How to Plan a Staycation

Sunnyside Beach

Wouldn’t it be great to escape the chaos and day-to-day responsibilities of our everyday lives for a week of fun and relaxation somewhere far away?  But what if it’s not in the budget?  Airfare, hotel rooms, rental car, dining out, and other travel expenses can make getting away very expensive.  And even if money isn’t a factor, sometimes health issues or work obligations prevent us from going away anytime we feel like it. It’s March break here and I am feeling we could use some down time.

But that doesn’t mean when the kids are home from school for summer vacation that you can’t still have a great time! Why not plan to take a vacation right in your own backyard?  A true Staycation is more than just time off at home, it’s an intentional time of fun and relaxation for your family.  It may take a little effort to do it right, but ultimately, it can be just as fun as going out of town.

  1. Set ground rules. The point of a Staycation is to make it feel as much like a real vacation as possible, without leaving home. To make sure the whole family is on the same page, it’s good to set some ground rules that everyone can agree on.  These could include some or all of the following:
  • No email
  • No computer or video games
  • No work
  • No fighting
  • Family time only—no independent activities
  • No cooking, cleaning or doing laundry
  1. Spruce up your bedroom. Make sure you have cozy soft sheets and that they are freshly washed. Add some scented fabric softener to the laundry so they smell great.  Unplug the alarm clock and hide it in the closet.  Put fresh flowers on your nightstand along with a book you’ve been looking forward to reading.  Fill a basket with your favorite snacks and some bottled water to keep in your room.  Place scented candles around to encourage relaxation.
  2. Be a tourist. Do you live in or near a city like we do where there are lots of tourist attractions?  If you do, you’ve likely never been a tourist in your own home town.  This is the time to explore where you live.  Visit local museums or monuments, try out a couple of the “hot spots” for dinner, go to the zoo, attend a sporting event or get theater or concert tickets. Here in Toronto, there are lots to do, and lots of them are free.
  3. Spend time in the great outdoors. Go on a nature walk at a nearby national park. With Rouge Park being a National Park and with all national parks being free for the 150th anniversary of Canada this one is budget friendly as well.  Do you live within a couple hours’ drive from a beach?  Take a day trip. If you’re not close to a beach or hiking area, go to a local park for a game of Frisbee, a long walk or some fishing.  Go camping or watch movies in the backyard. Here in Toronto, you might want to head over to the Toronto Islands which are just a short ride away.
  4. Enjoy a family night in. Play a board game together.  Have a movie night complete with popcorn and hot fudge sundaes.  Work on a puzzle or invent a new game.  Build a fire to roast marshmallows and tell scary stories.

You don’t have to spend a lot of money, or even travel out of town to enjoy a fun and relaxing family vacation.  I hope these ideas have inspired a few ideas of your own! We are looking forward to our next staycation right here at home.

The 5 Best Places to Experience the Fall Colours in the GTA

It’s that time of the year. Fall is slowly coming to Toronto; it’s time to exchange those flip flops for sips of pumpkin spice and a sweater especially at night.  It is also time for our traditional fall hike. Every year, my teen and I head out for a long hike on Thanksgiving Monday. We love taking in mother nature, especially when she is so full of colour!

So where is the are the best places to experience fall colours in all their glory in the Toronto area? I have some favourites. Here are the five best places:

1. High Park

Yesterday at #highpark it was all about the leaves and squirrel watching. #naturelovers

A photo posted by Hollie (@commoncentsmom) on

Over the past few years, High Park has been our favourite place to go for a hike. We climb down the stairs on the west side of the park and follow the creek towards the lake. We then often head over to the High Park Zoo. My teen loves the ducks! I am sure we will see them again on Monday.

 

2. Bluffers Park

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Some years ago, we lived in Scarborough, and both of us loved this park. This park combines with Rouge Park to give you 40 km of trails to explore, but we love the change of colours right along the cliffs. They are beautiful to behold.

3. Riverdale Farm

riverdale-farm-fall

We love this farm, and when my now teen was little, we spent many hours at this park. We love that their is a working farm right here in the city. There is lots of history to explore in this area, and the Don Valley is just a short walk away.

