Pinecone Holiday Gift Wrap

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #ShareTheHoliday #CollectiveBias

Are you looking for a creative idea to spruce up your holiday gift wrapping? Check out this stylish and sustainable gift wrapping tutorial, inspired by Mother Nature.


Pinecone Holiday Gift Wrap Tutorial / Rubbermaid TakeAlongs

'Tis the season for giving! This time of the year, we often over do it with the amount of wrapping that goes into the gifts we are giving. We spend all of this time beautifully wrapping a gift, only for it to be torn open in two seconds. And then, all of the beautiful paper, bows and ribbon end up in the trash. What a waste of time, money and paper!

Sometimes, less is more. You don't need excess paper, plastic bows or yards and yard or ribbon when you can borrow from nature. Why not take advantage of items found in your own backyard to decorate your gifts instead? Pinecones, evergreen boughs and other seasonal elements are easy to source this time of year, and free! Bring the outdoors in with this stylish and sustainable pinecone holiday gift wrap tutorial. 

Pinecone Holiday Gift Wrap Tutorial / Rubbermaid TakeAlongs

Pinecone Holiday Gift Wrap 



Materials
  • small to medium-sized pinecones
  • small clippings of evergreen boughs
  • paint, colour of choice
  • paint brush
  • hot glue gun + glue
  • scissors
  • twine or yarn
  • optional: recycled paper (brown craft paper, newspaper, paper bags, etc.) + tape


Directions

Using a small paint brush and paint colour of choice, cover the tips of the pinecone by brushing up towards the top of the pinecone. I recommend using a colour to add a little pop, such as white, gold, silver or red. Allow the paint to dry completely.


Pinecone Holiday Gift Wrap Tutorial / Rubbermaid TakeAlongs

Optional step: Using recycled paper, such as newspaper, magazine pages, old maps, paper bags or brown craft paper, wrap your item as per usual.

To wrap the package, you will need a length of twine approximately 4 to 5 times the width of your package. Lay the twine out on a flat surface. Gently flip the package over, and centre on the twine. Bring the ends of the string around the package and twist the ends around one another to create a “t” shape. Flip the package over (should now be upright) and tie the ends together with a square knot. Tie the loose ends into a bow, or leave as is. 


Pinecone Holiday Gift Wrap Tutorial / Rubbermaid TakeAlongs

Arrange the pine cones and other natural elements as desired. Using the hot glue, affix to the top of the package.


Pinecone Holiday Gift Wrap Tutorial / Rubbermaid TakeAlongs

Optional step: Cut a tag-shaped piece from the cardboard. Punch a hole in the top and add some string. Add your wording and fasten to the package.

Voila! Simple, stylish and sustainable. 


Pinecone Holiday Gift Wrap Tutorial / Rubbermaid TakeAlongs

When it comes to sustainability, we also make sure to go beyond the gift wrap and also pay close attention to what we put our gifts in. This includes repurposing bags and boxes from previous holidays or taking advantage of reusable containers.

Everyone loves baking around the holiday season, myself included. If you plan on gifting some sweet treats to friends and family like we do, take advantage of Rubbermaid TakeAlongs. Not only are they a sustainable option because they can be reused over and over, but they are also the safe option for making sure your treats make it to their destination in one piece. The Quik Clik SealTM keeps food secure and helps prevent spills, and the soft lid grips the container tightly for a great seal. Rubbermaid TakeAlongs are also microwavable, top rack dishwasher safe and freezer safe.

Pinecone Holiday Gift Wrap Tutorial / Rubbermaid TakeAlongs

Holiday Rubbermaid TakeAlongs come in limited edition red, green and festive prints and are available in the Home Goods section at Walmart from 10/29-12/24. I found mine located in the aisle between the Home Goods and Men's Clothing sections.



How do you make sustainability a priority during the holiday season? I'd love to hear! For more holiday inspiration, check this out.


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What I'm Reading: Spaceman

Spaceman by Mike Massimino book review

Spaceman
An Astronaut's Unlikely Journey to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe
by Mike Massimino

"Have you ever wondered what it would be like to find yourself strapped to a giant rocket that’s about to go from zero to 17,500 miles per hour? Or to look back on Earth from outer space and see the surprisingly precise line between day and night? Or to stand in front of the Hubble Space Telescope, wondering if the emergency repair you’re about to make will inadvertently ruin humankind’s chance to unlock the universe’s secrets? Mike Massimino has been there, and in Spaceman he puts you inside the suit, with all the zip and buoyancy of life in microgravity."


