To Hover or Not to Hover – That is the Question?

No, this post is not about helicopter parents. Although as parents, we are always walking that tight rope trying to determine when to loosen the reins and when to hold on for dear life, this post is not about “hovering” around our kids. This post is actually referring to the perpetual question of what to do when entering a public restroom and faced with the decision of whether to sit down or test your skills at going about your business from 2 inches above the comfort of the toilet seat.

To Hover or Not to Hover:

Well, this new video puts it all in perspective and basically says do what you want, but as far as protecting yourself from germs, it’s pretty much a lost cause. It’s disturbing to think that your cutting board is probably even more disgusting than the public washroom. Yuck!

Cauliflower with Broccoli Cheese Sauce

Growing-up, one of my favourite ways to eat vegetables was with my mom’s homemade cheese sauce. She would simply melt some butter (1 to 2 Tablespoons), add flour to soak up the butter (paste like) and then whisk in milk (1 to 2 cups) until the flour was mixed in. She would then put it on medium heat (stirring constantly to avoid scorching) until the mixture thickened. She would then add grated cheddar until desired cheesiness was achieved.  She often add dill as well as salt and pepper.  My mom would serve the cheese sauce over cabbage, cauliflower or steamed broccoli. Knowing how much I loved this growing-up, I was intrigued when I found Jamie Oliver’s recipe for the Best Cauliflower and Broccoli Cheese ever.

Jamie Oliver’s Cauliflower and Broccoli Cheese:

broccoli cheese casseroleThis recipe is like our long time family favourite kicked-up a notch. You’ll have to follow the link to get the complete recipe, but basically it is much the same as my mom’s with a white sauce as the base. Here is what sets his recipe apart:

  • Sauté fresh garlic in the butter prior to adding the flour
  • Simmer broccoli florets in the milk mixture for about 20 minutes
  • Blend the above, so that the broccoli is puréed
  • Place small cauliflower florets in a baking dish
  • Pour broccoli mixture over top
  • Add additional grated cheese, bread crumbs, slivered almonds, salt and pepper and fresh thyme to the top
  • Bake at 350 for one hour

I really enjoyed this recipe and will definitely make it again. However, I happened to have frozen veggies on hand and he suggested it was a great option. I think the moisture in the cauliflower may have “watered it down” a bit. Next time I will use fresh and I think it will be superb. It makes a nice potluck dish or side dish to serve for company.

The Ultimate Organizational Tip

This one organizational tip literally saves me hours of work. When it comes to being efficient and organized, I try to spend the extra effort planning a task or event the first time, so that I can use the template or outline when planning similar events in the future. I find that so much of what we do in life is repetitive, so it makes no sense to reinvent the wheel or continually redo a similar task over and over again. It is for this reason that I am a bit of a template queen. I try to consider every detail in planning an event or preparing for a situation and then save the template, so that I can use it time and time again. Of course, I am often making modifications or changes to my outlines, but the framework is there and thus the time spent planning and thinking through what is needed is down to a minimum. The possibilities are endless, but here are a few ways that I apply this concept:

  • General Packing Lists – I have standard lists for each family member that include all of the basic things you would need for a sleepover or vacation. Of course, it needs to be tweaked depending on the season and the type of activities that will occur while away. My packing lists are made in a table format, so that I can change the “quantity” of the items needed and there is a box to check-off items as they are packed.
  • Summer Camp Packing List – The kids basically take the exact same things every year, so I use the same list each and every year. I simply print it off when we are ready to pack.
  • Christmas Shopping – again, my basic list rarely changes. You are typically buying for the same family and friends each and every year. I also include general terms like: coaches, teachers, volunteers, teaching assistants, etc. Again, this is made on a table with columns for the names, budgeted costs, actual amount spent and a check off box.
  • Birthday Parties – I’ve already shared my template for planning a birthday party. Regardless of whether I’m planning for Eden or Shay, there are some basic planning guidelines I always follow. By using a template, I don’t have to worry about forgetting anything.
  • Gardening – My mom loved to garden and had a real knack for tending to plants. I do not. Maybe some day when I’m retired and don’t have a million and one things to do, I could actually enjoy the process instead of just feeling like it something else on my “to do” list. Our front yard is very shady and over the years we have learned what works well and what doesn’t. We now have many perennials, but I always like to do a couple of pots and add a few annuals to my flower beds. I decided to make a list of what I need and how many of each. It just seems like every year, I am trying to figure it out all over again….why? Now I just write it down and use the same basic list from year to year.
  • Camping – I love camping, but hate packing. Over the years, I have learned a few tricks to that help make our camping trips easier to plan. One is having a pre-set camping list that includes all of the gear we’ll need.
  • Camping Menu Plan – I know this seems a bit extreme, but one of the things that has made my job way easier when planning a camping trip is to follow the same menu every time. We generally only go away once or twice per season, so repeating the menu is not an issue. This not only saves me having to figure out a menu, but also allows me to use the same packing list for the food and utensils we’ll need, as well as the shopping list that coincides with the menu.

