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.

 

 

Boarder Pass Does It Again – Toronto International Boat Show 2016

Looking for a slice of summer in the heart of Toronto?  Then head to the Toronto International Boat Show at the Exhibition Place Jan 9 – 17, 2016 to catch some wakeboarding & wakeskating action on the waters of the Lake.  The Rioch Coliseum has been transformed into the worlds largest indoor lake.  Perfect for boating, paddling or in this case catching some air and pulling some very cool wakeboarding stunts.

How can you wakeboard in what is basically a hockey arena?  Well, after you fill the arena with waist deep water, put up a dock, add in some rails for tricks, and then you will find yourself being pulled along by an indoor raised cable system.  The cable system allows for consistent speeds and accelerations, making it easy to use time after time.  Plus if you do drop into the water, there’s no long waits for the boat to come back to you, the tow cable is just zipped back and you’re off and going again.

The guys at Boarder Pass have been innovators in bringing the cable park systems for wakeboarding into the Ontario area, with 3 locations (Sarnia, Hamilton, Niagara).  Last winter they also put the same technology to work with a Snowboarding cable park in Sarnia (if the weather co-operates it looks like this year will be a go again as well).

Speaking from personal experience wakeboarding with the cable system is so much easier to learn than being dragged behind the boat and the guys at Boarder Pass are high energy, positive and definitely know their stuff.

If you are looking to learn to wakeboard, head on over to the Toronto International Boat show.  Once there you can sign up for a FREE introduction to wake boarding, water skiing or tubing.  Get there early since it’s first come first served, and dry suits are provided.  Other wise you are going to have to wait until the good weather gets here and go to one of their locations around Ontario to have a lesson.   Either way once you give it a try you’ll see just how quickly anyone can improve and just how user friendly the tow system is (plus having great instructors helps too).

While at the Toronto Boat Show you can also take some time in the stands and watch the performance of some of the worlds top pro wakeboarders at the Winter Wake Fest.  While we were there we got to see some pretty impressive moves and attitudes to match.  (I wish I could tell you the names of the different tricks…..but I’d just mess it up….but trust me, proper names or not, they rocked).

First off it was nice to see Chris (one of Boarder Pass’ co-owners & founders) hitting the Lake, with Tim (another co-owner & founder) on the mic working the crowd and encouraging on all the boarders, and educating the spectators on the moves.

Our kids were pretty impressed that one of the wakeboarders was just 14 years old.  He really did a great job out there with everyone watching.  We also got a chance to watch one of the guys wakeskate.  Until that day I had no clue what wakeskating really was, or just how difficult it would be.  If you don’t know it’s like you are trying to skateboard (no wheels) on water, or wakeboard without boots.  Take your pick either way, looks tough, but it did make the tricks extra impressive with him lifting the board off and away from his feet and then having to land back on the board before hitting the water.

There was a few wipe outs and apparently the water is of course more than a little chilly.  The first time it happened we were all a little surprised about the depth of the water, half were surprised it was that deep, and the others thought it would have been deeper.  Go figure on both sides none of us really stopped to think it all the way through until we saw someone stand up.  It really does seem like a indoor lake, and you just don’t think much about the depth.

After the show you can stop by the Boarder Pass Booth for a meet and greet with the riders.

If you have the time this weekend you really should stop by the Toronto International Boat Show, there is so much to see and do at the boat show besides Wakeboarding, plus 16yrs and under get in FREE.

Make sure to say hi to the wakeboarders for us while you’re there.

Want to know more about The Toronto International Boat Show – check out our review here.

Toronto International Boat Show – Review

The Toronto International Boat Show is running in Toronto at the Exhibition Place, January  8 – 17, 2016.

The Glitter Paint job helps with catching the fish right?

The Glitter Paint job helps with catching the fish right? So many colors to choose from too.

Walking into the Main Hall at the Toronto International Boat Show, be prepared to be overwhelmed by the sheer size and diversity of the boats featured there.   It’s almost too much to take in at first.  If it floats and has a motor, you very likely could find it in the Main Hall.  Everything from small inflatable boats to luxury yachts and big sea fishing boats.  All of this was just in the first area, there were three other areas to tour as well, the Lake, Mariners Market Place and Cottage Country.  If you went looking for a boat, canoe, kayak, inflatables, boating accessories and fun items for your cottage on the water, docks or spa’s, chances are you could find it at the Toronto International Boat Show.


