Work-life balance. It’s not easy to put food on the table and hockey skates on kids’ feet without spilling my wine, but I’ve think I’ve got it down now – not the days the wine store is closed mind you, but most days. There are so many evenings in this hockey mom’s life when I have to serve dinner at the speed of light which is generally not a problem for my full time cook. Except I don’t have a full time cook so am always on the look out for dinner recipes that are fast, easy and edible and do not involve an easily memorized phone number.

My slow-cooker is one of my BFFs, but she does occasionally let me down. I quickly realized that the idea of crock-pot cooking is far more tantalizing than the food it renders. But I am about to share a hockey family slow-cooker favourite. I’m not sure who to credit for this one except that I know I got it from my mom about ten years ago – about two years into my hockey momdom. I love this recipe for two reasons: 1. It does not require the meat to be browned first which apparently is a big slow-cooker no-no; and 2. It’s one of the few slow-cooker experiments I’ve undertaken that my family likes (and therefore will actually consume it). I have a standard rule in my house that if a new recipe gets a thumbs-up from 3/5 of my family (dogs, fish and hamster are not eligible voters), it’s worth repeating. If it gets a 5/5, it’s a keeper. This one’s a keeper!

Slow-Cooker Orange Chicken

8-10 boneless, skinless, chicken thighs, cut into chunks.

3 tablespoons flour

1 teaspoon Chinese 5-spice powder

1/3 cup orange marmalade

1/3 cup barbeque sauce (try not to use a smoky kind)

2 tablespoons low-sodium soya sauce

1/2 teaspoon Asian chili paste

1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

1 teaspoon minced gingerroot

1 clove garlic, minced

Green onions, chopped for garnish

Sesame seeds, toasted (optional) for garnish


Mix the chicken with the flour and 5-spice right in your slow cooker. Combine the marmalade, barbeque sauce, soya sauce, chili paste, sesame oil, ginger and garlic and pour over the chicken. Stir it up, little darlin’, stir it up until all the chicken is covered. Cook on high for 3-4 hours. But here is my secret slow-cooker showstopper timesaver: I put the flour-and-spice-covered chicken in the removable cooking pot and prep the sauce in a measuring cup the night before. I mix it up in the morning and pop it back in the frig. Then I ask one of my kids to put it in the slow cooker when they get home from school. This may involve a reminder note on the front door, a text at 3:00pm, a phone call home at 3:00PM or all three, depending on the teenager. Luckily my oldest ones are home from high school around 3:00PM and areIMG_2006 accepting of this massive responsibility thereby making dinner servable anytime between 6:00-7:00PM. If your kids are unreliable and you consider cooking this on low for 6-8 hours like some slow-cooker recipes suggest (or 10 hours because you leave at 730AM and are not home before 5:00PM), this recipe will be overcooked and dry and not fit for human consumption (but the dogs will still love it).

IMG_2007Serve the chicken over rice with a side of steamed broccoli or green beans (I have a microwave steamer so I can prep this in advance too). This meal is on my table at least twice a month during hockey season. My son even takes the leftovers to school for lunch. Yes, he does. And he’s a teenager.

If you have any hockey family friendly recipes, I’d love to try them out 🙂

Not so long ago, hockey was pretty much a year-round thing in our household, save for perhaps the month of July. All three of my children played hockey, and then some played spring hockey, and then some did spring 4-on-4 leagues, and then some went to summer hockey camps, and then some went to late summer try-outs. I exhaled deeply in July and sucked in my breath again around mid-August. After about 11 seasons of minor hockey, my boys decided to hang up their goalie skates. Gone for them are the try-outs, the hockey camps, the spring 4-on-4, the spring hockey leagues and the winter hockey league. Now, it’s just my daughter playing the regular hockey season and some spring 4-on-4. Sigh.

As you can imagine, the question I get asked an awful lot these days is, “What are you doing with all your free time?”

It’s a fair question. When you suddenly regain 15+ hours a week from your schedule of driving to various arenas every week, standing around, eating shrivelled hot dogs, freezing your butt off and laundering putrid UnderArmour, you would think by now that I’ve mastered a new language or learned to play the oboe or something.  Sadly, I have not.

