Part 1: Born to Win

Born to Win

I believe that every person has a special gift and contribution to make in this world.  We strive to instill this positive attitude in our children, but in an effort to fight the battle against a generation of youth who display an aura of “entitlement”, we consistently talk about work ethic and what it takes to be successful at anything in life.  It is like walking a balance beam, trying to keep your children’s dreams alive, but teaching them that dreams generally don’t just come true for some and not for others….it takes effort, determination, perseverance and hard work to WIN in sports, and life in general.  We often talk about success stories like Michael Jordan ~ who didn’t even make his varsity basketball team in his sophomore year.  Michael Jordan took that disappointment and channelled his frustration to practise with a level of determination that eventually made him one of the best players of all time. Was it raw talent?  He would say “no”, but rather hard work and a level of commitment that has been matched by few others. As a parent, I want my children to grow-up knowing what it takes to be a winner and how to win graciously in all aspects of life.

Sports:  Much More Than a Game!

score board

To keep score or not to keep score…that is the question!

My husband and I were both involved in sports as children and believe that sports can play a powerful role in the overall development of our own children. Today, many are debating the psychology of whether we should keep score in youth sports or not. Personally, I don’t think that score keeping has any bearing on the self-esteem of children (they are keeping score whether there is an official scoreboard or not).  Children who feel too much pressure from sport are dealing more with parents who have unrealistic expectations and have made it more about being the best, than having fun.  You don’t have to look beyond the politics in minor hockey to establish that the problems are more related to parenting, than the scoreboard. Sport is so much more than skill development and competition. When I was a child, sport was not about getting a scholarship or making the A1 team, it was about building friendships and having fun!  As parents, we see the value of sport far beyond their performance on the ice, field or court.  Involvement in sports:

  • promotes a healthy lifestyle
  • promotes risk taking
  • expands children’s immediate circle of friends
  • teaches children about commitment – once a decision has been made, we make our kids’ stick it out for that season, even when they may not like it (we talk about being commited to a team and how others are depending on you to be there for the practises and games, it forces them to think beyond themselves)
  • teaches children how to be a team player, a skill that is essential in the work force (your grades might get you hired, but your inability to work with others is generally what will get you fired)
  • provides opportunities for chidren to learn life lessons like dealing with disappointment, how to get along with difficult people (coaches and team mates), work ethic, sportsmanship, etc.
  • provides a positive social experience where they can have good, clean fun!


Not all children are athletic, but many organized groups and activities can provide similar learning opportunities.  I believe that everyone was born a winner and should have a chance to shine, but your child doesn’t have to be the superstar of the team to gain valuable life lessons and experiences from their involvement in sports.  Every sport requires a different skill set and level of athletism.  Some sports require more precision and steadiness while others are more about speed and agility. When you consider all that can be learned through participation in sport, the potential is there for every child to feel like a winner!

We all want to see our children succeed and be happy, but I also feel that it is extremely important for children to learn how to lose.  Check-out Part 2 of this post tomorrow: Learning to Lose

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Coffee Talk

Screen shot 2013-09-29 at 10.30.52 AMI love coffee!  Nothing is more soothing than a cup or two of fresh coffee to start your day. Generally, I grind my own beans and set my coffee maker the night before. I love to wake up with the aroma of fresh coffee filling the air.  Once or twice a week, I will stop and pick-up a coffee on the way to work.  On my route to work, McDonald’s is the closest and most convenient, so I will often opt to pick-up coffee there.  This allows me to enjoy my cup of coffee for the entire duration of my 40 minute drive to work. I love Tim Horton’s as well.  In fact, we used to go to there so regularly that my son thought Tim Horton’s was called “Double Double” when he was little.  I am proud to announce that neither my husband or I are “Double Double” drinkers anymore, we set aside the sugar and now both drink double cream only. (And yes I said cream, I will have milk when that is the only option, but will always choose cream when available.)

