Crafty New Christmas Traditions

This Christmas we started a new tradition. The quick explanation is we painted letters onto glass Christmas bulbs to spell out Family Christmas  (we also ended up including our family name).

2017-02-05 061The “sign” can now be hung each year on our Christmas tree or elsewhere in our house.  Depending on that particular years mood (or who gets a hold of the box of ornaments first).

What makes this ornament collection have even deeper sentimentality and meaning to us is that each letter is drawn onto the bulb by a close kidlette friend or a family member.

They either wrote directly onto the bulb or sent us a a picture of their written letter to be transferred onto the ornament (thank you internet for how easy & immediate that was).  The next step was to put a layer of glue following the marker lines of the individual letters.  Then its time to add the glitter and jazz it up, (Trumpets sound….release the glitter fairies) by sprinkling green, red or silver fine cut glitter over the glue.  Making sure to shake off the excess, allow it too dry and finish it all up by locking the design in place with a layer of shellac.

Each Christmas bulb is finished with the special persons name printed on the bottom as well as the year the letter was done as well as the year the person came into our lives.  This way as time marches on and the (my) mind gets too cluttered with memories the important dates and people won’t fade or get mixed up. (Trust me it happens)

Not all the letters are filled this year.  So a place holder letter is taped onto the bulb until someone special comes along & signs it.

2017-02-06 003My personal hope is that the tradition will grow and we will need to add new festive words. Ultimately the plan is to put a photo collage of all the people who have signed an ornament and display their photo in the order of the Family Christmas letters.  Using the collage of photos to further cement just how special in our hearts they are (plus just an added insurance to immortalize the ornament in case one breaks along the way).

But this year for now I’m happy to have some of the ornaments filled, glitter and all.  I’m also grateful for loved ones near and far, old and new that are now part of our unique Christmas tradition.

Take a moment to think outside the box store Christmas and find ways to include your favourite people or family memories with your yearly celebrations.  Let your Christmas tree tell the story of the people, places and moments you love.

Background Moments of Media Passes

It’s been an odd switch for me going from being a show organizer and participant in the horse world, where providing media with information and photo ops were part of a regular occurrence, to going to places and events as media.

As life has changed I’ve been very lucky to have been given some wonderful invites and opportunities to get backstage and up close at a variety of events.  Giving our readers and followers a chance to learn and see more of what’s going on and what’s available for their family.

So far no two media experiences have been the same.  Some have had very fancy passes complete with prepared packets of information, opportunities for one on one interviews with participants and even snacks for us all the way to just being welcomed into the door and told to enjoy ourselves.  No matter what the format we have approached each event from our family lifestyle base.

Letting our followers know about the event, the good and the bad, as well as what about it may be of interest to them and their families and how to get out and get involved for themselves.  With tips and tricks to help make their day out run smoother.

Which means sometimes on our end it has been a family affair in reporting.  The teens have sometimes had some great insight into what was working or not for a location as well as unique points of perspective and what was worth coming back for.  Good to have some differing points of view, after all isn’t that often what families are about.

We have along the way had a lot of positive feedback, especially regarding the fact that we are encouraging families to get out and to try new activities.  To put down the technology for a day, weekend or week, and to plug in instead to family time.  Find ways to take what you see in the movies, your favourite tv shows or on a FB meme and make your own memories that were inspired by it.  To take the idea of a bucket list and to start working on it in the now, with your kids and spouse.  That adventures big and small are all around us, just that sometimes you have to look outside the box every once in a while to find them.

2016-03-16 028I have to admit despite having been at one point in my life on the other side of the media experience, and knowing about the performer only entrances, and private areas of venues I’m still a little bit geeking out while doing this.  When now as media I get to go backstage and see just how these events come together, I appreciate the work done, as well as that I get to have that moment of viewing it all up close and personal.   Seeing the big media companies putting on their shows for primetime audience members while we walk past them and ultimately share the same work space is humbling and thrilling at the same time.  Quite a bit goes into pulling together these events as well as getting all the variety of media coverage out there.

On the other side of geeking out because I have a media pass around my neck I’ve been enjoying using my camera to capture the moments.  The public ones as well as the backstage nuances, the quiet moments and the high energy bone crushing, chaotic ones.

I’m looking forward to sharing more of these moments and venues with our followers.  I’m excited about some of our upcoming events and adventures, both personally and professionally.  I would also like to thank all those that run the media departments at the fairs, shows, sports facilities, and private businesses, thank you for your hard work as well as generously welcoming attitude towards us.  We appreciate the opportunities to showcase your events to our readers as well as to enjoy them with our family.

Remember to like and follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter in order to keep up-to-date with all of the media visits big and small.

Go or No Go for Your Family – #GotToCatchThemAll

Pokémon Go is letting people fulfill their dreams of growing up to be a Pokémon trainer and to have a Pikachu of their own.

Already you know about the game, and likely by this point in time have a pretty good handle on how the augmented reality uses your phones camera to show game characters out and about in the real world.

It’s been a huge socially engaged game.  Literally getting people out of the house in droves.  You have to get outside in order to go to the special locations (Pokestops and training gyms) and to find the rarer Pokémon.

The numbers are astounding.  Niantic (creators of the game) servers can’t keep up, causing delays in the planned roll out of the game in several countries, and frustrations for those that already have the game.  Gradually this will of course all settle out and crashes should become less of an issue.

