El Presidente

If there was one thing that I learned while studying at University, it was how to play cards.  Sure there were the crazy euchre tournaments and people begging you to be their partner, but there was absolutely nothing that was as much fun as President.  Hands down, best card game ever.  The great thing about it is that you can play with many people as long as you have enough decks of cards.

I introduced this game to our family while we were vacationing at the cottage.  There was our family and two of the extended families with us.  We were trying to figure out a card game that everyone could play.  Old and young.  It had to be something that everyone could get a chance to win.  Then it hit me.  I asked Wiseguy to go and bring out two decks of cards.  I told our clan that we would play a really fun game and it wouldn’t take long to learn it.  We started with 8 people.  We needed one deck of cards for every four players.  I figured that if the eight of us had fun then the others would join.  We played, we laughed…hook, line, sinker.  Bring out another deck of cards.

I will try to summarize the rules and gameplay for you:

The goal is to become President.  You become president by getting rid of all your cards first.  There is also a vice president, a secretary, and the lowly joker.  Anyone can deal the deck of cards first as everyone begins as a neutral person.  You deal the whole deck (jokers included as they are very, very lucky cards).  Now, the best way to sort all your cards is to put them highest to lowest and put pairs and triplets together.  Example:  Joker would be highest, then any deuces (twos are bonus cards as well).  Next would be Aces, Kings, Queens, Jacks, 10s, 9s, and so on down the line.  The three of spades starts to the game so whoever has that card must play it.  The game continues clockwise from there. 

Important:  if one card is laid then the next person can only play one higher card (not two or more).  If doubles are played, then it continues all around as doubles.  So, if one 3 is played then one 4 or higher can be played.  If two 5s were played then two 6s or higher can be played.

Super important regarding the bonus cards:  The wonderful Joker cards can beat anything…a single card or a stack of 5 of a kind.  BAM!  wins it!  The deuces, a little bit to remember.  One 2 will beat a single card or a double card.  If there is 3 of a kind put down you need two 2s.  Four of a kind, you need four 2s.

So, round and round you go until someone slams down that last card and calls PRESIDENT!  The next person who goes out is the Vice President, the next, secretary, and last is the Joker (fondly called Loser, but I prefer Joker when children are playing).

Next:  the Joker is now in charge of shuffling and dealing the cards (deal goes clockwise again).  The President gives his two lowest cards to the Joker and the Joker gives two highest cards to the President.  The Vice President gives his one lowest card to the Secretary and the Secretary gives the highest card to the Vice President.  Now, when you have 6 or more people playing it gets quite interesting.  There are only the 4 main positions.  All others that are playing keep all their cards.  No need to swap so you never know who has the Joker cards or the deuces. 

What is SO great about this game?  Anyone can win.  I remember my eight-year old niece just cleaning up.  She went from Joker to President in one turn.  The giggles and laughter were priceless.  This is definitely a unifying game.  That anticipation of dropping the last card is such an adrenaline rush.

We still play this game.  I introduced this game to The Baker and The Artist at Christmastime.  When we get together we still love to gather around the table play President and nosh on snacks while we giggle and laugh and taunt each other.  Good loving times.

The next time you have a large group of people together and just need a quick pick me up, whip out that deck of cards (or two or three or four) and declare a Presidency war.

Let me entertain you

Going to the movies as a kid was something that I dreamt of doing.  My parents weren’t movie goers.  Why go to the movies when we had a fine black and white television set that worked just fine?  I tried to explain the excitement of seeing a picture on the big screen.  They informed me that they had gone to the movies once.  It was too long to sit through on uncomfortable seats.  It was a double feature.  It was The Ten Commandments.  Honest, I can’t make this stuff up.

The first movie I got to see was “Grease”.  I was nine years old.  The music was good, but I didn’t really understand the whole boy/girl drama.  The theatre was packed so the only seats left were the very front row.  My neck hurt afterward and the sight of seeing such big heads on-screen made it difficult for me to walk among the normal headed people after the movie.  Did I complain to my parents about it?  Heck no.  That would mean no more movie going.

