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My husband and I had booked this weekend getaway a couple of months before Christmas knowing we wouldn’t be visiting family in Montreal or having anyone over due to wonky schedules over the holidays. It was a nice, relaxing and long overdue escape. We loaded up the car, dropped the cat off at the kitty motel and headed north for a weekend of snowshoeing, good eats, exploration and hot chocolate by the fireplace in our room. Luckily for us, there was more snow up there than we have back home in southern Ontario – otherwise our snowshoeing would have become muddy hikes real quick.

Since checkin was only at 4pm, we stopped in Thornbury for lunch at a great place that got great reviews and was featured on the TV show “You Gotta Eat Here” called The Dam Pub. Touted as a gastro-pub, it’s set in a cozy old house and the menu was filled with traditional yet elevated pub fare – both of our meals were delicious! I had the bangers and mash and Chris had the Shepherd’s pie (with lamb). We both had the carrot cake for dessert – it was fabulous. We were sitting next to a window and relaxed while the snow fell in fat snowflakes – something we had yet to see this winter at home. I’d go back in a second. Our next stop was just down the street at The Cheese Gallery, a great shop that sells baked goods, a TON of different cheeses and various other products that pair well with cheese or makes for an otherwise yummy snack. We stocked up on several items that we’d have for dinner that night: baguette, saucisson, four types of cheese (Gruyere, St. Andre, smoked cheddar and honey cheddar), a lemon bar and 2 butter tarts. Needless to say dinner was fabulous paired with a Thirty Bench Cab Franc we brought with us from home. :)

We finally got to Blue Mountain and stayed at the Mosaic in  bachelor suite (with kitchenette and fireplace, overlooking the village). It was warm and cozy and perfect for our weekend getaway. After unpacking, we explored the village and stopped at the Christmas store since we still hadn’t found our Xmas ornament for 2015 (slackers).  Every year we buy an ornament that best represents the year; it can be about a trip, an activity, a funny incident, anything. Typically when we see the ornament, we KNOW it’s the one. And sure enough, after scouring the whole store, Chris spotted it – it was perfect! In 2015 we did a lot of hiking so finding a little hiker as our ornament was fitting. We named him Bruce after the Bruce Trail. :) We swung by the village market to pick up a few more things for breakfasts and snacks, enjoyed the xmas lights still up in the village, then took it easy and enjoyed our dinner and wine by the fire.

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On Saturday, we had breakfast then headed out to rent our snowshoes and join the guided Columbia snowshoe hike. We ere a small group of 7 people and our guide was great. We ended up trekking in the area called the Orchard, which is essentially a wooded area alongside the beginner ski hill. Snowshoeing on its own is quite the workout, but add in the uphill climb and it’s quite the cardio session. It was great to get to the top, got a couple of pics, then headed back down (much easier lol). It was mild (3-4 deg C) so we removed layers and hats/gloves as we went.

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Took some pics of the village:

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We had lunch at the Firehall Pizza Co. restaurant (me: Caesar salad + penne al a vodka, Chris: chicken club), then went exploring a bit more to scope out the other snowshoe trails in the area which were around the golf course but with the wind, all the snow was blown away.

More pics of the village and one of the ski hills from afar:

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We had a repeat of last night’s dinner (crackers, cheese, wine), fire, coziness and stretching out my sore leg muscles after this morning’s trek. I also did some research in the area for more snowshoeing opportunities – and found a great alternative. :)

On Sunday we had breakfast then headed over to the Scenic Caves Nordic Centre. We had visited in the summer and explored the caves but I discovered last night that they also have 10km worth of snowshoe trails plus trails dedicated to cross-country skiing. What a find!!  We picked up our snowshoes and a trail map from the cabin and off we went. We ended up completing three trails totalling about 3.5-4.0 km: Lookout, Nature and Wild West. This was more scenic than yesterday’s trek and there was no one there! Granted we got there shortly after 9am when everyone else is probably still sleeping or eating breakfast. We saw maybe one skier in the forest but for the rest of our trek it was just Chris and I, the birds chirping and the streams rippling. Bliss.

