The Big Bar Mitzvah (Part 2)

If anyone reading this has been on the Bar or Bat Mitzvah circuit in Toronto, you can probably tell someone who doesn’t know any better what to expect at a typical evening reception for a 13-year-old kid:

  • Gender stereotypical themes like Tiffany boxes and fashion labels for the girls, pro sports teams and rock n’ roll for the boys
  • Obnoxiously loud pop music, flashing lights and a couple of sweaty dancers charged with enticing reluctant self-conscious pre-teens on to the dance floor by baiting them with made-in-China giveaways
  • Barely teenaged girls in barely there dresses, high heels and Kardashian-style smokey eye make up
  • A sit down dinner for the adults who attempt to exchange pleasantries but can’t hear each other over the thumping bass music
  • A buffet of fast food favourites for the scores of kids that generally include burgers, chicken nuggets, hot dogs and french fries
  • A photo booth with tacky feather boas, sparkling cardboard top hats and wacky glass frames for accessories that dole out pictures not meant for any photo album
  • A kids’ candy buffet overflowing with gummies, gum balls, sour keys and every other sugar-laden treat imaginable the adults secretly covet

We decided to forego the serial (and predictable) evening reception for something a little different. I call it a 13-year-old boy’s birthday bash extraordinaire.

Mere hours after the brunch reception that followed the Bar Mitzvah service, we changed out of our fancy duds for jeans and cozy sweaters and headed down to the William P Wilder Arena at Upper Canada College.

We rented one of the ice rinks for an hour and a half for the kids (and any adults who wanted to) to skate and play some shinny. We hired a former hockey trainer of the boys’ to do some fun games and activities on the ice–we did have giveaways for the kids, but they didn’t know it. We slipped the trainer some gift cards to give to kids who participated in the activities.

On the ice……

We also rented out the lounge that overlooks the ice rink–this is where non-skaters and the few adults invited could hang out and watch the skating.

My son likes music but isn’t into dance parties, so he made a playlist on Spotify to play over the sound system inside the rink. I had my playlist going over the speakers in the lounge.

I hired Jacqui, who owns TWSS Balloons, to do a big balloon display over the entrance to the lounge as well as a couple of balloon bouquets inside the room–nothing crazy, but definitely festive.

Balloon display by TWSS balloons

I also brought some board games from home for those who didn’t want to skate and were looking for something to do. I was glad I brought them because it kept some of the younger kids entertained while the adults could enjoy a drink and conversation.

My son’s favourite colour is red, so I purposely decorated the tables with inexpensive red table cloths with a small stack of hockey pucks and a votive candle for a centrepiece. This was a kids’ party after all, so any effort on decor was for my benefit–not the kids’.

Red table cloths and coordinated balloons

I got lots of praise for the dinner menu, but credit really goes to my son, who asked for his favourites; burger sliders, chicken wings, caesar salad and penne in a pomodoro sauce. The food was catered by my neighbourhood friend, Suresh, who owns Avondale Foodworks. He’s catered for us before and he consistently produces delicious and flavourful meals that are always crowd pleasers.

Before dessert was served, the kids all gathered at one end of the lounge and were treated to a show by Magic Dan. He was great with the kids, held their attention, encouraged lots of participation and kept everyone, young and old, entertained. My youngest was particularly freaked out when Magic Dan made him float in the air!

Magic Dan performs to a rapt audience

Dessert was probably the most fun. I asked Suresh to order donuts and chocolate milk from Tim Hortons because what kid doesn’t like donuts and chocolate milk? And yes, there was another cake! I actually wanted to order a cake from a bakery because I really didn’t think I’d have the time or the energy to do another cake, but I made a deal with my husband that if I baked the cake (and prepared the icing), he would decorate it. So I baked four marble cakes, recipe courtesy of Martha Stewart. Then I left it to my husband to ice it. You an see the results below–a cake that looks like a giant hockey rink.

