Easy Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

Easy Chocolate Chip Bars

When I was growing up these easy chocolate chip cookie bars were a staple in our home.  Now this is my go-to recipe when it is my turn to bring in treats to work and for day care bake sales.  They use simple ingredients I usually have on hand and are just as delicious as chocolate chip cookies, but with less fuss.

1 Cup (250ml)                    Butter

1 Cup (250ml)                    Brown sugar

2 Cups (500ml)                  All-purpose flour

1 Cup (250ml)                    Finely chopped walnuts (optional)

1 Cup (250ml)                    Semi-sweet chocolate chips

Crumble butter, sugar, vanilla and four together in a bowl. Stir in nuts and chocolate chips. Pat into an ungreased 9” X9” (22cm X 22cm) pan. Bake at 350F (180C) oven for 25 minutes or until browned. Cut while warm and let cool in the pan. Makes 36 squares.

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Great Advice for Getting Out of the Rut

When I told one of my mentors that I felt like I was in a bit of a rut she gave me some great advice.  She said that in her life there are periods where she has progressed very quickly in her career and in her personal life, but there were also times when she felt like she was going in nowhere.  She said that she learned that those times of feeling like you are going nowhere are just “pauses” and we need to take them as opportunities for reflection and more focused self-development so that we can get ready to launch into the next exciting phase of our lives.  What do you do when you find yourself in a ‘pause’?

1)  Look back at the important events in your life

  • What decisions and actions would you take again? Which ones would you do differently? 
  • What goals, objectives did you accomplish and not accomplish?
  • How did you spend your time?  Where did you waste it and where did you spend it well?
  • What is the status of the core areas of your life?  Health, Financial, Emotional, Career, Lifestyle, Relationships?

2)  Look to the future

  • What are your dreams (bucket list)?
  • What are your roles?  Entrepreneur, spouse, sibling, friend, mentor, employee, parent.  Which are the most important?  Which ones need more nurturing? Which ones are not fulfilling?
  • Define goals for yourself in the core areas of your life based on your dreams and your roles.

So rather than posting for the last few weeks, I decided to take her advice and started enjoying my ‘pause’.  I have done a lot of thinking, read some great books, blogs, and had some very interesting conversations.  I’ll share some ideas that I am trying in future posts for those of you out there making some changes in your life too.

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Is Your Life Stuck in a Rut?

Anyone else ever feel stuck?  How did you get out of the rut?

I haven’t  posted anything in a while because I have been stuck in a rut (with a side order of wallowing and licorice).  Things have not been going well for the company I work for and I was told that my pay raise and promotion have been put on hold… indefinitely.  So, I started thinking about my job, my career…then one thought led to another and the next thing I knew I was in the middle of a full-on life evaluation with a field trip to the self-help aisle at the bookstore.

Anyway, I finally realized the obvious.

I have been concentrating on the minutiae in my life and using the never ending demands of toddlerhood as a means to avoid confronting some areas of my life that where I am not satisfied.  Mainly my career, finances and health (I bite my nails, haven’t worked out in ages and drink way too much diet pop). 

Why?  Because I don’t want to do the hard work of changing my lifestyle.

But change I must if I don’t want to end up having regrets in life because I have squandered my time on activities with no value and indulged in bad habits that are not a good example for my children. 

Spring is a time of renewal, so it is the perfect time for me to reposition myself in my life.  Wish me luck and good luck to anybody else who is making some changes.

 

 

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Toddlers with a Side of Chaos: What Our Homes Really Look Like

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I have often been asked about how difficult it is to keep up with a pair of toddlers.  I usually wish for an extra set of arms at least once a day and I have frequently pondered how to create an artificial lap especially now that they are no longer fooled by a Magic Bag.  However, physically keeping up with them is not the real challenge, it is the trail of destruction that toddlers leave in their wake. 

This is what it looks like pretty much every night before we tidy up. I try to contain the debris field if we have company coming, but usually I just let it go until bedtime and cross my fingers that no one will show up unannounced.    What you can’t see here is the books pulled of the shelf, supper dishes in the sink, a load of laundry waiting to be folded on my bed and a plastic bag full of ‘pee pants’ waiting to be put in the washing machine. 