Some very real positive points to why you and your family should play Pokémon (whether you were a fan of the show or not – sadly it was a bit after my time)

  • Gets you outside and moving. Especially to hatch eggs, they incubate for a set distance travelled and not time played like other games.  Car travel does not help you short cut this stage, walking, jogging, bike rides, and skateboarding all work as long as you aren’t travelling too fast.  Distances can be only 2 Km up to 10km.  The bigger the distance needed to travel, the rarer the Pokémon may be.  (The game has had me getting more movement snuck into my day without it feeling like much extra at the time, but the in game log says that it’s adding up.)
  • Interact with your kids, neighbours and random people. Gives a common point of connection with people.  (Remember to talk to your kids about points of personal safety)
  • Communities are even getting involved hosting gatherings and events in public parks. This is encouraging people to visit parks and even local monuments that they may not have gone to prior to this.  Encouraging families to explore their own cities.   Pokestops are often at local landmarks and will sometimes even include factoids about the location.
  • Can take some fun and funky photo’s of your Pokemon catches (and your family)

There are some negatives to the game (some are way less an issue than you may have thought).

  • The app is free but to fully play the game you need data. Users have reported that one hr of PokemonGo uses approx  5 – 10 mb of data which is less than FB or other apps and is similar to a 3 min youtube video.  (WAY less data than I thought it would eat)

Tip:  our kids do not have data and manage to get out and play but catching Pokémon at home, at friend’s houses, and at public areas that have wifi.  In fact they plan their walking route accordingly.  Local libraries, coffee shops, schools and other locations (some are even Pokestops).

  • Drains your batteries. Yup this one is true.  While light on data, it’s a killer on the batteries, prompting dedicated users to carry battery packs.  Switching to low power mode under Battery in your settings will help.  Dimming your screen brightness or turning off the AR (augmented reality) function will stop the game from using your phones camera and will save more power. (Turning off AR is my least favourite way to save – I like seeing the Pokémon in the real world settings.  For me that’s part of the fun)
  • Lures and rare Pokémon mean larger and predictable groups of people making it a target to those up to no good (thieves, terrorists). While there is some truth to this point brought up by internet nay sayers, the same can be said for most any time humans gather together for parades, sporting events or concerts.  Common sense should of course always be used by players.
  • Gives Niantic (the creators) full access to your Google account. True – ish.  Very true in the beginning, but the “oversight” is being changed to basic Google profile access.  If you are still concerned about this you can however create a Pokémon trainer account and sign in that way instead
  • People going onto private property, walking out into traffic, driving while playing, creeping around after dark, and of course walking into people and objects has all been reported. This isn’t a game issue so much as a human choices issue.  When the app is open there is no need to walk around not looking at your surroundings because the game will vibrate to let you know that you are near a Pokémon, stop or gym.  At that point (if safe) you can stop, look at your phone and catch them.  Choosing to drive and Pokémon is just stupid, irresponsible and a poor choice – likely these same people post on social media or text while driving prior to the games release.

Now is a great time to talk to your kids about safety, responsibility and awareness.  Teach them that missing out on a Pokémon because it’s on private property, or in a location that is not safe to go to is okay.  That it’s not a once in a life time moment.  Use this social storm to have the conversations with your kids.

Some of the other points brought up is that it’s “stupid”, “juvenile”, for gamers to “grow up”, “get a job”, “find some friends”, to “be a parent” and go find “real adventures” with your kids.

My personal thought on that is that for many people this is a chance to experience and be part of a new user friendly development in technology, (augmented reality on our phones to be used all around the world – digest that for a moment will you.  I have used a rotary phone.  I gamed on a commodore 64 with a tape deck.  Remember when pixilated pong was cutting edge and cartoons could only be watched on Saturday mornings for a few precious hours.) Players also get a chance to be a part of a world wide experience.

If it’s not for you, let it go and move one.  Sure the over posting about everything Pokémon is annoying on your news feed but that will gradually start to fade out.  Getting mad at those who are enjoying playing and judging them harshly for how they spend their time is a bit over the top.  We have enough daily negativity in the world, so let those that want to enjoy this moment in time with this game enjoy it.

As for saying parents need to “be a parent” and to have “real adventures” with their kids instead of more screen time, I don’t think the two worlds are in this case mutually exclusive.

As you likely already are well aware from reading this blog we are big on real world adventures as a family, but I’m also enjoying participating in this alongside the kids too.  This has been a fun interlude during the summer.

My take away from this is if you don’t like it move on.  If you do enjoy it do so responsibly.

Rumours / Tips

  • The more people that get together in a spot the better chance of a rare Pokémon showing up
  • You can submit a request to have your business or location (not a home) turned into a gym or stop

I’m planning on trying to catch some Pokémon that the kids don’t have in hopes of trading them (when that option becomes available) for chores.  In the meantime whenever I get any lures that can be used at our nearby Pokestop (with available wifi) I’ll be sure to invite my kids out for a walk and to go see what we can catch and who in the neighbourhood will come join us.  Now if the system would just let me in so I can take my walk and catch some more I’d appreciate it.


Size Envy

My camera has long been a part of almost daily life as I am my own family’s personal stalkerazzi.   Since starting to blog about our family travels and adventures my camera has continued to be a big part of life.  It allows me to be up-close and personal in the moment or to be a distant observer.  To connect and to immortalize those moments of connection and memories.   When feeling unsure of how to proceed at a social event my camera has often been both a buffer as well as an ice breaker, a substitute wing man almost.

