Tag Archives: Family

Camping in Bon Echo: Part 1

My family loves to camp. Or maybe I should say my husband really loves to camp, and I sort of love it. I don’t mind sleeping in a tent, and I’m happy outdoors as long as the bugs aren’t too bad. But I have a terrible fear of bears, and feel uneasy in the wilderness. I know that I have a better chance dying in my automobile than dying at the jaws or paws of a bear, but there isn’t much rational thinking that occurs when I’m imagining myself (or my girls) being eaten alive.

Camping 1

Despite my reservations, I believe that camping is a fantastic activity for kids. Not only are they learning new skills and an appreciation of nature, but they’re doing what kids do best – getting dirty and exploring the world!

So each year we plan a camping trip with good friends of ours, who also have two daughters around the same age as our daughters. This year we chose Bon Echo Provincial Park, about a 2.5 hour drive from Ottawa.

Camping 4

We reserved site #165, which is one of five walk-in sites at the Sawmill Bay campground on Mazinaw Lake. Bon Echo also has back country camping, cabins and yurts. 

Positives:

  • There’s a lot to do with kids. We rented a canoe for 1 hour and went to check out the native pictographs on Mazinaw Rock. The park offered amazing kids programs every morning at 10am, and most evenings at their amphitheatre.
  • The beaches are sandy and clean. The girls spent many hours wading, swimming and building sand castles.
  • The walk-in sites are beautiful – rocky and treed, and right on the water. You could easily jump off the rocks at your site and go for a swim. The lake is the second-deepest in Southern Ontario.

Camping 3

Negatives:

  • For a walk-in site, I expected to have neighbours who had done a lot of camping and respected general camping rules. Nuh-uh, didn’t happen. We ended up with several yahoos camping on either side of us – one couple lighting their fire with charcoal and starter fluid, another dragging giant logs and brush to burn, and a group of campers with no respect for quiet after dark (to give them credit, they weren’t drinking or anything – they were just obnoxiously loud people. In fact, the following group at that site were the ones drinking and carrying on, and even they shut up at 11pm. I could have kissed them!)
  • Walk-in sites and young children don’t really mix (but as another positive, I’m in really great shape after all that walking back and forth!)
  • Lack of policing from park rangers: our friends were staying in the main Sawmill campground, and had a horrible experience with drunken teenagers (or maybe they were 20…whatever). And in the walk-in campsites, we didn’t see a single ranger in seven days. I realize funding is scarce, but I think a walk-through each evening is warranted.  I could have made the park a ton of money by handing out tickets for all the infractions I spotted
  • The park was BUSY. Although I appreciate the human bodies surrounding me (as protection from bears, of course!), my hubby and I could have done with a quieter experience. We camped Achray in 2012 and it was very peaceful.

Camping 2

Although my negatives seem to outweigh the positives, we still had a wonderful time. The girls had a blast with their little friends, and the giant tarp my husband rigged up over the campsite saved us from days of rain. We’re already planning our trip next year, and need ideas. What are your favourite campgrounds for kids?

Oh, and no bears were spotted. That didn’t stop me from having a 2am heart attack after I heard what I thought was a bear – it was just a really loud racoon :)

 

Back to School on a Budget

Big groans! I’m sure we’re all seeing the back-to-school posts in our newsfeed, and if you’re like me, you’re dreading the end of summer (although this cold/rainy summer can go away now, thank you very much). Or maybe you’re more like that parent in the Staples commercial, with “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” blaring in the background? I’m sure my husband feels that way, after being at home with both kids all summer.

But whichever way you see it, Back to School is coming, and will be here faster than you can say “School Lunches!” Given that my blogging theme this week is budgets, I decided to share a few ideas for back to school on a budget.

I remember LOVING back to school as a child – a brand new outfit for the first day, that barely broken-in backpack, and the shiny pencils and notebooks. But buying new supplies each year is both pricey and wasteful. Join me in saving money and helping our environment!

Buy Used

So simple, yet we always think of “new” when we shop back to school. But if we truly want to reduce our consumption and waste, we have to make use of what’s already in circulation. Hit up your consignment stores (Boomerang and Value Village are great), and see what’s already out there. Online classifieds are another great way to find shoes, Fall jackets and even snowsuits (oh yes…the snow will come eventually!)

Organize and Purge

When we already own a lot of stuff, it’s really easy to miss supplies that we never knew we had. How many times have you picked up something in your house and and said “oh man, I didn’t know we had this brand new pack of markers!” Then you dump them into the giant bin of dried-out markers, broken crayons and pencils.

Get your parents to come by or hire a babysitter for one whole day (this is a difficult task to do with kids around, as they’re constantly crying “no0000, you can’t throw that out!!”) Dump out all the supplies you own, and sort. Discard any dried out markers or pens, and take stock of what you already have. You might be surprised to find you don’t need to buy anything new!

Hit up the Family

I’m lucky in that both my girls celebrate birthdays in the Fall. So I’ve already sent an email around to the family, with a list of things that we really need for back to school.  I’ve also asked them to contribute money to an “activities fund” so that we can sign the girls up for swimming lessons, ballet and gymnastics, without breaking the bank.

Sales, Coupons and Price Matching

If you do end up needing new stuff, make sure to take advantage of sales. Watch the flyers, and pay attention to special offers from online stores (I love Well.ca, and they sometimes offer $5-$10 off if you’re spending over a certain amount).

Hide Your Stuff

Young kids are notorious for opening everything in sight. Keep a small bin tucked away in the closet, so that when those pencils and markers really do run out, you can re-stock with what you already have.

Have you done back to school on a budget? What are your tips?

Cash Flow

It feels funny to be writing this at 34 years of age. Long ago, I thought that by 34 I would have my life “together.” Our family would be financially stable, with money to spend on small luxuries, vacations and home improvement.

But here we are, still struggling. Not near the poverty line, but certainly not able to afford the luxuries we dreamed of. Like many 30-somethings, we’re working on paying off a student loan. We’re WAY ahead than we used to be, but not quite there yet. Luckily, we’ve managed to stay consumer debt-free (phew!)

I had heard of the TV show “Til Debt Do Us Part,” but recently discovered the comprehensive blog and website run by the show’s host, Gail Vaz-Oxlade. I decided our family would try the “cash budget” – when you use cash to pay for variable expenses (all of our fixed expenses still get paid online or by credit card).

We use envelopes, as I find the jar method takes up a lot of space on the counter :) We have separate envelopes for our allocated weekly budget (the numbers are spit out by the program, based on your income and fixed expenses). If we run out of cash, we just don’t spend anymore. However, we’ve been cheating occasionally by borrowing money from “entertainment” if our “transportation” envelope is empty. That just forces me to go back and re-evaluate the budget, as it needs constant tweaking. You will often overestimate certain expenses, and underestimate others.

We’re almost 6 weeks in, and this budget has been a game changer. We’re much more careful in our spending, and I no longer make last-minute grocery shops on the way home from work (when I’m hungry, and more apt to throw expensive/yummy food in my cart). We try to drive less to cut down on gas costs, and we’re finding innovative ways to purchase the things we need. Later this week, I’ll share all of our tips for living on a tight budget.

Go check out the website and the budget, and tell me - have you put the credit cards away? Do you live on cash?