On the bright side, the toys often cover the stains in carpet…

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Spinach Cheddar Pinwheel Biscuits

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I am always on the lookout for ways to create ‘to go’ foods and slip in some extra veggies. This recipe does both.  Essentially they are tea biscuits with added spinach and cheese. I serve them in place of a roll at dinner or instead of a muffin in the morning.

Spinach Cheddar Pinwheel Biscuits

2 cups all purpose flour

4   teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup shortening

3/4 cup milk

1 cup finely chopped spinach

3/4 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

2 tablespoons melted butter

muffin tin

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Blend together the flour, baking powder and salt.  Stir in the spinach until combined.  Cut in the shortening in small pieces and add the milk.  Stir together with a fork until it forms a soft dough.  Roll the dough on a floured surface to a 9″ square.  Brush the dough with butter and sprinkle on the cheese evenly.  Roll up like a jelly roll and seal the edges.  Cut into twelve 3/4″ thick slices.   Place in a greased muffin tin and back for 12-15 minutes.

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How to Keep the Peace at Work: Workarounds

As a ‘single’ working parent my presence in the office is confined to the hours of my daycare.  However, as a professional there is an assumption of availability that I need to maintain to continue to be regarded as being able to take on responsibilities at my workplace.  Although I don’t subscribe to the belief myself, I recognize that this is culture of my workplace and have taken measures to work around it.  

1.  Control your workflow.  The most important thing is to get as much control over your workflow as possible so that you can manage your time.  For example, I have set up my work with deadlines and then have weekly meetings with my boss to go over the status of my deliverables.  This way he has input into prioritizing which components are most important, but I have control over my day.  Having this list of priorities also helps when dealing with additional work that crops up.  If some new crisis lands in my lap, I simply pick one or some of the items off my list and suggest I defer these so I can concentrate my efforts on the new crisis.  I never suggest working overtime to achieve it all.

2.  Leave a buffer in your calendar.  I block the first hour and the last hour of my calendar so that if anyone is trying to make a meeting with me it shows as busy.  I do this for three reasons.  I block the first hour so that if something goes wrong (and it often does) in the morning I am not panicking because I am going to be late for a meeting.  I block the last hour of the day so if the meeting runs over (and it often does) I am not worried about being late to pick up my kids from daycare.  The third reason I do it is give myself time to work uninterrupted while still being ‘available’ and seen during the core hours of the day.

3. Get your most important work done in the morning.  You never know when you are going to be pulled away from work for a sick child or a ‘crisis’ at work is going to land on your plate.  For this reason, I always do the most important things I need accomplish first thing in the morning.

4.  Delegate and give credit.  If you have control over your workflow (see #1) don not be afraid to delegate to your team.  If there are people on your team that are better at a task than you, assign it to them and give them credit for doing it.  We are not all good at everything and letting your team work on the things where they are most skilled saves everyone time and frees up your schedule.  Your boss probably doesn’t care who does it as long as it gets done properly and on time.  In my previous role one the responsibilities of my team was forecasting.  I had a member of my team that loved data modelling so I gave the forecast to him and simply monitored the results.  I then invited him to the senior executive meetings where I presented the forecast and informed them that he was responsible for creating the successful model.  Everyone was happy.

5. Don’t offer too much information.   I was on a committee at work that needed to extend a meeting after hours.    A male coworker said that he had to leave because he was taking his daughter to gymnastics.  After he left everyone was remarking on what a great dad he was, etc.  A few weeks later the meeting needed to be extended again, but this time it was a female worker who couldn’t stay because she needed pick up her kids at daycare.  After she left some members of the team shared ‘knowing looks’ and one made a comment regarding how hard difficult it is for the woman who left to maintain ‘work-life balance.’  I didn’t have children at the time, but was enraged on her behalf.  I pointed out that it was fascinating how for the same situation one person was a good parent and the other had ‘work-life balance’ issues.  There were a few red faces and it taught me a lesson about sharing too much information.  You cannot know all of the personal biases of your co-workers, so I never offer up a reason for declining a meeting unless I am absolutely compelled to do so.  My standard line is “I would love to…but I have a conflict.”  Most people have enough social grace not to push for further details.

