Monday, July 7, 2014

Yummy Camping 101

My family finally got out for our first camping trip of the year this past weekend, and the stars aligned to make it a great time; we had excellent company, a great campsite where nearly every neighbour surrounding us spent the day away, the weather was determined to remain pleasant for us despite thunderstorm warnings and severe weather watches, and everyone seemed set on having a good time. Now, some of our weekend's niceness was fortuitous, but some was 100% thanks to planning and preparation. The food was one such area.
I used to think the only things that could be cooked over an open fire were hot dogs and marshmallows - after all, that's all that my family ate whenever we went out camping. But over the last few years I have been enlightened; I concluded that if something could ever be cooked over direct heat, i.e. A stove top, that it could be successfully done over a campfire. 
I've been working to hone my skills of fire building and coal stirring ever since this epiphany, observing that consistent and even heat are often crucial to the success of a recipe, and this weekend I finally felt like every meal was well done. 
In the past I've cooked Peach Bourbon cobbler, pasta primavera, and grilled maple peaches all over the campfire, but this weekend we were looking to make things that I could prepare mostly in advance, and that wouldn't necessarily need constant attention.  With that in mind I set out meal planning, and here's what we came up with:
Friday evening: Whole stuffed salmon and fried mushrooms
Friday dessert: premade S'more cones for the kids
Saturday breakfast: bacon, sausage, egg + toast pie irons
Saturday lunch: nachos, beans, ham + cheese melts
Saturday evening: pizza pie irons
Saturday dessert: biscuit dough pie irons and jiffy pop popcorn
Sunday brunch: pie iron egg mcmuffins, and bannock 

There are a few key tools to producing a menu such as this:
Pie irons - cast iron, not aluminum, and we used both round and square ones 
BBQ tongs
Cast iron pan
Foil tray
Lots of aluminum foil

In anticipation of arriving at our campsite about an hour before supper time, I pre-stuffed a whole pink salmon that had been taking up space in my freezer ever since I found it on sale for about $0.20/100 g a while ago. I used my Grandma's recipe which calls for a Lemon Thyme rice stuffing. I stuffed the fish and wrapped it in foil, then set it on ice in our cooler. Any leftover stuffing I also wrapped up in a foil packet. Once we hit our campsite I built a fire right away, and laid the salmon on the grate over the fire to cook while we set up camp. I turned it after about 30 minutes - around half way of its total cooking time. I could smell the lemony stuffing when it was getting close to being done, and at that point I cooked up the mushrooms in both oil and butter to give it maximum heat tolerance and flavour! I hate mushrooms, but I loved this - no additional seasoning required!  The mushrooms cooked until they had a crisp coating, and the salmon was perfectly cooked to flaky goodness. Slice up some lemon wedges and you've got one epic campfire meal!
The next morning we cooked the bacon and sausages in the cast iron pan. The only thing I'd change for next trip is to bring a second pan! But given that I was awake since 5:30 a.m., I suppose I had plenty of time to cook in small batches... If you've never used pie irons, I pity you. I was only introduced to these wonders after I got married; my husband's family fully embrace the pie iron cooking method. As a brief rundown, you butter the heated insides of a double sided square pan, about the size of a piece of bread. Then lay your bread on one side and add fillings to it. That can be an egg, pizza fillings, sandwich toppings, pie filling, pulled pork, Caprese salad fixings... Anything your heart desires. Then you top with another piece of bread and close it up, then cook it in the coals until the bread is nicely toasted and the fillings are heated. As I mentioned in my menu, we tinkered with the traditional methods this weekend. First, I brought a tube of refrigerated biscuit dough that we filled with chocolate and/or cherry pie filling. The secret to these was to coat the biscuit in butter as soon as it was out of the fire and to let the butter bake in a bit as the dough cooled. Sooooo yummy. Experiment #2 called for the round pie iron; I cracked an egg in a well greased iron (bacon grease worked best for this one) and set a piece of back bacon on top. While that cooked I opened up an English muffin and heated it on the grate, with a cheese slice on one half. After a very short time, the egg and bacon were perfect, and popped right out onto my English muffin. So, so, so good.
I also mentioned doing nachos for lunch. I pre-diced tomatoes and peppers at home, and even brought pre-grated cheese, so it was as simple as dumping everything into a foil pan, covering with foil and cooking. For the beans we merely took the label off a can before we opened it up and set it to cook on the grate over the fire!
Bannock is a family tradition in many families, although the traditions can vary widely! My husband's family are bannock rolled in cinnamon sugar, and cooked it as a tube wrapped around a stick.My family cooked it as a cool on a stick, and ate it rolled in butter alongside steak strips with seasoning salt. Many people I know enjoy it with jam, and lots of recipes call for cooking it in a pan. Long story short, it's hard to go wrong with bannock. This trip I could not find Bisquick at the grocery store - my morher's 'secret ingredient' for her bannock dough. So instead I used my actually-top-secret scone mix recipe to make base that would only require the addition of water, and mixed it up on Sunday afternoon for our brunch. The only complaint I got (from my husband who does not believe in tampering with tradition) was that it was 'too flaky'. Is that even a real thing?  Anyway, I thought it was perfection on a stick.  And the kids sure loved it, too.

I suppose I should mention one more critical kitchen tool for camping: a French press! No need for inferior coffee while you're out camping - just use your French press and enjoy every last drop! I loved our camping coffee so much that when we got home I broke out my French press for my morning brew!

I've got some ideas for new pie iron fillings next time we head out camping, and I might see just how gourmet I can make those bad boys! But looking back over our weekend camping trip, mostly I'm just glad we didn't spend the whole weekend eating hot dogs!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Friday, June 20, 2014

Airplane Birthday Party

Our middle little dude, whom we affectionately call 'Goose', had this third birthday party today! This was his first 'real' party. At one, they don't really get what's going on, and the fact that they get to have cake for the first time ever is awesome enough for them.
At two, they're a bit more clear on the idea that this is something special, and it seems to be about them, but add sparklers on top of that cake and throw in a present or two, and honestly they pretty well max out for their excitement anyway.
At three, they can finally get it - this is a party, and it's all about you. Granted, Goose is one of the most generous-hearted, artless and easily-pleased little boys in the world, so all he needed to have happen to ensure it was an exciting time for him would be cake, candles and a rendition of "Happy Birthday". But I knew he'd still like a party :)

I asked him months ago what party he would like, and this little boy always has an answer. Some kids need prompting. Some kids shyly hide and refuse to offer up a word. This kid knows what he likes, even if the answer often surprises me. He chose airplanes. He could have picked Spiderman. He could have picked Cars. He could have picked anything he wanted because that's how we do birthdays around here, but immediately he answered, "Airplanes". Which is nice, because he could also have picked something like Triangles I suppose, and how do you plan games for a triangle party? (k, I just came up with a couple ideas as I typed that, but still, airplanes is a nicer theme)

A few things were quite fortuitous about this choice of party theme. First off - unbeknownst to Goose, I had long wanted to do an airplane theme in his bedroom, but kind of gave up when older brother started hanging hunting posters and archery targets on every inch of empty wall, and ceiling, space. But I had already fashioned some cotton 'clouds' that hang from fishing line. Score.
And I had bought him an airplane comforter for his bed that we could use as a backdrop should we need one. Awesome. Secondly - at Easter time, my uncle unloaded on us gifted us with half of the product of his 'Paper Airplane a Day' calendar from the previous year; he made 365 paper airplanes, and sent half of them home with us. We picked out the very best and reserved them for the party, and the rest we let the boys play with for a few weeks before they were crushed enough to justify recycling them. But right there: built in party entertainment!

