Sunday, November 5, 2017

The Great Grocery Project: October Recap

This post is coming a bit late because I needed to regroup after losing our freezer.

Yes, we lost everything (over $1000.00 worth of food) that was in our upright freezer - packed full of a year's worth of fruit, meat, pastry, and other food supplies.  How did this happen?  We had a contractor doing work on our house.  I specifically told them to make sure the freezer was plugged in before they left.  When I came home, I put my hand on the freezer to make sure it was cold (it was, but obviously just still from when it had been plugged in).  I looked at the outlet, it *looked* like it was plugged in.  A week later I went to get something out of the freezer, when I opened the door.....everything was ruined.  Upon closer inspection, I discovered that the plug had not been shoved all the way into the outlet.  I was very upset (obviously).  My call to the contractor has not been returned and we will obviously never be using them again.  Lesson learned (several actually).

This was a huge blow for us both time wise and financially.  Nonetheless, we soldier in.  There are far worse things that could happen.  As a result, I am making a change to my Great Grocery Project.  I am not going to be tracking my per category spending this year.  It is just going to be so far off the norm and our menu is being significantly reworked in an effort to minimize the financial impact of losing the freezer.  I am unsure about whether or not we are going to work towards refilling it at this time since we might be moving in the coming year.

So, moving on - in October we spent $497.68 on groceries - much more than I wanted to spend but such is life.  A large portion of this was spent replacing a few things that were ruined, but also on a birthday party open house we had for both our sons (very fun!).  We actually had a very economical celebration, but I also bought pickles and olives and specialty cheese for the party which adds up quite quickly.

I like to keep kids events as simple as possible and I also wanted to serve one of my son's favourite foods.  Our menu was simple but delicious:
A grilled cheese buffet (brie, cheddar, etc., caramelized onions, apples, various condiments)
Crudités and dip (the classic French Onion Soup mixed with Sour Cream)
Pickles and Olives (wide assortment)

For dessert, my son and I made a Rainbow Bit Cake the morning of the party - he loves cooking.  We also made Molasses Ginger Cookies.  In the weeks prior to the party, I made over a dozen miniature cheesecakes (in 250ml Mason jars) and froze them (in the freezer that was not ruined).  On the day of they were served with optional toppings like crumbled Oreo, Strawberry Maple Sauce, Peach Rum Sauce, and some fresh fruit.
You can find the recipe for these individual cheesecakes here.  (Very simple to make!!!)
Individual Cheesecakes without topping
The birthday party was great and simple.  My mother in law brought her coffee maker and coffee since we do not have one (neither of us drink coffee).  Everyone commented on what a nice, relaxing party it was and how much they enjoyed the food so that made this hostess very happy.  I do love a theme party, but I really felt my kids do not need that yet.  I would like to do this when they can be more involved in the planning.  Somebody asked me "well don't you have a theme for the party?"  "Yes," I replied, "the theme is BIRTHDAY."


Recipe Share:
Since I have been reworking the food plan and adjusting everything accordingly, I have been lining up and trying loads of new recipes.  Not all recipes are good.  It has to be really good for me to make something twice.  Twice this week I actually had to throw out some new snack recipes I tried (they were very bad!!!).  However, there are a few fantastic recipes I tried this month that I want to share.

1.  Our Best Blueberry Muffin Recipe
This recipe is from Crosby's molasses.  It is fantastic (truly) and there are many variations of it that you can make.  I used the lower sugar amount every time and they are fantastic.  I love having a muffin, some cheese, and some fruit for breakfast most days so this recipe will definitely be going in the rotation.

2.  Broccoli Cheese Soup
Via The Pioneer Woman, this recipe is a fantastic base for creamy soups.  Having tried many of these soup recipes over the years, this one is a favourite because it requires no broth (unless you want to thing the soup - but I did this using broth one day, and water another), instead relying on milk (which I always have on hand).  The first time I followed the recipe exactly - it was great.  The second time, I used cauliflower and red pepper instead of broccoli, I omitted the cheese and only added it as the soup was served.  It was still fantastic.  This soup recipe will be used over and over in our house.



What did we do to save money this month?

Besides the usual (making everything from scratch, etc.), we focused on simplifying whenever possible. 

1.  Christmas Gifts - I finished wrapping all the gifts for children (we buy for quite a few) and made note of any missing items.  This ensures that no unnecessary extras are purchased and allows me to keep careful track of who is getting what.   There was one additional thing I needed to purchase for a child, and I did so this past weekend so I can cross all the kids off my list and know that their gifts are packed and ready for action.

2.  DIY Gifts - I finished up some gifts, and gathered the final materials needed for the remaining gifts that I need to make.

3.  The Charity Shop - A visit to The Salvation Army was very productive and I was able to get several needed items.  I wrote about some of them here.

4.  Optimum Coupon  - I got something in the mail from Shoppers Drug Mart Optimum Rewards.  I love free things I can actually use - and this little gift included a 20X the Points coupon, a notebook, some pencils and an eyebrow brush.  Everything was put to good use.
Optimum Gift Package

This Christmas canvas has been mailed.  I was sad to see it go.


