Happy Thanksgiving… In All Life’s Imperfect Chaos

Happy Thanksgiving to all my Canadian friends. I believe that even in the imperfect chaos of life, even in big messes, if we dig deep enough we can truly always find something to be thankful for. I often need to remind myself of this because I can tend to lean towards pessimism and not always seeing the bright side of things. Here’s a bit of an eye rolling funny tale that stemmed from my disappointment this weekend.

In a series of unfortunate events and miscommunication with our local public health department, we erred on the side of caution and our Thanksgiving plans were disrupted. We missed the no stops big family feast today. On one hand, I had some disappointed teenagers here but I also had a valid excuse to chill a little bit. I am not a fan of the big turkey dinner but I love turkey leftovers. That desire for hot turkey sandwiches tomorrow and in an determined effort to still make the weekend special for my crew, I opted to buy some turkey on Friday.

I didn’t need a huge bird – it’s just four of us. I also don’t have a lot of experience with turkey! I opted for bone-in turkey breasts thinking shorter roasting times would be a win. Everything I read lead me to believe this would be the best solution to a low fuss meal that would still get me those yearned for turkey leftovers.

I started my feast prep after we got home from church. Potatoes in the crockpot for creamy scalloped potatoes. A delicious paprika and lemon prep for the turkey. Caesar salad, steamed broccoli, and cheater crescent rolls on the side. Gravy from drippings freshly made. By 6 p.m. the house smelled amazing and my turkey breasts – chef’s kiss. Then I found out my company (expected tomorrow) was going to stop by in an hour. (Anyone who knows me knows that alone would send me into a tizzy!)

Kevin was asked to carve the breasts. He’s feeling really perplexed by the task while I realize my potatoes overcooked, the broccoli oversteamed, my gravy congealed, and the bottoms of my crescent rolls had burnt. We’re off to a good start but that turkey – it’s going to salvage a meal….

Except there was no meat on those breasts that I paid a small fortune for. The breasts, my father in law informed me, were in fact turkey backs… bones best for broth and not much else. I mean the little bits of meat Kevin managed to pull off were delicious, but my wonderful turkey dinner? It was a disaster!!! And worst of all, no leftovers.

So where do I find gratitude in a weekend that didn’t go to plan? I’ve got a really nice turkey broth simmering on the stove. Not a single person complained about dinner (I think they were scared.) My in-laws had a good laugh at my expense. I still enjoyed a slice of pumpkin pie. And we’ll never forget the Thanksgiving that “Mom tried” and you know what? At least I didn’t set the kitchen on fire.

Book Recommendation: Be the Bridge by Latasha Morrison

This is not going to be a review post as I sometimes find it difficult to review non-fiction and in matters of race, I’m not sure it’s my place to judge a tool. This is, rather, a recommendation for anyone interested in exploring racial reconciliation from a perspective of Christ followers.

I just finished the final chapter of Latasha Morrison’s book, Be the Bridge. In it, she walks us through Biblical steps and examples of repentance and the end goal of racial unity and justice. It’s honest and hopeful and sometimes difficult, as any book that askes us hard questions can be. It contains a lot of food for thought. I found the author used grace and hope throughout each chapter, drawing us along a path of implementation and bridge building.

For myself, I will be ordering a copy for markup and highlighting because I thought it was an effective tool for those of faith interested in racial reconciliation and bridge building. If you have any stirring in your heart but are unsure where to start as an advocate for unity and redemption, I say start here.

If you do pick up a copy, keep reading. Commit to working through the final chapter and asking yourself the questions and engaging in the other exercises. Sit and ponder. Then assess for yourself but don’t give up until you see how Morrison builds to a place of wholeness and unity.

I received a complimentary digital copy of this title from the publisher via NetGalley. Thoughts are my own.

Book Review: Storing Up Trouble by Jen Turano

This will be a pretty quick review – no small talk before I jump right in. This is mostly because I finished this title last night and want to share my thoughts “fresh.”

Bethany House approved my NetGalley request for Jen Turano’s upcoming novel, Storing Up Trouble. It’s the third installment in the American Heiresses series, but can very easily be read as a standalone. (I know this because I’ve not read the previous titles but most definitely will be adding them to my to-be-read list!)

A Delightful Whirlwind of Enjoyment

Turano is known for her humour and inspirational stories and this title does not disappoint on that front. If it were a person, I’d describe it as that loud, sweet, somewhat chaotic friend that brings liveliness and occasional puzzlement in every encounter. It’s a delightful whirlwind of enjoyment!

