Posts Tagged family

The “Big Cook” is a Mommy Lifesaver

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We have all been there before.  Whether you’re eight months pregnant or have your hands full with extracurricular activities and busy kids at home, we can all benefit from a “Big Cook!”  Not only is a Big Cook a great excuse to get friends together, but by the end of the day you have a fully stocked freezer of ready to pop in the oven meals.  Personally, I know there are several days where I get busy during the day and realize around 3 o’clock that I forgot to pull something out of the freezer for dinner.  Then I’m stuck quickly de-frosting something in the microwave or calling my husband and suggesting it’s a good night to eat out.

I had the opportunity to join some girlfriends yesterday for  a Big Cook.  It was my first experience doing one, but some of the girls were well seasoned in this area.  One of the girls emailed us a grocery list a couple of weeks in advance and we were all assigned items to bring the day of the Big Cook.  We met at 10a.m. and had successfully prepared 80 meals by 4p.m.!  BBQ Pork, Tricolor Chicken and Pasta, Taco Toss, and Zippy Pork Chops were just a few among our menu.  Our day began by organizing all of our ingredients into one area.  Then we came up with a game plan as to what we were each going to be doing.  I browned 15 pounds of hamburger, while some were mixing the sauces for the burger meals and others labeling the bags the meals were being placed into with the meal title and cooking instructions.  We continued this system through the pork and chicken dishes as well.  Throughout the day, we took turns washing dishes and dividing the meals among everyone.  At the end of the day, we each had 10 different dishes and 20 meals for four people (two of each dish)!  When it was all complete and clean up was over, we sat down with our receipts and added all the expenses together and divided by how many people were taking food home.  The average cost came out to about $9 per meal.  Not too bad when you consider the fact that each meal is for four people.  That’s about $2.25 per person per meal!

The idea for The Big Cook came from three busy mom’s named Joanne Smith, Lorelei Thomas and Deanna Siemens.  They decided one day to get together and cook in mass in order to prepare meals to freeze for future evenings.  They developed fast and healthy meals that could easily be frozen for future use.  The idea took off and in 1997 they published the cookbook titled The Big Cook.  This is one of those products I saw and said to myself, “Why didn’t I think of that!?”  It’s such a great idea and there is an enormous market of mothers and fathers that would benefit from this style of cooking.

My husband and I are pretty adventurous with cooking and I wouldn’t go as far to say that we will rely on this method completely, but for those days you really just don’t feel like cooking or don’t know WHAT to cook, it’s great to know you have meals ready to go in the freezer!  Another great thing about this style of cooking is it allows us to focus more time and energy on the side dishes that surround the entrée.  For me, I usually spend most of my time preparing the entrée and then add simple vegis and rice or potato with it.  With The Big Cook in my life now, I can focus more on some new side dishes.

Overall, The Big Cook is a great concept for any family.  I am already looking forward to the next event and I hope that you adopt the idea among your friends and family and give it a try.  So fun and so easy!  Happy cooking!

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Nursery to ‘Big Girl’ Room

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Our daughter Kelly is fast approaching her two-year birthday and still wakes up every morning in our bed.  This is not something we are proud of however, we certainly don’t take for grant it the mornings we are woken with that sweet little voice and a warm hug and kiss to follow.  We were those first time parents that would go to put her to bed and had to rock, feed, or walk around with her until she was sleeping and then gently lay her in the crib, as to not disturb her or we’d be back to square one again.  After three months of maternity leave, I went back to work full-time while my husband was also working full-time, so getting up for feedings throughout the night became painful.  It was just easier, for the both of us, to bring her to bed and let her nurse in bed as opposed to sitting in the nursery during the wee hours of night.  This went on for months.  Then when we moved to Canada I was blessed with the privilege to become a stay-at-home mom.  Once we were settled, we began trying different methods of getting her to sleep through the night and in HER crib.  We tried everything, but it seemed like every time we would make some progress, she would get a bad cold that would wake her through the night or we had a vacation coming up where she was going to be co-sleeping for the duration of the trip.  For a while there it also seemed like she was terrified of the crib.  We even had family stay with us who also commented on the severity of her screams when she would wake at night.  So around the age of 15 months we put the crib away and set up a toddler bed for her (I know some will say this is extremely young, but we felt it was the right thing to do at the time).  She LOVED the bed and was super excited to sleep in it.  But to this day, she still wakes in the night wanting to come to mommy and daddy’s bed.  It’s a constant battle.

