The official "christmas letter"

I know that not everyone is into the annual family portrait or form letters sent along with Christmas cards... and in the day and age of e-mail, facebook and twitter it's becoming harder and harder to justify all those paper cards and envelopes... not to mention the ink(!) but I love getting Christmas cards, so I send them out too. I love getting pictures and annual "summaries", so I do that too!

I'm ashamed to admit that I also included the thank-you cards that I prepared last Spring (following presents and meals after Meaghan was born) in this year's Christmas send-off. What can I say? Maybe I should have tossed them because sending them now is just pointing out how unconventional and impolite I was/am. In my defense - I had very good intentions...

...Anyways... that's "me" for you...

So if you're new to A.O.K - then this post is a pretty good intro/summary of my family and my life in the past year. If you're not new, then I'd like to thank you for reading and for encouraging me in this little venture of mine. I'm having a lot of fun writing the posts for this blog and am hoping to keep it going and make it even better in 2010!

Here's a preview of what we sent out to our family and friends this year (minus the card, envelope and postage stamp)... Wishing you all a very merry Christmas!

By the way - I *heart* this family portrait by our good friend and amazing photographer Leino OlĂ© (Esto-Image)… and after the “family portrait” session, he took some time to capture some of his signature baby parts shots of Meaghan (click here for a sneak peak!).

Picture by Leino Ole (Esto-Image)

December 2009

There is snow on the ground. Our Christmas shopping is done. We spent some time with Leino last week having our annual family picture taken (love it – don’t you?). Andrea hosted her first cookie swap this past Sunday so our freezer is stocked with holiday treats. There are Christmas parties coming up and Brandon finishes work on Friday (one of the best perks of being a teacher is always having the holidays off!). It would seem that it’s that time of year again... and that a whole other year is coming to an end. Wow. It’s been said before but TIME FLIES!

This will actually be the 11th Christmas that we share as a couple, our third as “parents” and the first one we share with Meaghan (well... officially she was around last year... kicking her mom from time to time). Just shy of 8 months old (and now crawling everywhere and climbing on everything) – little Meaghie loves the Christmas tree. At 2 ½ years – Layla is really “getting it” this year and sharing in her excitement is making it all new and even more fun for us adults!

2009 was a great year (much like 2008, 2007, 2006... the list goes on). We feel so blessed to be where we are in our lives, enjoying our girls, our home, our activities and projects – not to mention the people that we share our lives with (we love you guys!). Although we were still in intense “renovation mode” and Andrea was at the tail end of a rough pregnancy at the beginning of the year – all that seems very far away now. Three out of four floors (we live in a split level – not a mansion) are now “done” and our sweet little Meaghie was definitely worth any pain and discomfort experienced during the pregnancy (& drug-free labour – yow!).

With a house to take care of and a second baby, things are certainly busier than they once were. We wonder sometimes what we did with our time when it was just the two of us... These days – between Brandon’s schedule with work, school (he’s working towards a masters in education), coaching basketball, playing basketball, breeding snakes (yes... you read that right), and keeping fit – and Andrea’s schedule which might be free of regular work for the time being but is still full with new projects like her blog A.O.K (, becoming an Usborne books consultant, taking care of the girls and trying to efficiently manage things around the house(... trying!)... we feel busier than ever! Oddly enough, we still kind of feel like we’re “playing house” most of the time!

Our first baby – Layla – is growing into a real little girl. It’s really amazing to watch her grow and transform... developing with each passing week. The things that she says or does take our breath away (literally at times) and make us laugh. She’s very verbal, chatting away in both English and French. She’s a beauty and loves to be told how pretty she looks when she’s all dressed up. She likes baking with either mom or dad, playing with polly pockets or her dad’s old “doctor kit” (from when he was a kid), and doing “bricolages” – beware of leaving her alone with glue or markers though – she’s just not ready for that kind of responsibility yet!

Our little one – Meaghan – isn’t much of a newborn anymore! She’ll be 8 months old on Christmas day, is now crawling all over the place and getting into things. She has been a doll of a baby and being the second, we knew how fast it would go and have really made sure to appreciate the good and the bad. She wasn’t too bad to us even at the beginning so it wasn’t that hard to do. People think she’s adorable (we agree) and serious (but you should see her with her mom, dad and sister... not serious at all – what a goof!). She’s great. Can’t wait to see what she’s like in a year from now (but no – we will not wish the time away!)

