she ever felt sad about its disappearance she could squeeze her new puppy. Shira agreed to the new arrangement and called it Milk Puppy. I think it's an excellent name. And she squeezed the daylights out of it for the first three weeks. Now he's usually invited into her crib at bedtime, having joined the ranks of her Backyardigans and Pink Puppy.


Not everything will suck

When I stopped breastfeeding Alyce I felt as though I had lost her. Of course I didn't really, but for a kid who only snuggled with me while nursing, not nursing meant few, if any, opportunities to shower her with hugs and kisses, or simply just to look at each other, quietly, for a few minutes. Matt quickly took over morning and bedtime routines, something he hadn't had the chance to do in two years. I know I was still important to her, but I felt left out. I dreaded this happening again. Dreaded with all my heart.

Matt tried to tuck Shira into bed for the first two nights, but she was devastated. For more than two years I had helped her transition to bed and now what? No milk and no Mama? That hardly seemed fair. I had just assumed that me putting her to bed would be too difficult and confusing for her, troubling for her because I would only be offering my smile and not my milk. She had nursed to sleep every night of her life and I was afraid she couldn't handle my sudden withdrawal. I assumed, wrongly it turns out, that I would be left out of the bedtime equation for a long time.

Fortunately for me (because this is about me, let's not kid ourselves), she still needed me. Unlike Alyce who processed the whole experience a bit differently, Shira wanted everything else the same, just minus the milk. She was happy to snuggle in bed with me before heading into her crib, snuggling and singing and talking about her day, just like we used to. The only difference now was my shirt stayed down. I have to admit, it was a lovely development. Unexpected, but desperately needed.

This is all I have for now. Like I said, I'm not really happy with all this. I reluctantly admit that we're all doing well, that I have a happy and healthy little girl who is learning new ways to cope with the demands of everyday. While she used to turn to breastfeeding for comfort and solace, now she's learning to rely on other things.

Plus she has Milk Puppy.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Portraits of sisterly competition

When it comes to parenting two children, I really have no idea what I'm doing. Sometimes there is a lot of yelling and bickering and pushing over such life-threatening matters as one sister looking at the other sister when she didn't want to be looked at. Other times these two work collaboratively to develop such new and exciting games as "Car tag" or my personal favourite, "How many times can I get my little sister to say the word Poop." Some days I just sit back and watch the show.

Yesterday I was home with Shira while Matt was at work and Alyce at school. Since I've stopped breastfeeding my days at home with Shira have been easier. Over the last few months so much of my time was spent negotiating with Shira over when, where, and for how long she could nurse. She would turn to me whenever she was faced with a particularly tough challenge or disappointment, or if she was hurt, diving into me for some help feeling back to normal. Breastfeeding gave the both of us resources to deal with our ups and downs, mine included. Now Shira is ready to deal with such challenges on her own, and though she's never very far from me, I've been able to stay in the background a little bit more and watch as she creates a world on her own, and even more fun, a world with her sister.

Beginning around eleven yesterday Shira began to set a Shabbat table using their small table in the playroom. She had been poking around the dining room while I was trying to hang some photos on the wall (only seven months after moving in!) and I was trying to distract her from my hammer with the shiny kiddush cup and candles we use for Shabbat dinner. Seeing how excited she was to play Shabbat, I offered her a small table cloth and the flowers from our dining room table. Four hours later she had crafted one of the most elaborate, beautifully designed, unicorn and pony festooned table that was fit for the finest of Shabbat celebrations. She'd even settled some of her best friends, two very attentive Backyardigans, in for a fine evening of singing and eating. As I reluctantly pulled her away from her project to pick-up Alyce from school, her biggest concern was, as you probably guessed, that Alyce would come home and destroy all her efforts. Or maybe just look at it the wrong way.

That didn't happen. I had prepared Alyce for Shira's table as we walked home together from school. I told her that Shira was feeling very proud of her work and was concerned that other people might touch it. Alyce and I assured Shira that no one would destroy her table or even ask to touch anything. I naturally prepared myself from some big, big arguments once we got home, but instead I sat back and watched as Alyce, inspired by Shira's own creativity, began to create her own table in the living room. Ladies and gentlemen, I present you with Competitive Shabbat Table Setting.

