December 26, 2014

Did You Know? Fun Facts about Reindeer

Merry Christmas friends! I hope everyone enjoyed spending time with their family and friends, and that was Santa was good to you all. I was able to spend Christmas with my family for the first time in 5 years, which makes me one happy girl. But more on that in the coming weeks.

Speaking of Santa... When people think of reindeer, they often visualize Rudolph and his team of friends flying through the midnight sky pulling the big man's sleigh. But, there is so much more to these fascinating Arctic creatures than stories have told. How much do you really know about this northernmost deer species? Here are 10 fun facts about reindeer to impress your family and friends this holiday season...

In North America, reindeer found in the wild are actually called caribou. The word reindeer is only used to describe those that have become domesticated, or live close to people (such as Santa). However, in Europe they are all reindeer regardless of living in the wild or captivity.

Caribou are the northernmost deer species, found in the Arctic tundra and northern forests of North America, Europe, Asia and Russia.

Male caribou are called bulls, and as an adult average 350-400 pounds. Mature females, called cows, are smaller and average 175-225 pounds.

Caribou have the longest documented migration of any terrestrial animal. Like most herd animals, they must move to find adequate food, often traveling up to 3,000 miles or 5,000 km between summer and winter ranges in a single year. 

Caribou are a members of the deer family (which also contains elk, deer and moose). However, unlike other members of the deer family, both male and female caribou grow antlers. Antlers are made of bone, and when they are growing have a fuzzy covering, called velvet, which contains blood vessels carrying oxygen and nutrients for bone growth. When the velvet dies, the blood supply to the bone is cut off, causing the antlers to shed. This happens yearly. (As opposed to animals with horns, which grow with the animal throughout their entire life.) 

Caribou shed their antlers at different points in the year based on their sex and age. Adult bulls generally shed their antlers in late fall, early winter, after they have mated. Adult females and younger caribou carry their antlers much longer, often throughout the winter. Females' antlers don't fall off until after Christmas, which means Santa's reindeer are most likely all female. 

Caribou are built for the cold. They have a short, stocky body that helps conserve heat, and long legs to help move through the deep snow. Their winter coat contains hollow hair which traps air and provides insulation from the cold. 

Caribou are ungulates, which mean they are cloven-hoofed and chew cud. Their feet are built for walking in deep snow, as they have large, concave hooves that spread widely to help support them in snow and soft tundra. Their feet also function as paddles when they swim and as a scoop when looking for other lichens and plants in the snow.

Their scientific name is Rangifer tarandus, which comes from the Old French rangier, meaning “reindeer” and ferus ¸which is Latin for “wild and untamed”. The name "caribou" is French, and comes from the words "Mi'kmaq qualipu" meaning “snow shoveler,” referring to its habit of pawing through the snow for food.

Caribou are traditionally vital to indigenous northern people throughout much of their range. They are often hunted for subsistence and provide a rich source of red meat, a high protein food supply, and materials for the manufacture of handicrafts and artwork. Their hides are also uses for warmth, and often made into blankets and various articles of clothing.

Did you learn something new about reindeer?

Wishing you and yours a very safe and happy holiday season!
Love, the Wards

December 23, 2014

How to Make Lotion Bars

This time of the year does a serious number on my skin. 

I love coconut oil, and the wonders it does for your hair and skin. However, the star of this recipe is definitely the shea butter is naturally rich in Vitamins A and E which help to sooth, hydrate and balance the skin. Because of its soothing nature, anti-inflammatory and rejuvenating effects, shea butter is a perfect ingredient to incorporate into your body care recipes and skin care regime. 

These lotion bars make the perfect Christmas, shower, birthday or just because gift. 

Homemade Lotion Bars

1 cup beeswax, grated or pellets
1 cup raw shea butter
1 cup coconut oil (unrefined or cold pressed)
20-30 drops essential oil of your choice
optional: vitamin E oil

silicone mold

Recommended oils:
lavender - calming
peppermint - for sore muscles

homemade lotion bar ingredients

1. Combine wax, butter and oil in a double boiler. Bring water to boil.
2. Stir ingredients constantly until they are melted.
2. Remove liquid from heat and add essential oil.
3. Carefully pour hot liquid into molds. Make sure to work quickly as the wax will begin to set when removed from heat.
4. Allow to cool and harden completely before removing from molds.

diy homemade lotion bars
diy homemade lotion bars

If you can, buy bees wax pellets. It will save you a lot of effort having to grate the bees wax block. If you do choose to grate your own, be sure to invest in a separate grater. If you use your kitchen's cheese grater, it might ruin it.

