Monday, June 24, 2013

Mountain Vacation, pt 2

This post picks up where my last one left off - the evening of Wednesday, June 19th. For details on why this is a two part post, please see part 1!

Mountain Vacation, pt 2

We'd just got home from a busy day, and a very large dinner. Both Matt and the baby fell asleep quickly, but being in a wood construction chalet with a vaulted ceiling during a rain storm made for a noisy night. Between concerns about landslides (which might seem silly, but another timeshare we have visited had a massive landslide last year) and the sheer volume of the rain, I couldn't sleep. Fortunately we had a TV in our room which picked up the Discovery Channel, so I watched documentaries for a few hours. At around 1 Matt woke up and watched a few shows with me and I was finally able to get some sleep around 3:30 a.m.

When we woke up on Thursday morning at around 9 a.m. we checked our Facebook and found out that the rain had been doing more damage than we thought. We did not experience any adverse affects on the mountain, but according to updates on the internet, Canmore had declared a state of emergency thanks to a swelling creek. Cougar creek, whose creek bed I have at times seen completely dry, was swelling, rapidly. Houses were being threatened, and the road wasn't faring well. We watched the news over at my parents' chalet and commented on how we might not be going into Canmore that day... and after a while we started to realize this wasn't an isolated incident. Turns out, we weren't going anywhere for a while. It was about midmorning when we heard that the highway was being affected, and mid-day when we realized the highway was blocked all around us. Lac Des Arc, just a few miles East of us, had flooded and the road was blocked. We watched with almost a sense of addiction for news updates and found that the highway at Canmore was washed out. We'd seen pictures where a chunk of overpass was missing, and thought that was crazy enough, but it didn't compare to the devastation to the road not even half a km ahead, where the entire road was washed away. We sent out a message to family members as we realized that they might hear about this on the news. We assured them we were fine, we had ample food and supplies since we have a tendency to over-pack (which, in light of this situation, is not a habit we're going to kick anytime soon!), and that by some miscommunication when we were buying groceries earlier in the week, we had a spare flat of water, as well as our own water supply on the mountain. By that night though, we realized we were some of the luckiest ones in the affected areas. We soon heard about relatives being evacuated from their homes in Calgary as a state of emergency was announced there. We heard about sour gas leaks in Turner Valley. We saw images of High River, completely flooded by the swollen river, and forcing people to ride on combines to safety. Earlier on in the day, Matt and my brother-in-law road down the road leading down our mountain, and got stopped before they reached the bottom by a river that formed through the quarry that operates on Pigeon mountain. All of the rain was funnelling through the quarry and was washing rocks, trees, cars and trailers down the road. The boys watched as a tree tipped onto a power line and started smoking and a pickup truck tried driving through the water and started getting swept sideways. We heard talk of an evacuation at around 3:00 on Thursday afternoon, but it was called off when RCMP determined we were at least alright. They had more pressing concerns than people stuck in nice chalets with food and water. We had packed all our bags so we'd be ready to go at a moment's notice and decided to leave them packed, in case the RCMP changed their stance. Later that evening we found out that the gas was turned off, since the flooding had brought the gas line to ground level. But we still had lots going for us, so we had a hamburger supper and threw together a 'party' for Nathaniel, complete with a jello 'cake'.

Friday brought much of the same. We obsessed over getting news reports, but part way through the day our Wi-Fi went down, making it harder for us to access news. On the TV, almost all of the coverage was focused on Calgary and the flooding that was happening there, which made it harder for us to find out any information about our situation. We knew the highway was still closed east-bound, but we didn't now if it was washed out, or just blocked. The waterflow across the mountain road was lower, so the boys managed to get down to the grocery store to buy food and supplies for everyone, including a stock for the resort to distribute. Once people heard the road was passable, they went down the mountain to Dead Man's Flats and checked into a motel in the tiny hamlet. About half of the guests at the resort left at this point. But we figured staying on high ground was the smarter decision at this point, since we still had supplies for ourselves. We threw together a supper using whatever leftovers were in the chalet: steak tacos with a variety of toppings. My tortilla had rose sauce, peppers, tomatoes, steak, parmesan and pineapple. Can't complain about a meal like that! Matt and I started to get anxious about getting out. We were supposed to leave on Friday so we'd be home in time for his sister's wedding the next day. But as night rolled in, we realized we weren't going anywhere on Friday either.

On Saturday we felt sure we'd get out of there and some point in the day. Unfortunately at 8 a.m., reports indicated that the roads were still closed. That was our last chance to catch the ceremony. And since Wi-Fi was down at that time, we couldn't even FaceTime the ceremony. We were hugely disappointed, and it was a tearful phone call Matt made to his sister to wish her a happy wedding day. But we still had hope that we could make it to the ceremony that night. Around 10:00 however we received word that the resort wasn't counting on us being able to get out today. We'd been stuck in limbo the last couple days, filling our time with endless news reports, but now the sun was shining and we resolved to make the most of it. We took the kids to the tennis courts where we played with balls and badminton rackets. Later we sat on the deck while the kids 'painted' it with water. The weather was gorgeous, as is the resort, so there was no shortage of enjoyment for the kids that day. We watched a couple shows, and volunteered to help set up a mass meal for all the remaining guests since one of the workers scored a police escort into town to get more food supplies. However, just before we started making supper, the RCMP indicated they were contemplating a mandatory evacuation for our resort. We were all instructed to get packed and wait for the verdict. They were worried the road would wash out down the mountain. They brought in an engineer who assessed the road and said that it could go either way. The RCMP was pleased to see we were well supplied, so they made it a voluntary evacuation. About another half of the group left at this point. This was a bittersweet time. The sun went away and the rain came again, and while we were relieved we wouldn't have to spend the night in a gym with a couple hundred other people, there was no way we'd be able to make it back for the reception now. We'd missed the wedding completely. It was around 7:00 when we went down to make supper: pasta and garlic toast done up on the BBQ. Around 40 people were still on the mountain and we tried to make the best of the situation. It was Nathaniel's second birthday and I'm sure he felt in part like this was a party for him. As I was walking back to the kitchen to see how much pasta we had left, I heard the last bit of an announcement on the radio that hinted at the highway being open. We caught the next announcement: they were allowing eastbound traffic from Canmore to Calgary for 48 hours in an attempt to clear out so of the traffic. Canmore had just issued a boil water advisory for the whole town, and their resources were becoming strained. We were tempted to leave right then, but we had to look at what was wise. If we got stuck on the highway late and night, we'd have no one to help us. One of the vans in our group was very low on gas, and AMA had other things to worry about. We didn't want to be driving through sketchy roads in the dark, and we were all tired already. We made the decision to get up first thing in the morning and drive out then. We spent the rest of the evening packing up our cars.