“I’m enjoying my Transition Year” is what I tell people.  I need to properly ease into the years ahead alternating between short bouts of productivity and prolonged bouts of profound laziness, to which I feel entitled. I actually feel hypocritical now when another exasperated hockey mom bemoans her crazy hockey week to me and I answer, “Tell me about it!”  because, really, what do I have to tell?

The extra free time aside, I am already worried that I’m losing some of those indispensable talents I’ve acquired during my hockey mom years.

I noticed for instance that it’s getting tougher and tougher to fake a good headache on a Saturday night (I think my husband thought I would have more free time too). Perhaps I should incorporate phrases like ‘fortuitous bounce’ or ‘puck luck’ into my pillow talk just to make me feel like I’m still in the game.

I also noticed that I can no longer nose my car into that tight parking spot right between two massive Ford F150s. And those calories I burned clambering out of the back hatch because I can’t open either the driver’s side door or the passenger door? There is no other cardio exercise that can be as easily combined with such a worthy photo op.

Just last weekend, I totally forgot to pack my travel wine glass for a weekend away.  A shameful and unforgettable lack of preparation. Every woman needs a good travel goblet.

I’m also worried that I am losing my aptitude to pee standing up. An astonishing skill cultivated from years of drinking copious amounts of coffee and then having to deal with a grimy arena washroom. I cringe when I think what will happen when I am next confronted with a repulsive gas station restroom or a pit toilet.

Most of all though, of all the household uses for hockey tape, I hope I never lose sight of the fact that in can be used to wrap the frayed edges of a skate lace that has lost its aglet so that it can easily fit through the grommet again.  I know, right?  That one’s going on my resume!

And what’s going to happen to my alcohol tolerance? I’m ashamed to admit that just last night, I felt tipsy after only two shots of Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey.  Talk about a wuss!

I never thought I would say this, but can you tell I miss hockey? I think I need an intervention.

fireball whiskey

If you ever wonder what it’s like to have an intimate dinner date with 40 people, stop by The Momoir Project and read my story about hockey team dinners!

momoir proj

I love this time of the year.  Not just because Spring has finally arrived but because our hockey year has ended for another season.  Enjoy this repost from this most wonderful time of the year last year.
hockey mom ecard

The minor hockey season is over!  Now that my daughter’s hockey season is over, I can briefly back off firing on all cylinders.

Do you know how I know that the minor hockey season is over?  I know because in this week alone –

  • I did not have to navigate hockey bags and water bottles to put my groceries in the car.
  • I ate dinner … sitting down.
  • I cooked dinner, not Mr. Mozzarella.
  • I made a dinner reservation for 2 people, instead of 40 people.
  • I took my bottle of wine out of the refrigerator, instead of a cooler.
  • I did not launder a single piece of UnderArmor.
  • Not once did I make a pit-stop to the skate sharpening shop.
  • I shaved my legs.

Yep, no doubt about it.  All these activities point to a sure sign that the minor hockey season is over.

Until this past 2012-2013 season, I had three kids in hockey, so August to April has always been a gong-show. If you add to that, the occasional stint in spring hockey and 4-on-4 hockey, then the season is extended through the end of June.

My non-hockey friends have all but left me for dead and the truth is, I’ve had to check my own pulse once in a while just to be sure.  Some days both the car and I were on autopilot.

During the hockey season, our attendance at family gatherings is prioritized according to a very misinterpreted scale of diminishing inheritance.  Friends’ dinner party invitations are almost always declined unless I am confident the hostess won’t blow a fuse if either my husband or I show up just as the food is being cleared from the table.

Spring sports haven’t quite geared up which means I an enjoying a brief respite (those few days between hockey and baseball ). I feel like I’ve surfaced for air and am actually accomplishing more than just treading water.  I feel n.o.r.m.a.l.

I know “normal” is short-lived, however.  I know this armistice is really just a tenuous treaty between me and my iCal, who swings from ally to enemy on an almost daily basis.  Soon Spring will hit the fan and I’ll be chasing down stray pieces of soccer and baseball equipment and back to logging on the miles driving to various clubs and lessons.

