Indoor snowplay

On a Sunday afternoon when we were all feeling a little under the weather and didn’t want to brave the cold (or wrestle on snow gear) — we decided to bring the snow inside. Zander and I had been waiting for ages for the temperature to rise so that the snow would get sticky enough for snowballs, and it was time to take things into our own hands.

This turned out to be an engaging 1/2 hour activity (just right for 3 & 4 year-olds) with few materials, prep or cleanup! First thing I did was go outside to collect a bowl of snow. Then we waited for it to warm up a bit and become ‘snowball ready’. (Next time, I’d include a science thermometer so that we could actually see the snow’s temperature rising and measure the temperature in different areas.) We soon discovered that we needed to spread the snow out in a shallow container so that the melting was more evenly distributed. Then it was time to form snowballs and add the mini snowman fixin’s: mini carrots, toothpicks and raisins. Admittedly, with his oversized eyes — our snowman took on a bit of an ‘alien’ appearance! Also, because of the warm indoor temperature, the snowballs soon became ice balls and we needed to use the toothpicks to attach features.

Then it was a quick transport outside before he melted! With the rest of the snow, Zander enjoyed experimenting with food coloring to mix colors. As always he started off with green (favourite color), eventually adding all the colors we had to create quite the mosaic.

Might be fun to make edible snowcones next time!

And, while I was playing with snow indoorsCarolyn was outside on an ice-climbing expedition! Her story coming soon to our ‘Explore’ series. Stay tuned!




Indoor snowplay

Sweet potato & black bean enchiladas!


So, to celebrate the release (finally!) of Homeland on itunes this past weekend, I invited Brian and Jo over for dinner and to watch a couple episodes. And, turning to my favourite (only) vegan cookbook, oh she glows (not because I’m a vegan or my guests are vegans but because the recipés look delicious and are alternatives to what I usually cook ) –  I chose ‘Sweet potato & black bean enchiladas with avocado-cilantro cream sauce’. Sounds fancy, huh? And can I just say something about estimated ‘prep times’ — what do you think the rule should be? Multiply by 3? Multiply by 10?? (This one is supposed to take 30 minutes, and I took more like 90.

Dice 2 cups of sweet potato (I used yams), cover in water, bring to a boil, and then simmer until fork-tender (5-7 min.).

In a large skillet, heat 1 tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add 1 chopped red onion and 2 cloves garlic and simmer about 5 minutes or until onion is translucent. Season with sea salt and black pepper.

You can’t really see the garlic but just trust me — it’s in there.

Now for my favourite part — adding lots of ingredients all at once. Add 1 bell pepper (chopped), one 15oz can black beans (drained and rinsed), cooked sweet potato, and 2 large handfuls spinach (roughly chopped). Raise the heat to medium-high and cook until spinach wilts.


The next instructions are to sir in 1/4 cup ‘enchilada sauce’ (bought or home-made), and this is where things got a little interesting. I completely forgot to get the ingredients to make the enchilada sauce and so after using all those fresh/organic ingredients — I resorted to creating ‘enchilada sauce’ by pouring coffee cream into an almost empty bottle of ‘Pizza Squeeze’ and giving it a shake! (No pics but take my word for it.) But you, you should just buy a bottle of Enchilada Sauce. Then measure out 1/4 cup and add 1tbsp fresh lime juice, 1 tsp chili powder, 1/2 tsp cumin, and 1/2 tsp kosher salt. Stir this into the filling. Then pour another cup of sauce in the bottom of a large rectangular backing dish. Scoop about 3/4 cup of sweet potato filling onto each tortilla, placing them seam side down in the dish. Spread any remaining filling on top.

Bake the enchiladas uncovered for 20-25 minutes until the ‘sauce’ (haha) is a deep red color (whatever) and the enchiladas are heated through. While that’s happening, get started on the avocado topping.


Look at all that green! In a blender or food processor, mince 1/2 cup fresh cilantro. Add 2 tbsp lime juice, 1/4 tsp fine-grain sea salt and 1/2 tsp garlic powder. This makes for a very bright and zesty sauce. ‘Drizzle’ the sauce over each enchilada to serve. (Mine, I just added to the pan and it ‘gooped’ more than it ‘drizzled’ but still…) And…tada!