Sunday morning we were up at 5:30 a.m. The kids were all drowsy as they ate their bowls of Fruit Loops - the only food we left unpacked - and we loaded them into the cars. It was 6:00 as we pulled away from the resort. The biggest concern was whether the road down the mountain was still safe to go over, but as we were going down, someone else was coming up, and informed us that he made it over fine. There was a fair bit of debris left on the road, and the water was still running over it. We could see trailers with trees through them, and cars underneath them. A load of trees had got stuck at the entrance to the quarry and blocked a good amount of debris from clogging up the roadway even more. We could only access the highway on the east-bound direction, but it turns out that the road was technically only open on the west-bound lane, going east-bound. As a result, we drove between 4 foot piles of rock until we found an opening in the highway that helped us jog over to the other side. We beat most of the traffic out that morning, which was our hope, and we managed to find a gas station that was open between Canmore and Calgary, so no one ran out of gas. We got home by 9:30 that morning, refilled with coffee, relieved to be out of the mountains, and glad for a hot shower. After spending 72 hours stranded on a mountain, we had to admit we were some of the lucky ones. With the death count currently sitting at 4 people, over 100,000 people displaced in Calgary alone thanks to evacuations, hundreds of homes lost across the province, and the whole town of High River under water, to spend three days in the mountains where we still had beautiful accomodations, king-sized beds, Wi-Fi and satellite TV, with plenty of food and drinkable water, our experience, while taxing and nerve-wracking, was really just a blip on the radar. This will be an interesting story for me to tell down the road. For others, the last few days may have changed their lives forever.

My prayers go out to everyone who has been affected by the recent flooding in Alberta, and I look forward to seeing our beautiful province restored.

Mrs. VanderLeek

Mountain Vacation, pt 1

My family went on a vacation to the mountains that we had booked from June 15 - 21st. I've broken up my blog post because, as you'll read, the events that occurred that week were of two very different extremes: one of joy, and the other of anxiety and worry. While the latter half of our trip threatened to overshadow all the fun and happiness of the first half, I don't want to forget that the good times did happen. So I'll share my time away over two posts, although I'm sure that you, much like myself, will have difficulty dwelling on the first half, once you get through the second half.

Mountain Vacation Pt. 1

Every year my family has a joint vacation at our timeshare on Pigeon Mountain, just 5 minutes East of the town of Canmore. We had been looking forward to this trip for a long time; Matt had been overworked for a while, and I was looking forward to time with the family, as well as a break from my normal routine. We had prepped for a week by cleaning, packing and making sure everything at home would be taken care of while we were gone. On Saturday morning, it was finally time for us to head out!
We loaded three very sleepy boys into the car on Saturday and drove South to hit up Bass Pro Shop. One of the mainstays of our vacation each year is fishing and we wanted to be ready for that. We picked up a number of lures, mostly for rainbow trout in murky water since we knew there had been a fair bit of rain the week prior at the stocked ponds we normally frequent. $90 later and we had lures, bait and licenses for all. We grabbed a quick bite at the sandwich shop in the store and then went back out to the car to drive to the mountains - well, actually we needed to wait inside for a few minutes since there was a torrential storm that blew through and dumped a load of water everywhere, but soon we'd be in the mountains, away from all of that!
We got in the mountains to check in and quickly settled into our vacation lifestyle. We'd done this same thing for the past 5 years, so it was quick and methodical as we pulled out our food, supplies and clothes. We had everything we needed!
On the first night we had a pasta dinner before we headed down to make use of the pool in the main lodge. The boys had a great time swimming! Then it was back up to the chalets for bedtime (but I slipped away to play cards with the rest of the girls!)

The next morning we go up in good time to go fishing. We grabbed Tim Horton's for breakfast and then drove a very long and dusty road up to Spray Lakes. First we actually stopped just past the lakes to a little pond called Buller Pond, where many locals had been having a lot of luck. We, on the other hand, didn't see a thing. So after an hour we went back down the road to Spray Lakes again. The water was very low, so we figured we'd have more luck since the fish would be concentrated more... but we got nothing. Although, it was still a beautiful spot to go put a line in the water on Father's Day.
On our way back down the winding mountain road (with a massive cliff right beside you), the dust cleared just in time for us to see a herd of Mountain Sheep on the road right beside us. We had a rest back at our chalet before we joined up again for a steak dinner, then spent the evening watching a show at our own chalet.

I felt bad for Matt not catching anything the day before, so I arranged for him to go with my brother, his wife, and my parents down for a bit of fishing on the river, while the rest of us stayed up at the chalets with the kids. They were gone by 6:45 so they could get in a Timmy's run before putting a line in. But, alas, they had as much luck as they had the day before. At least they got to come home to a bacon and egg breakfast we whipped up while they were out! Once everyone was ready we set out for a game of Frisbee golf - a game we've come to embrace on our holidays. The kids only lasted a couple holes, so we took them to the playground while the boys played on. We cleared out of there just in time to miss the rain rolling in. We had vermicelli noodle bowls for supper that night and watched the Hobbit at one of the chalets.