Coffee Options 101

I am not a coffee snob and am certainly not much of a coffee connoisseur. I love my coffee, but rarely go for the speciality drinks.  I enjoy a simple cup of coffee  and am not too fussy, as long is it is not too strong.   I can’t say I don’t enjoy the specialty drinks, it is more a case of not understanding what anything on the menu actually means!  I must admit that Starbucks and other specialty coffee shops stress me out.  I take one look at the menu and feel like I’ve entered the Twilight Zone.  I just don’t get it, and frankly don’t have the time, energy or interest in learning the coffee lingo and figuring out what the items on the menu actually are.  Over the years, I have tried a few drinks that I enjoy, but since cutting the sugar from my coffee, even those I enjoyed in the past taste too sweet for me now.  I recently had a pumpkin spice latte and had a hard time finishing it as it just seemed overly sweet. (I would never have noticed this a few years ago.) So, I generally stick to the basics and order a simple cup of coffee with two cream.  If you are like me and don’t really get the lingo, you might enjoy this little video highlighting various beverages made with coffee.  It is very good and informative, but still seems like a foreign language to me.  I don’t think I could ever keep it all straight, so will probably continue to order my staple cup of coffee with two cream.

Caffeine Cautions

How much coffee is too much?

How much coffee is too much? Click the image to read the article.

In May, I went through a three day cleanse and as part of the program, I had to eliminate coffee from my diet. I knew this would be a huge problem as my body does not do well in the absence of coffee.  I generally make 5-6 cups in my little coffee maker, which translates to two regular size mugs of coffee (or one large McDonald’s or an extra-large Tim Hortons’s) per day. So, basically I am accustomed to about 16 ounces of coffee per day. I only drink coffee first thing in the morning and never throughout the day.  Not an outrageous amount, but I can tell you without it, I am a mess. It starts with a slight headache which slowly progresses to a full-fledged migraine complete with vomiting and a feeling of impending death.  Day one of my cleanse left me throwing up into a grocery bag at my son’s soccer game – nice!   A real proud moment.  I made it through the three days, but felt like I had been hit by a semi-truck.  When the three days ended, I could not even look at a cup of coffee.  I didn’t touch it for 14 days and then slowly it began to lure me back into its clutches.  Since then, I have reverted back to my same routine, but I purposely abstain from any coffee 2 to 3 days per week.  This has allowed my body a bit of reprieve from the caffeine and I don’t have the headaches and nausea when I don’t have my coffee. This was not my first episode of severe caffeine withdrawal, many years ago while working nights on a summer job, I started drinking obscene amounts of coffee to stay awake and then was unable to sleep during the day due to the caffeine in my system. I decided to stop drinking coffee, so I could get some sleep and got so sick I landed up in emergency.  Again, not one of my finer moments.

I am so glad that I have found that balance and can still enjoy my coffee, but also know that I can cope just fine on my days without it!

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Pallet Shoe Rack

I love all of the pallet projects that can be found on Pinterest and around the web.  Last summer,  I was determined to build something out of pallets. Although I there are many really cool ideas for how to upcycle a pallet, I knew that I would need to keep my first project easy and within the range of my limited abilities.  I searched the web and ended up finding a very simple tutorial for a pallet shelf on Ana White’s website.  She is a total DIY guru who shares all kinds of great projects and tutorials….I am definitely an unofficial member of her fan club!

My First Pallet Project:  Pallet Shelf

Companies frequently advertize “free pallet pick-up”, and so these projects are very attractive to beginners like myself.  I am never very concerned about making mistakes and the rustic look makes the imperfections in the final project less obvious.  Pallet projects provide a great platform for practising with the power tools you may not be accustom to using.  I know that for me, this has definitely been the case.  I loved the idea of beginning with these little shelves as the constructions consisted of little more than a few cuts and the addition of a simple 2″ X 4″ base.  I also kept the finish very simple.  I used some old stain that we had around the house.  I designed these shelves to serve as shoe holders in the bottom of our closets, so the finish was not all that important.

pallet shoe rack

My very first pallet project.