Interestingly enough I’ve rarely had moments of insecurity regarding size.  That was until being down amongst the other photogs at the Canada vs Italy Rugby Test match in Toronto.  I will admit that I had a few moments feeling like I was being looked over and judged by the size of what hung there.  (I feel for you guys in the locker room moments) Reminding myself that it’s not always the size that maters but how you use it I soldiered on and got a few pictures that I was quite happy with for the day.  Guess now I have an excuse to add another item to this year’s Christmas wish list, a bigger lens for sporting events.

Sideline Parents Guide to Sports – Rugby

(for those that are sportingly impaired, but have a kid that’s not)

Try, pitch, half-fly, maul, ruck, scrum, test, hooker, props, locks, scrumhalf, eightman, advantage and laws.  Know what all the words mean?  I didn’t.

If you have watched a game of rugby perhaps it has crossed your mind of why in the world would anyone want to play this aggressive looking game with no protection?  The second thought is what the heck is going on, why are those guys pushing into each other that way?  Why are they lifting each other up like cheerleaders?  At first it seems chaotic and unfathomable.

We first started learning about rugby initially because of our son Little Man joining the school team. So as dutiful and supportive parents we went and sat enthusiastically cheering on the sideline with much confusion as to what we were cheering for.

All during the weeks prior to their first game when he was talking about getting a try, I assumed it was like their coach saying good job…..nope….wrong.  Very wrong.

After a season of watching the boys play and getting used to the fact that we were now a rugby family, we thought maybe it was time to understand it a little more.
So for those that are or have been just as lost and confused as we were about Rugby as a sport, hopefully you can find some answers here, so keep on reading and take heart, even if you still don’t understand most of it, full understanding isn’t needed to enjoy this fast paced sport.

Rugby Basics (Union)

  • Union Rugby has 15 men in each team (Sevens has only 7 – and will be in the Rio 2016 Olympics – more about that another time)
  • First off remember almost all sports have one major commonality, it’s all about scoring more points than the other person or team.
  • Laws are the rules of play for rugby.
  • The team is made up of 15 players.  8 Forwards – a forwards job is to push the other guys’ team back.  They are big guys of solid muscle that hit and push hard.  7 Backs – slightly smaller (still solid muscle that take and give hard hits if they need to) and quicker, it’s their job to run with the ball and to get it back whenever it goes to ground.

  • A try as it turns out is a “goal” worth 5 points.  There are also conversions, which is kicking the ball over the goal posts after a try is scored, from a point in line with where the try happened, leading to some odd angled kicks.  A conversion is 2 points.  A penalty kick can earn you 3 points (they are very serious about their penalties).  Speaking of penalties, in rugby the Sin-bin is where a player is given a yellow card offence and is benched to sit out of the game.
  • No passing the ball forward – you can run it forward, kick it forward, but to pass you have to pass backwards.
  • Game play keeps going after a tackle happens.

  • Ruck – Think of it as a pile up where most of the players are in contact with each other while still on their feet, and where you are using your feet to keep your sides possession of the ball.  Trampling can happen, even from your own teammates, nothing personal.
  • Maul is where player with the ball is held and all the players are struggling to get it, even to the point of pushing their own teammate forward towards the goal or try line.

  • Scrum – this one of the ways that play is restarted.  The men line up, link in with teammates, bind up and push into the other team, while the ball is put into the tunnel and the players fight to heel it back for possession.
  • Lineout – is a way to restart play after the ball has gone out of bounds.  This is when as the ball is thrown back in the player is lifted up.  (I found these lifts pretty impressive, especially given the size of these men.  It really reminded me of cheerleading lifts.)

  • Team player positions have some really interesting names and specific jobs, but we’ll keep that for another day.  So until later, here’s to the props, the hooker, the locks, the flankers, the eightman, the scrumhalf, the flyhalf, the wings, and the inside and outside centers and the fullback.

So here’s my quick game summary, these big quick moving men are working hard together to move the ball towards their try (goal) line, they can run it, kick it, or pass it backwards.  Anytime the play gets stopped watch for either a scrum (where they lock into each other and push as they struggle to heel the ball out to a teammate) or a lineout (cheerleading like lifts).  A try is worth 5 points, conversion worth 2 and a penalty is 3.

The action is fast and has almost constant movement, with lots of contact, meaning that there is always something going on to watch for, making it an exciting event to be a spectator for.  Add to it all the level of sportsmanship, teamwork and respect that are all part of rugby’s core value system, including amongst the fans so it makes for a great sport to go and watch live with your family.  The sport is growing here in Canada and the USA so go on out and find a local Rugby club to cheer on, or if you are lucky enough catch a national or international game.

Where Else But At a Renaissance Festival?

Mid-Michigan Renaissance Festival’s Enchanged Forest – Review
Good morrow (good day)
.  Where else will you pull into a parking lot beside a Zombie Escape Vehicle, while seeing a man all dressed up in leather Pirates wear pushing a baby stroller past a woman in full renaissance garb?  At the village of Kleeves of course.

First off drop your concerns about
period accuracy, and keep an open mind.  Be ready to enjoy the workmanship on the costumes and the greetings, banter and genuine smiles of those that fully immerse themselves into their RenFest personas.