So our most recent attempt at accomplishing this transition from co-sleeping to her toddler bed consisted of converting her nursery into a “Big Girl Room.”  It took me about a week to finish and only about $100 and most importantly, Kelly LOVES it.  I made sure to include her in as many decisions as possible while putting the room together.  And as you will see, there are butterflies and flowers all over the walls because she was a big part of that task.  It’s been a couple of weeks and every time she goes to bed she comments on how ‘pretty’ the room is and points out all the butterflies and flowers to me.  We even put a Dora nightlight at the head of her bed and every night, as part of her routine, after story time she says “goodnight” to Dora and Boots.  However, she still wants us to lay with her until she’s sleeping and she still wakes up through the night wanting to come to our bed.  So on one hand, it’s been a great start to a new chapter, but on the other hand, we’re exhausted and anxious to get through this chapter.  Kelly loves her new bedroom and that’s the most important thing about this transition.  It’s a start and there IS a light at the end of the tunnel (that’s what I keep telling myself 🙂 ).

I made a canopy for her bed with some tulle from the sale rack at the fabric store, two curtain rods I got at the dollar store, and some ribbon.  Since it’s spring time, I didn’t have any trouble finding little butterflies to decorate the canopy.  We also found some wall stickers at the dollar store that were a cheap and temporary decor that was fun for her to help put up.  We found a couple of new pillows and a bean bag that she picked out to create a little reading corner.  And to add a few personal touches, I added a couple of canvas prints to her wall (DIY mod podge canvas prints); one with a picture of her and our dog, her best friend, Lilly and the other of some flowers I photographed in Europe this spring.

I changed her bedding by incorporating a butterfly themed quilt a family member made for her when she was born.  It matched perfectly, so there was no need to go out and buy something new and Kelly was excited to get to use the quilt on her bed.  Overall, the room came together really nice and it was highly affordable.  Now we just need to continue our work on getting Kelly to enjoy it ALL NIGHT LONG.

 

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An Iceland Gem

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Iceland Air recently joined Alaska Airlines family of partners and we decided to travel with them to Europe.  They were a fantastic airline with exceptional on board service.  One of the benefits of flying to Europe with them was the opportunity to ‘take a break’ in Iceland, as they make a scheduled stop in Reykjavik, Iceland in route to Paris and other European destinations.  We decided upon our return from Germany, we would stop in Iceland for a couple of nights and relax at The Blue Lagoon.  It was the BEST decision!  The Blue Lagoon was amazing!

The lagoon is world renown for its amazing therapeutic capabilities and aside from providing the ultimate relaxation for the common visitor, they do provide medically proven treatments to patients in need. Hot springs in general are good for the mind, body and soul, but this lagoon is well-known for its unique geothermal seawater and the healing powers it offers.  We stayed one night at the “clinic” which is what they refer to their hotel as.  The room was clean and modern.  We had access to a private bath (pool) at the clinic (the hot springs was a short 10 minute walk next door) and a wonderful breakfast was provided in the morning.

My husband and I decided we would gift a massage or spa treatment at the Blue Lagoon to one another for our April birthdays.  We made prior arrangements for these treatments; I was to have a body wrap, scrub and full body massage (about 2 hours total), while he was to have an hour-long body massage.  Well I had a rude awakening when the front desk receptionist at the spa that morning informed me that she didn’t have us in ‘the book.’  And then proceeded to tell me that there are actually two Blue Lagoon’s in Iceland.  One is the famous hot spring location and the other is strictly a spa located in downtown Reykjavik (about 45 minutes from the hot springs).  It turns out that both are the same company and both can be accessed through the same website with little, very little, indication that there are two locations.  Be aware if you decide to book a spa treatment online.  Apparently, this happens often.  So, needless to say, we had to take what was available at the spa that day…Jeremy had a 20 minute massage and I had an hour (body scrub and massage).  They were very nice and apologetic towards us regarding the mistake and to compensate us they provided us access to the Exclusive Lounge and private changing room all day.  This is an area they normally sell in 3-hour increments for $120USD.  It was amazing.  We had a private changing room and shower, a delicious fruit plate, an endless supply of coffee, tea and chocolate, and private access to a room with a fireplace and indoor hot spring pool (which by the way, you could swim into from the outside).  In the afternoon, Jeremy and I took turns having our massages and that was an experience we won’t forget.  The massages at the lagoon are all done in the lagoon.  They have you lay on a floating mat and use your body weight to do your massage.  It literally felt like I was floating in the air.  Weird at first, but then…so relaxing!  The day was amazing!