This build was super easy and made a great first project.  I would highly recommend this as a first time project for beginner DIYers.  You can see my finished project is simple, but functional.  It was a great little project for gaining comfort and confidence using the power tools and makes more difficult projects seem less intimidating. Below are some examples of how this very same shelf can be finished and used in a variety of ways.

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Ice Cream Cone Cupcakes

Here is a super quick and easy birthday cake idea.  I made these for my son’s 9th birthday.  Basically, bake a batch of homemade cupcakes.  (These were made from our favourite chocolate cake recipe.)  Purchase waffle cones and a few red gum balls for cherries. (I used some red-coated wire for the stem and just poked it in the gum ball.)  Stagger the cupcakes to create a giant ice cream cone.  I like to do things like this with odd numbers ~ I just think it looks better. Basically, just randomly pipe on buttercream icing to depict the flavours you want.  I then added a few little globs/swirls to make it look more like ice cream.  I used Wilton Tip 12. I began with the cupcake closest to the cone and worked my way to the top of the “scoops”.  I also added a few sprinkles and “chocolate” similar to the original idea. The original idea was taken from Pinterest and so much prettier, but this was for Shay’s birthday, so I tried to go with more of a masculine look.  He loves Tiger Tiger! The hardest part of this “cake” is that you have to change colours so often.  When doing something like this it is often easier to use disposable bags, so you don’t have to do much cleaning between colours.  I think this would be so cute for a little girl, with softer, prettier colours!

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Delicious Chocolate Cake

As a rule, I make my cakes from scratch just like my mom did when I was a kid.  Occasionally, I will buy a mix, but I prefer to make them myself.  I have a few recipes that are my “go to” cakes. Our family loves chocolate, so I usually make chocolate birthday cakes or cupcakes.  Today I am sharing my favourite chocolate cake recipe. It is super moist and works every time.  It is simple to make and super high in calories (I am guessing). Oh well, that’s what birthdays are for!  This photo captures the chocolate cake with our favourite frosting.  I tend to keep the cake for our “family” parties plain and simple and make the more elaborate cakes for their celebrations with friends.

chocolate cake

Chocolate Cake


  • 2 cups of flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking soda
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 4 heaping Tablespoons of cocoa
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1 cup of Miracle Whip


Put the dry ingredients into a bowl and mix.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the miracle whip and water until most of the lumps are removed.  Add the wet ingredients into the dry mixture.  Beat well.  Pour into a square cake pan.  Double the recipe for a 9″ X 13″ cake. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until the cake tester comes out clean.

Our Favourite Frosting

This frosting is very creamy and delicious. It is not overly sweet and although not the same, would be most similar to the icing on a Jeannie’s Bakery cake. Very yummy, but not great for decorating.  I sometimes do my “crumb coat” with this and then use butter cream or fondant for decorating.


  • 1 cup of whole milk
  • 5 Tablespoons of flour
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup of butter
  • 1 cup white sugar

Mix the milk and flour in a saucepan.  Heat the mixture over medium heat stirring constantly to prevent the milk from scorching.  Once it has thickened, set the pot directly into an ice bath to cool. (Bowl of ice with a bit of water). Continue to stir the mixture while it is cooling to prevent it from crusting over or forming lumps. Once cool, stir in the vanilla. Cream the butter and sugar in a separate bowl.  Add the cooled flour mixture 1 tablespoon at a time while continuing to beat.


This icing is so worth the effort, but it can be a bit finicky.  Follow the instructions and be sure to cool the flour mixture completely.  Do not use butter that is too soft.  Enjoy!

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Upcycled Decor Screen

We bought two second-hand screens (room dividers) in 2006.  I liked them, but never really loved the fabric on either screen.  I was always on the lookout for a more modern look and finally found a fabric when we were down in the states last winter. (By the way, Joann’s is always on my list when I go shopping in the states.  There is a much better fabric selection and often really great sales.)  Such was the case with this fabric.  I can’t say that I saw it and instantly thought… this is exactly what I have been looking for, but the price was right ($35) and I liked it.

old screen

This is the original screen. The fabric is okay, but quite traditional.