Even though I have long been enamoured of medieval recreationists (hello teen years) and later in life those that participate in cos-play I sadly must admit that I have not been to a Renaissance Festival, until now.

A huge thank you goes out to the Mid Michigan Renaissance Festival  (near Frankenmuth) for hosting us this year.   We went out on the Steam Punk and Cosplay themed weekend.  I’m so happy we went.  The detail of some of the steam punk costuming gave us lot of ideas and inspiration.  Plus they were great sports to talk to and take some photo’s of.  Actually for that matter everyone we met was very friendly and welcoming.  Even the ones that warned of my contraption that stole the souls (my trusty camera).

Not having much to compare this event to we asked around from some of the vendors, entertainers and patrons as to how this event compared to others they had been to.  We found out that the one of the two best features of this particular RenFest was that it wasn’t quite as crowded as some other venues, allowing people to interact easier, and to shop the variety of booths without having to wait in line, or throw any elbows.  The second stellar feature that stood out for people going to this particular event is being in the shade of the woods.  Not only does it separate you off from the modern world and provide you with a better sense of other worldliness, but it also served to keep everyone cooler.  Especially those in layers of leather and yards and yards of fabric.  I know I very much enjoyed wandering the pathways under the shade of the trees.  Being in the woods made immersing yourself in it all so much easier.

Some of the participants even have full themed campsites set up and stay the weekend. Thanks to those in the Viking encampment that showed us their set up.  They made us want to put together an outfit and tent and join in the fun.

We didn’t have all the kids with us due to schedule conflicts, and believe me they were bummed to have missed out.  In fact we have started looking into getting ourselves set up with an outfit so that next time we attend a Renaissance Festival we can participate at a new level.  Right now we are comparing genres, time frames as well as whether to purchase or to make our own.  The big question is also to dress as one clan or regional family (we already joke that we travel in horde formation) or to give everyone free rein to dress to their own drummer.  As we look more into this we’ll be sure to share and let you know what was decided, and how you too can get geared up for heading to the Faire.

There is a tavern as well as a couple of food vendors to enjoy, as you stroll through the woods looking at all the great costumes that the guests and the shop keepers are wearing, you should also pause and be sure to check out all the great shops.  There was a wide selection of goods, from handmade soaps and chocolates, to carved wooden plates and bowls, to armour and a variety of clothing in various styles, plus of course jewelry.   There was even a working smithy in the Viking village.  Plenty of fantasy items, trinkets and useful pieces were all around the wooded pathways.  While you strolled you also came across stages in the different areas offering entertainment, sword fights, Fire charmers, belly dancers, comedy, archery demonstrations, story time, Royal steeds and of course musicians.   There were also areas were children and adults could take a turn and try out some of the activities.  So from kids to adults there was something new always going on.

Two minor notes, the tire ruts along the drive into the parking are a little tougher for a lower slung vehicle (we were in the car instead of the Man Van so were really aware of this issue).  Also some of the porta-johns there were in need of a cleaning, hopefully someone saw to that later throughout the day.  (Sadly many events have similar issues with Port-A-Potties, someone should be assigned to regularly patrol them to make sure they are clean for guests – This is for ALL events, not just this one)  These are relatively minor issues, and did not negatively impact our enjoyment of the day.

The only negative for us was the girls selling flowers, they were almost rudely pushy.  Thankfully we only ran into them twice.  I get the aspect of the hard sell, or “joking” around with potential buyers, but at a certain point no means no, and no amount of trying to guilt or push is going to get me to change my mind.  Quite the opposite.

Fare-thee-anon (until later).  For more useful words and phrases for your Ren Fest visit check out this link.

International Test Match Rugby – Canada vs Italy

For starters we are relatively new to the sport of Rugby and much of the laws and even the lingo has proven a steep learning curve.  Try, pitch, half-fly, maul, ruck, scrum, test, hooker, props, locks, scrumhalf, eightman, advantage and laws……

Some of these words all had very different meanings to me prior to attending an International Test Match Rugby game between Canada (ranked 19th) and Italy (ranked 14th) in Toronto at BMO field on Sunday.  Even the word Test.  I was thinking that this meant the match was an exhibition game…..nope wrong.  In rugby a Test match is an international match.  Basically think international all stars.
Rugby is considered the 2nd most popular sport in the world, and currently is growing in popularity in Canada and the United States.  Even in our area we are seeing an increase in numbers, with both the boys and girls teams.  So what better way to learn more about what Rugby is all about than to check out an international level game between Canada and Italy in Toronto at the BMO field.
When we arrived we headed up to the third floor to get a bird’s eye view of the opening and start of the game.

Which is where we ran across a wonderful photographer from Rugby Canada who was sweet enough to take the time to answer a couple of extra questions we had regarding some of the finer points of game play.  He was a very enthusiastic proponent of the sport and knew quite a bit about each of team Canada’s players.

We very much enjoyed our day watching these two groups of athletes go up against each other; the score for the entire time was close, going back and forth between the two.  The crowd was enthusiastic and the BMO field would resonate with the stamping feet and the cheers. (LOVE crowd energy, especially in a venue that amplifies it) Even when the players had flare ups on the field they ultimately were very sportsman like and respectful of the rules, each other and the fans.  All it would take was a quick word or gesture from the ref and back to business everyone would go.