4. Don Valley Brick Works

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We love the Evergreen Brick Works Community Centre for the history it provides but loves the views and trails in this area even more! There are so many great trails and so many great vistas from which to take that perfect fall photo shot.

5. Humber Valley

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The Humber River is quickly becoming a favourite place of mine. It has parks all the way from the Lakeshore all the way up to Steeles. This series of parks makes for a great day of hiking, vistas, and beauty. We are currently in love with the Humber Marshes Park right now.

Let me know if you decide to take a hike in or outside the city; there are so many great places to take in the views.

 

The Best Things to Do and Try and this Years CNE

It is that time of year again. The Canadian National Exhibition is returning once again! Did you know this exhibition is one of the largest in North America and has been around since 1879! Every year they add new attractions, new shows, and there are always new foods to try.

If you don’t already have your tickets, there are some easy ways to do things on a budget. Go opening day and get in for  $8.

Kids Toonie Mondays are also back. Kids get in for $2 on Monday, August 22nd and 29th. There are also ride ticket specials on these days.

For youth day, August 30th, youth under 17 can get into the CNE for $6. Here again look for ride specials.

Mondays to Thursdays at the CNE you can get in for $6 after 5 pm.

Now that I have shared some great pricing deals lets talk about what will be great to see and do at this year’s Ex. Yesterday was Media Day at the CNE, and if you follow me on Twitter, you saw me sharing some of what’s new and exciting.

What do I think will make for a great day? With so many things to see and do there is something for everyone in the family. From the rides to the all the entertainment, games and shopping to explore there is always fun to have when the Ex comes to town.

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Do you have little ones? Make sure you check out the farm and Kids World. One of the acts not to miss in the Farm area is the Agri-Magic show from August 19th-24th.  It’s a great interactive show that will teach your kids about Canadian farming. While in the farm area as well be sure to check out the butter sculptures.  The Kids World Stage is full of great acts this year as well. Make sure you check out the Incredible Magic of Professor Wick, Bob the Builder, Thomas and Friends and there will even be a few character meet and greets.

Love a parade, check out the daily Mardi Gras Parade. I was even it one year!

One of the other new things to check out is the CNE Innovation Garage. An exciting new showcase for the latest & greatest consumer products complete with a Pitch Competition and an Innovation Playground where CNE visitors can interact with inventors and their innovations!  This is only on opening weekend so be sure to check it out then.

pokemon go at the CNE

Make sure you check out the The Great Canadian Water Ski Caper, and the CNE brings great shows back to the waterfront.

 

Now if you are into the Pokemon Go game, you can even take it the the CNE. There are 30 pokestops and three gyms on the CNE grounds.

Love food. There is much to check out and try.

Ever thought of eating bugs? You can try a Bug Dog at the Bug Bistro. They only cost $6.75

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We love how creative Frans can be and can’t wait to try a blueberry milkshake for $12.

blue berry milkshake CNE

My daughter can’t wait for a Jolly Rancher doughnut from Tim Hortons. They are $1.50

We also can’t wait to try the Sweet Potato Pie for $6. It has maple marshmallows and bacon.

sweet potato pie CNE

One the things we are looking forward to most is watching the final Tragically Hip concert on screen at the Band Shell.

Let me know what you are looking forward to at the CNE.

 

 

 

 

Metro Master Class at Taste of Toronto

The Metro Master Class at the Taste of Toronto

This past weekend I got to attend the Taste of Toronto not once, not twice but three times. I have gone every year since the festival started and each year I fall more in love with it. Have you been to the Taste of Toronto?