Not like we do between August and April, though.  No.  Hockey season is a formidable beast… and this beast is now in hibernation.

hockey mom1

According to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), the most dangerous jobs in Canada are in the construction, manufacturing and transportation sectors.  Surprisingly, no mention of mascots.

toufou1I was shocked when I discovered recently that Toufou, the beloved moose mascot of Tremblant Ski Resort in the beautiful Laurentians north of Montreal, now has security detail assigned to him. Evidently being a mascot is more of a high-risk occupation than I thought. Zut alors!

Everyone makes fun of mascots; it’s not just me, right? They’re obnoxious and kind of freaky but I don’t want to see them hurt. Except the one who knock over my beverage … him I want to hurt.

My daughter was a TouFou-stalker, but a I’m-a-cute-three-year-old kind of stalker. The minute we’d arrive at Tremblant, she’d look for that crazy moose everywhere and if she caught sight of him, she’d knock over everything in her path to get to him (including my beverage).  As a 12-year old, she now understands fully that TouFou is not a real moose, but it is still an annual tradition for her to have her picture taken with him.

So upon arrival to Tremblant over March Break, we strolled about the pedestrian village and it did not take too long for our first TouFou sighting. As my daughter posed for her annual photo with Moosey (as she still affectionately refers


to her childhood friend), I joked with his security guard: “Mais voyons donc! TouFou’s making the big time now, eh? Needs security?” The security guard nodded but was not offering up any details about would not offer up any information as to his raison d’être.

As March Break lore goes, TouFou once got a little too personal with a few ladies who were dancing to the music in Place St. Bernard square. Seems the boyfriend of one of those ladies (probably after too many trips to the dépanneur) did not appreciate TouFou’s mingling with his lady and decided to teach that maudit TouFou a lesson toute de suite. Even worse, instead of telling simply telling their friend to manger de la marde, a whole group of his buddies joined in in giving TouFou an old-fashionable mascot thrashing.

I sure hope TouFou wasn’t seriously hurt but it certainly explains why he is now accompanied everywhere by someone whose vision is not impaired by a 2-foot wide head. But I also couldn’t help laughing at the stupidity of this obviously drunker-than-a skunk (or moose) reveller.

Just imagine the conversation with his girlfriend:

GF: “Seriously? C’est quoi ton problème?”

BF: “Well, he was – like – trying to grab your butt!”

GF: “Grab my butt. Really. With his paw. Uh-huh.”

BF: “I don’t like you dancing with other guys.”

GF: “Other guys? or just 7-foot tall biped moose?”

And what would a father say to his son after such a brawl?

Father: “Nice shiner, Son! What did the other guy look like?”

Son: “Uh, well gee Dad, I honestly didn’t get a good look at him”, which is probably safer than “he wasn’t wearing any pants but I’m pretty sure he had antlers”.

Franchement! But honestly don’t feel too bad for poor TouFou, he still gets all the girls!

As for the stupid idiot that prompted Tremblant to assign security to TouFou? Well, thanks to his girlfriend and father, he’ll be in therapy for years … once he’s out of juvie, that is.


“It’s not fair!” I complain,  “This is stupid!”  and I continue my incoherent muttering under my breath.  I catch the satisfying smirk my 15-year old tries to hide, and the irony that I sound just like him is not lost on me.  “What are you lookin’ at?” I lash at him, “Oh my God, Mom, just let it go!” and he gets up of the couch and moves to another room, safe from my frustrated tantrums.  My 10-year old daughter ventures in from the gloomy, rainy outdoors.  “Mom, what’s for lunch?” she asks.  “Get lost!” I bark back at her.  “She stands there eyes wide, undeserving of this sudden of rudeness, and retreats to her father for the basic necessities of life. “Maybe you should give up” offers my husband.  “Give up?!  What are you talking about, I can’t give up!  I won’t give up.  I started it; dammit, I’m going to finish it,” my irritation unmistakable.

This loving family scene is me doing a puzzle at the cottage.  Yes, a jigsaw puzzle.

