The Big One

This summer is a big one for me. I will celebrate my 10th wedding anniversary with my hubby, and I will turn 40 (on the same day). Gulp. Over the hill. I remember when my parents turned 40 and I bought all of these decorations with “over the hill” on them, as well as presents with the same saying on them. That was the age that everyone kind of dreaded and made fun of. “Ha, it’s all downhill from here. Forty is the beginning of the end!” My parents laughed it off. Now I feel terrible about doing that to them, because it’s tough enough getting older without being told you’re on death’s door! I mean, really? Forty seems so young to me now. And I am hoping my mom’s family’s great genetics continue with me because my grandparents lived long and pretty healthy lives. My grandma passed away last October, at the age of 87, and my grandpa just passed away in January, a month away from turning 98.

Forty is barely mid-life. However, I have heard from a number of friends who are a little bit older than I am that everything went wrong at 40…then again, I heard that from several of the same people when I was about to turn 30. Hmmm. Already I feel aches and pains. My bones actually hurt some days. I’m tired. I chalk that up to having young children who are NOT good sleepers and who are very busy, and to not being in good shape. Yes, I take care of myself in some ways: I eat relatively healthily, I don’t smoke, I only have a drink or two occasionally (like maybe once every few months), and I don’t have any bad habits. That said, I’ve hibernated like some kind of animal over the winter, and this winter has been especially long, snowy, cold, and lazy. The amount of activity I’ve done this winter? Almost none. I guess what I should be doing is getting back into shape and taking care of myself.  That is what my Ellipse is for right?  It’s not just there to act as a barrier in front of our fireplace for our 2 year old?  I have to do this so that 40 doesn’t feel so old.

After all, if former “Beverly Hills 90210” star Ian Ziering looked like this mere months ago when he was 49 (!) – he just turned 50 today – then I can take a walk, step on my exercise equipment, and maybe do some juicing every now and then…right? Okay, really? THAT’S 50?? Wow.

Ian-Ziering-060913sp

 

Advertisements

Travelling (for Mama Kat’s Writer’s Workshop)

Writing Prompt:  What countries have you travelled to?

My husband and I did some travelling before we “settled down” and had children – I’ve backpacked around the UK and Europe a few times, and he went to teachers college in Australia and had a teaching placement in China – and we’ve seen some of the most “famous” things in the world, including Stonehenge, the Berlin Wall, the Great Barrier Reef, and the Great Wall of China.  However, after we got married the travelling became a thing of the past. Sure, we wanted to continue to travel. I always wanted to see the world and made it something on my “to do” list when I was much younger. But when we had children the travelling stopped…or, rather, it was put on hold. We’re just not the kinds of people who can do that. We’re easily stressed out. We’re easily worried about things. And taking little kids around the world would be no fun…for us at least. However, this summer we got over our worries and decided to travel with the kids. We have a 7 year old son (who was 6 last summer) and a 2 year old daughter. They’ve never been anywhere outside of our province. But my parents made us an offer we couldn’t refuse: they’d pay for a family trip, and they would come along, for us to go wherever we wanted, whenever we wanted. The most obvious place to take a 6 year old and a 2 year old? Of course. The happiest place on earth.  Walt Disney World. Yes, it was crazy getting there: we decided to drive across the border because the flights from Buffalo compared to the flights from Toronto were much less expensive, and that drive was LONG. Especially for 2 young kids in the back of an SUV. And then we stayed overnight at an airport hotel. It was an adventure, but it wasn’t the best sleep we’ve gotten, with all 4 of us in a small room, and one adult sleeping with one child. Then there was the plane ride. Obviously neither of our children had been on a plane (having never left the province before), and though my 6 year old was just fine with it, my 2 year old was NOT impressed. She cried a lot, but quickly cried herself to the point of exhaustion and slept for almost the entire flight. We were not so lucky on the way home, but that could be a whole other blog post. All of that “getting there” stuff aside, our vacation was amazing. Walt Disney World was the best. The kids loved it. My son became a thrill-seeker, riding Mount Everest at Animal Kingdom, and going on Space Mountain and Splash Mountain at Magic Kingdom, multiple times.