As a Canadian, I am drawn to different events and people when it comes to space exploration than our cousins south of the border. Chris Hadfield is one of those people. Having shared a home town, I was instantly drawn to Hadfield's memoir, An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth (published October 2013) and religiously followed his most recent trip to space where he documented Earth as it appears from the International Space Station. As a space outsider, it completely drew me in and sparked my curiosity for what lies outside Earth's atmosphere.

I loved Hadfield's book so much that when I saw Mike Massimino's book, I thought it would be interesting to compare life as a Canadian astronaut versus that of someone that grew up in the United States. How were they different? How were they the same? 

Turns out, their paths to their dream jobs are pretty similar. There were several similarities in the books, including being fuelled by childhood events and developing a passion for space early on in life. Both Hadfield and Massimino were those kids that you roll your eyes at when asked the question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?". At one point in life, every child dreams of space exploration. But for both of these two, it wasn't just a dream. They were dead set on making it happen, and despite the odds, they both did.

Being an astronaut is not a job I could do. After reading both of these books, I applaud those who land the coveted title. 

This book was an interesting and easy read, and one that I recommend for anyone that enjoys space exploration, following their dreams or just memoirs in general.

To & Fro rating:  out of 5 stars


What books have you read lately?


PAST READS:
March  |  April  |  May  |  June  |  July  |  August



I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review. All opinions are 100% my own. 

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The Best Chicken Dumpling Soup Recipe

Looking for the perfect comfort food in a bowl? Check out this hearty recipe for the best Chicken Dumpling Soup, loaded with chicken, vegetables and tasty dumplings. 

The Best Chicken Dumpling Soup Recipe

I recently discovered cooking chicken in the slow cooker. I don't know why I wasn't cooking it this way before - I was really missing out! And it's so easy! Just add twskin-on, bone-in chicken pieces (usually breast and thigh combos) to the slow cooker, season with a bit of salt and pepper and then cover with approximately 2 cups of water. I then allow it to cook on high for 3-4 hours, or until no longer pink, and then voila! Delicious, juicy, tender, fall-off-the-bone chicken. In fact, it's so tender that even my little 8 month old daughter is a fan! Win, win.

Not only does it create tender, delicious chicken, you will also be left with a flavourful broth that can be used in your next recipe, or in this delicious recipe.

During the cold months, soups are my go to. Usually, I pair them with a side salad or a sandwich. This soup, however, is a complete meal in a bowl. Loaded with that tender chicken, hearty vegetables and tasty dumplings, this Chicken Dumpling Soup is sure to win over your family's stomachs this chilly season.


Chicken Dumpling Soup



Ingredients

Soup:
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup celery, chopped
  • 1 cup carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 3 cups chicken, cooked and chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 4 cups water
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour

Dumplings:
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 6 tbsp unsalted butter, melted (3/4 stick)
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk (or 1 tbsp white vinegar and 3/4 cup milk, combined)
  • 2 tbsp fresh parsley, minced

Directions
  1. Add the olive oil to a large stock pot and bring to a medium-high heat. Add celery, carrots, onion and garlic and sauté for 5-7 minutes, until onions are translucent.
  2. Add chicken pieces and garlic powder to the pot. Stir to combine.
  3. Add chicken stock and water to the pot. If you like your soup salty, feel free to use 8 cups of stock, instead of half water, half stock.
  4. Bring mixture to a simmer for 25-30 minutes.
  5. While soup is simmering, make your dumplings. In a medium bowl, whisk together dry ingredients. Stir in the melted butter, buttermilk and parsley until just combined. At this point, should be a nice dough. Set aside.
  6. Ladle 2 cups of the cooking liquid into a large bowl. Whisk in 1/2 cup of flour until smooth. Add flour mixture back into the soup by continuously whisking until combined. Simmer until slightly thickened, occasionally whisking, about 8-10 minutes.
  7. Once soup has thickened, add dumplings. Form balls of dough about the size of half of your thumb. Gently drop dumplings one at a time into simmering soup. Simmer, covered, until dumplings are firm, about 12-15 minutes.
  8. Season with salt and pepper.
  9. Serve immediately, sprinkled with additional minced fresh parsley for garnish (optional).

Home Chef Tip: If you do not end up using all of the dumpling dough (I only use half), store the remainder in the freezer in a freezer-safe container. It will keep for a few weeks, if you don't make the soup again before that.

Voila, comfort food at its finest!

If you like this recipe, you may also like this recipe for Fall Harvest Root Vegetable Soup.


What is your favourite soup recipe? Any fall or winter favourites? I'd love to hear!

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Chowder Chowdown

I love supporting causes that I am passionate about, such as helping protect our lakes and oceans by consuming sustainable seafood. 