Of course, the ideas for using this type of system are endless, but some others might include: Back to School Shopping and Medical Appointments, Dinner Parties (for planning and keeping track of who you served what to), Block Parties, Committee Work, Calendars, To Do Lists, Weekly Planning Templates, etc.

I am pretty good on the computer, so for me to whip up a document with a table embedded is pretty easy, but even if your skills aren’t that polished, it is really worth the initial effort. I find that this system really helps to relieve that “bogged” down feeling simply because I have less things to think about. I can spend the time actually going through the list and doing what needs to get done without spending the time thinking about it and planning from scratch. The other great thing about he computer is that you don’t have to have a bunch of notes or file folders with your documents stored around the house. Simply create files on your computer to store all of your templates and the various versions you create. I like to date or name each file I create, so that I don’t use my original template and so I have a record of how/what I did differently each time. Of course, this wouldn’t pertain to a packing list or Christmas shopping list, but more to the planning of events or different variations of my garden plans.

Hope this helps!


Is Good Enough?

I serve at church in the Nursery 2 room and we always have a pre-service team meeting. The meetings start with a devotional and then one of the leaders does a very quick teaching prior to heading back to our classrooms. Yesterday, there was something said that really stuck with me. She is used the line “Good is the Enemy of Great!” and I thought it was brilliant. This morning I got up and googled it to see if this was something she may have come up with or if the origin could be found. My search led me to a site with a post from a man by the name of Tom Lemanski. I was so intrigued by what I saw because it is the essence of what I believe. In fact, the title of his post was “Working Smart”.

A few years ago, a colleague and I led a group at work called “Work Smarter, Not Harder”. The concept behind this was to pool our ideas through brainstorming sessions and learn how to streamline the things we do by working smarter and more efficiently. Our goal was to establish specific systems to follow that would essentially help us to share our workload in a more efficient manner and with better results. Basically, figure out what works and what doesn’t, learn from our mistakes and continually tweak what we do, so that the same mistakes aren’t repeated. We sought to increase our work potential, efficiency and the overall “product” by learning to do the same things in a simpler and more productive way.

Tom’s post was based on the first sentence from Jim Collins’s book called Good To Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t. He basically goes on to talk about how in the business world, government, schools and life in general, it is so easy to settle for good. If you attain a level that you believe to be good, progress simply stops. In order to be great, you must seek to continually make things better. To look for ways to improve and enhance what you are already doing. In fact, to truly be great, you must look at it as a journey and not a destination. It is an end that will never be achieved because the premise is that you can always improve. You know the old saying: “Jack of all trades, master of none.” I think “GOOD” is much like that.