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It was warm again so the layers came off pretty quickly.

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Nice area on the Nature trail with a little stream passing under a snowy bridge.

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Pretty – all the mossy rocks reminded me of the family of trolls in Frozen. :)

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Action shots!

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We went back to the room to freshen up before lunch, and headed to the Firehall again (me: Old faithful burger with Caesar salad, Chris: Chicken cutlet sandwich with Caesar salad). Then off to Collingwood to visit a store I had read about and couldn’t wait to visit: The Collingwood Olive Oil Co. They offer tastings of olive oils and balsamic vinegars, and in so many delicious combinations – the flavours were just mind-blowing. We must have sampled 8-10 of each, some in combinations, others on their own. We had a fantastic time discovering all the great products and ended up buying 7 bottles: Herbes de Provence olive oil to pair with Cranberry Pear white balsamic for a delicious salad dressing. Chipotle olive oil to pair with Maple dark balsamic for an amazing salmon marinade or glaze. Harissa olive oil (for Chris to put on everything), Blood orange olive oil (for me to put on everything) and Neapolitan dark balsamic (great for roasted veggies). I can’t wait to start cooking with them. Cheryl and Alex were so friendly and knowledgeable, they really made the experience special and memorable – I’d go back in a second. Highly recommended to anyone in the area. We were so stuffed from the day that we ended up having a smoothie at Booster Juice for dinner with Doritos (can you say healthy? pfft). Watched the All Star game and went to bed early – we were pooped!

Checked out on Monday morning, stopped for groceries and picked up the cat before getting back home. It was a great weekend!

Chris and I had been missing our hikes and decided to head out this morning to enjoy the winter landscape at Hilton Falls. It turned into one of my favourite hikes yet – you’ll see why in a second. There hasn’t been much snow on the ground yet this winter but there’s snow on the grass as well as on the trails.

We arrived at about 11am and there were quite a few cars parked in the lot but not many people on the trails. Walking by the visitors centre we encountered some birds munching on seeds (available at the visitors cabin):

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We headed out to the yellow trail to the falls. The first hill is the steepest part, it was packed snow all the way to the falls, very easy to navigate. It was our first time hiking in winter and we really enjoyed the fact that without all the foliage you can see so far into the forest – it was very cool. And we heard a TON of birds chirping. :)

The hill at the beginning of the trail:

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Chris with his winter beard keeping him warm.

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Me in my first pair of adult snow pants :)

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We kept walking and came across a nice gentleman who comes by and feeds the birds every weekend. He explained that we could pick up some seeds at the visitors centre and they pack 2,000 little bags every year. Birds are his hobby and he was nice enough to share some great information about the birds in the area. He then gave me some seeds and the chickadees landed on me and ate seeds out of my hand! There were dozens of them in the area. It was really great!

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Closeup of a chickadee eating out of my hand:

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We stayed there for a good 10-15 minutes, feeding the birds and chatting with the gentleman. Highlight of the hike! :) We’ll definitely be coming back.

We continued to the falls and smelled the campfire as we approached – so nice. Then we saw the scenery around the area – wow! It was really magical:

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Wood stacked next to the campfire:

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The falls – it doesn’t show in the pic but the water was falling amidst the frozen areas – really pretty:

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On our way back from the falls:

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Heading back to the car:

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We’ll definitely be heading out for more winter hiking. And remember: There’s no bad weather, only bad clothing. Dress appropriately and you’ll have a great time!

2015 in pictures

2016: A Look Ahead

It’s that time of year again – already! I’ve reviewed my Life List, removed some things I’m no longer interested in pursuing, added in some new items and put some thought into what I hope to cross off the list next year.