Ocean Wise Chowder Chowdown Toronto 2016

Overfishing is the biggest issue facing our oceans today. The world's marine life is quickly being depleted, with an estimated 90% of all large, predatory fish, including sharks, already gone from the world's oceans. A recent scientific study predicted a world-wide fisheries collapse by 2048. Scary statistic, right? The solution? To turn back from the brink, and to begin consuming seafood in a sustainable manner. This means ensuring that the seafood we eat is caught or farmed in a way that protects the long-term health and stability of that species, as well as the greater marine ecosystem. 

In support of the sustainable seafood movement, Steve and I recently attended the 7th annual Chowder Chowdown at the Fermenting Cellar in Toronto's historic Distillery District. This annual event is put on by Ocean Wise, Vancouver Aquarium's conservation organization created to educate and empower consumers about the issues surrounding sustainable seafood across Canada and around the world. 

Chowder Chowdown is truly a memorable culinary event where a dozen of Toronto and area’s top chefs go head-to-head for the title of Ocean Wise Chowder Chowdown Champion. Talk about a flavourful way to join the sustainable seafood movement!

Ocean Wise Chowder Chowdown Toronto 2016

This was our fourth year attending, and each year it keeps getting better and better. We tasted delectable, original, ocean-friendly seafood chowders made with everything from sustainably caught octopus to shrimp, oysters and more, all paired with local beer, cider and wine, and voted for our favourite. All in support of sustainable seafood and saving ours oceans.

We've both had a pretty good track record at picking the People's Choice chowder, but this year we were torn. Steve chose the chowder from the local Leslieville fishmonger, Hooked Inc., and I went with the Canadian meal delivery service, Chef's Plate. Instead, Bruce Wine Bar, a newcomer to the event this year, took home both the Chef's Choice and People's Choice Chowder awards with their smoked whitefish and charred corn chowder. I will admit, it was definitely smoky, delicious, and well deserved.

Ocean Wise Chowder Chowdown Toronto 2016
Ocean Wise Chowder Chowdown Toronto 2016
Ocean Wise Chowder Chowdown Toronto 2016

Ocean Wise recognizes the problems our lakes and oceans face and aims to educate and empower consumers about the issues surrounding sustainable seafood. They work directly with restaurants, markets, food services and suppliers ensuring that they have the most current scientific information regarding seafood and help them make ocean-friendly buying decisions. When the Ocean Wise logo is found next to a menu at a restaurant or seafood item at the grocery store, it is an assurance that the item is a good choice for keeping ocean life healthy and abundant for generations to come. 

With over 675 Ocean Wise partners, spanning thousands of locations across Canada, Ocean Wise makes it easy for consumers to make sustainable seafood choices that ensure the health of our oceans for generations to come.

Ocean Wise Chowder Chowdown Toronto 2016

Chowder Chowdown is held annually in the fall in Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary and Halifax. If you live in one of those cities, I highly recommend checking it out! All proceeds from this event directly support Ocean Wise.

Learn more about the issues facing our oceans and the sustainable seafood movement here. Download Ocean Wise’s app to check to see if the seafood you enjoy consuming is sustainable!


What is your favourite seafood? Is it sustainable? I'd love to hear!

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What's in My Diaper Bag?

Ladies and gents, we have an 8 month old! All I can say is, wow. These past 8 months have flown by faster than any of the other 351 months in my life, and there's no signs of them slowing down any time soon. Baby girl has grown so much. The other day I watched as she pulled herself up on the couch. She was so proud of herself as she started smashing on my computer, that was sitting way too close to the edge of the couch. Trouble.

If you missed our past monthly updates, you can find them here:
1 month  |  2 months  |  3 months  |  4 months  |  5 months  |  6 months  |  7 months

What's in My Diaper Bag?

Pre-baby, I was notorious for carrying the biggest bag EVER, filled to the brim. I always liked to be prepared, "just in case". So when Morley was first born, I was on a mission to have the most well-packed diaper bag EVER. I needed to be prepared for every. single. situation that she could throw at us.

It's safe to say that in the past 8 months, the contents of our diaper bag have dramatically changed.  It's been a bit of a learning curve. Now, 8 months later, we've pretty much fine tuned what we need and what was just taking up space. Sure, contents vary depending on the days'  activities, and we definitely still have the "oh shit" moments once in a while - like when someone forgot to refill the wipes and we had the blowout of the century, or when someone is on the verge of a melt down in the middle of the grocery store and we didn't bring enough rice cookies. BUT, the good news is, we no longer carry 20 diapers, 10 pairs of sock or 5 wardrobe changes "just in case".

Let's take a look at what's in my diaper bag...

What's in my diaper bag?


What's in My Diaper Bag?