My only role in this was to dispense the necessary table clothes, a few special cups, and to spell the names for the place cards Alyce designed. The girls collected pine cones and dead leaves outside to adorn their tables, in addition to the traditional tying on of birthday balloons from a weekend party we attended. Alyce and Shira energetically ran through the house for almost an hour beautifying their tables for Shabbat (which I should mention doesn't arrive until Friday night). 

I did this sort of thing with my friends growing up, but I'm feeling gifted lately as I watch more and more impromptu sibling adventures. It isn't always this collegial, and even this rather calm afternoon celebration including one vigorous push from Shira which caused Alyce to land bottom first into a box of blocks. (Shira is getting very good at apologizing and Alyce is getting better and better at forgiving every day.) But I feel as though they are breaking me in, sometimes gently, other times not so much, toughening up my parenting skin as the mother of siblings. My university roommates, both siblings, used to tease me relentlessly that I was too soft and couldn't take the noise, beatings, and intensity that comes from having been tortured annoyed loved by brothers and sisters. They thought I was soft.

Do you think I'm soft? Maybe don't answer that.

Monday, January 14, 2013

My resolutions project

This Monday comes after a bit of an emotional week for me. My grandmother has been very sick, but she seems to be on the mend now, thankyouthankyou. You know how you sometimes wait until after a traumatic event before you start to cry? It's as though your body needs all the adrenaline and energy you can muster to get you through something hard or terrifying--an accident, a terrible argument, a confrontation at work--and then, only then, are your guards released and you really begin to feel your own reaction. It was like this with my grandmother. My mum has always been close to her mother and has remained deeply involved in her parents' lives, so I'm used to being there, in the middle of things, when stress levels rise. I've written before about how much my grandmother means to me, but it wasn't until now, until after the worst of it, that I've realized just how frightened I was at the thought of losing her.

My grandmother is doing well this week, back at home (with extra help), and so very grateful to be out of the hospital. My grandfather is equally relieved to have his wife back at home. Spirits have been lightened and as scared as I was, I'm optimistic. I feel like the worst is behind us and it's time to celebrate by getting back to the rest of my world. Holy cow, you guys, did you realize that it's the third week of January? Why didn't you tell me it was moving so quickly? Can you give me head's up next time?

But I have a plan. 

I wrote those resolutions  (and these) last week, quite of few of them if you remember. I mentioned a few times that I created this extensive list with the goal of taking small, manageable steps toward the life I love. These aren't gargantuan goals that require me to give up everything I love, or adopt a new life philosophy. I can still schedule in plenty of time to lounge on the couch watching Girls (yay!) this winter. I'm excited about all the cooking and sharing of food that's included in my list. Less excited about the dentist. Either way I've decided to work this list into my everyday life and I'm going to incorporate my progress for you here each week. There are 100 resolutions on my list and I'm going to attempt to tackle two each week (give or take a handful). I am entering this project with the understanding that I can interpret and re-interpret my list as time goes on. This list will require some commitment but it isn't intended to serve as some kind of resolution boot camp. 

I've printed off my resolutions and I'm all set to go. In between my regular posts (and my two jobs), I'll let you know how things are going. What projects are you working on this week?

Friday, January 11, 2013


I am writing these down mostly for posterity’s sake. When Alyce and Shira are teenagers they ought to be able to roll their eyes at the ridiculous songs they were subjected to as babies and toddlers (and still even as kindergarteners). When they are adults they will be reminded that their Mama loved them so much that she was willing to embarrass herself publicly just so they could have a record of the silly things they enjoyed as children. When they are adults with babies of their own, they will finally thank me for all my hard work, since the work will already have been done for them. I am offering a few parenting cheat-sheets, if you may.