We were a little worried prior to arriving, that our daughter wouldn’t be able to swim much in the hot water, but that was never an issue.  The water temperature was probably right around 100 degrees, so with several snack and drink breaks she had just as much fun as her mom and dad.  We were only in Iceland for two nights (one at the lagoon and one in Reykjavik) and we would love to go back.  It’s such a unique place.  The terrain is covered in tundra, but yet under the tundra is lava rock.  The food, the culture, the people, everything about it was unique and made us want to explore more.

Even if you are traveling to Europe from the United States, this a great place to break up the trip.  We met so many people at the Blue Lagoon who were just in route to Europe or the U.S.  This was a great stop for us, as we had spent the previous two weeks walking, driving and taking trains through Europe.  It provided us with the relaxing day we needed, but also the motivation we needed to complete that remaining 12 hours of traveling before we were home.

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Our Family Journey Through Europe, Part One – The Unforgettable Paris

Do you remember what it felt like when your wedding night had come to end and that overwhelming feeling of relief hit you and you said to your new spouse, “That was the best time of my life, but I’m so glad it’s over.”  Upon arriving home after a 2.5 week vacation in France, Germany, Switzerland, and Iceland, there was an enormous sigh of relief when we walked through the front door of our home.  After planning this trip for the past year through online research, reading books, and studying the German language, it’s hard to believe the trip is behind us now.  We saw so many amazing sights, tasted some of the best food, and shared some unforgettable experiences.  It was by far, the busiest vacation we had ever been on together and yet, the most exciting.  Planning a trip half-way around the world is a lot of work, but when you add a toddler to the picture, it changes the whole dynamic!

We put much thought and preparation into this trip, as you should when traveling abroad.  However, there is plenty to think about for two adults, but as I mentioned before about the dynamic of your travels changing with a toddler on board, there was much more to consider for her.  Were we going to pack the car seat along or trust the rental car company would have a decent one on hand?  How many diapers should we pack?  What type of clothing should we pack for her?  Did we make arrangements at all the hotels for her?  How will we manage the luggage, car seat, the stroller and our daughter in the airport?  Can we manage if there are no carts at the train station?  The list went on and on and on.  So much to think about!  All that thinking (some of it, unnecessary), and everything always worked out to our benefit.  I will add that one of the best purchases we made before we left was buying a Combi umbrella stroller.  It was FANTASTIC for quickly collapsing and carrying over the shoulder on the subways, up stairs, through tiny doors, etc.  Great purchase!  I own a B.O.B. jogger stroller and there were MANY occasions in which we said to each other, “There is no possible way we could have taken our big stroller here.”  The Combi umbrella stroller is light, great for long walks (I can vouch for that), stands alone when folded up, and has a shoulder strap for easy carrying.

Our first destination was Paris, France and as everyone knows, this is considered one of, if not, the culinary capital of the world.  With our 21-month old daughter traveling with us, we knew there was a great possibility we wouldn’t get to experience the fine dining in Paris.  We were always on the lookout for ‘family friendly’ places to eat that also offered a variety of traditional French cuisine.  While we thoroughly enjoyed every single meal in Paris, there was one evening that was simply unforgettable.  We stumbled upon La Petit Fine Restaurant and immediately took note of the exquisite menu items, including the children’s menu.  Keep in mind that the locals don’t usually eat dinner until after 7p.m.  So when we are used to eating and feeding our daughter around 5:30 – 6:00p.m., none of the restaurants were open for dinner yet.  We were a little hesitant to walk in after 7p.m. and expect Kelly to sit still and eat that late at night, but she did wonderful.  The staff barely spoke English, but right away catered to her.  This was a white linen, 5-star service restaurant with a children’s menu.  Kelly enjoyed a fresh filet of salmon with seasoned french fries and Gelato for dessert (mind you, this was from the children’s menu), while I enjoyed the BEST pork chop I have ever put in my mouth!  And my husband also had an amazing dish.  They were so helpful with keeping Kelly entertained and everyone around us was more interested in visiting with her, than worried about her disturbing their dinner.  It was the best ‘culinary experience’ we could’ve asked for in Paris.