The dollar store was a treasure-trove for this party; we picked up those foam airplanes that come in a flat pack and then you assemble yourself as party favors, a giant one of the same variety to show off to the kids, and an airplane shaped cookie cutter.
I made a runway on our coffee table for the kids' toy planes to sit on as a party centerpiece, and then used cardboard boxes to make our games: a target practice game, and Pin-the-propeller-on-the-airplane!
I even found an airplane book from the library that I borrowed in case the kids wanted a story!

Snacks were pretty simple since I was super sick all week and didn't have the energy to prep much: carrot sticks, cucumber slices, and pita chips with hummus, I used the airplane cookie cutter to cut out watermelon pieces, and then I bought a 40 pack of Timbits, stacked them high, and set a candle in the middle for a cake that the kids adored!

Lastly, I ordered an Aviator hat from Avon for little Goose, which he proudly wore and got called 'Captain' by everybody. Any excuse to wear a costume in this house!

I've said it before: we don't rent out Chuck-E-Cheese. We don't hire petting zoos. We don't have professional planners for our parties, or major excursions for them either, but my kids' birthday parties are fun - for them, their guests, and for mommy - and certainly seem to be the highlight of their year.

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Monday, June 9, 2014

Grandma's Lemon Butter

Everyone has those recipes that remind you of your childhood. This is one of mine.

My Grandma is renown for her excellent cooking skills, and her ability to feed any small army that unexpectedly pops by for supper. She always has food ready to go in case of last-minute invitations and visitors, and one trick up her sleeve is to always have a jar of her fantastic lemon butter in the fridge. This Lemon Butter is perfectly tart, but with enough sugar that it won't cause anyone to pucker. It's thick, and creamy, and an instant fix for any boring dessert. Stir this in with cream cheese for a fruit dip. Fold in Cool Whip for a lemon mousse. Use it as cake filling for an angel food, or serve a dollop on top of a Blueberry Brunch Cake. Or, do as my Grandma does and throw a scoop in a tart shell for super fast mini-pies.

I usually zest just two of the lemons in for the perfect amount of tartness - Grandma does three, my mom does one... It really just depends what your personal tastes are. And if you are using Meyer lemons, use 6 whole lemons instead of the 3 the recipe calls for. And above all, don't be intimidated by the idea of having to use a double boiler - this recipe really is simple.

Grandma's Lemon Butter recipe:
2 cups granulated sugar
3 lemons - juice and zest *see note above
6 eggs
scant 1/4 c of butter

Combine all ingredients in double boiler.

Don't forget the butter (I nearly did this time!)

Bring water in bottom pot to a boil and cook mixture, beating continually. As the mixture cooks, the color will get lighter, and it will eventually begin to thicken. The mixture may boil a bit - this is okay. Once it looks as thick as pudding, remove from heat and transfer into a separate bowl to cool. This will stop the cooking process faster to make sure your egg doesn't decide to do anything funny and clump up on you.

Store in a jar in the fridge for two weeks - if it makes it that long without being eaten up! The Lemon Butter with thicken further as it cools - FYI.

This recipe makes about 3.5 cups of Lemon Butter. But hey, who says it has to be lemon? Try grapefruit, or blood orange! And if you don't have whole lemons, you can use bottled lemon juice and sub in a couple drops of lemon essential oil to replace the zest!

I laugh when I see Lemon Butter for sale in stores - this recipe is so fantastic, and so simple, I've never had a desire to try any other! I hope you agree!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

*credit to Grandma Free for this wonderful recipe!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Work-out Tips for Real People

Do you ever go through the Health & Fitness boards on Pinterest and feel totally defeated? Seriously, those 'Fitspiration' posts are the worst! Actually, that's not true. The 'motivational quotes' are the worst. You know, the ones that tell you to keep pushing through it after you're vomiting and feel like passing out, because quitting is for losers? Yeah. Those are great...
Anyway, I have persevered through the demotivating feelings and downer days, for the most part, and have been having some success getting in my daily workouts! And now I want to share some of my wise wisdoms with you! Nothing mind blowing, but definitely practical advice for people looking to up their workout schedule!

First, some basics:
1. Just start. We can have lots of reasons we're not partaking in a regular exercise routine: no time, physical limitations, injuries, etc. But the reality is, something is better than nothing. So take the time and abilities you do have, and start using them. You don't have to carve out an hour a day yet. If you're really off the wagon, start with 10 minutes of gentle stretching or yoga every night before bed. If you're up for something more, find a 10 minute video that you can follow and do it during nap time, lunch break, or before your morning shower.
2. Keep going. You've started! YAY! Now keep going. Once you're moving, it's easy to keep moving, and move a little bit further, faster, and harder each day. Find more time you can convert into work-out time. If you watch TV at night when the kids are in bed, run in place while you're watching. One episode of Big Bang Theory later, and you've got a nice little workout in! Everyone starts slow, but that doesn't mean you have to stay slow. Start with a jog, work in running intervals, start to see how long you can run for, and if you're down to the last 5 minutes, and you're still feeling like you've got some steam to burn, working in high-knee and jumping jack intervals! But the point is, take what you're already doing, and expand on it.
3. Warm up, stretch, cardio, strength, cool down, stretch. K, I'm going to blame High School gym classes for this, but I was unaware until recently that stretching was not part of warm up, but actually a separate step that takes place after your muscles have had a chance to warm up! What does that mean? Well, if you're a runner, jog the first half km, then stretch, then run. I was doing this wrong (stretch before I leave, jog, then run) and it can't have done my knees any favors... If you're not a runner, do a burst of low intensity cardio, then stretch, then feel free to do your jumping jacks, burpees, etc. And remember to not stop cold - do a cool down to help you heart rate regulate, and don't forget to stretch at the end; not only will stretching help you to avoid unnecessary pain, but static stretching between exercises has been shown to increase muscle development.
4. Drink water. Everyone says it, because it's important. I've personally found one of the easiest ways to drink more water is to add a drop of lemon, grapefruit, or lime essential oil to it. No added calories, great flavor, and added health benefits? Awesome! Just make sure you use therapeutic grade oils - I recommend Young Living. *Note: some people recommend adding an emulsifier to the water to break up the oil. Even adding a tsp of ground flax seed would help with this.
5. Track your body measurements. I worked out nearly every day through January, along with a very healthy diet. You want to know how many pounds I lost by the end of the month? NONE! Zero! BUT, I can tell you my face was noticeably leaner, as were my thighs. My biceps were more defined and there was much less jiggle in my arms. Oh, and my clothes fit better than they had in a while.