Hockey rink cake, anyone?

I did end up doing a candy table for the kids, but I had my rules: no bowls of open candy that grubby, germy paws could dig their hands into. I ordered retro candy and gum from a wholesaler and set it all up in galvanized metal trays and buckets. Kids would take a loot bag and fill it with their candy loot.

At the end of the candy table, kids picked up their parting gift: a red and white trucker-style baseball cap with a custom design embroidered on the front.

Nifty trucker baseball caps

All in all, it was a great party with lots of variety for the kids and the adults. The vibe was just right. There were still plenty of details to remember and lots of elements that maybe others would have happily left to a party planner, but I really enjoyed researching all the options and coming up with a party concept that I knew would be emblematic of my son.

The Big Bar Mitzvah (Part 1)

This post has been a long time coming…13 years to be exact! Although I didn’t know it thirteen years ago.

My oldest had his Bar Mitzvah just over a month ago and I feel like I’ve just recovered from the big event.

He did an amazing job reading from the Torah, giving his speech to our guests, and maintaining his confidence and composure the entire day. He really shone like a star that day and was deserving of all the accolades and attention.

My job was to set the scene for our guests after the pomp and circumstance and for that I spent many months planning, plotting, “pinning” and preparing. There were so many details and so many checklists, but here, I will give you a brief glimpse into the celebration that followed the ceremony.

Our brunch began by welcoming our guests to “the cottage.”

Welcome to the Cottage
This was the seating chart for the luncheon

I hired a graphic designer, gave her the guest list in a spread sheet with the table assignments along with some suggested fonts and icons and the dimensions for the foam core board. She was amazing to work with and had the poster delivered right to my front door. We simply mounted the board on an easel right inside the entrance to the reception room.

As people wandered in and found their tables, there was a slide show playing to music projected on to a drop cloth that I had hung on the wall, with patio lights framing it.  The “screen” was flanked by red plastic Muskoka chairs that were draped with wool camp blankets and throw pillows with wildlife imagery such as owls, deer and moose.

All the photos in the slide show were of the family at various family cottages in both summer and winter. Putting together that slide show was a labour of love. I also printed all the photos on to 4″ x 4″ paper, which were used as part of the centrepieces.

Each photo from the slide show was part of the centrepieces

My mother, my husband and I did an assembly line, punching holes into each photo and tying jute twine through the holes. These photos were then hung on the young birch branches in the centrepieces.

Speaking of the centrepieces–these were probably the cheapest DIY centrepieces ever and yet the most personal. I got little red socker plant pots at Ikea–there was a lot of red in the decor because that is my son’s favourite colour–filled them with pea gravel and off cuts of birch branches from my girlfriend’s cottage in North Bay, and the young birch branches were from my mom’s cottage on Georgian Bay.

We stood the pots on round wood “coins” that my husband cut with his chainsaw from fallen trees in the ravine in our neighbourhood. I just had to schlep them all to the car!

And the final touch were the rocks around the bottom of the pot, which were collected by me and my son from the harbour near my mom’s cottage.

So I think all told, we spent about $5 on each centrepiece and the biggest expense was the printing of the photographs.

The additional expense came with the guest keepsakes that I put on each table. These were maple syrup candles in tins. They certainly didn’t come cheap, but I thought it was important to give guests a small memento from the day as a thank you from us.

Each guest received a maple syrup candle as a memento

The brunch was delicious, catered by L-Eat. Niki and Tony did a fabulous job and the presentation of the food was simple and elegant. We made sure everything that was served were things we would typically eat for brunch: french toast with maple syrup, quiche, bagels with all the fixings, yogurt with granola and berries, and as a special treat we arranged to have smoked trout from Kolapore Springs trout farm up near my parents’ cottage.

But the best part of brunch was the dessert table! This is where I truly got to showcase my baking skills, with the help of my mom, sister and mother-in-law. First, I decorated the table with objects that represented my son and the cottage–Scrabble pieces that said “Help Yourself”, antlers, a red model sports car, an old cribbage board, a vintage waterski, red oil lanterns, and a photo of my husband holding our son as a newborn.

