Category Archives: At home

Summer’s here….but going quickly!!

Wow – summer is here and already it feels like it is flying by. After kicking off the summer with less than stellar weather, we’ve finally had a good stretch and the warm weather is most welcome.

The last few weeks have gone by so quickly; I had a quick work trip to Paris that Heidi joined me for, school ended for the kids, the big guy celebrated his fifth birthday, I acknowledged mine and we had a visit from my sister and her family after Canada Day. This weekend we had another visitor and took advantage of the great weather to get to the beach and play some golf. A couple of photos below wrap up this blur of three weeks. It seems like this pace will continue over the next couple of weeks before we leave for our own summer vacation.

This year we have left our vacation plans until the second part of the summer which I enjoy doing because by the time people at work are starting to return from their own vacations, we are just taking off and sometime the anticipation is just as much fun as the event.

Starting at the end of July, we have a trip to the Maritimes planned with stops in Gaspe, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia. A couple of other camping trips will round out the summer.

What plans does everybody else have for the summer? I trust that I am not alone in feeling like this summer is already slipping by too quickly.

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Purchased: ChefX

I am certain, after being told numerous times, that buying Christmas or birthday gifts for me is near to impossible. Despite that, I know my parents always put great care into thinking of gifts that are shippable, useable and wanted. This year, that led them to purchasing a gift certificate to a relatively new service in Ottawa called Chefx.

The basic premise of Chefx is that they provide and deliver all the ingredients you need to make a great meal after working with local chefs to develop easy-to-follow, step by step recipes which are also provided. I remember reading about it when it was first started; I believe the entrepreneur is a former public servant who had the guts to strike out on his own with this new idea.

There are two meals offered each week and you are able to choose which one(s) you would like by selecting through the website. I found the website a little confusing, but part of that was because I was using a gift certificate rather than traditional ordering. For our first meal last week, I ordered the Lemon leek lamb patties, a recipe developed by Marysol Foucault from Chez Edgar. This is a great little restaurant on the Gatineau side of the river that I would recommend to anyone visiting Ottawa – I have been a few times and it has always been stellar so I expected that her recipe wouldn’t let me down either.

The ingredients are all delivered in a cooler to prepare the meals for that week. The delivery came on Sunday and after unpacking, it was clear that they think of everything. All the ingredients are clearly labelled and the only thing missing was the salt and pepper. (which was noted on the recipe)

Ingredients ready to go

Putting the recipe together still involved some chopping, various steps of cooking, and messing up the kitchen a bit so it is certainly more involved than ordering take-out but I’d say it is much more satisfying as well, and healthier I’m sure. I had my sous-chef, Lil’ E, to help me through the process. The ingredients were all top-notch, clearly they have a better source of produce than I do for the middle of winter in Ottawa.

We were so eager to eat that I forgot to take a picture of the final result but it actually came together pretty much like the picture on the website – I was impressed with that! The recipe was delicious and a departure from what I would typically cook. The portions were also very generous – I ended up eating it in my lunch the next day as well.

Although I meant to post this last week, after doing another meal this week (elk burgers with pistachio winter green salad) , I think this service is certainly something that I will do on an ad-hoc basis. I am not sure that I could always keep up with a subscription that included one or two meals each week.

Things to do in Ottawa (winter edition)

Even though my phone alerted me that it was -29 degrees (Celsius) yesterday, one thing that I always appreciate about this time of year though is that it gives us a chance to settle into routine a bit and get some things done that we seem to get through during the rest of the year. Ottawa has some unique outdoor activities in the winter that we try to take advantage of at least a little bit. After all, it is a four-season country and some of those seasons are longer than others so giving up on winter would be quite a waste.