As the summer cottage season begins I load up the car with all the necessities for the season, mainly ketchup and toilet paper, but also a new puzzle every summer for those rainy days. This year I was delighted with my selection.  I smiled happily all the way to the cash register and agreed entirely with the cashier’s opinion that it was absolutely “an enviable scene” and a “great choice”.  It also brought back so many fond memories of the summer of 1989 and my prolonged back packing trip throughEurope.  My then boyfriend (now husband) and I spent two spectacular weeks in September of that year inGreece.  My prized puzzle choice was a high quality, Ravensburger puzzle with new state of the art “Soft Click” premium puzzle interlocking technology (swear to God).  Santorini,Greece.  Yes, indeed.  Stunning white-washed buildings with brilliant blue tile roofs set against a magnificent blueMediterranean Seaon a clear sunny, blue-sky day dotted with wispy white clouds.  Can’t you just picture it?

Are you getting it now?!  Do you understand the huge puzzle gaffe I have committed??!!  Blue on white on blue on white surrounded by … more blue on white!  Six cups of coffee later, I shout out, “A-ha!  Gotcha!”

Ten pieces done, and only 990 to go. This puzzle is turning me into a complete psychopath.

My visiting sister walks by, with her freshly blended marguerita, and offers, “Are you crazy?  You honestly have no idea how to pick out a puzzle, do you?  Colours, girl, lots of different colours.”  I look at her with the bleary red eyes of an axe murderer but don’t have time to look for the axe.  Must. Finish. Puzzle.

The following weekend, my sister-in-law is visiting with her two daughters, borrowing our cottage– and my daughter – for the week.  She’s never been to our cottage so upon giving her the tour, I stop at the dining room table.  “And this,” gritting my teeth, “This … is my puzzle.  I’m not quite finished!”  I’ve almost managed the perimeter.

For the record, I am relatively new to the puzzle thing.  We’ve owned our cottage now for five years so in my lifetime I’ve probably now accomplished – oh, I don’t know – five puzzles.  Make that four.  I am not able to take credit for this one.  Upon my return to the cottage the following weekend, the puzzle is done.  Finito. Complèt.  The puzzle that brought me to the brink of at least a dozen of the mental disorders listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM, was fully completed by my sister-in-law in two days.  I don’t get it.  The cottage and its occupants appear relatively unscathed throughout her ordeal. “We were going to save you the last piece.” she says.  I smile and offer up my gratitude – and spit in her wine glass when she’s not looking.  Next summer?  I shall unveil my new puzzle:  Thomas the Tank Engine.  60 pieces.  Suitable for ages 4+.

I’ll show her.

Summers are short in the great white north, and summer cottage weekends seem even shorter.  We’ve taken to leaving the cottage well after Sunday dinner, emphasizing our reluctance to return home and to our regular Monday to Fridays.  I felt particularly justified in leaving late last weekend since hockey try-outs delayed my arrival to tranquility until Saturday afternoon.

So the Sunday dinner menu this past weekend called for barbeque pizza.  If you have never tried it, it’s well worth the extra time and effort – akin to pizza lover’s paradise.  Unless of course you’ve already invested the time to create build your own backyard pizza oven.  In which case, you can stop reading now.   The freshly rolled pizza dough must first be brushed with olive oil and grilled before it is ‘topped’, and then quickly re-grilled to heat through and melt the cheese.

This past weekend my boys created an Epic BBQ Pizza of all Pizzas.  Any Meat Lovers Pizza out there would have shriveled up in disgrace at the site of this impressive pie.  As every leftover meat in the frig made it’s way to the pizza’s top, I felt the need to point out to our guests that a) we do not own a portable defibrillator, and b) the nearest hospital was 30 minutes away.  I confirmed we were not filming the next episode of Man vs Food but asked that they all please complete this short waiver anyway.

Though “Epic” was a good moniker for the meal, “everything-AND-the-kitchen-sink” was probably more suitable.  One of the boys yelled out, “needs more bacon strips!” to which I replied, “Seriously, there really are no more bacon strips”.  Not sure if that was a look of disappointment on his face or a calculated thought as to where exactly be the nearest slaughterhouse.   As I crumbled a little goat cheese over my scattered leftover chopped fresh tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, zucchini, my other son quipped, “Green stuff can’t be showing; you gotta cover it with more cheese” as if pointing out some code of honour from the homemade pizza trenches.

