The Importance of One on One

Hiking at Moraine Lake

In many of the parenting articles I have read over the years they have often suggested that as the number of children in your family increased that you should make time to spend with each child one on one. Give them each a bit of time with just you and them, and with each parent individually. Yet as the number of children in the household increases the amount of ‘leisure time’ seems to decrease comparatively as there are more activities, more friends to play with and more things to do in general, like cleaning and laundry!

Where do you find the time exactly? The thing I have learned and been gently reminded of, is that kids don’t need large blocks of time or need to do fancy and exciting things during with you. They just want some time with you, it doesn’t matter to them how long or what you are doing; just that you spend time with them. Of course there are times when they would like to do something a little more involved and exciting (like laser tag, dinner or a movie), but they don’t always need that kind of activity with you on a regular basis. Your one on one focused attention is what they desire.

A prime example of this for me was this past Saturday. I had to take Matthew, my oldest, to pick out his frames and order his glasses. Our optometrist is up in Signal Hill, which is northwest Calgary and a bit of a drive for us. I had the opportunity to do this with just Matthew as D’Wayne had offered to watch the twins while we went.

Luke and Mom

Matthew was super excited to go. I had asked him to shower before we left, washing his hair and even suggested he dress up. He not only did as I asked but combed and parted his hair and put on a shirt and tie! He was bouncing and excited in the car as we drove to the optometrist, his eyes sparkling and chatting about this and that. It is not often that we get to go somewhere and have an uninterupted conversation, as usually the twins are chiming in or have something of their own to say.

He noticed and mentioned how I had showered and put on make-up and I responded, “Well if you’re dressing up then I should too.” He just smiled. Once we got to the optometrist we were literally only there for 10 minutes, as Matthew already knew which frames he wanted and it was just the details to sort out. I was kind of disappointed knowing that our time was so short. That’s when I decided we’d stop at Community Natural Foods on the way home. So we popped over there picking up a ‘few things’ (I had intended on only getting some vegan cream cheese but ended up with a few more items, especially with Matthew picking things up and asking to buy them. And honestly in that store he is asking for dried mangos and cheese, not chocolate bars and candy, very hard to say no).

Even this time in the Community Natural was fun, bonding and a way to continue to get to know each other. Yes he did ask me for many things, of which some I said yes and others no, but it was great. We laughed, we enjoyed.

Chloe and Mom

As I was driving home I realized then that the time I spend with him one on one does not always have to be fancy, simply focused and interactive. I have always made the effort to spend time with just him, either taking him to a movie, going for a walk or playing a board game at home once the twins are in bed. But I realized in that moment that whether it be a trip to the optometrist or a little grocery shopping as long as it’s him and me that was all that mattered. And if I could give him more moments like this, even at home, if only small, that that would make such a difference in our relationship. As I have even noticed that although sometimes I have to fight with him to come and dry the dishes, that once he is there, he is quite chatty and happy and we have some great conversations and connection happening.

I feel as parents yes it is important that we spend one on one time with each of our children but that we need to give ourselves a break and realize that it doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive, just a happy and enjoyable few moments (or more when possible) where we can connect with each other, and remember who we are to each other and in this world. To listen and recognize the beauty in our children and the great gifts that they bring to our world, as well as to share who we are and our wisdom with them. That is connection, that is bonding and that is something we don’t always achieve with all the kids together at once. It is not only rewarding for the child, but will be extremely rewarding for you as well.

Matthew and Mom

Yummy Easy Vegan Treats (with chocolate!)

I love shopping at Community Natural Foods, a local organic and natural food store. Not only do they have a wide variety of products available and good prices, they often have someone there sampling yummy recipes. Not only do they provide the samples for you but they also have the recipe printed out and ready for you to take a copy!

