28 May 2008

Bump and smash…

If there’s one thing that I have to give myself credit for as an adult, it’s that I’m always willing to try new things. I may not excel at every endeavor but I’m ready to step outside of my comfort zone and give it my all…even if it does sometimes involve looking just a tad dorky.

This summer I will be doing something that I haven’t tried in over thirteen years – I’ve joined a recreational beach volleyball team! Part of me is thrilled at the prospect of the challenge and playing with a group again, however the other part of me reverts to that shy and awkward girl back in junior high who was far too critical of herself and terrified at the prospect of being the weakest link on the team. Despite the fact that I actually made the school team cut all those years ago, I was always grossly aware of the fact that I wasn’t exactly a ‘star’ player. It wasn’t so much an issue of being competitive against opposing players or envious of fellow teammates; I was always too competitive with myself. I never really grasped the concept of playing for the simple pleasure of fun and leisure.

I’m really hoping that this experience will help me get back into team sports. At twenty-seven, I feel that I’m much stronger and more athletic than I was as a young teen. I’m certainly more confident in my abilities now and, perhaps even more important, I am able to laugh at myself. If I do discover that I’m lacking in the talent department, I vow to be a shining example in the ‘spirit’ department. Keeps your fingers crossed folks - the Billy Whitmore Experience (yup, that’s our team name) will be playing its’ first match on July 6th.

22 May 2008

Flower child craves weekend

I’m living proof that some people are just never satisfied. Despite the fact that this is a short work week and I had Monday off for Victoria Day, I’m already whining and pining for the weekend to get here. I have no idea why I crave weekends so much, as I inevitably end up working my tookus off and returning to the office more tired than when I left it on Friday. It seems that the merry month of May will be no exception with all the yard and home improvement projects. I suppose I have no conceivable right to complain because the bulk of my exhaustion is self-created; I’d probably die of boredom if I sat still for a day.

Despite the fact that the long weekend was somewhat hit and miss with the weather, hubby and I managed to motor our way through most of the landscaping. Last Friday we worked well into the evening, cutting sod and hauling clay until the mosquitoes attacked us with ravenous frenzy. Luckily we were able to get the soil to a ‘workable’ state and I was able to plant the rest of my perennials on Saturday morning before a storm blew in. On Sunday I woke up at 7:00 am to brilliant sunshine and once again spent the bulk of my time outside, building a stone wall around my ugly front tree. Have you ever tried to level heavy stones on an incline? Seriously not fun! Thankfully the end result isn’t too ghetto; it at least looks like we had some sort of plan unlike many of the other homes around us. I think I’ve been watching too much Holmes on Homes because I cannot abide slapdash jobs and shoddy workmanship, it can really ruin the look and appeal of a neighborhood. It seems that “pride of ownership” does not apply to everyone. I am a firm believer that a little (done properly) can go a long way; it doesn’t necessarily require a lot of money, it just takes a bit of forethought and effort.

Fortunately, this weekend looks a bit brighter and warmer. Hopefully I’ll be able to pot some annuals and do a bit more work on my edging in the back beds. I’m also hankering to setup a workshop in the garage and build a few planters out of leftover wood from the deck. I’ve really taken to this whole gardening thing like a proverbial duck to water. I’m a 27 year old with the heart of a grandma; you should see my sexy weekend attire: large straw sun hat, polka dot work gloves, muddy runners and an old work shirt with track pants. Before you know it, I’ll be talking to my Hydrengeas and organizing High Tea in the garden. …can’t wait!

16 May 2008

Cake and booze = awesomeness

I’m a week behind in posting this, but better late than never right? I assure you that the wait was well worth it as I’m supplying you with a great recipe for some “booze cake”

Last Sunday I was still suffering from a bout of Mexico withdrawal. Inspired by my strong affection for Piña Coladas, I decided to try out a new cake recipe for Mother’s Day. Had I known how hard it would be to find “Cream of Coconut,” I may have abandoned my plans. Thankfully, my wonderful and ‘very patient’ husband was finally able to rustle-up a few cans at the Canadian Superstore, his fourth attempt after a midnight search around the town’s 24-hour grocery stores.

I urge you to try this easy recipe. It’s moist, it’s tropical and it’s ideal for a summer BBQ or party. The flavor was bang on – the perfect cake equivalent of a real Piña Colada. You won’t be disappointed, nor will your guests for that matter!

Piña Colada Cake:

1 package yellow cake mix
1 package instant vanilla pudding and pie filling mix
1 can Cream of Coconut (NOT coconut milk)
1/2 cup and 2 Tbsp. rum (separate)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
1 can crushed pineapple, well drained

Optional Garnish:
whipped cream, pineapple slices, maraschino cherries & toasted coconut

- Preheat oven to 350°.
- In a large bowl: Combine cake mix, pudding mix, 1/2 cup cream of coconut, 1/2 cup rum, oil, and eggs. Beat on medium speed 2 minutes.
- Stir in drained crushed pineapple.
- Pour into a well greased and floured 10-inch tube pan.
- Bake for 50-55 minutes. Cool slightly; remove from pan.
- With a table knife or skewer poke holes about 1 inch apart in cake almost to bottom.
- Combine remaining cream of coconut and rum; pour over cake.
- Chill thoroughly then garnish. Store in refrigerator.