IMG_4028

(That’s my hubby in the red shirt, and my son is ducking down so you can’t see him…but he’s there!)

My daughter still talks about holding hands with the characters we met, including Buzz Lightyear, Woody, and Jessie from her favourite movie, “Toy Story”.

IMG_2130

(You can kind of see her face here, and it’s lit up with joy!)

We even had lunch with the characters from the Hundred Acre Wood: Winnie the Pooh, Eeyore, Tigger, and Piglet.

IMG_3480

And I am making it my mission to go back in a few years, when the kids are just a little older but still find all of that fun. Who am I kidding? I’m 39 and I thought it was incredibly fun. Hopefully they’ll always want to go. Sure, it’s no Eiffel Tower or the Swiss Alps. But those will always be there – I suspect – to see in future years, when travelling with older kids will be less stressful (in theory!), and they’ll be interested in those things.  Let’s face it: right now they can’t compete with Mickey Mouse!

IMG_3709

Kitchen Mishaps (for Mama Kat’s Writer’s Workshop)

Writing Prompt:  7 Kitchen Tips Based on Mistakes You’ve Made in the Past

Up until I had children, I never really cared about the kitchen, or what I was supposed to do in it.  My good friend from university, Andrea, would tell you that the only thing she ever got when she came over to eat lunch (during school), whether in first year or in fourth year, was rice…from the microwave.  I didn’t even take the time to boil it on the stove or add anything to season it.  In fact, I ate rice for pretty much the entire four years at school.  It was easy and fast to make, it was filling, and it was inexpensive.  That was my staple.  Since “settling down” with a husband and children, I have become a little more adventurous when it comes to meals.  Sure, I still love my rice, and my kids do as well (they are certainly my kids), but my menu is a little more varied.  And, with the years of time in the kitchen, trying to make things my children will actually eat (which changes daily), I’ve made mistakes along the way.  Prompted by Mama Kat, here are 7 tips based on mistakes I’ve made in the kitchen.

1) Margarine does NOT taste like butter.  Although we always use margarine, and I think I can’t taste the difference, I learned that margarine does not taste like butter when baking, particularly when making icing or frosting for cupcakes.  This lesson was learned when I was baking cupcakes for my son’s class, and realized I had no butter stored in the fridge.  “Oh, margarine will work just fine,” was my attitude, not being a seasoned baker.  Nope.  The frosting tasted terrible.  I had to use a whole lot of cocoa – turning the frosting into chocolate instead of vanilla – and a lot more vanilla extract to make it taste okay.  I’m glad each kid only got one cupcake because any more than that and someone would’ve caught on!

2) A butcher’s block is not like a hotpad.  Several times last year I had potatoes boiling on the stove and actually forgot about them.  Not good.  One day I thought I could salvage a few and so I put the pot of potatoes down on our butcher’s block, which takes up almost half of our island, and started going through the potatoes.  There’s still a perfectly round black burn spot on it in case I wanted to forget about THAT debacle.

3) A “knock-off” (AKA “cheap version”) Ziplock bag does NOT work as an effective substitute for an icing bag.  I have actually used Ziplocks in place of icing bags and they’ve worked, so I was disappointed and left in a bad spot when I used the cheap versions of Ziplocks in place of icing bags one day when I found myself out of everything else.  Instead of getting my 2 year old ready and carting her off to the grocery store, I thought I’d make due with what I had.  I ended up with icing squishing out in all directions, a huge mess in the kitchen, and not enough icing to finish the job.

4)  No matter how delicious the pizza looks when it’s just out of the oven, with the cheese perfectly golden and melted, taking a bite right away is NOT a good idea.  Despite learning this I continue to do it time and time again, burning my mouth and regretting it immediately after.  And trying to rush it and cut the pizza as soon as it’s out of the oven, so that the kids will stop begging and get their dinner, will result in a mess of a pizza.  It’s best to just tune out their “I’m hungry, can we eat yet?” pleas for a few more minutes rather than destroy the perfect distribution of cheese and other toppings on the pizza.