6.  Have a back-up plan.   If there are duties at work that you absolutely must perform make a back up plan in advance.  My parents live out of town, but visit often.  If I have to give a presentation at work, I will ask them to time their visit to be here that day so if one of the boys get sick or hurt at daycare they can pick them up for me.  I also script my presentations and identify someone who can speak to it in case of emergency.

7.  Self-promote.  In my department people tend to get wield fire fighting the latest last minute crisis as a badge of honour and are often rewarded for staying late to fix the problem.  In my current situation, I cannot be a fire fighter, so those weekly meetings with my boss…I use some of that time to inform him of the steps that I have taken to prevent a crisis from occurring in the first place.

8.  Be on good terms with everyone.    People want to work with people who are easy to work with.  Play nice with others and people will want you on their team even if you have time constraints.Get out of your cubicle and talk to your co-workers, especially those in different departments.  Getting a different perspective on the company can give you new ideas make your own work more meaningful.  Also, having a broad network will help you get things done faster because you will know who to call in different areas of the company.  For example, I have recently been assigned to lead a group in a very tedious and politically touchy project.  The individuals working on the project will need to do this in addition to their regular duties.  My boss shared the list of potential participants with me and said he didn’t know half the people so how could we cold call them ask them to help out.  I looked at the list and I said I would call them…I knew them all. 

9.  Get rid of the guilt.  We all have demands on our time.  Do not feel guilty because you cannot take something on or stay late.  Do your best work and leave the guilt behind.

10. Keep your commitments.  Most people care less about how long you are at the office and more about the quality of the work you deliver and that you deliver it on time.  Ensure that you can make a deadline before you commit to it and if it does go off the rails send up the alert as soon as possible.

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How to Make Clothing Last Longer

One way to save money on clothing is to make them last longer.  I learned how to do laundry the ‘right’ way when I was in Mexico.   My husband lives in the south of the country where it is very hot so having a clothes dryer is a rarity and there are still many people who wash their clothing by hand…I had a washing machine.  Washing clothes the ‘Yucateca way’ really does extend the life of your clothing.

1.  Remove stains immediately.   Keep a bar of laundry soap handy for immediate stain removal.  As soon as a stain happens, rinse the stain in cold water and rub the edge of the laundry bar on the stain to either pre-treat it or wash it out immediately.  Here in Canada you can buy this is most grocery stores, Sunlight is the most common brand that I usually find.  In Mexico, it is much more common and there a many different brands, but we usually had Princesa (Princess) which my husband’s nicknames for me.  So whenever there was a leaky diaper stain that needed attending,  he would suggest that I clean it with my soap…it had my name on it after all. 

Laundry bar soap

2.  Turn your clothing inside out.  Traditionally, this is done protect the ‘outside’ of the fabric from wear during hand washing and from fading due to the sun’s rays when hanging outside.   The exception is if the item is white.  These are turned inside out for washing and the right side out for drying because the sun will ‘bleach’ the whites. However, this is also a great practice to following even with a washing machine as all of the pilling takes place on the inside of your garment and it protects and graphics or embellishments from breaking down.

3.  Line dry your clothing.  Hanging your clothing is gentler on the fabric (i.e. no friction to create pilling and saves electricity by not using the dryer.  This isn’t always convenient in the Great White North if you don’t have a huge basement to hang a whole load of laundry.  However, I often put up a drying rack in the bathtub and use the shower curtain rod too. 

4.  Wash in Cold.  Whenever possible wash in cold water.  This helps to reduce damage to the fibres, retain the colour, reduce wrinkling in permanent press clothing and keeps cottons from shrinking.   However, oil and grease stains generally do much better in hot water and if your hot water is hot enough there is some germ-killing benefits that you can only get in cold water by adding bleach or other laundry disinfectants to the wash.

5.  Don’t wait.  During the Yucatan winter it rains pretty much every afternoon, so laundry needs to get out in the morning if you want to dry it outside and it can often rain for days.  I learned from experience that dirty clothing that has been sitting around for more than a couple of days are much more difficult to get clean.  Even if there are no obvious stains, the dirt and germs that collect on collars, cuffs and underneath the arms can leave their mark if they are left to stew too long.  Yuck!!

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