Tip: Make you own whipped cream by blending a medium carton of “whipping cream” at high speed, adding a bit of sugar to taste. Wait until the cake is completely cool before icing with the cream. I added chunks of fresh pineapple around the base of the cake and cherries on top. Get creative and save me a slice!

09 May 2008

Rollin' up ma sleeves, playin' in da mud...

It’s May in Ottawa and the flowers are blooming. The daffodils are out, the crocuses have sprung and the tulips are blooming in all their glory. While I still find myself grumbling over the lack of palm trees, I do enjoy seeing the refreshing colours of spring in the capital. The sudden burst of greenery makes me itch to get out in the garden and begin to develop my lofty green thumb goals.

Last summer marked me and hubby's first official year in our new home. Because we were swamped with the move back in July 2006, we had no time to concern ourselves with landscaping or aesthetics. Needless to say, I had big plans for a major outdoor overhaul last May. I designed and dug my front landscaping which turned out decent for a relatively ‘green’ gardener. All my plants took extremely well (some maybe even a little too well) and I ended up with lots of colour through the summer months. I also ripped out some useless patches of grass between the front walk and the garage and replaced the strip with some river stone…not award winning landscaping by any stretch of the imagination, but it did turn out neat, tidy and easy on the eye. I’m very big on curb appeal!

Last year also marked a major improvement for our backyard. Hubby and I, with the some much-needed coaching from our fathers, built a large evelated deck for entertaining. We managed to have the entire project built in one weekend and to this day, it is still one of the main achievements that we are most proud of. Maybe this isn't a big deal for most folks, but building something from scratch is a monumental victory for people who even have a hard time managing to patch a small piece of dryrywall….go us!

Now that our front and back landscaping essentially has a foundation, this year I plan to add all the bells and whistles. Surprisingly, most of my front garden survived the winter from hell. I have a few more shrubs to plant and some annuals, but thankfully that's about it. I want to keep things relatively simple in the front because we rarely spend time out there and the lawn so narrow that anything too ambitious looks ostentatious.

The bulk of my focus over the next month will be on the backyard. I want to remove the grass that’s dying under the deck and replace it with crushed stone bordered by pavers. Then comes the fun part; I’m going to start ripping out more grass to make way for a free-form garden that will surround the base of the deck. The goal is to give the impression that the deck has simply grown out of an established garden. It may take a while to achieve the look I want, and by then hubby and I may very well be searching for new digs, but I’m hoping that it’s something we can enjoy for a few years and eventually lure new buyers with. Most of all, it’s just an excuse to get out in the sunshine, roll up my sleeves and roll around in the mud…bliss!

Wish me luck folks. I’m trying to keep this relatively low-cost but my zany schemes always seem to snowball despite best intentions. I only hope that I don’t end up with half of my yard cut away, wondering what the heck I have gotten myself into now. Either way, I’ll be sure to post pictures of the beautification (or destruction) in progress.

08 May 2008

Feeding my appetite for self discovery

By now most readers have probably deduced that my blog is comprised of a haphazard mishmash of themes and ramblings; in fact, you really don’t need to venture further than the title to figure that one out…

This being said, one topic that pops up time and again is food and my unyielding passion for stuffing my face. While I cannot proclaim myself to be an absolute whiz in the kitchen, I can at least give myself brownie points (pun intended) for my willingness to learn, experiment and use my poor unsuspecting husband and family as guinea pigs. Since becoming a homeowner I have turned from an avid meat and potato casserole junkie to what I would now consider a fledgling foodie. I do not slave over the stove every evening painstackingly concocting culinary masterpieces (I work people), but I have made it my own personal misson to try at least one new recipe a week. It does not matter whether the meal is easy or complex to prepare, it simply has to be ‘interesting’.

I recently came across a new food website that was started by Irish chef, Niall Harbison, who spent years cutting his teeth in some of Europe’s top restaurants and later moved on to become a private chef to the rich and famous onboard super yachts…not a bad gig if you ask me! After honing in on experience and building a repertoire of some pretty tantalizing dishes, Niall returned to Ireland (lucky lad) to setup iFoods.tv, a fun and funky website that allows food lovers around the globe to share tips, recipes and upload personal cooking videos. It’s a unique portal to culinary self-discovery and not at all intimidating for the fledgling foodie like myself. The FREE site also offers a wide variety of professionally produced video cooking tutorials from top class chefs. It’s like having your very own 24/7 food crisis line with access to personal chefs… much less daunting or cumbersome than the old recipe books that collect dust in countless household kitchens, not to mention far less vague.

So with this new discovery, I ask readers to please be patient and oblige my new little obsession. I may be trying out a few more recipes and posting them here for folks to try. That being said, I still promise to deliver the same quantity and caliber of inane ramblings to my blog…becaue I really am “that” interesting and I know that you await my updates with bated breath. Don’t fret, I could never truly enter the dedicated realm of food blogging; I lack the discipline not to mention the countertop space! I also have too many other strange thoughts swirling around in my head that need to escape in some form of creativity. Sorry folks, interpretive dancing is not my thing so you will still have to settle for my quirky writing.