With a blend of adventure, snicker-inducing scenarios and dialogue, danger, oddball characters, and sweet romance this book is a fast-paced get-ready-for-a-ride work of art. It also manages to romp through the very pivotal history of suffrage and worker’s rights in North America in a delicate balance of important facts and quirky situations.

As it is inspirational fiction, faith and purpose play a foundational role in the overall story. It is a clean, sassy, sweet work of historical romance. Overall, I can do nothing but recommend this title. My only complaint is that I binged my way through it and now I feel a little lonely.

Published by Bethany House. Publication Date: May 5, 2020

My thanks for the complimentary copy. All opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review: The Forgotten Home Childby Genevieve Graham

There are so many things I love about The Forgotten Home Child by Genevieve Graham. If I had a Must-Read in 2020 list, this would be the second title on it. (The first place holder hasn’t been reviewed yet because it doesn’t publish until late summer, but it is worthy of first place.) Maybe I need a Must-Read Fiction in 2020 list and this could go straight to the very top. It was that good by my recommendation.

Emotionally Moving

First thing I love about this one? The genre. Historical fiction will always hold a special place in my reader’s heart. Always. This novel is based on factual history, but the plot and characters are make-believe. It’s the type of historical fiction that made me do some very light research because I had no idea this had happened (and it left me feeling bereft and heartbroken on behalf of the children who left their homes, and even more so for those who were mistreated in what should have been a better life.)

Two, I love this title because it showcases an important piece of Canadian history, is set in Canada (and the UK), with recognizable destinations and landscapes and was written by a Canadian author. Score for familiarity.

Three, I loved the voice of this writer so much. It was so easy to read, engaging and emotional. I read some early feedback from others that felt certain aspects were sugarcoated – there are some mature, graphic situations (not graphic in actual content, graphic in theme). The author chooses to gloss over them (i.e. rape was not called rape) but I took the liberty of assuming this had more to do with keeping with the era than the author choosing to belittle such horrible events. She paints a highly illustrative struggle of the children in their new situations and also casts a fair light on the flaws in what should have been an excellent program. On the flip side, there is a balance in acknowledging that not all the children ended up in abusive positions and their lives were better for it.

This novel addresses chasms between classes, the heartbreak of stigma, the darkness of an era not far behind us. It’s presented in the retelling by a nonagenerian who has kept her history a secret until a fateful occurence sparks some questions from her family.

Overall, I found The Forgotten Home Child to be one of my all-time favourite reads. It was emotionally moving and enlightening. I am in awe of the resilience of the characters and saddened by this aspect of our history. It hits shelves on March 3rd so make a preorder or on publication day pick up a copy for yourself and let me know if you agree or disagree with my take.

I received an Advanced Readers Copy of this title courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are my own.

Published by: Simon & Schuster Canada

Grace in Chaos

Today was Sunday and our family makes a point of attending a local church service. Only half of us made it today… and that’s okay. We are involved in a lot of the aspects of the services and programs and have found places to serve – our church family and our community. Sundays don’t always go down smoothly.

Today I was frazzled. Some problem solving needed to happen with 5 minutes to service time, us running later than I would like, and me having to tell a number of people “no” or “not now.” (Those phrases always leave a layer of guilt. I’m working on that.) I was running on little sleep and that smile on my face wasn’t always genuine. In typical “us” fashion, we were rocking the whole “hot mess” type of thing.

My role in the service today was as service host. Welcoming people to our service. Praying for the congregation. Announcements and so forth. I was shaking (tiredness) and flustered (because, life.) I was honest and transparent and held it together and muddled through.

After service people approached me to say that different points of my role touched them. I don’t say this as a point of pride or in looking for assurances. I say it because even in our messes, when we’re hanging on by a thread, we can make a difference. Our words, our actions can impact someone’s day for bad or good… we can feel like we’ve made mistakes and we’re muddling through, but someone else sees grace and sincerity.

If I needed the reminder that even in my vulnerability and imperfection others can be touched, than someone out there may need that reminder too. You are more than your mess. You are more than the muddle. You have something that may speak to someone else’s soul, in the midst of your own every day chaos… and that is beautiful!

With Heavy Heart…

My grandfather passed away unexpectedly and peacefully this morning at the age of 86. A mason by trade, yesterday he was still laying blocks with the assistance of a grandson. To say that none of us saw this coming would be an incredible understatement. When my mom called with the news, I responded with “No.” Short, simple. No. He cannot be gone. It was inconceivable.

