13 Great Reasons to Go Camping

13 Great Reasons to Go Camping

School is out here and the weather has finally turned warm.  Yay, summer has arrived!  With the arrival of summer comes the time to plan summer adventures.  For Greg and me, our thoughts turn to camping.  Going camping is one of our favorite summer activities.  We are reminiscing about past camping trips and planning where we will go this summer.

Is camping part of your summer rituals?  Or is camping something you haven’t done in a long time? Maybe you’ve never gone camping?

If the thought of camping is new to you, here are 13 great reasons to go camping.

  • Being outside all day: So much of our daily life happens indoors. Going camping means spending the days outdoors. Each day is filled with different sights, sounds and smells when we spend it outdoors.
  • No schedule: While camping we eat when we are hungry, go for a walk when we feel the urge, go swimming when we are hot, go to bed when we are tired, get up when we are awake. There is no schedule, no need to do something at a specific time. I don’t have that freedom in my regular days, so really enjoy this when camping.
  • Swimming: Who doesn’t love going for a swim on a hot summer day? Here in Ontario most campgrounds are on or close to a lake or river, allowing lots of opportunities to swim while on the camping trip.
  • Wildlife viewing: Some of my greatest wildlife viewing opportunities have happened on camping trips. Last summer’s highlight was seeing a beaver swimming in the river, just ahead of our canoe. We were going in the same direction, so we followed him for probably about 5 minutes. Our presence didn’t seem to bother him, as he just did what he was planning. Typical wildlife encounters on camping trips include rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, frogs and many kinds of ducks, but sometimes include turtles, deer, moose and porcupines. Big or small, it’s always exciting to glimpse wildlife.

Great Reasons to Go Camping - Wildlife

Great Reasons to Go Camping - Wildlife

  • Paddling: We don’t own canoes or kayaks, or have easy access to them at home. Many of the parks where we go camping offer them for rent. Renting a canoe or a couple of kayaks for a day or several days gives us the opportunity to get out on the water and view the landscape from a different perspective. I love the peace and tranquility of an early morning paddle.

Great Reasons to Go Camping - Paddling

Great Reasons to Go Camping - Paddling

  • Hiking: Most parks have several hiking trails, some long ones and some short ones, that allow us to get out and explore. Many hiking trails have some great viewpoints along them, with special things to see along the way. I love hiking; it’s exercise, fresh air and an adventure all rolled into one activity.

Great Reasons to Go Camping - Hiking

  • Campfires: I love the tradition of a nightly campfire. There is something very primeval about sitting around a campfire, watching the flames, feeling their heat, telling stories and smelling that campfire smell.

    Great Reasons to Go Camping - Campfires

    Photo by Cape Cod Cyclist – Used under licence CC BY-NC 2.0

  • Roasting marshmallows:  That campfire creates the opportunity for roasting marshmallows. Did you roast marshmallows on the charcoal grill after are bbq dinner as a child?  I sure did. Now that we have a gas grill, roasting marshmallows isn’t an option. We always pack marshmallows when going camping. Sitting around a campfire, roasting marshmallows always creates a bit of competition, seeing who can roast the perfect one. Roasting marshmallows around the campfire is a great experience for kids, and an opportunity for adults to relive childhood memories.
Great Reasons to Go Camping - Roasting Marshmallows

photo by Nina Hale – used under licence CC BY 2.0

  • Spectacular views of the stars: With all the light pollution in most cities, the view we get of the stars at home is nothing compared to the views when we go camping. A dark clear night and an opening in the trees are all that is required to do some stargazing. While out camping we see thousands of stars and even see the Milky Way, which just isn’t visible in the city. If we are extra lucky we are there on a night when the Northern Lights are active. Seeing the Northern Lights dance across the sky is pure magic.
Great Reasons to Go Camping - Stars