So... that’s the 2009 Rodgers-Matte family update. Brandon and his girls are all doing very well.

Wishing you all a very merry Christmas, a happy holiday season (with time for fun and time for rest) and God’s blessings in the New Year.

Brandon, Andrea, Layla & Meaghan


The moments we remember... and the ones we don't...

Have you ever had a sweet but not necessarily memorable moment in life – looking down at your sleeping child, snuggling up to your lover, enjoying a beautiful view or simply staring wistfully at yourself in the bathroom mirror – and thought to yourself...

I probably won’t remember this moment...

Of all the memories that we store, why do some stand out more than others? Why can’t I remember the reason I was so mad at my husband when we had that huge fight six months ago? Why can’t I really remember how much it hurt to give birth to my two daughters (especially the second one, who came so quickly there was no time for drugs to numb the pain)? Why don’t I remember when and how I transitioned to solids with my first child when it’s time to do the same with my second?... will I forget what it feels like to be a teenage girl before my girls are in their teens (cause I swore I wouldn't)?

Maybe I’m more scatter-brained than some of you out there – or maybe I have the brain of a genius and I’m just so good at compartmentalizing and organizing the day to day things that I have a hard time retrieving them when I want to (let’s go with the genius theory please and thank you).

Seriously though... this whole “time” thing sends my thoughts to weird places.
Sometimes it feels like I spend so much time and energy preparing for a big moment – and in the end that’s all it is – a moment – here one second and gone the next. Some are memorable and I’m all for making memories... but some just get forgotten, no matter how sweet or significant they may have seemed at the time.

Parents of teenage and adult children have often advised me to “enjoy” my little girls... now. This time is so precious and it goes by so fast. My daughters are only 2 ½ and 8 months old and already I can see the time just slipping away.

I learned the “time goes by so fast” lesson
soon after having my first daughter, Layla. Although I was a relatively relaxed first time mom, the first two-months were challenging. I had some pretty serious pain issues with nursing and we were working towards a sleeping and eating schedule that would encourage longer periods of night time sleep. At about 2 months old – nursing suddenly stopped hurting and she started sleeping through the night (almost simultaneously).

Instead of feeling relief I was regretting that I had wished the time away and that I had not fully appreciated those early moments with my precious little girl. I can honestly say that that experience has made me consciously make an effort to live in the moment and appreciate the day to day with both Layla and Meaghan... yes... even in the first weeks of Meaghan's life I was determined to enjoy and treasure the good, the bad and the ugly.

So where does this leave me?

When I realize how time is just passing, and that all my little moments are fading into one another?

I take pictures. I make videos. I try to capture the things that I want to remember... the things that I want to tell my kids one day. Things that will trigger my memories and help me to remember what I may otherwise forget. (But have you ever noticed that the picture doesn't ever quite reflect reality? hmmm.)

And I make a real effort to slow down. The business and pace of life that our society pushes cannot possibly be conducive to "living in the moment". I need to take the time to stop - to observe - to treasure - to laugh - to cry...

...because life is short... and I don't want to miss a thing...


A new Christmas tradition?

I love Christmas. Don't you? The decorations, the music, the "feeling"... the celebration, the time with family and friends... the laughter, the down-time, the parties...

Ever since Brandon and I started sharing our holidays together (this will be our 11th Christmas - that is just... crazy!) I have enjoyed celebrating with our respective families - but even more - I've enjoyed creating our own little traditions as a couple. And now - as a young mom - with a daughter who is just starting to "get" the excitement of this time of year - I find myself wanting to find ways to make this time of year special or UNIQUE not only for "the parents" but for our family.

I want my girls to understand the meaning of why we do the things we do (the celebrating, the gift-giving, the feasting...) but I also simply want them to enjoy it and capture some of the "magic" of Christmas. And the last thing I want is to get so caught up in crazy December to-do lists (shopping, baking, hosting, ...) or trying to make things so picture-perfect... that the true spirit of Christmas is forgotten along the way.

The idea of having a variety of home-made treats to serve guests or give as gifts at Christmas time is a classic example. It's a nice idea , a yummy tradition... but also a rather time consuming one. I don't know about you - but as much as I love to have home-made baking on hand to serve my guests, I just don't have the time (or perhaps the will power) to slave away baking (and decorating) a variety of cookies, bars and truffles - especially in December!