Screen Upcycle

old fabric

This is actually the fabric from the other screen which has been sitting unused in our basement. You can see all of the velcro I removed.

I purchased enough fabric to replace the three panels on one screen.  The panels did not have two “good sides”, so it was meant to be placed in a corner or against a wall.  I don’t need it to divide an actual space, so when purchasing the fabric, I only purchased enough to cover one side of the screen (like the original).  This is a fairly simple sewing project.  It basically consists of creating a finished seam all the way around each of the large rectangular pieces of fabric and then adding velcro to attach them to the screen frame.  I used the old fabric from the screen as a guide for my measurements and even removed the velcro so that I could re-use it on the new fabric.

From cutting to finished project, this probably did not take me more than a couple of hours (maybe less).  It was quick to sew and my sewing machine was in a cooperative mood, so it was smooth sailing.  (We don’t always get along.)

The New Look

upcycled screen

One Thing Leads to Another

Hmmm….I like the new look and love how the fabric has a more “light and airy” feel. However, if you were in my house you would notice how the reddish brown finish on the metal screen seems to stand-out a little more.  (Looks more chocolate-brown in the photo, but definitely a bit on the red side when you are up close and personal!).  Not sure I like it.  Oh, oh!  Luckily, I can sneak the other screen out of the basement (we weren’t using it anyway) and give it a quick sand and coat of paint.  I wonder how it will look with paint?  We won’t tell my husband until it is done, that way I can’t be stopped.  He generally really likes the finished product, but doesn’t always share my perspective and vision:D

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Speaking of Semantics….Taco Salad

Since sharing the Italian Casserole recipe yesterday, I thought I might as well take this opportunity to share my other successful recipe make-over.  A few years ago, my son would cringe at the word “salad”. He absolutely refused to eat anything with the word salad in it.  It wasn’t so much that he didn’t like salad, but more that he would never give any form of salad a chance.  This was my very first successful attempt at recipe trickery.

Operation Taco Salad

My kids love Mexican food, but would not eat taco salad.  I decided to make it my mission to have them eat taco salad.  We used to have some form of Mexican food at least once every two weeks (burritos, enchiladas, fajitas or tacos).  Although I do have a recipe for homemade taco seasoning, I must confess that I generally use the little packages from the store.

We usually cook up the ground meat (beef, chicken or turkey) and add the seasoning mix according to the package instructions. (Certainly not rocket science).  We serve our tacos with salsa (homemade or bought), tomatoes, lettuce, cheese, avocado and sour cream in either hard shells or soft wraps. Obviously, taco salad is the same as above without the wraps/shells.  We don’t add anything extra for a dressing, but rather use the sour cream and salsa as our dressing.

So, How Do You Get Kids to Eat Taco Salad?

Here is how it went down at my house……

When the kids asked, “What’s for supper?”

I said,  “Tacos.”

They asked, “Where are the shells?”

I answered, “Oh, I ran out.  I guess we’ll just have to have the tacos in a bowl tonight. Sorry.” The kids proceeded to try their “taco in a bowl”.

My son announced…”Wow, I love Taco in a Bowl!”

I said, “Great!” (and quickly dodged around the corner to smirk and give a silent cheer).

Now, Taco in a Bowl is a regular item on The Roy’s weekly menu, but we still don’t eat Taco Salad. Again, it’s all in the presentation!

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Yummy Italian Casserole

In all honesty, this post is much more about semantics than it is about getting a great new Italian recipe.

Spaghetti and Meat Sauce Healthy Style? No Dice!

Last winter, we went through a three to four month stint in which we followed a Primal diet (very similar to eating Paleo, with a few differences). The main thing with a Primal diet is the exclusion of all grains from your diet.  During that time, I had to get really creative as my family was not embracing our new lifestyle to the extent that I was.  Although they adhered to the plan, they were not pleased about the absence of grains, especially pasta.  Long before the Primal diet, I had tried to introduce my family to spaghetti squash as a much healthier alternative to pasta. They would have no part of it, so I would eat squash and meat sauce while the rest of the family would eat pasta. It was frustrating, but they simply did not like it.