The boat show isn’t just all about shopping for your next big or little purchase it’s also about being entertained, educated and trying new things out.  When you start out make sure to grab a boat show book, the colour coded map will help you find the areas you want to hit for the day.

The Lake has you covered for lots of entertainment.  The coliseum (home of the Toronto Marley’s hockey team) has been transformed into the world’s largest indoor lake, complete with a surrounding dock (EZ Dock).  During the day you can drop by and sign up to paddle a canoe, kayak or a paddleboat around the lake.  Twice a day you can also take a free wakeboarding, waterskiing or tubing lesson, using the cable tow system.  For those that have their Pleasure Craft Operator Card you can also sign up for Discover Boating’s Hands-on-Skills Training courses for power boaters (online pre-registration is best).  All of these are FREE.   There will also be stand-up paddleboard (SUP) demonstrations to check out.

If you are looking for entertainment where you can just sit back and watch (especially after walking around window shopping……or buying).  The Lake has some of that too.  Summer Water Sports will have some of the best water skiers doing tricks and flips.  Plus we can’t forget about the Wakeboard show, where top pro wakeboarders and wakeskaters will show us their stuff on and above the water thanks to the people at BoarderPass.

We were able to catch one of the Wakeboard shows, and the energy of the riders out on the Lake was great.  Even if a trick didn’t quite go as planned, they shook it off and went back for more.  The crowd was encouraged to oh and ahh and cheer on the wakeboarders.  (More about the Wakeboard Show and the Lake).  Prizes were tossed out to the audiences on both sides.  It was too bad that getting to the other side of the lake to toss out prizes to the crowd took more time.   This was a high energy show which showcased a lot of great skilled boarders.

After the show finished you could see a swarm of life jacketed people taking over the dock and preparing to go out on the water in the available FREE kayaks, canoes and paddleboats.  Despite wanting to go out for a paddle, our crew decided to leave it for those that haven’t had the experiences on the water they have on a more regular basis.  The Lake offers a great way for people to try out something new in a safe environment.  The lake is big but it wasn’t that deep, you could easily stand up, even if you were shorter, looked about waist height.  Plus they also had a lifeguard on duty.

We are currently window shopping the idea of a pontoon boat.  Something that will suit fishing, and as an easy to use dive boat.  Lots of versatility and space for gear and people.  So going in I thought we’d be able to find a handful of pontoon options being shown by a few manufacturers.  Boy was I wrong.  23 different brands had pontoon boats listed in the boat show book.  That blows me away a little.  My guess would be that the pontoon boat market is one that is growing in popularity.  It’s stable and easy to use, especially for someone with a waterfront cottage.  Some of them looked a little like you’d be taking your livingroom out for a tour along the waterways.  As a social experience boat I can really see how user friendly they would be.  Our main issue would be the handling, being used to a bayliner I’d like to see and feel the difference and see if making the switch truly makes sense for our family.  The sales staff at most of the boat areas we were in seemed quite busy so we were not able to get some of our questions answered at the time but have lots of books to look through and dream shop (since none of us won the recent powerball).

If you are in the boat shopping mood, there are also a few deals to be had, as well as incentives available for purchasing while at the boat show.

Aside from the wakeboarding show the kids listed touring the luxury yachts as one of their favourites.  It was a little shocking for them to see how the other half boats.  With multiple bathrooms, and large kitchens and bedrooms, being listed by them as some of the top features.  Killer sound systems being another.   Having to make an appointment time to go through and take their shoes off, caught them all a little by surprise but when they thought it through it made sense.  Who wants dirty shoes in their new yacht from hundreds of touring boat show goers.

Unfortunately we missed Twiggy the Waterskiing Squirrel – performing in the Food Truck Court (get there early there is limited seating)  and in-between performances there wasn’t anywhere to see him.
While touring around the Cottage country area we saw some pretty decent prices on water inflatable’s.  Like trampolines, climbers, slides, and of course tubes.  If you wanted a particular one, odds are someone had it.   I also really like the fishing life jackets and I’m seeing a purchase of a couple in the near future (shhh don’t tell Chris).  They are quite light and not at all bulky, perfect for staying mobile and not getting in your way, but let you stay safe and be a good example.  If we didn’t already have kayaks for our crew I would have been seriously looking while we were at the show.  There were quite a few vendors offering a wide variety of options.