And now for something completely different (or rather, just some more tips):
1. Change into your exercise clothes each morning. I read this somewhere, tried it, and realized I was infinitely more likely to exercise if I were dressed for it, than otherwise. However, I will point out that your workout clothes should be more than just your pajamas. That's really just luring you back for a nap, more than a workout. And if you're like me and want to look more put together by the time hubby gets home (if for no other reason than to convince him you didn't just sit around all day) then you'll have a deadline in your mind for when you need to be done your workout by.
2. Find something small to do every night before bed. Squats, planking, crunches... anything that can be done every day, on top of your normal workout, that will make big improvements over time. Often I find if I workout early in the day, I feel great by night and I'm craving more. This little habit fills my craving, gets in one more bit before bed, and I can do these in my bedroom - some even when I'm lying in bed!
3. Don't waste a perfectly good shower on a body that hasn't sweat that day. It's been a long day. You didn't fit in a workout. Now that the kids are finally asleep, you're about to climb into the shower. Stop. Do 40 jumping jacks, or high knees. Do something, anything, that will make you sweat. It's all coming off in a minute anyway, and you'll feel much better about the day knowing you at least did that, whatever else the crazy kids in your household kept you away from accomplishing!
4. Pick one body part to put priority on. Why? Because if you only have time for a short workout, or you have room for one more workout before you have to call it for the day, then you'll know exactly what you want to target. Want to tone your tush? Make sure you get those squats in. Need to develop more core muscles? At the very least do some planks. Need to shed some flab? Cardio, cardio, cardio. Not to say these are the only things you should do, but having a focused goal is more helpful than, "I want to look better."
5. Make a playlist. This CANNOT include anything by Raffi or The Wiggles, and would preferably have some 80's glam rock songs worked in. Just sayin'.
6. Encourage your spouse. I'm sure there's a study somewhere that I could reference with hard scientific evidence about this, but I've seen it in my house and I can vouch that it's true: it is SOOOO much easier to live a healthy, active lifestyle when your spouse is doing the same. Even just asking them to help you by working out with you will likely be enough to get them going on their own healthy path. It's hard to stay on the healthy-eating track if you feel obliged to serve baked mac and cheese for family dinner, or take the family out for ice cream whenever the hubby gets a craving.
7. Use Pinterest or web videos. I don't know about you, but I have neither the time or the money for a gym membership. All of my workouts are done at home, or in the few blocks around my house. That's why I love my Health board on Pinterest. I see a new exercise I want to try, I pin it. Then when I have time to workout, I usually have that board open so that if I need a couple more exercises, I can just scroll through quickly and pick something. I don't have a personal trainer, but for now, these pins are working fine! There are some great resources out there, and you can find exercises to target different muscle groups that are very useful. And those 10 minute workout videos? Actually a lot of fun to follow! And this is coming from the girl who hates turning on any video on the internet! I find you push yourself harder when you follow people leading, in person or on video, than if you just try to lead yourself.
8. Don't push it too hard. Everything I said in comment #7? Take it with a grain of salt. There is also A LOT of bad stuff out there. For example: ever see those '5 minute power workout' lists? You know, where you go between jumping jacks, burpees, mountain climbers, high knees and squat thrusts as fast as you can? If you do those your first day in - actually, even your first few months in! - you're likely going to hurt yourself. The other day I read some "Tips to lose weight" by Prevention magazine, and I sincerely hope it was a typo that caused them to suggest you go every other day only eating 600 calories. That's not safe, not healthy, and just plain bad advice. If you hurt, take a break - don't plow through it. It's one thing to push through the burn, it's another to tear a ligament because you're being an idiot. If you do throw up while you're working out, please stop, contrary to some of the 'fitspirational quotes' I've seen.
9. Fall in love with it. This one is easy. Exercise is addictive; your body gets used to having a rush everyday, and you start craving it, and wondering if it's too soon to start your next workout (and yes, 4 hours is likely too soon). Get into a routine, and soon you'll hate to miss it. And if you fall out of it, and have troubles getting going again, go back to the very first point I made in this post: Just start. And pretty soon you'll wonder why you ever let yourself stop.
10. Get your kids in on it. I talked a lot in this post about workout after bedtime, or while the kids are napping. That's not going to work for everyone. So, what else can you do? Make it part of your daily play! My kids now love when I roll out my exercise mat, and they do all sorts of 'exercises' saying, "This is a good one, right Mommy! This will make me super strong!" If I'm doing cardio and the kids want to join in, I'll sometimes narrate a 'scenic run' where I ask them what we see as we're passing imaginary farms, cities with street cafes and running alongside the ocean. Sure they can get underfoot a little bit, but involving them is often much easier than hoping they'll keep occupied elsewhere, and not interrupt you. And toddlers often love to watch Mommy from their perch in their high chair while she jumps around, apparently doing a clown act purely for their enjoyment. Bonus: not only are you making your body healthier, you're also setting an example for a healthy lifestyle for your kids. If they see exercise as part of every day life, instead of something that you enter into by coercion, you're making it easier for them to incorporate it in their every day life as they grow up.
11. Take the kids out more. For someone who struggles to find enough time in the day, this may seem counter-productive, but hear me out. What fills up the most time in a day in the life of a mom? Kids. So keep those kids occupied by a trip to the park, or a walk, or even an outing to the zoo. And you know what? That can very likely count as your daily exercise if you do it right. Pushing a stroller? Do walking-jogging intervals. Kids think it's a blast! At the playground with older ones? Get on there with them! Playing at a park? Be another ninja with your kids, running, rolling and diving along with them! I know I struggle with getting out of the house some days weeks - it all just seems to be too much work. But what if I viewed it as my exercise that day? Then would it be worth it to take the kids to the trails and go for a nature walk? What about pulling them around the block in their wagon? Just keep in mind the basics of exercise: make sure you warm up and stretch, work in some high intensity, and even flex certain muscle groups during different activities to get the most out of them. And then drink lots of water :)
12. Equip your home. As I mentioned above, I have no money and no time (away from kids, that is), to use towards regularly attending a gym, so I workout in my home with the aid of the interwebs. And while you can do without, there are a few things that I find supremely helpful in my workouts:
- an exercise mat
- training shoes
- 2 lbs, 5 lbs and 10 lbs hand weights
I have hard floors, so I use the mat for a more comfortable exercise. In the basement we have carpet... on top of concrete. The mat is extra helpful here to ensure I don't get hurt from joint compression during high intensity workouts.
Training shoes are a must for a runner. Find a pair that fit your foot and your step well. Some people work out indoors with their shoes on for added comfort, balance, grip and protection. I'm hoping to get a pair of Nike Studio Wraps, but until that happens, I go barefoot inside.
The hand weights are great for strength exercises - muscle burns fat faster, so even if you're just working to lose inches instead of build muscle, having more muscle will help you attain that faster. So muscle = good. Lower sized weights aren't just for beginners - they're ideal for toning. As you get stronger you may want larger weights, but typically you can increase reps and set length to get the increased burn.
I buy all of these things at Winners (for a fantastic price) or at Canadian Tire.
13. All you Mommy's - start at the basics! You know those post partum exercises where they tell you to lay flat and then lift your head? And that totally kicks your butt? Yeah, you need to ease into things. If you were one of the Mom's who ran your last half-marathon at 5 months, you'll likely bounce back a lot quicker than, say, me - the mom who laid on the couch for 9 months and could barely get up to go to bed each night. But all of us will have had our bodies damaged to some extent by the burden of carrying 6-10 lbs of baby inside us. So once you're ready to upgrade from head lifts, try holding a Tabletop pose, then lowering your bum, and bringing it back up, flexing your abs. Once this is easy, try doing it balanced on one leg, with the other ankle resting on your bent knee. You can also lower down to your back for this, instead of planting your hands.