THE BAG

MEC Tidelines Shoulder Bag When searching for a diaper bag we both agreed that we wanted something gender neutral, inexpensive and practical. This led us to one of our favourite stores, MEC (similar to REI in the US). They have a great selection of bags, ranging all different purposes, brands and prices. The bag we chose was the MEC Tidelines Shoulder Bag, which is intended to be used as a day to day work bag. It is loaded with pockets both inside and out, and the inside compartment is nice and large. Plus is came in at a cost of only $55 Cdn. We were both sold! This bag gets quite a bit of use, but has stood up to the wear and tear. I love that once baby grows out of a diaper bag, either of us will be able to use this as our work bag.

Pro tip: When looking for a diaper bag, look outside the traditional baby stores, etc. You may be surprised at what you find!


FEEDING

1.  Philips AVENT Powder Formula Dispenser - If you formula feed your baby, you must add this to you list of needs! This convenient unit carries three pre-measured portions of formula in separate compartments. When you're ready to feed, you just pour into the bottle with water. The compartment divider can also be removed and turned into a snack container or bowl.

2.  Philips AVENT Naturals 9oz Bottle - When building our registry, I researched baby bottles like there's no tomorrow, and these had the best reviews. The wide, breast-shaped nipple on the Natural bottle promotes natural latch-on so you can easily combine breastfeeding and bottle feeding, and the innovative twin valve anti-colic slow-flow nipple helps infants feed comfortably and easily. The BPA-free Naturals line comes in 4 oz and 9 oz sizes.

3.  Baby Mum-Mums These rice biscuits are perfect for introducing solid food to your baby! Made especially for teething babies, these biscuits dissolve easily in your child's mouth and are sized perfectly for the small hand of your child to hold on to, helping develop their coordination. They are made with premium Japonica rice and other simple, all natural ingredients, egg-free, peanut-free and gluten-free baby diet. Original, Vegetable, Banana, Carrot, Apple & Pumpkin and Organic.

4. Gerber Graduates Rest Easy® Spoons, 5-Count*Each Rest Easy spoon has a built-in support that helps keep germs off the spoon and food off the table. The soft tip and spatula bowl help wipe food from baby's mouth and the long handles are perfect for getting the last few scoops from a deep jar or bowl. These spoons are BPA-free, dishwasher safe and recommended for babies 4 months and older. They also act as a great distraction tool!

(Not pictured) PC Organics Strained Baby Food - We normally make our own baby food, but for those times we're not home at dinner time, we turn to PC Organics. These convenient squeeze packs come in a variety of flavours, and at $1, are extremely affordable. 


HEALTH

5. Philips AVENT BPA-Free Pacifiers (6-18 months)These orthodontic, collapsible and symmetrical nipples respect the natural development of baby's palate, teeth and gums. They are made of a smooth, transparent, easy to clean silicone and are taste and odour-free. The nipple is strong, long-lasting and won''t become misshapen or discoloured over time. 

6. Aleva Naturals Bamboo Toy & Pacifier Wipes These extra strong, ultra-soft wipes contain a unique, baby safe formula that is made with natural and organic Ingredients and can be used to safely wipe toys, surfaces, pacifiers, bottles, nipples and more! The compact package is designed to fit neatly in any diaper bag, purse or pocket and is a must for babies on the go. The wipes are made of bamboo fibbers that are safe, gentle and 100% biodegradable in 21 days! Aleva Naturals offers a range of products, from maternity to baby skincare.

7.  JOHNSON’S® Baby Hand & Face Wipes These wipes were designed to gently and effectively remove dirt and germs from baby’s delicate hands and face anywhere, anytime. Made with the NO MORE TEARS® formula, they are alcohol-free and as gentle on baby as pure water. The compact package is designed to fit neatly in any diaper bag, purse or pocket and is another must for babies on the go!

8. Huggies Little Movers Diapers - These diapers are perfect for the on the move baby. Little Movers diapers have double grip strips and a unique, contoured shape so baby can explore more with a comfy fit that lasts.

9. Huggies Natural Care Baby Wipes with Clutch 'n Clean Carrying Case, 32-Count*
- This wipes case is easy to tuck in to your diaper bag when you're on the go. With a variety of trendy designs available, it has an easy dispensing flip-top lid and strap for carrying.

(Not pictured) Playtex Diaper Genie Portable Diaper Bag Dispenser* - Now you can avoid the unnecessary mess of dirty diapers when you are on the go with this portable, compact and easy to use bag dispenser. It kind of reminds me of doggy poo bags, but you'll be thankful for the lavender scent when baby decides to have a blow out while running errands. 

10. Safety 1st Deluxe Healthcare and Grooming Kit* - When we're going to be out for a big part of the day, or even staying overnight somewhere, I make sure to pack this kit in our diaper bag. The Kit contains the essential health and grooming items, including a comb and brush, nasal aspirator, thermometer, nail clippers and more, and its zippered compartments help keep the items where you need them. 