5)  Always taste your food while you’re making it.  I never thought about this until watching Gordon Ramsay drilling it into his “Hell’s Kitchen” competitors, but it makes total sense.  Figuring out that your meal is a disaster early on means you have more time to salvage it and try to turn it into something edible.  And if your cookie dough tastes bad, your cookies will taste bad too.  If your dough isn’t delightful, throwing in some cocoa or icing sugar can save the day.

6)  Never trust cooking times.  In the house we lived in before this one, our oven was hotter than you-know-where.  Everything I put in there came out burned (and of course it was the oven to blame, not me!).  Now I put the timer on for 5 minutes less the suggested time, because once it’s burnt, it’s DONE.

7)  Those can openers that remove the entire lid are dangerous.  Or, at least, they’re dangerous for me.  The only time I’ve ever had to have stitches was after opening a can of black olives with one of those openers.  My boyfriend (husband now) and I were making nachos for dinner.  I opened the olives, and shortly after I cut myself (I’m pretty klutzy).  It’s really all a blur.  You can still see the marks from the stitches on my thumb, about 12 years later.

I admit it, I’m not a pro when it comes to the goings-on in the kitchen, but we’re all well-fed and happy…and I haven’t started a fire…yet…

Close Calls

Today I am reminded how lucky some people are.  No, I don’t mean to win the lottery, or to have a fantastic job, or to have time in the day to themselves, but to be alive.  I’m reminded of this today after an incredibly strange day yesterday and night last night.

Yesterday was a beautiful day here in Wingham, Ontario, in terms of the weather.  (Today, not so much.  Another blizzard.  Quite common this winter.  Blech.)  It was sunny, it was about 10 degrees Celsius, and the snow was melting.  Most people were out and about (I know, you said that with a “Canadian accent”, didn’t you?!), going for walks, and just enjoying being outside after spending as little time as possible outside these last few snowy and frigid months.  My little family – hubby, son Zander, daughter Zoey, and I – had just been outside, taking advantage of the spring-like day, playing in the backyard and on the new deck (built last summer).  It was about 30 minutes after we had come in that we heard a loud (and long) rumbling sound.  It sounded the way you’d imagine an avalanche would sound.  We all were in the kitchen – just off the deck – eating lunch, and when we heard it start we looked at each other quizzically.  None of us was sure what it was.  And then the snow started falling off the roof in huge chunks…and falling…and falling.  It was more like crashing actually.  There was a lot of it.  The weight of the snow not only made that avalanche-type sound, but it pulled out the bolts on our (new) railing.  And if any of us had been outside near that part of the house, we would have been dead.  No kidding.  Needless to say, our deck needs repair, but we are all safe and sound, thankfully.  This is what the deck now looks like from one angle (there was NO snow on the deck 30 minutes before…none…):

snowrailing

Fast forward about eight hours:  My husband and I were sitting downstairs, with the TV on, and he was playing a video game and I was on my phone.  We heard someone pounding on our front door and windows.  We both looked at each other, unsure if that was what we were hearing, or if it was one of our kids – who were supposed to be going to sleep – pounding on their walls or door.  That’s not something they’d normally do, and so we were pretty sure that wasn’t it.  The pounding continued.  We both ran upstairs.  It was our neighbour from across the street, and he was pretty frantic.  Then we saw the fire.  His snowmobile had backfired, and it was on fire on the street at the end of our driveway.  He was frantic because it was full of gas and he was sure it was going to explode.  He wanted to make sure we were all up and ready to go if it did and our house started on fire.  Scared of that thought, we grabbed our kids from their bedrooms, which are on that side of the house, with windows facing the street, and took them downstairs.  The fire department arrived shortly after and took care of the blaze.  No explosion, but the snowmobile is DONE.  Again, it could have been A LOT worse than it was.  No one was hurt, including our neighbour, thank God.  This is what’s left of the snowmobile:

mcphersonsnowmobile

And then I woke up this morning to a text from a friend:  “Just so u know our garage collapsed tonight.  We r all a little traumatized but otherwise we r fine.  We cannot return home until they say the rest of the house is structurally sound…” This is how the garage looks today:

luhowygarage

I think it was the weight of the snow that caused the garage to collapse.  As you can see from the picture, there’s a large amount of snow on top of it.  (Have I ever mentioned how much I hate winter and snow?!)  My friend told me they heard a big crack and then a crash.  It was the loudest sound she’s ever heard.  They all ran because they thought it came from the young son’s room, which is to the right of the garage (in this picture).  His room window is the one with the debris piled in front of it.  Again, our friends were so incredibly fortunate that no one was hurt.  If anyone had been near the garage, it would have been another story.  And if part of the house had gone down with the garage, it would have been the son’s room.  He was in bed at the time.  I shudder to think of the outcome of that.   Thankfully they’ve gotten the news that the rest of the house is structurally sound and they can return.  Add these repairs to the list of things to do as they are in the middle of moving and trying to sell their house.

To those guardian angels up there who made sure three families were not harmed yesterday when these accidents happened, thank you.

A LOT Preoccupied…

A few weeks ago I self-published a children’s book.  It’s called The Duck Who Lost Her Quack, and it’s available at blurb.ca and blurb.com if you want to have a look. (http://www.blurb.ca/search/site_search?search=shannon+mercer)  Anyway, it’s been an exciting few weeks here.  I got my first shipment last Monday, of big books, and I was thoroughly impressed.  For a control freak like me, it was incredibly difficult waiting to see them.  Horrible thoughts went through my head because, unlike me, the people putting these books together had absolutely nothing invested in how they looked.  Sure, it’s their job to put the books together.  But would they notice a text smudge here or there?  Would they notice a few pages that were discoloured?  Would they notice if a cover was a bit torn?  And, if they did, would they care?  I know, the rational person would understand that whatever they looked like was what they looked like, and there would be no way to fix it.  But that’s a rational person.  I’m not rational some of the time.  I’ve been overwhelmed by the support from family and friends who have ordered the book to acknowledge my creative endeavour, and to have something written by me on their bookshelves (because that’s kind of cool).  It’s been truly amazing.  Even two of my friends on Twitter, whom I’ve never met (but hope to someday), ordered books.  (Thanks Tammie and Barbara!!)  All that support made me even more anxious about how the book would turn out.  I didn’t want these wonderful people in my life to spend money on something that looked anything but fantastic.  I would be upset if they looked bad and it was just me who ordered some for my little family, but it would be more than heartbreaking if they looked bad and others were affected.  All that worrying was unnecessary though, because they looked fantastic.

zoeybook

And then there was my second shipment of smaller books to wait for.  I was really impatient when waiting for these because I had another order of 22 smaller books to make, which I wanted to do as soon as I could, but I didn’t want to order 22 more if there was a problem with these ones.  I needed to do an inspection.  My impatience showed on Friday morning when, after receiving the confirmation email that they were at the post office, I rushed there and told the employee I would wait for her to sort the mail (it was that early and they’d just opened) because I had an important package.  I’m sure she was thinking, What’s with this woman?, but she was very kind and accommodating.  And then when I told her I had written a children’s book and this was a shipment of some, she asked to see one.  She said she owns the tea shop in town and would like to get some work by local authors in to sell.  “Local authors”?!  Me??!  First, how lucky is that??!  Second, I immediately felt the need to explain that I had self-published the book:  “Oh, well, I just self-published these…so…they’re not really ‘published’…”  I have been doing a lot of that lately.  I don’t want people to think that I think I’m a “writer” now, because literally anyone can use this particular website and self-publish a book.  I didn’t do all the work involved in “actually” getting a book published (getting an agent, contacting publishing companies, sending out manuscripts, getting accepted by a publisher), and so I feel the need to downplay it.  Despite that, a friend of mine at work – at the radio station – has asked to do an interview with me on his morning show this week (FM 94.5 The Bull).  Again, I feel a little odd about it, but I also feel honoured that he’d even consider doing an interview with me about my book.  I am also appreciative that he’s giving me some publicity, so that others – besides my friends and family who know about it because I’ve posted it on Facebook – can have my book in their homes to enjoy.  And I am proud of accomplishing a goal, and of following my bliss.  Oh, and the small book order was perfect.  What a relief.

smallbook