Not only are the recipes delicious they are good for you, often a vegan recipe with natural sweeteners and usually a little pinch of some kind of superfood in there. This is where I have gotten the Cinnamon Salted Caramel Brownie recipe that I made and shared with all my friends in Kananaskis last January – which everyone loved and would never have known that it was no dairy, no sugar unless I had told them. So I was quite excited when I went in on Saturday and discovered 2 yummy recipes to try.

I was so excited I came right home and made them both, even having to run back out to the store to grab a missing ingredient. Fairly quick and easy they both turned out fabulously! I even shared a sample with a couple of my neighbors who quickly asked for the recipe.

I love it when I find good recipes like this as I think that a lot of people feel that eating healthy means more fruits and vegetables and that you have to give up a lot of the sweet treats, which just isn’t true. You can find many, if not even more delicious in some cases, treats that not only satisfy your ‘treat fix’ but provide many essential vitamins and nutrients that our bodies need. It’s great, have a sweet and it’s actually healthy and beneficial for you!

No Bake Chocolate Macaroons

1 banana

1/4 c. coconut oil

1/4 c. pure maple syrup

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

6 tbsp. cacao powder

1.5 c unsweetened coconut

1 tbsp. chia seeds

small pinch sea salt

In a medium size bowl mash banana well until there are no clumps. Stir in melted coconut oil, maple syrup and vanilla. Sift cacao powder and stir into banana mixture. Stir in chia seeds, coconut and salt.

Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Drop a teaspoon at a time onto parchment paper. Put in freezer for 20 minutes or until firm. Store in freezer until ready to enjoy.

Makes approx 15 macaroons.

Almond Butter Rice Crispy Treats

1/2 c. chunky almond butter

1/2 c. brown rice syrup

1 tbsp. vanilla

1 tbsp. Earth Balance

1/2 tsp. sea salt

3.5 c Erewhon Brown Rice Crisp cereal

Chocolate Drizzle

1/4 c. homemade raw organic chocolate, left in liquid form

1 tbsp. almond butter

pinch salt

Shredded coconut for garnish

Line an 8×8 inch square pan with parchment paper.

In a large pot put in brown rice syrup, Earth Balance, almond butter and salt. Melt over medium low heat until well combined and heated through. Remove from heat, stir in vanilla; then stir in brown rice cereal.

Scoop and spread evenly into 8×8 pan. Press down with finger or roll with a pastry roller (just a note about the pastry roller – I had never thought of using this before and seriously it is the cat’s meow. Way easier then trying to press it into the pan with your fingers and makes it flatter and smoother). Place in freezer for 5 minutes while you make chocolate glaze.

Make raw organic chocolate according to recipe (cacao butter, vanilla, natural sweetener and cacao powder – for full recipe and directions go here). Stir in almond butter and salt.

Remove pan from freezer and drizzle with chocolate. Sprinkle with coconut and place in freezer until firm – about 15 minutes. Slice into squares.

Bars will hold their shape quite well at room temperature but may be stored in freezer or fridge.

 

 

Wintery Fun in Kananaskis

Today the kids and I spent the afternoon in Kananaskis, having been invited by our neighbors to join them for quading, a campfire, food and fun. It was a wonderful afternoon with certainly no shortage of food, laughs and friendship.

The kids got a chance to go out on the Razor, Matthew usually riding in the front passenger seat and Luke and Chloe being pulled along in the toboggan on the back. Luke, being the trooper that he is, was the first to try it out.  Hopping into the toboggan with no worries, totally trusting that he would be safe and wanting to find out what it was all about. Chloe being less sure refused the first time, but was then upset when Luke set off without her.

Luke on his toboggan ride

Riding with the neighbor Mr. Koop, Luke simply enjoyed the ride, taking it all in. As they were riding Mr. Koop would ask Luke if he was having fun and Luke would just nod. He would later ask if he wanted to ride some more and Luke would nod again. That’s my boy, he just sits and observes, but it doesn’t mean that he is not having a good time, he is just quietly enjoying it.