A gift basket that was made (by me) for a friend - Italian Themed


6.  Photo Gifts - As part of Christmas gifts for my mother and mother in law, I making photo albums of family photos.  This is a gift they will love (who doesn't want photos of their grandchildren?) and it is economical.  I was able to get one photo album 50% off at Michael's, and I found the photo album below brand new and still in its packaging at The Salvation Army.


7.  Enjoying the outdoors  - I took my kids to as many outdoor farms and activities (all free) as possible in October.  There were lots of great events on for Halloween and we took advantage of as many as possible.  I love visiting local farms where our kids can play outside and then picking up a healthy snack (usually fruit) while we are there.  I also went hiking a few times with my youngest - which is a bit of a nightmare because he wants to be able to go on his own all the time - but it is so worth it.  

A walk in the woods cures many ills

8.  Swimming lessons  - I wanted to sign my son up for private swimming lessons but they are very expensive and I could not justify the expense at this time.  I decided to sign him up for lessons during the day, knowing that these classes are usually smaller in size (and literally 25% of the price of private lessons).  Well, I got very, very lucky.  Only one other person signed up for my son's class, and they have not shown up for a single lesson.  So, my son (who I feel really needed private lessons at this stage for his own emotional well being) is getting private lessons for the not private lesson cost.  I am just thrilled that he is going in the pool with his teacher.  That would be enough for me - but he is actually developing his water skills as well.  This has been a total blessing.

9.  Pickle Jar - I saved a Gherkin pickle jar to use as a pencil/pen holder.  I really liked this shape of it and I love keeping pens and pencils in clear glass jars where they can be on display at all times.  These are the things a person who loves the written word gets excited about.

10.  Halloween Candy  - We do not get many kids, and I did not want to end up with a bunch of leftover junk food that we do not need to eat.  I bought the large boxes of chips at Costco (not the Halloween ones but the regular individual bag ones) when they were on sale.  This way, any leftovers could be used for a little treat on days I take sandwiches to work. 

Going forward...
November is the final month that I will be off work.  My baby is easing into full days at daycare.  My older son is already going 4 days a week.  I am prepping for going back to work.  The stress is mounting, but so is the excitement.  I will be spending as little as possible on groceries this month.  I know it is going to fly by.  We have my son turning 4, my mother in law's birthday, my mother's birthday shortly after, American Thanksgiving, loads of appointments that I am trying to get out of the way before going back to work, and general life busy - ness.  Or business.  I will be making my final Christmas gifts (yes, I will share when they are done).  I am also trying to exercise more this month.  Wish me luck.

Have a wonderful week everyone.  Thank as always for stopping by...


Sunday, October 29, 2017

Rantings and Ravings on a House Overhaul + Prepping Your House for Pictures

This was supposed to be a multi part post, but after the Part One, I realized I do not have time to do so many posts.  Welcome to the great merger!

CONTENT WARNING: The photos below may make you feel like your house is cluttered and you need to clean.  Let me assure you, my house never, and I mean never looks like it does in these photos - so you can browse them guilt free!


We had photos done of our house over a month ago.  Our realtor suggested getting them done while the weather was still good, so that we have nice, fresh photos ready to go up at a moment's notice should we decide to list while there is still snow on the ground.

Our house was completely renovated (more or less) over the past 18 months.  It was exhausting and expensive.

If you do not want to read all my thoughts, I can give you a quick recap here on how to prep your home for photos: GET RID OF EVERYTHING.  Good luck.

Moving on...

These are not the pictures the photographer took, just some that I snapped with our camera.  This is not a House and Homes spread - but maybe I can share a few things that might help someone.  Or you can just revel in my fake-clean house!

Before we did the pictures, aside from doing a scrub clean from top to bottom, we put pretty much everything we own away.  Stuffed into our furnace room, shed, and vehicles.  All the family pictures, the toys, the strollers, the kids artwork, the homemade crafts, the small appliances, everything.  Goodbye. 

Master Bedroom
Above, is our master bedroom.  We have no headboard.  We have no fancy bedding.  This seemed a little sparse - so I picked up the two cushions you see in the photo from Canadian Tire.  They were for outdoor patio furniture and were 50% off at an end of season clearance.  They did the trick.  The curtains are blackout curtains and they are from Costco.  This room used to be a beautiful rich (and very not neutral) brown.  We repainted it in Mennonite Grey Tint 2 by Para Paints.  We also replaced old and raggedy carpet with engineered hardwood.

Living and family room

A different angle

Flowers
We did not do much to our living and family room.  We had repainted it when we originally moved to the house.  The rug on the floor we had made from an roll-end at a carpet store.
MONEY SAVING TIP: I wanted to use lots of flowers to freshen up the photos.  Floral arrangements cost a fair amount of money if you are going to a florist.  I do not grow any of my own flowers.  The day before the photos, I went to a local grocery store and bought multiple packages of flowers.  These were used to make all the floral arrangements for our pictures.  They worked wonderfully and this resulted in significant savings.

