Family Matters

Family Matters

Family Traditions: Keep or Go?


I grew up going out to my grandparents house in a small town called Portage La Prairie. It was a house full of love and one that was the home to the matriarch of my world, my Grandma.

She loved Christmas and it was tradition we would spend it with her. It brought her so much joy to have the family at one table (we are now at 3 tables since our family dinners have grown to 27) Our Christmas events were steeped in tradition complete with firecracker hats, cheese bites, pistachio salad, Rye & Cokes and The Crazy Game, a card game played at every family dinner. Our Christmas dinners were boisterous and loud and I can tell you a huge source of amusement when someone new came into the fold. Love you Babe.

As she got older (and as I did), I started to see how very important it was to her heart and to her soul to feel all that love around her at Christmas. Her family was everything and it was important to all of us to give her that happiness.

I am lost this year.

She passed away in August and I feel this sea of grief starting to creep over me these past few days. I realize now that so many of our Christmas traditions were because of her. While part of me feels excited with the possibility of creating new ones with my family, I ache for those old ones to bring her closer when she feels so far away.

I find myself reminiscing of Christmas past and trying to think of what traditions ring true to me as this whole new landscape lies ahead of us. Of all the things I value you about my Grandma, probably the most important one was how much of her character it was to help others.

I watched throughout my life as my grandma made fancy sandwiches, put on countless events, teas, whatever was necessary to support her community. To her, there was no question the importance of helping out. As a kid, we would help grandma serve at the local Odd fellows and Rebekkah’s Christmas tea in Portage La Prairie. It was a source of pride, as my cousins and I would take orders, bring the tea and coffee, serve dainties and then do performances for the residents. She loved our interpretative renditions of Footloose…really? for a bunch of seniors?…in fact she beamed with pride.

One of our traditions has become The Nutcracker
One of our traditions has become The Nutcracker

Helping others for us has become an essential thread in our world and we have been working with the kids on how to do more. One of our main focuses this year is the Peace Dove Project which has been a beautiful way to get kids creating ways to give back.

We’ve talked to the kids on how we can make other people’s lives better or easier. They have made us so proud as they went through their toys and clothes and this year we have done a hamper, a shoe box, are supporting a family in Barbados with kids with special needs, and donating more of our dollars to the Intrepid Foundation supporting the Village Education Project Kilimanjaro. Lolo especially won me over when she decided part of her tooth fairy money should be sent to Africa.

The tradition is a twist on my grandma’s but at the heart of it, its her legacy and her tradition that lives on in us.

Dad Says:

I don’t recall a lot of traditions as a child, not like Jenn does anyhow.  Honestly I have a bit of trouble getting up for holidays and the like, and I have no idea why.  No latent nightmares to account for it, I just get tired of the frenetic energy going around, like the world is spinning faster for no reason.

I have some early childhood memories of gold shag carpet and ornaments that would break if you looked at them wrong, special angels and opening one present only on Christmas eve.

My folks got divorced pretty early in life, and I don’t know what the arrangement was but I think my mom let chistmas day go as part of the deal.I remember that we would make our way to Grandma’s house, sometimes stopping for Chinese food on the way so as not to put additional strain on the system.  I remember homemade elves, an audible cardinal ornament that I can still mimic, and homemade sunshine sauce for desserts.

That experience evolved into my aunt taking over hosting duties, and that was a big hot mess.  Too many teens, too many people, it was otherworldly.  Like out of the next national lampoon christmas special, but filmed in zero gravity.  Just too much.

These days I fight to slow things down, to counter the overdrive that surrounds the holiday and to make sure that everyone finds their own peace on earth.  I think we could all use a bit of that in our stockings, no?

C's fan has one major tradition- Candy Making!
C’s fan has one major tradition- Candy Making!


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Family Matters

How to host an easy Christmas Open House


One thing my husband jokes about not knowing what he was getting into is how much I LOVE to host a good and unique party.

This year as we celebrated our 11th Annual Xmas Open House, because we were literally finishing a flooring reno the night before, I was completely unprepared. 100%.

But I am good under pressure. So if you gotta do it, do it with style.

Here are a few tips to breeze through an Open House and still look like you meant to do it all.

Switch up the look of the room by tying up the curtains
Switch up the look of the room by tying up the curtains


Years back, a good friend introduced us to Eggnog In Quantity from the Joy of Cooking. We call it Killer Nog and if you aren’t careful it will knock you off your feet. After a few tries, I have modified this slightly to suit our tastes.