Over the years I had gone to the movies regularly.  When I started attending University I met new friends.  They talked about driving into downtown Toronto to see live shows.  They loved the show.  They would make a whole evening of it.  They would get all dressed up.  They would start with dinner at a restaurant and then the show afterward.  The theatre, where real live people were on a stage performing.  I had always wondered what it would be like to go to one of the shows.  I do recall the price was really high and my meager student budget didn’t have room for this luxury.  So, I lived vicariously through my friends as they told me about the shows they saw.

One day my sister-in-law called and asked if we wanted to see Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.  I looked at Wiseguy with those pleading “just this one time” eyes.  (Note:  Wiseguy and I have never even been to a movie theatre together.  He is very tall and is long leggedy and you just can’t curl up those legs to sit comfortably in the narrow aisles.)   Those older theatres don’t have much leg room either, but those pleading eyes of mine did the trick.  Either that or I just looked soooo pathetic that he didn’t want to have to deal with me skulking around if he said no.  So, off to the theatre!

We dressed up.  We went out for dinner.  We went to the theatre!  I was bursting with excitement.  I was like a kid going to the amusement park for the first time.  I kept whipping my head around to drink in my surroundings.  The outside of the building was brick.  The inside was dark cherry wood with red velvety seats.  Large red curtains bracketed the stage.  There were balconies, just like in the movies…you know, like Pretty Woman when she goes to the opera.  Yes, I was over excited and overwhelmed and beyond happy to be there.  Then, the little ding ding, to tell everyone to have a seat as the show was about the begin.  I held my breath with anticipation.

The singing was so intense that I had goosebumps.  The costumes were vibrant.  The dancers were remarkable.  Even better, Donny Osmond, my childhood crush, was Joseph.  Awesome!  It was Beautiful!  It was Amazing!  Now I totally understood why my friends loved going to the theatre.  Such a different experience from the movie theatre.

Last year I got a pamphlet from our local performing arts centre.  They had an early bird special for a 5 show package.  I wanted to go.  I had to go.  I decided that it was time for me to treat myself.  Interestingly enough, the price for the tickets was quite reasonable.  About $53.00 a show.  Not bad, considering that movie theatre tickets with popcorn and drink comes out to almost $30.00.  Wiseguy didn’t want to sit in a squishy seating place, but he told me to go for it and enjoy.  Even better, he would drive me to and from each show.  Win win for me!  So I got to see Cats and Riverdance and My Fair Lady and Mama Mia.  One more show to go:  Young Frankenstein.  I am hooked on musicals!  I loved every show.  I even got first balcony seating to fulfill that dream as well.

My bucket list has quite a mish-mash of dreams and wishes.  Some days I add to the list.  Some days, I am very happy to be able to scratch some things off my list.

List Item:  go to fancy old theatre and enjoy the live show

And I called him…Fernando

Being the main chef in the house, I try to ensure that we eat healthy.  I try to incorporate all the food groups:  meat and potatoes.  Well, that is the Wiseguy version of the food groups.  His food group triangle is more of a dosey-doe with carbs and proteins living happily ever after.

I have never been good at reading food labels.  I had no idea what all the percentages meant.  I decided that it was time to shed my winter weight and find my summer me.  That involved finding a diet that would work for me.  In my mind, the word diet always brought to mind the cartoon cat Garfield, as his saying was “Diet is Die with a T”.  Yes, that is how every diet felt.  I would start off great!  Low carbs, working out at least 30 minutes a day, cut back on cheese (waaaah…I LOVE my cheeses), watching my calorie intake.  That was the part I really disliked.  In the past, cutting back too much made me feel so mean because thin people were eating all the foods I loved…pizza, wings, french fries, just to name a few.  After a couple of weeks the cheating would begin.  Yes, I was really cheating on myself and my health, but that didn’t matter.  I was justifying having that extra slice of pizza because I would work it off the next day.  NOT!  And once I fell off the wagon…too late.  I was trampled and dead by all those yummy foods that I decided to just give up.