All the baked good were displayed on red tin trays, big glass cookie jars with red lids, even the waterski was used to display the homemade butter tarts.

There were homemade salted chocolate chunk cookies, s’mores bites, butter tarts, honey cake, shortbreads, poppy seed cookies, ginger cookies and also chelsea buns from the Thornbury bakery (the only thing I didn’t bake!).

The Dessert Table

 

It wouldn’t be a celebration without a cake, right? Of course I baked a cake! It’s the giant, incredibly chocolatey cake recipe from Deb Perlman’s Smitten Kitchen. It’s the same cake I baked for my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary, except this time I made marshmallows, charred them and put them on the cake. I also made banana chocolate chip cake “logs” and I made flames from melted red and orange lollipops. A candy maker I am not!

Campfire cake

I can’t say the cake turned out as nicely as I would have liked from a visual perspective, but it tasted damn good.

Credit for all the photos goes to Julius Ding of Julius and James Photography. This was their FIRST Bar Mitzvah photo shoot, and they really did capture the essence of the celebration, rather than the staged photos of the family and Bar Mitzvah boy that we all too often see. This was a celebration in real life and I’m so glad Julius was there to capture the moment.

There is so much more to tell you about the day because it didn’t end with the brunch! But I think I’ll save those details for another post. I’m starting to get tired just thinking about it again. Phew!

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or want to learn more about what I did and how I did or where I got my ideas from.

121 Days….and counting

I have set myself a goal that I hope is achievable: 4 months to whip myself into shape (and get awesome looking arms in the process. ha!). Just in time for my oldest son’s Bar Mitzvah. The goal is this: exercise every day. Even if it’s only 20 minutes. And make it count. That means not undoing 20 minutes of exercise by mindlessly munching on potato chips while laying in bed watching Netflix. So I’ve printed out calendars to track my progress.

Four months to go!
Four months to go!

I know exercise is only half of the equation. Nutrition is the other half that tends to be my undoing. I’m pretty diligent about exercising. I am not so disciplined when it comes to making healthy choices. I don’t eat a lot of fast food or junk. I can’t–it would wreak havoc on my stomach. But I like sweets. Cutting out sugar–chocolate especially–is near to impossible for me. I’ve done 30 day challenges of no chocolate in the past. I’ve even cut out sugar. But I don’t believe it’s realistic for me to maintain that kind of rigor in my day-to-day life. So what it comes down to is moderation. Can I get through 121 days and be disciplined about what I do and don’t eat? I  honestly don’t know.

My days start out well with a breakfast of steel cut oats (sprinkled with cinnamon, maple syrup and almond milk), a banana and some yogurt. But things go downhill after lunch when the 3 o’clock munchies kick in and I’m like a raccoon on the prowl for hot neighbourhood garbage.

A typical breakfast of steel cut oats, yogurt and banana
A typical breakfast of steel cut oats, yogurt and banana

I know my intentions are not that noble–I would love for people to show up at our family function and whisper to each other, “she looks great! she doesn’t look like the mother of a 13-year-old!” And deep down I know this is about more than vanity. This is about my overall health and well-being. This shouldn’t just be about trying to fit into a dress or impress a crowd. But hey, it’s a good excuse.

My first attempt at sourdough bread

After watching Cooked on Netflix, I was inspired to make my own sourdough bread. After all, Michael Pollan swore it was the easiest thing in the world. All it takes is flour, water, and some wild yeast encouraged by the bacteria floating through the air in your house. Easy!

Not so.

My first attempt to make sourdough starter was an abysmal failure. The flour and water looked–and smelled–like glue, which I guess it was.