On Tuesday morning Matt and I had plans to use, what the weather network said would be our last rain-free morning, for a hike. We had hoped to do Grotto Canyon with the whole group, but we knew our good weather wouldn't hold out forever, so since the rest of the group had a tee-time booked, we resolved on doing Grassi Lakes. But good news came in the morning - the tee-time got cancelled and everyone opted to revert back to our plan of hiking Grotto Canyon. Each of the parents strapped on a child into a carrier, and the grandparents had charge of the four-year-olds on foot. The canyon is rocky, with a creek running through it, and filled with fossils. There was one section where it was a bit tricky, and nerve-wracking, to get everyone down, but it was fairly smooth sailing for the rest of it. Matt stumbled upon a tiny nest with two eggs in it, and we were pleasantly surprised to see Momma Hummingbird return to her nest while we watched. We saw the paintings on the canyon wall, done hundreds of years ago, and made it to the waterfall at the end of the first section of the canyon. We did encounter a slight mishap here, involving rocks being dropped by younger brothers onto the older brother's head. My boy Gabriel had quite the headache, but fortunately was alright. Although he was quite attached to his Bumpa for the rest of the hike back. Once we got down from our hike, we were eager to go fishing, but also quite hungry. We resolved to head back to our chalet for a quick bite before we came back to do some fishing. Grotto Pond is our regular fishing hole on our vacations, but it's a regular fishing hole for a lot of people, so sometimes the fishing isn't as good as we would like. We'd been warned that this year in particular the fish weren't biting very well. But we'd tried Buller, where everyone else had so much luck, and that didn't work for us, so why not stick with what we know? We came back armed with our worm powerbait (after receiving a tip from another fisherman) and could not believe our luck. Everyone caught something, including the 4 year olds. We kept five of the fish, and threw back at least that many. By the end of our fishing trip, every cast was a catch. We actually called it a day because we were catching too many and it was getting taxing to have to keep digging our hooks out of the mouths of the fish! While we'd got a bit of rain during our hike, it stayed shiny for our whole time fishing. We went home that night for our taco and trout dinner.

Wednesday we'd expected it to be rainy, so we scheduled our shopping trip into Banff for that day. We filled up on bacon and eggs in the morning, then drove in to the townsite. First we stopped at Cave and Basin to show the kids around. It's a neat place to check out every couple of years at least. When we finally got around to shopping people were starting to get hungry, so we stopped to pick up a couple items we'd intended to get that day, and ended up at The Old Spaghetti Factory - our regular lunch destination in Banff. Manicotti, clam chowder, and bread made up my meal, and it wouldn't be a meal at the Spaghetti Factory without their spumoni ice cream for dessert! People were full, and a little tired, and sore from the day before, so we didn't spend a ton of time wandering the stores, but rather everyone hit their favorite shops. We bought a small Daase print from a local gallery, some rocks for Gabe to start his own rock collection, and even went to the candy store so Gabe could spend some of the money he'd been saving for a while. Finally, at the toy store, we picked up a present for Nathaniel's second birthday. There were a few more things we'd intended to buy on our vacation, but since we planned on shopping in Canmore the next day, we figured we'd get it done then. We drove back through the rain, which was finally picking up, and got ready for a date night; my parents offered to watch all the kids while we went out for a little date. Since it was raining heavily, we didn't want to drive too far, so we opted to check out the little roadside restaurant at the bottom of the mountain. We went for dinner at The Junction House in Dead Man's Flats. We had originally intended stopping in just for dessert, but when we read the dinner menu, we opted out of the hot dog meal we'd planned to have at the chalet, and went for our full meal. When we pulled up the parking lot was pooling a lot of water, and we half expected the place to be dead, but it was bustling inside! The setting was quaint and friendly - people talked to everyone who came in and chatted about where the were from and the crazy rain. We went all out for dinner, since we'd opted to not get massages on our vacation (which we'd saved a pretty penny for). For starters we got an order of the beef samosas and the Indian Poutine. The Samosas were large, authentic, and delicious! The Poutine was fantastic! It used real paneer instead of normal curds, and had a good bit of bite to it. Matt got the Butter Chicken for his entrée, while I got the Deadman's Burger with the chutney and paneer added on. Matt liked his meal, and my burger was great: sirloin patty, spinach, tomato, a cream sauce, tamarind chutney and grilled paneer. The side of fries were perfect. The taste reminded me of New York Fries, but they were thick cut and crispy. We were stuffed, but since we'd been drawn to the place because of the dessert menu, we made ourselves order some. I got a cup of their homemade chai latte as well as the rice pudding, while Matt got the Fried Cinnamon Naan with Caramelized Cardamom Bananas. The rice pudding was exceptional. I love indian rice pudding and this had just the right amount of spice with a smooth coconut flavor. The fried naan was great too. We headed back up to the chalets, picked up the baby while the rest of the kids had a sleepover, and went back to our chalet for the night.

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Cheesy Mac and Cheese

Okay, so I'm pretty sure this is the third Mac and Cheese recipe I've posted. The issue is, each one is a little different. The last one I posted in my post entitled 'Quarantine' made a drier Mac and Cheese. This one will be much saucier. Different people like their Mac and Cheese differently. I like mine to have a bit of a sharper taste than others might like (enter the sharp cheddar and sour cream). The technique I describe below has some good 'general rules' though, regardless of the flavor you like. For example, to avoid separation, use onion powder instead of fresh onion. So make the sauce combine better, reserve some grated cheese out of the initial mix-in and add it afterwards. Cook your butter and flour mixture (called a 'roux') for an extra minute to help cook out the flour flavor. Oh, and this time I listed the actual measurement of pasta - in the 'Quarantine' recipe I suggested half a bag... but failed to mention what size of bag I was starting with! So, perhaps third time's the charm for getting this recipe posted properly?

