Life, the Universe and Everything

I have been on a Fredrick Backman kick this year, reading A Man Called Ove and Britt-Marie Was Here and Beartown more or less in succession. Have you read any of his books? They’re quirky and warm and poignant and thoughtful – and did I mention quirky? Not to mention occasionally laugh-out-loud funny and frequently delightful.

This summer, I started reading another book by Bachman out loud to Tristan and Simon. My Grandmother Sends Her Regrets and Apologizes is a quirky and whimsical book that features a mythical beast called a wurse that has a love for a Swedish chocolate bar called Daim. So when I happened to be in IKEA the other day (seriously, when am I not in IKEA?) and saw bags of mini-Daim bars for sale, I picked one up to entertain the boys.

DaniGirl is addicted to Daim bars Oh my goodness. Seriously? No wonder the wurse loves them. Best! Bar! Ever!

They’re a little bit like Skor bars, but there’s something about the bite-size format that makes them so much better. I watched Simon’s eyes bug out in appreciation when he first tried one. They’re so addictive that I might have gone back and bought a second one-pound bag to hide in the back of the cupboard. And, erm, maybe a third for my office.

Seriously, I don’t even like sweets that much. I’m a salty chips sort of girl!

Have you tried Daim bars? If so, what do you think? (And if not, get yourself to IKEA, stat!) And if you haven’t read any of Fredrick Backman’s books, you’d better get on that, too. They’d be perfect to read with a cup of coffee and a big bag of Daim bars.


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Once upon a time, whenever something of significance happened in my life, I made sense of it by blogging about it. Though I don’t blog as regularly or as intimately as I used to, I still feel the need to share a seismic shift in our lives, but each time I start to write, I falter. I don’t even know where to start.

My dad died on Saturday morning. If you’ve been around for a while, you know that he had been sick on and off through the years. He had a liver transplant when I was pregnant with Tristan, but in the end it was heart and kidney failure that took him. He went into the hospital in June for a fairly routine concern and was diagnosed with congestive heart failure; he never really recovered. We were graced with a full summer to say goodbye, and for that I am deeply grateful. He died in his sleep at home in the early hours of Saturday, at peace in his own bed and with his family nearby.

My dad and I spent quite a few hours together in the past few weeks. Though he was mostly confined to his bed, we figured out that if we were careful navigating the stairs, we could get him into my car for a little change of scenery by driving the back country roads around Barrhaven. I’ll be forever grateful for those quiet moments we spent together.

Quite a few years ago now, I wrote a post for my Dad’s 65th birthday that says a lot of what I’d like to say today. And last year, I wrote this post for my parents’ 50th (!!) wedding anniversary. Threaded through the years of blog posts in the archives, you’ll find dozens of stories and vignettes and photos featuring him, because he has always been a huge part of my life.

My mom and I wrote an obituary that ended up being way too long to publish, but I thought I’d share it here. I can’t come up with anything close to eloquent today, but with this and what’s already in the archives, I don’t need to.

With sadness in our hearts, we share the news that Lou Donders has passed away. Lou was born in May 1944 in Dusseldorf, Germany, the only son of Katie and Harry Donders. The family moved to London, Ontario when Lou was a boy after spending a few years in Tilburg, Holland. It was at Catholic Central High School in London that he met the love of his life, Frances (nee Conlin). Lou and Fran were married in 1966 and had a long and happy marriage filled with love and laughter. They moved to Ottawa to be closer to family when their first grandson was born.

As a six year old boy in Tilburg, Lou formed a boy’s marching band which is still performing to this day. At 16, Lou began teaching drums and later became a professional musician, playing all types of music including symphony. He had a quick, dry wit and a curious mind. Lou, who became affectionately known as Papa Lou to his five grandchildren, leaves behind his wife Fran, his daughter Danielle (Mark), his son Sean (Natalie) and his grandchildren Tristan, Simon, Noah, Brooke and Lucas. He will be remembered by countless friends in London and Ottawa. Although there will be no service, whenever you see a dog happily wagging its tail, full of the joy of life, we invite you celebrate Lou’s life with fond memories of a life well lived.