As for the fans, no booing, just cheers and whenever a ball ended up in the crowd (happened quite a bit) they would wait for someone on field and would cheerfully throw it back.  According to our camera friend from the 3rd floor (wish we had exchanged names) he said that even if fans start to get riled up or rude, the surrounding fans tend to remind them to keep it peaceful.  For such a violent seeming sport there is definitely some expected codes of conduct.

Personally I wonder if that level of respect for the officials and laws is born out of the fact that it is inherently such a fast moving and rough sport, that the respect and sportsmanship balance it out.  This discipline seems to stem from the players and into the crowd, since you can easier leave it all out on the pitch (field) so to speak.

Halftime the pitch was turned over to six teams of halfpint rugby players.  The Rookie Ruby (presented by Honda) players were a hoot to watch as they ran full tilt around each other. They looked a little like schools of fish, scattering and coming back together over and over.

It is no tackle, using flags instead, so a very safe way for kids to start learning how to play.  With minimal equipment Rookie Rugby is easy for schools and community groups to start up their own teams.  Rugby Canada (facebook) has the resources to help – Rookie Rugby.


After the game we got a chance to say hi to the Canadian Team Captain Jamie Cudmore.  (man are these guys tall and solid)  He has a surprisingly quiet voice as he was talking to reporters following the game.  A very measured and polite individual. (Thanks for taking a quick pic with us Jamie)



BMO field had some wonderful views of the Toronto waterfront, the downtown and the CN tower from the concourse and the higher viewing areas.  The open to air format was nice to be out in until you found yourself sitting in the full on sun, yet thankfully it still allows for a faint breeze.  I was a bit surprised to find that although there seem to be several bathrooms that they have so few stalls in them.  As we all know women’s washrooms in particular always seem to generate long lines at half times in particular.

There was no tailgating going on during the event (before or after) and as was explained to us by those more in tune with rugby they said that tailgating wasn’t a rugby thing, but going to the pub to share your stories was.

Note to myself for next time since getting out of the BMO parking lot was so slow, to bring a cooler with icy cold drinks for after the game while stuck in traffic on a hot June day. Also next time I’m wearing my team colours, even if I don’t own a team shirt.  The crowd was a sea of red which was heart warming.


Once home I checked out the Rugby Canada FB coverage of the game and boy oh boy, rugby fans are surprisingly harsh technical critics of game play and strategy.  Saying that this was not a good game.  However from a newbie stand point with all the back and forth between the score and the fact that the end score was so close, we found the entire game exciting and enjoyable.

While Canada may have narrowly lost that day, I’d have to say that we didn’t.  It was a fast paced game with a close score and we were well entertained.  Overall I’d say that hands down I would take my family out to another Rugby game.  In fact personally I’m looking forward to checking out the difference even further between Union and Sevens, to see just how much that changes the flow of the game, as well as getting a rugby playing teens viewpoint of the whole experience.

If you haven’t checked out a rugby match yet and are a fan of fast paced action, athleticism and great team spirit, take the time to find a local match, grab the family and go watch.  Maybe even your local high school has a team for you to cheer on.

Get Outdoors with Your Family in Ontario – Programs to Help You Do It

Ontario is really stepping up with a few programs to help families enjoy the great outdoors from free loaner fishing gear to learn to camp programs to bus routes that bring people from the city out to some of our postcard worthy Provincial Parks.

Tackle Share
Last year I ran across Ontario’s Tackle Share program and I was simply thrilled that not only was it out there but that it is in so many communities around Ontario.   I was disappointed that it really wasn’t as available in Southwestern Ontario, despite this area having so much access to water large and small.  This year sadly there doesn’t seem to be ANY tackle share areas in Southwestern Ontario, or up in the Bruce Peninsula.  Hopefully this can change for next year.

For those that don’t know what the Tackle Share program is; at loaner sites youth and those new to fishing can sign out a rod & reel and tackle.  This is all based similar to a library, in fact one or two of the loaner sites are in libraries, as well as conservation areas, and other community organizations.  This is a FREE program.   (FYI to any group looking to become a Tackle Share site – the OFAH/OPG TackleShare program provides you with the fishing equipment, as well as the educational and promotional materials.  Your site just needs to be reasonable walking distance to a fishable shoreline, keep the fishing gear tidy and available, promote the FREE use of Tackle Share to the public, and of course stress water safety as a top concern.  So for those communities without this program what’s stopping you?  Add this resource to your community.)

There is also a travelling tackle share program that tours around visiting Ontario Parks locations to teach hands on fishing, identification, habitat, invasive species and water safety. Keep an eye on their website for upcoming location.


Learn to Fish

This program is offered in several of Ontario’s provincial parks 4-6 times a week from June to August.  Its for kids, teens and adults to learn how to rig and bait a fishing rod, as well as identify and catch local fish.  Everything is taken care of for you with this FREE program.  The instruction, the fishing rod and reel, lifejacket and sunglasses, and even a single day fishing licence.

Look for the program at Darlington Provincial Park, Earl Rowe Provincial Park, Emily Provincial Park, Grundy Lake Provincial Park, Sibbald Point Provincial Park, and Six Mile Lake Provincial Park.  Remember it’s 1st come first served limited to approx 40 people.

There is also mobile programs from Learn to Fish that attend community events to educate about fishing and safety and even show you how to make your own lure (we did this at the Toronto Sportsmen’s Show – was very easy, interactive and having your lure put into a “real” product box like you would find on store shelves made it even more special, and brag worthy), or try to reel in a fish with the fishing simulator.