11. Infant Tylenol Grape 24mL You never know when a fever will strike, so it's always good to be prepared. This Tylenol is a fast effective relief for fever and pain, and is suitable for children age infant to 23 months. The small vial and dispenser live in our Safety 1st Kit (above). 


PLAY

12. Mia the Lamb Teething Toy* - This teething toy provides a wonderful sensory experience for baby, with contrasting colours to provide visual stimulation, different textures to encourage tactile exploration through the hands and mouth and encourages baby to experiment with holding, grasping, and squeezing that develop hand-eye coordination and gross motor skills. Mia the Lamb is non-toxic and certified BPA-, PVC-, and Phthalate-free. 

13. BeginAgain Bathtub Pal - Blue Diver - I will admit, this teething toy looks a bit like a dog toy, but it is one of Morley's favourites. Made from sustainably harvested natural rubber, this toy is easy for baby to hold and can be used for teething or as a bath toy. 


COMFORT

14. aden+anais Swaddle Blankets - From day one, these swaddles have been one of my favourite baby items. The muslin material is durable, breathable and light-weight, and can be used as a stroller cover, burp cloth, nursing cover and swaddle. Morley is not a fan of sleeping on her back, which, at first, made sleep time a bit difficult. We finally learned that swaddling her before bed helps tremendously, and mom and dad are very thankful for that. Swaddles come in a variety of prints. 

15. Carter's One-Piece PJs With the chilly weather, my favourite pjs are the fleece zip-ups from Carter's. Carter's also has snap-up sleepers, but when you're exhausted and doing a midnight diaper change, possibly even in the dark, no one has time for snaps.  

Pro tip: While Carter's sleepers are affordable to begin with, make sure to hit up the clearance racks, and don't forget to plan ahead for when baby is older. We found sleepers and other clothing items at a fraction of the price ($3-$4 each!) on the clearance rack.


OTHER 

Having a diaper bag forced me to condense everything and surprisingly taught me that all I really need are my sunglasses, phone and wallet. However, I still sneak in a few essentials. In the diaper bag, including my wallet and a "mom essentials kit" (not pictured) - a small toiletry bag filled with tampons, pain medication, lip balm, hand lotion, hand sanitizer, hair ties and more (if it will fit).

What's in My Diaper Bag?


What's in your diaper bag? Any items you can't go without? I'd love to hear!


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*This post contains affiliate links, at no additional cost to you. Purchasing the above products through these links helps support To & Fro. Thank you in advance!

Creative Money Saving Tips for Families

The cost of raising a child is no joke. From food to clothing, gadgets and daycare, it all adds up and news flash, it's not cheap! Are you a family on a budget? Check out these creative money saving tips for families.

Money Saving Tips for Families

I am in no way a financial guru. Thankfully, I have my brother for that. But, as a family that is currently living off one income while trying to save money for some significant purchases, I do know a thing or two about getting creative with our savings.

This past year has been a bit draining on our bank accounts. Between having a baby, saving for a condo that is nearing completion and registering the little one for day care, we knew we had our savings cut out for us and we jumped head first into the challenge. I know that pinching pennies is part of life, but when you don't expect it or see it coming, it makes it especially difficult - like most recently having to buy a new car that we had zero intentions of needing any time soon. Safe to say we've now been forced get creative with how we both spend and save our money.

With these creative money saving tips, you don't need to completely overhaul your lifestyle to save money. By taking baby steps to make small changes in your spending habits, its possible for you to still enjoy the things you love and even treat yourself once in a while.

10 Creative Money Saving Tips for Families



1. Unsubscribe from all retail emails.
If you're like me, your inbox is flooded with emails from retailers sharing their latest sales and coupon codes. While tempting to click and take advantage of the "great deal", chances are, you'll just end up buying more than you need and spending way more money in the process. The safest thing to do is to scroll down to the bottom of the email and hit "unsubscribe".

Pro tip: If you are making an online purchase, instead search "store x coupon codes". Chances are, you'll find the coupon code online, without having to subscribe to the store's email list.


2. Take advantage of the baby clubs and free samples.
We've found a lot of savings by making our own baby food, but one thing that we could not avoid was the cost of baby formula. Luckily, many of the formula brands have clubs and coupons to help you out. By signing up for their clubs, companies like Nestle, Enfamil and Similac will send you monthly samples, coupons and other great deals to help save you money. 

Pro tip: When you join these clubs, sign up everyone in your immediate family so that they also get the samples and coupons.


