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Visiting Disney for the First Time? Here are 10 Important Tips!

If it’s your first time visit to Walt Disney World , congrats! Visiting Disney is exciting, no matter if it’s your first or tenth time! Heading to Disney with kids for the first time, though, can be stressful if you don’t have a plan. Some tips for your first time visit to Disney may put your mind at ease, and help make your trip amazing for the family.

8 Important Things to Know Before Planning a First Trip to Disney

1. Plan, plan, plan

There are four theme parks in Disney World: Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom, not to mention two water parks including Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon. Breaking up your trip into one park per day is likely the only way to enjoy each park.

If you have any essential attractions you absolutely must see, or particular rides you must try, you will need to plan your day in advance. Create an itinerary while understanding that due to weather and line-ups, things may not go as planned. Give yourself plenty of time in between activities to account for waiting in lines, as well as meltdowns not only from tired kids but also stressed-out parents!

2. Use Plan Disney

If you’re in the early planning stages of a Disney vacation, you’ll find plenty of great resources at the Plan Disney. It’s a free forum where Disney ‘experts’ offer first-hand experience and advice and answer user questions about hotels, rides, and attractions.

3. Get there early

The early bird catches the worm, especially when visiting Disney! Get to the parks as early as possible, and get to your must-see attractions and rides first thing. Guests staying at Disney Resort hotels and select other hotels can take advantage of a 30-minute early entry into Walt Disney World theme parks every day. During the early entry period, certain attractions, merchandise and food and beverage locations will be open. Learn more about early entry here.

4. Patience is key

Traveling with kids can be tough, especially if you factor in ages, different temperaments, special needs, and stressed out parents! Everyone will need lots of breaks, and that’s okay. Plan breaks accordingly and try not to rush through. You don’t have to see everything in one day, so take your time and enjoy each attraction. You’ve planned a trip to Disney to create memories, right? Remember that when your 3-year-old has her third meltdown before noon.

Need to decompress? No problem! Check out the Baby Care Center, a quiet space for when you need to get away. There’s changing tables, a nursing area, a kitchen, and more.

5. Bring a stroller

A stroller can be a pain to lug around if your kids are older, but if they’re at the age where they’re going to get tired and want to take a nap, a stroller is a must! Even 4 and 5 year olds can get worn out enough to take a little nap in a stroller. The alternative is carrying a 40+ pound kid and that gets tiring, fast. Plus, a stroller can carry all the bags!

6. Pack your own food

This is probably one of the number one questions asked, whether guests are allowed to bring food into Disney. You may bring snacks or foods that do not require heating, such as granola bars, cereal, fruit snacks, etc. If you’re traveling during the summer months, be sure to pack snacks that won’t melt! 

7. Download the Disney App

Make the most of your time at Disney by downloading My Disney Experience free app. This app will help you coordinate dining reservations, FastPass+, help you with wait times, maps and find out where Disney characters are hiding out.  Plus, all your family members can use the same account and follow the same itinerary.

Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom Park with Boys!

8. Kids get lost

Obviously losing a kid at Disney is a worst-case-scenario type thing, but wouldn’t you rather be safe than sorry? When you head to Disney with kids, make sure you have a Safety Plan in place. Talk to your kids about where to go and what to do if you get separated. Consider writing your phone number in permanent marker on the inside of your child’s arm (or using those phone number tattoos), so if they get lost and someone finds them, they can call you. If the kids are older, make sure they have your number memorized and know who they should (and should not) approach to get help if they’re trying to find you.

9. Make dinner reservations

If you want to dine at any of the resort’s 300-some restaurants, you’ll have to make dinner reservations in advance – even months in advance! Some visitors book their Disney vacation when they offer free dining promotions, which can include one quick-service meal, one table-service meal and one snack per person, per night of your stay. If you wait and plan your vacation when a promotion arises, you can save money.

Fantasyland at Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom

10. Where to Stay

When trying to decide whether to stay at a Disney resort or a non-Disney property, there are several factors to consider. You might think you’ll save a ton of money by staying off-site, but there are pros and cons to both options.

Most parents who have been to Disney will tell you that staying on-site is worth the extra you’ll spend. Once you factor in the extra stress staying off-site can bring, you might realize it’s worth it to splurge a bit. Plus, if the little ones need a break in the middle of the day, you’ll be able to head to the room to take a nap without the hassle of leaving the property. Bonus: Ask to get a wake-up calls from a Disney character.

Disney hotels are likely more expensive, but you’ll have quicker access to the parks. Plus, staying at a Disney resort grants you other perks like extended park hours (known as “Extra Magic Hours”), the ability to book early dining reservations and free transportation to the parks.

The Disney website has a filter option to help guests compare hotels on the property, an efficient tool for determining which resort is best for you and your family. For example, Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa and Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort offer transportation to the parks with access to the monorail, while other properties like Disney’s Pop Century and Disney’s All-Star Movies Resort are more affordable, but not as close to the action.

If you have small children, Magic Kingdom and the water parks are huge attractions. Tweens and teenagers will want to be closer to Hollywood Studios, the Boardwalk, and Epcot’s World Showcase.

There are also lovely hotels in the Orlando area to consider, like the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress, as well as vacation home rentals.

Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress Luxury for the Family

Remember, the most important part of your Disney trip is to create memories! Take a break when the kids need it, or when you need it, and don’t overbook yourself. Have fun!

Weight Loss Tips for Women at 40 and Over That Work

Over 40 and can’t lose weight? I feel you! It doesn’t matter if you’ve been active and in shape throughout your early years – those extra pounds sneak up on you. Suddenly you’re waking up to discover that your body has extra cushion in places you never once thought were possible.

As you age, menopause, hormonal changes, slower metabolism, and a host of other factors can make losing weight at 40 trickier – but it’s not impossible!

Skipping an extra scoop of ice cream or throwing in some workout routines could be the only thing you need to do to get your body back in shape in your 20’s. But at 40, when your hormones are starting to bubble out and your metabolism nosediving, what used to seem like your perfect formula for weight loss could simply become the recipe for a major weight gain.

Did you just celebrate your 40th birthday with plausible success in your life, family, and work but can’t say the same about your efforts at losing weight? It has always been the same story for every woman trying to shed some excess body weight and stay in top shape at 40 and over.

But every step you take at shedding some extra pounds doesn’t have to be an uphill battle for you anymore. If you’ve been struggling with your weight after clocking 40, and do not want to constantly upgrade your closet with the next size up every year, then here are some practicable and easy-to-do tips that can make a big difference in your weight loss journey at 40.

Eat mindfully and without distractions

Losing weight at 40 is already a tricky thing to do, but guess what makes it a lot trickier? Not paying attention to little things such as eating mindfully.

At 20, you could possibly get away with eating the delicious food you just bought or cooked while watching your favorite T.V series, but at 40, every extra bite you take without being mindful will boost your chances of gaining more weight.

Research by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that people who had one snack or the other while watching TV ate about 10% more per sitting than those who focused on their food.

At 40, it would be best if you start practicing mindfulness over meals while avoiding every form of distraction. You should listen more to your body and stop eating when you are satisfied and not when you feel stuffed.

Feed your gut

Paying attention to your gut health is important at any age, but at 40, you should take your gut health more seriously than before. Challenges associated with menopause and hormonal fluctuation can be regulated by introducing prebiotic-fiber-rich foods like leafy greens and asparagus. This has been found to help reduce the risk of colon cancer and estrogen concentrations in the bloodstream while also helping you avoid the mood swings and hot flashes that can hit around mid-life.