Then I showed up at work with a homemade sour cherry pie (that’s another post!) and started talking about baking with a colleague. Little did I know that she, too, had been inspired to attempt sourdough bread after watching Michael Pollan and she had met with some success. She offered to share some of her sourdough starter with me, pointed me to a website that had easy to follow instructions and then I was off to the races!

I had my doubts about the starter. It failed once again and I ended up with a loaf of glue. See specimen here:

Glue bread masquerading as sourdough bread
Glue bread masquerading as sourdough bread

So I decided to persevere. For those who know me–and I mean, really know me, I am a relatively impatient person. So waiting for a sourdough starter to be ready, or waiting for bread to proof, are exercises in patience for me. And you can’t rush a good loaf of bread. I fed my starter again and decided to just watch it for about 24 hours. Sure enough it came back to life and started bubbling away, and almost “breathing”. That’s the best way I can describe it. It’s literally alive! When it had filled up the bowl, I decided it was show time.

I mixed the starter with flour and water and mixed it with the dough hook. I added a spoonful of kosher salt too. Some recipes tell you to knead the bread a lot and to do some of the kneading by hand to encourage the glutens to bind with each other. Other recipes say to be careful not to overdo it with the kneading because you don’t want to destroy the wild yeast in the starter that will give the bread that lovely bubbled centre. It’s really hard to know which recipe to follow and what measurements to use when you’re a beginner. This is when the internet is not your friend, but seems to be deliberately working against you to leave you second guessing which is the best recipe to follow.

In the end I found a pretty straightforward recipe at Cultures for Health. There’s even a nifty video that walks you through the recipe, but I decided to try it without watching the video. I think I might watch the video next time.

So here are the results:

In the end the bread was quite tasty–crispy on the outside and nice and soft on the inside with some air bubbles that are indicative of sourdough bread. There is a nice tang to the flavour and the kids seemed to like it, which is a good thing. It didn’t puff up as much as it probably should have after proofing, which could mean one of two things: the sourdough starter wasn’t as mature as it should have been to help the bread rise, or else I didn’t leave it to proof long enough (12-ish hours???).

I can see why making bread is addictive. It’s not an exact science, and yet the success of your bread making depends entirely on science.

The sourdough starter is once again percolating away in the glass bowl on the counter and I look forward to my next attempt at making a loaf of sourdough. Let me know what the secret of your success is when making sourdough. I could use all the help I can get!

Some thoughts about my dad

Peter Andrew Grunwald November 6, 1945- July 22, 2016
Peter Andrew Grunwald
November 6, 1945- July 22, 2016

I’ve thought a lot about how to tell you about my father. Some of you knew him longer than I did. Some of you only knew him through stories you’ve heard about him.
Everyone has a story and my dad definitely has a good story.
My dad’s story began in Hungary–the only child of Lily and Leslie Grunwald born at the end of the Second World War.
With few surviving relatives, they remained in Hungary until the revolution in 1956.
At 11, my dad became a refugee—he and his father escaping through the night time with nothing but a suitcase and a Hungarian winter salami to bribe the Austrian border guard. This was all a great adventure for Peter.
He would joke with friends and family that he, too, went to camp as a child–refugee camp–even learning to ski in the Swiss Alps where all the children were taken for a 3 month “holiday.”
He and my grandparents eventually made it to Toronto when my dad was 13.
There was no such thing as ESL back then so he relied on the good graces of his new Canadian friends to teach him the language, which he picked up quickly and over the course of his life, mastered, probably better than some whose first and only language was English.
He lived down in the Annex for the remainder of his childhood attending Huron Public School, Harbord Collegiate and the University of Toronto.
While in university he took up international folk dancing, where he met the lovely and diminutive Maxine Solsberg.
The courtship was only about a year long–especially after Maxine’s father asked Peter whether or not he was going to ask his daughter to marry him.
Maxine accepted his proposal, with Peter sealing the deal by tying a string around Maxine’s finger in place of an engagement ring.
The wedding took place in the Solsberg’s backyard after a blustery late-August storm. On the menu was chateau Briande.
The next day the newlyweds were in Windsor where my dad began law school.
Over the next seven years my dad graduated law school, began practicing civil litigation and most importantly, became a father to a boy and two girls.