It is quite easy to be good at many things, but it takes so much more to be GREAT at even one. So, I too believe that good can in fact the enemy of great. Of course, this does not imply we can be great at everything, but more so that we need to really focus on one or two things that we can become really great at. Status quo is easy and it’s where most of us stay. I have learned that perseverance is truly one of the most difficult qualities to attain. We can all be great for a moment or a season in time, but to persevere is the true test. I can say that I did P90X and that I didn’t miss one workout in 90 days, but that was 4 years ago and now I can barely commit to 3 days of exercise per week. So, woopty-do! I was able to commit full heartedly for 3 months, but that has little impact on me today. I really don’t want to “hang my hat” on something I accomplished 3 years ago. Whether it be in our eating habits, exercise regime, business ventures, career or basic daily habits, it is the ability to persist even when faced with obstacles and challenges that really sets the standard for greatness. Greatness isn’t about being perfect, but more about striving for excellence.

Sometimes it can feel like there is a fine line between perfectionism and excellence, but there are some major differences. Perfectionism is a losing battle with oneself. It is a result that ultimately can never be achieved and the pursuit of it often leaves a wake of destruction in its path. The pursuit of excellence is more about doing the very best that you can and learning from your mistakes. As you pursue excellence you know and accept that there will be challenges along the way. I found this great article on perfectionism on a site called the University of Exeter. This table was taken from the article and shows an excellent comparison between perfectionists and healthy strivers. Screen Shot 2014-06-16 at 9.30.38 AM Ultimately,  before you can be great at anything, you must first decide that good is not good enough. Decide what you want to be great at: gardening, parenting, marriage, your career, a business venture, whatever. Once you’ve prioritized and made some decisions, get started right away. Get a vision, read, study, practise, stumble, fall, get up, REPEAT. Remember, persistence is the key to be all that you can be!

Happy Father’s Day

When most of us are trying to figure out what gifts to buy or where to go for dinner to celebrate Father’s Day, this father gets a very special Father’s Day surprise. What he wouldn’t give to have a normal day at home with his family.  Although that wasn’t possible, the gift he received through West Jet was the next best thing. This video really makes me think about how we often go through life taking things for granted. A close friend just lost her dad on Friday and this will be a terribly difficult Father’s Day for her family.

I am so thankful for a healthy family and want to pay special tribute to my hubby this Father’s Day. Tim is an awesome dad and a great husband. I so appreciate all he does to help out around the house. I feel so lucky that he is so involved with the kids and I don’t need to leave him a list of directions for raising his own children. Tim has always been very hands on. He stayed home with Eden for a year when I went back to work and it so set the stage for his hands-on parenting. I never had to explain what needed to go in the diaper bag or how to manage all of the kids school notes and forms. He is the one that is usually there when they leave in the morning and home for them at the end of the day. He ensures lunches are packed, notes are signed and notices are read. Of course, I do some of this too, but I have never felt like I have to work and manage everything at home as well. He is a great listener and always takes time for the kids. With Eden, they will often spend time chatting at “tuck” time, just catching-up on her day and helping to talk her through whatever is on her mind. With Shay, its all about tickle fights and hockey. I love that he spends such quality time with each of them. There are so many things about Tim that I love and I always feel like his strengths are my weaknesses and visa versa, so we make a pretty good team. So many times, I hear others complain about their husbands and I’m often left thinking how lucky I am. So this Father’s Day, I just want to acknowledge my husband publicly and let him know what a great dad he is and how much he is loved.

Happy Father’s Day, Tim!

As you can see, he has always been engaged and involved in all that we do as a family. I put together a collage of memories that basically date back to 2008. Prior to that, most photos were either removed from my hard drive or taken on my old 35mm. Too bad, as there are lots of great pictures from when the kids were younger.


Sensationally Sinful!

A few weeks back, a colleague brought in this cake for the staff that was absolutely delicious. I am a chocolate lover through and through and I when presented with an array of dainties or desserts, 90% of the time, I’ll choose a chocolate option. Of course, I love a variety of desserts, but generally speaking I’ll go for something chocolate. So, for me to say this, is a huge thing…..according to my taste buds this is one of the most delicious cakes I have ever tasted. It is very rich and the combination of flavours is really fabulous. I am not actually going to post this recipe, only because I followed it exactly as Alex Hitz instructed in his post on House Beautiful. To check-out this incredible recipe for Salted Caramel Cake, follow the link.