photo of Milky Way by Steve Jurvetson – used under licence CC BY 2.0

  • Great night’s sleep: Nothing helps me get a great night’s sleep better than spending the entire day outdoors. All that fresh air really lulls me to sleep at night. Of course, we do have one trick that helps with the great sleep. We have an air mattress. Sleeping on an air mattress is a completely different experience than sleeping on the hard ground.
  • Get away from the everyday: I have no worries while camping. There are no obligations, or tasks waiting for me. No work emergencies, or things that must get done right now. We are in our own little bubble while camping, with no knowledge or care of what is happening in the world around us.
  • Connecting with family/friends: Going camping means spending a lot of time with the people with you. You do everything together. You make new discoveries and have adventures together. It’s a wonderful opportunity to really connect with them.

Great Reasons to Go Camping - Connecting with Family

  • Camping is fun: There is so much fun on each and every camping trip. Isn’t that the best reason of all?

Great Reasons to Go Camping - Fun

 

Greg and I are veteran campers.  We’ve been camping together for more than 10 years, and both of us were camping long before that.  We’ve done it with and without kids. Each camping trip is an adventure, with new things to do, new places to explore, new things to experience, and special memories to be created.  I hope we never feel too old, too tired or too busy to plan a camping adventure.

There are so many great reasons to go camping.  Why do you go camping?  If you’ve never been, I urge you to give it a try.  There is a great adventure waiting for you and your family.

 

A Note About Photos:  Most of the photos in this post were taken by me, and as such are copyrighted to me, Julie Rivet.  They can be used if proper attribution is made, with a link back to this post.

The three photos that are not my own are used under various creative commons licences, as noted in the caption under each photo.  

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A Trip to the Farmer’s Market

It’s farmer’s market season again (doing a happy dance).

There is a lot of agricultural land in and around my city.  As a result, we have many farmers’ markets.  Some are large, some are small.  Most of them are held once a week, but one of them is a daily market.  Each market is different.  Each one has its own character.

Yesterday I went out to one of the larger markets.  It was my first visit of the season.  It’s quite early in the season here, so there isn’t much fresh produce available.  I was hoping for some rhubarb.  We had a nice rhubarb patch in the back garden when I was growing up.  I enjoyed lazy days in early summer, sitting out on the deck in the sun, dipping a freshly picked rhubarb stalk in sugar.  I love the face-puckering tartness of it.

I really enjoy farmer’s markets.  I like walking around; checking out each booth, seeing what is available.  Each trip is different.

A Trip to the Farmer's Market

This early in the season, the atmosphere is a bit different than it will be later.  It’s not about people going to buy supplies for that night’s dinner.  It’s a bit more of a social occasion, like going out to see old friends you haven’t seen in a while.

A Trip to the Farmer's Market

I wasn’t too sure what I might find yesterday.  It was a bit of a scoping exercise, seeing which producers will be at that market this year.  As usual, the variety was impressive.  In addition to many stands that will be selling fresh vegetables and some fruit each week, there are some selling meat, including game meats such as bison and elk.  There are also several selling value-added products such as jams, jellies and sauces, and a variety of baked goods.  There was even a chef doing a cooking demonstration.

A Trip to the Farmer's Market

I like shopping at famer’s markets.  They are a great way to get the freshest produce possible, as it comes into season.  I enjoy what I buy there, and I also feel good about the fact that I am helping to support local farmers.  Without farmers we have no food.  Many of the farmers that sell at markets are relatively small suppliers, but they grow a wide variety of vegetables and fruits.  It’s not easy maintaining a farming business in Canada, and I am glad to be able to support local farmers by purchasing products directly from them.

Even though it is early in the season, yesterday’s trip was a successful one.

I found the rhubarb I wanted.  Only one vendor had some, as it truly is early for rhubarb here. I have plans for that rhubarb.  Hopefully I will have some recipes to share soon.

rhubarb, spinach, cranberries

I was hoping to find some greens and I did with a nice big bag of spinach.  The cranberries were an exciting find.  I bought some frozen ones as well as some dried ones.  The dried cranberries have no sugar added.  This is a first for me, as the dried cranberries found in stores all have added sugar.  I haven’t tasted them yet. Hopefully I’ll like them.