My family gathered at my grandparents’ home to mourn, to laugh, to honour a man of great morals and faith, to support my grandmother, and find solace in each others’ company.

I’m not a hugger. I have a huge personal bubble. When you get the family together, boundaries seem to disappear. I believe there are 80 of us once all the great-grandchildren are counted. I’m the oldest grandchild. The first grandaughter. I have first cousins younger than my children. Hugs were important today. Tears mattered, too.

It’s not been an easy summer for our family. There’s been loss and bad news and now another loss. There’s also been hope and growth and new additions. Life is like that. There’s good. There’s bad. Through it all you stand. Sometimes you crawl. Sometimes you come to a complete stop and can do nothing but kneel. Often you’re carried by the support of others who care.

We sang a hymn in church on Sunday. It made me think of Pake (grandfather.) I was going to send him a message on Facebook to let him know. He used to digitally “stalk” the family at large and knew everything going on in each of our lives through what we shared. I wish I had sent that message. I wish I had told him that the thought of him made me smile in the middle of a church service.

Instead, I think our last interaction involved him calling me trouble and charging Kevin to make sure I stayed out of it. It was all said in humour and love. He was cheeky and sarcastic and loud and stubborn and wonderful. He had a twinkle in his eye and a smirk that makes me think that if I’m trouble, I came by it honestly. His smile could light up a room.

Once when I was a teenager, I did groceries with my mom. We bumped into Pake shopping in his klompen. His booming voice could be heard across the store. Imagine my dismay as he took me by the arm to the back of the store where he introduced me to a store clerk that he knew and said I didn’t have a boyfriend. There is a mountain of memories of his larger-than-life antics.

I wish I could feel his hands on my upper arms, squeezing as we say our goodbyes, as he has one last word of “wisdom” to share before we drive home. I wish my boys could sit with him having a gentle conversation about life. I wish I had more conversations about his life in Friesland. I wish.

Time has run out and wishes are useless. I mentioned as we drove home that every part of me feels heavy – my eyes, my head, my body, my heart. So while it may be cliche, make the phone call, send the message, ask the questions. Cherish the small things – one day they’ll be the warm memories that fill your heart.

Pake, you will absolutely be missed. Squeezing into the basement for family gatherings will not be the same. You’ve made an incredible impact on many lives. I’ll always think of you when we sing “How Great Thou Art.” Your voice will echo in my head as I hear you bellowing with a sweet and confident devotion, Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee, how great Thou art, how great Thou art…”

Meal Plan Monday

I haven’t posted a meal plan in awhile… mostly because I haven’t meal planned in awhile. The summer tends to be more low key. I’m still not feeling as well as I’d like and some days I sleep through meal prep time a d we tend to grab food at one of our favourite local haunts. We’ve had a loss on the family, a new baby arrived, a very special birthday (mine!) and life has just been hard.

With back to school on the horizon and the need to budget (because no meal plan = more money spent on good), I decided to whip up a plan this week. Some days are busier than others – I’m attending a First Aid course tomorrow and Wednesday… and we still have some back to school errands to run, anniversary party for my in-laws and maybe we’ll squeeze in that last summer beach trip. Hopefully this plan will help with taming some of the chaos.

Tonight, we’re using up some new potatoes and the discounted ground pork I found at the grocery store this afternoon to enjoy some loaded tex-mex wedges. I managed to add tomatoes and spinach to the meat so we’ll be getting our fair share of colour, plus we’re topping with red pepper and green onion. I also have a million cucumbers in the fridge so I’ll probably slice one to eat on the side.

Here’s our menu at a glance:

  • Loaded wedges
  • French dip sandwiches
  • Breakfast for dinner (probably omelettes)
  • Enchiladas
  • Chicken Alfredo
  • Hamburger casserole (like Hamburger Helper but a little bit healthier)

Lots of comfort food and a few that I can use the Crock-Pot for. I think we’ll be well fed this week.

Meal Plan Monday: Non-Edition

I’m skipping meal planning for the early part of this week as we use up the fridge/freezer/pantry items on hand. Nothing to share menu-wise. Instead I’ll remind you to plan time and things that nurture your spirit and feed your soul this week. I’ll also remind you to look for opportunities to feed others – with encouragement, with love, with kindness (food is a great thing too if they contain any of the above ingredients.)