A Perfect Pot of Cheesy Mac and Cheese:
400 g of elbow pasta, cooked and drained
3 tbsp butter
1/4 tsp garlic powder
Salt and Pepper
1/2 tsp onion powder
6 tbsp flour
3 c. 2% milk
1/3 c. sour cream
5 c. shredded sharp cheddar (sub in some other sharp cheeses if you want!)
2 heaping tbsp. Cheez Whiz

In a medium sauce pan, melt butter. Stir in garlic powder, salt, pepper, onion powder and flour. The mixture will clump together. Allow it to cook for another minute. Whisk in milk. Cook until sauce thickens, whisking regularly. Do NOT boil - you'll be able to taste the difference if you do! Whisk in most of the shredded cheese (about 3/4 of it) and all of the sour cream and Cheez Whiz. For extra flavor, try adding in 3 tbsp of Steeped's Smoky Apple Bacon Seasoning at this step! Pour sauce over cooked pasta and stir until well combined. Fold in remaining cheese (do this while the sauce is still hot so that the cheese mixes well - otherwise you may get clumps). Pour pasta into a 9x9 square baking pan.
1 c. panko crumbs
1/4 c. butter, melted
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp oregano

Stir together panko, chili powder and oregano. Stir in melted butter. Sprinkle evenly across top of pasta.

Bake in a 400 degree oven for 20 - 25 minutes, or until the top is nicely browned

*Note: the picture I posted is of the drier recipe from "Quarantine" which used about 250 g of pasta and 1/3 of the sauce. If you prefer less-cheesy recipes, try that one!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Better than Clean

I reached a momentous point in my housekeeping abilities in the past month: I have finally stopped settling for clean!

What do you mean you don't get it?

You see, a year ago, my house was always messy. I'd get one room clean, then by the time I got another one clean the first room was messy again, and so forth. It was hugely frustrating. I was desperate to get my house tidied up so that people could come over unannounced without some shame on my part. But there still were toys all over, a perpetually messy kitchen and a table that was never cleared.

I sought changes, but had troubles making them stick. I had some success with weekly cleaning schedules, but gradually the day-to-day mess would overwhelm me and I'd fall off the schedule as I tried to get back to zero with all the mess. Even my daily cleaning lists didn't seem to help. I'd feel like I was checking everything off, but it felt like the house only got clean in time for me to mess it up again.

Then last Fall I decided to take one more stab at the cleaning checklists, but this time I added my own "Before Bed" list. This involved taking care of the day-to-day mess to absolute completion, every night before bed. I would not let myself go to sleep until it was done. This list had me cleaning up all the toys, all of the dishes, clearing off and wiping down the table, wiping down the bathroom and making sure everything was where it should be.

And after a while, something beautiful happened: my standards for what a 'clean' house looked like changed! This was my first momentous change. I wasn't happy with having the supper dishes moved into the kitchen - they had to be washed, right away. I wasn't content having the toys put away in piles - they had a home, so they needed to go there.
This change helped me realize that we needed less things in our house in order to maintain a reasonable degree of order, so I opted to purge clothes, kitchen items, toys and décor items as I worked to reorganize our house. AND IT WORKED!

Not only was my house tidier, and less cluttered, but it was actually cleaner as well since I spent less time picking up, and more time tackling actually cleaning tasks like vacuuming the upholstery, and washing down the baseboards. It became habit to clean while I had the chance to, and to never let a mess sit where it was. I hate the sight of spills, and a dish out of place was not going to be overlooked.

It only took 25 years, but I finally figured out how to have a clean home.

Well, in the past few weeks, I started relooking my home again. Sure, it was clean, in the sense that there was nothing on the floor that shouldn't be there, but it still looked cluttered. I realized that I needed to simplify my displayed items, but also I needed to rework some of the 'homes' for items that I had established in my first organizational run through. It's silly how we can convince ourselves that something sitting on the floor next to the couch is in its right place, since that's where we like having it. But does it really look tidy? Or does it look like its shoved? Too often we overlook objects piling up on the counter because, "That's where it goes". But really, we need to find better homes for those things. So that's what I did. I cleared off everything from my kitchen counters except what I actively needed there: toaster, knife block, phone, utensil turn-around. No more bottles or jars that may or may not be empty. No more stash of candy sitting in the back corner of the counter. No more bags of anything sitting out, pretending that's where it belongs. It all got put away, or thrown away. That was about a month ago now, and the change has stuck - and I love it! But today I made another change; I cleared out one side of our bench seat storage thanks to the end of one commitment in my life (goodbye Pampered Chef! It was fun!), and knew exactly what to put in there! I've long had a stack of books, papers and notepads that hang out by 'my chair' - essentially what works as my command station where I perch while I answer emails, make phone calls, blog and do bookkeeping. But those books never had a real home, just a spot that they sat, looking awkward and out of place. Same with my knitting bag that sat beside my chair, on the floor. I wanted it close and handy, but that wasn't the way to do it. So they finally found a new home in my bench seat! Yay!

But that was just the first stage of this new change in me. Even though the things I had out were pared down, and everything had a home and stayed there, my house still looked cluttered, even when it was clean. I realized it wasn't always what I had in my house, but sometimes how I had those things set up. For example: last year Matt built me my pallet coffee table that has four shelves which I had used for my magazines, worship books, Sunday school books, and some of the kids puzzles. Everything would sit stacked nicely in there - for about a day. Then the kids would come and push over the piles. And then I'd fix the piles, and then they'd get pushed over again. And even when they were stacked, they added to the cluttered feel of the room, no matter how straight I lined up those edges. But those piles were in their home! I specifically assigned that place for them to stay! Of course, in this case there was a super simple fix: all I needed were some cute boxes or baskets to set my piles in! And I found them, at HomeSense of course. $20 later and my little piles of magazines are sitting snuggly in contained boxes that complement the colors of the room and which make everything look so much tidier! It wasn't enough in this instance for the house to be clean and have everything put away - I finally wanted something more than just 'clean'! Yay me!