Don’t Give Up ~ Your Family is Worth It

I am not one to give up on anything very easily.  I find that with most problems, it is at the point of highest frustration that one usually gives up. However, I have often found that if I persist just beyond that point, the solution is almost always around the next bend.  The key is really sticking with it long enough to reach the solution.  I really wasn’t ready to give up on the idea of substituting the pasta in some of our meals. I love this quote because I find that we often have the answer already, it is just a matter of thinking “outside the box” and looking at the problem from a new perspective.

“The problems are solved, not by giving new information, but by arranging what we have known since long.”
― Ludwig Wittgenstein

Such was the case of spaghetti squash vs. pasta.  In the end, I simply applied a strategy that has worked well for me in the past.  I changed up what I was doing ever so slightly and re-named the dish. So instead of spaghetti squash and meat sauce, we have Italian Casserole.  Same ingredients, with a different presentation and a new name!

What is Italian Casserole you may ask?

  • Homemade meat sauce (1 to 2 lbs of ground beef)
  • One cooked spaghetti squash
  • Mozzarella Cheese
  • Optional additions:  parmesan cheese, butter

Cooke spaghetti squash according to the directions on the sticker.  I generally poke it and microwave it for about 5 minutes before attempting to cut it in half.  I then cut it in half length-wise and scrape out the seeds (similar to a pumpkin).  The remaining “meat” is cooked (boiled, roasted or microwaved) until the flesh is soft and can be scraped away from the outer shell with a fork.  Slide the fork down the flesh to create spaghetti like strings.

You can stir in some butter and parmesan cheese at this point, if you wish. Grease a 9″ X 13″ casserole dish and line it with a small amount of sauce. Spoon all of the cooked spaghetti squash onto the sauce and spread it out. Cover with all of the meat sauce and then place grated mozzarella cheese on top. Cook for about 20 minutes.  You may want to broil for a minute or two at the end to brown the cheese.  Finally, the most important step…..tell your family that you are having Italian Casserole for dinner.  My family loves Italian Casserole, but continues to hate spaghetti squash and meat sauce.  It really is all in the presentation and semantics.  Ha! Ha! Mommy wins!

Italian Casserole


Cottage cheese and spinach

Mix one cup of cottage or ricotta cheese with frozen spinach (thawed and drained) and a few tablespoons of parmesan cheese.  Spread this layer over the squash, so it forms a middle layer between the squash and thick layer of meat sauce.  Yummy and quite like lasagna.  Enjoy!

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Garage Selling 101

garage saleI think I may be deemed officially crazy, but in September,my busiest month of the entire year, I managed to pull-off two garage sales.  A girlfriend and I decided to combine our “seconds” and have a garage sale on September long weekend.  We held the sale at her mother in-laws and it proved to be a great location.  Our first sale did more than $500 and we were about a 65/35 split of the profits.  We held the second sale this weekend, at our house and sold around $280 worth of stuff ~ not bad considering it was left-overs from the first sale.  We ended the day by loading up the van and making a special delivery to a local thrift store.  It feels so great to have purged crates of what I deemed to be junk and come out about $500 richer. Not bad.  Many would say that garage sales are not worth the effort, but here is what I have learned.

Garage Sale Planning:

  • Avoid hot summer days when people are spending the day at the beach.  If you opt for a summer sale, try a Thursday or Friday evening.  I find spring and fall are generally better for garage sales.
  • Consider your main objective – What is it you are seeking to do?  Get rid of junk or recoup some of the money you originally put out for the item?  If you are trying to sell better quality items, Kijiji might be a better option than a garage sale.  People basically come expecting to pay bottom dollar.  If your objective is to have the stuff gone, price to sell or post a sign saying make an offer.  I generally have a few items that I am pretty firm on the price, but many I will let go for far less, just to see them gone.
  • Plan ahead:  I suggest starting a few Rubbermaid tubs that you constantly use for garage sale items.  As clothes are out grown or items are no longer needed/used:  wash them, price them and store them.  If you do this as you go along, putting on a sale is really very easy.  The hardest part of a sale is the cleaning and purging that is required to gather the stuff you want to sell. If you stay on top of this and continually de-clutter, you never have that huge job of going through all of your junk. I remove clothes that are too small for my kids from the clean laundry almost every week and simply transfer them to my “too small tub”.  This can work for immediate donation or for a future garage sale.
  • Decide if you want to get your kids involved or not.  Our kids have sold their own toys, made crafts to sell and have also had cookie and lemonade stands.  Our daughter made $25 at the last sale.  This is a great way to teach them how to manage money and/or how to raise money for a great cause, if they are so inclined.