Kitchen and Dining Area

Kitchen


To update our kitchen, we replaced a very ugly laminate (I have nothing against laminate, but this laminate was ugly) with a quartz countertop, we added a backsplash, and repainted the entire area.  It made a big difference.  For the photos, I removed all small appliances (and everything else) from our countertops - except for the Kitchen Aid Professional Stand Mixer - because you have to be able to imagine yourself whipping up something gourmet in the kitchen, right?  I placed a small bowl of lemons by the stove, and a small vase of tulips by the sink.

On a normal day, we also have an island on wheels in our kitchen.  It is just a cheap-o I refurbished that works perfectly for us but is not good for the resale photos.  It was shoved into our master bedroom during these photos.

Dining Area
This is our humble dining area.  The solid wood table and chairs I bought on Kijiji when we first moved back to Canada.  The curtains (both sets) are from Costco.  The tablecloth is from Simon's (one of my favourite stores).  The small bowl (I really should have done a closeup) was $4.00 at Dollorama and is filled with the most delicious apples.


Pretty flowers

Tulips are my favourite - this is a close up so you can see the backsplash.

Lemons!

Front entryway
This is a small glimpse of our front entryway and the second bedroom is through the doors.

Does your kitchen normally look like this?  Mine doesn't.  I am pretty sure only people who do not cook have a kitchen that looks like this.

Raised Garden Beds
Our two raised garden beds are surrounded by all the baby trees we planted a few years ago.  The vegetables had already been pulled for the season, but I left the Marigolds in so that the beds would not look completely bare in the photos.

Tea?

We have a large patio area, but no substantive patio furniture.  Instead of putting this in the middle of the patio and having it look odd, I decided to make a little tea corner. 

Laundry Room (La buanderie)
Unfortunately, I did not take a before photo of the super small space that is our laundry room.  If I had, you would know that this shelf never would have fit on the wall before due to a large, unnecessary bulkhead that was taking up space and stopping us from opening our dryer.  Having it removed and the drywall repaired did not cost very much - but it has made an enormous difference to this room.  Not only can we now fully open our dryer, we can hang this pretty wood shelf and top it off with a picture of the Cannes harbour and some pottery posies.

Basement shelf

Basement shelf
I wrote about these shelves when I talked about the basement renovation.  They were completely empty - but I filled these jars from Ikea with candy (using a gift card I had to the Bulk Barn).  In the previous picture I used some greenery from Dollorama to fill a vase, and a tin from Simon's.  It is not much, but enough so the shelves are not completely bare.

Guestroom
Our guestroom.  The headboard is homemade.  The bedside table belonged to my Great-great grandmother.  The dresser on the left is something I refinished, but I have since decided to get rid of the dresser (it is a long story, but it is very old and the drawers are all coming off their tracks).  So this picture already seems out of date...


If I had to make one comment - the best thing to do for your pictures is just get rid of simply everything.  Stuff it away, give it away, hide it.  It is cheap and provides tremendous results.

These flowers wish you good day.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

10 Ways to Save Money this Holiday Season

Christmas is supposed to be a joyous time of year - it is about giving - but not about presents.  It is so easy for the expenses to pile up during this season, but there are always ways to reduce the financial costs.

Here are a few ideas for reducing costs this season:

1.  Drink more water.
Not only is this good for your health, but if you find yourself out for holiday parties and drinks more than a few nights - cut your bill instantly by drinking plain old water.

2.  Stay home.
This doesn't mean be a hermit!  Instead of going out for expensive dinners, why not host a dinner in your home?  Have friends over for a potluck - share the work!  Screen a Christmas movie in your own home and ask everyone to bring a batch of their favourite cookies.  Or, if you are trying to keep the waistline from expanding - try some delicious cranberry smoothie recipes and go for a winter stroll.  There are hundreds of free (or almost free) things you can literally do in your own backyard.

3.  Give less things.  Spend more time.
Does this one need an explanation?

4.  Do It Yourself.
There are literally hundreds of gifts you can make yourself.  A few ideas:

Homemade Cranberry Sauce  (this is one of my personal favourites)
Personal Journals
Santa Six Pack


5.  Make your own gift baskets.
Never, and I mean NEVER - buy a gift basket from a store.  You can always make it cheaper yourself.  I do this often.  My baskets all come from The Salvation Army.  Throughout the year, when I see the following items at excellent prices I pick some up for in my gift cupboard:
-quality cookbooks
-candles
-napkins
-wraps/throws
-lotions/soaps

You can quickly put any combination of the above together with some coffee, tea, hot chocolate or homemade goodies and you will have a very impressive basket.  This is probably one of my favourite gifts to assemble.

6.  Shop the Charity Shops
There has not been a single visit to the Salvation Army where I have not left with something that is brand new.  Often you can find unused items there.  Recently, I picked up several books (including a brand new cookbook as well as some brand new board books for children) and a photo album that were brand new and still had the price tag on them.  Make sure you go when you have time to look around carefully (ie. when your young kid are not with you!).


