A Blog About a Dog (Warning: Hoards of Photos)

photo 10After all the regular check-ups at Lola’s annual vet appointment, and getting a clean bill of health, he turned to me and said “Wow, are you ever lucky that you’re getting those bonus years.”

For a breed that usually maxes out at eight or nine years, we are lucky to have had 10 – a milestone birthday Lola is marking today.

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Lola joined Tyler and I when she was already over two years old, and had two litters of pups behind her. Her “family” was done using her for breeding, so she was retired from her matronly duties. After seeing her partner – an all-white hefty, burly bully – am sure she has since been ever grateful to us.

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She was our first “kid.” She came with me to work on a daily basis, we went on long walks in the field together, she came to the drive-in, and family dinners. Sometimes on a lazy morning she was even allowed to sneak on to the bed.

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Less than a year later, Jack was born. While most families fret about how the dog will react to the new infant, or how you’d make time for both, I never had any fears. I trusted her with my new boy, and we now had a little bundle to take on our walks together.

Lola became Jack’s first best friend.

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And of course she became his protector.

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When Noah came along she added him to her brood willingly even though that meant less frequent walks, interrupted sleep, and more little fingers poking and pulling at her wrinkles. She took it all with grace and good humour.

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Lola has always been a good sport even when the laughs were at her expense.

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As she’s aged over the years we’ve seen her face grow a little greyer, and a little longer. We’ve seen her move a little slower, and a little stiffer. But she’s certainly no sad sack senior.

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We are lucky to have had 10 years. Ten years of farting, drooling, snoring, chewing toys, destroying water bottles and balls. Ten years of being the most loyal friend, family protector, source of humour, and constant companion. Ten years, two kids, two cats, and a lot of memories. Ten years, and more to come – those bonus years.

Happy 10th Birthday Lola.

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Minecraft – The Birthday Realm

When Jack told me he wanted a Minecraft theme for his sixth birthday I have to admit I had to turn to Google to find out even what that meant. Turns out about the majority of boys ages eight to 13 seemed to have had a party based on the popular video game in the last year so there were a lot of blogs and Pinterest pages to nab ideas from. Granted I’m not that crafty I think I, along with the help of child-wrangler Tyler, pulled off a pretty sweet party.

I tried my hand at an iron sword from a great YouTube tutorial, as well as a Steve head from the same poster. The printables can be found here and here.

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I ended up realizing making seven swords, or seven Steve heads might be a little more than time consuming, so I made one of each and integrated them as party props. The rest of the guests got creeper masks simply made with a green gift bag and some black tape.

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What I gather about this game from the small bit of research is that along with battling creepers, and creating things from pixelated looking blocks of wood/brick/wool, you’re looking to collect things. Diamonds are considered one of the most valuable items, so we thought kids could win diamonds for completing games, and then trade them for other “supplies” later on (candy blocks, chocolate rocks, “gold” or TNT, which was red licorice).

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With two hours to kill and seven boys to entertain we decided we needed several games to keep them happy and moving.

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The first game with pin the tail on the pig (you can collect livestock in the game). Players had to wear a Steve head while trying to place their tails. The three closest players got a diamond.

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The next game was creeper toss. Players had to throw an object through one of three different size holes for points. Yes, we used rolled up socks, but no one seemed to mind – they were clean.

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The third game was something Tyler and Jack came up with – creeper smash. What six year old boy doesn’t like to destroy things?

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Basically we built a creeper out of boxes and everyone had to throw a ball to see if they could knock it down. If you did you got a point. The team with the most points got diamonds, of course.

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The final game, which was probably THEE most popular and THEE easiest, was tower build. After the creeper was destroyed we divided the boxes, or “blocks” amongst two teams and they had to build a tower using all the items. Whichever team got theirs built first won – you guessed it – diamonds.

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The kids had to great creative as most of them were too short for the final block. But they finally found things to stand on for that last level.

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By this time everyone had a few diamonds (we made sure everyone was even), and they lined up to trade their jewels for candy. I was quite surprised that most of them wanted to keep the blue plastic diamonds instead of taking the candy. I guess the other parents would appreciate that choice as well.

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Luckily after all the playing the boys were ready for pizza, and juice in creeper cups. A lot of blogs/Pinterest pages have amazing food tables with signs for each food item (see here, and here), but we realized a pile of grade oners just wanna get through the food and back to playing so we went the simple route.