I'm not a doctor. I'm not an expert. I'm not even that fit - but I'm getting better. And as a mom of three kids, these are the things that I have found to work in my life, and I hope you have some success with it in yours!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Monday, April 28, 2014

Fishing Birthday Party

I FINALLY figured out how to skirt around my issue of picture uploading! YAY! So, check out the Beer Tasting Party post from a couple months ago to see a picture of that shindig, and hopefully I'll be posting more frequently now!

On that note, our most recent event around here was my oldest son's 5th birthday! We held a small party for him with a few of his friends who would most enjoy a fishing themed party! Yep - my 5 year old is a fisherman. He LOVES it. Fishing is often the highlight of our Summer vacation in the mountains, and thanks to some sweet fishing holes, and Grandpa who is an expert, my little dudes have caught far more fish than the average 5 and 2 year old. Rainbow trout are his favorite, since that's what we catch at some of the stocked ponds we frequent, but he can identify brook trout, perch, walleye, pike, bass, crappies, salmon and sturgeon to boot. He originally wanted a fireman birthday party so he could get a fireman costume, but when I wasn't able to find a costume his size at this time of year, and he started to talk more and more about fishing in the summer, I knew I'd have a good shot at persuading him to change the party!

There were some great ideas on Pinterest for a fishing party. Far more ideas than I could actually incorporate into one party. So I decided to keep it kid friendly, given the average age of our party goers was 5. The d├ęcor consisted mostly of my kids' toys! I transformed our living room into an outdoor paradise - stuffed animals roamed the piano and bench seat, our giant stuffed teddy sat in the corner of the room, I fashioned a pond out of fake pussy willows and blue plastic tablecloth and then set some fake fish in it. My boys also have a hunting/fishing action figure set from Cabela's which I set up as a diorama on our coffee table; I created a whole mountain scene, with a campsite by the edge of a pond, and outdoor action man catching a bass from his boat while deer and wolves looked on. This served the dual purpose of decoration and entertainment - as soon as the kids came in they started playing with the set while we waited for everyone else to arrive! In addition to the toys I also had some paper fish printed off. They were realistic looking artist renderings that I had printed to nearly life-size (ranging between 6-11") I cut them out and strung them up as a banner.

For our activities and games I planned a couple crafts - decorating rainbow trout pictures with confetti glitter, and making 'fishing lures' out of popsicle sticks - and a number of fishing games such as scooping sponge fish out of a tub of water with a net, and casting a real rod with a plastic fish on the end into a box fashioned to look like a fish mouth! The kids took turns for the first round of games, then were left to a bit of free play as they each sought out their favorite game to hover around. We had more than enough activity to keep them entertained for the hour-and-a-half party.

The food for the party was a bit different than usual. We had one child with a severe nut allergy, one with a mild nut allergy, two of them also had a gluten allergy, and the another one was lactose intolerant, but could have greek yogurt. So cake was out of the question. As was ice cream cake. I had a few options I looked at, such as 'bobber' meringues, marshmallow pops, and fruit. I resolved on the fruit - but with some changes. I made a watermelon cake! I had seen these done on Pinterest and thought they were brilliant! I cut the rind off a watermelon and shaped it to look like a cake. Then I 'iced' it with a mix of non-dairy whipped topping and coconut greek yogurt. Just a tip: if you plan to make a watermelon cake, pat the outside dry with paper towel before you try icing it! I topped the cake with blackberries and raspberries, but for another audience it would also have been nice to use flaked coconut and sliced almonds! I put on some (new) fishing lures, and sparklers for a bit of a dramatic look. For our treat bags I filled a clean tackle box with Swedish fish, gummi worms and colored mini marshmallows as faux bait and lures, and gave the kids each a paper 'bait bag' that they could fill with candies to take home!

After that party with the kids, we had some family over the next day for birthday lunch. I wanted my boy to have a real cake for his birthday so I whipped up a modified box cake (1 cake mix, 1 box of instant pudding mix, 4 eggs, 1 c. water, 1/2 c. melted coconut oil) and some almond/chocolate chip flavored buttercream. I opted for buttercream to make a 'splash' effect, and poked a hole in the top of the tiered cake to stick my fake pussy willows in. I added a jumping trout fridge magnet for a super easy on-theme cake!

My little man got some awesome fishing themed gifts, like a giant fish pillow from Bass Pro Shop, a gift card to a local sports store, a fishing garden gnome, and enough tackle from his uncle to make sure he never needs to use Mommy and Daddy's stuff again! Lures, leaders, weights, bobbers... that kid has it all now! All in all, it was a great fishing party, and a nice way to celebrate turning 5 :)

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Thursday, April 3, 2014


Well, I've opened an Etsy shop!

I know - I'm a little surprised myself!

What actually happened was my sister opened an Etsy store, and her and I had talked about having one store that all the members of the family could list things in, expanding our product offering to increase traffic. So I had planned to help my sister by putting on some things that I'd made up in the past year or two, and I made up some extra things just to bulk up the store inventory. But then after looking at the money aspect, and how all transactions would go through her bank account, and how it didn't actually cost anything to have a store, just to list and sell things on it, we decided it would actually be easiest for everyone to open individual stores. Honestly, I hadn't planned to sell things on Etsy seriously - I was really just trying to help my sister's store - but now I had a load of items that I was going to list, and after a short talk with hubby we figured, "Well, why not?"

So now I have an Etsy store.

Feel free to check out my store, MrsVanderLeekAtHome, and my sister's shop, HonuDesigns82. The name of my shop is derived from Regency-era Calling Cards; all of the ladies would carry cards and leave them when they called at someone's house. Essentially a business card, except that their 'business' was to pay visits, and have those visits returned. So the card would read, "Mrs. __________, at home."
Currently I have a couple different things listed in my shop: bird nest wire necklaces, and crocheted accessories. I've actually put a hold on production of the bird nest necklaces until I get some pendant clasps in. I found some on eBay that I think will look great - better than a loop of wire for sure - so I'll hold off on making any more until those come in. The crochet production is still going strong however, thanks in part to the fact that I started watching the BBC series Sherlock on Netflix. Sure, each season only has 3 episodes, but each episode is an hour and a half, so that's lots of crochet time! Anyway, I plan this summer to do some wood crafts and maybe some sewing, and in the fall perhaps I'll make up some clay owls to list as well. I think the best part about having an Etsy store is the potential it has to clear out my finished project cupboard. I've made too many crafty things to keep them all. Now I can still make more, and hopefully make some money, too!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The $75 Grocery Budget

One day, after a few weeks of limited work, a man's van broke down. He had his vehicle towed to his mechanic who graciously dealt with it in a timely manner so as to impose as little as possible on the unfortunate man. While inspecting the vehicle - whose starter was found to be faulty - the mechanic also noticed that the brake master cylinder was for all intents and purposes dead. It was with much relief that the poor vehicle owner heard this, since in all likelihood an issue wouldn't have been detected before the brakes suddenly stopped working! What a wonderfully fortuitous circumstance that potentially saved him from harm! The grateful man praised God, kissed his wife, and paid his $900 mechanic bill.