3. Use ebates.
When you do need to make a purchase, do it online through ebates. Ebates.ca works with over 650 stores that ship to Canada including Joe Fresh, Indigo.ca, Amazon.ca, Old Navy, Forever21 and Groupon, and shopping through them gives you cash back on your purchases (percentage dependent on retailer).  It definitely adds up!

Sign up for HERE to start earning cash back now!


4. Sell your belongings.
Do you have unwanted items in your house that are just taking up space and collecting dust? Take advantage of websites like Ebay, Kijiji, Craigslist and VarageSale, among many others. List your items with a good quality photo, description and fair price for people in your area to see. You get rid of your unwanted goods, and make some money in the process. Win, win.


5. Shop second hand.
There is nothing wrong with shopping second hand at local thrift stores. Successful thrift store shopping may take a bit of effort, but you can almost always find beautiful, functional items for your home and wardrobe without breaking the bank. Go in with an idea of what you are looking for, but also an open mind - maybe that table you're eying just needs a coat of paint, or those jeans you tried on just need to be hemmed. 

It's true what they say, one person's trash is another person's treasure. I found this rocking chair for $30 at my local Goodwill, and with a little coat of paint it looked brand new and has done its job rocking my little girl to sleep. 

Pro tip: If you do purchase new, shop end of season sales for the following year. You'll get items at a fraction of the price compared to if you bought them in season.


6. Family fun on the cheap.
As much fun as it can be to head out on a day trip, it can also be costly. Instead of nixing family time all together, why not take advantage of free events, parks, hikes, etc. in your area? If the outdoors aren't your thing, why not stay inside with popcorn and a movie or board games? For younger children, take advantage of your local library or community centre. They often offer free educational programs for children, such as story time, and some may even have swimming pools with free open swim.

Pro tip: If you are a fan of paid attractions, such as local zoo, aquariums or museums, look into their annual passes. An annual pass often pays for itself in just a few visits, and will offer you discounts on other parts of the attraction, such as the cafe and educational programs. Also, some attractions will offer discounts when you purchase your tickets online in advance of your visit.


7. Plan ahead.
When grocery shopping, go with a plan. Sit down and hash out meals for the coming week. Go through your cupboards to see what you already have and what you can use. For the items you need to buy, make a list. The worst thing for you budget can be walking into the grocery store with no plan in mind - you will most definitely over spend.

Pro tip: If you are like me, also make sure you visit the grocery store on a full stomach. No joke. If I go hungry, I tend to shop with my stomach and always buy items we do not need. Leave your cards at home and do your grocery shopping with cash. Having a set amount to spend on groceries, will also eliminate unwanted items in your cart.


8. Become a price match queen.
When we go grocery shopping, my husband knows to stand back because I am the "price matching queen" (his words, not mine). I have developed a strategy that works for me, and end up saving between $5-20 a week on groceries. It may not seem like much at the time, but if you can save on average $10 a week, over a year you're saving approximately $500. For us, that is almost two months worth of car payments!

For all of those interested, I plan on sharing my price matching strategy in an upcoming post. Stay tuned!


9. Loyalty and rewards cards.
While it seems like every store and their mother has a loyalty card these days, chose a few that fit your purchasing habits. For example, the grocery store and gas stations that you frequent the most. Gone are the days of hanging a tag on your keychain or keeping a card in your wallet - most loyalty cards now have apps, so scanning your card is as easy as opening the app on your smart phone. Points can add up quickly, and give you cash back on your purchases, discounts on gas and even a cheaper price just for having the card.

Pro tip: If you do frequently pay with a credit card, talk to your bank about the Rewards cards they offer. Rewards can often be redeemed for gift cards, gas, air miles and more. Make sure to look for the card with no annual fee!


10. Be energy smart.
With winter weather looming on the horizon, everyone's first reaction is to crank up the heat. Increasing the temperature in your home will also mean an increase in your energy bills. There are so many creative ways to save energy and money, from switching to LED light bulbs to taking shorter showers. Check out these 10 winter energy savings tips.


See, saving money with your family doesn’t require drastic measures! With a few simple and creative changes, you will see the savings in your bank increase, while still enjoying the things that you love. It may take some getting used to, but getting your family on board with your money-saving efforts will ultimately benefit everyone.

Keep in mind, these tips are great regardless of your home situation.


What are your creative money saving tips? I'd love to hear!

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Fall Harvest Root Vegetable Soup

Looking for the perfect comfort food in a bowl? Check out this recipe for Fall Harvest Root Vegetable Soup, loaded with all of your favourite fall produce. Good news, it's also a baby-friendly soup recipe!

Fall Harvest Root Vegetable Soup Recipe

Every year when the leaves change colour and the temperature drops, my taste buds start to crave certain fall-specific flavours.  The cooler weather is the perfect time to enjoy hot dishes and seasonal items not readily available other times on the year.  The farmer's market is always best in the fall, full of hearty vegetables - squash, potatoes, onions and carrots, to name a few.  

