Archive for the ‘In the city’ Category

A Fire Reignited

I’m not sure what happened after I returned from the Yukon.  It was the experience of a lifetime (and I promise that I will get around to telling you all about it), but when I got back home my drive to explore was gone.  Maybe it was because I’d squeezed a couple of years worth of tripping into 30 crazy days.  Maybe it was because I’d travelled to my dream destination…what else was left?  Whatever the reason, I surrounded myself with all of my favourite comforts and hunkered down for the winter, only emerging to hunt for food and yarn.  I built myself a nest insulated with cowls and mittens and casseroles.  Last weekend, I peeked my head out and for the first time in months, I saw the light.NOLS Yukon

The fates aligned when I was asked to attend the Wilderness Canoe Symposium here in Toronto for Rapid Media and do a little write-up for their website.  I loaded a daypack with my thermos,  iPad and camera and off I went, not knowing exactly what to expect.  I arrived to what can only be described as a party atmosphere.  Attendees traded stories in the lobby like old friends, and they probably were.  It can sometimes feel like we trippers are a dying breed and when we find others of our species, we hold on tight.

wilderness canoe symposium

I took my seat and the presentations began.  As speaker after speaker recounted their unforgettable trips and spoke passionately about their causes, I admit that I became emotional.  Clearly my experience in the Yukon had affected me more than I had realized.  All I wanted to do was flee my chair, grab my gear and my family and run away into the forest.  I felt the desire to be on trip more strongly than I ever had before.  I texted as much to Fraser and I’m sure that I could hear his sigh of relief all the way across the city.  He’d been patiently waiting for me to find that spark.  I hadn’t just found a spark though, I’d found a fire.

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Upcycling Myself an Insulated Skirt

DSC_0116While I’ve heard of insulated skirts, I have never actually seen one in person.  It doesn’t SOUND like a practical piece of gear, but I’ve come to believe that warm hind quarters and haunches are of the utmost importance.  Being a girl born of the wild and wooly north, I’ve had my fair share of frigid forays into the unwelcoming winter, always resulting in the familiar sting of frozen thighs.  The remedy?  A cozy insulted skirt.  Yes, long johns would work as well, but they are a pain to get under my jeans and a complete wardrobe change must be had when my destination has been reached.  An insulated skirt would be a perfect quick change for all sorts of activities…think skating, cross-country skiing, commutes to work.  Let your imagination take your warm buns where it will.

After convincing myself that I MUST procure this indefectable wonder of warmth, one small detail remained.  Where to get my hands on a reasonably priced insulated skirt.  I could order one off of the internet, but which to choose? How to compare? How to fit it? And how to afford it?  I decided that I would make one.  I could knit one up or maybe sew one from fleece.  Both good ideas, but I wanted water and wind resistance too.  I wasn’t prepared to devote too much time and effort, so I decided to upcycle an old piece…repurpose a neglected vest.  I could have used a jacket or some old snowpants, but this vest suited me perfectly and it matches my jeans to boot.

Here is how I did it and how you can do it too!

1) After you pick your piece, decide how long you’d like it.  I had to remove some pockets because they fell smack dab in the middle of my project.  Be brave and cut.  DSC_0099

2) Measure your waist as well as where the waist will be on your skirt.  Find the difference between the two.  This will be how much you will need to “tuck” into your waist darts.  My skirt was 42″ and I wanted a finished waist of 32″ (make it roomy to fit layers under it).  I had to reduce by 10″.DSC_0102

3) I made four new tucks as well as tucking the existing side seams.  Each tuck reduced the waist by 2″ and each side seam by 1″.  I pinned the material so the layers of insulation wouldn’t shift and then I sewed, doubling back the stitching at both the beginning and the ends.  Tucks must be made to both the lining AND the face fabric.  I made all of the reductions from the side seams and back of the waist, leaving the front of the waist flat.  This makes for a more flattering front AND provides shaping for your backside.DSC_0103

4) After trying on for fit, I ran a line of stitching all along the top to hold all of the layers of fabric together.

5) With the remaining fabric from the vest, I cut strips (I had to use three) to make bias binding.  DSC_0106

6) Sew the bias tape onto the waist to hide all of the rough edges.  Make sure to wrap the tape over the top of the zipper so the zipper slider can’t fall off.DSC_0108

7) Enjoy your new skirt!DSC_0112

Time invested: 2 hours

Money invested: $0

Warmth achieved: pure toasty-ness

AFTER

AFTER

BEFORE

BEFORE

The Canadian Canoe Museum – The Gem You May Not Have Met

The big excitement over at the Canadian Canoe Museum in Peterborough Ontario this past weekend was a celebration of National Canoe Day, small craft rendezvous and a visit and Q&A from Nick Offerman of the television show Parks and Recreation.  It looks like it was a great day.  Nick Offerman seems to be a sweet guy and there is no denying that he is a fine actor and carpenter.  I saw him recently on a talk show and he was incredibly quick and witty and he told some really good stories.  However, you’ve missed out on the best story teller at the museum if you didn’t get a chance to talk with long time employee and museum curator, Jeremy Ward.