Next, I went to my local library (yes, I have a library card and at a later date, we shall discuss the amazing benefits of libraries), I signed out at least 8 different diet books.  From the greatly touted Southwest diet to the Skinny Bs diet, to the Mediterranean diet, to the Diabetic diet.  There was one diet book that intrigued me the most. I had flipped through most of them, but I actually took the time to read through this one book.  So impressed was I, that I bought the book.  The G.I. Diet.  At first I wondered what my childhood doll G.I. Joe had to do with a diet, but G.I. stood for glycemic index.  What is that?

Simple…sugar.  Basically, that is what it was about.  The books explains what foods give you that instant jolt of sugar (that leaves you craving more after about 30 minutes) and what foods actually give you sustenance so you don’t feel hungry.  Even more interesting was that you would eat about 6 times a day…almost every two hours.  To make it even easier, they colour coded columns of foods in simple red, yellow, green.  Avoid the red, easy on the yellow, chow down on green.  Cool.  KISS – keep it super simple.

Now add to that my invitation to join Fitness Pal.  The Baker had used it and said that it was amazing.  So she and The Wiz loaded the app on my antiquated iPhone.  You can use it on your computer as well.  That website and Calorie Counter were really an eye opener.  I never realized how many calories were in certain foods.  You type in the food and it shows you how many calories.  With Fitness Pal (this was my favourite challenge) you enter you workouts (be it bike riding or dog walking or zumba) and then you get extra calories that you can eat.  Yes!  Something that will actually let you eat more so you don’t feel deprived. 

Sounds strange, but oftentimes I picked ice cream over a full dinner meal.  I gave myself cheat days, or not.  Eating in moderation is all it really takes and adding exercise to it.  Exercise, (exorcise?) the demon in my life, is what I tell myself I have to do.  Sort of like taking icky cough medicine when you were younger.  To get better you had to do it. 

I know that everyone out there has their favourite way to deal with weight gain or inactivity, but for me personally, this worked.  (I lost 20 pounds in 45 days…yay me!)

My next challenge, which is not as easy, is to get myself and Wiseguy to eat our fruits.  My chef expertise managed to get vegetables into our suppertime menu, but our challenge has always been fruits. 

Neither of us is a fruit eater.  I watch FIL (father in law) eat grapes and apples and bananas with glee and yet Wiseguy and I look at it as a poison chalice.  The thought of a smoothie, though it looks pretty and colourful when done, just doesn’t seem right.  In my mind, I have teeth and should use them to chew my food.  Better still, I really dislike having food caught in my teeth so I NEED to cut my fruit to avoid such agony.  Yes, I agree, I am a Drama Queen about this fruit problem, but I figure at least an ingenious excuse is a good one.

I am back on track now, especially with summer coming.  I have stocked my crisper drawer with delicious (that is their name) apples, granny smith apples, bosc pears, green seedless grapes, blueberries, strawberries, and ripe navel oranges. 

After making Wiseguy’s sandwiches for lunch tomorrow with chicken breast on whole wheat bread, I decided to try and add a lovely round fruit to his lunch mix.  Usually his fruit of choice is an apple because it can last over a week in his lunch box going on his “excellent adventures”.  After the trip is over, said apple comes back to me to either commit suicide in our green bin or to become a gang member in apple streudel or apple pie.  For tomorrow, I have decided to try something new on Wiseguy.  He picked an orange.  Nice, lovely, round, and orangey orange.  Should make a lovely snack for tomorrow.

I looked at that poor nameless orange and thought of all the distance it would be traveling.  Wiseguy is a truck driver and many miles and kilometers are covered in his treks.  I looked at the California orange and thought about how unfair it would be for another long journey across Ontario instead of the United States.  So, I did something that might not seem fair…I named the orange.  Heloooo Fernando.  Enjoy your trek  buddy.  Good luck!  Hopefully, Wiseguy will pity you on your lonely journey and condemn you to death.  Death by healthy eating decree!  Wiseguy…welcome to vitamin C !   (P.S. I actually used a food grade marker and wrote Fernando on the orange.  Perhaps the desire to tell people of “How I Ate Fernando” will inspire Wiseguy.)