La Petit Fine Restaurant

TripAdvisor.com became our best friend before and during the trip.  I can honestly say that there was not a sight, hotel, restaurant, or activity with great reviews on TripAdvisor.com that we didn’t enjoy.  Everywhere we stayed was based on online reviews and word-of-mouth recommendations and none of them failed us.  Prior to leaving home I downloaded the Trip Advisor application onto my Ipad and whenever we had WiFi access, we would use the app as a guide for the area.

I could go on and on about Paris.  It was probably our favorite destination throughout the whole trip.  Full of culture, history, great food, beautiful scenery, and very nice people.  We enjoyed our stay very much.  Some of the highlights were definitely visiting the historical sights such as the Arc de Triomphe, Napoléon’s Tomb, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur, and of course, the amazing Eiffel Tower.  Many people don’t think of Paris as being a ‘kid-friendly’ place to visit, but it’s as kid-friendly as you allow it to be.  For us, we were obviously always on the lookout for kid-friendly places to visit in between the historical sights that fulfilled our pleasure for the day.  Paris is full of beautiful parks and playgrounds and many that offer daily petting zoos or pony rides.  One of our favorite parks was the Garden De Luxembourg.  It was never a problem to find a place to park the stroller, sit in the grass and let Kelly run around for a while.  Paris was delightful.  Loved every minute.  The worst part about our stay there was probably the blisters that I managed to develop from all the walking.  But that was no problem either, as there are pharmacies on every corner.  Beautiful, historical, kid-friendly, unforgettable Paris.

To be continued…

Napoleon's Tomb

Notre Dame Cathedral

Garden De Luxembourg

Arc De Triomphe

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Beach Picnics on the Mind

Is it too early to pull out the picnic basket?  I think not.

I find it so refreshing to go to the stores in our area this time of year and be able to shop for sand toys, picnic supplies, swimwear, etc.  Even though it’s -10F outside and feels like we’re never going to see the grass peek through the frozen ground, it IS just around the corner!  Why not lift those winter blues and go buy yourself something for summer?  I did.

A quick visit to Walmart for milk today turned into a shopping cart of sand toys, bubbles, and summer sandals for our daughter.  We plan to make several trips down to Sylvan Lake this summer and enjoy picnics on the beach, so it was hard not to take advantage of the clearance racks.  Many retailers offer clearance sales on summer products at this time leftover from the year prior.  Along with many other great deals, we came home with three pairs of summer shoes for her, all for less than $20!

Last year our little girl was barely walking, whereas this year she will be turning two in July and running!  Needless to say, appropriate footwear is a must this summer.  And since we mostly picnic at the lake, we picked up a pair of water shoes for her that will be great for this occasion.  Family picnics can be a blast if you are well prepared and a disaster waiting to happen if you’re not.  From proper apparel to ‘picnic friendly’ food, there is a lot for a parent to consider.  Here are some picnic ideas to think about now, while there are great deals at your local stores:

1. Apparel for your toddler – If you plan to picnic near water and expect your kids to want to play on the beach, there are a few apparel options to consider.  Water shoes are perfect for your active toddler.  There’s no telling what they’ll be stepping on under the sand and these shoes will protect their little feet from any sharp objects.  In addition, these shoes are great to have for traction while swimming at the local pool.  SPF Swimwear is another great piece of apparel to consider investing in for this summer.  Not only do these suits provide extra protection from harmful UV rays, they also help to keep your child warm after jumping in the water.  Headwear is another must.  If your child will allow you to put a hat on them, it’s great to keep their heads covered.  Sunburn on the scalp is not a fun consequence to deal with.  If they refuse to keep a hat on, lather their little heads with sunblock of course.