Whatever. Anyway, it’s not about how things look, right? Cause I still got 2 thumbs up from my guests. And then it was into the living room for some equally delicious ‘Homeland’. I don’t think this will give anything away if I say that poor Carrie’s chin was  all a-quiver!





Sweet potato & black bean enchiladas!

Rustic retreat redo

Greg and Laura live just around the corner from me and recently transformed their dated dining  room and awkward kitchen into a modern rustic retreat — complete with a wood stove. It’s all the best things about a cabin but smack dab in the middle of town. Here’s what they started with in the diningroom:

Already an addition to the original home, the dining area ‘featured’ a lowish stucco’d ceiling, just one window, faux brick, and dated panelling. And, while there was plenty of room for dinner parties, it wasn’t an inviting space.


The kitchen too had already been renovated but was an add assortment of pieces — with an inexplicable gap under the window! Read on to see the transformation.

Continue reading “Rustic retreat redo”

Rustic retreat redo

A Thursday evening ritual

Since Zander was about 2, we’ve been going to Lethbridge Family Centre on Thursday evenings for Me and My Family , a free drop-in play program for children 0-5 and their family members. This fall, Jax (18 months) started to come along.

What I find interesting is the boys’ enjoyment of the ritual of this outing: parking in the parkade, finding our way to the Centre entrance (Jax likes to lead the way), trying to guess what materials will be out, and always hoping there will be dinosaurs in the sand table. Tonight, it was quite a surprise: shredded paper, styrofoam and plastic instead of sand!

Another part of the ritual is to create an obstacle course in the gross motor play area. Tonight there were some new circles which Zander was keen to incorporate for a ‘hopping path’. If only he could get his brother to cooperate and follow the course, but Jax usually has other ideas.

Since Jax started coming, one of his favourite activities has been hammering golf tees into styrofoam in the building area. It’s cool to see him so at home there now — gathering the materials from the cupboard and setting himself up on the carpet. Today he even put everything away when he was done!

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Zander, meanwhile, pulled some wooden blocks from the shelves, saying ‘Let’s do this!’ ‘This’ turned out to be building a house.

One of the new things that the boys tried tonight was drawing on the Smartboard. Kind of brilliant when you think about it — no stray ‘marking’ on the walls or furniture and all kinds of potential for creating cool digital things. Makes me want to install one in my house. (Maybe in my new little ‘makerspace’ — coming soon!)

Last, but by no means least — we always ride an elevator down and take the escalator back up. But tonight was the first time we rode this glass elevator up and down…and up…and down instead. On the way home, Zander said riding the elevator was the best part of the evening.


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And you know, if you spend time with toddlers or preschoolers, now that we’ve done it once — it’s gonna be our thing!



A Thursday evening ritual

What our moms knew when they said ‘go outside and play’

I think we’ve always known that it’s a good idea to get outside. And even though our moms sometimes mentioned that it was ‘too nice a day to spend inside watching television’ — it wasn’t often that we needed prompting to get outdoors. That’s where the fun was: building snow caves, playing hide ‘n seek, riding bikes, sledding…Can you imagine the steps we’d have racked up if we’d had fitbits? And, as far as I remember — it was never too cold for tobogganing or snowball fights. So, about a year ago when I adopted my dog Henry —  I made a commitment to myself to spend less time on the couch (cancelling my cable subscription is another story) and to get outside more. And, wouldn’t you know it — ‘getting outside’ is a thing!

So, if you need more motivation to get yourself or your kids or your dogs outside every day, and that energized yet calm feeling isn’t enough — there’s the science behind what’s now being called green exercise. By itself, just being in nature, says nutritionist and lifestyle consultant James Murphy , has a number of benefits: “restoring your focus, helping you relax, improving cognitive function, and making you happy”. But double down with exercise and the benefits really stack up: improved self-esteem, less perceived effort, increased workout frequency, and just plain fun. Like the kind we had as kids.

So, rather than trying to cram in noon hour workouts at my workplace gym, my commitment (resolution if you will) is to get outside for some green exercise 4 or 5 times a week, whether it be making tracks in the park with Zander, finding a new tobogganing hill, or hiking with Henry in the coulées. (Poor Henry has a pound or two to lose after Christmas too.)