Removed:

  • Learn to juggle: It just ain’t happening.
  • Make falafel
  • Make a souffle
  • Own a telescope: This was more for my husband than for me. So – he can start his own list. :)
  • Learn to whistle: Again, not happening.
  • Try eyebrow waxing

Added:

  • Make a candle
  • See the Redwoods
  • Visit Lake Louise in Alberta
  • Visit Le Scandinave Spa
  • Cook a whole fish
  • Make a traditional yule log
  • Own a green vehicle
  • Visit Diagon Alley at Universal in Florida
  • Make a craft for every season/holiday for 1 year

And here’s the list of things I hope to tackle in 2016:

  • Make fresh pasta
  • Cook a whole fish
  • Visit Lake Louise, AB
  • Visit Le Scandinave spa
  • Visit the Maritimes
  • Get a facial
  • Participate in the Great Escape
  • Have a proper English tea
  • Go kayaking
  • Continue this: Have a home emergency kit
  • Continue this: Learn 5 homestead skills (including canning/preserving, making cheese, make jam/jelly)
  • Exercise at least 2 times a week for a year
  • Books: Read 30 books (lowered it from 40 to 30)
  • Movies: Watch 50 movies
  • Cooking: Cook 40 new recipes

I’m excited just thinking about it. :)

Life List Recap 2015

I can’t believe a whole year has passed already! I enjoy taking the time at the end of the year to look back and see how many Life List items I managed to complete and which resolutions I was able to stick with.

Below are the Life Items I crossed off which brought my total to 289 completed of 436 items:

  • Participate in the “23 and Me” DNA initiative – we received our results early in the year and loved reading our reports – very cool and highly recommended!
  • Arm-knit an infinity scarf. I began by watching the YouTube video that everyone was talking about and made myself a scarf, after several false starts. I then ended up making 6 more for Christmas presents. :)
  • Cook rabbit
  • Roast a goose – It’s in my fridge as I type this – I’ll be making it for Christmas dinner this year.
  • Started this: Learn 5 Homestead Skills. This year I wanted to get back to basics and learn some basic homesteading skills. These were the skills I had aimed for this year:
    • My first ever square foot garden: I had previously been strictly a container-gardener but made the leap to the earth and it turned out great! I successfully grew a TON of veggies and can’t wait to expand next spring. Last year’s crops included cherry tomatoes, beefsteak tomatoes, green peppers, jalapeno peppers, beets, green beans, onions, basil and spinach. Delicious!
    • Learn to preserve / freeze / pickle / can:  I didn’t end up canning or preserving unfortunately. But – I made refrigerator pickles with the jalapeno peppers that were quite yummy. I also froze several ready-to-cook meals – which is great for busy families, but it turns out, I prefer taking the time to cook things fresh the day of. I actually look forward to that part and am lucky enough to have the time to do so.
    • Learn to make soap: Well, I bought a soap making kit at Michael’s and that turned out pretty well. I put it together, it was called soap, so I’m counting it. :)
    • Make bread: This was a fabulous discovery for me. I’ve made several loaves now and see this as being a staple in our kitchen for years to come. Healthy, simple, wholesome goodness. Best bread ever.
    • I also had “make jams and jellies” on the list but never got around to doing it. There’s always next year!
  • Make a homemade beauty product – see point 3 above which sorta counts. Plus, I made a “gardener’s scrub” with sugar that I can’t wait to use next spring. I also gave some as a gift for Christmas. :) Can’t wait to experiment with different scents.
  • Have my dream backyard. The deck was finally completed in the spring. We enjoyed it all summer and it was awesome. We spent countless hours out there, enjoying the sun, the bbq (made my first pulled pork with the smoker – woohoo!), the firepit. Enjoyed it just us, with the cat, with friends and family. Amazing.
  • Go snowshoeing: We booked the “Snowshoe through the vineyards” for a special Valentine’s Day outing and lunch at Thirty Bench. It may have been the coldest and snowiest day of February but we had a great time and fell in love with snowshoeing.
  • Travel to Alberta: This was a work trip to Calgary but I’m still counting it. :)
  • Visit all parks in the Halton Conservation Area (Crawford Lake, Mountsberg, Hilton Falls, Rattlesnake Point, Mount Nemo, Kelso). This is where we go hiking for the most part. Love the parks during the different seasons but especially in the fall.