Dance like no one’s watching

I watch little Kennie dancing to music and can’t help but laugh.  It’s too cute!  It’s funny!  No matter how much WE laugh she keeps right on creating her own dance moves.  There is arm swinging and some jumping and quickie deep knee bends.  Then there is the stick out your butt move and the rhythmic clapping.   Not to mention the swaying and the laying down and getting back up.  Yup, we laugh.  Really good belly laughs.  Does this make her stop doing what she’s doing or make her run away?  Heavens no!  She is there to dance and have a great time.  Who cares what anyone else thinks?

When did everyone else’s opinion become the most important to us?  When did we forget that we have to love ourselves first.  We are who we are and by loving ourselves we can only shine brighter in anything we do.

I am constantly saying that I can’t draw.  I look at the pictures and sketches that The Artist draws and I am amazed.  I would LOVE to be able to quickly jot down lines and make a beautiful finished product.  I recall my early early sketches.  Drawing family was always the best.  You remember, the stick people wearing pants and skirts.  The curly hair.  There was always a big round sun and birds…well, more like Ms flying around, but we knew they were birds.  And we could draw a million pictures a day and they were ALL the best.  Not one was bad.  All the people in the picture were smiling too.  Yes, everyone was happy and my picture showed it.  When did my drawings go from “Way to Go!” to “Oh No“?

Same thing with telling jokes or making music or singing loudly or boogie woogie dancing.  When we were little we could do anything and everything.  We were invincible!  School started and suddenly it seemed that we were “very good” at some things but at other things we “needed improvement”.  I am not saying the school system is bad or that parents mean to belittle their children.  It was all done to make sure that we would be protected.  Here is the concept:  they will show you your shortcomings so that you won’t embarass yourself and no one will laugh at you and this way you won’t have your feelings hurt.  It’s ok that they, the ones who love you, tell you that you aren’t good enough because they love you.  Makes sense right? 

It never really made sense to me.  What does it matter who actually says it as it will hurt your feelings no matter who says it.  That is, it will hurt you if you are constantly relying on others’ opinions of yourself.  What if we told children and friends and family only about all the good stuff.  Give them that daily boost.  Make them see how wonderful they are.   Think how much nicer our world would be if we consciously decided everyday that we were the best and we could do anything.  You would be happy all day!  

This year I decided that it was time to prove to myself (not anyone else) that I could do the things that I had been moulded into believing that I could not.  It started quite innocently when The Baker came over (thankfully) to help me bake goodies for my niece’s bridal shower.  It is tradition for family (and friends) to bring sweet treats and I was tempted to go to the local coffee shop and pre-order a whack of donut holes that I could stick with toothpicks on a foam pillar.  Yup, if nothing else, I would get bonus points for creativity.  The Baker jumped in and volunteered her time and baking expertise to make me look like a star.  We baked chocolate cupcakes.  We created yummy frostings (one cream cheese and one peanut butter).  We continued with fruit tarts.  Yes, I was nervous.  Yes, I kept saying “no no..you’re the baker, I’ll just help”.  Nope, she would have none of it.  We baked, we frosted, we made simple syrup for the tarts.  Some attempts didn’t work out and others turned out fantastic.  Whose goodies looked great the next day at the shower?  Yup, mine sure did! 

What I realized most was that, yes, it was nice for everyone to oooohhh and aaahhh at the dessert masterpieces, but I just felt so proud and good inside because of what I had accomplished.  I had baked!  Me!  Me the one who tells everyone I have ice cream on hand for dessert because I don’t bake.   Thanks to The Baker for pushing me.  Sometimes a kick in the pants is a good thing.  She never doubted me so why did I?