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Now, no matter the birthday theme we’ve made it a tradition to have a piñata. Kids usually take a few wacks with the mask on, but these ones from The Bulk Barn are pretty strong and usually require mask-less hard hits. It’s always fun to see them scramble when the candy comes flying out.

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With all the candy from the trade-in table and out of the piñata, no one really wanted cake. They just wanted to play.

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So I nabbed one photo before they went wild. And, luckily that was only 10 minutes before parents came to pick them up.

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Turkey Ragu. That’s what’s for dinner.

Now that the kids are on summer vacation I find we’re almost busier than during the school year. Trips to the pool, adventures at the park, lunches on the lawn, leave little time for thoughts of “what’s for dinner?” Nor do we really want to think about it when the sun is high, and so is the fun.

So after a long day of playground hopping, and Minecraft crafting, it was 5 o’clock and that bothersome question popped up once again. I went with my go-to healthy, but quick and tasty Penne with Turkey Ragu. Fresh basil makes this dish one of my favourites, along with a simple crushed tomato sauce and hearty ground turkey. I do modify the original a bit to suit my taste.

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The recipe calls for 2 leeks, chopped, along with 2 cloves of garlic, which I usually double. This girl loves her garlic.

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The recipe also calls for only 1/4 cup of basil, but it’s my favourite herb so I use way more. Along with some stems from my herb pot, I usually use one of those large bags of basil you find in the produce department at Safeway. I think this adds an amazing fresh flavour.

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Once you’ve hand crushed your San Marano tomatoes (watch out, no matter how many times I make this dish I always get splash back when I squeeze those juicy suckers) you’re supposed to add 2 cups of water. I usually go with 1, or 1 1/2, as I don’t like the sauce too watery.

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They also suggest reserving some of the pasta water to toss with the noodle mixture at the end, but I usually skip that since I don’t mind my noodles being well-coated in the simmered sauce.

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We usually serve this up with fresh veg, or salad, and some focaccia or my favourite homemade soft bread sticks

One dinner down, millions more to go!

Penne with Turkey Ragu

Ingredients
Salt
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 leeks (white and light green parts only), finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 ounces ground turkey
1 28-ounce can San Marzano tomatoes, crushed by hand
Freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped, plus more for topping
3 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan cheese, plus the rind (optional)
12 ounces penne
2 tablespoons half-and-half

Directions
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the leeks, garlic and turkey and cook, stirring, until the turkey browns slightly, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, 2 cups water and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Increase the heat to high, bring the sauce to a boil and cook 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium, add half of the basil and the parmesan rind and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 10 minutes.

Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook as the label directs. Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water, then drain the pasta. Stir the half-and-half, the remaining basil and 2 tablespoons cheese into the sauce. Add the pasta and toss to coat, adding some of the reserved pasta water to loosen, if needed. Remove the parmesan rind and season with salt and pepper.

Divide the pasta among bowls. Top with the remaining 1 tablespoon cheese and more basil.

Simple Sage

Summer equals fresh – from the farm strawberries, carrots with green tops, and herbs, my favourite green thumb goodies. While basil and mint are my musts, I also love sage. Being highly-aromatic, sage is perfect for pasta, but also goes well with gourmet grilled cheese (try a mozza-sage some lunch time and you’ll be kicking plain cheddar to the curb).

DSC02146Tortellini with Sage-Walnut Butter is one of my favourite pasta dishes to make because it sounds so posh, but is actually quite simple (you don’t have to tell anyone though). But, the key, I believe, it being able to step outside and pluck those fabulous suede-like leaves right before you put them in the pan.

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This sage sauce and balsamic drizzle that accompanies it can be pretty much completed by the time your tri-colour tortellini cooks, making it a great weekday dinner.

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I like to use a little more butter than what’s called for, and let the sage simmer in it low and slow for about 5 minutes. The recipe calls for 1 cup of pasta water, but I think that waters down the herbalicious flavour.

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At the same time work on the balsamic/honey glaze in another pot/pan. I’ve never really understood what bay leaves do for sauces, so if you don’t have one handy for this, don’t worry it doesn’t make much difference. Go low and slow on this one too, it can get thick quick.

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Once your pasta is cooked toss it with your beautiful sage butter, and drizzle as little or as much balsamic sauce as you want on top.