Recently acquired, brand new, Joy of Cooking from The Salvation Army

Brand New (still had price tag from MasterMind Toys on the back)

A beautiful gift basket that I used to make a wedding/house warming gift basket


More, brand new books from The Salvation Army

7.  Acts of Kindness
Do you feel bombarded with requests for money for charities? I do.  I try to give when I can and when I feel appropriate - but the truth is that there are many, many things we can do to help those in need even if we are not flush with cash.  If we are honest, we all know someone who could use a helping hand.  Why not do something for them?  Do you know someone who could use a home cooked meal?  Could you shovel someone's driveway?  Could you give a senior citizen or someone with mobility issues a ride somewhere?  Could you have someone over for tea who might not have anyone to socialize with?  
I have a Christmas memory from growing up that is very special.  It is one of the only memories I have that involves both my parents, before their divorce.  There was a boy in my grade 2 class who lived with his mom and three brothers.  I am not sure exactly what their financial or life situation was, but I know they were poor.  Very poor.  My mom got wind of this and she and my dad schemed up something.  She kept asking me all these questions about "Sam" (not his real name) my classmate and what he liked.  Then she somehow gathered up other details about his brothers and their mom.  Then - armed with my dad's chequebook - off to the malls she went.  They literally (with the help of a few friends) put together a Santa's bag full of things for this family and on Christmas Eve, my dad, dressed in a Santa Suit - delivered it to them while my mom and I hid in the car down the road.  I am not sure why they trusted me with this secret.  I never told.  Years later, the boy told me that he knew it had been my dad in the suit.  He said it was the biggest Christmas surprise of his childhood.  Now, obviously this particular act did involve my parents spending money - but I tell this story because we all know someone in need.  Most of the time it means more for someone to know that you are thinking of them, than the material thing itself.  Sometimes those who need kindness the most do not appear to be in need at all.

8.  Free activities
Have you ever taken your child to a Home Depot kids workshop?  They are great.  Is there a special holiday storytime at your local library?  A Christmas Carol sing?  Why not organize one yourself?  I remember as a kid going Christmas caroling at seniors homes and hospitals.  It was so much fun.

9.  Stop running around.
Do you really need to be out every night of the week?  Do you really need five more things for in the stocking?  I struggle with this.  I am a person who takes on crazy projects.  Now I try to focus and ask myself the following questions:  Can I simplify this and still get what I want or need?  Do I really need this or need to do this?  

10.  Use every loyalty point you can.
I try to save up all my points from all programs for the holiday season.  It just helps stretch any cash that much further - whether it is for gifts, groceries, or services.



Sunday, October 22, 2017

What if this is the last...

With the first baby it seemed like everything was a blur.  I always thought I would have 4 kids, or more, but after two difficult (but not life threatening) pregnancies I find myself wondering if this might be our last baby.  Other health concerns have come along, and now I am unsure as to whether or not there will be a Baby #3.  We are very blessed with two beautiful, healthy, wild boys.  But now, as my second maternity leave comes to an end - I find myself thinking - what if this will be the last maternity leave I have?  My last fall at home with the boys?  What if this is my last snuggle in bed with a baby?  What if this is the last time my little boy will crawl on top of me and rest his head on my chest, free of any worries, lost in a peaceful sleep?

The days go by so quickly.  Yes, I am exhausted.  Yes, my body has taken a bit of a beating.  Yes, I would enjoy a night of uninterrupted sleep.  But really - what I really, truly want - is more time.  More snuggles.  More kisses.  More baby noises.

Soon this will be over - and they will grow into a new phase.  We will make new memories.  But this is a special time.  Slow down.  Slow.  Down. 

Saturday, October 14, 2017

DIY Gifts: Letter Art

Our basement has been home to my DIY Gift Workshop this year.  Now that I have finished the personal journals, we have moved on to canvas art.  Note:  You do not need to be an artist to do canvas art.

Some Thoughts:
Let me get this out of the way first - I am very careful about giving people gifts that need to on display.  We all have different tastes.  Even people who might think they know my taste could always give me some art I would never use (although I would totally appreciate their thoughtfulness).  Someone might even give me something I love, but simply have nowhere to put or no use for.  With that in mind, if I am giving any art/craft type pieces I like to keep them small in size and seasonal.  In other words, nobody is getting a 8 foot by 10 foot abstract multimedia collage from me (also because I would not know how to make it!).

A few different pieces came about in my workshop - with different recipients in mind and different methods used.  Let's take a walk through them.

1.  The Butterfly Project

MATERIALS:
-canvas
-stencil
-Sharpie (blue and black)
-Mod Podge
-Tissue Paper
-ruler

METHOD:
The Butterfly Project is going in with a gift for a young girl.  I used an 8x10 canvas (bought in a bulk pack on sale at Michael's).  I used the butterfly stencil from Dollorama to stencil on these two butterflies using Blue and Black Sharpies.  Sharpies will bleed (just a tiny bit) on to the canvas, so I always retrace after removing the stencil to get rid of any rough edges.
Next, I added this "filter" if you will, using blue tissue paper.  I got this idea from Letter Art, by Clare Youngs, where she uses tissue paper to make actual letter art.  This is obviously not the same thing, but I really liked how her projects looked and thought I would channel some of that into this project.  I had a few different colours of tissue paper that I tried, but I preferred the blue filter for this piece.  I cut the tissue paper (almost) to size.