07 May 2008

Life as we know it…

I have been back at work for a total of three days and I already feel like I need another vacation. It seems I have a nasty habit of fleeing the country during my office’s busiest time of the year, only to return to a suffocating mountain of work, issues and emails. To be perfectly honest though, I don’t think there is ever a “good” time to leave for vacation; we’re always busy.

Despite my reluctance to return to the regular grind, I have managed to have a very productive week. I’m starting to think that maybe all those piña coladas have finally cleared my muddled brain and provided me some much-needed inspiration for my writing. A week away from the glut of demands and info overload can truly do the body and mind a world of good. This being said, however, returning to work can feel doubly suffocating and intimidating after a week of absolute lethargy, when all one had to worry about is what bikini to sport next or whether to swim in the crystalline sea or pay another visit to the pool’s swim-up bar….le sigh. I guess I will have to be content with the fact that I at least managed to escape reality for a little while. With a bit of luck and a little more money (haven’t worked out that crucial bit yet), hopefully I’ll be winging my way to Costa Rica or Europe next year. At any rate, it’s always fun to dream.

With any imminent vacation plans off the shelf, it’s straight back to our busy schedules for hubby and I. While we had hoped to spend a relaxing weekend in, plans quickly materialized over a 24 hour period. On Friday we're off to the pub to celebrate my brother-in-law’s birthday. On Saturday I have committed the day to improving my sorely-neglected garden and landscaping; the evening will once again be spent celebrating BIL’s birthday with the family. To top the whole weekend off, I will be cooking Mother’s Day dinner at my place on Sunday. I think I’ll have to lean towards a simpler recipe this time as Daniel and I want to visit his Nana at the retirement home and his mother’s grave to pay our respects.

I always feel so horrid on Mother’s Day. I am beyond thankful that my own mother is still with us, but it tears at my heart to know that we’ll never be able to celebrate with my wonderful mother-in-law. The day will always be tinged with sadness, regret and in some ways, a sense of being cheated out of one of life’s greatest joys. I don’t care how old you are, the love and that inexplicable bond between mother and child never lessens. It pains me to know that she’ll never get to know her son as the successful young man he is, the amazing husband he has become or the wonderful father he’ll undoubtedly be some day. To all you readers who like to complain about your parents, I urge you to stop and take things into perspective this weekend. Realize how lucky you are to have your Mom or Dad, forget the little annoyances and trivial matters, and celebrate the lives that ultimately gave you yours.

04 May 2008

Goodbye paradise, hello reality…

It’s Sunday and I’m very reluctant to return to work tomorrow after spending a blissful week in Margaritaville.

Mexico was amazing and so much more than I expected. Sadly we didn’t get out to see any of the huge ruins or pyramids because neither of us relished the idea of going on an 8-hour bus tour; our main goal was to unplug and relax without having to adhere to someone else’s schedule. Luckily, however, we did manage to see plenty in and around the resort and Playa Del Carmen. One of the huge benefits about our resort was that it is attached to the Xcaret Park and we were given free one-day admission and tickets to the Mexico Espectacular evening show. The park is an interesting mix of nature reserve, adventure centre and cultural/historic site. We enjoyed the park so much that we decided to return a second time; it’s difficult to take in the full slate of attractions in only one day. I could go on forever about what we did, but that would be ruining the surprise. It’s definitely something to see and discover for yourself if you’re ever in the region.

Aside from Xcaret Park and a shopping trip in Playa, we spent the bulk of our time at the resort. We stayed at the Occidental Grand Flamenco Xcaret and it far exceeded my expectations. The resort was huge, yet we never had the feeling of being crowded. Rather than the typical beach strip with huge concrete buildings and apartment towers in Cancun, this resort felt very secluded, almost as if it simply grew out of the jungle. If you are looking for a huge stretch of white sand beach and a crazy nightlife of partying adolescent behaviour, this is not the place for you. If you’re looking for a relaxing resort that is original, immaculate, lush and tropical, then book for tickets now! I cannot even attempt to adequately describe how beautiful the grounds are. The main lobby and atrium are unlike anything I had ever seen, all open concept with a river running through it…almost like a little slice of Venice placed right in the heart of the jungle.

Perhaps the best way to summarize my vacation in Mexico is through photos. While my pictures cannot serve the place full justice, they hopefully capture some small amount of the spirit, beauty and fun of our time there. Enjoy!

Main atrium looking down river

Palm thatched roof of our casa

River at the resort; it runs directly into Xcaret Park

A romantic dinner at El Pescador..best Snapper ever!

Getting into the spirit

Having fun with the staff of Senior Frogs, Playa

La playa

A Ginger, trying to get some colour...

Guacamaya Roja...my favourite birds!

Hanging with the Mayans

Hubby sporting the "real" mexican sombrero

Colourful Mexican cemetery

Honouring the deceased

Bird lady. The green macaw seriously enjoyed being rocked like a baby.


Mayan "Hip Ball" court

Iguanas everywhere!

Snorkling area at Xcaret

Climbing ruins