That, my friends, is a true story. However I did leave out a few details... like that the 'poor' man was in fact 'poor' for the time being due to limited work for a contractor in February. Perhaps it was a financially inopportune time to have a major vehicle repair come along, but I am so grateful knowing that the brakes in my hubby's work van will function properly that I hardly care about the money!

Having said that, it doesn't change the fact that I now have a $75 budget for groceries for the next two weeks. Not $75/week - $75 in total. Sweet, hey?

But, I'm gifted with such heritage (*cough* Scottish! *cough), and upbringing (*cough* Scottish Grandparents! *cough*), and support (*cough* DUTCH HUSBAND! *cough*) as to find this budget restriction as a mere challenge! And I do enjoy a good challenge :)

So today I am sharing my meal plan. This, you will find, is not a typical I-have-no-money meal plan. It does not assume that everything we eat is accounted for in the $75. It rather assumes that I keep a well-stocked pantry, stocking up on things when they go on sale for awesome prices, and have a few surprise cuts in my freezer that I can tap into for a treat! However, some of the principals are golden rules for eating on a limited budget: plan around what you have, use similar ingredients for multiple meals, and don't limit yourself to one cuisine!
I was actually requested to share my meals and their approximate costs on my personal Facebook page so that some of my girlfriends could attempt similar cost-effective meals, which is what truly inspired this post. Well, that and the fact that it's absolutely necessary for me to spend no more than $75 on food in the next two weeks... But I digress.

So to start the week, I went out and spent $65. WHAT?!? I spent most of my money already?!?!? Yes, but with good reason! Our local Co-op has their Warehouse sale on right now! Pasta, canned beans, and pounds of apples and oranges are all 10/$10 this week! I actually cannot beat that price, and bought enough of those things to easily last me to the end of the two weeks. I also grabbed some key veggies to use in my menu, eggs (cheap protein!) and some yogurt that expires on Monday, but hey, it was cheap and I'll be the one eating it. I had plenty of baking supplies, leftover from Christmas baking that I never got around to, in my pantry, and tonnes of meat. This would be a lot harder if I didn't have a freezer full of deer... But still doable. (I write this fully aware that many people around the globe would be ecstatic with $75 for groceries for a full month. I am blessed, undoubtedly.)

Anyway, here is the breakdown of my meal plan. My weekends I left open since we'll eat leftovers likely, or go to my parents' house (Booyah for free food!!)

Monday - Week 1: Roasted Pork Chops, canned beans, roasted sweet potatoes, applesauce (my mom gave me a pack of pork chops to help clear out her overfilled freezer! Yay!) approx. cost assuming I actually bought everything: $6
Tuesday - Week 1: Salmon Potato Casserole (potato, peas, celery, cream of mushroom soup, can of pink salmon, panko, spices) approx. cost: $4 (bought the salmon on sale for $1 a can!) Served sweet potato fries from the freezer on the side - roughly $1.50 cost
Wednesday - Week 1: Beef Barley Soup (beef, bouillon, celery, carrots, onion, garlic, corn, frozen green beans, can of tomatoes, spices) approx. cost: $4 (I did it for less... my mom gave me a big steak from the freezer too!) Served with homemade drop biscuits for additional $1.50 - And did I mention this makes enough to feed me for lunch for the next few days??
Thursday - Week 1: Fried rice (leftover pork chop, rice, 2 eggs, carrots, peas, green onion, soy sauce, oyster sauce) approx. cost: $2.50 Served with oyster sauce broccoli on the side for about $1.50
Friday - Week 1: Quiche (6 eggs, leftover cream from the fridge, broccoli, leftover prosciutto from the fridge, leftover Havarti from the fridge and homemade pie crust) approx. cost: $5 Served with tossed salad for extra $1. Fillings are totally negotiable, that's just what's in my fridge. Oh, and I'll make a double batch of pie crust and freeze half for next week!

Monday - Week 2: Borscht (Beets, cabbage, potatoes, carrots, veggie stock, dill, sour cream) approx. cost: $3 (I bought a HUGE bag of beets when they were on for $0.80 a pound a few weeks ago!) Also - loads of leftovers for lunch again!
Tuesday - Week 2: Venison Pot Pie (pie crust from freezer, frozen peas, frozen corn, frozen green beans, carrots, potatoes, cream of mushroom soup, venison) approx. cost: $4
Wednesday - Week 2: Pancit Bihon (rice noodles, fish sauce, soy sauce, celery, carrots, onion, cabbage, chicken) approx. cost: $3.50 ...And more lunch leftovers! Which is great, because Pancit is even better the next day!!
Thursday - Week 2: Refried Bean Burritos (homemade refried beans, homemade tortillas, guacamole, tomatoes, sour cream) approx. cost: $3 ('homemade' is a huge part of the cost savings in this. Store-bought tortillas are about $0.50 apiece - homemade are about $0.05 apiece. And homemade refried beans are 1/3 of the cost of a store-bought can.) Served w/ tossed salad for $1
Friday - Week 2: BBQ Stuffed Salmon (whole frozen salmon, rice, celery, onion, lemon essential oil, dried herbs) approx. cost: $6 This one requires quite the footnote... every summer I buy a whole frozen salmon when it goes on sale for $0.19/100 g, then I freeze it til I feel like cooking it. I don't expect anyone to find a whole frozen salmon for under $5 at this time of year, so this is definitely my 'cheat' meal! This bad boy will be enough to feed the company we're having that night, too!

Now, what that looks like to me is about $47 for suppers for about two weeks! The rest of the $30 we have will go towards breakfasts and lunches, but if you remember, I've got quite a few meals in there that will produce a LOT of leftovers for lunchtimes. For breakfasts we mostly have cereal or oatmeal, so the $10 I haven't yet spent for groceries will at least in part be spent on milk. The remainder will restock our fruit, which is our primary snack. I'll be making bread at home instead of shelling out $3 for a crappy store-bought loaf, and instead of buying Mum Mums or Gerber Puff snacks for the baby I bought a giant bag of puffed rice that he actually really likes! And for a fraction of the cost!

And as a reminder, while I wrote out the cost of buying exactly what you would need to make these meals, many of the things I listed I've had in my pantry or fridge for a while, because one of the easiest and best ways to only spend $75 on groceries in two weeks is to prepare for it by stocking up during sales. If I were to go out and buy a can of pink salmon at Safeway today, I'd likely pay around $3 - not the $1 I actually paid when I bought it at Co-op a few weeks ago. This is not a flawless meal plan that you can follow week-after-week and save copious amounts of money on regularly. Remember, the cheapest meal plan will change, depending on what's on sale, and what you have. And this week, this is what I have.

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Beer Tasting Party

Update: Pictures!!