Stay active with weight/resistance training

Naturally, women have lower muscle mass than the male counterparts, and while you age, the little muscle tissues you have left get depleted over time. Studies show a 1% depletion over the years starting at age 30, and that’s 10% muscle loss at age 40. After age 30, you begin to lose as much as 3% to 5% per decade. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/preserve-your-muscle-mass  Having a higher muscle mass is associated with an increased metabolism rate, hence, the need to build and maintain your muscle mass by throwing in some lightweight and resistance training.  

At 40, you don’t want to hit the gym 7 days a week and 10 hours a day. Your bones and joints may have become weaker with lots of physical activities during your youthful years, so you don’t want to go about overworking them at this age. 30 minutes of strength training 3 to 5 times a week should just be enough.

It doesn’t matter if you only want to shed the weight around your midsection; you should focus on all muscle groups to lose weight and build muscles while also reshaping your body composition.

Try to reduce stress level

Between career and family responsibilities, it is easy for women at 40 to experience an increased stress level. What stress does at this age is pile up and lead to an increase in hormones like cortisol, known to be responsible for causing your body to store fat rather than burning them.

A quick fixhttps://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2958879/ to this is upping your vitamin c and omega-3 fatty acids. This has been found to reduce the circulation of stress hormones in the body.  

Cut on your alcohol consumption

What we eat often gets the spotlight when it comes to losing bodyweight. But, to really lose weight, what we drink is as important as what we eat.

The word “cut,” in this context, implies that if you just can’t let go of gobbling down your favorite alcoholic brand, then start doing it moderately.

Losing weight at age 40 takes some level of discipline. Alas, gulping 7 ounces of beer with 1.5 shots of distilled spirits and half a bottle of vino repeatedly every night must come to an end.

Heavy alcohol consumption has been linked to lowering inhibitions and stimulating appetite. Mindlessly eating more than what your body needs would mean increased calorie intake, and this will do you no good when trying to cut some slacks on your body weight at 40.

Sleep disruption is also one of the effects of heavy alcohol consumption. A healthy or poor sleep cycle plays a crucial role in weight management and belly fat accumulation. A quick fix to this is establishing a drinking strategy that may include limiting alcohol intake to weekends only or reducing your consumption to one drink per day.

Eat more protein

For your body to burn more calories, it needs to work harder. A simple trick to help your body burn more calories is by upping your amount of protein intake. Naturally, your body does more work digesting proteins than it does for carbs and fats. Studies have found that an increase in your protein intake to about 30% of your total calories can boost the calories your body burns during digestion while also preventing lean muscle protein breakdown, which may help you speed up weight loss.  

Avoid some medications if possible

At 40, you need to be mindful of what side effects medication has on your body composition. Weight gain may be influenced by some medications or even diseases such as thyroid, which most women suffer from at this age. Before you try to lose weight on your own, talk to your doctor about getting some tests done to be sure your weight increase isn’t caused by a medicine or disease.

Watch what you eat at night

Most people don’t associate eating late at night with weight gain. In fact, some people think it’s a myth. But it’s not just about eating late at night. When it comes to body weight management, it’s what you eat at night that can be a problem. Calorie-dense, high-sugar foods, such as ice cream in the evening or midnight munchies, might make weight loss more difficult.

Avoid a sedentary lifestyle at all cost

At 40, it is understandable that you may become less active and may even want to do more of working remotely than going out daily. If you are having problems managing your body weight, inactivity and a sedentary lifestyle can be major factors.

A study carried out by the American Journal of clinical nutrition has found a sedentary lifestyle to be a predominant factor in weight gain. Staying active won’t only enhance your metabolism. The endorphins released during exercise will also boost your mood. Taking a daily walk while listening to your favorite music or podcast in the company of a group of walk buddies can be one of the better ways to stay active at 40.

Switch up your fragrance

This one definitely looks weird, but the results of a study published in the Journal of Neurological and Orthopaedic Surgery reveal that sniffing scents like apple and mint increased weight loss among study subjects.

So, if you’ve always loved scents, now is the time to sniff your way to a smaller physique. Fragrant goods, such as tea tree shampoo or an apple-inflected perfume, should be added to your shopping list.  

Spice up your sex life

At 40, has your sex life plummeted and doesn’t seem to be on your list of things you now prioritize? What if you knew that a little action between the sheets could cut some weight off the scale? Studies have found that apart from sex being a great stress reliever, it can also lower the belly-fat-storage hormone cortisol in your bloodstream. 

What’s a better reason to get a little action between the sheets anyway?

 

How to Make an Easy Authentic Italian Traditional Tiramisu

With Easter season comes the request from the husband for traditional Tiramisu. Traditional tiramisu is made with ladyfinger cookies dipped in coffee and layered with a mascarpone cheese mix and whipped cream.

tir·a·mi·su
[ˌtirəməˈso͞o] NOUN 

an Italian dessert consisting of layers of sponge cake soaked in coffee and brandy or liqueur with powdered chocolate and mascarpone cheese.

Tiramisu is a velvety concoction of savoiardi lady fingers biscuits soaked in espresso, covered with delicately sweetened beaten eggs and mascarpone cheese, and dusted with chocolate powder. Its name, tirami sù, means “pick me up,” possibly referring to the stimulating effects of the caffeine in the espresso and chocolate used in the recipe.

The ultra-creamy, melt-in-your-mouth texture is pure bliss, and eating this classic Italian dessert is a must. Tiramisu has been used to make a wide range of cakes and sweets, and different variations too – like this Lemon Tiramisu with fresh lemon curd and Limoncello.  The origins of Tiramisu are a source of contention between the Italian regions of Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia.  The most traditional kind is the coffee-flavoured version.

Here is how to make an easy, authentic Italian traditional Tiramisu.

How to Make an Easy Authentic Italian Traditional Tiramisu

Ingredients

6 egg yolks (large)

3/4 cup white sugar

2/3 cup milk

1 1/4 cups heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

475 grams mascarpone cheese

1 cup espresso (about 3 long espressos) or strong coffee, room temperature

3 tablespoons rum

400 gram package savoiardi lady fingers

2 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder

Method

  1. In a medium saucepan, whisk together egg yolks and sugar until well blended.
  2. Whisk in milk and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture boils. Boil gently for 1 minute, remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.
  3. Cover tightly and chill in refrigerator 1 hour.
  4. In a medium bowl, beat cream with vanilla until stiff peaks form.
  5. Whisk mascarpone into yolk mixture until smooth.
  6. In a shallow bowl, combine coffee and rum. Quickly dip lady fingers one by one to line the bottom of a 7 x 11 inch dish.
  7. Spread half of mascarpone mixture over ladyfingers.
  8. Spread half of whipped cream over the mascarpone.
  9. Repeat with one more layer of ladyfingers, mascarpone and whipped cream.
  10. Sprinkle cocoa over top.
  11. Cover and refrigerate 4 to 6 hours, until set.

How to Make an Easy Authentic Italian Traditional Tiramisu

How to make traditional Tiramisu

 

How to Make an Easy Authentic Italian Traditional Tiramisu

How to make traditional Tiramisu

The ultra-creamy, melt-in-your-mouth texture of this authentic, traditional Italian Tiramisu is pure bliss.