Have you ever made your own skin care products?


December 21, 2014

Homemade Irish Cream Recipe

Looking for a last minute gift for that hard-to-buy-for friend or family member? Or perhaps a host/hostess gift for a Christmas party? Look no further... This easy and quick homemade Irish cream recipe is perfect for anyone who loves coffee or sipping on liquor.

homemade irish cream recipe

Homemade Irish Cream
Yields: 3 cups (3 1/2 pint mason jars)

  • 3/4 cup Irish whiskey, such as Jameson
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 7 oz (1/2 can) sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 tsp cold, black coffee
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsp chocolate syrup or 1 tbsp cocoa powder 
  • 3 1/2 pint mason jars (cleaned)

homemade irish cream recipe

  1. Place all of the ingredients in a blender and combine on high speeds for 20-30 seconds.
  2. Transfer mixture to an airtight container. I used 1/2 pint mason jars.
  3. If giving as gifts, decorate the jar using festive decor such as evergreen boughs, twine, ribbon, etc. 
  4. Don't forget to add a label reminding the recipient to keep refrigerated and shake well before using.
  5. Will keep for up to 2 months in the fridge.
homemade irish cream recipe

Voila! In just a few short minutes, and with minimal effort, you have the perfect gift for any coffee lover or liquor sipper!

Please note, this recipe cannot be canned. If the whiskey is heated to a boiling point, the alcohol content decreases significantly. 

Is this a recipe you'd try? What is your favourite homemade gift?


December 19, 2014

Toronto Christmas Market

Inspired by the Old World and influenced by the New, the annual Toronto Christmas Market captures all of the tradition and charm of a European Christmas market, while showcasing unique and local handcrafted products and traditions. 

To help kickstart the month of cheer, we took a trip to the Toronto Christmas Market with family and friends. We drank mulled wine, hot toddies and local beer, as we stood around the bonfires and shared laughs. A great way to get in the holiday spirit.

And now, for some festive photos...

This free event has even been voted one of the top 10 Christmas markets in the world. It runs until December 21. Hours and activities vary daily, so be sure to check the website.

By the way, if the buildings in some of these photos look familiar, its because the Distillery District was once used as the set of Callahan Auto Parts in the movie Tommy Boy. My brother made sure I knew that.

Have you ever been to a Christmas market?


December 17, 2014

How To Keep Your Pets Safe This Holiday Season

Christmas is a time to celebrate health and happiness with loved ones. If you're like me, your loved ones also include those of the furry variety. Make sure they too stay healthy and happy this holiday season with these helpful tips,

A huge part of the holidays involves eating, but make sure not to share with your pets. Too much fatty, rich or even just new types of food can lead to digestive issues. Some foods, such as chocolate, grapes and onions, are especially poisonous to dogs, and if ingested can lead to death. 

Avoid giving your pets turkey bones. When cooked, chicken and turkey bones become extremely brittle and can splitter when ingested. This becomes a choking hazard for your animal.

Do not leave food wrappers, such as aluminum foil and cellophane, lying around. They smell delicious and enticing to your animal, but if ingested, can cause vomiting and intestinal blockages.

Too much alcohol is bad for us, but even the slightest amount can hurt your pet. Keep the alcohol to yourself. Alcohol can cause a pet to go into a coma, possibly resulting in death from respiratory failure. Make sure your pet has access to a clean water bowl.

Be sure all of your guests know the house rules about feeding table scraps to pets.

A number of holiday season plants are toxic or can cause digestive upset to pets if nibbled or eaten, including ivy, holly mistletoe, poinsettias and lilies. Be sure all of the plants are kept out of reach of pets.

Make sure that your Christmas tree is properly secured so that if your pet gets curious, the tree does not fall over.

Christmas tree water may contain fertilizers that can upset your pet's stomach. Stagnant water can also be a breeding ground for bacteria. Make sure the water is not accessible to your pet, and that they have their own clean water available to drink from instead.

Clean up any fallen needles as they are sharp and can get stuck in your pet's paws or throat. They can also cause digestive issues if ingested.