Killer Eggnog Recipe

Serves 20-30 people

  • 12 Egg yolks
  • 3/4 lb. of sugar
  • 3-5 cups of dark rum (dark is better than spiced)
  • 6-8 cups of whipping cream
  • 12 Egg whites
  • Nutmeg and cinnamon


Night Before:

1) Separate eggs.

Tip: I know it’s a simple concept but separating each egg individually in a small bowl first to ensure no shells go into the mass of yolks and whites has saved me countless fishing expeditions.

2) Beat yolks till they are light in colour. Beat in sugar and add half of rum, beating constantly.

Tip: I use my KitchenAid mixer which makes this step insanely simple.

3) Refrigerate overnight to get rid of egg taste. If you are doing all the morning of the party, let mixture stand for at least an hour.

Day of Party:

4) Add remaining rum and whip cream while beating constantly.

5) Let sit covered in the refrigerator for 2-3 hrs.

6) Beat egg whites until stiff but still moist. Fold egg whites into the other ingredients.

7) Garnish with nutmeg and cinnamon

Tip: This is a boozy recipe so to keep people functioning throughout the day, we only include 1.5 cups of Rum to sit overnight and then 1.5 cups added in in the morning. We use whip cream instead of heavy cream and have a regular egg nog on hand if its a bit thick and needs to be cut. 

Wood platter, garland and jewellery boxes were part of our table

Twinkling Light Punch Recipe

Serves 20-30 people

2 Frozen Pink Lemonade

1 Frozen Orange Juice

2 Cups of Sugar

2 Cans of Pineapple Juice

2 Bottles of Cranberry Cocktail

2L of Gingerale

1/3 Cup of Lemon Juice

Garnish with all kinds of seasonal fruit

Tip: Night before fill ziploc bags with water. A block of ice melts much slower and doesn’t dilute the punch as quickly. 

You gotta love that our angel looks like she is about to go cliff diving


Serves 30 people

Keep it simple.

Open House Menu

Beef Tenderloin served with dinner rolls, special mustard and horseradish

Costco Tortiere served with HP sauce

Shrimp Ring with cocktail sauce

Slow cooked IKEA Meatballs using IKEA gravy

Veggie and Hummus

Curried Devilled Eggs

Charcuterie Plate

Cheese Plate

Nachos and Salsa

Pickles, Olives, Antipasto

Arugula, Cherry Tomato, Boccacini and Balsamic glaze bites

Melted Brie with Maple syrup, Carmelized Onion, Slivered almonds

Arugula, Boccocini, Tomato with Balsamic glaze


Get creative in how you display your food. Jewellery boxes, tea cups, shooter glasses, potting pails can provide a new look to your fun festive table.

Add vanilla candles around the room and simmer cinnamon sticks on the stove to keep the house delighting senses as people walk in.

Besem candles Vanilla Chai smell out of this world
Besem candles Vanilla Chai smell out of this world


Songza’s Holiday lists have been our superhero this whole holiday season. Just concierge up what you are looking for and you are ready to go.


Taking time to enjoy friends over the holidays could very well be the best gift you can give yourself.




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Family Matters

I can’t find my underwear – Surviving a reno


I have just been walking around naked in my house for the last 15 minutes.

Not because I’m being flirty with the hubs or because I’ve just gotten out of the shower.

It’s cause I can’t find my underwear.

Who knew underwear might very well be my downfall?

A few weeks ago, we experienced a series of hardwood accidents (the floor has begun to splinter) that finally had us admit it was time to get new floors. That prompted a super quick search for a good deal and even faster installation plan. We found a fantastic offer that fit within our budget (Damn, flooring is expensive!) and made arrangements to have them installed this week.

Yes, this week.

You know, between the party we had on Saturday and the party we are having this coming Sunday? Yes. Sunday.

Hope we will still be like this at their age.
Hope we will still be like this at their age.

Why on earth would we do something like this at this time of year? Because we kind of had to (in for a penny in for a pound) and because we were given a great incentive on the installation. Of course we did. Cause who else would be moronic enough to replace their floors two weeks before Christmas?

A number of friends have said that this has Jenn written all over it. Is it because I’m a person that just tackles whatever is in front of her and gets it done regardless of the effort it takes to get there? Or is it because I have overloaded us to a degree that is baffling to them? Their world not being the same comfort zone as mine in terms of events, logistics, etc..?

I have done events for 90,000 people, managed rallies with 2,000 motorcycles, organized massive road shows and demo programs across Canada. I live and breath in a world where Plan to Fail and Fail to Plan is the norm. Where flexibility and adaptability are a person’s best game.

But this one might break me.

I’m not sure what it is exactly. Managing the kids logistics in with our own? Trying to coordinate a plan when the timing isn’t quite working? My Type A personality causing way too much anxiety with how “apart and strewn about” the house is? We’ve done renos before but surviving a reno is always a challenge. No?