Not too bad all in all. This was the first year in a really long time that we didn’t travel anywhere; that was due to us wanting to pay off the deck as quickly as possible. We already have plans for next year which will cross off a few more items in 2016.

With regards to my book, movie and cooking yearly challenges, I did great on one but terrible at the other 2:

  • Watch 50 movies in 2015: I’m currently at 64 with a week to go. Done!
  • Read 40 books in 2015: Sadly, I only managed to read 17. This is primarily due to my new job that I started last January which is a work from home role. That eliminated my daily train commute (where I did most of my reading).
  • Cook 40 new recipes in 2015: Only 12. My creative efforts were channeled into other areas this year, which is OK. I’ll be more realistic with next  year’s goal. :)

Now – how did I do on the resolutions I set out for myself? Pretty good:

  • Eat Real Food / Eat Local and/or organic: We’re really doing great with this. After watching a couple of food documentaries (Food Inc. and Fed Up) and reading some books on the topic (The Omnivore’s Dilemma), and getting really pissed off about the state of the food industry in North America,  this wasn’t difficult at all. We rarely eat anything processed and bypass the middle aisles of the supermarket all the time. Less meat (even had a couple of vegetarian weeks recently), actual food, buying local, buying organic, buying from local farms. Easy peasy.
  • Only eat out (or order in ) twice a month max. This has been working well too. It got more difficult when we had company or there were birthdays or whatnot but for the most part, we tried to stick to this.
  • Increase fitness level: I failed miserably on this front. Although hiking is great, I only do this on the weekend. I need to find something else that I enjoy doing to keep fit in the week and during the cold months.
  • Complete a 10km walk/hike: We did two this year. One was at Hilton Falls for a 12.5km hike. The other was the return hike between Rattlesnake Point and Crawford Lake – about 16km. Nice!

Well, that sums up the past year. Now I get to plan for next year. Fun times!!

Taste the Season is our favorite of the wine events in Niagara on the Lake. We spent the day there, visiting wineries, had lunch at the Garrison House and dinner at Ravine. It was an awesome day!

We got there just after 12pm and stopped at Trius first followed by Stratus and Jackson Triggs.  Our group really enjoyed the mini pot pie served at Trius with their 2014 Cab Sauv. We also purchased 2 bottles of the wine they served at JT – Cab Franc/Cab Sauv blend – which they served with a yummy beef barley soup.

We had lunch at the Garrison House (a restaurant that has been featured on HGTV’s You Gotta Eat Here) and everyone enjoyed their meal – very very good. I had the charcuterie platter – delicious. Highly recommended: Great place, friendly service, great food and local wines.

After lunch we tackled several more wineries: Strewn, Konzelmann, Rancourt, Pondview, Coyote’s Run, Chateau des Charmes and Ravine. We crossed over to Ravine’s restaurant for dinner. We probably ate too much and drank too much but had a great time catching up with friends and visiting some of our favourite wineries that we hadn’t been to in a while, all in beautiful Niagara on the Lake. What’s not to like? :)

 

 

After a cool and rainy week, we wanted to enjoy the sun and headed out to Mounstberg this morning, hoping to see the last of the fall colours. We’ve visited Mountsberg before and saw the birds of prey (very cool) but never hiked the trails. Today we chose to do the blue Lookout  trail, which was listed as 5.6km. The weather was sun and clouds and the occasional gust of wind but for the most part, it was nice and an above seasonal 15C degrees.

We saw no one else on the trail for the first hour, hour and a half. It was great! There were a lot of birds chirping and we got to see a few. Heard some ducks and geese in the nearby reservoir as well. We saw another snake – he looked more shocked to see us than we were to see him. We came across a couple of people on horseback near the end of our hike as well. Very quiet on the trail today.

Path to the trail:

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Bunch of bird house condos in “Swallowville”. :)

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The reservoir:

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Mushrooms were everywhere:

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Dark sky in the distance – made for a cool picture:

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Into the woods we go….

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Berries!

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Gorgeous:

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Yellow leaves still hanging onto their branches before winter:

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This shot turned out great – bulrushes:

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Feeling small:

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Another friend! :)

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