Together as a family we brainstormed a list of things to do in Ottawa before the end of winter. (Which I consider to be March break, even if it often isn’t!) Many of these are things we have done in winters past but it is nice to have traditions.*

*As per my family custom, if any activity happens more than once it instantly attains ‘tradition’ status

Canadian Museum of History – The children’s museum at the former Museum of Civilization is always a hit and since we usually only go about once a year, it is a good opportunity to check out the special exhibits. A spin through the regular exhibitions is interesting as well; even if Canada’s history hasn’t changed since last year, the kids’ interests have and they tend to gravitate to different things each time.

National Art Gallery – Our attempt to ingest some culture; we usually get to this gallery once a year as well and wonder why we don’t go more often. On the weekends, they run Artissimo which has interactive components for the kids that have been quite a hit in the past.

Skating – Over the Christmas holidays we finally got the Big Guy going on skates so it should be fun to do this as a full family now. Of course, Ottawa is most famous for the Rideau Canal but there are other great spots for a family skate as well. After discovering the great ice at the Rink of Dreams last year, we will definitely be back there and Lil’ E was also intrigued by the rink at the Governor General’s residence, originally built in 1872 by the Earl of Dufferin. The new skating court at Landsdowne also looks interesting to check out so there is no shortage of places to try.

The Rideau Canal – one of our many skating opportunities

Hockey game – I realized that the Big Guy has never been to one. I am not too sure that he has the attention span to sit through one, and Lil’ E is terrified of mascots but I think we will still give this a try, either with some cheap Senators tickets through Stubhub or one of the Family Packs that the 67s (our local junior team) have been advertising.

Museum of Nature – We still have our annual pass but have not yet been to check out the new special exhibit on Arctic Voices, so I expect we will do that soon. The transformation of this museum over the past years has been amazing and has really made it into a favorite for the kids. Ottawa is lucky to have this museum in addition to all the others.

These were the few ideas that we came up with to keep us busy over the next couple of months but there are also lots of good ideas on local blogs such as Kids in the Capital, OttawaStart, and others.

Cooking with the kids

As a function of the way our days work, since I leave early before the kids are even dressed, I get home first with the kids and often while they are eating their snack after school, I will be starting to prepare dinner. They ask some pretty funny questions, particularly about meat – what kind of animal is that? what part of the body does it come from? what are you doing now? It makes me proud that they take an interest in what actually goes into a meal and how it’s made. I think they have watched enough ‘Chopped’ and ‘Cutthroat Kitchen’ to see cooking as something that is exciting and their interest is piqued.

More recently though, instead of being bystanders, I have tried to incorporate them a bit in making the meals and for the most part, they’ve been pretty enthusiastic. This works pretty well (most days) for a couple of reasons; it keeps them busy while I get dinner ready, and it seems to result in them being more likely to eat what we make.

My sous-chef at work

A real favorite to make seems to be chicken fingers  – since they both love eating them and they also seem to enjoy the assembly line process of putting them together. Other things we have made recently include meatloaf, cinnamon buns, pizzas and some homemade macaroni and cheese. The big guy is always in charge of stirring, and likes to think he should also be in charge of breaking in the eggs, which usually puts me in charge of sifting out egg shells for the next few minutes. Lil’ E is a bit more versatile now, and also a little less to clean up after.

Chicken finger assembly line

I have found this to be a really fun activity to do with the kids, and have started to learn a few things about how to make it more enjoyable. I know enough now to have everything prepped prior to getting them involved, and also to work with them to pick a recipe that they are interested both in making and in eating.

Purchased: New Wheels

As mentioned in a previous post, our Honda CR-V, the first car I have ever owned from ‘new’, started to show some signs of its age this summer. First, the A/C compressor blew out on our roadtrip this summer, then we realized we would need new front brakes before the summer, and there was also the increasing number of creaks and squeaks that seemed to appear every time we drove it.

None of this was a surprise with an 8-year old car so we made the decision rather quickly to try and sell it off before dumping a bunch more money into it. We were lucky enough to sell it on our work bulletin board to an eager buyer and it was gone within days.

The CR-V in happier times. Outer Banks, NC.