Garage Sale Tips:

  1. Location is everything.  Both of our sales were in the same general area of the city, but with completely different patrons. The first sale had clothing selling by the bag full.  I am sure my friend made a few hundred on clothes alone.  Clothes are not a big seller in my neighborhood, so consider your clients.
  2. Advertizing on free sites like Kijiji seems to help, as well as proper signage put up a few days in advance.  I often keep the same signs and re-use them from year to year.  This is especially true if you stick to the same times and don’t post the date, but the DAY(s) only.  I like to make signs that stand-out and look different from the others on the boulevard.  Also, make sure the printing is clear and large enough to be seen from a distance.  Less print is better.
  3. Timing: For the first sale, we did a Friday and Saturday and actually did quite well on the Friday evening despite the fact we were only open 3 hours.  We also had some of our Friday customers return on Saturday.  Fridays are definitely worth considering.
  4. Float: I recommend a float of approximately $250 (tens, fives, toonies, loonies and quarters).
  5. Set-Up:  We had a few fold-up tables, but also used make shift tables by setting planks across saw horses, crates and even 5 gallon pails.  We also used large tubs and lined them end to end with items displayed on top. You really want to get the items out of the boxes and more visible.
  6. Lunch/water:  It is a great idea to consider your lunch the night before, and either make a bag lunch or at least have a plan.  If someone else is around to make lunch or a snack, it is not so bad, but if you’re on your own be prepared with water and food to get you through the day.


If you are well prepared and organized, the work is really minimal.  It took us about an hour to set-up and an hour to clean-up today.  All of the items were already in tubs and priced from our last sale, so it was really a matter of setting up the tables and displaying the items.  We were open from 8 to 4, so we got a good dose of vitamin D.  For me, I don’t mind having a sale every year or two, but do not like to keep much of what is left-over. Sometimes, I will pass items along to someone I know or donate to a special cause, while other times I just load it up and donate it all.  Once the clutter is out of my house, I do not want it back in.  To me the sale is pretty much the end of the line for most items.  Garage Sales are not for everyone, but for me I really don’t mind them.  The best advise I can give is to plan ahead and try to hook-up with a friend or an entire street/neighborhood.  It becomes more of a social event when you’re not alone, and can certainly “beef-up” your traffic when there are mulitple families participating.  I actually enjoyed both of the sales and was thankful for the opportunity to visit with a friend that I don’t see nearly enough of!

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End Table Upcycle

cheap end table


This is an old project that I did years ago, but we still use the table, so I thought I would include it.  I had picked up one of those very cheap unfinished round end tables at Zellers.  It was similar to this Walmart one, but with a different base. I am pretty sure I paid $10 for it.  The table is designed to have a floor length table cloth on it, so the table didn’t have any finish on it at all.

Upcycled Table

As I said, our table is similar to the one above, but the base is different.  It is quite sturdy and I was able to make it work with a bit of paint.

The inspiration for the table paint design came from cushion covers I had made from an old swimming sarong that I never wore.  I loved the print, but didn’t like the way the sarong fit. These cushions sit on the back of the futon that we have kept over the years for a spare bed. The original cover on the futon was apple green, but the cushions are still used and look fine with the navy blue cover that is now on it.

inspiration cushion

Here is the original cushion cover that inspired the paint design for the cabinet.

The completed look….

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