This past weekend I hosted a Beer Tasting Party for my beloved husband's early birthday party! It was a BLAST! A lot of careful consideration went into this event to ensure it would stay classy, and the biggest contributing factor was my guest list - I put a cap on the number of people coming (5 couples) and knew that each of those couples knew how to moderate themselves. This was not an event for wearing lampshades, but rather for tasting high end brews and finding some new favorites, and I think we had the perfect group for achieving that end!

Once the guest list was established, the next big piece of planning was to figure out how the tasting would actually work. I asked each couple to bring 16 oz of their favorite beer. Most people opted to bring two varieties, mostly because they just couldn't decide on one! I had mini parfait glasses that worked perfectly for a 1 - 2 oz sample, but perhaps the best idea I had was the coasters we used! I did almost all of my shopping at dollar stores and found some thin sheets of cork for a buck a pack. I cut them into squares and set out a sharpie for each of the guests to write their names on the coaster. The plan was whenever they set down their cup to set it on their labeled coaster again - that way we'd limit the number of, "Is this my glass? Or your's?" situations. I also provided everyone with tasting sheets! I found a free printable online and had copies printed out for everyone. We used a numbered scoring system, and had a master sheet, so that at the end of the evening we could see which beers ranked highest overall, but people could also see which their highest rated beer was. This was really helpful, since even by the third selection it can be tricky to remember what you liked so much about the first one. By the end of the evening some of the guests were really surprised about which ranked in their top 3.

Next on the planning front was the menu. Again, the point of this party was not to get drunk, so I planned the menu with that in mind. There were LOTS of carbs. This was not the type of party where you want to serve exclusively veggies and meringues. I made an uber dense Chocolate Stout Cake, my family's classic Honey Garlic Chicken wings, Jalapeno Popper dip with chips, and sliced peppers and cucumbers to dip, I served sweet potato fries with a lemon dill aioli and I bought soft pretzels from a store in the mall! I make soft pretzels at home, but I really didn't want to worry about the labour and the mess of that before the party, so I instead opted to buy them, and I'm so glad I did. They were a huge hit! This was a great make-ahead menu plan. I marinated the wings the night before then threw them in the oven 3 hours before the party. The Jalapeno Popper dip took 5 minutes to throw together. The Sweet Potato Fries were from Costco and baked on my stoneware beautifully (I actually replenished these through the night, which was really easy - I'd just throw a fresh batch in the oven whenever I noticed we were getting low). The cake was more labor intensive, but so worth it.

And lastly came the decorations. I want to improve my decorating efforts, so very early on I picked a color scheme: Manly. Ha! Bet you didn't know that was a color, hey! But it made sense: blacks, wood grain, metal... totally worked. I had some wood grain scrapbook paper that I alternated with black and white cardstock for a hanging banner. I had black and tan tissue paper that I made into pinwheels that I hung on the wall behind the table for a cute backdrop. I served out of black bowls, on wooden trays and metal buckets. I even found wood grain printed paper straws at HomeSense! And while I was at the dollar store I found some chalkboard signs for buffets and I spent the $5 to get the pack. I KNOW I will use those again sometime soon! Oh yes, and lastly I found a use for some of those beer bottles we cut down around Christmas time! We cut a large bottle to make into a Pint glass for my brother-in-law, and had cut some smaller ones which we never ended up using. So I did a quick sand-job on them, and used them to hold the cutlery and straws. Very apropos.

I hope you find these tips useful if you plan on hosting your own Beer Tasting Party! It was a lot of fun, and everyone loved the idea!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Burrito Bowls + Healthy Living Update

Laziness is totally a relative thing.

Today, I was too lazy to go to the store. So I made refried beans from scratch.

See how this works?

I've done this before. Last time it was ricotta that I decided to whip up because that was easier than packing up the kids and heading the two blocks over to the grocery store. Very often it's bread that I make for no other reason than that my kitchen is closer than two blocks away. Sigh. Lazy me.

In any event, I made refried beans today! And you know what? They were pretty great. And cheap. And easy.
I followed a recipe I found through Pinterest, and at first I thought the recipe might be wrong - it all just seemed too simple. But hey, it worked! I did leave out the jalapenos, and I added a touch more stock at the end, and I let it cook on med-low for a while longer just to make everything extra soft, but hey, follow this recipe and you too can make refried beans in about the same amount of time it would take you to walk to your nearest grocery store and back! And you don't have to change out of your sweats!

Now where did these refried beans go? Into my delicious bowl of burrito love. Do you ever eat tacos and feel gross afterwards? I always do! Probably because they are sooooooo good when you pile on the cheese, the greasy meat and the sour cream into the huge flour tortilla! And then I eat 3. Or more. Yeah, that's likely why. But have you ever gone to a Mexican restaurant and had their rice and refried beans and realized you were full, but didn't feel gross? Funny how that works...

We've been working on having healthier, lighter meals in our household, that will still fill us up well, and I stumbled across the idea for Burrito Bowls (again, thank you Pinterest). Rice instead of flour tortillas. Beans instead of meat. Chipotle instead of cheese. I could do this! Ah yes, and the recipe also enlightened me about how to kick my rice up a notch. You take the rice, and stir the salsa directly into it!!! If you are not as amazed as I was, well, you just might be smarter than I am. But don't rub it in. Seriously, this was an epiphany for me! I happened to have some cilantro around so I snipped some of that into the rice too, and had this gorgeously aromatic rice base for our burrito bowls! Then came the refried beans, with a generous helping of veggies (we did tomatoes, corn, avocado and lettuce), then my chipotle sauce. There was a link to one from the original Burrito Bowl recipe page, but I had been gifted a jar of Epicure's Citrus Chipotle Ketchup spice blend from a local vendor who said she couldn't use it because she didn't like ketchup - and that's what they told you to put it in. Well, I don't like the idea of chipotle ketchup, but when on earth have I ever really followed a recipe (see refried beans explanation above...) So here's how I rolled with it:

Creamy Chipotle Sauce:
1/4 c. low-fat greek yogurt
1/4 c. fat-free sour cream
juice of half an orange
1/2 tsp sugar
1 1/2 tbsp. Epicure's Citrus Chipotle Ketchup spice blend (OR 3/4 tbsp. chipotle powder and 3/4 tbsp. chili powder)

This stuff was great on the burrito bowls, and would be awesome on a taco salad!

My family loved the burrito bowls, I loved that they ate everything without complaining, and I also love that I have some of that chipotle dressing left over for lunch tomorrow!

The burrito bowls are really just a cunning way to put more veggies in my body. I've been doing well with my personal eating habits and our family meals have been succeeding at filling us with more than just fats and carbs. Last night we had Vietnamese Pork Vermicelli. I found a great recipe a while back and it remains my go-to. This is one of the few that I follow to the letter - except I triple the amount of veggies I put in each bowl - at least! Sure the sauce has fat, and yes pork isn't the leanest meat, but when your bowl is full of that much lettuce, carrots, fresh herbs and rice noodles, who needs more than a couple small pieces of pork? The umami of the sauce carries so well, it feels like so much more than a salad when you eat it, yet that's very nearly all it is in our household. We've also been upping our protein intake throughout the day, which has me snacking less, and I've started making matcha smoothies with a couple dates, a banana, and almond milk - super yummy. Oh yah, and if you want to drink more water, try putting a drop of therapeutic grade Grapefruit oil in your water! I got mine this week and I've been loving it!