This recipe for Fall Harvest Root Vegetable Soup is one of my favourite comfort food recipes. The great thing about this soup is that you can incorporate pretty much any fall produce that you have at home, from white or red potatoes to turnip, celery root, acorn squash, pumpkin and more. This recipe is perfect for lunch, dinner or that first course at an upcoming holiday gathering. Your home will be filled with the smell of spices while the vegetables simmer. My mouth waters just thinking about it.

You know who else loves this soup? Little miss Morley.

Fall Harvest Root Vegetable Soup Recipe

Morley is at the age that we can start getting a little more adventurous with her food. This means that every chance we get, she eats what we eat. We have eggs for breakfast, so does she. We have fish, so does she. I think you get the point. With a few simple modifications, like keeping the vegetables in chunks, omitting the cream and limiting the salt added, this is a recipe that she also loves.

Quality control gave this Fall Harvest Root Vegetable Soup recipe two thumbs up, and I think you will too. Enjoy!

Fall Harvest Root Vegetable Soup Recipe

Fall Harvest Soup


Serves: 8-10 people


Ingredients:
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 1/2 cups onion - coarsely chopped
  • 4 stalks green onion - coarsely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic - peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 1 medium butternut squash - peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped
  • 2 large parsnips - peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 4 large carrots - peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 1 large sweet potato - peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 4 cups low sodium stock (chicken or vegetable)
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • optional: crumbled goat cheese or splash of cream

Directions:
  1. In a large pot, melt butter over medium heat. Sauté onions and garlic for 5 minutes, or until translucent.
  2. Add cinnamon and stir for another 30 seconds to toast spices.
  3. Add root vegetables and stir to combine.
  4. Add stock and water to the pot. Cover and bring to a boil.  Lower heat and simmer for 1 hour or until all the vegetables are very soft.
  5. Using an immersion blender, puree mixture to desired consistency. If the mixture is too thick, add smell amounts of water at a time to thin it out. 
  6. If using, add crumbled cream or splash of cream and warm through without boiling. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Home Chef Tip: Since this recipe makes almost 10 servings, it can also be frozen in freezer-safe containers. If you are freezing the soup, omit the cream and goat cheese until after it is reheated. 


Voila, comfort food at its finest!


What is your favourite soup recipe? Any fall favourites? I'd love to hear!

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Cranberry Almond Kale Quinoa Salad

Fall is cranberry harvest season! If you love cranberries, you'll love this simple and healthy recipe for Cranberry Almond Kale Quinoa Salad!

Cranberry Almond Kale Quinoa Salad

I'm a big salad lover. Regardless of how full I feel, I always have room for a salad. My husband calls it the "salad pocket". 

The typical green salad filled with lettuce and fresh veggies can be so boring. Healthy, but boring. When making salads, I love incorporating different ingredients - dried fruit, nuts and grains are some of my favourites.

Instead of using iceberg, romaine or even spinach as your salad base, why not try a hearty and healthy grain, like quinoa? Quinoa has been called the "supergrain of the future", and for good reason. It is one of the most protein-rich foods we can eat and contains almost twice as much fibre as other grains, among many other nutritional benefits.


Cranberry Almond Kale Quinoa Salad

This recipe for Cranberry Almond Kale Quinoa Salad is not only healthy, but it is also quick, easy, affordable and can be made in large quantities and stored for the weeks' lunches. This salad's flavour is light and refreshing, making it the perfect addition to any lunch or dinner.

Cranberry Almond Kale Quinoa Salad


Serves: 4


Ingredients
  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 2 cups stock or water
  • 6 leaves kale
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup onion, finely minced
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • juice of one lemon
  • salt & pepper, to taste

Directions
  1. In a medium saucepan, bring 2 cups of water or stock to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and cover and simmer until tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed, about 15 to 20 minutes. Once liquid has been absorbed, fluff with a fork.
  2. While the quinoa is cooking, wash kale and pat dry. De-rib (remove stem) and shred. 
  3. Once quinoa is cooked, allow to cool slightly. This can easily be done by transferring cooked quinoa to a bowl and allowing to cool in the fridge. Once cooled, add chopped kale, cranberries, almonds and minced onions. 
  4. Toss with olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Stir to combine. 
  5. Chill until ready to serve. Keeps covered in the fridge for up to 5 days.

Do you love salads? What are some unique ingredients that you like to add? I'd love to hear!


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Toronto Zoo in the Fall

Growing up three hours west of Toronto, a visit to the Toronto Zoo as a kid was always a special treat. Now that we call the big city home, I can't wait to make visiting with my little family an annual tradition.