Prep Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Additional Time 6 hours
Total Time 7 hours 30 minutes

Ingredients

  • 6 egg yolks (large)
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 1 1/4 cups heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 475 grams mascarpone cheese
  • 1 cup espresso (about 3 long espressos) or strong coffee, room temperature
  • 3 tablespoons rum
  • 400 gram package Savoiardi Lady Fingers
  • 2 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder

Instructions

    1. In a medium saucepan, whisk together egg yolks and sugar until well blended.
    2. Whisk in milk and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture boils. Boil gently for 1 minute, remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.
    3. Cover tightly and chill in refrigerator 1 hour.
    4. In a medium bowl, beat cream with vanilla until stiff peaks form.
    5. Whisk mascarpone into yolk mixture until smooth.
    6. In a shallow bowl, combine coffee and rum. Quickly dip lady fingers one by one to line the bottom of a 7 x 11 inch dish.
    7. Spread half of mascarpone mixture over ladyfingers.
    8. Spread half of whipped cream over the mascarpone.
    9. Repeat with one more layer of ladyfingers, mascarpone and whipped cream.
    10. Sprinkle cocoa over top.
    11. Cover and refrigerate 4 to 6 hours, until set.

    How to Make an Easy Authentic Italian Traditional Tiramisu

     

    You might also want to try…

    Lemon Tiramisu with Fresh Lemon Curd and Limoncello

    9 Ways to Connect with Your Teen

    Being a parent is hard but being a parent to a teenager is even harder. 

    Teenagers are hormonal! They’re dealing with pressures from school, their peers, and in this high-tech environment, social media too. They’re also testing their boundaries, branching out to be more independent, and truly becoming their own person.

    Connecting with your teenager is important to maintaining a healthy and open relationship. But when hormones, rebellion, and peer pressure come into play, finding ways to connect with your teen seems even more challenging.

    Despite the challenges, the teenage years are quite incredible… and with the right approach, your relationship with your teenager can reach a deeper level.

    Here are some ways to connect with your teenager.

    Say I love you often

    It may seem obvious but telling your teen that you love them is important. Hug them, kiss them on the cheek with that big embarrassing kiss, and scream your love for them through the schoolyard… well, maybe not that last one! Saying “I love you” often reminds your teenager that you are always there for them and love them unconditionally. 

    One of the few constants in a child’s life is their parents’ love. You’re not flawless and neither are they, but you share a special bond that will last a lifetime. To get through the toughest moments, you’ll need each other. Your teen may grow weary of hearing those words and may not say it back every time, but they’ll remember you said it often and you were always there for them, demonstrating your affection. Showing them you are thinking about them and love them can be also as simple as making them their favourite dessert, or surprising them with tickets to a movie.

    Talk to your teen.

    Communicating with your teen is important to maintaining a positive relationship. Talk with your teenager. Make jokes, ask questions, and tell stories. In any relationship, communication is crucial. If you can make them smile and laugh with you, you’ve succeeded.

    Nowadays, people are absorbed with teeny-tiny windows on their phones. You’ll never know who your teen is if you let them hide behind their phone or laptop. It’s mind-boggling how much you may lose out on if you don’t make an effort to interact with someone who lives with you.

    While technology can have its benefits – sometimes texting with your teen is also a great way to bond – it will never be the same as face-to-face communication.

    Also, be ready for your teen to come to you when they feel like talking… even if it’s later in the night. I find often that my teenager will come into my room in the evening when I’m already in bed, and they’ll want to chat at 10:00 p.m. These are the moments when they’re ready to talk – and while I’m ready for bed, I make it a point to be available and listen.

    Just Listen.

    Simply, what teenagers need are parents who are genuinely interested in what they have to say. The teen years are tough for young adults! While you may see their problems as minor, don’t minimize them; these “little” things can feel monumental to them. Their “teen angst” is real. Whether they’re struggling with school, feeling rejection, dealing with bullies, or simply feeling overwhelmed by life, be there to listen. No matter what, you want to be the person they turn to when things go wrong. You will want your teen to feel encouraged to approach you when they need a shoulder to cry on, or someone to talk to. You will want them to feel safe coming to you, and in a judgement-free environment.

    Make time for your teen.

    Your time is the most precious thing you can give to anyone. That is something your children are entitled to. People grow apart as they get older. It is, nonetheless, critical to maintain constant contact with your adolescent. If you have more than one teenager, make an effort to spend one-on-one time with each of them whenever possible.

    I cherish the times I spend with my teenagers together, but that one-on-one time is so precious. I find conversations in the car the best ones with my teenagers; when we’re together driving somewhere and it’s just the two of us, we’ll start to really let lose, open up and start talking about what’s on their mind.

    With hectic schedules and our teenagers’ activities and homework, finding time to do much else may quickly become an afterthought. Schedule regular “dates” with your young adults, such as going for a drive, watching a movie, taking a walk, or playing a game or sport. Spending more time together doing something fun is a guaranteed way to strengthen your relationship.

    Give them space.

    At the same time, give them space. If you notice your teen needs some time away from you, give them the courtesy of that space. They may not be ready to talk to you or hang out with you.

    Don’t force them to open up or spend time together – this will only make things worse. It’s important to let them know you’re there for them. 

    On the other hand, keep an eye out if they begin to fully retreat. Don’t assume everything is fine and they’ve been hiding out in their room for days as normal behaviour, because “they’re a teenager”. While not every adolescent suffers from depression, anxiety, or suicidal ideation, these issues are common among teenagers. If you suspect your young adult is dealing with a mental health concern, reach out for help.

    Have an open door.

    At this age, teenagers’ friends are so important. Invite your teen’s friends over as often as possible, allowing your home to become a welcoming, pleasant hangout spot for after-school hangouts and weekend get-togethers. You may get to know your child’s friends and keep a close eye on them without being too pushy – and even understand your teen even better too!

    Be interested in what they do.

    What does your teenager like to do? Do they have hobbies they enjoy? Encourage your teen to pursue something they love and show interest in it too. Sure, you may not be a fan of the video games they play, the music they listen to, or the movies or shows they watch. But you should want to be open to hearing all about it! It’s important to support your kid’s interests and get involved when and where you can.

    Do they enjoy watching or playing a sport? Participate by watching the game with them, or being that parent at their games, cheering on from the sidelines. They will appreciate it in the future and remember that you were there.

    Share meals together.

    No matter how busy a household can be, finding time to sit down and eat together is the best way for the family to stay connected. Make it a habit in your home to sit down and eat meals as a family, whether it’s for breakfast, lunch, a weekend brunch, or dinner. You may keep up on current events and trends, share stories of the day from school, or talk about the latest news in pop culture.  Pre-COVID, my family and I used to enjoy our bi-weekly dinners out; it became a ritual and something we all looked forward to doing together.

    Set healthy boundaries.

    While you’d like to be your teenager’s friend, remember that you’re still their parent. Most teenagers don’t need another friend; they need you to teach, nurture, and guide them as their parent. Don’t confuse your connection for friendship; it’s obviously a lot stronger.

    Setting proper limits is an important aspect of being a parent, and it’s also a good way to strengthen your bond with your teen. Even if the “you’re the worst mom/dad ever!” comments start flying when you set limits, your teens will appreciate you later when they have grown into respectful, responsible adults.

    When I didn’t allow my teen son to go out with friends because he hadn’t finished his school assignments, he was angry with me. It was only later that he told me how much he appreciated my sternness when I took away those privileges – he actually thanked me for being firm. Mind blown!

    Healthy limits are vital for teens, even if they aren’t always easy. You’re not doing them any favours if you let them run all over you because you’re afraid of offending them.

    group of teenagers sitting and smiling

    What to Bring on a Day Trip to Ontario Parks

    Looking for a little family getaway outdoors but just for the day? Pack some outdoor gear, a picnic lunch, and head out to one of Ontario’s Parks!