Granted, some of you more naturally clean people will have no idea what the big fuss is about, but to me this is huge. To finally hit a point where my house is clean enough that I worry about something like a stack of magazines that doesn't work within my streamlined image of my ideal home? Huge.

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Friday, June 7, 2013

Popsicle Post

Today I pondered the question, "How many things can we make into popsicles?"

While planning our upcoming family vacation in the mountains, my sister and I suggested we bring out popsicle molds so we can whip up yogurt popsicles for the kids for an easy, healthy and cheap snack. But then I thought about the boundless potential we were met with and decided that I needed to investigate this further. And I'm so glad I did.

Popsicles are an obviously simple treat to whip up. Technically, if you can fit it and freeze it, it will work. Now, I've seen people walk down the 'savory popsicle' road, but I'm not going to go so far today; when we eat popsicles in our house it's for a snack or dessert, so that's what I will be focusing on.

The first, and likely easiest popsicle, is the yogurt popsicle. It can be as simple as spooning store-bought yogurt into a popsicle mold and freezing it. Or, you can choose to have a bit more fun (which I usually opt for).

Try these Yogurt Pop combos:
Greek yogurt + Honey
Lime yogurt + coconut + honey
Vanilla yogurt + cream cheese + raspberries
Strawberry yogurt + strawberries + mini chocolate chips
Peach yogurt + lime rind and juice

For those coconut lovers, coconut milk or coconut cream can be used to make yummy, creamy popsicles too:
Coconut milk + crushed pineapple + banana
Coconut milk + lime rind and juice
Coconut cream + kiwi
Coconut cream + passion fruit + guava
Coconut cream + toasted coconut flakes

For other creamy options, try:
Peach + Ricotta + brown sugar
Cooked apple w/ cinnamon + Ricotta + Maple syrup
Triple layered Pudding pops: Chocolate + Vanilla + Pistachio
Cream Cheese + Strawberry Jam
Root Beer + Heavy Cream + Vanilla

If you're not into creamy popsicles, you can always go with the more fruity varieties:
Peach + Orange + Mango
Raspberry + Melon + Cucumber
Strawberry + Mango + Lime
Watermelon + Strawberry

And just for fun, why not try adding a bit of booze to your pops? (but not too much or they won't freeze!):
Rum + Coke
Lychee + Peach + Sparkling White Wine
Coconut Milk + Crushed Pineapple + Coconut Rum
Peach + Orange + Light Beer

Happy Popsicle making!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Fun with the boys

As a stay-at-home Mom, nurturing, entertaining, teaching and caring for my boys is literally my job. And I've got to be honest - I love it. I love watching my boys play, and hearing them tell stories about all the fun they had that day. I love when they learn how to do something new, and get so excited about the small things that we adults have long forgotten are amazing. And it's going to be really fun this Summer, not just at the events and activities I listed tomorrow, but right in our own backyard as we play and create!

The play sometimes is more structured; from time to time we'll do something that involves instructions, like making nature collages, corn syrup + food coloring butterflies, or face sandwiches.

This is an important part of play, since it helps them to learn new techniques, it provides a goal for them to work towards, and helps develop their ability to follow directions. Playing Simon Says, or even simple card games, and doing activities like planting seeds for your garden can be fun and educational for your kids.

Sometimes the play is a little more free. Sometimes, all I do is provide the supplies and see what the boys dream up. We paint the fence with water, we draw on the chalk table, we build block towers as high as they can go... This is an important part of play, too. This is where we watch the kids adapt, and figure things out on their own. It can be hard for some parents to sit back and let the kids take over the art projects. We may be tempted to guide their finger painting efforts so that the picture looks as intelligible as possible. But sometimes the kids just need the chance to do things their way. And when they're ready, their way will improve.

Sometimes the play is totally unguided - I sit back and watch my two oldest boys make up their own game and laugh at the things they come up with. Some of this play is based around shows they've seen, or stories they've heard (there's a whole lot of My Little Pony going on in our house right now...). Some of this play is re-enacting things that they've done in the past. This is where we learn :) This is when we get to listen to what is in our kids' heads and hear how they see the world. This is where we find out that our kids know that if the trout is black we have to put it back in the water, and that the stars are made of gas and are on fire in the sky. This where we can also hear things that need correction, and work our correction into their own play, as we guide them, instead of being harsh and rebuking them for something they didn't know was wrong. It's super important to listen to our kids, for so many reasons. Watch them play, and then get in there and play with them too!

And lastly, sometimes the play is messy. And it needs to be that way sometimes. We need to let our kids dig in the dirt. We need to let them stir the cake batter. They need to learn the worms are slimy, that dandelions can be picked and that puddles should be splashed in.

They need a chance to be loud and dirty and wild. And sometimes the cookies won't look great, and you'll have egg all over your floor, or the face sandwich you wanted them to make is just a mound of chocolate chips and raisins, but trust me, they're learning, and they're likely having fun :)

Here's a quick list of some activities to do with the kids in your own yard. Lots of these fall under the 'more guided' category, but if the kiddos lose sight of making anything of sense out of their craft, follow their lead, and let them learn the way they want to!
Paint activities:
Collect rocks and then paint them - either do with a theme, like monsters or bugs, or just see what they come up with!
Blow paint blots with straws to make splatter art
Make little dots of paint on your paper, then once it dries, use a pen to draw on each dot, making it into a creature of some sort
Put paper down in the bottom of a Tupperware container or tin, add some blobs of paint and a marble. Let the kids tip the container to roll the marble around and spread the paint around the paper.
Add food coloring to bubble solution and blow the bubbles against a large sheet of paper taped up on your fence
Color on coffee filters with markers, then spray the filters with water, letting the ink bleed. Once the filters dry, twist the bottom of the filters together and wrap with a pipe cleaner to make a flower.