In addition to the “to eat now” food, I also found some greens to plant in my garden.  I picked up some spinach, romaine lettuce and red leaf lettuce.  These plants were grown locally, and are varieties that do well in our climate.

romaine lettuce, red leaf lettuce, spinach

My last item is a bar of soap.  I love handmade soap.  I’ve been using it for years.  It’s not always easy to find locally, and when I do, it’s not always in scents that I like.  I do not enjoy floral scents and they tend to trigger migraines for me.  I like food scents for my soap.  I found some yesterday, which made me happy.  I was out, and had been thinking about placing an order on Etsy.  I love using handmade soap.  I find it much gentler on my skin than commercial soaps.  Handmade soap is worth the splurge to me.  Handmade soap is just one more item that can be found at a farmer’s market.  The variety found there really can be surprising at times.

Have you been to a farmer’s market lately?  What was your best find?

Tips to Save On Groceries

12 Tips to Help You Save On Groceries

Original photo by SeniorLiving.org (CC BY-SA 2.0 licence) – Text additions are my own.

Many of us are searching for ways to save money.  Food is a big part of the family budget for most of us.  Fortunately for those of us that are trying to eat healthy or healthier, as I wrote about last week, healthy food is affordable, and actually less expensive than processed food.

Even though whole foods already cost less than processed foods, there are many things that you can do to help you to save on groceries.  Three years ago, when my 16-year-old step-daughter moved in with us, our grocery costs doubled overnight.  Our other expenses also went up, making our finances very tight, so reining in the grocery bill became a high priority for me.  Although I had always been a careful shopper, paying attention to prices, I quickly learnt more ways to save on groceries, which brought our weekly grocery bill back under control.

Here are some of my strategies and tips for saving money on the weekly food bill.

compare prices

  • Scan the flyers:  I look at the flyers each week to determine what is available at a good price and I buy those items. I know my prices, and so I know when something is worth buying and when it’s worth waiting for another week or two.  Sales are cyclical.  If chicken isn’t on sale this week, but beef is, I buy the beef and wait for a better price on the chicken.  I know it will happen within a few weeks.  If broccoli is on for less than a dollar, then I will buy two of three of them, as we can easily eat that within one week.
  • Buy meat in value size packs: The larger packages of meat are usually cheaper than the smaller packs, by up to $1 per pound.  I buy the value pack and separate the meat into meal sized portions, placing each portion into large freezer bags that I label with all the info I need (type of meat, weight, date) and then place in the freezer.  Not only am I saving on the meat when I buy it, but then I have some in the freezer for the weeks when that type is not on sale.
  • Eat seasonally:  As much as possible I buy my fruits and vegetables when they are in season.  Have you seen the price of berries in the winter?  It’s so much higher than in the summer, and the berries don’t tend to taste as good.  So in the winter we leave the berries behind and take advantage of what is at its peak, like citrus, pomegranates, squash and root vegetables such as carrots and beets.  Produce that is in season is cheaper and fresher than what is not.

shop with a list to save money

  • Shop with a grocery list:  I make my list based on the items that I have run out of and what I find on sale in the flyers.  This helps me to ensure that I get everything I need for the week, and helps me to not add too many impulse items.