Over the years, I have been blessed to be invited by Metro, one of the sponsors and I must say their master classes have always been one of my favourite parts of the festival. I love learning new things and this year I learned how to make pasta finally, and I also learned how to make this wonderful yummy Greek eggplant dip. If you follow my social media channels, you would have seen my tweets and Instagram photos.

taste of toronto

I love getting to try the new creations the chefs from some of Toronto’s best restaurants put together. This year since I got to 3 sessions I was able to try several dishes. There were some that I loved and some I liked none were bad. One session I was there with a friend, one I was there with my daughter and one I was the guest of a VIP. Because I went with three different people, I had three different experiences which were great.

fried rice from The Drake

On Thursday night it was nice to see who won Best Taste and Best Dressed. Loved that The Drake won for it’s ChinaTown platter. I was also great to meet Chuck Hughes, who was the celebrity chef who gave the award. After the awards had been done, I sat in the Toronto Life tent and was a part of a great conversation with Matthew Hickey from Holt Renfrew. Who knew the store had a chef? I didn’t. My favourite dish that night was the True North Salmon Fried Rice from The Drake.

Ceaser

Friday I went with a friend who I had enjoyed the festival with last year. We also attend the Master Class by Metro after first learning how to make the best Caesars with Ketel One. It was fun to learn how to make a Canadian drink staple from an award-winning bartender. So Friday was all about pasta and Caesars for me. Now that was a fun combination. We also tried a few dishes, and both of us loved the Lamb from Mamakas Taverna.

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Saturday was my daughter’s first visit to Taste of Toronto. Next year, she will be nineteen and able to try some of the drinks she wanted to try. Before we left home, she had already looked at the program and circled six things she wanted to try. By the time she had four she was full. She found out she loved Brussel sprouts and octopus balls. Who knew? Dessert for her was the highlight and she loved the Churros Nest from El Cabalitto Teliuila y Tacos & Los Colibris. After lots of tasting it was time to learn as we were Metro’s guest at a Master class.

Metro Master Class at Taste of Toronto

My daughter loves to cook and was excited to learn something new. She loved learning how to make a great Greek eggplant dip called Melizanosalata from Chef Chris Kalisperas  from Mamaskas Taverna. We brought it home with us, and I grabbed some pita bread from Metro yesterday, and it was so good.

One of the gifts all attendees at the Metro Master class received was the “Nourish Cookbook”. It is full of many great whole food recipes that my daughter and I can’t wait to try. She even sent me to Metro yesterday to pick up some ingredients she wanted so we could make the best salted chocolate chunk cookies. I do love shopping at Metro when I can as they have a wonderful in store brand. We were even sent home from the Taste of Toronto with a few products from the store that we can’t wait to try this week.

Did you get to the Taste of Toronto? If so let me know what were your favourite dishes?

Treat Your Mom to Medieval Times this May

Over the last couple of years, one of our favorite places in Toronto for a great family fun night out has become the Medieval Times. Who can resist some chivalry and honor? Both my daughter and I love the show. We get to attend about once a year.

The Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament will take you back to a different time. Long ago,  there were royal audiences, royal feasts and knights fought great battles in a tournament a  to see who was the finest in the land.

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My daughter loves that even the meal reminds her of an old fashion feast since you eat everything with your hands and well she loves the flowers being tossed into the audience even though she has not landed one yet. I know many moms who love the show as well.

2015-01-31-15.59.19-e1423067513497 On a recent visit to the castle, my daughter became a knight (something special you can add on to your night) So now I guess she is Dame Rachel.

The show as always never disappoints. I am not sure which I enjoy more the battle in the tournament or the dancing horses, and one can not forget the falconer and the Falcon. They pack a lot of action into the two-hour production.

Medieval Times

Now here is the exciting news.

One of my blog readers will win 2 tickets to Medieval Times here in Toronto.

*Giveaway is open to those who can attend a show here in Toronto. This giveaway will end May 6th, 2016

Enter on the Rafflecopter below.

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How to Have a Frugal Staycation During March Break

Next week, is March Break here in Toronto, meaning parents are looking for things for their kids to do. Across the country as Canadians kids get a break parents will be looking for ways to save on March Break activities. Here are some of the ways we have done it over the years here:

library

 

 

 

 

Check out your local library first

The first place I always check out for March Break programs is the local library. They often have fun stuff to do and it is free for the most part. Here in Toronto there is plenty to choose from this year. Clothing Hacking, the 3D printer certification and sushi making all caught her eye this year.