2. Supplies – You’ll need the obvious necessities such as plates, utensils (consider paper and plastic as not to lose any of your valuable kitchenware from home), and napkins for your picnic.  One thing that I couldn’t live without when picnicking, is a good thermal tote or soft cooler.  I have a couple, but the one I really enjoy for picnicking and even grocery shopping or carrying a dish to a potluck, is from Rachael Ray.  You can find her products all over the internet and I believe mine came from QVC.com, but check out all the food totes she has available on her website www.rachaelraystore.com.  One last important supply you DON’T want to forget is a blanket to sit on.

3. Activities and Toys – You will also want to consider activities for the kiddos.  Think about the area that you will be picnicking; will there be a playground?  Will there be a beach? If you’ll be near water, Buckets and Sand Toys are great and super cheap!  You can find great deals in Sylvan Lake at the Dollarama and Walmart, just to name a few.  Water Toys and Floats are fun for the beach too.  You may consider some arm floats or a suit with floats built in for your child, should you plan on swimming.

4. Food of course! So many options here.  If you have a busy toddler like myself, you’ll want to consider foods that can be mobile while being consumed.  Without being in the comfort of their home, buckled into a booster seat at the table, they may be anxious to get back to playing in the sand or maybe they just want to stand next to the blanket and snack.  Either way, you want finger foods that they can eat on the go.  You don’t want to be cleaning noodles from a pasta dish off the grass and blanket for example.  Here are a few kid-friendly foods that are great for picnics:

– Peanut butter and jelly sandwich (use a cookie cutter and make them a fun shape for the fun occasion!)

– Hot Dogs (with or without the bun)

– Lunch meat sandwich

– Pizza (super easy to pre-make at home and always popular with kids — use a hoagie roll cut in half, a sliced pita bread or english muffin for the base)

– Grapes, sliced apples, pineapple, banana slices

– Yogurt

– String cheese or sliced cheese

– Muffins, cookies, or granola bar for dessert

5. And last, but not least…Always remember SUNBLOCK!

Well if you’re like me, you’ll read this and start craving sunshine immediately!  When there’s no sun, it’s nice to know you can at least go to a warm store or mall somewhere now and find summer products to give you some hope and reassurance that Spring is just around the corner.  Why wait?  Start planning for your spring picnic now.

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A Family Favorite

I joined Weight Watchers about a month ago and the one thing I’m enjoying most about it are the delicious recipes!  As a parent of a toddler, you can understand how challenging it can be to get your little picky eaters to eat.  Well, last night I made Weight Watchers Chicken Scaloppini and it was a family favorite!  My daughter ate almost an entire chicken breast all by herself.  I paired it with a Classic Macaroni Salad from Weight Watchers and some grilled zucchini (recipes below).

This will be a regular in our family!

Chicken Scaloppini

Weight Watchers Recipe

PointsPlus™ Value: 6

Prep: 10 Minutes / Cook: 15 minutes

Scaloppini are cuts of meat that are pounded thin and then cooked to perfection in about 6 minutes.  For a beautifully browned crust, make sure the pan and oil are hot — the check should hiss as it hits the pan.

4 (6 oz) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves

1 large egg white

2 teaspoons water

1/2 cup Italian – seasoned breadcrumbs

2 teaspoons olive oil, divided

1/2 cutp fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

  1. Place each chicken breast half between 2 sheets of heavy-duty plastic wrap; pount to 1/2-inch thickness using a meat mallet or small heavy skillet.
  2. Combine egg white and water in a shallow dish, stirring with a whisk.  Place breadcrumbs in another shallow dish.  Dip each checken breast half in egg mixture; dredge in breadcrumbs.
  3. Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.  Add half of chicken to pan.  Cook 3 minutes on each side or until golden.  Transfer to a plate; cover and keep warm.  Repeat procedures with remaining oil and chicken.
  4. Add broth and lemon juice to pan, stirring to loosen browned bits.  Cook, uncovered, over high heat 2 to 3 minutes or until reduced to 1/3 cup.  Drizzle sauce over chicken.

YIELD: 4 servings (serving size: 1 chicken breast half and about 1 tablespoon sauce).