 

  • Get a rain check:  Many grocery chains in Canada give rain checks if they are out of stock on an item that is on sale in the flyer.  Go to the customer service desk on your way out of the store, and ask for a rain check.  At most chains, the rain check is good for 30 days.  This will allow you to get the sale price on the item the next time you go to that store.  I keep rain checks in an envelope in my purse and put my grocery list in that envelop.  That way I remember the rain check and I have it with me when I need it.
  • Plan meals for the week:  After looking through the flyers and seeing what is on sale, I plan our meals for the week, and make sure that I include all ingredients that aren’t already in my pantry on my list.  I also plan to use some of the same ingredients in more than one meal that week.  I’m flexible with the plan, and sometimes change things a little over the course of the week, but this helps me have the right ingredients on hand, not need to run out to the grocery store, and really helps reduce waste from food going bad.  Meal planning helps me to buy the right amount of food for our needs for the week.  Not wasting food is better for the planet and helps me save money.
  • Go to only one store per week:  By limiting my shopping trip to only one store per week, I avoid the temptation to buy extras that are not on my grocery list.  If I go to multiple stores, I end up spending more money because of all the extras.  Best to avoid temptation all together.
  • Price match: Many grocery chains in Canada price match (like Real Canadian Superstore, FreshCo, No Frills and Walmart).  By price matching, I can go to just one grocery store but take advantage of the sale prices at all the different chains. This leads to great savings on fruits and vegetables in particular, as the different chains tend to put different items on at low prices in the same week.  So while one chain has a great price on grapes and oranges, a different chain has low prices on cucumbers and lettuce, while the third might have broccoli, carrots and green beans on for cheap.
save money buy spices in bulk

Photo by Greta Lorenz (CC BY-ND 2.0 licence)

  •  Buy spices in bulk:  I buy my spices in bulk (at The Bulk Barn usually) as the cost is significantly lower than buying spices in bottles. I usually pay between 10 and 25 cents for a small baggie of spices, as opposed to $4 or more for a bottle.  As an added bonus, I can buy a smaller quantity, which is helpful if trying out a new spice and also for freshness.  Spices lose their potency after a few months.  By buying in smaller quantities, I am able to use the spices up while they are still relatively fresh.

 

  • Make your own marinades:  I have started making my own marinades.  They are easy to make, I can adapt the flavours to our taste and I save money.  The cost of making my own marinade is usually less than half the cost of a store-bought one.
plant an herb garden

photo by blackeiffel (CC BY-NC 2.0 licence)

  •  Plant a herb garden:  If you use fresh herbs, consider planting a herb garden or even a few pots if you can’t have a garden.  Not only will it cost less, but your fresh-picked herbs will have even more flavour.

 

  • Use loyalty programs:  Many grocery chains have a loyalty program that is available for free.   You can earn points to redeem for free groceries.  If you are shopping there anyways, why not be rewarded for it?  The key to getting ahead with a loyalty program is to avoid buying items only because you will earn points.  Buying something just to get points will cost you more in the long run.  Buy what you need and you will see that the points will add up quickly.

These are some of the strategies that I use to save money while feeding my family healthy, great tasting food.  How do you save on groceries?  Please share your tricks and tips in the comments.

 

This post is sharing some love at these blog parties: Sunday Soiree Link UpMarvelous Mondays, Project Inspired, Tell Me About It Tuesdays, Wonderfully Creative Wednesdays, Wake Up Wednesdays, Create It Thursday, Pin It Thursday, Let’s Get Real, Best of the Weekend Party, Show Stopper Saturday, Show-Liscious Party

Are You a Wings Woman? Product Review – Always Infinity

Guys, you might want to skip this one as it deals with the dreaded topic – feminine hygiene products. 

Always InfinityI had the opportunity recently to try out Always Infinity pads for free through BzzAgent.  Although I’ve been using the regular Always pads forever, I was a little worried that I wouldn’t like these, because after agreeing to try them, I realized that Always Infinity pads all have wings.  And I hate wings.  A lot.  Or rather, I hated wings.  The wings on this product are different from the wings I’ve tried before, they are thinner, more flexible and do not feel like plastic.  They were comfortable and did the job and I didn’t even notice they were there.