After this, I put a thin layer of Mod Podge on the canver and began pressing the tissue paper down on top.  I used a ruler while doing this to remove as many air bubbles as possible.  I did this in sections - be careful because you need to make sure the entire canvas has Mod Podge on it or you will get bubbles in it.  Avoid using excessive amounts of Mod Podge because tissue paper is quite thin, and if it gets too wet it will tear.

Once the Mod Podge underneath dried, I then trimmed the tissue paper even closer to the edges of the canvas, and then added 3 layers of Mod Podge over top.  Wait 20 minutes (at least) between each layer.  Again, go easy on the Mod Podge because you do not want to soak through the tissue paper.

I also have an easel ($2.50 at Dollorama) that will hold the canvas to avoid any holes in the wall.

And....voilà!  A simple butterfly canvas for a sweet little girl this Christmas.

2.  O Holy Night 

For this canvas I wanted to do a simple excerpt from O Holy Night lyrics.  I used a silver metallic Sharpie.  Since the script was going to be thin (not wide) I did not do a pencil underlay first.  Instead, I drafted multiple ideas and layouts on scrap paper until I found the arrangement I liked.  I then copied it (very slowly and very carefully unto the canvas).  I covered it with 3 thin layers of Mod Podge.


3.  Christmas Carol Mash-Up
Once I decided what I wanted the central words for this collage style canvas to be (Peace and Joy), I added them to the canvas.  Then, slowly and carefully, I added all of the other lyrics from various carols that I wanted to include.  Some of them had to be traced over several times.  I did not do pencil underneath, again because if you are not doing a bold text it can be hard to cover it up.  I did a few coats of Mod Podge over the top because I wanted a glossy finish and also to protect the canvas.

4.  Merry and Bright
This canvas did not go exactly as planned.  WARNING: Mod Podge will make gold metallic Sharpie run and fade.  It did not do this with any other Sharpies, but for some reason it did with the Gold Metallic.  The original plan was just for the nice bright gold MERRY AND BRIGHT canvas.  When you are doing bold letters with the Sharpie, instead of tracing outlines and colouring them in, you need to write a "thin" letter and then go over it repeatedly as you work to make it bigger and stop any bleeding edges.  I used almost an entire Gold Metallic Sharpie to make this canvas.  After going over it with a few layers of Mod Podge, the text started to blur and smudge.  This made me sad.  In the end, I could not salvage it so I decided to do a gold tissue paper overlay using the same technique as I did for the butterfly.  I will be using this to make a Christmas display which I will share at a later date.


These canvases will take more time than you anticipate.  As with the journals, the most time will be sketching out and drafting your ideas.

Enjoy!

Monday, October 9, 2017

A Family Trip to the Laurentians (Voyage aux Laurentides)

A few weeks ago we took our first family vacation (with a 3 year old and 11 month old) that did not involve visiting family.  It was busy, chaotic, exhausting, and fantastic!!!

Where did we go?
We stayed in Sainte Agathe des Monts, a small town in the Laurentians.  It is about 25 minutes South of Mont Tremblant.  (Aside: I used to live in Québec - but not in this region - I always imagined I would marry someone from there because of the language....but alas.....I did not!  Although my husband's mother is an American born to two Québécois).

How did we get there?
Short answer: By car.

Long answer: We decided to take the "back roads" instead of going up the 401, this way we could avoid driving through Montreal traffic and it would only take us about 15 - 20 minutes longer.  It is about a 6 to 6 1/2 hour drive from the Toronto region.  So, we set off and took Highway 7 (traveling through Port Perry, Peterborough, Ottawa, etc.) and onward to the TransCanada Highway.  This was a beautiful drive.  Really beautiful.  There are not a lot of places to stop on this highway - but there are some - and there are also some really beautiful picnic stops.

The day we left, it was unseasonably hot and almost 40C with the humidex.  We stopped in Havelock - here there is a gas station, a Tim Horton's, a Subway, a Foodland, and a few other small restaurants.  There are some nice picnic tables and parking set up along the railway tracks of the town.  More importantly for us - across the road from the Tim Horton's and gas station there is a small park.  In the park there are a few picnic tables, benches, bear-proof garbage bins and also of course, the playground equipment.  It was boiling hot, but we were able to put our blanket down in the shade and eat our lunch.  Our kids were able to stretch out for awhile on the play equipment before it was just too hot to handle and we had to get back in the car.  Note: There is not parking at the playground, we had to park in the parking lot beside it (which is what everyone seemed to be doing).

The Park in Havelock

Our next stop on the way was Perth, Ontario.  Which isn't actually too far from Havelock (relatively speaking), but we needed to go to a Shopper's Drug Mart and pick up some supplies for our trip.  In Perth there is quite a bit, Shoppers, a grocery store, Dairy Queen, McDonald's, and several other fast food outlets and chain stores.

We took the same route on our way home - but on the home route we stopped in Kanata (the Terry Fox Drive Exit), where we picked up a few groceries at Farm Boy, then we went to Walter Baker Park where our kids were able to play on the park equipment, run up and down the tobaggan hill and stretch out.  We also used the washrooms that were conveniently located right next door inside the arena.  The gazebo at the park was unfortunately freshly spraypainted with some anti-Semitic graffiti, but we did not allow our kids to play in it (it was also filthy).  The rest of the park area was great.