While others in our group took their turns on the Razor/ toboggan we cozied up around a campfire in the trees, having hot chocolate, brownies and roasting hot dogs. Everyone brought something and shared, there was plenty to go around. Now for us it’s a bit challenging to share foods with our requirements of no dairy and no sugar. But I was prepared and  brought our own hot chocolate, made with almond milk and sweetened with maple syrup, a little mesquite and lucuma powder; as well as cinnamon salted caramel brownies. This recipe, (sugar free, dairy free and gluten free), I discovered while shopping at Community Natural Foods earlier in the week. They are sooo good!

Chloe enjoying her hot chocolate

I managed to whip up a batch before we headed out so that the kids would have something to enjoy. Cause like I said sharing can be challenging, not for us to share with others, but for others to share with us. Everyone was fascinated by the brownies and many had a taste. Sheila commented that she would never know they had no sugar in them if I had not told her (and thought they were delicious).

Matthew was a bit frustrated by the amount of things that were there that he could not have, while the twins didn’t know the difference. But it challenged Matthew to branch out a little; he tried roasting grapes over the fire and seeing what it was like. He said they were not bad. It also demonstrated how much of our food has sugar in it – which I pointed out to Matthew. So many of our convenience foods and foods we choose to bring to gatherings contain sugar! Many of these things, like baked beans or chocolate cake I can make with natural alternatives, but they also take time and I am not always able to pull these things together if we get invited on short notice.

Roasting grapes

Overall though Matthew survived and though he felt a bit slighted and a little upset with me, he had a great afternoon. He got 3 rides on the Razor and even Chloe eventually got on. Chloe, Luke and I took a turn together in the toboggan and had a great time. We did flip over at one point and tumbled out, but we got back in and enjoyed the ride. Luke and Chloe screamed in delight and we returned to our site with rosy cheeks and covered in snow. (Now just so you know Conroy was driving very slowly with the little ones in the back but it was just the right speed for me and enjoyable and safe for the twins) Even though there were moments where Chloe was a bit concerned, if you asked her if she had fun, her eyes glowed and she nodded adamantly.

It was so great to get out for the afternoon and enjoy the winter snow. It’s amazing that we have hardly any snow in Calgary but to drive half an hour down the road into Kananaskis there is tons! It was a beautiful mild winter day with gently falling snowflakes that came off and on. We totally skipped Luke and Chloe’s afternoon nap to go and I left the house in a mess and came home to the same mess, but sometimes you have to do those things in order to enjoy life. I am a big believer in routine and rarely deter from it (in fact some people call me militant), but sometimes you need that change, that spontaneity.Yeah I had to clean up when I got home, and supper was a little late, but I was able to handle it all calmly and cooly just doing what I needed to do. And because I had that break and that socialization it did not bother me at all that I still have to clean up a little or stay up a little later (yes there are still dishes awaiting me in the sink).

We went out and connected with nature, fed our spirits and just had fun! Which my goodness sometimes we just need to do in life. Leave the laundry, dishes, cleaning and go play! Enjoy this life and the time we have on this planet cause we are only here for a short time, might as well make it excellent!

Plus we created some wonderful memories for the kids (the kind that will be “Remember when we fell out of the sleigh…”, connections with others and some great pictures. (it’s unlikely that the same can be said for the laundry) Now who can put a price on that?

What adventures did you have this weekend? Leave a comment and share below

Gingerbread Cookies – A Holiday Favorite (& sugar free!)

sugar free gingerbread cookies

Gingerbread is a favorite and common Christmas recipe in most households during the holiday season. It’s fun to make, fun to decorate and of course delicious!

When we went sugar free I was unsure how to make sugar free gingerbread cookies, as it seemed silly to make and decorate them, then not eat them. I had found a website with sugar free recipes that offered an alternative but when I tried it though it was edible, it was not the same and I decided that I would not make it again. Matthew though really liked them, which I thought was interesting.