Learn to fish is also paired up with the Learn to camp program as well as the Park Bus program.


Learn to Camp @ Ontario Parks

If you haven’t camped before and really aren’t sure how to start or don’t have any equipment, then this is the program for you.  Available at 9 Provincial parks, the equipment is provided for you, you will learn how to set up camp, cook meals on a camp stove and light a campfire.  Plus there are other fun activities to participate in.  You will need to bring your own bedding, food and personal items.  Don’t worry there are hot showers, safe drinking water and flush toilets.

You can choose between one and two night experiences (trust me two nights would be better, giving you a chance to enjoy more after setting up the first night).   There is a cost for the program of $86 + tax for1 night (up to 6 people including children) and $137 + tax for 2 nights.  (Personally this is a great deal since the equipment is provided for you).  Some firewood and a snack is also provided for you.

You can only participate one time – due to program space – however you can go a second time with their graduates program which has the same costs but allows you to continue to build your skills.

Participating Parks – Bronte Creek Provincial Park, Darlington Provincial Park, Earl Rowe Provincial Park, Emily Provincial Park, Sibbald Point Provincial Park, Six Mile Lake Provincial Park, Selkirk Provincial Park, and Grundy Lake Provincial Park


Park Bus

Want to get out of the big city (Toronto & one route to Algonquin from Ottawa) and out to a Provincial park this weekend, maybe even for the Learn to Camp program?  But you don’t have a way to get there?  Fear not, there is an option. PARKBUS, a program providing express buses to Algonquin, Killarney, Grunday Lake Provincial Park (Learn to Camp),  Georgian Bay Islands, Lion’s Head,  Six Mile Lake (Learn to Camp), Bruce Peninsula National Park and Tobermory.

There is also day trip bus routes available; Rockwood, Elora Gorge, Heart Lake, Kelso, Rattlesnake Point, and Albion Hills.


So if you have been thinking about getting out into nature this Spring and Summer but didn’t know where to start or don’t have the skills, there are lots of options to help get you started.  Grab your calendars and get booking something now, and make some memories.  Make sure to take some photo’s to share with everyone later.



Our March Break Plans Aren’t Going As Planned – Time to Stay Flexible

March Break (or Spring Break) is the time when those of us who live in cold and snowy climes often want to get away to someplace where the only white fluffy stuff we walk on is the warm sandy beaches down south.

South Beach Miami, Florida

Our family is no different.  While we used to use an Orlando time share as our weeks get away, over the past two years we have called the Florida Keys our winter getaway home.  This year would have made it the third year.

The rental home there had a great open floor plan, privacy, coconut trees, canal access on the gulf side of Marathon, and was just the perfect place for us to kayak, dive, snorkel, fish and relax.  It was a warm zen get away.  However this year that particular location was booked for the entire month.

If you haven’t ever looked at booking and staying in the Florida Keys; let me tell you there are lots of options and huge variety in what your money can get you down there.  Although by and large it is not the cheapest your rental money would go a lot farther in Orlando for example.  For us however this is the one time where we have felt the trade offs of it being a little more expensive and a further drive versus the freedom and peace we have at our back door more than worth it.

This year we knew well in advance that it was going to be a year of changes.  Ms Magoo the oldest, and her bestie M.Dog are off at university and wouldn’t be joining us.  Both the boys are going to spend  the break with their mom, which left us with Curly Girl.  Now for those that know how we travel, we tend to travel in a horde, having extra seats in the vehicle is a rare occurrence.  Having 4 empty seats going for such a long trip is unheard of.  We talked it over and decided that we would still rent the big house, invite some other people to share with us and enjoy the relaxing week of salt water and family.  We even had Curly Girl invite a couple friends.

Flea Market Finds

Flea Market Finds

Fast forward, the house is already booked, the Canadian dollar sucks, Curly Girl’s friends have either other travel arrangements, can’t go, or have jobs (damn those responsible teenagers) and because of the change and the poor dollar our friends decided to stay home and save up more money.  I really can’t blame them.

We looked for a different house, but our list of what we want is rather specific and this is the one time in our travels that we are really pretty spoiled and picky.  This particular location fit our needs so perfectly that all others pale in comparison.  Mostly it caused us to question if we really wanted to spend almost $3000 (rental, rate conversion & gas to drive) just to be able to kayak, fish and swim in the sun.

Let me tell you we were torn, the memories of what it has been like for us in the Keys and the feeling of Keys disease (where you’re days are slow and filled only with what you want to do, a real state of mind change), is a strong pull to go back.  But this year with the changes and particularly with the weak dollar we had a much harder time justifying spending that amount of money on just the three or maybe four of us that would be going down.  Don’t get me wrong it still would have been fun and worth it, but the potential to have a fiscal hangover of regrets once we were home wouldn’t be worth it.

So we decided instead of pounding on the door that has closed, we would start looking out the potential other travel windows.  Even with it being a prime travel time for us snowy northerners and our dollar being weak (yup I keep mentioning it because it is currently just that bad and bugs me that much, remember I like coupons right now our dollar is like the traveling abroad equivalent of an anti-coupon),but there are still some amazing deals out there to find.