There were lots of pamphlets to pick up about some of the waterway communities around Ontario and all that they had to offer and I’m looking forward to going through those later and maybe planning a few day trips, for when spring weather gets back to us.

Overall the shopping areas were bursting with new and different products as well as old standbys.  The best thing to do is go and see it all for yourself.

Some other things to check out while you are there is the sailing simulator which is new this year.  Instructors will be there to demonstrate and help with some hands on practice.  It’s considered a unique and innovative teaching tool.   There will be seminars on boating, maintenance, and stories from inspiring people all throughout the day in the Salon’s in the Main Hall.  Also don’t forget the Great Canadian Fish Tank, watch what lures work with the fish, how to make the best use of the lures and my favourite is the cooking demonstrations (with samples).  For the kids there is also the kids fishing zone (complete with some lounge chairs in front of a big bank of tv screens showing some fishing – great spot for parents to take a minute to rest) where kids can try their hand at fishing in the tank, or even to try out some fishy arts and crafts.  Expert anglers are on hand to help them out.

Although there seemed to be a good turnout of people on the opening weekend, the event itself didn’t feel too crowded.  One of the only downsides for me was not seeing any dive equipment, for us that IS a part of boating, and fishing items were also quite limited.  Oh well guess they can’t have absolutely everything there.  I was also surprised that there weren’t more contests and ballot boxes throughout the different vendor booths.  Most other trade fair based events we’ve been to seem to have a higher number of these.  On the up side many of the boat vendors had cloth bags for you to carry around your boat catalogs in, which believe me we needed one just for the pontoon boats alone.

Would we go back?  Yes we would.  The entry fee for the adults is reasonable, kids under 16 are free, there is a lot to see and do and it was a great way to spend couple hours.  I would however arrive earlier and make sure to get right away signed up for things like wakeboarding, the simulator and Discover Boating.  It didn’t feel like winter was going on while we were inside the boat show.  It felt more like it was time to hit the water and have fun with family.

Sign up to join the Captain’s club on the Toronto International Boat Show’s web site to get exclusive discounted tickets and other offers.  Remember kids 16 and under are free so this makes the day a nice discount for the whole family.

Movie Madness….How to Save a Few Bucks

With movie ticket prices being a little dear, and even popcorn and pop prices not only doubling the cost of a night out (and NO more refills….at least at Sarnia Cineplex).  Going out to catch this seasons hottest blockbuster can make even Santa pause to catch his breath.

Darth Vader at Art WalkI LOVE the Star Wars Movies…..doesn’t everyone??….well okay….maybe not episodes 1 – 3 as much as the others.  So along with the hordes of rabid fans and regular movie goers alike, I wanted to see the Force Awakens during the Christmas break. I did NOT however want to pay full price, especially not for the AVX tickets.  Nor did we end up paying very much at all to go.

How do you not spend full price on going out to the movies?  Well the first tip is of course just don’t go, stay home and watch the movie when it comes out on Netflix, with a giant bowl of popcorn and no one kicking the back of your seat.  But I’m guessing everyone wants better tips than that.

To start with hopefully everyone already is aware and using a scene points card.  They are free to get and can help earn you free movie tickets plus discounts on your concession stand purchases.

Also if you are looking to cut the price down to start with, head to the theatre on cheap Tuesdays and when you show your scene card you get an extra 10% off.

Beyond those basic steps, your scene member card can also be used to earn points at restaurants (Swiss Chalet, Harvey’s, Montana’s, Milestones, East Side Mario, Kelsey’s, Bier Markt, & the Pubs), Sportchek, concession combo’s, online promo’s and bonuses right on the Cineplex and scene web pages, purchases at the Cineplex store, and of course earn even more points if you are a scotia bank member with your Scotiabank scene debit or visa card.  Every 1,000 points you earn in one of these ways gets you a free general admission movie ticket.

Movie NightWe do some of these, although being honest I keep forgetting about the ability to earn points at restaurants.  I’ll have to strive to keep that more in mind, not that we eat out all that often at the listed locations, but still points add up.