Hit the Park

Another favorite thing to do for us was discover a new local park. Here in Toronto there are so many parks, how many have you visited besides the park in your neighbourhood? A little too cold for the park? Why not hit up the Allan Gardens Conservatory. You might even bump into us there. Great place for the budding photographer in the family to play with their skills.

Get to the Art Gallery

Here in Toronto the AGO has the wonderful Free After Three program that is open to Youth age 14-25, and on it is free for everyone. Have you checked out your local art programs? Attention all High School students! Did you know you can visit the Gallery for FREE after 3 pm Tuesday to Friday? Simply present a valid student ID at the ticket desk. This program is not just for March Break fun. Now for regular admission, they have a drop-in program planned with Zero Gravity. Sounds like a fun time is to be had at the AGO.

Take in a movie

Cheap movies are back in many parts of Canada with March Break Movies. Great time to watch a movie, and for only $2.99 you can’t go wrong. Participating theatres are in New Brunswick, New Foundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia.

Want to stay home and watch a show, have Netflix, March Break is the perfect time to do a camp out in the living room and watch your favourite shows.

Check Your Favourite Retailers for Free or Frugal Activities

Chapters Indigo has a full slate of activities across Canada as well. You can always check out the Spring Break Escape with your little ones.

Ikea will be hosting scavenger hunts, craft sessions, and other kid-friendly activities each day  at select stores. This is for the 12 and under crowd. Check ikea.ca for participating locations in your area.

Have a toymaker in your family they can build a toy at Home Depot. Register your child (ages four to 12) for Home Depot’s two-hour toy-building workshop. Find dates and register online at homedepot.ca

skating

Take in a Free Skate or Swim

With this weather there is still snow on the ground across Canada this March Break so if you are looking for Tim Hortons free skating or swimming events there are many to choose from across the country. To see if your community is included, visit timhortons.com

Visit a Farmers Market

How about visiting a local farmer’s market? Have breakfast there. Buy the food needed to make a meal and then go home and cook it. March break is a great time to teach kids cooking skills.

Hit the Mall

The last on my list every year is to check your local mall listings as many have special events. I know here in Toronto several malls have fun things to do this week.

Volunteer in the Community

There are many organizations that will let you volunteer together as a family. You can find the best organizations for your family here in Toronto by visiting Volunteer Toronto.

Stay At Home

Want to stay at home? There are so many things you can do to break the boredom.

*Build a fort and have it be the place you camp out at home

*Bake cookies

*Do an art project

*Have a board game marathon

 

These are just a few ways to keep kids busy this March break. Tonight,  join me as we talking about ways to have a Frugal Staycation during March Break for the #CDNmoney chat on Twitter. The conversation starts at 7 pm, hope you can join me!

 

3 Simple Ways To Save at the Canadian National Exhibition

 

 

Princes Gate is ready

This week marks the start of the Canadian National Exhibition, for us it is a tell tale sign summer is almost at a close here in Toronto.  Opening Day is Friday August 21st this year. That is just a few sleeps away as my daughter reminded me.

For us the most important day at the CNE is Warriors Day, which is always the first Saturday, but we have gone on many days taking in the rides, the food, the free entertainment and simply exploring all the ex has to offer.

So how can get the most out of the CNE and not break the bank?

1.Take Advantage of Advance Purchase Options

 

You can still buy tickets early from retail partners, or at any Go Station, did you know you can save at least 36% this way? You can can also order online to save in advance of August 21st.

If you order online there are some bonuses, like

  • Buy your tickets online and receive coupon offers for 9 different Food Building vendors: Pizza Nova, Coffee Time, Harvey’s, Philthy Philly’s, Pita Pit, Pizza Pizza, Swiss Chalet, Subway, Bouchard’s Poutinery

2.Reedem Your Airmiles to Get Tickets

 

 You can redeem Airmiles as well for General Admittance or Ride all Day passes. You can get a Admission pass for 2 for 300 airmiles. Remember this does not include your rides.

a view of the CNE

 

 3.Attend on Kids or Youth Day

There are some ways to save even if you forget to get your tickets before the 21st.  Go opening day for $8, or go after 5 pm Monday to Thursday for $6,  Kids Toonies Mondays is also back, and on Sept 1st young people under 19 can get in for free till 3 pm. Your can find out more here.