Our final stop on the way home was in Marmora, Ontario (East of Havelock).  Marmora was quite a beautiful little town.  For us, the best part was that they have a fantastic kids playground and park (including splash pad, but this was closed for the season).  You cannot miss it if you are driving through town - you drive directly past it.  There is also a Subway and Mac's plaza that you can walk to from the park without crossing a major roadway - and there are washrooms in the Mac's store.  We let our son pick a little treat in the store (a small bag of Cheetos, which he only managed to eat a few of), used the washrooms, and got back on the road after a picnic and play session at the park.

Where did we stay?
We stayed for 5 nights at the Super 8 Hotel in Sainte Agathe des Monts (Québec).
MONEY SAVING TIP: We used points from our BMO World Elite MasterCard to pay for the hotel (entirely - for 2 rooms for 5 nights).  We love this card and we have used it for many hotel stays, although beware that it does have a significant annual fee - but for us it is worth it.
The reason we chose the Super 8 was because:
a) the price was right
b) it had a great indoor pool (the selling feature of this hotel for sure) with an 80 foot waterslide and waterfeatures.  The pool was heated to a great, but not too warm, temperature.  Be advised though - the pool is very shallow and is more of a playpool with the slide and water features.  This was perfect for our kids - but may be not as desirable if you have older children.
c) Breakfast is included.  Super 8 is a budget motel - the breakfast provided was more than sufficient (yogurt, waffle makers, hard boiled eggs, oatmeal, breads and toast, muffins, tea, coffee, juice, some fruit), but I have to admit that I really missed the hot breakfast items (like eggs, sausage, etc.) that you get at some other (also more expensive) hotels.  We actually ate several breakfasts of our own food.
d) Location - This hotel is centrally located in Ste Agathe des Monts.  It is easy to find and easy to get on the highway from their location.  It is also located on the same street as a Maxi grocery store and a very large Giant Tiger.  Nearby are many other stores and restaurants as well as access to cycling trails.

The hotel was great, mainly because of the pool.  It was not the cleanest (but not dirty) and obviously not the most luxurious (it is a super discount motel), but it met all of needs, the pool was fantastic, and the staff at the hotel were all excellent, helpful, and very friendly.


What did we eat?
Aside from the breakfasts at the hotel, we made a lot of food ourselves which we purchased at local grocery stores (IGA Extra, Metro, Costco in St Jérome).  We also had takeout one night from St Hubert, we ate two meals at Verger LaCroix (more about that later) from their canteen, and we also got dinner one day from a Casse-Croute in Saint Donat.  All of this allowed us to keep our food budget nice and low for the trip.  We have never (literally never) eaten in a restaurant as a family.  Part of it is budget, but way more of it is because it is not relaxing with an 11 month old and a 3 year old who love to run wild.  Seriously.  When the day comes that I can go out with my kids and relax and enjoy a good meal that I did not cook.............I will enjoy it.  Whenever that is.  Ha.  When we travel we like to bring most of our food or shop locally and do picnics.  We actually enjoy this and it is convenient and budget friendly.

What did we do?

Place Lagny - This is the waterfront park in Sainte Agathe des Monts on Rue Principale.  It is very easy to find.  There is a small trail on the waterfront, picnic tables, a dock, a children's play area (pirate themed), as well as a splash pad.  In addition - there is a building with washrooms.  Washrooms are key with kids!!!


Croisères Mont Tremblant - Sainte Agathe des Monts is about 25 minutes from Mont Tremblant (the village).  We love this area.  This was an unplanned activity.  We were driving through the village on an incredibly hot day, when we saw the signs saying the cruise was departing in 40 minutes.  We just decided to do it.  It wasn't cheap - $26/adult and $8.50 for old 3 year old, the youngest was free.  The cruise lasted one hour.  The crew was kid friendly.  An hour was more than long enough for our 3 year old and 11 month old to be contained on a boat.  It was beautiful and I am very glad we did it.  Bonus: As we were heading back to shore, a very severe thunderstorm came over the mountains and we watched it roll in, including the lightning.  Now, if the storm had unleashed while we were still on the water I would have undoubtedly been petrified, but thankfully it waited until we made the 5 minute walk back to our car (parked in the municipal park parking lot around the corner from the launching dock - where parking is free and there are also washrooms).  It was a crazy storm and I am very glad we were off the water at that point!!

Verger LaCroix
I cannot recommend this place enough.  St Joseph du Lac is a small town about an hour South of Sainte Agathe des Monts, it is sort of an outlier of Montreal.  I am not sure what to compare it to - but it is essentially orchard row.  It is stunningly beautiful, with mile, after mile, after mile of orchards.  We visited Verger et Cidrerie LaCroix on a busy Thursday.  It was hopping with school groups (if you want to go when it is not superbusy - most of the school groups are gone shortly after 1pm) and our kids loved it.  What will you find at Verger LaCroix?

First, you will find a market stand full of amazing apple products.  Walk through the market stand and you will find a large (very large) children's play area with play equipment (lots of it), hay based play centres, a small farm animal area/petting zoo, a picnic area, an interpretation centre for school groups, and all of this is of course backing onto a beautiful apple orchard.  There is also a canteen with fresh made goodies at reasonable prices (in 2017 we ordered grilled cheese, grilled cheese with caramelized onions and apples, pulled pork burgers, etc. - all between $3.00 - $5.00).  We ordered lunch from the canteen two days in a row (yes - it was so fun here for our kids we went back the next day).  Bathrooms are on site.