A cookie swap is a fun and more importantly - a practical (!) - solution! Have you ever been to a "cookie swap"? Have you ever heard of one? I was introduced to the concept 2 years ago... and hosted my very own for the first time this afternoon. The idea is simple. I invited some of my favorite ladies over with instructions to bake 8-10 dozen of a favorite cookie (or bar). After some indulging and taste-testing, we "swap" and everyone leaves with a great variety of home-made baked goods!

Not only am I now stocked with a fantastic assortment of Christmas goodies - hosting the swap gave me a great excuse to try out a couple new cookie recipes (Remember the Angelettis? ...well, they made it to the swap!). The girls brought some amazing goodies... (recipes are all listed below if you're looking for a little inspiration) and several of them pre-packaged their treats in festive bags or trusty Ziploc's! So handy... so practical :-)

Since not everyone could join me for my "cookie party" - I'm going to give you a chance to get in on the fun by sharing the recipes with you. I can personally vouch for all of these recipes and say that they are excellent - I should know - I tried every single one this afternoon. DELICIOUS!

So here they are (in no particular order of importance - just alphabetical!)

1) Angeletti's
2) Chocolate Chip Cookies
3) Ginger and Molasses Snaps
4) Maple Glazed Pecan Cookies
5) Mocha Chunk Cookies
6) Orange Sable Cookies
7) Rocky Road Squares
8) White Chocolate Dalmatians


Contributed by ME (of course I picked a cookie that starts with "A" just so I could put mine first...)

*Since I already wrote about these in my AOK "trial" Gourmet series - you can click here for the recipe.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

contributed by Leslie


1 cup margarine or butter ( I use becel olive oil margarine)
1 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 eggs

1 tbsp vanilla (I use 2 tablespoons of vanilla or more)

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tbsp salt (I don’t use salt)

300 g CHIPITS® Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips

**I add a tbsp of unsweetened applesauce too.


  1. Heat oven to 375°F.
  2. In large bowl, beat shortening, brown sugar and granulated sugar until fluffy.
  3. Beat in eggs and vanilla until creamy.
  4. In medium bowl, mix together flour, baking soda and salt.
  5. Gradually blend into creamed mixture.
  6. Stir in chocolate chips.
  7. Drop from small spoon onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 10 minutes, until golden brown.

Ginger and Molasses Snaps

Contributed by Karla


4 1/2 cup flour
2tsp baking soda
1tsp cloves
1 1/2 cup shortening
2 eggs
4 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp cinnamon
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup molasses


  1. Stir dry ingredients together
  2. Beat shortening and sugar in a separate bowl until fluffy. Add eggs and molasses and continue beating.
  3. Begin adding dry mix to the beaten mixture until blended (use a wooden spoon at this point or else mixer may smoke )
  4. Roll mix into balls, and roll balls into sugar (can use icing sugar or sugar crystals)
  5. Place on cookie sheet and bake 350F for 12-14 mins (cookies should be light brown and puffed and hopefully not smoking).
  6. Let cool 2 mins and enjoy.

Glazed Maple-Pecan Cookies

Contributed by Aimee (UtHC blogger!)

*Recipe is available on Aimee's blog - Under the High Chair.

Mocha Chunk Cookies

Contributed by Charlene


¾ cup packed brown sugar

1 cup white sugar

1 cup butter (softened)

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons instant coffee

2 teaspoons coffee liqueur

2 ½ cups all purpose flour

1/3 cup cocoa powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

10 oz semi sweet chocolate OR white chocolate (chopped)


  1. Preheat oven to 350 F
  2. Combine dry ingredients in medium bowl
  3. Dissolve coffee in liqueur in small bowl (* you can use water instead)
  4. In large bowl, blend sugars, add butter until grainy, add egg and coffee.
  5. Beat until smooth
  6. Add flour mixture and chocolate chunks… DO NOT OVERMIX
  7. Bake 6-8 minutes

Orange Sable Cookies

Contributed by Jamie


1 ¼ cups whole blanched almonds (6 ¼ oz). (Modification: 6 ¼ oz ground almonds to save time)

1 cup confectioners’ sugar

¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter

3 tbsp finely grated orange zest (2 to 4 oranges)

1 large egg

Orange and almond extract, to taste (JS addition)

1 tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 cup sanding or granulated sugar, for rolling