The 1980’s began with a move back to Toronto.

For my father, the next two decades were filled with the peaks and valleys of being both a parent and a child.

He was never shy about sharing his opinion and did so readily, especially when it came to the choices we were making.

From university courses to our life partners, he freely shared his views.

As young adults we may not always have appreciated or welcomed his thoughts, but they were always well-meaning and showed he deeply and truly cared.

My mind is full of images that epitomize my father.

I can picture him sitting behind his desk at work with the dictaphone held close to his mouth.

I can hear his conversations with my grandparents in a mysterious language that I can now recognize a mile away—even though I don’t understand a single word of Hungarian.

I can hear his nasal inhale when he picks up the phone and says, “Good morning, how are you?”

I see his night table covered in books by the likes of Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking and Leo Tolstoy.

I can see him on his hands and knees tidying up the flower beds in the backyard on Digby Court.

I can see him watching my gymnastics performances from the sidelines—his pride practically oozing from his pores.

I can picture him watching a soccer game on TV or poring over the Globe and Mail Style section on weekends while munching on a box of matza. Yes, matza! Or a giant bowl of shelling peas.

I can see the top of his balding head as I stand on his shoulders and hold his hands in the waters of Georgian Bay, as I prepare to somersault into the water.

Holding his hands…I can see myself climbing on to his thighs and flipping around on the dance floor at simchas I don’t remember. But I remember dancing with my dad.

I remember dancing with my dad at my wedding. In our backyard. This was as much my dad’s wedding as it was mine. His involvement in the planning of the details was extraordinary.

And of course I can picture him at the head of the dinner table on Friday nights asking us how our week went and who wanted a glass of wine.

He’d eat my mom’s homemade chicken until there was a pile of cleanly picked bones on his plate.

Friday nights were less about religion and more about tradition for my father. He wasn’t a religious man. He never read a word in Hebrew, but he respected following a Jewish life.

2004 marked a seminal moment in my father’s life when Quinn, his first grandchild, was born. This is when he became Pete. Not Zaidy. Not Nagypapa. Just Pete.

Pete would see his love for music, books, food, theatre, sport and travel personified, not only in his children, but also in his grandchildren.

Five grandchildren! Quinn, Ezra, Annie, Levi and Jackie.

News of Pete’s cancer came on New Year’s day 2012. I’ll never forget it.

As we prepared to welcome Levi and Jackie into the family, my father was staring down his own mortality. How cruel life is.

If cancer was a bull, Pete planned to grab it by the horns and ride it out as long as possible.

Only two months after Levi’s arrival and Pete’s surgery, he was on a plane to Florida.

And that was just the beginning of Pete’s travels over the past four years.

He also made it to Argentina, Spain, Italy, Colorado and most recently a road trip through the Southern States with my mom riding shotgun.

But some of his best trips happened right here at home.

Trips to the hockey rink. Trips from daycare back to the house with the kids safely loaded into the car. Trips to school concerts and ballet recitals, soccer games and graduations—some as far away as Denver. Trips to the cottage. My father never missed an opportunity to spend time with his grandkids and celebrate a milestone.

What most people would consider banal, my father considered a true gift. Time with his grandchildren and children—something he knew was in limited supply for him.

Just this past February he was back on a plane to Vail, skiing with his children and grandsons. Even his oncologist marveled at his stamina.

Bike riding, tennis and skiing helped him stay strong these past four years.

But it was also my mother who cared for my father when he was at his worst that gave him strength.

Even through her own cancer battle, my mom has been a rock. A matriarch in every sense of the word, my mom has rode this physically and emotionally exhausting rollercoaster with my dad in her own quiet way.