On our second day here, we decided to pick some apples.  The U Pick (Autocueillette) is very reasonably priced - if you are picking up to 40lbs of apples it is $1.00/lb regardless of variety.  We picked a 20lb bag of Honeycrisp apples and they were simply amazing.    In addition, I was able to capture some beautiful pictures of both our sons in the orchard.  I am very happy about that.

In the shop, you can buy prepicked apples and many delicious goods.  My favourite treat that I am obliged to mention is the Apple Oatmeal Cookies.  THE BEST.  Absolutely the best apple oatmeal cookies I've tasted anywhere.  I could not eat enough of them.  And they were reasonably priced.

There is one other thing I wanted to mention about this place: it is very clean.  Both days we went there, immediately after all the school groups left, a crew of staff came out and started cleaning like crazy - making sure there was no garbage or food left anywhere, cleaning the bathrooms, etc.  This does not go unnoticed by moms who like cleanliness!!!

If you are in the area, I highly recommend a stop here.  It can cost as little or as much as you want.  It is very family friendly.





Intermiel
Also in Saint Joseph du Lac, we visited Intermiel a large beekeeping company.  There were also many activities here for kids, but when we arrived both my boys were asleep.  We never wake sleeping kids!!  So I ventured into their gift shop alone.  Heaven!!!  Honey everywhere.  There is a large sampling station as they offer many products ranging from skin care to Mead, to wine, to of course many types of honey.  I picked up a few gifts here - and a 3kg pot of honey fro $20.00 (and excellent price).  It would have been great to spend more time exploring this place.  Hopefully we will be able to visit again one day.

Les Vergers LaFrance
In St Joseph du Lac.  A beautiful orchard and cidrerie (is there an English word for this??)  Cider Mill?   Here there is a restaurant as well as play equipment for children.  The shop here largely focuses on their distilled products, jam, and apple donuts.  We had to try the apple donuts.  They were still warm when I purchased them, and very tasty (my husband loves donuts, I prefer cookies).  Are you getting the good food theme of our trip?  It must be Québec!!

La Maison de Lavande
This beautiful lavender farm is more geared for adults.  Just walking inside their beauty gift shop is relaxing.  A beautiful setting with beautiful products.  I was able to pick up some items here that I wanted for some Christmas gifts I will be making.  Just heavenly.

Les fromages du verger
Les fromages du verger is a small fromagerie located in St Joseph du Lac.  It is a fromgerie with an orchard.  The staff here are very friendly and I was able to sample several cheeses before deciding on the "Boheme" which we enjoyed for a picnic dinner.  There is a play area for children and they invited us to visit their sheep in the barn which was greatly appreciated.

As I mentioned earlier, you could spend days (days!!) in the St Joseph du Lac area visiting all the different farms and orchards.  It is beautiful and a delight especially if you enjoy the outdoors and good food.

Costco
Now for a complete change of venue, I have to mention that I made a large trip to Costco in St Jérome.  I need to mention this because this one single trip alone more than paid for the cost of my Costco memberhsip.  It is hard to get lots of French resources at reasonable prices in Ontario.  I was able to pick up great resources for both personal and professional use (books, DVDs, French language toys, etc.).  One dictionary (French language only) that I picked up was $20.00 less at Costco than I saw it listed for in other stores in the area.  I would also be remiss if I did not mention how much cheaper beer is in Québec.  Personally, I do not drink alcohol - but my family is from Belgium (of course they all drink beer and wine, except for me!) and my brother in law is Dutch so......we picked up some Christmas gifts that resulted in significant savings (my husband looked up everything and told me what to buy and it worked out to be about $100 in savings just for the beer).  There are also great cheeses to be had....of course (it is Québec) as well as some bulk maple products.  And of course, I picked up a pizza here for our supper that night.

Saint Donat -  Parc des Pionniers

Saint Donat is one of the region's best kept secrets.  It is primarily a ski/snowmobile/cycling destination - but it is in a stunningly beautiful area (technically just outside the Laurentians).  The drive alone is worth it.  We love visiting this area.  There is a beautiful main street with lots of shops, cafés, and restaurants.  (Aside: also near the area is Lac Supérieur - which does not have much but does have a great kids park, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, if you need a place for your kids to get out and run around it is by the library - also seemingly in the middle of nowhere.)

We went to St Donat to take our kids to the Parc des Pionniers.  Parc des Pionniers is a beautiful waterfront park.  There are two large play areas for children, trails, picnic tables, benches, washrooms, and a stunning view.  We easily spent a few hours here.  There is also parking located across the street.



The beach at Parc des Pionniers



In a nutshell:
The Laurentians are a fantastic area to visit (especially with kids) - the area is stunningly beautiful and there are many outdoor, free or low-cost activities that you can do as a family.  In addition, there are plenty of well priced, affordable, delicious dining options in the area.