  1. Place almonds and confectioners' sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Process until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal; set aside. (Modification: I simply mixed my ground almonds with the confectioners’ sugar)
  2. Place butter and zest in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. On low, add almond mixture; beat until combined, 10 to 15 seconds. Add egg and orange juice; combine. Add flour; combine. (Modification: I added a bit of orange and almond extracts because they were lacking in flavour)
  3. Place in fridge for approx 30 min so that the dough is easier to handle (JS additional step)
  4. Place two 12-by-16-inch pieces of parchment on a clean work surface. Divide dough in half. Form a rough log with each half; place on parchment. Fold parchment over dough; use a ruler to roll and press dough into 1 1/2-inch-diameter logs. Wrap. Chill for at least 3 hours.
  5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment. Spread sanding sugar in a baking pan. Unwrap logs; roll in sugar to coat. Cut into scant 1/4-inch-thick rounds; place on sheets, 1 inch apart. Bake until edges turn golden, about 15 minutes, rotating halfway through. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Bake or freeze remaining dough. Store baked cookies in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Rocky Road Bars
Contributed by Stacey

1 ½ cups graham wafer crumbs

½ cup butter or margarine (melted)

1 ½ cups flaked coconut

1 ½ cups chopped nuts (optional)

1 pkg (300 g) semi sweet chocolate chips

1 ½ cups miniature marshmallows

1 can (300 ml) sweetened condensed milk

3 squares (oz) semi sweet chocolate, melted (or you can just use chocolate chips)


  1. Combine crumbs and butter. Press into 13 x9 inch pan.
  2. Sprinkle coconut over crumbs.
  3. Add layer of nuts (optional) chocolate chips and marshmallows
  4. Drizzle condensed milke evenly over top
  5. bake at 350 F for 25-30 min (or until golden brown)
  6. Remove from oven, drizzle with melted chocolate. Let cool.
  7. Cut into bars.

*Makes about 36 bars

White Chocolate Dalmatians
Contributed by Arlene


4 oz white chocolate

3/4 lb butter, room temperature

1 cup sugar

2 tsp vanilla

4 cups flour

1/2 tsp salt

8 oz mini morsels


  1. Preheat to 325.
  2. Melt chocolate over double boiler and set aside.
  3. Cream butter and sugar together until soft. Use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides then beat again until light. Add chocolate and vanilla. Gradually add the flour. Add the chocolate chips.
  4. Take heaping tablespoon of batter and roll in your hands into a ball. Place on cookie sheet with a parchment liner and pat down a bit.
  5. Cook for 14-16 minutes, rotating pans. Let cool about 10 minutes before removing from pan. Store in airtight container or freeze.

*From Marcel Desaulniers Death by Chocolate Cookies

There are sparkles outside!

Yesterday evening I dressed the girls up for our usual after-supper/pre-bedtime dog walk.
Brandon was coaching a basketball game so it was just the girls and me.

It was snowing ever so slightly and it was dark outside. The streetlights were reflecting off the dusting of snow on the street and sidewalk and making the snow shimmer.

Layla was walking ahead of me (Meaghan was tucked snuggly into my baby carrier) making "feet-men" (AKA foot prints) in the small amount of snow that was accumulating on the sidewalk. She was chatting about how there was just "a little" snow... "not a lot" when she stopped walking for a moment and looked around.
"oh mamma... the snow has sparkles on it"

I looked around to see that she was absolutely right. There were sparkles all over the ground!

It is really amazing to see the world through the eyes of a child. It sounds like a cliche but it's true and it's something that I am realizing more and more as Layla gets bigger and makes the oddest and most adorable connections about the world around her.

This is especially true right now - with Christmas coming and holiday preparations in the works.

Layla's was 8 months old for her first Christmas. She enjoyed playing with the wrapping paper and probably had her first taste of chocolate.

She was just over 1 1/2 last year... she recognized Santa (the red suit and beard) and "got" the whole present thing (and had more candy!).

This year she's a "big 2" and is really starting to get more of the magic of the holidays. To a certain extent anyways. She knows that Christmas is coming, she knows that "Santa" is bringing presents. She helped decorate the tree (not to mention her part in baking christmas treats!) and put Reuben's stocking on his actual foot...

While she may not understand the full depth of the true meaning of Christmas, she can sing parts of "Away in a manger" and knows that Jesus slept in a barn and that He loves her.
Watching her discover the world... and discover "Christmas" brings a whole new meaning to phrases like "the faith of a child" for me.

May we all have "child" moments this holiday season...
... and may we all see the "sparkles" when it snows...

P.S. Can't wait to see her reaction when tomorrow's "highly anticipated" snow storm hits!
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