Yard activities:
Pick up all the sticks in the yard and make a pile of them
Pick dandelions
Do a mini scavenger hunt - try naming as many different things for the kids to find as possible
Plant seeds
Dig in the dirt
Rake up leaves
Just through the sprinkler - all of you
Water plants with a watering can
Maintain a water garden
Fill a kiddy pool with water and see what things in the yard float, and what will sink
Buy ice cream when the ice cream truck goes by

In the home:
Write letters/make cards for people, just to tell them you appreciate them
Make cut-out cookies and ice them together
Let the kids crack the eggs :)
Make face sandwiches - spread peanut butter or cheez whiz on bread, and let the kids top it with a mix of chocolate chips, mini marshmallows, sliced celery and carrots, raisings and dried ramen noodles.
Color your food different colors, just for fun (green eggs, pink milk, etc)
Make up popsicles together

Make mud pies
Go puddle jumping together
Do face painting - they get to paint yours too
Walk the Plank - set up a board on a tarp filled with jello, cooked spaghetti, or corn flakes - walk across, or else!
Slip and slide - again with the tarp, this time on a hill, covered with soap, and keep the water coming!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Summer in Central Alberta

If you live in Central Alberta, and you're looking to have a fun Summer, you're definitely in luck this year!

Apparently a lot happened 100 years ago around Central Alberta, meaning that a number of towns, including Red Deer and Rocky Mountain House, are celebrating their Centennial years. In light of this, there seems to be a record number of great events going on this Summer. So mark your calendar and your maps and check out some of these great events, and some mainstay destinations, during Summer 2013!

Local Events:
June 15th in the Red Deer Artwalk Festival
June 29th and 30th - Red Deer River of Light + Homecoming festival. As part of the Red Deer Centennial Celebrations they are having pancake breakfasts, public picnics, outdoor movies and they will float hundreds of lit up rain barrels down the river for what should be a pretty neat show
July 1st - Red Deer Canada Day celebrations down at Bower Ponds - check out the multi-cultural food booths!
July 3rd - the Mayor's Garden Party at the City Hall gardens
July 7th there's a free concert with Fred Penner! At Bower Ponds in Red Deer
Westerner Days are July 17 - 21 in Red Deer
July 24 - Rocky Mountain House Air Show
CentreFest in downtown Red Deer, the annual Street Performer festival, is July 27-29
August 9-11th is Shake the Lake, a weekend of live music and Action sports in Sylvan Lake
Country Drive - August 10-11th a number of destinations around Central Alberta will step up their activities and services for the day to help showcase some great enjoyment just a short drive away.
August 17 - Pioneer Days Festival at Sunnybrook Farm. Homemade pie, a tractor pull, pioneer breakfast and fun for kids
August 17 - Norwegian Laft Hus Festival - Red Deer - they'll have face painting, dancers, skits, food, etc
August 18th is Fiestaval - a Latin-American themed street festival downtown Red Deer
September 21 there's an old-fashioned fair as one of the Centennial events at Fort Normandeau. Games, crafts, market and entertainment

Places to Go:
The Jungle Farm - u-pick berries and flowers, coupled with an outdoor play area for kids, makes for a fun afternoon excursion!
Markerville Creamery - check out this heritage site for a guided tour where they show you how ice cream and butter are made! Go on Sunday, August 11th during Country Drive for some more activities!
Discovery Wildlife Park - a wildlife facility in Innisfail that is home to a number of 'movie star' animals and daily demonstrations with the trained animals.
Kraay Family Farm - Opening July 26th, visit this corn maze, complete with loads of activities for the kids, ranging from pig races and play centers to a pumpkin blaster and farm animals
Danish Canadian National Museum and Gardens - Beautiful scenery with a fairy tale based Children's garden
Ellis bird farm - mini interpretive center, really pretty walk with lots of birds and flowers, and a tea house

For fun events on a regular basis, check out live music on the Ross Street Patio, weekly activities for kids at the Red Deer Museum, and The Bard on Bower - live theater performance of Shakespeare at the Bower Ponds stage (performance dates to be set)

This list is by no means exhaustive! There is plenty going on around Central Alberta during the summer. For more information, and to find out about more events, check out

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Upcoming Projects

Today is... well, today is slow. And lazy. And a little bit boring. Just... blah.

Part of what has me so 'blah' is that I have lots of upcoming projects - but I can't start them yet!

For starters, this weekend I have a fundraiser that I'll be selling my tea products at. Since I don't want to be tied up the whole time constantly making pots of tea, I've opted to prepare individual bags of the tea and let people make their own. That will take some time to individually portion out 30 bags each of 3 different varieties, but the real catch is that I can't do that until the day before, or risk the tea going stale before the party!

In my garden I'm waiting for more weeds to grow, but since an epic weekend of gardening, there aren't any up yet! On Saturday hubby and I worked hard - while he took down Christmas lights and mulched the flower beds, I dug up some snow-on-the-mountain, which is quite the task itself thanks to its never-ending root system! Once the roots were all pulled I transplanted some larger clusters and moved a rose bush into the bed that I pulled them out of. My legs still hurt from stepping on the spade to dig up those roots! We trimmed hedges and bushes, checked on all our plants and beds, and everything was in good order by Saturday evening. But that means that it will be at least a few more days until I can trim things, weed things, or even turn the compost!

In a short while we'll be going on vacation to the mountains, but it's far enough away that to start packing right now would be ridiculous. I've got packing lists made already, but that's about as much preparation as I can get done.