This is where #TeamPowell truly makes our magic happen.

Both of us are keenly aware that we are on the high rung of the stress ladder right now (work for each of us has been epic busy the last few weeks) but I see us striving to have each other’s back. We recognize that emotions are raw right now and are very careful to not take it out on the other. (This was something we learned was crucial when we quit smoking).

We are working to find moments to have fun in the midst of the chaos. To laugh.

and right now I think its hysterical that I can’t find my underwear.



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Family Matters

Today was tough


Mom Says:

I just finished a most positive Twitter Chat about advice. I could have used some advice today.

Today, I accompanied my son and his class on a field trip to a Pioneer Village.  At first, he didn’t want to go, caught in his literal mind that people have died in the past and that if he went he would die as well. (This is one of those “Autism quirks” I don’t quite understand. (Literal interpretations get him stuck and any kind of mention of death completely derails him.)

We talked it through and eventually he was excited about going. His teacher this year is epic. Kind. Respected. A perfect mix of gentle and firm. The enthusiasm of the class trip won over and we suddenly had an excited little man.

We had our usual challenges when we got there. Wandering, talking out of turn, changing the subject to suit him but for the most part he was excited and engaged.


After lunch, we had a chance to wander in our smaller group to explore. We ended up in the Blacksmith workshop. He was excited to watch and describe what the blacksmith was doing. (Giggles from a group from another school) Loudly, he asked the Blacksmith if he would be his friend. (Laughing from another school). He turned to the people beside him and said “Why are you laughing at me? (more laughs and mimicking voices). This went on for a couple of minutes. He would listen intently to what the Blacksmith had to say and then repeat “Will you be my friend?” Cue more giggles and Spence got hurt.

I didn’t know what to do.

My stomach felt like I got gut punched, my heart physically ached, my throat tight. I was desperate not to burst into tears and scream at all these kids about how much of an asshole they were being, how collectively their laughs felt cruel and sporty. I saw my son hurt and I was lost on how to make it better.

I took him aside and asked him how he was feeling.

TinOK? He looked so confused. He said “Mom, why were those kids laughing? They weren’t being very nice.” No they weren’t and for him, it was that simple. But it affected him and for the rest of the trip he struggled. Lost from how mean they were and struggling to understand. So was I.

Dad says:

I get all this second hand, but it arrives just as I am working to finalize arrangements to go to our first Maple Leafs game. Me and my son, at a hockey game. All that said, it was amazing, but that ain’t this post.  I want hunt those kids down.  I want to destroy their grade 4 experience. I don’t because I’m better than that. But I don’t want to be.

I talk through the experience with Spence.  He is elusive, but we get to the point.  There are jerks in the world, and sometimes they enter ours.  You just need to point it out, turn your back, and move on.

I need to own up here.  I don’t think I ever, in any seriousness, excluded or hurt people for being different in any way.  Race or colour was never an issue I can be sure, but if there was ever a chance at a joke I took it, and I am damn sure I didn’t think of anyone’s feelings in pursuit of the punch line.  And I am honestly, completely sorry.  I didn’t know, or extend a thought outside my own little world.  It wasn’t vindictive, but I am sure it hurt someone who didn’t deserve it, and I am sorry for that. I can’t change the past, but I am so aware of what the future feels like.

A good friend once told me that the one thing you didn’t realize you had so much of until kids is Guilt and Fear. Today, was a tough day. Today, we experienced both. It was awful. I look forward to figuring out how to conquer the mean and move on.


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Family Matters

Parks & Rec RANT


DAD Says:

Are we ready for the assault? Let’s review:

Supplies supplied? rations check, coffee and internet access confirmed

Logistics: Turn off all data usage to ensure maximum bandwidth availability

Battle plan in place, with multiple options for any situation or combination that may arise.

Batteries are charged to full, phone has 3 bars.

Preparations are complete, we are good to go.

This is not an online dark ops challenge, a tough mudder race, or even christmas shopping saturday at the mall.

This is worse, MUCH worse.

We are signing up for Parks & Recreation programs, and may god have mercy on our souls.

Here is my pet peeve list, in no particular order.

7 am?? Really? This could all happen at a more civilized 10:30 without offending anyones sensibilities or religious requirements.

Throttled access: Ok equal righters, I know that some people don’t have internet or a computer and deserve a shot, but that doesn’t change the fact that I sit here for 24 minutes working on my carpal tunnel syndrome clicking incessantly like a poorly trained monkey, no offence to my simian brethren. No computer? Call.  No phone? Go down to your local office.