We often have discussed our need for more space, particularly when people are visiting or we are on a long road trip, so the minivan became our point of focus. We settled in on the Honda Odyssey as it seemed to check all the boxes for us.

While a quick and easy sale was great, it also left us without a car and we needed to move quickly. I had heard of Unhaggle previously, and since we had a pretty good idea of what we wanted, I put our specifications in. Esentially what Unhaggle offers is the car costing sheet – what the dealer pays for the car – for free. In addition, for a fee of $99, Unhaggle will solicit offers from car dealers in your area with the idea being that they will compete against each other for your business and you end up with the lowest price.

I was going to pursue this but reading through a few message boards online, people seemed to think you could get a better price most of the time by negotiating yourself rather than putting it through Unhaggle if you were willing to put in a little bit of time.

One thing that has really changed since we bought our last car is that car dealerships will actually respond to, and bargain over, e-mail. Almost every dealership I e-mailed in our two days when I knew we needed a new car was good about coming back with a solid offer and also willing to beat other offers that I got over e-mail. This ended up being almost as efficient as using a service like Unhaggle.

We basically figured out the price floor pretty quickly for our vehicle and I checked online via RedFlagDeals and a couple of other forums to ensure we knew what the best prices others were getting.

With that, it only took us about an hour and a half in the dealership to review the features of the Odyssey, go back and forth once on price, and then decline all the extra warranties, rustproofing, and whatever else they try to add on. All in all, a very smooth sale and we knew we were getting what we wanted at a very good price.

Two weeks in, and we are both pretty happy with our purchase. The space in this car is endless, it will be great to be able to take extra passengers and we are eager to plan out some exciting family roadtrips over the next few years.

Purchased: A Springfree Trampoline

When I was a kid, the thing I felt I was really missing out on was having a trampoline in our backyard. Every once in a while, we would visit someone who had one and I would never want to get off. Not understanding the severity of spinal injuries, I couldn’t understand why everyone wouldn’t have one of these.

Fast forward 25 years and not only have trampolines become a lot safer (at least this one) but I also finally have one in my backyard. For about the past year we have been discussing getting a trampoline and in April we finally went ahead and got one.

There was never a doubt that we would be buying a Springfree model, given their much safer design where the kids are not exposed to the springs and the net is of a more forgiving nature than some of the other models. However, we wavered on what size to get and watched for them to go on sale.

The model we finally bought is the Large Oval (8′ by 13′) since it fits perfectly into the spot we had picked out for it and intrudes on our backyard very little. Originally I was concerned that this model may not quite be big enough but after assembly and a few weeks of bouncing now, I think this model works well for two younger kids. (and their dad every once in a while)

Overall, this was a great purchase for our family. The kids love getting outside to spend time in the backyard on it and I think they will get a lot of use out of it. The setup of the trampoline is definitely some effort (despite what the videos on the website say) and took us a little over three hours. I would not look at any other models than the Springfree. The setup and the additional cost are both much easier than dealing with one broken arm on a more traditional model.

A note on pricing

Since we decided last year that we were going to buy a trampoline this spring, we have been watching the prices and have realized that there is very little fluctuation. Springfree controls this to a certain degree by their distribution. In Canada, I believe they only sell through Toys R’ Us, Canadian Tire, Sears and Lowes. In addition to that, they seem to give each store access to a slightly different selection of the trampoline models. For example, our model is only sold through Toys R’ Us and the Large Square (11’x11′) model is only sold through Canadian Tire. When I was searching, I tried to find information on the best prices for each of the models and didn’t have much luck. Based on my experience, the best promotion for the large oval is when it goes on sale for $150 off. It seems that the large square (11’x11′) only ever goes $100 off at Canadian Tire while the Jumbo (13’x13′) goes on sale for up to $200 off at Sears and Toys R’ Us. Interestingly, Springfree trampolines are much more expensive in the United States than in Canada. A nice change!