Jeremy tellin' tales

Jeremy tellin’ tales

Bill Mason's canoe

Bill Mason’s canoe

My family had the distinct pleasure to spend some one on one time with Jeremy a couple of weeks ago on our visit to the museum.  Warm and friendly and instantly disarming, Jeremy had us riveted with his stories of the boats and their provenance.  We were allowed into the big warehouse located across the parking lot from the museum itself to visit with some of the vessels not currently on display.  It was simply magical to canoe lovers like ourselves to see row upon row of ancient, modern, worldly, pristine, decimated and decorated specimens and Jeremy had a story for each and every one of them.

We later popped into the museum itself and visited with the canoes once belonging to legendary paddlers Pierre Elliott Trudeau and Bill Mason.  With more than 100 canoes and kayaks on display, you need to give yourself time to enjoy this special place.  It is super kid friendly with interactive displays and hands-on exhibits.  I warn you though, it’s hard to leave without having developed a minor obsession with canoes and canoes are not an easy item to collect (believe me, I know).  But don’t worry, the gift shop has smaller items that will keep you inspired.  In the past I’ve brought home t-shirts, jewelery, stickers and a book on how to build my own canoe.  Just as soon as I get Fraser to build me a garage big enough for that project, I’m totally gonna start my own fleet!

I loooove me a good gift shop!

I loooove me a good gift shop!

So help support this unique national heritage centre by visiting, donating or even “adopting” a canoe for a loved one (makes a great gift).  Hang out and chat with the wonderful and dedicated volunteers (who were dressed in voyageur costume on our visit).   And if you see Jeremy while you’re there, ask him for a story…I don’t think he’ll be at a loss for words.

Go Get ‘Em Zach!

As I was dumping the soggy discards of today’s school lunches out of their respective sacs, I found the note that had been tucked away between Zach’s sandwich box and the sticky cellophane of a smushed granola bar.  In Fraser’s scrawl it read “Go get ’em Zach!”.  “Em” being the multitude of friendly rivals at the track and field meet that our nine-year old attended earlier today.  I grinned at the yellow stick-it square, so plain yet so thoughtful and sweet.

Beaming with pride after last year's eighth place finish.

Beaming with pride after last year’s eighth place finish.

When I had picked up Zach from school he was glowing with the pride that comes with a shiny ribbon and expectations exceeded.  He had come in seventh in running long-jump, one place higher than last year.  And as a late sub-in for a teammate with a twisted ankle, his relay crew had pulled a second place finish.  He was over the moon!

Waiting by Zach’s side was his favourite teacher.  He shook my hand and paid our little one a glowing compliment.  “Zach has such a great positive attitude.  He’s such a happy camper!”.  I couldn’t have said it better myself.  Thanks for the dedication of teachers who readily lend their time and energy to help give our kids the chance to find pride in achievement.  Thanks to the parents who pack lunches late at night after long days working, who still find the time to write a few words of encouragement.  And especially thanks to the kids whose enthusiasm for long jump outweighs their enthusiasm for video games.  Go get ’em!

Lead Me To An Outdoor Adventure and I Will Follow

This past Saturday I grabbed the kids and headed over to the Outdoor Adventure Show here in Toronto.  What an inspiring day!

Our first stop was to watch a presentation by Lyn Elliott on the Top Ten Adventures in Ontario’s National Parks. Loved it!  While I proudly thought to myself, “done that, done that”, there were a number of things that have been added to my “must do” list…namely visiting the St. Lawrence Islands National Park. The kids took one look at the new oTENTik accommodations that are being offered and their eyes lit up.  If you haven’t seen one, picture a soft sided rustic cabin.  Truth be told, after our amazing trip to Georgian Bay Islands last year and the cozy cabin we stayed in there, it wasn’t a hard sell to get me to agree that we must go and try an oTENTik…and soon!

oTENTik accommodation available in St. Lawrence Islandsphoto: Parks Canada

oTENTik accommodation available in St. Lawrence Islands
photo: Parks Canada

As we made our way up and down the aisles of the show, I picked up maps and planners for all sorts of dreamy places, the kind of places that I’ve pictured exploring since I was a kid.  Gros Morne National Park out in Newfoundland looks absolutely gorgeous and I guarantee we’ll make it there some day. But the most intriguing and bucket list worthy destinations (because of distance and exotic local) are the National Parks in Northern Canada. Wild, breathtaking and untouched, the Yukon, NWT and Nunavut seem so out of reach to the average “southern Canadian”.  Getting there is possible though if we put our minds to it.  With some planning, saving and training, Fraser and I have every intention of making it there with the kids.