Happy Monday!

Dining Wins Steps From SickKids

I’m going to let you in on a little secret… one of the reasons I don’t mind heading to SickKids is because of the dining options within easy walking distance. Some of the visits are so rushed that we don’t have time to eat before we head home again, or the boys are exhausted after their appointments. Other times we have to convince the kids that they really don’t want Swiss Chalet or Pizza Pizza. As they’re getting older, it’s getting easier to explore. A highlight of heading into any city that isn’t home is successfully finding a tasty place to chow down.

Our overnight trips obviously lend a little more flexibility to the experience. As long as the oldest is finished eating by 9:30pm he is good to go. This visit, we headed down Yonge Street and decided to pop into Fran’s Restaurant after it being recommended multiple times and because someone wanted a hearty breakfast for dinner. I now understand why it’s a Toronto institution. The food was tasty in a diner-classic comfort food way. No photos because my phone died, but the homefries were amazing and Kevin’s orange chicken was a flavor explosion. Kaleb cleaned his overly large breakfast off his plate.

This morning the kid had to skip breakfast, so us grown ups just grabbed Tim’s in SickKids. Meh. That’s all I have to say. In our defense we were in a time crunch and it was right where we walked in to the hospital en route to our appointment.

Once we finished for the day, the kid was hungry… but he’s also unadventurous and didn’t want to walk far. We popped into a delicious little burger joint that had amazing topping options and specialty selections. Their poutine was delicious!

Poutine – Jerk chicken, curds, gravy, and jerk mayo

Jackson’s Burger is just down the block from SickKids, steps from the Chelsea Hotel on Elm. Kev and I split the Effin’ Poutine (hey, I don’t name them) featuring jerk chicken and a Triple Threat burger. Not huge patties, but incredibly tasty with locally sourced ingredients.

Triple Threat burger with Kaleb’s Nutella Heaven in the background

Next we burnt off a few calories and grab some coffee before getting into the car. The few blocks and trips through the halls of SickKids logged in over 2.5 miles of walking!

Kev has some fabulous clients who treat him like family with coffee shops in multiple locations “downtown.” (I really don’t know all the different districts and neighborhoods!)

We pop into Mos Mos for amazing coffees and baked goods when we’re in the area. Coincidentally, today was the soft opening of their newest location at Bay and Elm, just a short block from Sick Kids. (I said on Instagram that it was across the street, but I was confused… it’s close though!) While I’ve never had a bad drink from Mos Mos, the White Lao Latte – served hot or iced – is my absolute fave – I enjoy it even more than my treat-time frappuccinos! (What is the secret???)

Finally, we needed a car snack. (In actuality Kev just couldn’t pass up Jamaican patties.) We popped intol Patties Express and grabbed a spicy beef and spicy chicken to take on the road. Perfect handy snack for sitting in traffic on the DVP.

We had plans to grab a cheesecake from Uncle Tetsu’s, but a phone call from the school during our appointment prevented any detours. Shout out to my mom who drove home this morning and back to our place again to pick up the one who wasn’t feeling well. (That’s more than 2 hours of driving – two trips in 4 hours, folks – what would we do without Omas?) We’re saving Japanese cheesecake for the next trip and will have to pick up one for her as well!

What are your favourite city dining spots? Do you have a go-to destination or like to try something different each time? Are you a T.O. local? What must-trys are within walking distance of SickKids or the Chelsea hotel? Recommendations are welcome and wanted! Share away!

Eco-Crushin’

I am the first to admit that we are not the eco-friendliest family on the planet.  Convenience will often win in the battle against conscience.  I’m notoriously bad at remembering my reusable straws.  My kids still grab paper towel way more often than a rag or napkin.  Guilt aside, we have made little changes to improve our footprints.  This is a (very) short list of some of the eco-happy products that I’m crushing on – they were small swaps that hopefully have an impact for the greater good.

1.  Beeswax Wraps {sub for plastic wrap}

A friend first told me about these a few years ago and I was reluctant to get on board.  Last year, I finally bit the bullet and invested in a sample pack from Mind Your Bees Wraps, based in Hamilton.  Her patterns were pretty (it shouldn’t make a difference, but I’m vain, okay?!)  I fell in love. 

At a vendor event I help organize every November, we invited an even more local maker, The Tacky Bee, who also uses salvaged materials as her wrap base – even better!  I bought a few of her sample packs as well and gifted many of them away.