There are also lots of free entertainment options at the Ex. Explore some of the acts. After a two year hiatus, the aerial acrobatics and ice skating show returns to the CNE this year in a spectacular new show. Canadian Ice Dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir return to the CNE and will perform every day of the fair and there are so many other acts to check out as well.

Kids World is wonderful and we love the Kidzone Interactive Area, an area that is free.

The Farm is another feature that has always been a family favorite. Visiting the animals and watching the sheep shearing was one of the things my daughter loved when she was younger.

The Horse and Air Shows have also been family favorites over the years.

When it comes to food set a budget, bring a water bottle and refill it. There are lots of food deals to be found. Take a walk around the food building before you buy, you are sure to find something to fit that budget. We love the 99 cent pasta that can still be found, but we always try something new as well.

The Ex has always been the family favorite way to end the summer!

Are you planning on on going this year? What do you look forward to at the Ex the most?

Enjoy yourself at #ArtTonite a new cocktail inspired evening of painting in #Toronto

When I was younger I loved to draw and paint, so when my daughter picked up the love of art I was estatic. I am very grateful that she is a much better artist than me and she just had her second art gallery showing recently. But lets get back to my days as an artist.

When I was a student I had sketch books full of pastels, charcoal and even some water colors. I loved being creative. I remember well one summer I was working at the University with the ballet school. I would sit and draw the young ballerinas. I loved it. It was such a great escape. With the passing of time though my hobby took a back burner as well I got busy being a mom and working hard. My friends and I used to hang out lots now it is less frequent and well a good girls night out happens a few times a year.

ArtTonite-Blog-Post

I miss getting out with my girlfriends the most. Recently I was introduced to a new event here in Toronto. It is called Art Tonite!  It is a night out, full of painting and creating all while having a cocktail or two with friends.

Art Tonite is a cocktail inspired night of social painting that brings people together over music, painting friends and cocktails at upscale venues through out the city.  Guests will awaken their expressive sides while enjoying drinks, meeting new people and having fun with friends.  Connections are made over shared interests, conversation and creative energy. That is Art Tonite.

Each event lasts 2 hours and you leave with your very own creation.

You can view a list of upcoming events her or even schedule your own private group event here. Creating your own art piece, while having a great time with friends or perhaps even a date sounds perfect to me.

ArtTonite-Blog-WIN

Now some great news, the team at Art Tonite has given me 2 tickets to an upcoming event to  giveaway.  So one of my readers will have 2 tickets to enjoy an evening of creativity here in Toronto.  Simply enter the Rafflecopter below.
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A Stay at the Eaton Chelsea

This past weekend for Family Day we took a very nice stay-cation right here in Toronto. We headed to the Eaton Chelsea Hotel right in the heart of Toronto. If you are visiting Toronto or even having a stay-cation like we were it puts you right where the action is. It is a huge hotel (several different elevators for different floors, 1500 rooms and 5 basements)  that is currently undergoing a huge renovation project. I can’t wait to see what the new suite rooms will look like.

dc the robot eaton chelsea

Since it was Family Day weekend and the pool in the Family Fun Zone had just reopened as we arrived the lobby was a very busy place with several families checking in for the weekend. To greet us there was DC the robot who made sure he mentioned the adult only pool on the 27th floor for me and told my teen where the teen lounge was. Rachel suggested they have a teen check in as they do have one for the little kids. In fact, I think for the under 12 crowd the hotel has everything you might need from stroller rentals to highchairs and cribs.

double room Eaton Chelsea

When we got to our room (2 double beds), it was nice to see the little extra touches. The fridge I had requested for the room was already in the room and since it was Valentine’s Weekend there was also a single rose in the bathroom. Little things do matter.