Site set up: It sucks.  This day and age, the whole thing is misrouted and only about a decade behind.  It is slow, clumsy, and generally awkward.  Oh, and they just updated it. Here’s your cookie for a job done.

Click Click Click Click Click
Click Click Click Click Click

Did I mention 7 am? Tempers run pretty high at 7 am on a Saturday morning when you are wait listed for swimming choice #2…

I think I know why Robbie got into the crack; he was probably all wound up trying to get junior artist on wednesday nights ’cause monday we have brownies and Sunday is church…

who needs a hug?
who needs a hug?

MOM Says:

I think in 10 years of marriage, Chris and I can still only use 2 hands to count how many fights we have had in that timeframe.

2 of them have been over Parks & Rec.

Nothing was more stressful than our first Parks & Rec sign up years ago. Having not developed the “System” yet, we naively hopped on the computer and somehow just logged in. Sweet. Click, Click and Done.

The second time, we sat there clicking for over an hour and when we finally got in there was absolutely nothing left bar a swimming lesson at 7pm on Friday evening. (Cause we all know how enthusiastic us moms and dads are to head out for swimming after a long week of work at 7…on a Friday…when PJ’s, Pizza and wine are FAR more the sensible option.

We have had more than one occasion in which one of us has eyed the clock at 6:58, leaping out of bed and calling for credit cards, family numbers, wifi login, and the Fun Guide. We have totally missed it a couple of times.

Over time, we developed a system. We were a machine. 2 laptops, 2 smartphones, and our house phone. Sometimes we hit it. In and out in 10 minutes, sometimes its over an hour. The best time being when it took till 9:20am. (2 hrs and 20 min after registration opened) That was one of the fights.


Establish a network. There are 3 families within our network. One of us will typically text the other 2 to remind them its Registration day. Once we have completed our registration, we will try to get back in. More often than not, we have found ourselves taking program codes over the phone to register their kids for the programs they want. Has saved A LOT of fights.

There are absolutely fabulous programs. They just need to get with the program and catch up to 2015.


what do we really think?
what do we really think?


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Family Matters

Karma & my #LifeAdvice


Mom Says:

There is a sweet spot you need to find in social media these days. It’s about finding ways to stay positive in such a heavy atmosphere of negativity .

It’s so easy to get sucked in. You are assaulted daily with snarly, grumpy, angry posts and horrid, heartbreaking issues that can’t help but bring you down. It comes naturally to be negative. You have to work at being positive.

I have chosen not to bring that negativity further into my life. No likes, comments or shares in order to see less of them in my feed.

Instead I am focusing on creating karma that brings a positive frame of mind and a happy outlook on life.

To do that, I looked back to some of the best pieces of #LifeAdvice I have been given over the years.

1) If someone takes the time to show you who they really are, believe them the first time.

My mother in law shared this Maya Angelou quote with me on one of the first days we met.

I loved it.

This one has gotten me through a hundred or so moments of frustration when someone I care about (or think I should care about) acts like a total arse. Once an arse, always an arse. They showed you the first time their true colours, why so often do we hope that people like this somehow change?

Don’t be surprised by their jerkiness. Just move onward and upward. Leave them to their ugly.

My Peace Place
My Peace Place

My MIL also taught me how to find quiet on the end of our dock. For that I am forever grateful.

2) What does this all mean in the context of life?

This one my dad gave me. I didn’t realize at the time how often I would refer back to this throughout my life.

If you are upset…really upset at the way things are going, take a step back and look at it in the whole context of your lifetime…does it really matter? That much? 10 out of 10 times, it was a no.

My dad had many wise words growing up. I used to not “get it”. Now I see his influence so often when I am talking to the kids. Thanks Dad. (& Thanks for being my dance partner)


3) If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain. 

I cut this Maya Angelou quote out as a teenager and put in my journal. She seems to circle my world on an on-going basis.

Bottom line, in this karmic world you are still responsible for your own destiny. YOU make the choice on how you are going to live.

If YOU choose to live negatively, always complaining, always finding the down side in things..the negativity will be ever present.

But if you choose to live a life focus on “positivitude”  then you will invite positive into your life and amazing, beautiful, wonderful things will start appearing in your world.

Trust me..Karma might be a bitch. But if you are nice, you might get to know a different side of her.


 Dad Says:

Early in my life I was told I would need 3 things.

A good lawyer, a good accountant and a good wife.

Not necessarily in that order.

@Manulife is asking you to spread some positive by thanking those in your life who have given you great #LifeAdvice. Take a moment to thank someone important to you. That positive will sure come back in spades. 

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