This past summer, I started using barley malt and coconut sugar more. Barley malt is a great substitute for molasses and coconut sugar for brown sugar. I made a delicious baked bean recipe when we went camping using the barley malt in place of the molasses, oh it was yummy!

Once I discovered these substitutions and that they worked well, I took a look at my original gingerbread recipe and realized that I now had the appropriate substitutions to adjust this recipe. I was very excited!

So I tried it out last week for the first time. I got out all my Christmas cookie cutters, which I have many, big and small and all different shapes. The kids love to use the cookie cutters and enjoy making the shapes. We made Santas, reindeer, angels and bells. Hollies and wreaths, snowmen and tin soldiers. Luke and Chloe were very excited and once we had them in the oven, asked to have the oven light on so they could see the cookies.

They did not eat much for lunch that day as they were waiting for cookies! (but I also used it an incentive to finish their lunch 🙂 They gobbled them up and of course wanted more, but after a few I said we would wait until later, as I actually had to bake the rest.

In adjusting the recipe I found that I would increase the spices a little, so though I have posted the recipe with the spice amounts as is, I would recommend increasing the ginger and maybe the cinnamon by 1/4 tsp. each, but it depends on your personal preference. I like my gingerbread cookies to be a bit more gingery than they turned out, though they were still very good.

We did not ice them this time around as we enjoyed them straight from the oven, but you could ice them with the recipe that I have included below. It is a basic sugar free icing recipe, which you can color using food coloring if you like. (Though food coloring is not good for us due to all the processing and effects it has on our body. You can buy natural food coloring in the store, I have seen it at Community Natural Foods here in Calgary, but you can also make your own. My sister has been experimenting with beets, spinach and other foods to color her icing for her cookies. More on that coming…)

Sugar Free Gingerbread Cookies

2 1/2 c. flour

sugar free gingerbread cookies1/2 c. shortening

1/2 c. coconut sugar

1/2 c. barley malt

1 egg, beaten

1 tsp. ginger or 1-2 drops Ginger essential oil

1/4 tsp. cinnamon or 1 drop Cinnamon Bark essential oil

1/8 tsp. cloves or 1-2 drops Clove Bud essential oil

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1 tbsp. hot water

1 tsp. vinegar

Sift flour, measure, resift. Cream shortening, blend in coconut sugar and add barley malt and beaten egg. Beat well. Mix spices with baking soda and blend until smooth with hot water and vinegar. Stir into creamed mixture. Add flour and mix.

Roll out dough on a well floured surface to 1/4″ thick. Dough may be quite sticky. Use cookie cutters to make desired shapes. Put on cookie sheet. Bake at 375 F for 10 minutes.

Cookies may be iced after fully cooled.

Simple Buttercream Icing 

1 c. Powdered Sugar Replacement (see recipe below)

1/2 c. Earth Balance Vegan Spread

1/2 c. Rice Milk or Almond Milk

Put all ingredients in a bowl and mix together until smooth. Proportions can be adjusted to make icing thicker or thinner as desired. Add food coloring if desired, ice cookies.

Sugar Free Powdered Sugar (replacement for regular icing sugar)

1 cup nonfat dry milk (for dairy free use powdered coconut milk)

1 cup cornstarch

2/3 cup Krisda Stevia for baking

Combine all the ingredients in a food processor or blender and whip until blended and powdered. Store in an airtight container.

This replacement can be used in any recipe calling for icing sugar.


The Easiest Birthday Cake Ever!

Darth Vader

When I was growing up my Mom would always make a shape cake for our birthday. My sisters and I loved it. We would pick the character we wanted and my Mom would turn it into a cake. We had everything from Strawberry Shortcake and Cinderella to Robin Hood and Darth Vader. It was amazing!

She would get my Dad to draw the picture for her to the size of the cake she wanted and then she would create the cake. We loved them so much that at 16 she had to ‘cut us off’; because even though they are super fun and look great when completed, they are a lot of work. My Mum was done.