From Mind Your Bees Wraps

In my recent basement purge, I found some cotton fabrics I will never use for sewing (because sewing is not one of my skill sets.) We’ll be stopping at our honey producing friends in Cookstown this weekend, Dickey Bee Honey, to pick up some beeswax and I have grand plans to make my own set – I need a bigger one for casserole dishes and the like.   There are a ton of tutorials available online if you want to attempt to DIY.   These are an easy swap for saran and I found half a grapefruit lost to the No Man’s Land at the back of the fridge the other day – it had to have been in there a few weeks and was as juicy and delicious as the day it went it.  Even J has started to reach for the wraps when he’s helping in the kitchen.

Easy to clean without harsh chemicals, no plastic waste, biodegradable when it’s life-cycle is done, and pretty enough to Insta… why wouldn’t you make the switch?

Shop Local:  Mind Your BeesThe Tacky Bee, Dickey Bee Honey

2.  Cloth Menstrual Pads {sub for tampons and/or disposable pads and pantyliners}

Women have been padding their panties with strips of cloth since the age of dinosaurs.  Our grandmas and great-grandmas are all familiar with bulky, eco-friendly options for dealing with Aunt Flo when she shows up with a vengeance.   Disposable pads were created back in the 1880s, but the industry grew by leaps and bounds in the 1980s – much to the sorrow of our landfills – and our bodies.

There are many alternatives to disposable pads and (oft-bemoaned) tampons.  My first switch to a planet-happy solution was actually a cup – and I hated it. I didn’t make any more leaps until someone suggested I might have less feminine issues if I trashed the synthetic disposables.  I found some organic, natural, biodegradable options on Well.ca and they were fine.  I didn’t love them, but yes, my period was a bit happier.


5 Small Pads from HannahPad

Finally, I bit the bullet and invested in a set of reusable cloth pads from HannahPad.  Once I got over the ick-factor, I loved them.  I mean… women have been doing this for centuries, but these are so comfortable and better for the planet.   (I mean, as comfortable as having to wear any kind of pad, amiright?)

I also found a local supplier at a vendor event who sews her own.  Garden of Eden is a Canadian company (yay!) with cute print options and her pads (and nursing pads) are very well constructed.  She’s also very comfortable with discussing periods with total strangers.

I’ve been thrilled with both suppliers.  During each cycle, after use I rinse the pads and then soak until wash day.  I use some probiotic soap to help with stubborn stains, and then just wash as usual.  The dryer is not recommended, but I buck convention and throw them in for convenience sake.  For panty liners, I just wash with my usual laundry. 

It’s a big upfront cost if you’re comparing it to a single cycle supply of pads or tampons – think about investing in one or two at a time – and make sure your happy with the brand you’re using!

Shop Local:  Garden of Eden Reusables, HannahPad

3.  Mesh Produce Bags {Sub for plastic produce bags}

I have an endless supply of reusable shopping totes.  It’s a little ridiculous.  I could probably hand them out to people in line at the grocery store and still have enough bags left for my own haul.   My problem is that I forget to bring them, but I feel guilty using plastic, so I end up buying more.  I’m hanging my head in shame.     The workaround to this is to empty them and leave them by my keys or shoes or purse… and store them in the car for next time around. 

I have some favourite bags.  I bought them online years ago when this was starting to be strongly encouraged.  They’re foldable to tuck into your purse,  they’re lightweight, they wash amazing, and they are so amazingly strong.   If I could find more of this particular brand, I would donate all the rest and use them forever.

So I’ve cultivated a good shopping habit… but the produce department bothered me.   I found some President’s Choice mesh bags inexpensively on Amazon and as long as I remember to tuck them away (or not away as the case may be), I’m golden for picking the plumpest produce and not having to pay for extra weight.  These are so light and much like their above-mentioned cousins, easy to wash.  Super convenient without another plastic bag to worry about.   Even better, more and more makers are providing local options to source your own!   If you’re anywhere near me, Fresh Off The Line has some cute ones!  Now if only we could regularly find cucumber not surrounded in shrink wrap…

Shop Local:  Fresh Off the Line

What are the little substitutes you’ve embraced that make your home a little more eco-friendly?  We’ve also subbed harsh scented candles (i.e. BBW) for locally made, naturally fragranced ones.  We reuse. We recycle.  I shop second hand first, especially for the boys.  Are you crushing on any earth-friendly, eco-happy changes or products?  Feel free to share!