Classic Macaroni Salad
Weight Watchers Recipe
PointsPlus Value:    4

Preparation Time:  12 min
Cooking Time:  10 min
Level of Difficulty:  Easy

8 oz uncooked macaroni, elbow-variety

1/8 tsp table salt, or to taste (for cooking pasta)

1/2 cup(s) reduced-calorie mayonnaise

1 tsp Dijon mustard

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1 cup(s) celery, chopped

1/3 cup(s) red onion(s), finely chopped

1/4 tsp table salt, or to taste

1/8 tsp black pepper, freshly ground, or to taste

1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar

Cook macaroni in salted water according to package directions; drain and transfer to a large bowl.
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, vinegar, mustard and garlic powder; stir mixture into cooked macaroni. Fold in celery, onion and parsley; season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm or chilled. Yields about 2/3 cup per serving.
 

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Adjusting to Life in Canada

Canada has been treating us well and we are finally feeling ‘settled in’ after a long drawn out transition from Alaska.  The Canadians have welcomed us with open arms and as a result we have already met so many wonderful people and made some great friends.

We’ve been here for almost 4 months now and it has been an eventful time so far.  We try and get out and see something new as much as possible.  One thing we love about the area is how you can drive an hour any direction and see some completely different terrain. Jeremy and I both agree, this move was a great decision and we are looking forward to making Alberta our home for at least the next three years.

While relocating to a new area can bring many changes to your life, we have had our share of change while adjusting to the ways of Canada.  Read on to learn bits and pieces of our ‘Adjusting to Life in Canada’:

Adjustments There have been many things we have had to adjust to while living in here.  From the different variety of groceries to socialized healthcare, there is much to learn.

Food – Lucky for us, we LOVE international cuisine and there is a galore of Thai, Japanese, and Vietnamese restaurants to choose from.  In addition, the grocers have a pretty good selection of international ingredients.  I’ve come to love Canada’s Superstore for the price and the variety!  They have a whole aisle devoted to international ingredients. We have definitely had to make some sacrifices when it comes to food though.  If you love Mexican food as much as I do, this is NOT the place for you.  There is one Mexican restaurant that I know of in the entire Red Deer area.  We decided to try it out a couple of weeks ago and spent about $20 a plate for enchiladas!  Not worth the money.  We like to make tacos or enchiladas at home every now and again.  Prepare to pay $3 for a small can of green chillies!  The variety of Mexican ingredients in the stores is terrible.  We may not enjoy margaritas and fajitas as much as we did in Alaska, but we are enjoying the other local and chain restaurants that the area has to offer.

Residency and Healthcare – I knew when we crossed the border from Idaho to B.C. we had our work cut out for us in order to gain residency and find ourselves ‘settled’ in Canada. 1.  Retain work permit to live in Canada for three years 2.Apply for Social Insurance Number 3. Apply for Alberta Health Care 4. Find a family doctor…that is good and also taking new patients 5. Get Alberta Driver’s License 6. Get Out of Province Vehicle Inspection completed for new plates — have 10 days to complete all necessary repairs to meet requirements of Alberta law and pass inspection (my car was provided an estimate today of $1100 to complete the required changes…I have a 2005 Ford Escape)

…AND THE LIST GOES ON

Healthcare — Interesting topic of discussion.  Canadians are VERY proud of their healthcare system and everyone I have talked to loves their family doctor and appreciates the benefits the system provides them.  Everyone is floored what we pay for medical services in the states…insured or not. Our biggest challenge when we moved here was not finding a doctor, but finding a doctor that’s taking new patients.  The availability is terrible and I haven’t yet figured out what people do if they can’t find a doctor they like?  I even asked one office if there was  a waiting list I could get on and she acted like I was the first person to ask that question! 

After a couple tries and one really bad experience, I think we finally found a doctor.  Dr. Kathy Unger in Lacombe, which is about 25 minutes from our house.  She’s personable and thorough.  She does it all too…from regular check-ups to pregnancies and deliveries.  Apparently it can be somewhat cumbersome to find a family doc that can do pregnancies as well.  So, IF we enter that stage while in Canada, at least I know we have a doctor we can trust.

Needless to say, our experience with healthcare in Alberta has been slow starting, but I feel like we are on the right track now.  More details to come…

This is just a quick update from our new home in Canada.  Hope all is well in the states!  Love to all, Tina

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