The big one that I have used to help get our crew and any additional guests out to the movies for free or nearly free is grocery promo’s.  You know those promotions on the boxes of cereal, or granola bars or even pasta mixes, that you see each year in the store.  When I see them start to show up, I start paying more attention to the sales, that way I can pull off an even better savings.

Our Star Wars adventure was paid for with scene points and hamburger helper boxes.  Each box had a code in it for Cineplex movies and for this most recent promotion it took 3 box codes to equal one movie (Note: each promotion and sometimes even each different product in the promotion takes a different number of products to get a free movie).  Now when I bought the boxes I did not have a particular movie in mind, I just knew that at somepoint before the expiry of the promotion on January 31, 2016 we would want to take the family out to the movies for cheap.

2016-01-04 002So three boxes of Hamburger Helper (which is something I normally do not buy have gone off to university with Miss Magoo) equaled one ticket.  I bought the Helper at the sale price of $1 a box.  Which means that our “free” ticket starts out costing $3, which if a regular admission ticket was purchased the movie out would have only cost $3 instead of $10.50.  Which to me is still a pretty good savings, plus we have hamburger helper waiting at home to eat.  Ultimately since it was Star Wars we ponied up for the AVX which meant paying the ticket upgrade difference of $5.  Add that to the $3 and an AVX full price ticket of $15.50 cost us $8.  Not free but almost 50% off.

Over the years we’ve also had other free or BOGO (Buy one Get one) nights out at the movies thanks to cases of pop or juice, cereal or even lunch snacks.  Recently there was an offer included in a McDonalds email where if you answered a few questions you could earn a $5 cineplex code.  (they are out of codes now unfortunately).  For us mostly I think it’s been thanks to General Mills partnering with Cineplex.  Always remember though to really read the expiry dates and any exclusions (usually you can’t go on Fridays and Saturdays).

moneyFor us a night out at the movies is a treat every once in a while and the money we save goes to other things.  Like travelling to other destinations to make movie worthy memories of our own.  We get caught up on the blockbuster movies by doing stay at home movies nights (which by the way it’s super nice be able to pause a movie for a pee break instead of sprinting down the hall like I did on opening week of Star Wars.)

No matter how often you hit the theater, remember to combine the day you go along with your scene membership and any promotions you can find.  You can make your money go a whole lot further.  Good luck and of course may the force be with you…….

Busy Summer Traveling in 2015

I’m just going to jump right in; this past summer was an extreme whirlwind of travel (so very many miles logged), sights seen and wondrous experiences.

I apologize to you guys and girls for having fallen way behind on sharing with you about what had been going on.  I think that once you read about the entire summer you will forgive me.

Florida Gulfcoast Roadways #Manasotakey

Florida Gulfcoast Roadways #Manasotakey

First the excuses…..some of the times during the summer I was light on time and access to the Internet, and initially planned to blog in between trips.  Best laid plans. Sick between trips (well and truth be told a fair amount on the trips as well – overall it’s been a bit of a tougher go personally than usual), a surprising  backlog of household and other issues and one surprising last minute change in plans that resulted on us repacking the next morning and hitting the road again.  By the time we were done I was so far behind on things I thought I was first.

Gulf CoastI know I really don’t have much legitimately to complain about.  It really has been a wild, wonderful ride this summer.  There has been some dropped balls, and some mistakes made along the way.  Maybe a better way to put it is that opportunities to learn to do some things in a better way have presented themselves, and I’m really looking forward to sharing it all with you.

We had tight time frames and a tighter than usual budget (due to wanting to squeeze so much in), plus fast turn arounds between trips.  None of which left much room for disorganization, but it still happened and believe me I learned a few new tricks along the way to help us out for next time.

Here’s a brief overview of some of the adventures and location reviews as well as helpful planning tips that will be featured in the blog along the way.

Hopewell RocksFamily cookoffs, atv’s, dirt bikes, archery, card games.  Disney, universal studios, theme parks, water parks, beaches, snorkeling, sharks teeth, shells, scuba diving, scalloping, clamming, lobsters, peaches, huge avocados, kayaking, swimming, card board kayak races, natural wonders, freshwater springs, bioluminescence. Bay of Fundy, Hopewell rocks, wild animals ranging from lizards and turtles to Dolphins and whales, manatees, starfish, colorful fish, plain fish, moose, deer, beavers, tortoises, lizards, and finally birds.  NYC and all that entails, camping, hotels, resorts with and without kitchens, and oh so much more.   Much of it free or quite cheap. There was also much that we could have done this summer that we opted out of but can share the information with you for use for next year.