I won’t lie, this is absolutely the most fattening sugar laden concoction you’ll ever taste, but man is it worth it! The recipe suggests that it serves approximately 16, but I think you could easily serve more. I served 12 pieces of cake at the party and still have exactly one half of the cake left. I cut the pieces quite small as it is very rich and only a few had seconds. You could easily serve 20 with this cake.

Although there are more steps than the typical frosted cake, I didn’t find it too bad. Here is my advice, based on my experience:

    • Bake the cake the day before, cool it completely, cover and leave on the counter for frosting the next day.
    • The recipe suggests putting the caramel mixture in the freezer to cool for about 40 minutes. I think mine took about an hour and a half  before it was completely cooled. The bottom of my pot was still hot to touch after 40 minutes in the freezer.
    • Do a crumb coat and then pop the cake in the freezer for about an hour or longer.  A crumb coat is a thin layer of icing that covers the outside of the cake and catches all of the crumbs. This recipe makes a gargantuan amount of frosting which is fabulous. There is nothing worse than doing a 6 layer cake and running short on frosting. There is plenty of frosting to do a crumb coat, freeze and then do a final beautiful layer of frosting. I covered the remaining frosting and popped it in the fridge while the cake with the crumb coat was in the freezer. I’m not saying this was a mistake, but perhaps it wasn’t as smooth and creamy as it was before placing it in the fridge. I thought it would hold its shape a bit better as it was very creamy and I wondered if it might slide down the sides if left out. You can decide.
    • When I went to bake my cakes, I realized that I needed 3 pans. I have four, but they are 2 sets of 2 and the sizes weren’t exactly the same. I ended up calling my neighbour and lucky for me they had just purchased a set of three new cake pans, so I just used there set of three. At the time, I didn’t realize it, but I think they inadvertently saved me a huge mess and intense frustration. (Thanks Kelli and Ian!)  I should know better, but I had a printed out version of the recipe from my friend and didn’t bother to read the reviews prior to making the cakes. I usually check out the reviews prior to making a recipe, as there are often good tips. Before posting this, I decided to see what others had to say and sure enough there was a theme in the reviews. Everyone loved the cake, but many had an issue with their cake batter spilling over into the oven and having to toss the cakes out . Yikes! The pans that I generally use were my moms and can be seen below on the left. They are not very deep and I can see how I would have had the same problem had I used those pans. Instead, I used pans similar to that on the right. Moral of the story….use deep pans!
    • More about the pans….I have never baked in deep pans like this and I instantly loved them. Not only did the cake not spill over, but instead of the baked cake having a huge dome on top where it rises during baking, the cake remained relatively flat across the top. At first, I was concerned that they weren’t rising, but then it hit me. In my shallow pans, the cake is forced to rise in the center because the sides are not tall enough to support the rising cake. In the deeper pans (about 3″, I think), the entire cake rises and the result is a more even surface. This is especially important when layering cakes as the stacked cakes are much more stable with a more even surface. I loved these pans and thought I might buy a set, but my neighbour insisted I just borrow theirs whenever needed. Love that idea even more as I don’t have to spend the money or store the suckers. Too bad they don’t nestle together like my old ones.
    • I placed three wooden skewers through the layers of the cake prior to my final coat of icing. I just find that it prevents any sliding when cutting the cake.
old 9" pan

Old 9″ pan with slider to help remove cake. Only about 1 1/4″ high.

9" pan

The 9″ pans I used.

This cake is a must try! It is absolutely worth the extra effort. I can’t say that it would be a cake I would make regularly as it is more work, more expensive and off the scale in terms of naughty, but it is the perfect cake to serve a large group and will definitely impress those with a sweet tooth.  Enjoy!

Diane’s Tomato Zucchini Salad

Tomato Zucchini SaladThis salad is almost salsa like in its look. It is a nice addition to any summer meal. I love it served on a bed of rice, chicken breast or on its own as a side dish. I got this recipe from my cousin and I really don’t have actual amounts for the ingredients, so I just wing it. I don’t know where she got the original recipe from, but here is what she passed on to me. The quantities in parentheses are the approximate amounts I used.