    What to bring on a day trip to an Ontario Park? It all depends on which Ontario Park you choose! Since there are over 300 provincial parks in Ontario, with more than 100 operating parks with visitor facilities, there is undoubtedly a park close by for you to enjoy with the family.

    We’re lucky to have Sibbald Point Provincial Park about a half hour away from home. Located on Lake Simcoe, this park has camping, picnicking, fishing, boating, and swimming from its clean and sandy beach. Living close to nature and spending time outdoors has so many benefits including reducing stress and improving your mental health. So, we’ll be sure to take several day trips to Sibbald Point during the summer – it’s our go-to spot for sun and sand.

    What do we bring for the day? Typically, we pack a cooler, portable BBQ, mini-tent and beach chairs and head up to the lake for a day of beach fun. The most important part in our family? The food! My hungry teen boys like to ensure we’ve packed enough food and snacks for our visits to the park.

    Packing sandwiches is fast and convenient, but when you want something a little extra, we like to make something hot off the grill, like our own homemade burgers with some yummy sides.

    Bringing a picnic lunch to an Ontario Park takes a little bit of preparation but it’s oh so worth it when you’re hungry from swimming in the lake. I’ll break it down for you with some tips and ideas on what to bring on a day trip to Ontario Parks.

    What to bring on a day trip to Ontario Parks

    Prep ahead of time

    The key to having a delicious picnic is all about preparation! Plan out your lunch menu and snacks ahead of your trip. Instead of bringing everything with you to prepare there, have everything ready beforehand, and leaving the finishing touches at the Ontario Park of your choice.

    For this visit, I’m making homemade burgers with a pasta salad and coleslaw – you’ll find my recipes below. I’ll have mostly everything prepared in advance so that once it’s time to start cooking, the prep is minimal.

    I prepared the burgers at home and placed the patties in between wax-paper, then stored in a plastic container. I find using reusable containers and cutlery the easiest and greenest way to store food for the day. Also, I prepared the pasta salad and coleslaw but didn’t add the dressings until it was time to eat, to avoid soggy sides.

    Don’t forget to pack fresh fruit as well! I’ll chop up half a watermelon and store in a container to avoid making a mess on site.  Nuts and/or trail mix, granola bars, and cheese and crackers are good snack options too.

    The Ontario Parks website has some great tips on what you need to help plan your day-visit or camping trip. 

    Packing food

    We have a large cooler with a drain plug and wheels, which is convenient to carry.  I usually pack some ice at the bottom of the cooler, and then add the meat and mayo-based dishes closest to the ice, then adding bottled drinks and fruits closer to the top.

    Adding frozen drinks such as water to the cooler serves two purposes: extra ice for the cooler and ice-cold drinks during a heat wave!

    Make sure to keep a few garbage bags with you; one to collect recyclables, and one for garbage. Since we’re only going for the day, we bring our garbage (which is minimal) back with us. Any paper towel or napkins can go right back into the food containers to bring home.

    Other food ideas?

    Other than sandwiches and burgers, what else can you bring to your picnic? Think of your regular lunch fare and kick it up a notch!

    • Add some oomph to your regular hot dogs by cooking a chili in advance and use as a topping; heat up some chili before you head out to the Park and keep in a thermos to stay warm.
    • Skewers are a quick and delicious option. Chicken or pork souvlaki with Tzatziki and pita is a winner anytime, anywhere.
    • Sausage on a bun with corn
    • Ontario Parks website has some other great camping meal ideas.

    Portable grill or camping stove?

    Most people who camp use a camp stove or the campfire. But if you’re heading out for a day visit, a portable propane grill is your best bet. While charcoal BBQ tastes good, it does tend to cause a lot of smoke and smell, especially if you’re grilling in a picnic area close to a lot of other visitors.

    If you’re a regular camper, you may prefer a camp stove or simply your campfire.  It might be more convenient because you can bring both a frying pan and a pot for cooking different types of foods. You can cook just about anything on a two-burner camping stove that you could cook on your stovetop at home. The trick is making sure that your stove offers decent wind protection and simmer control. 

    In our case, my propane grill wasn’t working properly so I opted to use a camp stove to cook our burgers. Cooking food on the campfire can be fun but it does take longer to cook as you won’t want to cook your food right over the flames, but off to the side.  Many fire-pits in come with a camp grill at Ontario Parks. You can use some aluminum foil and place directly on the grill, or with a cast iron pan – be sure to have heat-resistant oven gloves. Ontario Parks has some great tips on camping stoves.

    Here is my simple and easy recipe for Homemade Hamburgers and Easy Pasta Salad:

    Homemade Hamburgers

    Ingredients:

    • 1 ½ lbs of AAA or Angus ground beef, lean
    • 1 onion, shredded
    • 1 tbsp ketchup or barbecue sauce
    • 1 tsp garlic powder
    • 1 tsp onion powder
    • 1 tsp mustard powder
    • 1 tsp sea salt
    • ½ tsp pepper
    • ½ tsp chipotle sauce or dried
    • 1 egg

    Directions:

    1. In a large bowl, add ground beef, and all other ingredients.
    2. Mix well and then form the well-seasoned beef into patties.
    3. Pack them between layers of waxed paper and store in a reusable container.
    4. Grill on each side for about 5-7 minutes.
    5. Enjoy!

    Easy Pasta Salad

    Ingredients:

    • 500 grams rotini or fusilli pasta (regular or gluten-free)
    • 1 red onion sliced thin
    • 2 carrots, shredded
    • ½ cup black olives, sliced
    • ½ yellow or red pepper, sliced
    • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
    • ¼ cup white vinegar
    • 1 tbsp. each oregano, basil, garlic powder, thyme, rosemary
    • 1 tbsp. sugar
    • 1 tsp each salt and pepper

    Directions:

    1. Cook pasta until al dente. In the meantime, slice or shred all vegetables and add to a medium-size reusable container.
    2. In a small container, mix olive oil, vinegar and spices and sugar, and shake until mixed.
    3. When pasta is ready, remove from heat and immediately drain with cold water. Once cool, add pasta to a reusable container.
    4. Add 2 tbsp of olive to pasta to keep moist. Keep dressing and vegetables separate until ready to serve.

    Yield: 6

    Homemade Hamburgers

    Homemade Hamburgers

    Ingredients

    • 1 ½ lbs of AAA or Angus ground beef, lean
    • 1 onion, shredded
    • 1 tbsp ketchup or barbecue sauce
    • 1 tsp garlic powder
    • 1 tsp onion powder
    • 1 tsp mustard powder
    • 1 tsp sea salt
    • ½ tsp pepper
    • ½ tsp chipotle sauce or dried
    • 1 egg

    Instructions

      1. In a large bowl, add ground beef, and all other ingredients.
      2. Mix well and then form the well-seasoned beef into patties.
      3. Pack them between layers of waxed paper and store in a reusable container.
      4. Grill for about 7 minutes on one side, flip and grill for another 7 minutes on the other side.
    Yield: 4

    Easy Pasta Salad

    Easy Pasta Salad

    The perfect side dish for my homemade hamburger recipe for a picnic or day visit to an Ontario Park.