Overall, I loved these.   Really.  I can’t believe I’m saying that about a pad, but it’s true.  They are comfortable, and even though they are super thin (no really, they are incredibly thin) they are super absorbent too.  The pad itself is made of some kind of space-age material, Infinicel, but it doesn’t feel like plastic because it is covered in a really soft material, making it comfortable to wear.  I don’t know about you, but when I’m already feeling crappy having my period, I want to only wear comfortable things.  And Always Infinity pads are comfortable. And reliable. No leaks, no gross wet feeling. Even during an exercise class at the gym.  So my worries about this product were needless.  I’m definitely a convert.  My only regret is that I didn’t try Always Infinity sooner.  And that I stocked up on my regular ones last month when there was a really good sale.

Fill the Yellow Bus Event

food drive for food bank

Last weekend, my local food bank held its annual “Fill the Yellow Bus” event. There were school buses parked in front of four of our local grocery stores, and volunteers were soliciting for donations. The goal: fill the yellow bus with food.

I volunteered for the event and it was rewarding to see so many people giving generously.

During this 7 hour event, over 8,000 lbs of food were collected.

Like many, my local food bank has been seeing an increase in need. It helped 50% more people in 2012 compared to 2011.

Giving to food banks, either in food or by cash donation, is something that has been important to me for a long time. I can remember in elementary school every December we would be asked to bring in non-perishable food donations for the food baskets that were made up for families in need. In those early years, around age 6 or 7, I had no idea of how close my family was to being a family in need. At that time I would proudly bring in my one or two cans of something. With time my family’s financial stability increased, and so did my donations. I always felt compelled to bring in as much as I could. The idea of people not having enough to eat seemed so wrong and I just wanted to help.

Today, I still donate to food banks. The thought of people not having enough to eat is profoundly disturbing to me. If someone doesn’t have enough to eat, it will affect every aspect of his/her life and that person has very little opportunity to change his/her situation. Food is a basic need without which we cannot survive. Yet many Canadians do not have enough to eat.

Each month, over 880,000 Canadians receive food from a food bank. In addition to that, close to 4 million meals are prepared and served by soup kitchens, shelters, school breakfast initiatives and other programs. That adds up to almost 50 million meals per year. That is a lot of Canadians that are unable to get enough food without help.

Of those helped by food banks, 38% are children and youth.

The thought of not having enough to eat each day is painful. I cannot truly imagine what that is like. Not having enough to eat is bad enough. Not being able to provide enough food for one’s children must feel like torture.

Food banks are often run by volunteers and they depend on the generosity of members of their local community to provide help for others who are in need. In recent years, many food banks in Canada have had to deal with an increase in demand, while at the same time facing a decrease in donations as so many more have been in need.

The typical help that a food bank provides is 3 to 7 days worth of food, once per month. That is all. Three to seven days worth of food… In 2012, 55% of food banks had to cut back the amount of food they provided to each household.

If you and your family have enough to eat, I urge you; please give to your local food bank today and help feed families in your community.

*statistics used were taken from HungerCount 2012

Signs of Spring

Around here we’ve been teased with previews of spring, and then walloped again with winter. But today, there were several signs for me that spring really is here.

First sign

Image

A crocus, growing in my backyard!  While this might not seem worthy of exclamation marks to you, thanks to a wily squirrel, it is to me.

I planted lots of bulbs in the fall, including about 40 crocuses in the lawn.  I covered all my spots with chili flakes to keep the squirrels away.  Apparently crocus and tulip bulbs are like crack to squirrels, but they are reputed to not like chili.  It seems the squirrels in my neighbourhood don’t know that, because within 24 hours of planting, a squirrel had already found the bulbs and dug them up! 

All winter I was left wondering if there would be any flowers in my yard, but  the squirrel missed a couple in the backyard and a few more in the front. 

Image

another crocus, this time just the bud — but soon, a full flower

 

And Mr. Squirrel left me a few tulips too. 

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a tulip sprouting

 

Second sign

Click to listen, then click play button 

That is the sound of a spring peeper, which is a tiny little frog that calls early in spring.  Spring peepers are hard to see because they are tiny, but they are easy to hear as they have a very loud call. 