Avoid using decorations like ribbon and tinsel, or when used, keep out of reach of your pets. If ingested, these materials can become lodged in their intestines and cause an obstruction.

Keep extra cords and plugs, which are tempting to chew in, to a minimum or hidden. Taping down or covering cords will help prevent shocks, burns or more serious injuries.

Dangling tree ornaments are tempting toys for both dogs and cats. Be sure dangerous ornaments, such as breakable glass or those with small pieces, are hung out of reach on high branches and very well secured.

Our pets can get just as stressed with increased house guests, noise and activity as we can. Loud noises such as fireworks, Christmas crackers, poppers and balloons are especially terrifying. Make sure your pet always has a quiet secure place to escape the commotion. 

Pets thrive on routine and increased activity or visitors during the holiday season can upset that routine. Try to keep your pet on his regular schedule for feeding and exercise and be sure they lots of love from you.

Guests coming in and out of your home will be at a peak, and this increases the potential for pets escaping through open doors. Keep your pets safely indoors and always make sure they're wearing current ID tags and that their microchip information is up to date, just in case!

If you are hosting at your house, make sure that all of your guests know the rules when it comes to your pets. 

Do you have any additional tips to keep your furry friends safe?


December 15, 2014

15 Ways to Green Your Holidays

15 ways to green your holidays

As we decorate, travel, give gifts and feast this holiday season, we will be consuming large amounts of energy and resources, and creating large amounts of waste. Consider the impact your holiday actions are having on the environment. 

The holiday season offers plenty of opportunities to go green - from holiday decorations to lighting and gifts for your family and friends. Here are 15 ways to green your holidays,

Bring a reusable bag when out shopping. Thousands of paper and plastic shopping bags end up in landfills and polluting the environment every year. 

Think "green" while shopping. Buy items with minimal packaging and/or made from recycled materials. Check product labels to determine an item's recyclability. Consider a product's durability and longevity before you buy.

Send e-cards. Almost 3 billion Christmas cards are sold in the US every year. Sending electronic holiday cards is a simple way to reduce waste. There are many great websites that offer personalized e-card options. If you prefer the traditional route, look for cards printed on recycled paper.

Make your own gifts and gift tags. Homemade gifts are more thoughtful, and often more practical, than something store bought.

Give experiences, not things. Movie tickets, gas cards, date night gift certificates and staycation options all make perfect, and much appreciated, gift alternatives.

Donate to a charity in someones' name. Donate a monetary amount or new or gently used toys/items that you no longer use. 

Wrap gifts in recyclable items, such as newspaper and magazines. Add a creative touch with stamps or recycled yarn/ribbon. Save wrapping paper, bows, ribbon and tissue to reuse the following year. Can't save it? Make sure to review the list of recyclables that your city accepts first.

Skip the artificial tree. Use a live potted tree which can be planted outside later, or a cut tree from a Christmas tree farm. Nearly all cut Christmas trees are grown on farms, which means their stock is replenished yearly and forests aren't depleted. Artificial trees are made with petroleum-based materials and are often shipping thousands of miles before they reach store shelves. After Christmas, donate your tree to a program that will chip the tree and use in local parks.

Take inventory of your holiday decor. Do you really need anything new? If you do, take a visit to a second hand store. You'd be surprised what you can find.

Use LED holiday lights on a timer. LED lights are more efficient than traditional Christmas lights and last longer, saving you money and energy. Also, place lights on a timer. Leaving your holiday lights on 24 hours a day is a waste of energy and money. Set your timer to turn the lights on at dusk and off when you go to bed. No one is up in the middle of the night to see them anyways.

Reusable place settings. If you are playing host, set the table with cloth napkins and reusable dishes, glassware and stemware. Consider renting more formal place settings that you may not have or use very often. Save and reuse decor and favours. After dinner, fill your dishwasher to capacity before running it.

Pack up or compost leftovers.  Pack up leftovers in reusable containers for your guests, or use your leftovers in a new recipe. Does your city have a green bin? Make sure to put any appropriate food scarps in the compost. 

Buy local.  Support small local businesses instead of shopping at large box stores. Gifts found at locally are often more unique, less expensive and have travelled less of a distance to reach you.

Carpool to holiday parties. Traveling during the holidays? Consider taking public transit or carpool with friends and family to save on gas, money and emissions.