    Prep Time 15 minutes
    Cook Time 10 minutes
    Total Time 25 minutes

    Ingredients

    • 500 grams rotini or fusilli pasta (regular or gluten-free)
    • 1 red onion sliced thin
    • 2 carrots, shredded
    • ½ cup black olives, sliced
    • ½ yellow or red pepper, sliced
    • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
    • ¼ cup white vinegar
    • 1 tbsp each oregano, basil, garlic powder, thyme, rosemary
    • 1 tbsp sugar
    • 1 tsp each salt and pepper

    Instructions

      1. Cook pasta until al dente. In the meantime, slice or shred all vegetables and add to a medium-size reusable container.
      2. In a small container, mix olive oil, vinegar and spices and sugar, and shake until mixed.
      3. When pasta is ready, remove from heat and immediately drain with cold water. Once cool, add pasta to a reusable container.
      4. Add 2 tbsp. of olive to pasta to keep moist.

    Notes

    Keep dressing and vegetables separate until ready to serve.

     

    How to visit an Ontario Park

    Reserve your daily vehicle permit in advance of your visit to avoid disappointment. Select Ontario parks are offering free visits from Monday to Thursday! To learn more, visit Ontario Parks:  https://www.ontarioparks.com/reservations

     

     

     

    This post is proudly sponsored by Ontario Parks. As always, the opinions expressed are my own.

     

    Best Places to Travel With Kids in the U.S.

    There are so many places to travel with kids in the U.S., and so many variables, too! Where you should go depends on what your family likes, how old your kids are, what your budget is, and how long you have for your trip. But what are the best places to travel with kids in the U.S.?

    If you and your family have a tight budget, consider staying local. Search your state + vacation + budget to find the best spots that won’t break the bank. There are so many beautiful places to travel with kids in your own state, that you can easily take a road trip.

    But if you’re considering a different state, travelling with kids when they’re young can provide savings too; when they’re under 2 years old, they fly for free! So that’d be the perfect time to fly to Hawaii or another far-away location before you have to pay for a plane ticket.

    How can you decide where to travel with kids in the U.S.? We’ve narrowed it down a little for you… Here are the best places to travel with kids in the U.S.

    Best Places to Travel With Kids in the U.S.

    Niagara Falls

    Known as America’s Oldest State Park, Niagara Falls is home to the Aquarium of Niagara, which will probably be your child’s favorite part of the visit! You can get up close and personal with penguins and even sharks!

    Photo by hk on Unsplash

    Grand Canyon

    Just like Niagara Falls, people travel from all over the world to visit the Grand Canyon. If you’re visiting, be sure to check out this Arizona Bucket List before you go!

    Photo by Christine Roy on Unsplash

    San Diego

    With year-round warm weather, miles of gorgeous beaches and fun outdoor activities, San Diego is a top vacation spot in the U.S. because of its fun family vibe. One of the most-visited cities in the world and home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the U.S., families can explore 70 miles of shoreline during their San Diego family vacation. San Diego also features some of the top tourist attractions for families; there’s plenty to do and see for kids of all ages.

    San Diego is a Fun Destination for the Family - Belmont Park rides

    Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

    This is one of those spots that you don’t want to forget your camera for! Go hiking, visit the Jagger museum, take the Crater Rim Tour, or just drive Chain of Craters Road. Before you go, you can check the volcano conditions. Sounds crazy, right? “Check volcano conditions before you go!”

    Image by Tommy Beatty from Pixabay

    Golden Gate Bridge

    Take a walk on the pedestrian pathway on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Older kids will love the absolutely breathtaking views of this great city, but with more than 10 million annual visitors, there’s a lot of hustle and bustle so be mindful if you have little ones. Plan your visit before you go.

    Photo by Carl Solder on Unsplash

    Outer Banks, North Carolina

    The Outer Banks, or OBX, is a 200-mile long string of narrow barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina, beginning in the southeastern corner of Virginia Beach on the east coast of the United States. The stunning barrier islands are home to some of the largest undeveloped beaches on the East Coast, making OBX a popular beach vacation destination for families.  If you’re looking for casual lodging for the family in The Outer Banks, North Carolina, then Waves Village Resort in Rodanthe is a wonderful choice.

    10 Fun Activities to Do Outdoors in the Outer Banks Rodanthe Pier

    Yellowstone

    The world’s first national park, Yellowstone is one of a kind. Explore mountains and forests, catch a glimpse of hot springs and geysers, and watch wildlife in its natural habitat. Be sure to check for road closures before you head to Yellowstone in the winter.

    Photo by Donovan Atherley on Unsplash

    Disney World

    You and your kids can have a wonderful vacation at any Walt Disney World resort, but the flagship in Orlando has to be the happiest place on earth. The toughest part will be decided which one of the parks to visit; Magic Kingdom, Epcot Centre, Hollywood Studios, or Animal Kingdom.

    Photo by Brian McGowan on Unsplash

    Cedar Point

    You’ll enjoy live entertainment, water rides, thrill rides, and events for the whole family at Cedar Point. Located in Ohio, this is a spot you’ll want to visit during summer!

    Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

    Where’s your favorite spot to travel with kids?  

     

    Why Instagram Turned Me Off Social Media

    At one point, my passion (and livelihood) was the internet, spending much of my time online and “living and breathing” social media. But then everything changed with Instagram. Soon enough, Instagram turned me off social media completely.

    Before Instagram blew up into a platform full of egoists and wanna-be celebs, it was a place to share photos instantly – off-the-cuff moments of our lives, a behind-the-scenes visual of the little moments not usually shared publicly. It offered people an inside scoop of our realities – raw and unfiltered.

    In the early days, it was popular to use the dark pre-set filter of our snaps so they could appear a little more blurry and artsy. Imagine that! Now, Instagram images are glossy, highly-edited magazine covers. Some influencers-turned-photographers learned Photoshop, bought expensive lighting and purchased DSLRs. Others took courses to learn how to capture the best “Instagram-worthy” shot with their iPhones, slowly killing some photography businesses in the process.

    They hired photographers to capture the carefully curated moments of their picture-perfect lives. They hid their regular, mundane day-to-day parts because Instagram is supposed to be an “escape”. Only show the pretty in life – and God forbid it wasn’t designed and photographed like an art director of Vogue or House & Home.

    Why Instagram Turned Me Off Social Media
    Which one is the real Khloe Kardashian?  Photos: Instagram
    Why Instagram Turned Me Off Social Media
    Flawless skin or filter???  John Mayer on Instagram

    It’s all one big, stupid, pointless farce. No one lives that way.

    Instagram was first created to share Instant moments – stories were there to capture in-the-moment snaps. The “instant” in “Insta-gram” became lost when brands began to see an opportunity to leverage their sales. The secret word – monetize.

    The blogging industry took a hit when Instagram peaked and the “influencer” became the hottest commodity in social media marketing. Instagram influencers began purchasing followers, likes and even comments to boost their engagement, driving their “price” up higher.

    Remember when brands caught on?

    It took a while but the brands caught on, and the few that had integrity, did their research on influencers before agreeing to work with them. But the others, the majority, fed the beast. Brands flocked to the hottest influencer of-the-week, throwing money for them to wear the latest trend, apply the newest shade of eye shadow, show-off their flawless skin. They overlooked the bot comments and fake likes, as long as the numbers were there to prove the campaign was successful, even if they were bought.

    Soon after, regular folks caught on.

    “Oh, all I have to do is post some pretty pictures and buy some followers and I can make money!” Every Dick and Jane in town suddenly became an entrepreneur by starting an Instagram account, purchasing a $39 online course on how to become an “influencer” and ta-da! Anyone with even a tiny following could “influence” others’ purchasing decisions; they coined the terms nano-influencers, micro-influencers and so on…

    Source: MediaKix.com

    Fake Famous is a documentary that delves into this phenomenon with a social experiment. They take three non-famous people and throw them into the social media influencer world by “faking” fame. They use tactics such as buying followers and faking a luxurious lifestyle to garner followers. The doc is definitely worth a watch, and shows you have to be a certain type of person to lavish – borderline narcissist perhaps? – to play the Instagram “game”.