Maybe I’ll even get snowshoes and head out to Waterton for a winter hike! How will you get your  green – or should I say – white exercise this winter?







What our moms knew when they said ‘go outside and play’

Mr. Carson & Mrs. Hughes forever


PBS Masterpiece

Did you catch the first episode of Downton Abbey’s final season? All I can say is that those writers know what they’re doing with this long slow road to romance. I mean, I have to admit that I was a reluctant, even agnostic, DA viewer to start. But the whole lot of them (except Anna & Bates, those two are tiresome) have slowly won me over. And they couldn’t be culminating the series on a sweeter note! I’m guessing that’s where we’re headed, right? A wedding finalé?

PBS Masterpiece

I just hope the writers don’t torture us too much on the way, because I simply shan’t bear it if something goes seriously amiss with those two. However, ‘arrangement’ jitters on the part of Mrs. Hughes was deliciously tolerable and also quite touching. More of that sort of tension, please. And no unexpected car crashes.

PBS Masterpiece

And, oh my — Mr. Carson’s very unvulgar pronouncement! But seriously, those exchanges between the characters of Carson and Hughes, even via Mrs. Patmore, conveyed more emotional intimacy than is often seen on television.

PBS Masterpiece

So, unless I’m way off base — I’d say we’re in for at least one more wedding. And what about the others? Mary? Edith? Daisy? Mrs.Patmore? Thomas? Isobel?

More tragic accidents? Again, I simply couldn’t bear it.

What are your predictions? I’d love to hear. Unless you’ve got some sort of inside track, and then you should keep that to yourself.

Let’s stay tuned….




Mr. Carson & Mrs. Hughes forever

John Gerrard finds unique inspiration

I’ve been following the career of  Calgary-based artist, John Gerrard, for a couple of years, purchasing the first of his Crowd Series for my new home in 2014. More recently, John decided to go ‘all in’, quitting his day job and committing full-time to his art. And while it’s the ‘self-promotion, e-mails, and social media’ responsibilities that John finds most challenging, he took some time to answer some questions from this fan!


Julie: Why now?

John: Things were going south with my work as a commercial sign maker, and it felt like a good time to take the plunge. I don’t have children or mortgages at this point in my life, and if I did I don’t think it would be as easy to do what I’m doing. I’m also at a point with my work where I think it’s strong enough to push and pursue more seriously.



Julie: How would you describe your work routine?

John: With the most recent landscapes, I’ve been trying to finish one a week. The self-inflicted deadline helps me stay disciplined. Another thing that helps is that I’ve been driving my girlfriend to work in the morning. So I’ll go to my studio and work and then pick her up when she’s done her shift. I’m a horrible morning person, so this gets me going. There are times I don’t feel like painting, though that is rare. I usually have a strong urge to create, so it’s not too hard to stay productive in that way.


Especially with this latest series of New York landscapes, there is a sense of flow, motion, almost athleticism in the work, making me curious about John’s process.
Julie: How long does it usually take you to complete a painting?
John: Average time for the recent landscapes is between 10-15 hours. It depends on the size of the piece, and also the style. The crowd paintings happen rather quickly. Some as quick as 3-5 hours as it’s so automatic. It’s important to me that I have multiple sessions though. Coming at things with a fresh set of eyes is really valuable, and helps me know what needs to be changed when I have breaks from looking at the work.
Julie: Who or what are your influences?
John: I don’t really have a favourite artist. There are a few blogs I follow that have a lot of interesting work, but nothing that I think influences me in a major way. I’ve been big into NBA basketball lately, and I find their level of discipline / commitment to their craft inspiring. I find a lot of the art world to be pretentious and draining, and I also think a certain level of ignorance to it helps keep my work unique. I’m sure people would argue this point, as there is something to be said with being involved with the contemporary dialogue.

Julie: What misconception about ‘artists’ would you like to correct if you could?

John: The creative act is often like the tip of an iceberg. There is so much that goes on behind the scenes which often counters our romantic notions of creating. There is no creative miracle where things just appear, rather just a lot of trial and error.


I, for one, am thankful that John keeps trying and erring on the side of following his creative passions! (To see his collection of paintings and prints currently for sale, please click here.)
Thanks again, John, for taking some time to chat!
(Photos from John’s website)
John Gerrard finds unique inspiration