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It’s a weeknight and Beloved is working late, which almost never happens. I’m in charge of making school lunches, which happens as seldom as I’m able to get away with, and I realize that we have no home-baked snacks. Beloved, who is usually in charge of lunches, has taken to heart my preference that we reduce our processed food consumption as much as possible, and pretty much every day, the boys have some sort of home-baked snack in their lunches.

Except, Beloved is away and we are out of cookies. This is a confluence of events I could not have foreseen in my wildest nightmares, let alone foreseeing it in the Bearpaw aisle when I did the groceries earlier this week. This is my comeuppance for being the uppity family that doesn’t rely on Oreos and Pirate cookies anymore. We don’t buy that kind of snack food BUT WE’RE OUT OF COOKIES on my lunch duty day.

As I’m poking through the cupboards thinking of sending them with crunchy lentil surprise (SURPRISE!), I come across three audaciously freckled bananas. Just this past weekend, I threw away the 352 frozen freckled bananas that we have been keeping stashed in the freezer in case the banana bread fairy were to drop by and find herself impelled to bake a loaf or seventy. Huh, I think. I could make banana bread.

So you might have noticed earlier that I made reference to Beloved doing the baking. I don’t bake. I will admit that over the last five years or so, I’ve turned into a confident, creative cook of the sort I did not even know existed within me five years ago. But baking, with its reliance on measuring and recipes and exactitude paying attention, has always eluded me. Beloved is a much better baker than I am. But it’s banana bread. How hard could it be? *insert ominous music here*

I find a decent recipe on Canadian Living, and run a comparison of the ingredient list to what we have in the pantry and we have a match. (Seriously, when did I become a person with a pantry sufficiently stocked that I can bake on a whim? Probably around the same time I became a person who bakes on a whim? Perhaps you might keep a watchful eye for other signs of the pending apocalypse.)

I’ve got the dry ingredients done when we develop a banana issue. Apparently three bananas fall far short of the required two cups. I look longingly at the now-empty banana hook, but additional ripe bananas fail to materialize. I figure the bananas are probably only adding flavour anyway, and I am not fond of an overly obnoxious banana taste, so I carry on with about 2/3 of the prescribed banana. In mixing the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, the additional purpose of the bananas becomes clear: my batter has the consistency of, um, not batter. Something drier than batter, more like the houseplant that you forgot behind the shutter for a year. I cast one more longing glance at the empty banana hook, and then start rooting through the fridge thinking of banana alternatives. More eggs or milk will mess with the structure too much. What else do we have?

Cream cheese? Great for mashed potatoes, not so much for banana bread. Spicy adobe peppers? I’d actually eat that, but the kids’ mouths would burst into flames. I’m reaching for the sour cream and have to move the apple sauce out of the way when I realize – APPLE SAUCE! Substituting one mashed-up fruit for another seems like a decently plausible idea, and it vastly improves the texture of the batter.

It sure LOOKS like banana bread.

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Beloved will be so surprised when he gets home from his meeting and he finds my first ever loaf of chocolate-chip banana bread a sink load of every dirty dish in the kitchen waiting for him!


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I mentioned in an earlier post that it’s been such a hectic autumn that I’ve dropped the ball on blogging pretty much entirely. Case in point? I wrote this in early October and clean forgot to publish it! So hey, here’s something really amazing that happened two months ago:

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We’ve been talking about getting another cat for so long that I can’t even remember when we started talking about it. Maybe a year or so? It was always idle chatter, but Beloved and the boys would visit the kitties available for adoption every time they went out to get cat food for Willie, and sometimes just for something to do. At one point in the late spring, I started poking through the Ottawa Humane Society’s list of cats up for adoption and then following a couple of local cat rescue groups on Facebook.