    The pressure is real.

    What about the bloggers we once knew, did they fare well on Instagram? People we once admired succumbed to the pressure of boosting their numbers. How else could they compete in a growing sea of influencers? The market became so saturated that many bought into the competition, finding various slimy ways of growing their pages – basically selling out. What non-celebrity manages to get 3,000 new followers within 48 hours?

    Instagram became an addiction.

    And that’s what social media is purposed to do, to keep you on their particular platform as long as possible.  Keep scrolling and scrolling endlessly, our brains shutting down while flashes of video, altered and filtered selfies, and silly dances to catchy tunes seep into our subconscious.

    Instagram also rewards users by spending hours on their platform; the more time you spend scrolling, the more your posts will be seen too. You keep feeding the beast and the beast will reward you. The algorithm shifts depending on how many endless hours you’re willing to dedicate to making Instagram richer. 

    And that’s one of the main reasons Instagram turned me off social media and “killed” blogging.

    Instagram turned me off social media.

    Well, not killed – because no matter what, your own blog/website is YOURS; not owned by Mark Zuckerberg who can switch the algorithm without notice and kill your audience. And if you can’t dedicate two hours a day to spend on Instagram, Instagram won’t give a shit about you! 

    Let’s not forget about the highly-coveted 10,000 follower mark when the skies magically open up for the heavenly reward – the swipe-up feature in Stories. What people will do to reach that 10K! If Instagram allowed this silly feature for every user despite the number of followers, the underground sub secret business of bots might not be so lucrative.

    Attention spans have dwindled.

    No one wants to read blogs anymore because their attention spans have dwindled down to a mere 15 seconds. I remember in my broadcast journalism classes, we’d ask our interviewee to dumb things down to short soundbites. That worked for television, but people still enjoyed reading long-form content – you remember… newspapers, magazines, books and even blogs. 

    Now, those short soundbites are all we’re accustomed to, and sometimes 15 seconds is too long. It’s to the point where mere seconds is the maximum amount of attention we’re capable of giving at any moment. How has this become our lives today?

    You have six seconds to make an impression.

    Many people bought into this idea of beautiful feeds and consistent, glossy images. But there were some – like me – who didn’t fall into this notion that Instagram has to be the new generation of bullshit.

    I was more focused on the content, sharing stories, helpful tips and resources. But it seemed no one was interested – or had the attention span – of long-form content anymore.

    I’ll keep doing my own thing.

    Writing a book was a goal I had for many years and to see it come to fruition was a career highlight. It was the highly-anticipated peak of my blogging career. Writing a book would open more doors, while adding credibility to all the work I’d done leading up to this pivotal point.

    But I had less than 10,000 followers. Brands began overlooking those who were “less-than” the huge numbers they sought. It didn’t matter than I wrote a book; an author with a smaller following couldn’t dare compete with an influencer with 25K fans.

    Maria unfiltered and filtered amotherworld
    Me – unfiltered and filtered

    Put a fork it in.

    That’s the society we live in today, and I’m so over it. I’m over the huge egos, the “look-at-me!” cries for attention, the over-sharing, the manipulated images, the parents who use their kids as props and future-fashionistas.

    So I will keep doing my own thing, staying true to myself and not changing who I am to feed into the insanity that has become of Instagram. Instagram has turned me off social media in a way no other social media platform has.

    The bubble has to burst at some point. And just like blogging once had its hay day, Instagram will too be a thing of the past.

     

    5 Things to Consider When Renovating Your Kitchen

    We spend a lot of time in our kitchens and for many, it is the heart of the home. It’s not just the place to cook and enjoy meals, but it truly is the space where the family comes together.  No matter how busy each family member is with work, school, extra curricular activities, going out with friends, everyone comes home to the kitchen.

    We’ve had the same kitchen since we moved in! It’s gone through a lot of wear and tear, thousands of meals (and clean-up). We’ve put off a kitchen renovation for so long because of the logistics involved – the main factor causing some hesitancy is knowing we wouldn’t have a kitchen for at least six weeks.

    But the is time is near for a full kitchen renovation. A kitchen should last for 20 years or more, and it surely has in our home! But time is up! 

    So where to begin? There are many things to consider when planning a kitchen reno, and there are so many ideas, it can become overwhelming. Here are some things to consider when planning a kitchen reno:

    5 things to consider when renovating your kitchen

    5 Things to Consider When Renovating Your Kitchen

    1. Colour and style

    Many people find online research helpful to explore kitchen colours and styles, as well as the latest trends and materials available on the market. Pinterest and Houzz are great places to start for inspiration. But sometimes pictures aren’t enough; you want to see and touch countertops, tiles, cabinets.

    That’s why a one-stop shop like Improve Canada is so convenient – there are over 350 showrooms to improve your entire home including kitchen, bath and living spaces. Improve Canada is Canada’s largest centre for home improvement, conveniently located in Vaughan, Ontario, off Highways 400 and 407. There are general contractors, interior designers, vendors for flooring, backsplashes, cabinets, landscaping and pool contractors, and custom furniture manufacturers/importers.

    Do you know when you have a vision but can’t quite describe it until you see it? That’s what happens when you browse the showrooms; once you walk through a real kitchen layout, you can visualize what the space would look like in your own home. GT Kitchens and Azure have some great kitchen renovation ideas; these particular designs caught my eye.

    How long will the pure white kitchen trend last? Back when we chose the materials for our current kitchen, the colour of maple wood was all the rage. When you talk to experts who are in-the-know of current – and upcoming – trends, they can help you decide on a palette that you’ll love for years to come.

    5 Things to Consider When Renovating Your Kitchen
    Azure Design Studio
    Kitchen Reno GT Kitchen & Bath
    Azure Design Studio
    Azure Design Studio
    GT Kitchen & Bath

    2. Cabinets

    When we bought our home (from a builder), we upgraded to solid maple cabinets. Nowadays, many of the kitchens use composite materials. So I’m not sure we’d want to rip out beautiful maple cabinets to replace them with MDF – it doesn’t seem to make sense. We might consider hiring a company to refinish them to a two-tone; perhaps white for the upper cabinets and grey or navy blue for the bottom. I’m not sure yet.

    Vangarde Cabinet Design and Factory makes cabinet fronts and accessories that fit Ikea kitchen, transforming ordinary looking Ikea kitchens into extraordinary ones.

    White kitchen cabinets
    Vangarde Cabinet Design & Factory
    Kitchen Reno GT Kitchens & Bath
    GT Kitchen & Bath
    Vangarde Cabinet Design Factory
    Vangarde Cabinet Design Factory
    Vangarde Cabinet Design Factory
    Vangarde Cabinet Design Factory
    GT Kitchen & Bath

    3. Countertops

    For our kitchen renovation, we will be looking for more durable countertops. We’re leaning towards quartz, although granite and marble are the most popular choices when it comes to natural stone countertops.

    Marble is elegant in appearance, while granite offers a more natural look. Granite is durable and heat-resistant, but if not sealed, can get scratched. Marble is more expensive and not as durable but is heat-resistant. Both surfaces will need to be sealed once in a while to keep from scratches and maintain durability.

    Quartz countertops are great at resisting scuffs, scratches, and stains. Being an artificial material, quartz need sealing as does marble or granite. Quartz is actually harder than granite more durable. But it be damaged by excessive heat so you can’t place hot pots and pans directly on the surfaces. Quartz is a lower-maintenance option, is easier to maintain. and more environmentally friendly.