Spring Peeper 3

the little cross on the back is the distinctive mark of the spring peeper

Spring Peeper 2

and so is its tiny size – this one is full grown!

I’ve been hearing the spring peepers calling from the small, temporary pond behind the house since Monday.  They are one of my favorite signs of spring.

What signs of spring have you seen or heard?

 

Hot Air Balloons

I’ve loved hot air balloons since I was young.  I always wondered what it would be like to float away in one.

One morning, shortly after moving to Ottawa for university, I looked out the window and saw a beautiful hot air balloon.  And then I noticed there was a second one.  Eventually, I realized there were a few dozen hot air balloons flying around.  It was the Gatineau Hot Air Balloon Festival.

Since that first discovery of the festival, there have been many mornings on Labour Day weekend when I have watched the balloons.  It’s always in the early morning, a little after sunrise.  There is something incredibly peaceful and contemplative about being up early and watching their quiet flight, admiring the beautiful colours and interesting shapes. 

But watching the balloons just isn’t enough.  I’ve always wanted to go up in one.  This year, Greg and I decided it was time.  Last week, he made reservations for us, and so weather permitting, we would go up in a hot air balloon on Sunday evening. 

Greg and I arrived at the festival early and enjoyed many of the other things the festival has to offer.  As the time for the flight approached, I wondered if we would be able to go up.  While we were in the waiting area, we discovered the balloons had not been able to go up at on Saturday evening or on Sunday morning.  There wasn’t enough wind.  It didn’t look good. 

While we were waiting, one of the volunteers told me there was a light wind, but it was in the wrong direction.  The balloons are not allowed to go over Gatineau Park because they can’t land safely there.  And the wind was in that direction.  So we waited.  And waited… 

Our pilot, Chantale, came to get us and walked us over to her area.  She laid out her balloon as it needed to dry following her landing in a wet field the previous morning.  And we waited to get official word about if the balloons would be allowed to launch.  Finally the word came.  It was a go.  The hot air balloons were given permission to fly!

The frenzy of getting the balloon up started.  All around us on the field, we saw balloons start to inflate.  Then it was suddenly time to get into the basket and go.  We were the third hot air balloon to go up.  It was so exciting!  The view of the city opened up before us.  It was difficult to know in which direction to look, there was so much to see.  And then looking back at the field, we watched the other balloons start to take flight. 

Time seemed to fly as we were floating by.  It felt like we had been up in the air for only about 5 minutes when the pilot started looking for a landing site.  In reality, we had been up for about a half hour by then. 

Our pilot spotted a small field that seemed as though it would be a suitable landing site, but there was a light post at the outside edge of it that could be problematic.  She brought us down in a open area just past the field, the balloon touched down, tipped on its side (at that point, it felt like everyone was going to land on top of me) and then lifted up again.  But not very high, just high enough to get us trapped in some low trees. 

Landing in trees is not what any hot air balloon pilot wants.  The basket gets trapped, the balloon is at risk of getting punctured and there is a significant fire hazard because of the open flame from the burners.  This is not where we wanted to be.  With much effort from her ground crew who were there very quickly, the balloon was eventually freed and they pulled us out of the woods. 

The balloon ride was fabulous!  Our crash landing just added more drama and adventure.  And Greg and I decided that it is definitely something we would like to do again.

Image

At this point, we didn’t think permission would be granted to launch, so we thought this might be as close as we would get to the balloon.

Ottawa, Canada

Inflating Yellow Jack

Balloon festival Ottawa

She’s up! And Greg was paying attention and is running toward the balloon to climb in. I was distracted and looking at everything going on around me.

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Just before liftoff

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And we have liftoff!

Ottawa Hot Air balloons

Isn’t the view fabulous?

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Greg, taking it all in

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everywhere you look, hot air balloons!