We had two cats and a dog once upon a time, and it never seemed like a lot more work than one dog and one cat. Willie’s a lovely boy, but he’s not much interested in people, aside from Tristan. He sleeps with Tristan, purrs when Tristan pets him, and pretty much seems to tolerate the rest of us. Except the dog. He really does not like the dog and has chosen to live downstairs in the boys’ bedrooms and the basement to avoid her. And possibly to avoid me, as I’m quite sure Willie can smell the fact that I’m a dog person at heart and holds it against me.

We knew we wanted a female cat, so Willie wouldn’t be too traumatized by the introduction of a stranger into the house. She had to be old enough to be able to deal with Bella’s exuberance, but young enough that Willie didn’t see her as too much of a threat. We figured four to eight months would be a good age. And she had to be people-oriented. The last thing we wanted was two anti-social cats living in the basement!

During the summer, I saw a post about a litter of kittens that had been born at a shelter and were looking for homes. Louisa was a dark tortie, Sophia was a dilute tortie, and Kurt was a buff tabby. Kurt was skittish and not interested in visiting with us at all, but Louisa was calm and Sophia was playful. The boys nicknamed them “Cuddler” and “Motorboat” for Sophia’s outrageously loud purr every time you touched her. As we drove home, though, I worried. The kittens at 12 or so weeks old were so little, and so delicate, and Bella likes to chase things. I think the main reason Willie chooses to stay downstairs is because Bella so badly wants to play with him. I worried all night about what might happen with such tiny kittens. In the end, I told the cat rescue owner that we simply weren’t comfortable taking the risk.

Weeks went by. The kids went back to school. I kept watching the cats and kittens available for adoption, skimming their biographies to see if they were young, but not too young, good with kids and dogs, and not too skittish. About six weeks after we went to visit them the first time, the cat rescue page posted that skittish Kurt had been adopted, but that Louisa and Sophia had been moved to a different foster and were still waiting to be adopted. They were no longer the fragile babies we had seen, but sleek adolescents. We reached out again, and found out that cuddler Louisa had been adopted that very day, but spunky Sophia was still waiting for her forever home. We couldn’t resist a second time, and she came home to live with us this week.

Say hi to Sophia. Erm, I mean, “Lucy”!

Hello Lucy

That face, though!

We needn’t have worried about integrating the dog with the new kitten. We blocked off the kitchen with baby gates to give Sophia/Lucy a safe place to have her food and litter and bed for the first little while, but she chose to creep around the house checking things out. It didn’t take long for them to come face to face.

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Bella was curious but reasonably calm, probably because the cat was reasonably calm as well. At one point, Bella got a little too in Lucy’s face and Lucy let out a giant hiss and spit that scared Bella so badly that she wouldn’t even look at the cat for the rest of the evening, and that was it. If Lucy thinks Bella is too close, she pulls the arched-back angry-cat pose and Bella runs away like she’s been poked with a cattle prod. We laughed until we had tears running down our faces at how quickly little Lucy showed Bella who was in charge.

It didn’t take long for this to happen in my lap.

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Bella still isn’t sure what to make of Lucy. She’ll go out of her way to walk the long way around her most of the time, and she hasn’t reacted when Lucy gets kitten-brain and charges across the room at her. We’re trying to go more slowly with Willie, but they’ve seen each other on opposite sides of a baby gate and Willie seemed more perplexed than alarmed.

***

So that was October. Shortly after I wrote (and promptly forgot to publish) this, Lucy realized that she could hide out downstairs with Willie and not have to deal with an idiotically exuberant dog that lurched at her playfully every time she saw her. The photos above were the last time Lucy lounged in the living room with us. We decided that we were not going to live in a house divided any longer, and after almost four years of keeping the dog out of the basement we removed the baby gate between the floors. Willie still only comes upstairs if Bella is in her crate, and while Bella stays more or less upstairs, when she does venture downstairs the cats hide under furniture and on high shelves. Lucy prefers to avoid the dog, but does come upstairs regularly if the dog is calm. We’re not exactly fully integrated, but I should have given the pets more credit and removed the gate years ago.