I am deeply saddened by my father’s death. We all are.
I dissolve into tears at the thought of a world without him.
His influence on my life, the life of my siblings, my children in particular was so profound that he leaves behind a void that cannot be filled.

I can torture myself and let my mind wander to all the moments in the future where he will be greatly missed.

But I have to try my hardest—we all do—to wander back in time to all the vivid memories we shared with him of a life well lived.

Half way through my month-long fitness challenge

I admit I have not exercised every day in the past two weeks. I think I’ve missed three days. I’m not going to make excuses. Yes, there were reasons, but I’m not making any excuses. Instead, I am resolving to make the next two weeks epic.

We took the kids to the Mandarin restaurant on the way down from the cottage just over a week ago (I know, you’re thinking, “The Mandarin??? How is that a healthy choice???” Believe me, when you’ve got three hungry boys in the car, healthy choices is pretty low down on the list of priorities) and this was the fortune I got in my fortune cookie:

A very timely fortune cookie
A very timely fortune cookie

I’m taking it as a sign to do my best to be true to the sentiment that you can only have good health if you’re healthy and that means eating good food and exercising.

So I’m trying to stick to both without it being about how much I sweat and feel the burn or by depriving myself.

Exercise has entailed many activities included biking around the neighbourhood with my kids on this thing:

My retro bicycle with white wall tires.
My retro bicycle with white wall tires.

And I’ve even managed an early morning hike with my four-legged friend through the ravine in my neighbourhood.

Puppy hike through the ravine
Puppy hike through the ravine

Food is always a tricky thing for me. I’m battling gallstones right now, so most of the time eating meals isn’t that much fun, and sometimes I give up and grab something that tastes good, but isn’t good for me. For the most part I’ve been good, having lots of fruit for snacks like this:

Fruit salad
Fruit salad

Today, I managed to squeeze in a run at lunch time–half an hour and just over 5 kilometers. Not bad, eh?

I also just ordered a new bikini, which gives me even greater incentive to work on my figure for the coming summer.

Now all I need is a drill sergeant, a nutritionist to make this into a reality TV show!

 

My Month-Long Fitness Challenge

It’s June 1st. Today is Day One of my month-long fitness challenge. This post is my way of being accountable. It forces me to stay honest. There is no goal. No planned outcome. No guaranteed result. It is simply my way of maintaining some semblance of fitness each day. It doesn’t have to be a marathon. It doesn’t have to mean exercising to the point of exhaustion. Nor does it have to mean depriving myself of my diet. If anything, it’s about managing my expectations. I told my husband I looked at the photos from the race I was in this past Sunday and was unhappy with what I saw. Here’s what I saw:

Looking like a hot, sweaty mess!
Looking like a hot, sweaty mess!

He said, “then you have to decide what you want to do about it and make sure your expectations are realistic. And if you want a different result, you have to do something different. But remember–make sure your expectations are realistic with what you are prepared to do.”

So I’m going to be realistic. This is not about getting on some wagon that I am inevitably going to fall off. This isn’t a diet or exercise regimen that I am setting myself up to fail at. It’s about mindfulness.

So this is how my morning began: I laced up my sneakers…

Sneakers on. Time to run.
Sneakers on. Time to run.

I did about 3.5km. Did a bunch of sit ups–say, 80. Got on the scale. Here’s what it said:

139

I know it’s just a number. It’s not a bad number. I’m just keeping it real. Keeping it honest. It may not change when the month is up. It may go up. It may go down. But it’s MY number and I’m going to own it.

I made my requisite smoothie this morning (banana, strawberries, pineapple, chia seeds and a splash of OJ). Ate a whole wheat bagel with tuna and chopped egg.

It’s lunch time now and I’m having a garden salad with a hunk of salami.

Garden salad
Garden salad

I’ve got my calendar all planned out, but as my neighbour once said to me, “Man plans and God laughs.” So this is by no means the gospel (no pun intended!), but it’s a guide. (Today is a perfect example: I ran this morning instead of doing the Body Fit class at the Y).