This year I am going to continue my journey into bakingdom.  From there I am going to sit with The Artist so that she can give me some pointers on how to move beyond my awesome stick people drawings.  I also have all these neato machines needed for scrapbooking (cricut and expressions…amazing stuff) and will be making my own cards.  The Artist made elegant “save the date” cards for her wedding.  Absolutely beautiful.  So I will definitely be telling myself that I CAN DO IT and I will forget about what I had heard for so many years about how I couldn’t do something.

With every new venture I will enjoy the learning and all the hiccups and hardships that come with it.  Most importantly, when someone decides to point out that something doesn’t look nice or I did it wrong, it really won’t matter because I have almost finished learning Kennie’s flamboyant dance moves.  Dance on in life like no one’s watching and be happy!

Family Innings

I am part of a large family.  My mother was one of 8 children and my father was one of 9 children.  On average, each child had 4 children.  That is a heckuva lot of cousins.  You do the math (I am not a math whiz so really, you do the math). 

Wiseguy comes from a large extended family.  Many aunts, uncles, cousins.  Meeting all his relatives for the first time was a bit awkward as it was a funeral.  The only easy part, which was quite intriguing, was that every aunt’s name was Mary and every uncle’s name was Joe.  Honest.  I can’t make this stuff up. 

As a child, I never realized how fascinating it was being part of a large family.  Every Sunday after lunch we would venture to an aunt or uncle’s house or their families would come over to our house.  There was always giggling and laughter. We kids played in the basement.  The adults hid out upstairs.  We made up very creative games as we did not have a lot of toys.  We played school and took turns being the teacher.  We played desert island where we would lay cushions on the floor and jump from one to the other because if you touched the floor then the crocodiles would get you.  We played hide and seek and tag and red light green light.  We played restaurant.  We put on shows for each other.  We played soccer and badminton.  Sometimes the day would end with someone being really mad at someone else and “un-cousin-ing” them, but by the following weekend it was GAME ON! 

As we got older, we somehow grew apart.  Everyone got busier with school and part time jobs (and dating).  Years passed and then we would see each other at weddings or funerals and we would promise to visit or write.  Even with facebook and e-mails and texting and so many other types of media available, there just doesn’t seem to be time.  How did that happen?  How did our parents always find time? 

My first thought was distance.  Even with my siblings, the closest is 20 minutes away and the furthest is an hour and a half drive.  Ok, but even factoring in the drive time, it seems that everyone has so many extracurricular activities, either that they do or that they drive their kids to.  I don’t recall having so many after school activites as kids nowadays do.  Work schedules are different now as well.  Retail stores are now open later and Sundays too.  I remember when stores were closed on Sundays.  Restaurants and other food places are now open all the time.  Statutory holiday or not, they remain open.  Even trying to create family outings, prices have gone so high that it’s hard to arrange for a good day or night out.  Even going to the movies you need about 30.00 per person if you would like a popcorn and drink with the show.

So, is that really the reason why there are fewer family visits?

It wasn’t until The Wiz and The Debater both said to me, “I love it when it’s just us.”  Hmm.  Just us. Just us would be myself, Wiseguy, The Wiz and his fiancee The Baker, The Debater and his wife The Artist, The Princess, and little Kennie.  Just us.  Why is that better?  Huge family functions are so much fun!  So many stories to tell and funny past history tales.  Yes, as we get older we just remember the fond times.  What about the family feuds and battles?  Even planning weddings has become more difficult because you need to know who is not talking to whom and who can’t get along.  Coming from a large family, we dealt with all situations and many times we did wish that we weren’t part of  large family because we would have so much more time for ourselves and our immediate family.

I have stopped trying to plan a huge family get together with the extended family.  I am looking at how wonderful my life is and what wonderful kids we have and how blessed and happy I am that no matter how busy everyone is, we all take the time to figure out how we can all get together for a  wonderful sit down meal and playing games afterwards.  It’s nice to know that they do still WANT to come over.  So many parents end up not seeing their kids for months or even years at time.  We have the honour and pleasure of having their company a minimum of once a month but sometimes even twice a month.  SCORE!  How lucky are we?