Both Hubby and I have been keeping up with out workouts. Yesterday was the first day I needed a day off thanks to a lovely thing called "Wall Sits". Those were the first thing I'd done that kept kicking my butt the next day. But I went right back to it today, and I'm hoping tomorrow will feel better!

I noticed my knee had been quite touchy still with some of the exercises that I thought were tame enough, so I've had to throw in even more yoga and pilates to my routine. Believe me when I say by nature I am much more of a P90x girl - I love high impact exercises - but my left knee does not. However, that doesn't mean I'm not seeing results. And yoga and pilates, along with targeted knee-strengthening exercises will give me the advantage of forming a long, lean muscle base to build on. In other words, perhaps my thighs will be less thunderous in the not-so-distant future. If you want to check out some great low-impact exercises, check out my Health board on Pinterest!

Anyway, getting more sleep is the next big thing on my Healthy Lifestyle to do list, so I'm signing off!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Friday, January 17, 2014

Healthy Living 2014

I have been desperately trying to post a Christmas write up of all the gifts I made, complete with pictures and maybe even a tutorial (felted play macarons for a tea set, anyone?) but my computer and Blogger are having some disagreements right now concerning pictures. So instead of waiting on that one post, I've opted to do this one so you have something to read!

I don't necessarily approve of New Years Resolutions - they tend to imply short term change, with an understanding that most people won't follow through with them. I instead prefer to look at my life and see where I want real change, or set a specific goal, and work towards that until I achieve it, and keep that lifestyle change as a new part of my every day life.
Back in November I posted how I was ready to get my body back to normal, which I planned to accomplish through a no-cheat, lower fat dietary plan. Well, I wisely decided to forego the cold-turkey approach to all baked goods until after Christmas. For the two years prior I had been deprived of some of my family's traditional Christmas treats thanks to gallstones and food poisoning, so this year I ate butter tarts, shortbread, and pie, and I'm not even sorry. That being said, as of the end of our New Year's celebrations, I was ready to be done with indulgence and crack down on my fitness approach.

Now, when I talk about a diet plan, I don't mean a fad diet. I mean looking at what I normally eat and changing it, because changes will see results. If you drink a pop a day, and then stop drinking that and replace it with water, you will absolutely see changes, even if that's the only thing you change. Your body gets comfortable with what you do, so mix it up sometimes! For me, that means restricting fats. I don't often watch my calculated intake of nutrients (bad me, I know...) but I can guarantee that I'm often over my intake for fats. It's easy: butter your toast, creamer in your coffee, sandwiches made with bread, cheese, ham and margarine, a snack of who-knows-what in the afternoon, then something for dinner that I can be pretty well assured will have anywhere from 20 - 40 grams of fat (not often 40, but sometimes we eat out). Daily recommended intake is around the 50 g ball park, but I know that by just watching it more closely, I won't be too far below that number anyway, and it will still be enough of a change to my system to start seeing change in my body.
A couple years ago when I had gallstones I got to the point where the most fat my body could tolerate at a time was 5 g/meal. That's when you really start to realize how much fat is in things! White sandwich bread, salad dressings, a slice of deli ham... all of those things could set me off. So I know this time to find alternatives for those things. I also know it's easier to limit fats some times more than others. My breakfast is low fat, whereas my supper is less-so. Why? Because I've got a husband and three little boys who do not have the same restrictions in their diet right now, and I want us to enjoy our meal times together, eating the same foods. But whenever I tend to make myself something different anyway, I'll opt for low-fat.

One of the other changes I've been making to my diet is increasing my protein. I've decided to work out more right now, and so I have enough activity to make proper use of a higher protein diet. I look for protein in all three meals now, whereas before I'd often only see it at supper time unless we had lunch meat in the house. This is probably the trickiest change for me, especially since I can't eat eggs because my still-nursing baby can't handle them on his stomach... But I'm making do! And while I'm at it, here are some tips about how I'm making this work!

More Protein, Less Fat Tips:
When choosing breads, go for the crusty/artisan breads instead of soft sandwich loaves! Baguettes and crusty buns often have 0 g of fat.
For deli meat, opt for fat-free chicken or turkey breast. Steer clear of bologna.
Better yet, cook a whole turkey up and save the white meat for sandwiches! A turkey takes a while to cook, but it yields a lot of meal potential. That dark meat will be great for family meals, too. (Mango Chutney Turkey with Coconut Rice!)
Use stronger tasting cheese so you don't have to use as much! Opt for sharp cheddar, smoked cheeses, asiago, bleu, or goat cheeses.
If you need dressings on your salads, invest in a good, high-end aged balsamic. This stuff is downright drinkable. Mix with a tiny bit of olive oil if you need, and drizzle all over!
If you can do eggs, buy pre-separated egg whites. I suggest one whole egg + 2 egg whites for a morning serving.
Soups can be great low-fat - fat-free options! Make soup for dinner one night, and eat the veggie and protein-filled leftovers for lunch for the remainder of the week! This is my new Monday meal plan! Good soups to try for this are homemade turkey (use that turkey carcass you cooked up for meals and lunch meat!) or chicken noodle soup, mulligatawny, beef barley, taco bean or Vietnamese ox tail.
Make small changes - don't butter your toast, or use half the amount. Drink better coffee that you don't need creamer in. Put herbs and spices on your popcorn instead of butter.
I drink SlimFast shakes in the morning. Since my go-to breakfast is often a bowl of (sometimes sugary) cereal, this is a big improvement for me. If you have the time though, go all out and make a well-rounded breakfast with a mosty-egg white omelet with veggeis, half a grapefruit (or the less tart Pomello!), and a small bowl of yogurt.
It can be tricky to always come up with healthy lunch ideas if you don't plan ahead. Pick one lunch you'll have for the week, and switch it up at the beginning of each new work week! If sandwiches are your thing, try chicken breast, mozzarella, apple, artichoke and spinach, or turkey breast, tomato, cucumber, mozza and cranberry relish.
When making sandwiches, avoid oils, butters and fatty spreads. You can get enough moisture from fruits and veggies typically.
Opt for good fats when you have them! Salmon makes a great sandwich, filled with protein, calcium (if you eat the bones), and fats that are great for your body.
Make homemade energy bars with equal parts dried cherries, dates and almonds. Throw them in a blender and shape into balls or bars. (add a touch of coconut oil if you need them to be a bit wetter.) Add cocoa powder or matcha, too!
Eat real food when you have snacks. Those "100 Calorie" snack packs in the grocery store are awful for you - low calories does not mean low sugar, low sodium, low fat... it just means small servings. Eat veggies, fruit, nuts, seeds, and look for raw food diet recipes for making great snacks that your body will appreciate!
Try drinking matcha - it's unparalleled in the amount of antioxidants it has, and those antioxidants are a rare, anti-carcinogenic variety. Which means it's great for battling cancer, too. It's an anti-ager, helps to regulate and prevent diabetes, and is surprisingly low in caffeine.
DRINK LOTS OF WATER! (a well known, but often underestimated tip!)