Bon voyage!!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Great Grocery Project: September Recap

This month turned out to be quite busy!!!

There was lots of planning, and prepping, and getting ready for things to come - mainly my return to work in December.  We also took a vacation, which is why I am a bit late posting, but I will get to that later.

This month we spent $432.49 on groceries.  There was a lot of stocking up on things like cheese (on sale for $3.77), potatoes, carrots, onions, frozen pie shells, and two frozen turkeys.  September was also the month I decided to make a change to the grocery shopping.  The change is not in what we buy, but in methodology.  I have been regularly reading the flyers for years, I actually really enjoy it.  However, life is getting to the point where I do not have time to read the flyers weekly.  We get a lot of them!  If you read the flyers regularly, you know that the best sales essentially rotate among various stores in different (or sometimes the same) weeks.  If you read this blog, you also know that I regularly shop at No Frills, and my local No Frills will price match with Metro and Walmart flyers.  And so, I made the decision that I will no longer read the flyers weekly.  Going forward, I will be reading only the No Frills, Walmart, and Metro flyers.  This saves me time a fair amount of time and energy which is a big win in our house.  In addition, I subscribe to SaleWhale, so if there is something specific I really need that I am desperate to have (unlikely) I can search for a sale quickly using Sale Whale.

What did we spend our money on?
Beverages = $2.99
Bread = $10.96
Dairy = $111.61 (I stocked up on cheese specifically when it was on sale for a great price).
Frozen Food = $35.00 (I stocked up on frozen pie crusts on sale for $2.49, frozen corn, and 4 frozen pizzas for emergency meals).
Meat = $33.57  (Two frozen turkeys, some Reduced for Quick Sale ground beef and chicken).
Pantry = $133.21 Prepping for a few tight months with no income before I go back to work.
Prepared Food = $10.99  Did you know it's Pumpkin Pie season at Costco?  You literally cannot make a pie of the same size for what it costs to buy these.  And they know it.  There was actually an article devoted to this in the current issue of the Costco Members Magazine.
Produce = $70.06  There was lots of stocking up on root vegetables and potatoes at fantastic prices.

Recipe Share:
I made and froze a lot of beets this month.  I also tried a few new beet recipes.  Thanks to some readers at The Prudent Homemaker, I decided to try a beet chocolate cake.  AMAZING.  Actually - it was so good.

Click here for the recipe I used.  I used all purpose flour instead of cake flour (but had to increase the cooking time) and I did not grate the cooked beets because you end up pureeing them anyway.  I also used a different (cream cheese) icing.  This cake is sooooo good.



I also made a Beet Cranberry Chutney.  This recipe is super easy to make and very yummy.  You can use fresh or frozen cranberries as well as home roasted or boiled beets.  It can also be frozen.  It was delicious with crackers and goat's cheese.  It would also pair well with cream cheese or brie, and poultry or pork.  Or the vegetarian tourtière recipe that is suggested on the recipe link (I imagine, I haven't tried it with this myself).

For the French version of the recipe click here.

For the English version click here.







How did we save money this month?

When I started going through my list, I realized I probably should have done an earlier post. Nonetheless, here we are. 

1. Price matching - I continue to price match at No Frills.

2. Optimum Points Bonus Day and Survey - I love the Optimum rewards program through Shoppers Drug Mart.  This month I made purchases on a day when I could earn bonus points.  I also am a member of their consumer panel, and so I earn extra points by completing surveys they send.  Finally, every Tuesday I receive a coupon with a special offer via text.  I've never used one of these, until last week when we were on vacation and I realized I had forgotten to bring Little Swimmers and there were some other items I needed to pick up.  I happened to get a great coupon that Tuesday - so I used it.  Hurray for bonus points.

3. Ebates Cheque - I received an Ebates cheque for $11.77.  

4. Costco Executive Membership Rebate Cheque - I received our rebate cheque which was for $75.00.  I'm a bit blasée about this program.  It covers the cost of the Executive Membership (but not the full membership) because we do not spend enough money at Costco.  It's not a loss because we still save loads on some specific items at Costco that I can't get on sale other places (specialty cheeses!!), but it's hard to get excited about it.

5. House Photos - I will save most of the details for another post, but we were getting photos done of our house and I staged it myself and made my own flower arrangements with flowers from the grocery store.

6. Vacation - We went on our first non-family visiting vacation in five years.  (Expect a future post about this).  We traveled to the Laurentians and used points from our MasterCard so we did not pay a penny for our hotel.  UPDATE: Trip details are now available here.

7. Clothing Discount - I have a list of things I need before returning to work - so I went to the Vaughan Mills outlet mall.  I was about to pay at a store when I remembered that 3 years ago (the last time I was shopping for work clothes), this store offered a discount for members of my profession.  There was no sign posted, but I asked if they still did this.  Yes they do!  $34.75 came off my bill.  BIG SMILE.

8. DIY Christmas Gifts - I made personal journals and also started working on some additional DIY Christmas gifts.

9. Make Ahead and Freeze - I am making ahead and freezing food for a party we are hosting in October.

10.  I filled up at Costco when I noticed gas there was actually a lot cheaper (it isn't always) and this saved me $12.00.

I hope you all had a wonderful month!!