A few choices, just over $600 (taxes & fees included) from Toronto to Hawaii, or $650 range to London England or Dublin Ireland (Kayak), or how about a 7 night balcony room cruise for three in the Caribbean for $1824 (Travelzoo), and then there is the all inclusive resorts plus airfare (groupon).     (I didn’t post the specific sales links to these since they have all change pretty quickly – so remember if you find the right deal for you have your finances in order to act on it or wait for the next deal).

As you can see there are lots of options and all for less than what we were planning on spending this spring in the Keys.  For us this year the reason that other travel options are even more attractive is that we only have one kidlette with us and not four or more.  So the economies of scale are substantially different than most travel days.

A Florida Regular at the Keys House

So what have we decided to do with all of these glorious travel opportunities…. well so far plans are still up in the air.  We have decided that for sure Curly Girl will get her fun in the sun as promised, but it might mean that she spends the time being spoiled by the Grandparents, so no hardship to her there.  As for us adults, we are debating on not going anywhere this March but having a week of kidless time at home and getting caught up on projects, taking extra work shifts for Chris and of course date nights.  In exchange for saving the money now we are looking at taking a vacation just for us in September.  Delay the gratification of the Keys now for something new in September, or going down to the keys then for the early part of lobster season.  As you can see I still can’t decide.  They’re all pretty amazing choices, so I can’t really complain that life is hard.  There is the ultimate possibility that over the next few months we will leave it up to the fates, set a super cheap budget and if something comes up at that rate during some easy to book off time, then we’ll jump on it.

As for this March break it looks like we’ll be adulting in the snow and cold and the kids will all be off in various directions, going to be a very strange week for us indeed.

Through all of this dream vacation searching I’ve learned a few things.

  1. There are more “budget and deal” travel sites than you can shake a stick at.
  2. Low cost carries (flights) are not always listed on flight finder sites.  So you may have to check some prices direct online
  3. While major flight finder sites are reliable the cavette is if you need to cancel or alter a flight you will tend to pay higher fees to do so, plus when booking the price you see is often not a gaurentee even once you have paid for it, and the sites policy is that prices can change without notice.  At that point you may find yourself either paying a higher price or having to wait for weeks or more for a refund to your credit card.
  4. Delete your cookies or use a different computer if you have been doing searches for flight or vacation prices.  Airlines are particularly know for prices going up based on your browser history.
  5. Once you narrow down who you are booking with and if doing it direct through the airline make sure to get added bonuses and advantages by signing up and using any free miles memberships that they have and any current promo codes.  (Although I had an odd thing show up with WestJet – I looked at the prices simultaneously for a flight to London England in the fall one using a current 25% off promo code & one without – the base price for the promo code used search was listed as higher, and it did not clearly show where and how the discount was applied if at all – the jacking up of the price for the same date, destination, and trip was disturbing – and I did the same search twice just to make sure – same results – $260+ higher overall – seems shady.  NOTE:  I sent West Jet an email pointing this out and asking for them to explain it – still waiting for an answer.  Makes me wonder how many other airlines do this without it being noticed.)
  6. Spirit Air has listed on their web page that lower fares are generally available at the airport.  So if you are looking to book with them and live close to the airport it may be worth taking a look, just make sure to check the online price first to compare.
  7. Kayak is a good site for giving an easy to use overview of what the major airlines are charging, especially if you have some flexibility in your flight days and click to look at 3 days before and after your chosen flight date.  Works well for getting a feel for prices and dates.
  8. Check reviews online as well as from those you trust that travel and always make sure you take the time to look into your travel details.
  9. Being flexible is a really consistent way to save money when travelling.  Even if the dates are firm if you are flexible about the destination you may just find that you can still have the week away in the sun, surf and sand, but also have extra money in your pocket for going out and trying a new restaurant or booking a fun local tour for the family.

While this year may not have turned out quite as we had initially planned, it has opened up quite a few new previously unexplored options for us.  Which hopefully I’ll be able to share with you in the near future.  As for the Keys, we’ll be back, next year when we have more of the kidlettes home and in the meantime I may just start looking for another rental that fits our list of spoiled bohemian Keys Disease princess living, just as a back up in case our preferred place is booked, or the dollar needs to bounce back a little stronger so I can book well ahead of time without stretching our budget too far.

Is Cauliflower the New Currency? How to Save Money On Groceries

Unless you have been living under a rock lately, you know that grocery prices have been climbing.  So much lately that people are getting sticker shock to the point that meme’s have been created about it.

pricey cauliflower

Similar meme’s and cartoons to this one have been showing up more & more on Facebook & other social media.

A comment from the response section after an article I read (sorry can’t recall where) but it has stuck with me “Scurvy for everyone this year.”

With fresh vegetables being particularly hard hit this year with sharp price increases, consumers are feeling the pinch and are now either having to shell out more each week for their groceries or they are buying even less fruits and vegetables.

There have been a couple key factors to the rising prices at the stores over the last little while.  With most of our fruits and vegetables coming from the United States at this time of year, the horrible state of the Canadian Dollar has been the most recent culprit.  Import costs have risen.  Add to that higher gas prices and a rash of crop failures across the board as well as California’s current state of extreme water shortages (which is where many of the fresh foods currently come from), and you have a recipe for higher prices.   And it’s not just fresh veg and fruits, some are also speculating that beef prices will continue to rise.  Earlier in the year there was also a rise in egg prices due to 50 million chickens dying or being culled due to outbreaks of Avian flu (as of June 2015 – Fortune).