Here is the challenge....
Here is the challenge….

So let’s see how it goes!!! Let me know if you have ever done a month-long challenge. How did it go? What was the best part? What was the hardest part? Would you do it again? What would you do differently?

Gearing up for 21km

I haven’t bothered to write about my plans to run a half marathon this Spring because…well just because. Other people write about that stuff all the time. I don’t like attracting attention to myself. And I tend not to talk about my fitness goals. But I’m going to now.

These shoes have logged a lot of miles--in fact, they are retired now.
These shoes have logged a lot of miles–in fact, they are retired now.

I’m on week 10 of my 12-week training program using the Nike+ Running App. I have been very religious about following the instructions on the app–running the prescribed distances, intervals and so on as laid out by the Nike Gods. But then my 40-year-old back and knees started to scream in protest. So in the last two weeks I’ve dialed it back. Instead of running upwards of 40 to 50 kilometers a week, I’m keeping it at about 30-ish.

There are plenty of people who ask the rhetorical question, “why do you even do that?” or “how do you find the time?” And to be honest, I think of the answers my dad used to give me when I was a teenager and complained about having to balance the demands of high school with the demands of my gymnastics training. He simply said, “make time or quit.” Quitting gymnastics was out of the question and the same is true for running. So that’s what I do. I make time. I believe that if it’s enough of a priority you will find the time.

Running is not only inexpensive–just strap on a pair of runners and go–but it is also the ideal tonic for stress and decompression. Focusing on an achievable goal that requires very little skill and a lot of mental strength has been invaluable to me. It has saved me from the peaks of anxiety and the valleys of what I call “professional soul-searching.” If ever I find myself in a rut, or a bad mood or anxious, my medicine has been running.

I am usually satisfied with running about 5 kilometres or a half hour run to rid myself of the hee-bee gee-bees, but I’m a sucker for goals and the Toronto Women’s Half Marathon became my goal  when I signed up back in November. Since then I’ve been focused on my training.

I am now less than 2 weeks away and just completed 21 kilometres in my training.

Proof that I actually ran 21 kilometres
Proof that I actually ran 21 kilometres

The last time I ran a Half Marathon was the Scotiabank Waterfront Marathon about six years ago. It was excruciating and during the last 500 metres running up Bay Street I kept telling myself, “don’t puke and don’t pass out in front of all these people.” I crossed the finish line in 2 hours 29 minutes. My goal had simply been to finish. And that was after much needed bathroom breaks and stopping to stretch the illiotibial band that was causing unbearable pain in my right knee. Running might be simple, but easy it is not.

This time I feel like I’ve already achieved my goal. I’ve done the training. I have proved to myself that I can run 21 kilometres. And I even improved my time! My biggest fear is injury and I know I could be doing more “preventative” training and therapy in preparation.

So there it is: in less than two weeks I will join scores of women, many like me, who have nothing to prove to themselves or anyone else. They simply need to run–for whatever reason. It can be incredibly empowering to stand cheek by jowl with your fellow runner not as a competitor but as a comrade who can tell you with a quick glance and a comforting grin, “I know, you just have to dig deep and get it done. No judgement. No accolades. Just get it done.”

Wish me luck!

Blossoms in Winter

Fresh cut flowers are one of the simplest ways to remind yourself there’s life after winter. But if they aren’t in the budget, what about a flowering plant? It’s the gift that keeps on giving–if you have a green thumb.

I can’t say I’ve ever had much luck growing flowering plants at home. I never know how much water to give them, if they should or shouldn’t be in direct sunlight. Plant food, what’s that?

Call it beginner’s luck, but I’m pleased to say I brought my wee Christmas Cactus back from the brink.

I bought it at Ikea months ago. It was blossoming then, but within a week or two of bringing it home it stopped thriving. Kind of reminds me of the beta fish my son got for his birthday a couple of years ago. Apparently more fish food does not make for a healthier fish.