NYCEven the sights on the roadway have been worth it.  Sunrises and sunsets along mountainous roads.  Mornings with mist clinging to the valleys.  Lightning storms dancing across the sky’s over lagoons and glades.

Want to know where is a great place to have a picnic lunch and watch whales, harbour seals and porpoises play?  Snorkel for your scallop dinner or dig up sharks teeth with the sun warming your back?  Kayak under the stars with the water lighting up with bio-luminescence with each paddle stroke?  Interested in which theme parks you can save money on, or which ones allow you to bring in your own food and drink?  Wondering what it would be like to have 15 kids and teens all hangout play cards, games, fish, kayak and even do dishes all without wifi anywhere in sight, all voluntarily and eager to do it all again next year?  More than anything else are you looking for inspiration of what to do for next year and how to do it all on a small budget?  The upcoming articles will have all of that and then some.  I’m really quite excited to be able to share with everyone all that we did this summer and even some of the things we couldn’t personally fit in, but have some information about.

Sunset Up North

Bird Kingdom, Niagara Falls – Review

Over the Christmas holidays we ended up taking our crew to Niagara Falls, where one of our many stops was to spend a couple hours touring Bird Kingdom.

Bird Kingdom is listed as the worlds largest indoor free flying aviary and includes not only exotic birds set in a tropical rain-forest environment, but also reptiles & tortoises you can touch, a night jungle area, a Javanese tea house to explore, a kids archaeology dig area, a museum and of course the gift shop and cafe.  There is even some interesting history to go along with the building itself, but I’ll get to that part in a bit.

To be honest I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  When touring zoo’s and other animal based attractions the bird areas have not historically been my favourite or the most prominent area to recommend.  This time I have to say I was truly surprised, with just how enjoyable it was.  The experience of walking through an open aviary made the world of difference.

While for the most part our kids were looking forward to the visit with the birds, one was very resistant to going in the first place.  He was quite vocal about wanting to go to another one of the local arcades instead of looking at “stupid” birds.

Mr Resentful ended up going through twice.  His first loop through he started off sullen and he eventually changed his tune, but not through anything we did or said.  It was entirely the birds.  He even slowed down on the second round when he caught up to us again and told us all about the birds that were coming up.  I think that his expectation was on boring birds behind cage walls, what he found instead was more interactive and accessible for him to relate to and enjoy.  You are not just looking at the birds you were with the birds.

The flow through the exhibits was easy and understandable.  There is a particularly good natural flow of movement through the main aviary.  The pathway looped from the top story down and around to the ground floor allowing visitors to see the birds from all different angles.  The areas to watch the birds between the walkways was very accessible, making it super easy to see them up close and in great detail.  Again not having screens and wires between you and the birds gave a feeling of being included in their world not just window shopping.  There was an interesting variety of birds, many of which could be identified using some of the bird identification signs that could be found around the aviaries.

The buildNiagara Falls Museuming itself has a lot of history, built in 1907 it is the 1st poured concrete building in Canada.  1958 found it the home of the Niagara Falls Museum and it’s world renowned collection of Egyptian artifacts and the real mummy of King Ramesses I (Pharoah from the story of Moses in the bible).  Who has since been returned safely to Egypt.  Bird Kingdom now calls this building home.  Explore some of the rich history through the photo’s and writings on display in the old museum area.

As you go through the aviaries and base camp area you can get up close and personal with tortoise’s, lizards – which you can pet in their enclosures. Plus of course a mix of larger colourful (parrots & other chatty friendly birds) feathered friends.  The staff is on hand to help guests say hello to them, even allowing the birds to sit on the arms of visitors.  Although I didn’t get her name the young lady that was working with the birds while we were there was patient, knowledgeable and seemed to be liked by the birds and the other visitors.  If the larger birds are too much for you, then make sure to check out Lorikeet Landing to feed the smaller, but very active Lorikeet’s in the main aviary. Feeding the nectar (for a small additional fee) to the bossy and bold Lorikeets was easy to do and fun, just hold the small cup and next thing you know you are your very own bird feeder.