Now more than ever keeping tight reins on the grocery budget is important.  How can we save money, while still eating healthy?

  1.  Shop the Sales – This one simple step is one of the best ways to keep your budget on track.  Buy what is on sale and at a low price.  If its an item that your family uses regularly, think about stocking up by buying one or two more.  Maybe even throwing one into the freezer for another day, like if beef is on sale or even with some of the vegetables, like broccoli or cauliflower.  Some items like lettuce and cucumbers however don’t freeze it unless you like watery green mush.  Don’t forget to price match, and coupon when you can, trust me it makes a difference on the total.  With the technology of most phones and the apps available couponing and price matching have never been easier. Sites like Savings Guru and SmarkCanucks can help you to find the sales and coupons.
  2. Know Your Buy Prices – This applies not just in the grocery aisle but for other household goods as well.  If you know what the cheapest price is VS a regular or high price on the items you purchase regularly you will always know when a sale is really a sale.  Some people will even keep a price log of the foods they buy.  We know our buy price especially for things like toilet paper, kids lunch snacks, and meat.  Using meat as an example any time it’s around a $1 / lb I’ll buy extra and freeze it.  Kids snack we figured out a unit price of $0.20 / granola bar or cheese string, is our regular buy price and anything less than that is a sale price.  Higher than that and it stays on the shelf.  Remember sometimes shelf signs are worded and colored in a way to make consumers think its a bigger sale than it is, so knowing your prices can help you steer clear of these.
  3. Let Go of the Recipe – I don’t mean never use one, or don’t make that super yummy looking dish you saw on Facebook last week.  Just keep in mind that if you have to buy ingredients specifically for a recipe they likely won’t be on sale, or could quite likely be higher priced than you would like.  Right now $6 – $8 cauliflower would be a great example, and in that case either substitute an ingredient or set aside the recipe for another day when the main ingredients are better priced.
  4. Frozen or Canned – nutritionally they are similar to fresh, there are of course some differences.  Canned can have salt and sugars added and frozen can sometimes have a small nutritional loss.  However if fresh prices are too much to bear, double check in the canned and frozen aisles.
  5. Shop Local – your local food markets and farm produce stands will tend to not have the current same push for higher prices, because they are selling local and in season to you.  Take a look around you may be surprised by what you can find.June 13, 2015 - Trent & Peterborough (1)
  6. Shop in Season – We have gotten so used to having any and every food available year round.  Sometimes in order to keep a leash on the budget the out of season berries just might have to stay out of our cart and our taste buds and cravings are just going to have to wait until they are readily available and in season.  Even cargo that is shipped from other areas have natural growth seasons that affect production and availability,  even if their seasons aren’t as dramatic as ours.  Right now pears, apples, onions and carrots are still available, while citrus is still in season from further down south.
  7. Be Open to New – be open to trying an unusual vegetable or fruit every now and then.  You may be surprised and find a new favorite.  Our kids love Gala apples, to the point of ignoring all other varieties if given the option.  We ended up picking up some on sale apples of a different variety and now I’m kicking myself for not paying attention to the name of them, the kids devoured them.
  8. Shop the Dead Veggie Bin – okay they really aren’t dead….it’s just what we call the discount rack that most stores have (they usually also have these for breads and meats as well).  The produce on those shelves will be deeply discounted for quick sale.  Sometimes they may be a little wilted, or have a bruise, but quite often the produce is perfectly fine, it’s just been on the shelf a little too long and the new products are taking over it’s spot.
  9. Keep a Sharp Eye on Your Fridge – Food waste is a major issue in North America at all levels including once it hits our home fridges.  A couple times every week take a brief moment to survey your fridge and pull out to use up anything that has been hanging around too long like a bad house guest.  Use it up before it become an issue of waste.  We wouldn’t throw money out the window as we drive away from the grocery store, so lets not let the food get to the point of needing to throw it out. All this also goes back to Letting Go of the Recipe, some nights if you were planning green beans, but you have lettuce that is starting to get a little tired, have a salad, and save the beans for the next night.
  10. Use Every Bit of Food Up – Cook like you were a starving college student, no I don’t mean pizza and ramen noodles. I mean get creative.  Take your scraps and turn it into more.  Some quick examples (keep an eye out for upcoming posts with more food use ideas) are; cauliflower or broccoli stems – set the unused pieces aside to cut up for stir fries, or to blanch and puree up, blend it together with some cheeses and seasoning, throw into a bake dish and voila cauliflower baked cheese dip.  Of course there is also using the bones of your turkey, or roast along with any and every scrap of your vegetables for making homemade soups with, and believe me soup is an easy, versatile and nutritious way to go.  Don’t let it intimidate you. Fruits aren’t left out of this, cut out the bruise and blend them up and turn them into smoothies, sauces or add into baked goods.  They can also be dehydrated and made into fruit chips or even fruit leather.

We are currently facing smaller sizes at higher prices, and everyone is feeling and noticing it.  How can we not?  With $8 cauliflower, $5 heads of romaine, $6/lb of grapes, $2 cucumber and some are saying likely $1 banana to come this winter.  So even if you don’t have your own garden space or a pet family chicken giving you eggs we all have some options available to us to help keep our grocery budget a little less painful.  Personally I’m thinking next year to take a few flowering plants out of my garden beds and add in a few things we can eat, like tomatoes.