Rethink your wardrobe. Do you really need a new holiday dress, or can you wear your dress from last year? Dig into your closest and wear what you already have, rather than purchasing new. 

Don't wait until the new year to make an eco-friendly resolution. Start by making responsible decisions this holiday season.

Do you have any holiday green tips?


December 12, 2014

5 Ways to Escape a Winter Rut

I've been in a real funk lately. At home, at work, just an all-around winter rut. Is anybody with me on that one?

Here are some ways that I escape the winter rut's hold, also known as "what I've been up to lately"...

Drink champagne on a Tuesday, while watching Frozen. Because why the hell not.

champagne tuesday

Get allergy tested and find out that after 10 years, you're not really allergic to shrimp, crab or lobster. Sigh.

allergy testing

After above appointment, buy yourself something real nice to make up for acting like a crazy lady at restaurants the past 10 years. (I now apologize to those I was rude to when asked the question, "Well how bad is your allergy?".)

treat yo self

Rock your ugly Christmas sweater. Because its the happiest time of the year.

ugly christmas sweater

And lastly, drool over pictures your sister sent you from her trip to Barbados with your parents. 

barbados sunset

Nevermind that last one. Realizing you couldn't a) go on that trip to Barbados because of real-life adult problems, like deciding to buy a house, and b) see your sister, puts you right back into the funk.

But then Mother Nature decides to drop  a boat load snow and I'm quickly reminded how lucky I am to live in a place that experiences all four seasons, including winter. So I should probably stop my complaining.

cn town in snow

How do you deal with the dreaded "winter funk"?


Don't forget to linkup your photos on December 31 for this month's "What Inspires Your Senses?". Interested in co-hosting in the future? Check this out. 

t.o. & fro


December 9, 2014

Afternoon Tea with 80 Pairs of Shoes

Today I'm introducing you to Kelly from Around the World in 80 Pairs of Shoes. Kelly's a Kiwi, currently calling London, England home and blogs all about her gluten-free luxury travel adventures. Since Steve and I didn't end up moving across the pond like originally planned, I have kind of, sort of been living vicariously through her European adventures. Today Kelly is sharing a must on anyone's England bucket list, Afternoon Tea! Take it away Kelly...

I'm a huge fan of Afternoon Tea and living in England means I get to (over) indulge on a regular basis, so I thought I would showcase some of my favourite Afternoon Teas in London and also a few special ones abroad.

Afternoon Tea at Claridges

One of the biggest debates you get with Afternoon Tea in London is Claridges vs The Ritz - for me the winner is Claridges hands down.  It also has the biggest waiting list ever so if you're heading to London make sure you book at least three months in advance to get a spot.  The personal service, relaxed atmosphere and great food is what makes Claridges so special and if you're gluten free then this is the best Gluten Free Afternoon Tea you will find in London.

Afternoon Tea at The Goring

Want to rub shoulders with royalty then The Goring is for you - it was the Queen Mothers favourite place to dine and also where the gorgeous Kate Middleton spent her last night of freedom before becoming the Duchess of Cambridge.  The afternoon tea is usually served with a little royal twist and during summer can be served on the terrace.

Afternoon Tea at The Royal Horseguards

Pretty pink china and delicious pastries makes this the perfect place to have a girly afternoon tea and the hotel is often used in period dramas and is just so charming.

Afternoon Tea at The Old Cataract Hotel Aswan, Egypt

When it comes to location then the Afternoon Tea at the Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan is one that can't be beat - enjoying afternoon tea while the sun is setting overlooking the Nile is something that you will never forget.

Afternoon Tea at Hotel Grande Bretagne Athens, Greece

Afternoon Tea is served in the gorgeous Winter Garden and offers the best scones in the world (even better than Claridges) so when in Athens make sure you pop into this iconic luxury hotel that has been inviting intrepid travellers through it's revolving doors for over 100 years.

When visiting London make sure you add Afternoon Tea onto your bucket list and over indulge on sandwiches, warm scones and delicious pastries that are served up with champagne and copious amounts of tea.

Kelly's Favourite Posts:


December 7, 2014

4 Delicious & Simple Soup Recipes

If you're a soup fan like me, you're going to love these recipes!

potato and leek soup recipe
recipe here

kale, quinoa and bean soup recipe
recipe here

root vegetable soup recipe
recipe here

leftover turkey noodle soup recipe
recipe here

What's your favourite?

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