Sometimes I change song lyrics because the originals are cruel and completely lacking in joy. Others are not only joyless, but chock full of child abuse. Rock a baby in a tree? Don’t secure her? Watch the cradle and baby plummet to the ground below? No, thanks, I’ll make up my own words, rhyming or not. This is the case for the first two examples below. I assume you’ll know the melodies.

Rock-a-bye baby, in the tree top.
When the wind blows, the cradle will rock.
When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall.
And down will come baby, and Mama will catch her.

You are my sunshine...
The other night dear, while I was sleeping,
I dreamed I held you in my arms.
 And when I woke up, you were beside me.
And I gave you lots of hugs and kisses.

Other times I create new lyrics because I just have no idea what the originals are, shy of the first line or two, and I’m forced to improvise at three in the morning. If I’m being honest, I have to admit that if I had needed the lyrics while nursing Shira I would have just looked them up on my iPhone, since I always had it with me while nursing. So let us be thankful that I was forced to be creative when I made this next one up for Alyce, because now I can share this gem with the world.
Hush little baby, don’t say a word.
Mama’s going to show you a mockingbird.
And if that mockingbird won’t sing,
Mama’s going to show you her diamond ring.
And if that diamond ring won’t shine.
Mama’s going to grow you tomatoes on a vine.
And if those tomatoes on the vine aren’t red,
Mama’s going to build you a brand new bed.
And if that brand new bed’s too big,
Mama’s going to give you three chubby, little pigs.
And if those chubby, little pigs aren’t fat,
Mama’s going to show you three singing cats.
And if those singing cats won’t meow,
Mama’s going give you a dairy cow.
And if that dairy cow won’t milk,
Mama’s going to give you some Chinese silk.
And if that Chinese silk’s not soft,
Mama’s going to build you a Brooklyn loft.
And if that Brooklyn loft’s just right,
Mama’s going to hug and kiss you goodnight.

You’re welcome.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

100 Resolutions: Part Two

On a recent road trip with my girls, inspiration for #72

I’ve had so much feedback on my first 50 resolutions. Some of you think it’s a great idea, others think I’m a bit crazy. I get it, 100 resolutions is a lot, even for those of you who adore a good list (and I know you're out there). The thing is, this isn’t my run-of-the-mill resolutions list. You probably won’t find anything in my 100 resolutions that requires a massive life change. I’m not a runner and I haven’t made running a marathon one of my resolutions, but while training for a marathon is totally doable (or so people tell me), it would require enormous changes and demand a lot of my time. I'm not looking for these kinds of changes this year. Enough is going on in our world for 2013. But opening a savings account dedicated to a vacation with my husband (#34)? I can cross that one off my list with one phone call to my bank. Finishing season two of Mad Men (#12)? Done, just like that.

These 100 resolutions are a new way of framing my goals, projects, and small jobs for the next year. Seen altogether they reflect the kind of life I want to lead, a life where I choose to embrace the good things, smile more, spend more time with people I love, and take care of myself. Making this list is a chance for me to (re)commit to the life I’ve dreamed about. But on their own, these resolutions don’t feel enormous or out of reach. They seem like small, manageable things I can do. They are also flexible, open to interpretation based on the week I decide to tackle them, which is key. Eating more greens (#60) can mean collecting and making some great salad recipes or simply throwing a pile of arugula on my plate with each meal. Whatever.

Sadly, playing more Twister did not make the list. Next time.

So here it is, part two:

50. Find a good way to archive my photos, including some actual photos printed (maybe a photobook?) so that Alyce and Shira can look at them
51. Bake an excellent gluten-free muffin
52. Don’t adopt another cat
53. Meet a new friend
54. Take Matt tobogganing for the first time
55. Host a Hitchcock movie marathon
56. Drink more champagne
57. Take photos of my grandparents
58. Take the girls to a music festival
59. Install shelves in the bathroom
60. Eat more greens
61. Replace nursing bras with something lacy
62. Help Alyce to stop biting her nails
63. Sew a pillow and blanket for Alyce’s pillow and cover stealing Bear
64. Sew a pillow and blanket for something of Shira’s, because, sisters
65. Watch more roller derby
66. Find a good Sunday market in Toronto
67. See more stars
68. Say “no” more
69. Create more things with my hands
70. Try to make it through one week without sugar (baby steps, yes?)
71. Make homemade valentines with Alyce for her school friends again this year
72. Take more small road trips, with and without children
73. Discover the best dancing music
74. Try out some new time management tips and see what works best
75. Climb a tree
76. Feed the birds
77. Convince my stepmother to come out for a crazy weekend in Toronto
78. Write a choose your-own-adventure story for Alyce, with Lucy the cat as the heroine of the story
79. Go to the dentist (I had to include this twice because I dread it so severely that I need extra prompting)
80. Find a favourite dress
81. Plant parsley for Tu B’Shevat in preparation for Passover
82. Be easier on those I love
83. Grow my hair
84. Make a better tomato sauce
85. Eat more seasonally
86. Two words: wax eyebrows
87. Make lunches the night before
88. Ask great questions
89. Surround myself with good people
90. Buy a t-shirt that isn’t black
91. Buy a t-shirt that isn’t v-neck
92. Think before baking more cookies
93. Pet a goat
94. Hang more art on the walls
95. Create a better storage system for my sewing/knitting projects
96. Have more friends over for Shabbat dinners
97. Take the girls outside more
98. Read more great writing
100. Run a marathon
100. Enjoy another year

Do you have a list? Want to share?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

100 Resolutions: Part One

Sarah Goldschadt started a habit of writing 100 resolutions, and I think we should, too. This isn't a life list, but a list of 100 things I want to accomplish this year, doable, manageable, accomplishable things. I have always written resolutions and I swear by them (even when they when I break them), but what I like so much about writing 100 resolutions is that it forces you to break up some of your larger, loftier goals into smaller, workable parts. 

Here it goes. I'll be back with updates and progress reports!

100 Resolutions: Part One

1. Bake my own challah every week (I already know I love to do this, and since my recipe makes four loaves that I can easily freeze, this is a no-brainer.)
2. Have a picnic in High Park
3. Get a massage
4. Crochet a blanket
5. Join or start a book club
6. Soak my own beans
7. Take Matt to a college basketball game
8. Read another book by Stephen King
9. Go to the dentist (eye roll)
10. Drink more tea
11. Take Alyce ice-skating
12. Finish season two of Mad Men
13. Write more thank-you cards
14. Smile when I answer the phone
15. Call my dad more
16. Spoil my my mum on Mother's Day
17. Stop holding my breath
18. Return to a yoga class (see above resolution re: breathing)
19. Never apologize for who I am
20. Make more cakes
21. Tell my friends that I love them
22. Host a fabulous tea party
23. Get a membership to the Toronto Zoo
24. Go for more walks
25. Sing more
26. Invite someone I've just met over for dinner
27. Publish an article somewhere that isn't my own blog
28. Menu plan the heck out of our dinners
29. Create a new morning routine
30. Attend as many births as I can
31. Resist desire to put things off and return emails as they come in
32. Take Shira to her first movie at the theatre
33. Learn to cook fish other than salmon
34. Open a savings account dedicated to a vacation with my husband and not my children
35. Ask my darling mum to watch our children while we enjoy said vacation
36. Find the perfect shade of lipstick that reflects my desire to feel beautifully put together yet not look like a clown
37. See at least half of the movies nominated for best picture at the Academy Awards
38. Institute a one-in, one-out policy for toys and clothes in our house, which will require me to:
39. Accept that I can't keep every single thing my children have used/created/loved and choose a select few special things to keep until the end of time
40. In honour of not keeping everything, develop a system for dealing with Alyce and Shira's endless piles of art work
41. Drink more vegetables (anyone have a spare juicer?)
42. Make it through all eight days of Passover without eating all those delicious foods that rise
43. Say yes to my daughters more
44. Re-read some of my favourite children's literature (first up: The Secret Garden)
45. Paint the girls' room
46. Ride a bicycle
47. Send more mail
48. Plant an herb garden
49. Remember to water it
50. Take a bath with my clothes on (see above photo for inspiration)