For the first night we decided to order in pizza, there was a pizza menu on the desk so we ordered pizza and sodas to our room and watched a movie we rented on the in house movie channel. There was lots to select from and so many were family friendly.  While watching the movie I even got caught up on some email on the free wifi that is available in every room in the hotel.

family fun zone eaton chelsea

On Saturday we explored the Family Fun Zone. We stopped by the Kids Centre to take a peek in and for the younger crowd there was a jammed packed day planned that included crafts and even movies and popcorn in the afternoon and evening. Did you know they have special programming around the school holidays? You might want to see what they have planned for March Break or the summer. My teen decided to check out the the Club33 teen lounge and grabbed a game for the Xbox systems that they have in the lounge. As well there are several arcade games, air hockey and even a pool table, so remember if you have a teen, send them down with some change. All are pay to play.

family pool Eaton Chelsea

One of the best features of the hotel, is it houses Toronto’s only indoor waterslide at its family pool. My teen even went down the slide a few times. I went upstairs to the adult pool and lounged by the pool and read and dreamed I was in a far away place.

By the time we got around to dinner we were hungry so we headed down to the Monarch Pub. My teen teen loved the grilled cheese sandwich that had 6 cheeses and dill pickle cooked inside along side a ceasar salad. I had the delicious butter chicken and we shared a molten chocolate dessert as it was Valentine’s Day after all.

pirate breakfast Eaton Chelsea

Saturday evening meant more time at the pool and time to relax, wishing for the day not to end. Sunday was our final day at the hotel and it started with a bang with a Pirate breakfast in the Market Garden. The restaurant not only houses Starbucks coffee, but healthy grab and go options as well as stations where you can watch your meal be cooked right in front of you. We ate both our breakfasts here. I had french toast one day and an omelette the next. My teen had pancakes and bacon then an omelette the second. The pirates at breakfast brought an excitement to the meal and they even renamed my daughter Ruthless Rachel. I did notice the price on the kids meals and they were very reasonable.

The weekend ended too soon and based on what we saw, we enjoyed this budget friendly family hotel. If you are looking for a family friendly place to stay while in Toronto I think you will enjoy all it has to offer. You may even want to sign up for their 1865 privilege club which is free to join and gives you extra perks including late check out options. They also have their own app you can download. If you want more information on the hotel you can always find them online or on Twitter at @EatonChelseaTO

* I did get invited to stay at the hotel for a free night stay, but did pay for the rest of my stay. I did also get 3 free meals. My opinons  as always are still my own.

 

 

 

 

Perfect Date Night In Toronto: Getting Hitched at Mysteriously Yours

So last week was the boyfriend’s birthday so I was looking for something special as a way to celebrate. Since we were going to be celebrating on the Friday night I decided on taking in  dinner and a who done it at Mysteriously Yours. It was opening night for the new show. “Getting Hitched” is now on at Mysteriously Yours.

getting hitched

A night at the Mysteriously Yours dinner theater is well the perfect date night. Think about it, you get a great meal created by their new chef, Justine Vott. Just after dessert you get to solve a mystery.

mysteriously yours food

Let’s talk food first, a good meal is always something you are guaranteed to get at Mysteriously Yours.  With a great 3 course menu you can definitely find something to enjoy. There are even several gluten free options on the menu. I started with soup of the day as it was a cold night and wanted something to warm me up. With a choice of 4 main entrees including a vegan entry it was hard to choose what I wanted but I went with the Maple Dijon Chicken while my date chose the Provencale Beef Stew. For dessert we both had the Salted Chocolate Pot De Creme. Those we were dining with had the lemon tart and that looked good as well. I loved my choices.

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Now I have been going to shows at the theater for years, I first took my mom to a show back in 1996. Yes, almost 20 years ago when they were at the Royal York Hotel. I love the cheesy fun factor of a good murder mystery night.

getting hitch cast

 

With a new show, there is always a certain buzz in the air. Birgitte Solem and Brain Caws wrote “Getting Hitched” and I loved the dynamics of the cast. It was nice to see a face in the crowd of actors that I didn’t recognize but you know may know him from his time on Degrassi The Next Generation, Tim Melissis. A new face at Mysteriously Yours is Paddy Forde, who is originally from England. I loved him in dual roles as Hitch and his brother, Archie.

Overall the new show makes for a great night out and perfection for a date. Thinking of planning for Valentine’s Day? I highly recommend it.