I’m reasonably certain that had I took a slice of their pizza, I would not be here to tell the story.  Suffice to say, there were no leftovers from their batch, and they showed no interest in my kitchen handiwork.  I scolded them and preached that they’d soon pay for their trans-fatty transgressions, but no, their young teenage iron-guts triumphed … and begged for more a little while later.

Oh to be young….

The images are so vivid but I can’t figure out how I can be in so many different places at the same time.  I cannot escape nor do I feel compelled to do so.   I am in the moment, but one minute the moment seems suspended while the next it is rambling incomprehensibly through a time continuum.  I am overcome with a need to follow a beckoning unseen hand that tenderly directs my immediate attention elsewhere.  Farther and farther away I drift away like I am actually walking on the open lake…

It’s after noon.  The steady groan of creaky hammock hooks seems to mimic the sound of the passing motorboat’s wake whose waves gently break against the rocky shore, seemingly in time with the swinging hammock.  I am suddenly younger me.   My tongue is enveloping an ice cream cone without haste but also with swift defensiveness to catch the melting drops before the dog does.

It’s evening.  The putt-putt of the small watercraft drifts farther and farther away and another of my selves is reassured by the evensong of a distant train whistle pinpointing its path through the Land o’ Lakes.  I lay nearly naked on top of my sheets – impossible to coax a breeze tonight.

Time is going backwards and it’s dusk.  I am suddenly back on the dock disappointed by the fish that just literally just jumped off my hook making its escape before I can summon a witness.  The plaintiff cry of a not-so-far away loon suggests its commiseration with me and my disappointment but is in stark contrast to the shrill laughter of the small children playing in the water directly across the bay, their shrieks bouncing off the shore and tree line as it becomes mid afternoon all of a sudden.  How can I be playing in the water across the bay in daylight when I am here lying on the dock watching the meteors streak across the night sky?

It doesn’t matter. 

It’s late afternoon.  My old self is now smirking at my teenage self up on the dock stocking the cooler with clanging and clattering bottles of cold beer.  “You used to drink cold beer”, my hazy mind teases but doesn’t mind the memory now of refreshing fermented barley relieving a parched throat and summertime thirst.

I am once again back to my young self trying to catch fireflies in my mother’s mason jar before she discovers it missing from her pickling supplies.  I know this Tinkerbell Convention will be convened before I can say, “All children, except one, grow up.”

I am moving farther and farther away from these sights and sounds, and deeper into another layer of my mind.  The corn stalks tower over me as I run, playing hide and seek with my siblings.  I prepare for our father’s disappointment when I produce my meagre U-Pick harvest compared to his overflowing bushel.  I am an impatient amateur in this realm and I want to leap up and seize the imagery but my self-of-altered-state cautions me against it.  I am subliminally mentored to just “be”.  Somehow it doesn’t freak me out that all these me’s are all over the place. 

I am suddenly my grown up self again at evening yoga class, and am being gently drawn out of savasana by the instructor.  Her voice is soft, wispy and slightly high-pitched, but persistent nevertheless in beckoning the class back to the present.  Because of that unrelenting voice and gently shaking, slowly but reluctantly, my subconscious meets my conscious.  All too quickly I come face to face with the imminent new existential question:  “What’s for dinner, Mom?” 

Nap over.

Like many Canadians, my family heads to the lake for the lazy, hazy weekends of our all-too-short summer.  Our cottage is located not far from Ottawa in the fittingly named Land o’ Lakes region, and is a year-round residence built in the hope-springs-eternal belief of spending a good part of our retirement there as well.  As anyone with three kids in hockey (or any other sport) can imagine, our winter cottage sojourns amounted to a grand total of 2 weekends, the most recent one being in February.

Upon unlocking the door and stepping over the threshold, I anticipated the stale air scent that had accumulated over the months of inhabitation since February but was also overcome with the feeling that someone else had been in our cottage since.  Imagine the dismay and disgust when upon entering the cottage for the May long weekend, I confirmed tell-tale signs of a winter squatter.  I was stunned, nay, shocked.  I found a handful of granola bar wrappers strewn about the kitchen counter.  There were crumbs left on the floor. Most alarming of all, the bed covers were a bit dishevelled and the mental image of this uninvited guest – or guests – propagating on my innocent daughter’s bed appalled me (although it is entirely possible she left the bed that way herself). 