Tomato Zucchini Salad

  • finely chopped tomato (4 Roma tomatoes or 2 large)
  • finely chopped zucchini (2 medium-sized)
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped (sweet white or red)
  • 1 avocado, chopped (add just before serving)
  • salt and pepper


  • 2 Tablespoons of oil
  • 3 Tablespoons of lemon juice (lime would be great as well)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried

Place all of the ingredients in a bowl and stir. I find that this type of salad/salsa is best when left on the counter for about 30-60 minutes, so that the flavours can blend together. If you have the time to let it stand before serving, I would suggest holding off on the avocado and adding it just before you are ready to set it out.

Possible Variations:

I did a quick search to see if I could find the original source for this recipe and could not, but found some interesting variations that would be fun to try. Here are some I thought I might give a whirl:

Epicurious had a version of this recipe, but the dressing called for basil, oregano, oil, salt and pepper and the choice of using either balsamic or red wine vinegar. To check-out the recipe, follow the link.

Oh Snap! Let’s eat! had another version that included cilantro, which I love. I also thought that the idea of thinly slicing the zucchini with a peeler to create a ribbon effect was a really cool idea. Follow the link to check out the post. ribbon sliced zucchini

Got Stress?

got stressAs a teacher, June is the busiest month of the year. You are busy doing final report cards and tidying up all of the loose ends from the current school year and at the same time, having to prepare letters, class lists, supply orders, etc for the following year. On top of the work load, family life continues. Shay has a June birthday, so that always entails two parties to plan and prepare for. Soccer is in full swing for both kids, piano is wrapping up, dance recitals are happening, there are end of the year gifts to buy, people to thank and chores to be done. For me, the first two weeks of June are by far the toughest. Once I submit my reports, everything seems to be more manageable. I am by no means a master at managing stress and work load, but I am often asked how I juggle work, blogging, kid’s activities, etc., so here are a few things that I’ve learned over the years:

  1. Plan ahead to avoid feeling overwhelmed.
  2. Use a master calendar to schedule all of your events and commitments.
  3. Break the master calendar down into a weekly schedule.
  4. Take your weekly schedule and slot in your “to do’s” for that week.
  5. Multi-task and make use of spare minutes. I love to watch my kids activities, but I will often take marking or the laptop to work during warm-up or between drop-off and puck-drop or kick-off. Use your time wisely. I am a master at using every spare moment when I’m out and about. I will often run an errand in the 10 extra minutes between dropping off one kid and picking up another. I can get a lot done during a half hour piano lesson.
  6. Never procrastinate. Try to knock the small tasks off your list as quickly as possible. Once they’re off your list, they’re also out of your mind and you can let them go completely. Do not put off the big jobs as these are the “to do’s” that seriously weigh on your shoulders and bog you down. Get started immediately and I promise you’ll feel better.
  7. Know your limits. When I have a stressful time coming up, I try to keep myself as “non-committed” as possible. Predict those times and be wise with what you take on.
  8. Say “no”. Don’t be a martyr. Do not say “yes” to something you don’t feel you can handle. I have learned that even fun social engagements can be too much for me when I am extremely busy. I will often decline, just knowing how adding one more thing to my calendar will make me feel.
  9. Make a menu. If you don’t have to worry about meals and what you’re having for dinner, it will be less to think about.
  10. Make sure you get enough sleep.  The absolute last thing you need is to be sick on top of the stress you are already feeling.
  11. Write everything down. Make lists and use your calendar. Transfer your thoughts, ideas and “things to do” to paper, so you won’t worry about forgetting something. Organization is key.
  12. Assign chores. Make sure everyone is helping out around the house.
  13. Take one day at a time. Try to get through only what is most pressing today and don’t waste time thinking about what is on your list for tomorrow. Tomorrow will come soon enough.