    Sinco Granite, and Surfaces for All Purposes have gorgeous options for countertops, as does MESH Porcelain Slab and Tile and Metropolitan Tile.

    GT Kitchen and Bath
    Sinco Granite countertops
    Sinco Granite
    Surfaces For All Purposes
    Surfaces For All Purposes
    Mesh Porcelain Slab and Tile
    Sinco Marble and Tile

     

    4. Backsplash & Flooring

    Cork, tiles or wood floors? Since our kitchen is a high-traffic area, I’m looking for durable flooring and porcelain is a hard and resistant material. I love the larger porcelain or ceramic tiles that look like marble or wood grain.

    We have ceramic tiles and over the years, have several that have chipped, and there is no way to hide them. Porcelain clays are denser and less porous than ceramic clays, which makes the tiles harder and more resistant to moisture. Porcelain is also considered more durable and better suited for heavy usage than ceramic tile.

    MESH Porcelain Slab and Tile, and Surfaces for All Purposes and Metropolitan Tile also have a wide selection of materials that can work for backsplashes and flooring.

    Pyramid Home Renovation sells flooring and kitchen fixtures, as well as offers contracting services. They have beautiful styles and colours to choose from, as well as high-end kitchen and bath fixtures.

     

    MESH Porcelain Slab and Tile
    MESH Porcelain Slab and Tile
    5 Things to Consider When Renovating Your Kitchen
    Pyramid Home Renovation
    Pyramid Home Renovation
    Pyramid Home Renovation
    Pyramid Home Renovation
    Pyramid Home Renovation
    Pyramid Home Renovation improve canada
    Pyramid Home Renovation

    5. Extra storage

    Busy families desperately need more storage so would be looking at adding a custom-built kitchen island to match the cabinets, as well as a pantry. At Improve Canada, plan a visit to Star Woodworking which designs and manufactures custom kitchens and cabinetry.

    Star Woodworking
    Azure Design Studio
    5 Things to Consider When Renovating Your Kitchen
    Star Woodworking

     

    Improve Canada

    You can visit and browse Improve Canada at your leisure, but for a more personalized experience, the centre offers booking appointments for you so that you can have the best shopping trip, as well as due to Covid-19 restrictions and for safety purposes. Also, depending on when you are visiting, it’s best to book an appointment to ensure the showrooms are open and not busy with other scheduled visits.

    When you call the customer service team, they will ask you questions about your needs and they will set you up with the best experts for your renovation.

    Improve Canada is located at 7250 Keele Street, Vaughan. Call them to book an appointment at (905) 677-2577. Visit them at Improve Canada – Canada’s LARGEST Home Improvement & Renovation Centre

    Azure Design Studio

    This post is proudly sponsored by Improve Canada. As always, the opinion expressed herein are my own.

    How to Decorate your Backyard on a Small Budget

    Outdoor living spaces have become more popular, especially since the Covid-19 pandemic began in 2020. Since we haven’t been able to travel anywhere or have people over, many of us have created our own little oasis in our backyards. 

    We’ve been spending more time – and  money – on our backyards, patios and decks than ever before. And with good reason – the backyard is our connection to the outdoors, a natural space where you can relax and unwind.  A place where you can ease your mind after a long stressful day and appreciate the natural world in style.

    Decorating a backyard may seem daunting as some of the items to decorate your outdoor space may come at a high cost. The good news is that you don’t need to take out a second mortgage to create a backyard oasis. Nope, you can be creative and smart when coming up with a simple plan, with the right materials and some imagination. There are a few inexpensive ways decorate your backyard on a small budget.

    Here’s how to decorate your backyard on a small budget:

    How to Decorate your Backyard on a Small Budget

    decorate backyard small budget

    Plan first, shop later

    Before you shop, make a plan.  Think about these questions: what type of theme are you going for? A calm, zen-like atmosphere, a culinary retreat, or a Canadian campfire scene? You don’t have to necessarily choose one theme and implement favourites of each but it can help narrow down costs if you’re able to choose what you’re more likely to use.

    What will you be using your backyard for – dining, relaxing, or both? If you plan on entertaining dinners, a patio set with a table and chairs might suit you best. If you plan on relaxing and reading more often than entertaining, a sectional couch with a table might be a better fit for your lifestyle. You may ditch the table and sectional completely and opt for a few Muskoka chairs surrounding a fire pit.

    Another important thing to note when decorating a perfect backyard is that the setting should follow the style you have in mind or the one that fits your backyard’s shape and size. 

    Outdoor Furniture

    Garden furniture is an essential element in creating your backyard oasis. After all, you need to be able to sit down to relax somewhere rather than on the grass or concrete! Some decent furniture sets could cost up to $1,000, but depending on your budget, you can always get quality knockoffs for much less. Also, look on resell sites such as Kijiji or Facebook Marketplace where you can find some gently used chairs and tables.

    Sometimes comfort is more important than esthetics; these Zero Gravity lounge chairs are the most comfortable. I can take a nap in the shade lying on one of these!

    Zero Gravity Chair

    For Living Black Sling Zero Gravity Chair Canadian Tire

     

    outdoor loveseat

    CANVAS Breton Patio Loveseat Canadian Tire

    outdoor sectional

    Sol 72 Outdoor™ Merton 7 Piece Sectional Seating Group with Cushions | Wayfair.ca 

    outdoor dining set for four people

    ÄPPLARÖ Table and 4 folding chairs, outdoor – brown stained. Official Website – IKEA

    red Muskoka chair

    KLÖVEN Deck chair, outdoor, red – IKEA

     

    Outdoor Seating Area Shade/Canopy

    Your backyard should also have a covered roof or sturdy umbrella that will keep you out of that hot summer sun. A covered seating area provides space to relax in the shade and a place for dining, reading and entertaining comfortably. It doesn’t have to involve heavy furniture or construction; you can always go for an adjustable convertible canopy that is easy to set up and use. For a few hundred dollars, you can purchase a backyard canopy that is easily assembled and built sturdy to withstand those humid thunderstorms. Another option – and very affordable – is a sun shade.  

    outdoor canopy

    ABCCANOPY Pop Up Canopy Tent  10X10 Ft | Wayfair.ca

    outdoor patio umbrella

    Arlmont & Co. Tipton 108” Market Umbrella | Wayfair.ca

    Sun shade for patio

    AsterOutdoor Sun Shade Sail Rectangle 8′ x 12′ UV Block Canopy for Patio: Amazon.ca

    Outdoor Lighting

    Like inside the home, the right lighting creates an atmosphere. Outdoor or open-air lighting can also give you extra outdoor fun time well past sundown and create an ambiance that will keep you and guests wanting to stay outside well into the night.

    Outdoor string lights can add a touch of magic to your backyard space.  There are so many options to choose from – LED, solar-powered, battery-powered; and white, multi-coloured, vintage bulbs and even mini patio lanterns. I prefer solar-powered so you don’t have to worry about extension cords and plugs.

    Outdoor edison lights

    CANVAS Montmarte Heavy-Duty Outdoor String Lights Canadian Tire

    patio lantern lights

    CANVAS Wasaga String Lights Canadian Tire

    A fire pit can also give you the ambiance you’re looking for, as well as a spot to make s’mores, of course! There are various options too, from a fire pit with cooking grid, to a fire pit table.

    firepit table

    Endless Summer 39-in Rectangular Gas Fire Pit | Lowe’s Canada (lowes.ca)

    outdoor firepit

    Pleasant Hearth Bellora Fire Pit with Cooking Grid | The Home Depot Canada

    Artificial Wall Grass

    City-dwellers may not have the space for tree and flowers, even grass. But there’s a clever solution – adding artificial wall grass to your space. A wall of grass can make your space very private as well, and add that nature feel to your backyard. There are even DIY options on Etsy.