Just last night I was awoken by Lucy creeping around my pillow, her motorboat engine fully engaged. She’s not quite the lap cat I had hoped for (yet), but she’s a lovely girl who loves to be petted and have her belly scratched. She’s quirky and curious, and we’re all wondering what adventures await us when the Christmas tree makes its miraculous appearance in the living room next week. Stay tuned for more adventures with Lucy!


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It’s time to throw back the curtain on a fun new project the family has been working on through the summer! We’ve been selected as participants in IKEA’s Sustainable Living project. Through the project, IKEA invited ordinary Canadian families to use their products to live life in a more sustainable way. What does that mean? It means making simple changes to save energy, conserve water, reduce waste and recycle more, and make healthier lifestyle choices. Saving the planet and her people, one RYET lightbulb at time!

This project could not have come at a better time. As a family, we’ve been talking a lot lately about healthy choices, both for our bodies and for the environment. We’re also becoming more and more conscious about “stuff”: from product packaging to ethical sources to sustainability. In other words, we’re trying to be mindful of ourselves and our environment, in all the dozens of little choices we make every day.

And also, we love IKEA. Seriously. I’m sure more products in our house have come from IKEA than any other single retail outlet. There’s not a room in our house that isn’t tricked out with more than one IKEA piece, from a dresser I was given way back in 1989 (still going strong!) to our dining room chairs (bought from AS IS the month we got married in 1999, reupholstered twice over the years with fresh IKEA textiles and still used every single day) to a zillion lamps and shelves and storage baskets and decorative items to our freshly renovated SEKTION kitchen.

So working with IKEA on a sustainable living project was just about as perfect a fit for us as I could imagine. Plus, I love any adventure that starts with a shopping trip.

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That’s me with my new BFFs from the IKEA Ottawa store. :)

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Our project has been focusing on three key areas: save energy (and $$$!), conserve water, and make healthier lifestyle choices. To that end, we’ve used IKEA products to make a handful of small but meaningful changes. We’ve switched our lightbulbs to energy-saving LED bulbs (did you know LED bulbs use 85% less energy than incandescent bulbs, and last up to 20 years?) and picked up a new cozy rug for the living room, a throw blanket and a warmer duvet so we can turn the temperature down an extra degree in winter. We’ve started using water decanters to keep in the fridge so we don’t waste water running the tap to get cold water – to say nothing of avoiding plastic disposable water bottles. And we’ve been using re-usable food containers to store leftovers and bring healthier lunches. These are just a few of the ideas and inspiration we’ve gotten through this project.

Want to know more, including one small change that will save us more than $100 each year on our hydro bill? Check out our project feed on the IKEA Canada Sustainable Living site. Some of the other participants have also been posting excellent tips for making better choices for people and the planet. My 10-minute update of our threadbare sofa cushions was inspired by, but not officially a part of, the sustainability project as well.

Disclosure: This is not a sponsored post, and writing about the project on this blog was not a condition of our participation in the project. In fact, I’m not sure IKEA knew I had a blog when we were selected to be participants.


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We’ve been meaning to do something about the sofa for quite some time now. Funny, not too long ago I came across the blog post I wrote in 2008 when we bought it. It’s been a great couch – oversized and slouchy, with plenty of room and plenty of tolerance for being at the hub of a busy life full of boys, dogs, cats, visitors, and a lot of spilled coffee.

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While it’s a comfy couch, it’s starting to look more than a little bedraggled. How did I let the pillows get to this state of threadbaseness? Life is busy, yanno?

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Also, I have to admit that the green and red colour scheme has worn almost as thin as the pillows. Since the first year we came back from PEI, I’ve had in my head that I’d like a “sand and sea” colour scheme in the living room. There’s no room for geometric green and red in my sand and sea vision.