Over the years, I have found that what often makes me feel the most overwhelmed is one particular task. I know myself well enough to know that when I have something big weighing on me, all of the other smaller things feel huge. For me, it’s writing June report cards. It doesn’t matter how many other things are on my list, until those reports are written, edited and submitted, I carry a heavy weight. It’s a huge job and constantly on my mind until they are completed. Although it feels like the stress is being caused by the overwhelming number deadlines and little things that need to get done within a short period of time, it often all comes down to the one big job on the list. Once my report cards are done, all the other items on the list seem much more manageable. The keys to managing really busy stretches in life are simple: plan ahead, be prepared, know your limits and get started right away ~ do not procrastinate.

Here are some links to related posts on being organized.



Avocado Feta Salsa

A friend made this dip a while back and Eden (my avocado hater) had to be physically removed from the dip for fear she would eat the entire bowl herself. This is super yummy and a somewhat unique combination of flavours. This recipe was found on My Recipes. It is a great summer appetizer as it is bursting with colour and the awesome flavours of fresh tomatoes and avocado. Mmmm.  I hope you like it as much as we do!

Avocado Feta Salsa


  • 4 plum tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped red onion
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 (4-ounce) package crumbled feta cheese
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 avocados, chopped
  • tortilla chips


Place the  first 9 ingredients in a bowl and stir . Add the chopped avocado just before serving. Gently stir the mixture. Serve with assorted tortilla chips.

Submitted by: Suzanne Paulsen, Laurel, Mississippi, Southern Living

My Thoughts on the “New Zoo”

Polar Playground

Polar Playground

I have to admit I have not been a big supporter of the Assiniboine Park Zoo. I haven’t taken my own children since Shay was 4 (6 years ago) and haven’t been on a field trip to the zoo in well over ten years. As a family, we have had the opportunity to visit a few really great zoos when on vacation. We’ve been to the Calgary Zoo, San Diego Zoo, San Diego’s Wild Animal Park, Animal Kingdom in Disney and one of our favourites, the Columbus Zoo in Ohio.  When you go to a really incredible zoo, it is a whole day adventure. You expect to pay more, but its a full day trip. For me, packing up the kids to travel across the city for an hour or so, just never seemed worth it to me. The animals were usually sleeping or so camouflaged in their enclosure that you couldn’t even sneak a peek at them. Despite my bad attitude towards our zoo, I got really excited about all of the press regarding the changes and plans for the zoo. When I was choosing my field trips for this year, I decided it was time to check out the zoo and give it another chance.

Last Thursday, I took 46 kindergarten students to the zoo for the day. We did a program in the morning and then had time to explore on our own. I wasn’t totally impressed by what we saw, as there was still lots of construction going on and many paths were being re-routed. However, those areas that had been upgraded since my last visit 6 years ago were vast improvements over the old facilities. I am actually really excited about the Journey to Churchill exhibit that is scheduled to open July 3rd and I will absolutely be paying the big ticket price to take my kids.

  • The Polar Playground is really cool ~ literally, it is an indoor play structure that provides a great escape from the hot sun. The large room has very low lighting and the play structure has many interactive features for the kids to explore. I had never seen this before and was very impressed.
  • I’m not going to talk about the Journey to Churchill exhibit as this video gives an awesome description of it.

Until visiting, I must admit that I had a bit of “let’s just wait and see” attitude. I really wasn’t all that impressed with the snip-its I saw on the news, but when you see the size and grandeur of the construction, it is quite impressive. I think what I like the most is that I can see that there is a “big plan”. I am such a believer in thinking big, having a big goal and then taking the necessary steps to get there. This is only the beginning of their “big plan”, but I think Winnipeg is finally on the right track. To me, this kind of exhibit is similar to those you might expect to see at other world class zoos. I know it will be years in the making, but I really think this will help put Winnipeg on the map and bring tourists from all over. If you are/were skeptical like me, check-out this video and I think you too will be impressed with the design and forward thinking of those behind the scenes.

I for one am excited about the new exhibit and will no longer be “pooh poohing” the zoo. If you do plan to take your family to the zoo, don’t forget to check-out the Nature Playground and Duck Pond in the park. They really have done a beautiful job of taking the park to a whole new level as well. The upgrades are wonderful and you could easily pack up the family and make a day of it. So exciting!