The cactus looked like it was on death’s doorstep when I moved it to the window sill in my laundry room. It found company with my three phalaenopsis orchids (which I also brought back from the brink, but that’s another story). Maybe it was the company, maybe it was the window sill, I really don’t know. But it began to grow new buds and that alone made me giddy.

This plant reminds me of my paternal grandmother, Lily. She adored these plants and the colour pink. I don’t think I ever saw her without pink lipstick on except at her sickest. She died far too young at the age of 69. I was 18. She was a stylish lady who loved to doll herself up. She could cook a wicked Hungarian meal and that included sinfully delicious desserts. And her home always had flowering plants. African violets and Christmas cacti come to mind.

So on this snowy, wintry day–less than a month away from what would have been my grandmother’s 92nd birthday–enjoy the colourful blooms of my Christmas cactus to brighten up your day. Who knows? You might be inspired to nurture a flowering plant too!

Christmas cactus in full bloom
Christmas cactus in full bloom

This is 41

Last year my birthday fell on a Monday. It was the first day of a new job and I felt I couldn’t ask for the day off and really celebrate it the way I wanted to. I didn’t feel like telling my new colleagues, who were complete strangers to me. But I do remember buying myself a below average slice of red velvet cake at the coffee shop in the lobby of my building on my lunch break to mark the occasion.

I couldn’t even celebrate that night with my family because we were busy taking the kids to hockey games. It shouldn’t have bothered me because I was planning on celebrating that milestone birthday when the weather improved. Nevertheless the day was a bit of a disappointment and I vowed then that I would not let another birthday pass without marking the day in a special way.

Today began with breakfast in bed from my wonderful husband. Check out the apple swan he carved up! What he didn’t know was that I already had plans for breakfast with my Mom so the kids tucked into the cinnamon toast and scrambled eggs.

Breakfast in Bed
Breakfast in Bed

We headed over to Scratch Kitchen for breaky. I had this amazing dish called Soft Scrambled, which was full of sweet caramelized onions, pulled pork and other stuff I can’t remember on top of homemade rustic bread. Yum!

Soft Scrambled from Scratch Kitchen
Soft Scrambled from Scratch Kitchen

After breakfast we headed over to Costco (yeah, I know, not exactly the most exciting birthday destination) to do some shopping for food and other essentials. $325 later we bounced and hit the mall for a bit of retail therapy. The post-holiday sales were great, but most stuff was picked over so the choices were limited. I ended up getting a cute unstructured blazer from Maison Scotch for 70% off! Score!

Things picked up in the afternoon with a visit from my massage therapist who pummelled my leg muscles into submission. I thought I was going to barf it hurt so much. I have since learned there is a term for this sensation–it’s called an “autonomic response.” Apparently this is a good thing and means I am more in tune with my body. Not sure I need to feel everything to the point of being nauseated.

I whipped up a chocolate cake really quickly. I know what you’re thinking: “You mean you baked your own birthday cake? How depressing.” Not at all! I love to bake and it was cake in a box with homemade icing. Super easy. Super quick. Always a crowd pleaser. And pretty!

Chocolate Birthday Cake
Chocolate Birthday Cake

Dinner with the fam came next. It was perfect: Chinese buffet so the kids didn’t have to wait and order off a menu and they could pick what they wanted.

The night ended with a soak in the bath tub and the Downton Abbey Christmas Special.

It really was a great day. And that’s the point–it was great for me. I still think celebrating any birthday, milestone or not, is about more than the day itself. It’s about looking back and reflecting on how I grew and changed as a person over the last twelve months and what I managed to accomplish. It’s also an opportunity to look ahead to the next twelve months and set some goals. I’ve signed up for a half marathon. I want to take courses on photography and Photoshop and I’m chomping at the bit for another design project.

If this is what they call middle age, it feels pretty good to me.

This is 41
This is 41