Of the large 2015-12-20 067birds our families personal favourite was an African Grey named Carrie who had an impressive repertoire of sounds, whistles and songs. Including water drops, the Andy Griffith show song, and could even quack like a duck.  The Kookaburra also made a strong impression with its mimicry of the rainforest animals.

On your way to the main aviary don’t forget to check out the night jungle denizens including the fruit bats as they feed.  They were really quite active, and it was interesting to watch how they maneuver themselves, particularly with their crash landings.  Grace in flight maybe……landing not so much.

Included in the main atrium is an original Javanese house from 1875, featuring hand carved teak.  There is no nails and this aristocratic house is truly a one of a kind in North America.  Hidden blessings and messages can even be found in the carvings.

Unfortunately we walked past this rich and interesting piece of history without going inside.  Somehow at the time we missed the fact that this was a real historic building and not a set piece.  Upon reading further about the house I’m rather disappointed that we missed it.  Hopefully other visitors will take the time to step inside after

2015-12-20 146

Pro’s

  •  Easy access and parking $3 for 2 hrs (cheaper compared to some parking lots)
  • Staff was friendly, patient and knowledgeable
  • Large colourful variety of birds
  • Sessions showing the birds talents and the ability to ask questions easily from the staff – all very up close and personal
  • Bigger birds – having no cage between and being only feet away, from the general public, it felt more personal – connective
  • Largely wheelchair accessible
  • Friendly for all ages

Con’s

  • Really wished there was more readily available signage with interesting factoids about some of the birds.  Facts that catch attention and make each unique bird / animal easier to remember and relate to for the kids as well as the adults
  • A more obvious pointing out the uniqueness of the Javanese house – that it’s original, not just a set piece, for those that haven’t read the brochure or the online information about it

DiscountsAlthough Bird Kingdom really is all for the birds there is more to see and do there than we expected.  I would suggest to anyone in the area to go and enjoy the ability to get a really good up close interaction with the birds.

I would also strongly suggest to anyone wanting to go to take full advantage of the variety of discount coupons floating around the Niagara area for Bird Kingdom.  Regular adult admission $16.95 + HST, Child $11.95 + HST, at the door.  Without the discount the price is a little steep especially if your kids are over the age of 15.

Check out not only the regular Niagara Falls coupon books, but also Bird Kingdom’s own web site for coupons, or special discount days – Like Wednesday’s Toddler days where there is 50% off regular admission when a toddler is present.  Buying directly from the web site will also net you a good discount over at the door pricing.  Or you can pick up a variety coupons in local brochures and maps found at the tourist kiosks or even right at your hotel room lobby.

I would go back with the family and would easily recommend it to our readers and friends with younger kids, but make sure you find yourself a discount to go with your visit.  Also make sure to bring your camera.  The birds are not at all phased by people and the camera’s so you have lots of opportunity and time to take some really great shots.  I even have a few new favorite photos from the day.

Bird Kingdom, Niagara Falls, Ontario

Facebook – Bird Kingdom

 

 

 

 

Golf With Your Kid for Free

This weekend you can go golfing and have your mini-me golf free.  Yup, FREE (love that word).  Which means more golf $$ for you later, right?

So here’s how this works; every year there’s a cross Canada program that certain golf courses participate in (and there’s a lot of them that do, so bound to be one near you) called Take A Kid to the Course Week.  This year it is July 6 – 12, 2015.  With each paid adult, a kid gets to golf with you for free.  It truly is that simple, some courses will even have extra programs and clinics running as well.  Plus there’s a contest that you earn entry into by participating on the course during the week.

Golfing  - Take a Kid to the Course I apologize to the die hard golfers out there that I likely will offend, but in all honesty I am not a true golfer, but have come to enjoy a game or two here or there, particularly when no one is critiquing my choice of club.  Which in fairness, likely needs a whole lot of critiquing, but here’s some tips that I’ve found works best when golfing with kids, both our own, and their friends.  And yes we’ve taking the girls out golfing just as often as the boys.