In the meanwhile, there are oodles of fabulous places in my beloved Ontario that are calling out to me.  I walked away with an Ontario Parks Guide and a pamphlet listing the National Parks Historic Sites and Marine Conservation Areas here. Now I’ve got a couple more maps for the house and we can start checking off all of the places that we’ve visited.

The show was a great way to spend a day and inspiration for how to spend a lifetime.  And to that woman who looked skeptical that I was going to run out and buy that yogurt after she gave me a sample…I did.  It was good yogurt.  Reeeally good.  Thanks for another great show!

Seasonally Challenged?

The air is cool and full of the damp smell of decay. I’ve spent the morning digging through my basement in search of the sock bin that’s been snubbed for the last four months in favour of sandals. In my humble opinion, the best time of year has finally arrived. It’s fall and along with all of the fabulous smells and sights comes the best time for getting outside.

Don’t let the cooler wet weather keep you and the family inside. With the right gear and clothing, the “off-season” out-of-doors has so much to offer. Pumpkins and apple pies, a couple of wheels rolling over crunchy colourful leaves, evening thunderstorms and early morning misty paddles, these are a few of my favourite things. It’s time to triple up friends with a base layer, mid-layer and wind/rain jacket combo. These will keep you covered from the cold break of dawn through the warm sun breaking through in the afternoon and then back again. Light gloves and a cute hat are invaluable for keeping in the cosy and take up almost no room in your pack or pockets, so be sure to bring some along on your adventures.

Whatever your excursion of choice, be prepared with the right gear. Whether running, cycling, or just walking the dog, remember that night is coming sooner these days and even your commute home could get a little dark. Bring your lights and reflectors and make sure that you can be seen. Staying out overnight? Bring a tarp, a cozy sleeping bag and a full-fly tent and be prepared to fix hot meals and drinks to keep up your comfort level and your spirits.

Now that you’re ready for the weather, get out there and enjoy the changing seasons. And don’t forget to find those socks…you’re gonna need them.

Life Lessons – Teachable Moments Courtesy of Pukaskwa National Park

I love teachers and my boys have been fortunate enough to have been taught by some of the best. I respect and appreciate their dedication and hard work and I feel that real world experiences can really serve to support and enhance a teacher’s efforts in the classroom.

This is how I justify sometimes taking my boys out of their classrooms and into the wilderness. Tripping reinforces our family commitment to a healthy outdoor lifestyle and demonstrates firsthand the importance of environmental protection and stewardship. Not to mention the kids get a little bit of science, geography, math, history, geology…you name it, snuck in there too. Not that they’d ever realise they were actually learning anything, they are having too much fun to notice!

I wrote notes to my boys’ teachers explaining that they would be absent from school for a week while tackling the Coastal Hiking Trail in Pukaskwa National Park and suggested that they do projects chronicling their journeys to make up for missed classes. Both teachers were incredibly supportive and I received an unexpected invitation to speak to my older son’s class before we leave. I am no public speaker and the thought of getting up there with all eyes on me brings on a wave of nausea, but of course I agreed. All children benefit from exposure to the outdoors and maybe my presentation will spark an interest in some of those kids that will get them exploring the possibility of visiting one of Ontario’s parks themselves. Whether it is tomorrow with their parents or years from now when they are grown, I hope that the pictures I paint of wild adventures and far flung vistas stay with them and spur them on to journeys of their own.

I won’t yet have pictures of the trail to show, but I will bring along my computer so that I can share the park’s Coastal Hiking Trail Trip Planner. It will allow me to show the class maps of the trail and to point out the lack of any roads. Many of the children in class have never been outside of large urban areas. Can a child who has never ventured beyond the city limits imagine such an expanse without any roads or cars? The planner mentions the Pukaskwa Pits,the unexplained rock-lined pits clustered along the coast. I bet the kids will have some good guesses what they were used for! We will talk about packing for the trip, what we’ll be bringing and what we’ll be eating. We will discuss the wildlife that lives there and how to be bear aware. I’m going to run out of presentation time long before I ever run out of wonderful things about Ontario to explore.

While we are gone, the class will spend a part of each day speculating on what we are up to. My son Luke will be journaling about his experiences on the trail and when they are reunited the following week they will compare notes. What a great idea Ms. Taris! The class will also be able to follow our progress real-time with transmissions from ourSpot GPS Satellite Messenger. And I think it would be fun to send a picture of the family holding a sign sending a personal message back to the class and email it to them from the guest center at Hattie Cove.

And so our trip to Pukaskwa will not just be a family adventure, it will be a community adventure. Our parks and our province have lessons to impart and we can all be teachers in our own way if we are willing to put in the time and effort. I am thankful for the opportunity to share my passion for the outdoors with the class. But I am especially thankful for the enthusiasm of teachers who inspire kids everyday in their urban classrooms.

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