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Tortellini with Sage-Walunt Butter

  • 1/4 c. balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tsp. honey
  • Bay leaf
  • 6 Tbsp. butter
  • 1/3 c. sage leaves
  • 1 c. chopped walnuts
  • 1 lb. tortellini
  • Grated Parmesan

Directions

  • Combine 1/4 c. balsamic vinegar, 2 tsp. honey, and a bay leaf in a saucepan over medium-high heat; cook until syrupy, 5 minutes.
  • Melt 6 Tbsp. butter in a large skillet over medium heat, then add 1/3 c. sage leaves and 1 c. chopped walnuts; cook 3 minutes. Add 1 c. pasta-cooking water and cook until reduced by half, 2 minutes (I don’t, but up to you).
  • Toss with 1 lb. cooked tortellini, some grated Parmesan and salt. Drizzle with the balsamic syrup.

One Mom’s Treasure Is Another Mom’s Trash?

Confession time – how much of your kid’s artwork do you really keep? I’m not talking about the carefully folded Mother’s Day cards, or special Christmas ornaments. I’m talking about the five pictures of Star Wars battles that came home from school; the egg carton caterpillar; the paper plate wreath with only one petal glued to it. You get the idea.

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Of course when you have kids a good amount of clutter and chaos will occur. This is something I’ve been learning to deal with for the past 6 years (some days I still lust for pre-child minimalism). But what I can’t handle is when paper spills from the craft table and it finds its way on to the fridge, jams drawers, hangs loosely from bedroom doors, and even gets tacked to office walls because there’s no where else for it to go.

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So about every two weeks I do a secret sweep where piles of papers with layers of stickers, and coloured shapes get put in the recycling bin. It’s not that I don’t value their art. For each and every piece that is handed to me I take the time to admire and acknowledge the work that went in to it. It’s just when that piece is quickly replaced by another, and then another, it’s like being consumed by a Crayola tsunami.

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One solution to show appreciation, but keep from drowning in paper, is the kid art wall in our playroom, which is currently featuring “The Ninja Series” by Jack Archer Walsh. This lets the kids pick their favourite pieces for display, and gives mom some peace of mind. Admission is free by the way.

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Bakin’ (or Bacon) For Dad

As a kids we all made those “wonderful” hand-created gifts for our dads on Father’s Day. From popsicle stick art, to finger-painted #1 DAD mugs, dads would accept these treasures no matter how lopsided, over-glued, or poorly spelled.

While I’m carrying on the tradition of kid-inspired gifts with Jack and Noah for their dad, I’m baking up something a little different for mine. To quote the Pillsbury Doughboy (yes, I’m quoting a foodie flashback), “Nothing says lovin’ like something from the oven,” so for this Father’s Day I’m bakin’ Peanut-Butter, Chocolate-Chip Bacon Cookies, a recipe originally from The Food Network Magazine.

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Since I’ve only just started blogging I’ll be part way through a recipe, and realize, “Hey, this would make a good post.”  I apolozige that there are no step-by-step images for this recipe – although who really needs to see boring bowls of flour and baking soda. So I started this post with the good stuff – the bacon.

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After you’ve mixed your batter with the beaters it will be fairly crumbly. Not to worry. Once you stir in the bacon, chocolate chips, and honey roasted peanuts you’ll form the dough into balls, and press them firmly onto the pan. Make sure to leave some extra crumbled bacon and chocolate chips to press into the tops of the cookies.

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After about 14 minutes at 350 degrees, you’ve got 12 sweet and salty snacks that your dad will truly love (not like that goofy golf card you bought him that one year). Get the full recipe here.

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Happy Father’s Day. Hope your day is as sweet as my dad’s ‘stash, and my perm from this circa early-90s photo.

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Stacks of Skulls

If you know me, you know I have a love of skulls. It’s kind of become “my thing” over the years.

My mom will tell you I always liked things that were “a little different,” but I can’t for certain tell you why I began my cranial collection. It has nothing to do with being morbid. It doesn’t hold any meaning (although I do love the subtext of La Calavera Catrina). To me it’s simply edgy fashion.

And, when I think skulls meets fashion, I think of one man – Alexander McQueen. Since Kate Moss first wore that iconic print in 2004, the gothic romantic designer reworked it through many of his collections and jewelry lines.

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But no piece procured a cult-following like the skull print scarf, which still gets re-invented every season with different colours, print techniques, and fabrics. While I have yet to own one (someday, someday…), I have picked up several look alike pieces, and branched beyond into blouses, bags, and books (not for reading, purely for aesthetics).

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When it comes to skulls my one rule is keep the rest soft. My all time favourite skull piece shows this juxtaposition perfectly.

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Nothing like a sweet, soothing baby Jack to off-set this print.

Like skulls? How do you wear them?