There is really not much worth stealing in our cottage and no real vandalism so sense of some relief was granted.  My husband and eldest had yet to arrive thanks to a Friday night sporting event, but my other two children, and our two dogs who also seemed to sense the intrusion, felt invaded.   A quick sweep of the interior yielded no remaining signs of inhabitation and I quickly tidied the already found evidence while opening the windows for airing out.   My son even made a few jokes about this intruder who’d found him or herself a pretty ‘sick crib’ for the remaining winter months.

It was he who found our intruder, upon going to the bathroom for the first time since our arrival.  It was he who made the grim discovery, that our squatter was a mouse, and had drowned in the toilet bowl presumably seeking relief for his thirst after all those tasty treats.  The three of us gathered into the tiny powder room looking mournfully down into the white porcelain tomb.  This tiny creature, whom we (I) recently had cursed as a trespasser, was now immobile and was now immortalized with the nickname Splash

May he rest in peace, or rather flushed in peace (as the ceremony went).

We were trying to recreate the Norman Rockwell Family Day holiday fun we enjoyed last year over this recently introduced Ontario statutory holiday weekend.  Seriously, I don’t know if I need to the government to legislate my family time but I won’t argue a 3-day weekend! 

Though our hectic hockey schedule would not permit a whole weekend away, the planets did align for us to sneak up to the cottage for an overnighter – as we had last year.  We invited some close friends to share in a brisk skate on the frozen lake, followed by a comfortable fire, a hearty meal and maybe a glass of wine or two. 

Our two dogs love the cottage, or rather the  c-o-t-t-a-g-e as it must be referred to in the presence of our extremely vocabulary- rich border collie.  It is the source of a great deal of exercise and  amusement for them so we knew our friends’ dog Eddie would also join in the fun.  We couldn’t have been more wrong.  While Eddie enjoyed our great outdoors, the confined space of the cottage was not as conducive to 3 male dogs – 2 of them striving for the coveted Alpha post.  Eddie found Koda’s kibble bag and – well – there ensued a ‘discussion’.  Once separated, our friend Al announced “OK, there’s blood.  I have blood here.  One of them is bleeding”.  It was soon discovered that Eddie’s ear now sported a 1 inch tear and was bleeding profusely.  Aren’t ears all cartilage?  Yes cartilage, and a significant amount of blood cells – at least the canine ear anyway.  Not so much for Eddie anymore though.

Imagine the scene as we spent the next hour in any manner possible attempting to calm this 100-pound beast enough to ‘apply pressure’ to his wound.  Meanwhile Koda is busy protecting his kibble bag and Murdoch is trying to herd everyone back into comfortable submission in one place.  Every time Eddie shook his head (which dogs do often – especially when experiencing discomfort), a shower of blood sprayed everything within his radius.  Three adults tended Eddie, my husband corralled the other two dogs and the kids were left to fend for themselves with the occasional reassurance from me that , no, Koda, probably not have to be put down for this aggression.  What my husband was muttering to himself was inaudible.  We thought we had it under control with an old towel wrapped around his head.  Eddie would endure no such indignity.

A trip to the vet on a Sunday evening in cottage country translated into many dollar signs if at all even possible.  What my husband was muttering now was a little more audible.  In the end, our guest packed up their wounded dog and returned to the city where a 24 hour emergency vet clinic would be at their disposal.  We were left to continue with our Family Day holiday with our kids and our guests’ son without our adult guest, without Eddie and with a whole lot of extra food (where was Eddie now?!).  We felt awful.  The hearty meal, comfortable fire and wine were now fortified with guilt.

Eddie slept all the way back to Ottawa and in the end (partly thanks to the excitement but also likely due to the 2 children’s strength Benedryl administered), the bleeding finally did subside without the need of stitches or the trip to the emergency vet clinic.  Our friends have asked for a ‘re-do’ of our weekend away – which is a good sign for our continued friendship.  Eddie, however, will spend that weekend at the kennel. 

Where the hell is Cesar Millan when you need him?

About Astra
Ottawa mom of 3 poking fun at myself, motherhood, and minor hockey! I am steering through life dodging stinky hockey gear and empty wine bottles.
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