Toronto Zoo in the fall - giraffe

During my sister's recent visit back to Ontario, we decided to take an afternoon and visit the Toronto Zoo. Neither my sister, husband or I had been in years, and it was Morley's first visit. We were excited to see what was new, but also to see what baby girl thought of all of the animals. 

Set in the beautiful Rouge Valley in the east end of the city, the Toronto Zoo first opened its doors in August 1974. The Zoo is made up of 710 acres of land, which is divided into seven zoogeographic regions - Indo-Malaya, Africa, Americas (North & South America), Eurasia Wilds, the Tundra Trek, Australasia and Canadian Domain - and home to over 5,000 animals representing 450 species. Since opening its gates, it has been a leader in saving and protecting species and their habitats, both locally and globally. 

The fall really is the best time to visit the Toronto Zoo - the summer crowds are gone, the weather is a comfortable temperature and the fall colours are stunning. And I mean stunning. Against the vibrant yellows, oranges, reds and browns of the leaves, the animals popped. Take a look for yourself.

Toronto Zoo in the Fall

Our visit started at the giant pandas. The pair arrived at the Zoo in spring of 2013 on loan from China as part of a long-term conservation partnership between China and Canada. Due to the fact that they are endangered in the wild, successful breeding in zoos is extremely important in order to keep these animals around for future generations. In October 2015, the pair welcomed two cubs - the first in Canadian history. While we were visiting, the cubs were sleeping peacefully inside with mom, while dad was outside happily munching on his bamboo.

Toronto Zoo in the fall - giant pandas

Did you know? A panda's daily diet consists almost entirely of the leaves, stems and shoots of bamboo. Since is contains very little nutritional value, pandas must eat 26 - 84 lbs every day to meet their energy needs.

Aside from the panda cubs, there were a number of other babies born at the Zoo in the past year -  four rare white lion cubs, a polar bear cub, a rhinoceros calf and Bactrian (two-humped) camel calf. While they are no longer baby-sized and growing quick, it was still cute to watch them play, or sleep in the case of the bears, and feel good about the successful work zoos do breeding animals in captivity, especially those of concern in the wild.

Toronto Zoo in the fall - white lions
Toronto Zoo in the fall - rhinoceros calf

Naturally, my favourite part of the Zoo is Tundra Trek, home to the wolves, reindeer, snowy owl and polar bears. I could have spent all day watching the big white bears, even though they were sleeping. However, time is of the essence when you have a 7 month old, so we had to move on.

Toronto Zoo in the fall - polar bear
Toronto Zoo in the fall - Tundra Trek

Did you know? You can tell a male snowy owl from a female by the colouring of their feathers. The above picture is a male because his feathers are all white, whereas females would have black markings on their feathers. So, for all of you Harry Potter fans out there, think back to the movies - was Hedwig a male, or female?

While we knew we were taking our chances on the weather before we walked through the front gates, it only started raining about half way through our journey. Luckily, we could escape the drizzle by popping in to one of the many animal pavilions to warm up. Visiting the gorillas, lemurs, orangutans and more was like a trip to the tropics.

Toronto Zoo in the fall - orangutan
Toronto Zoo in the fall - ring-tailed lemur
Toronto Zoo in the fall  - cichlids
Toronto Zoo in the fall - green python

I pity those that visit any zoo or aquarium with me. Without fail, it will always be filled with random (and I mean really random) animal facts and the phrase "Oh, these are my favourite" said to about every animal we come across. This visit was no exception. Luckily, my husband and sister know what they've signed up for well in advance - they patiently listen to everything that spews out of my mouth, or they've just gotten really good at tuning me out. Poor Morley, on the other hand, is really in for one when she gets older. 

Toronto Zoo in the fall
Toronto Zoo in the fall - grizzly bear
Toronto Zoo in the fall
Toronto Zoo in the fall - Sumatran tiger

Despite the bit of rain, it was the perfect fall day at the Toronto Zoo, and we can't wait to go back!


Things to know if you visit the Toronto Zoo in the fall:

  • Location: 361A Old Finch Avenue Toronto, ON
  • Hours: The Zoo is open 364 days a year (closed Christmas Day), but hours vary depending on the season. Give yourself at minimum 2-3 hours to visit. Last admission is one hour before close.  Check the website before you go.
  • Admission & parking: Cost of admission varies by season. Check the website in advance. There is also a fee for parking.
  • Several portions of the Zoo are closed during the winter season, including Splash Island, Kids Zoo and several gift shop and food kiosks. 
  • Plan your route in advance by taking a look at the map and daily animal keeper schedule. 




Have you visited a Zoo lately? What is your favourite animal? I'd love to hear about it!


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