So, family outings can be fun.  It’s true.  However, I’ll take my family innings any day of the year.  Love you guys!

Spring in my step

Ahhhh, smell those lilac blossoms!  Look at all the colours of the leaves on the trees.  Such variety!  Deep green and subtle purple and bright yellow and crimson red.  A dragon fly just whizzed by my head.  Little butterflies floating around too.  Seems like they were gone for a few years and now they have all come back to welcome spring.  I see birds flying in couples, building their nests.  What is there NOT to like about spring?

Ok, some may say that the rainy days of spring are a downer, but once you see all the growth and beauty around you, how can you not love the arrival of spring?  This is especially true of anyone living in Canada.  After months of cold and shoveling piles of snow, the arrival of spring finally means we can open our windows and we can wear sandals and we can wear shorts.  Yes!  As soon as it hits 10 degrees celcius (50 on the fahrenheit scale) we are out there showing off our mighty whitey legs.  Pasty?  Oh yeah, nothing like pasty white legs to repel the sunlight.

Spring really is about renewal.  There are so many sounds that have returned, that were gone for so long.  The morning chirping birds…those wake me up now because of their cacaphony every morning.  But I love hearing them chatter with each other.  The sound of lawnmowers is a daily constant in the neighbourhood.  Then there are the new sights and smells.  We can actually wake up to sunlight instead of that eternal darkness we seemed to have experienced for months.  The clouds seem whiter and brighter.  The smell of grilled fare on the BBQ wafts through the air.  Critters have come out of hibernation.  The squirrels are out and about and playing Russian roulette in traffic.  The skunks have reappeared too.  I haven’t seen them, but my nose tells me they’re back.  (Pepe le Pew for sure!)

Spring, even though it’s a noun for this season of the year, I find the verb quite appropos as well. It’s synoynous with leaping, skipping, bounding, hopping.  Yes, that’s how I feel about this time of year.  I see the smiles on peoples’ faces and believe they agree with me too.

So, don’t be surprised if you see a lot of white-legged, hopping, jumping skippers out there.  It’s SPRINGTIME after all!

If you were on a desert island…

Have you ever played this game?  I remember sitting around with friends and we could go on for hours with this one.  It’s a simple game and you can play it with anyone and it really does tell you a lot about the other person or people.

Here is how you play.  You start off with this question:

If you were on a desert island, what CD would you listen to?  Yes, you only get to pick one CD.  Interesting question isn’t it?  It brings you to pondering what person or band you would or could actually listen to more than once.  Some people answer right away.  Others, well, they would like to know if it can be a soundtrack or just one band.  Can it be a “best of”?  Can it be a box set?  Mind you, we played this game before the world of MP3s so it really was quite a quandry to decide what you would pick to listen to all the time.  What CD would you choose?

Next, what food would you eat?  We would allow up to three foods and of course you get into the silly world of, “yeah, a private jet drops this off to you on a weekly basis and you have a stove and microwave that work and they are solar powered so you can heat everything if you want.”  I know, silly right?  Why wouldn’t the jet just take you off the island?  Duh.  But that’s not the point.  The point is, what food do you like?  And no, you won’t gain a pound no matter what you eat.

From there we would continue to clothing and shoes and books and movies.  See how much fun it can be?

Ok, maybe it was just fun for us because it killed time, but like I said, it really did bring us closer to our friends and their thoughts on things and how they felt about things.

Give it a try one day.  You will be fascinated by what you learn about your friends and family.

(In case you were wondering…..soundtrack to Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat / pizza, french fries with gravy, ice cream / men’s dress shirt / crocs (yes, I like them!) / The Talisman, by Stephen King and Peter Straub / The Princess Bride (which includes my favourite line:  “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father, prepare to die!”   haha!  classic!)