As far as crafting projects go, there are plenty of things I'm excited to get started on. For example, I'm going to finally learn to crochet... on vacation in the mountains. My mom and my sister will be there with me, so I'll have the benefit of people who know what they're doing to instruct me. I'm also going to make a couple more quilts! The first one will be for my oldest boy, who, despite being the very reason I decided to try making a quilt in the first place, is still the only child who does not have a quilt-by-Mommy. The catch is, he's super excited to pick out his own material... on vacation in the mountains. There's an adorable quilting store in Canmore that we'll visit and they have tonnes of cute prints, many of which focus on the outdoors, hunting and fishing - all things which my four-year-old boy is quite enthusiastic about. But without even an idea of what this quilt will look like, there's nothing I can do to start. The second quilt is also a labour of love: my dear hubby decided to downsize the number of t-shirts he had and surprisingly opted to part with some shirts that he really loved, but they had holes in the armpits so he figured he should get rid of them. I couldn't bring myself to trash them though - so I hid them. Some of these t-shirts are from high school, one he even made himself, so I'm going to make a t-shirt quilt for him. Soon each boy will have one! And while I could technically start prepping this one, I really want to use a rotary cutter and cutting mat - neither of which I have. So I'll likely buy those... on vacation... in the mountains. Gee - there seems to be a lot hanging on this vacation!

I have big plans for rearranging our basement - but that is waaaaaay too big of a job to do on my own. Or, at least, on my own while I also try to juggle caring for three little boys. I'm planning to move an exercise bike, a filing cabinet, storage shelves for toys and a shelf full of DVDs, but first I need to put 8 Rubbermaid bins away in the crawl space. I definitely need my hubby for this one. Last night we tackled the living room by fixing some chairs, moving some lamps up from downstairs and rearranging some stuff so I could get rid of a corner shelf, that's presence was strictly aesthetic. So perhaps some evening this week we'll get to the basement, but it's really not something I should do on my own.

So you see, I have lots I want to do, but nothing of that sort that I can embark on right now. I suppose I might a well just clean!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Monday, June 3, 2013

Use it Well

Most of us probably feel like our time and our money don't come flowing in endless amounts; these are limited resources that we can only spread out so far. It's hard not to compare our situation with others'. We can often feel like our homes aren't as clean as someone else's because we spend more of our time doing things like volunteer work, or driving our kids around to activities. And when we go on Pinterest we may see beautifully appointed rooms and begin to envy those people who 'obviously have so much more money than we do to afford a house that looks like that!'
While it may be true that the house with the wine cellar hidden under the kitchen may have cost more than yours, in many instances we can achieve the beautiful home by using our resources better; with some extra thought and planning, our time and money can go towards building up our home in more effective ways than previously.

For example, do you feel that it takes hours already to clean your home, so someone who has a perpetually clean home must spend their whole day cleaning it? In many instances, that's just not true. But the difference lies in how those 'neat' people use their time. Starting with a tidy house makes a huge difference in how long it takes to clean. It's much easier to sweep your floor when you don't have to pick up a ton of toys, some socks, the flyers that got pushed off the coffee table and all of the random knick-knacks that migrated there from other rooms. Tidying as you go is a huge part of keeping a house clean. If you are walking from room A to room B, try to find anything that has migrated from room B and return it while you're headed there anyway. And when you're done using something, put it away. It's a simple concept, but for many people (myself included) it takes a lot of training to make it a habit. I had long been the person who would carry the dirty dishes into the kitchen after dinner, but would stop short of putting them into the empty dishwasher while I had them in my hands. But I've since learned that it's quicker and easier, and definitely getting done, if I do it while I'm already there, instead of trying to find time later in the evening to come back to it.
One of the other tricks to cleaning in less time is to look for convenient opportunities. If you're in the kitchen waiting for the tea kettle to finish boiling, why not put away those clean dishes in the dishwasher? Or if you've finished giving the kids a bath, and you already have wet cloths in your hands, why not wipe down the tub and sink while you're there? (Some people might refrain from cleaning like this because it's not 'deep cleaning enough' since you may not use the right cleaners if you're just giving a quick wipe with washcloths, but if you are the type who never gets around to cleaning their bathroom more than every couple of months, don't hold out for a 'better' clean - just get it clean.) Likewise, if you have to make a phone call and get put on hold, use that time to pick up toys, or fold laundry.
Some chores take up real time, like vacuuming, or cleaning upholstery, but if your house is already tidy, then the cleaning tasks take less time since you don't need to do any preliminary clean-up. And if you get an early start on your day before your kids get up, you can likely get most of your cleaning done in that time since uninterrupted work is always the most productive.

Once your house is tidied and clean, the next step to those picture-perfect homes is decorating. Some of my favorite pictures from home magazines are the homes that look so streamlined and open. The secret? Those people don't have clutter! I have far too many decorations. I always see things in catalogues or at garage sales or at HomeSense and think of wonderful ways I can use them, and so they end up in my home on a rotating display. The joke's on me though, because with so many decorative pieces out, they just add to the cluttered feel of my house, and instead of having eye catching pieces, I just end up with a collection of mess. Thoughtfully placed and neatly coordinated mess. I used to look at every surface as a blank canvas for a new decorative display, but the funny thing about canvasses is that they are more welcoming when they allow your eyes a place to rest. It's the age-old rule for interior designers, painters, and graphic designers alike: you need some 'white space' for the eyes to rest in, or the whole picture consumes itself and the beauty is overlooked in the busy-ness. Our ceiling should not be the only 'white space' in our house. Our walls can be adorned with artwork, but unless you are going for an intentional gallery arrangement, or a cluster of portraits, the pictures should be hung sparingly for the biggest effect. Particularly in a house like mine, which doesn't have an open-concept floor plan or high ceilings. Our problem has been that since we had so many nice decorative pieces and beautiful pictures we felt obligated to display them. And I believe our answer is that we need to get rid of some of them, and hold on only to the pieces that we truly love, and display those with pride, in smaller numbers. What this practically means is that any picture in our household that came from Walmart or IKEA is gone unless we adore it. We're working on building our collection of fine art from local artists, which means that wall space is a precious commodity in our home. And anything that is widely reproduced that we bought in our first year of marriage just to fill the walls of our rental space that did have the open-concept floor plan and tall ceilings? Yah, those can go. And all those little glass displays I bought through PartyLite over the years? I don't need all of them - so those can go too. Hopefully I can make better use of the space I have, to make my home feel more open and less frantic.