A new sofa is simply not in the budget for now, though. As long as the existing one (and its durable chair-and-a-half companion piece, not shown) continue to do their jobs of keeping our collective toushies off the floor and are not visibly leaking stuffing or aggressively poking us with springs, we’ll tolerate the barely noticeable central sag in the frame.

We’ve been spending a LOT of time in IKEA this summer for a fun new project which will be announced anon. Part of that project was the rolling out of a beautiful new MARSLEV rug which DID match my vision of a sand and sea colour scheme, but which definitely did NOT match with the red and green cushions. You can see it peeking out under the “before” picture above. A new couch was not part of the project, nor were cushion covers. However, when I was perusing the Ikea website and saw not only that they had cushion covers that would fit both the large back cushions and the smaller cushions, and that they had them in colours that were within the realm of sand and sea AND harmonized with the new MARSLEV rug, I could not resist.

Originally, we were going to replace the red and keep the green to harmonize with the new blue cushions, but it was altogether a bit too cool. Instead, we kept the red for a bit of a PEI sandstone flavour, and covered the large green back cushions with a pair of deep turquoise SANELA cushion covers. We also covered the embarrassingly raggedy smaller throws with a pair of light blue SANELA covers, and kept a hint of green and beige with a contrasting OTTIL cover on the third one.

Whenever dealing with IKEA projects, I build potential exasperation with non-standard measurements into the plan. However, to my delight, each pillow fit snugly and exactly into the cushion covers. They were snug enough that I had to work to get them in, but that tautness makes the pillows look fresh and full.

Voilà, a brand new sand and sea colour scheme (and an end to those awful, threadbare cushions!)

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Total project cost: $62 in cushion covers, 10 minutes of effort. I’m so thrilled with the results! We’re now well on our way to that sand and sea colour scheme, AND we’ve averted the need to even consider browsing for new living room furniture for at least a year or so. That’s a huge double win in my books!

To my delight (and, let’s be honest, surprise) the colours pick up beautifully on the re-upholstered IKEA dining room chairs that I fixed up the last time I was feeling crafty. (Hey, I’m half Scottish and half Dutch; if I can extend the life of an existing piece rather than dump it in the landfill and buy more stuff, I’ll do that every single time!)

Stay tuned and I’ll tell you all about my new IKEA project soon!

(By the way, this was not in any way a sponsored post. I have been working with IKEA, but it was simply proximity to their products – and a lifelong love of IKEA – that inspired this instant-renovation.)


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Kitchen renovation phase two: Destruction and chaos

7 May 2016 Happy @ home

We’ve arrived at the end of the first week of the great kitchen renovation project with sanity (barely) intact. In case you were wondering, it takes about a full week to adapt to the idea of not having a kitchen, and apparently longer to the idea of not having a sink, because I still catch […]

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Kitchen remodel phase one: In which the schedule gets accelerated

2 May 2016 Happy @ home

We’d just paid the deposit and signed the contract on our kitchen renovation, with work scheduled to begin in late May, when the contractor sent me an email. “We’ve had an opening and our next client wants to delay construction until June. How do you feel about starting on Monday?” Um, Monday? Five days hence […]

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Happy 50th Wedding Anniversary to Granny and Papa Lou

19 February 2016 It IS all about me

As it goes, 1966 was a pretty interesting year. The first episodes of Star Trek and Batman aired on TV, and the Oscar for Best Picture went to The Sound of Music. Truman Capote published In Cold Blood, the US Food and Drug Administration declared “the Pill” safe for contraceptive use, NASA launched Lunar Orbiter […]

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A non-tech mom’s guide to Google Cardboard and VR (Part two : Mind = blown)

29 December 2015 Life, the Universe and Everything

Last we saw our heroine, she had braved the wilds of Google and Amazon, wandered the badlands of “available to US residents only”, faced down the demons of bleeding-edge technology and come out victorious brandishing a View-Master VR viewer for Google Cardboard. (Read part one of this post here.) I’d been reading about Coardboard and […]

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