Now where it comes to golfing with the kids there are some things to remember; it takes longer to golf with a kid.  You will have to explain the etiquette rules, likely several times.  Regarding club choices kids will not always understand which club and why to use it.  Some kids you will even find will want to stick to using the same club / driver for almost everything.  This is where we decided that for us it was more important, especially the first year that they enjoyed the act of being with us out on the course and playing than actually being correct. You may likely find that you need to play best ball, not only for your own sanity and those of your fellow golfers following you waiting to play through, but also to ease the potential sense of frustration for your pint sized golfer.  Use your best judgement so everyone enjoys the day, even if that means bending some golf game and scoring rules.  Just make sure you tell them that it’s an altered way of play.

Also remember if it’s their first time golfing only 9 holes is likely the better option, less may end up being more.  Best of all if they love it then it gives you a reason to go back out with them for a second round the next day.

Share your enjoyment of the game with them, keep it simple, keep it fun and they will grown to love the sport too, and be much more likely to want to join you on the links when they grow up.

kids golfKids Golf Free site even has an interactive map for finding a course near you, which is how we’ve found which ones were participating in the program the last two times we went.

We’ve taken part in this over the past two years and have tried two very different local courses.  Black Creek Golf in Oil Springs, has hills and valleys featured all throughout the course and although it’s out and away from the city, it’s worth the drive just for the overall views of countryside.  The staff were friendly and so were the golfers.  It was pretty clearly marked out and personally I really enjoyed the play there.

Last year we went to Sunset Golf Club in Sarnia, (they also have put put on location and after dark it’s glow golf – although we haven’t tried it out yet so can’t really say much about it).  The course overall is flatter and would be a great course to walk, but there still is some terrain changes.  It’s conveniently located on the edge of town.  The staff were friendly when we checked in, we didn’t interact too much with the other golfers so hard to say what the overall vibe is there.  We did notice however someone else getting reminded about rules as to staying on the path, so they seem a little stricter about that overall.  The boys enjoyed it and really liked being able to crank the ball over long drives without the course being too complicated.  There was one hole I remember being particularly tricky at the back of the course with the pond…..lost a few balls there.

I wonder what course we’ll try this year?  What course in your area are you looking forward to trying out with your family?

I wasn’t able to find a similar program in the United States, but I did find that some areas do seem to feature that kids can golf free.  Myrtle Beach’s golf rich areas is one such place.  Click here for a list of participating courses in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.           Being a Preferred Golf Member with courses around the United States allows your kid to golf free.  I’m sure there are mores travel and resort areas that would have similar deals, so make sure to keep an eye out and maybe even ask when planning your next vacation.

How to Try Out Fishing With Your Family & Friends

If you are wanting to introduce your friends and maybe even some of your own family to the joys of fishing on the local waterways there are some great ways and times to do this without having to break the bank.

While fishing is a great way to relax in the company of others and enjoy the excitement of catching a fish, and can even be a wonderful way to bring dinner home (for those that don’t practice catch & release fishing), it can however start to add up for the pocket book.

Fishing with Friends

First of all there is making sure you have enough rods, reels, and tackle for everyone heading out to the water that day.  Sometimes going out and buying enough gear for everyone can be more than a little cost prohibitive.  Add to that the fact that for some family and friends they may only end up fishing once or twice in a year.

Some better ways to share your love of fishing with others and keep the costs in check is to first see if there are other fishing friends of yours that may have some extra gear that they wouldn’t mind lending out.  Another resource in your area may be the Tackle Share program from the Ontario Federation of Anglers & Hunters and Ontario Power Generation.

So you have the gear, but now you need licences for anyone between the ages of 18 – 64.  Well twice a year you can even avoid that.  Licence-Free fishing during the Ontario Family Fishing events take place once in winter for 3 days and again in summer for a week.  This year July 4 – 12, 2015 is the licence free week to fish.  You still have to follow all the fishing size, type, and limits but you don’t need the expense of a licence during that week.

Family Fishing WeekAlso during those times each year there are quite often festivals, clinics, derbies and workshops.  A great way to learn more about fishing conservation and enjoy time spent doing what you love with others.  Added bonus, if your friends enjoy fishing but not eating fish…….that means more dinner at the end of the day for you.

These are just a couple quick ways to keep down the costs of a day or two of introducing fishing to your friends and family. So go out there, enjoy the water and the outdoors, surrounded by friends and family and have fun with it.