Check back tomorrow for 100 Resolutions: Part Two, where I resolve to do such interesting things as install a bathroom shelf and find the perfect place to store my sewing projects. Are you kind of excited?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Sometimes perfect is the enemy of the delicious

Every Christmas my mother bakes these ginger cookies for my stepbrother. He lives out of town and doesn't spend too much time at my mum's, but he adores her ginger cookies and so my mum, because she's amazing like that, never forgets to include them in her Christmas baking. Since mum has come to rely on my help with baking (and by rely I mean I show up and beg to help), I have been in charge of the ginger cookies for the past two years. I'm a pretty decent cookie baker, or so I thought.

Last year I accidentally doubled the butter. Rarely do I think too much butter is a bad thing, but in this case the cookies drowned in it. They swam in oceans of butter. They still looked like cookies but they were too soft and just not what I set out to bake. Hoping to prove myself as at least an average baker this year, I tried again. And failed, again. Who leaves out half a cup of flour. Half a cup? All the time and energy one devotes to properly scooping and sweeping my flour with just the right technique falls to the gutter when one abandons the recipe in favour of not paying attention. To be fair, I was paying attention, but not to my cookies. I would wager my entire bank account that my attention was held by two exceedingly blonde children who take up residence in the middle of kitchen each and every time I turn my mixer on.

My cookies were a mess. Without the right amount of flour the cookies couldn't reach their intended round shape, and instead became one single, enormous cookie. We were left with three of these colossal cookies, one from each cookie sheet. With her glass half full attitude my mum dug out the pizza cutter and simply cut cookie shapes from the flat, soggy, cookie mess. We set them aside on the cooling rack and crossed our fingers. By the next morning they looked like this:

For those of you who can't decipher the iPhone-captured shape in front of you, I'll just tell you what it is. It's a Ginger Blob. A blob of crystalized ginger, molasses, butter, sugar, and (a little) flour. It was already Christmas morning at this point, but I couldn't handle my failure. My mum asks so little from me and I didn't want my stepbrother to think I did care enough to make him a single, round, edible cookie. So in between making Eggs Benedict (my mum's Christmas morning specialty) and prepping for our family dinner, I made a new batch of ginger cookies. They were round and they were perfect.

But then. In the middle of the Christmas day chaos, we never threw out the Ginger Blob. It sat there on the back counter next to the gorgeously round, neatly presented, real cookies all day. That's where the magic happened. Every time someone new walked through the kitchen they would pop a piece of Ginger Blob in their mouth. Not only did everyone start snacking on Ginger Blob, they declared it to be delicious, over and over again. All day long my perfect cookies remained untouched and the Ginger Blob slowly disappeared.

We are all so hard on ourselves sometimes. Afraid of failure, afraid of being judged, afraid of anything less than perfection, we can make our life a lot more difficult. I should rephrase that: I can make my life a lot more difficult. Besides being delicious, Ginger Blob taught me an important lesson: don't overlook opportunities, new possibilities staring you right in the face, because they are less than perfect. While I'm wasting my precious time trying to live perfectly, to make the perfect decisions and take the perfect steps, opportunities are passing me by.

So here I am, a little voice on the internet, asking you to find something in your life that doesn't seem to fit, and look again. Take a second look at that job opportunity, that chance at a new friendship, or the beginning of a new habit that at first glance seems to hard or wrong or out of reach. Does it match perfectly with the things you think you want? Maybe not. But might it end up surprising you with unexpectedly deliciousness? It might. Let's find out.

In a week filled with resolutions (and I'm brewing up a few of my own), let's take a moment to be a little easier on ourselves. Try something new, not something perfect.


Update: My husband informed that I misspelled "perfect" in my post about perfection. Of course I did. But I corrected my typo, not because I'm trying to be perfect, but this is a writing blog and it's time I start editing my work. Baby steps.