    Sunnyglade artificial hedge is used for outdoor decoration, patio, garden fencing, backyard, and more.  Its tendency will cover the walls of your outdoor area with green color. These outdoor artificial wall grass can cost from $10 per square meter.

    grass wall

    Artificial Lime Green Boxwood Hedge | TableclothsFactory

     

    Flowers

    Flowers are obviously a must for a backyard oasis. Buy pre-made planters from your local garden centre or create your own baskets or plant a flower garden.

    Roses, pansies, marigolds – stick to a colour theme to make choosing flowers easier. Go for pinks and purples, or yellows and oranges, or red and white for Canada Day.

    Here are some gardening tips for growing plants from seeds.

    Accessories

    For some final touches, add a few outdoor pillows and cute dinnerware to complete your backyard space. These pillows are beachy and cute.

    to the beach pillow

    Beach Outdoor Pillow by Ashland® | Michaels

    outdoor dinnerware

    Breezy Melamine Palm Leaf Dinnerware | Crate and Barrel

    outdoor dinnerware

    W Home™ Palm Leaf Dinnerware Collection | bedbathandbeyond.com

    With these backyard tips, you are on the right path to setting up a well-decorated and functional backyard. Good luck with having a more pleasant backyard fun time!

    outdoor dining table and chairs backyard

    11 Beginner Tips for Growing Plants from Seeds

    Are you a beginner gardener? While it may seem easier to start your garden from a transplant, or “ready-made” plant, growing plants from seed can be satisfying.

    One of life’s hidden treasures is watching your seeds grow into healthy plants with edible fruits or leaves. This is a fantastic way to get into gardening early in the season.

    If you’re new to gardening, start small and with a few easy-to-grow varieties. You’ll have the most success if you keep things easy. It’s easy to grow from seed to harvest with the right light and some basic equipment.

    What is the best way to start plants from seeds? Here are 11 beginner tips for growing plants from seeds.

    11 Beginner Tips for Growing Plants from Seeds

    1. Ensure that the timing is right.
    2. Use the right containers
    3. Make sure your soil is right
    4. Plant your seeds at the appropriate depth
    5. Water
    6. Maintain a constant moisture level
    7. Fertilize
    8. Keep the soil warm
    9. Keep air circulating 
    10. Seedlings need light
    11. Harden off your seedlings

    seedlings growing in small containers

    1. Ensure that the timing is right.

    When planting seeds, the main aim is to get seedlings or plants ready to be transplanted outdoors once the weather permits. Check the back of your seed packet to see when you can start planting them inside and when you should move them outside. This may vary depending on where you live (gardening zone).

    Starting seeding 6-8 weeks before the last frost is a good rule of thumb. While timing is key, don’t worry if you start a little early.

    Some plants, such as beans and squash, grow so quickly that they don’t need to be started indoors. Read the seed packets carefully to find out which ones to start and which ones to guide sow, which means to plant them outside right away.

    2. Use the right containers

    You don’t want your containers to be too large or too small, so choosing the right ones is crucial. Choose a container with a depth of at least 2-3 inches and a width of about the same. This will encourage you to start your seeds without worrying about them being planted too deep or too shallow. Make sure there’s a drainage hole in the bottom. This is essential to avoid root rot and overwatering.

    3. Make sure your soil is right

    Watering and sunlight are essential, but so is soil composition. Purchase a test kit from Amazon, have your soil checked by a local nursery, or visit your local extension office, which will most definitely test it for free. When growing plants from seeds, it’s not a smart idea to reuse the potting soil from your houseplants. You shouldn’t use soil from your garden unless it’s freshly mixed soil that you haven’t yet planted anything else in.

    Starting with a new, sterile soil mix is the best way to go. This guarantees disease-free, stable seedlings. The majority of potting mixes are devoid of nutrients. I know the bag says it will feed your plants for up to 6 months, but to ensure you get the healthiest plants, add your own liquid fertilizer a few weeks after the seedlings have sprouted.

    Make sure the soil is moist until you start bringing it into the container. You don’t want the soil to be soaking wet or muddy in consistency. It just needs to be slightly damp. This means that the seeds have moisture right away, which aids in their germination. Moist soil also helps to nourish seedlings as they do not have their own established root system yet.

    4. How deep should I plant my seeds?

    One of the many pleasures of gardening is planting seeds. Here’s a little secret about how to always get the perfect depth. This is founded on a lot of trial and error over the years.

    The general rule is that the seed should be planted twice as deep as it is long. So, what exactly does that imply? Let’s make things a bit clearer. Multiply the number of seeds you have by two. If your seed is 1/8 inches long, you can plant it 1/4 inches deep. Isn’t it simple? Most of my seeds are planted about 1/4 inches deep, as this tends to be the sweet spot for germination for most seeds.

    5. How often should I water my seeds?

    Water is necessary for the growth of seeds and plants. You don’t want to overwater or underwater your seeds so they won’t germinate. Begin with moist soil and water once a day. You may need to water twice a day if you live in a dry climate. Test to see if your soil is dry to the touch. If it is, a small amount of water should be added.

    6. Maintain consistent moisture

    Use a seed starting container with a lid to maintain a high level of humidity. This is an excellent place to launch your seeds. This is by far the simplest method for creating a high-humidity setting. Another excellent way is to sandwich your seeds between two damp paper towels and store them in a tightly sealed plastic container with a lid.

    7. What temperature do my seeds need to be kept at to germinate?

    The majority of seeds germinate at temperatures ranging from 68 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit. Hold your seeds at 75°F after they’ve sprouted. They will stay safe and flourish as a result of this.

    8. Do I need to fertilize my seeds?

    Although your seeds usually do not need fertilizer once they sprout and become seedlings, a weekly fertilizer will be required to help them develop a solid, safe root system. Understanding the basic needs of your seeds can be as simple as looking at the box they came in or doing a fast Google search.

    9. Do I need to circulate the air for my seeds to grow?

    Yes! Air is necessary for seedlings and plants to develop and thrive. Adding a fan to your setup can improve air circulation and help avoid damping-off, a seedling disease. Keeping the air moving around your seedlings will help them survive and develop into strong, healthy plants.

    10. How much light do my seeds need?

    Some seeds germinate best in the dark, while others need a moderate amount of light to germinate. You will find out what your seeds need by reading the box. All seedlings need light once they have sprouted. You can leave seedlings outside throughout the day (as long as it is warm enough), and then bring them back in at night.

    This hardens them off while also providing them with the light they need to develop.

    11. What is hardening off seedlings?

    Hardening off the seedlings refers to preparing them for planting outside. Start by bringing your seedlings outside for an hour on the first day, then increase by an hour per day for the next 7 days. This will acclimate them to the outdoors. Then, you should be able to transplant them to their permanent location after a week of being outside for 7 hours at a time.

    When your seedlings are outside for the first few days, provide them with shelter. Direct sunshine and windy conditions should be avoided. Allow them to grow stronger and more accustomed to being outside.

     

    Plants from seeds are not difficult to develop, but they do take some planning and patience. You’ll have hearty, balanced seedlings in no time if you follow these steps! Get the kids involved in gardening as well – they’ll love getting their hands dirty, digging, and watching the seeds grow into full-size plants! 

     

     

    Photos by Markus Spiske on Unsplash