Remember, fats are important, even if you are limiting them. I chose fats because I see that as a more out-of-control area than regulating my sugar/salt/carb intake. But going totally fat-free is never a good idea - my doctors were alarmed how much weight I was losing while I had my gallstones, and by the end of that season, just before my gallbladder was removed, I could no longer eat anything other than some grains, some veggies (but not all), and white poultry or venison. Especially since I was nursing, that was a tough time, and I'm still amazed my milk supply didn't dry up, because your body really does need fats to operate properly. So if you do choose to limit something, unless your doctor tells you otherwise for some reason, don't eliminate it completely.

Beyond my diet, I'm also working on exercising regularly. So is my husband, which helps a lot! If I can make one suggestion for helping you to stick to your goals, it's to do it with someone else! My husband is my weakness - I often bring junky foods into the house for his enjoyment, I am infinitely less productive when he's around because of the opportunity to spend time with him, and I always spend too much money when he comes shopping with me. But, when he's set on the same goals that I am: eating healthy, exercising regularly, lower fat and higher protein foods... then I'll do anything to help him achieve his goals, which makes it easier to achieve my own!
I've also got my kids in on it. They see that Mommy and Daddy are taking time to go exercise, and they want to participate. About half the time I exercise with them now. What does this look like? I narrate a scenic jog while we run in place in the basement. I show them a new move and by the time I've got 3 reps of 12 done, they've finally mastered it. They pull out my yoga mat and do stretches on it while I do balance exercises. They certainly are enthusiastic, and we're setting them up to work regular exercise into their own lives!
On those other days where I don't exercise with them, my workouts are different. And they change quite frequently. Remember what I said about how your body gets used to things easily, and change in routine produces change in your body? That applies to exercise as well as diet. So where do you start? Well, if your current exercise regime constitutes, well, nothing, start with stretching! A few years back I wanted to start exercising and started with a few weeks of stretching every day after work. 30 minutes of stretches everyday for 2 weeks resulted in losing 5 pounds. Plus, it prepped me for the next level - cardio. Cardio makes you lose like no one's business. It gets your heart pumping, burns fat, builds endurance, and is easy to get into. Start by walking. Take your kids or your dog for a daily walk. The weather is absolutely ridiculous in my province right now: -40, +10, so much snow you can't get your car out of the driveway, crazy high winds... that sort of thing. I'm opting for indoor cardio right now. I quite simply run in spot while I turn on a show. One episode of a mindless show on Netflix and I've got a good cardio circuit under my belt. Just remember, even if you're not on a treadmill or the road, start slow with a warm up time, increase your intensity, and don't skip your cool down. And that stretching you mastered in the first few weeks? Keep it up, before and after your work out.
If you check the Health boards on Pinterest you're sure to find lots of "Lose 10 lbs in 2 weeks by doing this crazy circuit!" posts. Often they involves lots of jumping jacks, squats, burpees, etc. Lots of high impact exercise. Don't do those. Not yet. Not for a while if you're just starting out. After baby number 2 I had great success with running every morning at 6 a.m. When the weather got cold and it was darker for longer, I decided to move my workouts indoors and tried one of those circuits. I did two jumping jacks before I got hurt. It was stupid of me to try without proper shoes, and on a concrete floor, and without working up to it, but I blew my knee out and it put a stop on even my running for a long time. So now that I'm working out again, I need low impact exercises, and if you're just starting out, you need them too. But low impact doesn't mean no-results. It just means easier on your joints. Try this move and I guarantee you won't complain about 'not feeling a burn'. And if you can't seem to find time to exercise, look at any time in your day where you're sitting. If you watch TV in the evenings, run in spot. If you send emails in the morning, do ballet poses or stretches while you type.

And lastly, another thing I'm trying for improved health is essential oils. Health is a big picture, not just what weight you are at. My household last year was sick from the beginning of November 2012 to April 2013. At any point, someone was always sick. I've noticed a difference this year though. And the biggest thing I've changed in that capacity is using essential oils. If you're not aware, EOs are the steam distilled oils from plants. Therapeutic grade oils are very potent, where a single drop can produce great effects. If you ever read somewhere that lavender is great for relaxing, or clove is a antifungal, or that peppermint can ease pain, the EO is far more effective than taking a dried herb, or even a fresh one, simply because it is so concentrated. We first got oils because our middle boy has Reactive Airway Disease, where if he gets a cold, it turns to a croup cough almost instantly, and his airway gets overstimulated, causing him to cough endlessly even when there is no underlying illness - and it can cause asthma attacks. Our doctor suggested we get 'some sort of an oil to put in your humidifier to help clear his sinuses' (she's a very old-school, blunt doctor, and I love her for it!) so I bought a starter kit of oils from Young Living and waited for his next illness. Well, first came a full-on asthma attack. We got him through it with his puffer and a trip to the hospital, but it scared the crap out of me. He was coughing for no real reason, and I was worried the next night would result in the same flare up, so I ran his humidifier with a few drops of lavender oil in it. No coughing. The next night I wondered if it was simply the humidifier helping, so I ran it without the lavender - cough, cough, cough. But at 3:00 a.m. when I held the open bottle of oil under his nose to smell, it soothed his coughing, and after I put a couple more drops in his humidifier, I didn't hear any more coughing for the rest of the night. I now keep lavender on hand for prevention, sitting right next to his puffer in case he has a full on attack again.
Another oil I've seen results with is called Thieves. It's a mix of Clove, Cinnamon, Rosemary, Lemon and Eucalyptus Radiata. They claim this oil has a 99.96% kill rate for airborne microorganisms. Clove oil is actually renown for it's antibacterial/antifungal properties. And Eucalyptus is a known expectorant (helps to make your coughs productive). I figured I'd at least try it since I had it. Bennett, Hubby and I all got sick after the week of Christmas - you know, seeing everyone, not caring if they're sick or not because you're just so glad to see them - and the first full day at home after Christmas, we were sicker than dogs. Right away I started running Thieves - this was its chance to show me what it could do! And it's the darndest thing... I got better, quickly! And so did Bennett! And hubby didn't even need to miss a day of work! AND, most impressively, Gabe and Nathaniel (you know, the boy who catches everything that comes within a mile of our house.) never caught it at all! Two weeks later Gabe and Nathaniel both had a bad cough (I think I know who they caught it from too, and it wasn't from our household!). Uh oh... Nathaniel has a cough?? But I ran Thieves during the day, and got him to smell lavender before bed, and that little boy's cough didn't even last two days. That's unreal for this kid. I also had some tooth pain in November that freaked me out, and after three days of popping Tylenol and I was ready to try the 'hippie oils' (as I lovingly refer to them) - I mixed coconut oil and Thieves, rubbed it on my gums and dabbed it in my tooth, and that evening the pain was lower than it had been the whole time I was popping pills - and the next morning it was gone. Turns out clove oil has long been regarded an effective option for dental pain. Next up I'm trying their Thieves line household cleaner, and seeing about making a relaxation massage oil with Chamomille and Vetivert! And if I can help our household stay healthier by diffusing oils around cold and flu season, I'll absolutely be willing to at least try it!

What do you do to stay healthy? What changes are helping you? Seriously, I'm asking, because I'd like to see about trying them!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)