Chloe’s 1st Birthday

But my sisters and I decided that we still wanted a shape cake for our birthdays, so we agreed to make each others (because we believe it is just wrong for you to have to make your own birthday cake).

This enthusiasm for shape cakes carried over when I had my kids and though my mother warned me not to start making shape cakes when they were small, I did anyway. Matthew’s first cake was a duck and Luke and Chloe’s teddy bears.

Matthew’s 5th Birthday

I’ve done everything from Spiderman and Pokemon to Raggedy Ann and Andy. I usually do the same thing my Mom did, let the kids choose what they want and then draw the pattern and make the cake. But sometimes I luck out and find a book with a pattern in it, or can get a pre-shaped cake pan – this makes it a lot easier. I enjoy making the cakes. I am so proud of myself when it is done and receive many compliments on my finished product. Even with our change to a sugar and dairy free household I am still able to do this for the kids.

This month Matthew celebrated his 9th birthday and he asked for a Grass Block cake, from the game Minecraft that he plays on the computer. This had to be the easiest cake I have ever made. I literally baked a chocolate square cake and put green icing on top. In fact, I was finishing the cake 20 minutes before his birthday party was about to start. And he was totally happy with it. Though I love doing the shape cakes for the kids, it was really nice to have something simple this year.

Grass Block from Minecraft

The cake was a hit! Yummy, moist and delicious. We had it with ice cream of course; we now buy Rice Dream for our ice cream, or make it ourselves in the ice cream maker (these are great dairy and sugar free alternatives for our ice cream fetishes).

Who says you have to feel denied all the things you are used to eating by eliminating sugar and dairy? And the kids who attended, they had no idea that it was sugar free, it was cake, it tasted good, so they ate it.

Raggedy Andy on Luke’s 2nd Birthday

It really is easy to get around having sugar and/ or dairy and still enjoy all the ‘treats’ that we our used to in our lives. Here is the recipe for the chocolate cake and the icing that I used. Though I did use green food coloring to color the icing (and they say that food coloring for kids is not good really either – that’s a whole other post 🙂 There is a brand of food coloring out there now that is made from the pigment of fruits and vegetables, so if you are looking for an alternative you can purchase it at a health food store. I have seen it here in Calgary at Community Natural Foods and Planet Organic. Whatever you choose, enjoy the cake recipe and icing too!

 

 

Chocolate Cake

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

2 teaspoons baking powder

¾ c. agave nectar

2 teaspoons vanilla

½ c. rice milk

½ c. Earth Balance, melted (vegan spread)

2 eggs

Preheat oven to 350 deg F (Gas mark 4 or 180 deg C). Grease a 9 inch (23 cm) cake tin. Mix flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, agave nectar and vanilla essence in a bowl. Melt Earth Balance at low heat and add to the dry ingredients. Also add milk and eggs. Mix everything together until smooth, either by hand or by using an electric mixer at slow speed.

Transfer to bake tin and bake at 350 degrees until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, approximately 35 to 45 minutes.

*recipe can easily be doubled to make a 9×13 cake or divided evenly into cupcake tins to make chocolate cupcakes

Pokemon

Coconut Buttercream Frosting

In a mixing bowl add:

1/4 cup + 2 tbsp coconut butter (Note: Coconut butter is NOT the same thing as coconut oil).

3/4 cup coconut cream**

1/2 cup + 1 tbsp honey

1.5 tsp vanilla

1/4 cup + 2 tbsp coconut flour, sifted

1/4 cup + 2 tbsp arrowroot powder

Optional: You can substitute Earth Balance soy-free Buttery Spread for some or all of the coconut cream. Add extra sifted coconut flour to thicken if necessary. Likewise, add extra coconut cream or Earth Balance to soften if necessary.

Mix with handheld mixer. You can easily add a drop of food coloring to this icing if you wish to create colored icing.

Makes enough icing for 12 cupcakes.