One of the other things I love about other peoples' homes are their color schemes. Not simply the colors they use, but how they use them, and how they can pull together whole rooms using the same pallet! When I look at my home I think... well, I think it looks pretty ugly sometimes :) The individual elements are quite charming: our pallet table is fun and practical, our walls are a beautiful blue color with dark tealy/green accent walls, our white trim is clean and fresh, and the sideboard that we set up in the dining room a couple months ago is gorgeous! But they all feel disconnected, like they stand on their own without any consideration for the furniture beside them. I realized today that what my house really lacks is direction. My tastes are eclectic, and I believe that's reflected heavily in my decorating, but there's a right way to do eclectic decorating, and a wrong way - and I've been doing it the wrong way. Granted, many of the pieces we have in our house, we have out of opportunity and necessity; our furniture was all given to us, excepting the pallet table that Matt made. Our light fixtures were original pieces, or hand-me-downs, and the color of our flooring was something we didn't have much say in since we got such a good deal on some overstocked product, so our only real choice was "do we want this new flooring, or no new flooring?" But we are coming up to a point where we are planning on spending some money on fixes to our living room, and how we choose to spend that money can either add to the chaos, or help bring some order to our haphazard home.
Today I sat down and, for the first time, wrote out what our color scheme for our living room was. I didn't base this necessarily off of what it is right now, but rather what it should be, using some of the colors that are sticking around more permanently. Our accent walls and our couches and chairs are that similar dark teal-green - which is one of the only conscious color choices I made in this room. A couple months ago we need a runner for the sideboard and drapes for our front window, so I opted to get both in a fabric with a similar teal color, and a bit of a metallic sheen (which is the other conscious color choice I've made in the room). Our trim is white, our pictures are all blues and browns with yellow accents (purely by coincidence), and somehow, in the past year we have acquired a borrowed sideboard, a hand-me-down piano and a gifted dining room table, all of which have a similar dark reddish wood, which happened to match the wood arms and legs of our living room furniture. Things are looking up from last year when we had red wood on our couches, unfinished pine on our pallet table, a dark walnut colored dining table, a black bookcase, and a wrought iron corner display stand. This occurrence of matching woods helps us to determine what color we should stain our pallet table; as far as I'm convinced, it should only be either the same dark red stain that the rest of the wood in the room is, or a white ash color to play off of the white trim. But to paint it black or even dark brown would be out of place in this room now, and giving us one more thing that doesn't fit together well.
Another upcoming expenditure will be a new dining room light fixture. And while our first instinct was to buy whatever was cheapest off of Kijiji, I observed that we have a bit of an accidental trend of chrome accents in this room. By throwing in a chrome light fixture, this won't look like an accident anymore! So while we won't splurge on a $1000 chrome fixture of the dining room, we will at least hold out until we find something that will work together with our home.
From the information I listed above, I made up this summary of the pallet in our living room: Primary colors - Teal/Green, Dark Cherry (woods) Accent colors - yellow, white (trim), Chrome (metals). So if there is anything more that we plan to add to our living room, like pillows for the couch, or a new picture, we'll work on making sure it falls into one of those points on our pallet.
Bear in mind, this is coming from someone who is working hard to make their house coordinate better, not someone who has an established pallet and is working on finding some accent pieces; it's totally okay to introduce new colors, but when your house looks as random as mine, it's best to regroup before you choose to branch out anymore!

And one of my last point regarding using resources well to attain the beautiful home is to sometimes spend a bit more of those resources.

Yes, you may be able to find a light fixture for $20, but is that really what you want in your house? Or are you going to want to change it so soon afterwards that you might as well have not bought it in the first place? And yes, technically you can find couches at the thrift store, but if you don't need to buy those a) leave them for someone who can't afford more, and b) save your pennies and buy something you'll be really happy with. Saving $100 to buy a sofa that you can 'make work' hardly seems worth the sacrifice of the sofa that you would really love to have. But we can't have it all - so pick the pieces that matter most to you. For myself, I'd rather keep my old French Provincial style couches than buy something new, just because it's new. When we do upgrade our couches we'll likely get a soft-leather set, but that's a lot of money, so I've opted to stay content with my couches until we can save up enough - which may be a number of years yet based on how low 'new couches' are on our priority list! But something like our light fixture? So long as it's chrome, I don't much care what else it looks like! We'll go fairly cheap on that since it's not a huge concern for me.
Whenever we renovate a room, we typically pick one 'splurge' item, where we opt to get exactly what we want - regardless of cost (within reason). In our main bathroom it was our faucet, and in our bedroom it was our ceiling fan. Knowing that you have one perfect thing helps you to swallow some of the other cost-effective compromises you might choose to make. In our living room, our artwork is our 'splurge' area; I don't care about the name of the company I buy my furniture from, but I do care who is painting my pictures.

After re-examining my living room all day, I've identified some things that I'm willing to part with, which I never thought I would get rid of, and I've also decided to make a pallet for each major room of our house. Somewhat surprisingly, our main bathroom and master bedroom will actually have a very similar pallet to our living room, just with different woods and metals (dark walnut and oil-rubbed bronze in our bedroom, and ash and brushed nickel in our bathroom).

By rethinking the time we already have for maintaining our home, and setting a direction for our house that will help determine how we invest our money in it, we can use our limited resources well and come out with the home of our dreams - in the one we already have!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)