Oshawa’s Hidden Gem

 

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Here in my city, Oshawa, Ontario, we have a hidden gem, a wonderful place to get away for a few hours. I wonder if very many people, aside from the local population, know about Oshawa’s Second Marsh, a beautiful urban wetland. It’s bordered to the north by highway 401, to the south by Lake Ontario, to the east by industry and to the west by the McLaughlin Bay Wildlife Reserve. There is  sandy beach separating it from the lake, a lovely spot for turtles to nest. Three hundred four acres of marsh, swamp, meadow and thicket, it is home to hundreds of species of birds, mammals and reptiles. It is a provincially significant wetland protected under law, home to four species at risk, owned by the city and helped out by groups such as Friends of the Second Marsh and Ducks Unlimited.

Paved walking trail
Paved walking trail

There are a series of hiking trails and viewing platforms that offer an opportunity to explore this unique environment without harming the fragile ecosystem or disturbing the wildlife. It is one of the largest coastal marshes on the north shore of Lake Ontario. Along the trails are interpretive and direction signs that have been installed to guide visitors through the habitat areas. The primary trail is asphalt so it is wheelchair accessible. The adjacent area, McLaughlin Bay Wildlife Reserve, is not paved, has lovely paths with woodchip coverings, is also well marked, and has interpretive signage. Originally the trails surrounding the marsh were used as portage areas by the First Nations people to connect the interior of the province to Lake Ontario, later by European settlers to open up the area to trade and exploration, and now for our enjoyment of all things nature.

North part of marsh
North part of marsh

A former premier of Ontario, Davis Crombie, called Second Marsh an “environmental gem in an urban setting”. Right now I call it an emerald. The greenery is stunning with spots of colourful wildflowers and birds winging through the trees and across the marshes and ponds. In winter it would be a diamond, with a beautiful, bright snow cover; spring is an opal with its soft colours coming to life and autumn is a combination as the fall colours are spectacular. I spent time on the viewing decks overlooking various ponds and the marshes just soaking in the quiet and peace before I roused myself to take some photos. Most of the waterways bear the names of families important to the development of the city; Wilkinson’s Pond, Scott’s Pond, and Scattergood’s Pond to name a few. The creeks running through the marsh are important to breeding fish species, birds, and even some flowers that are spread via the water. The creeks are occupied by rainbow and brown trout, white suckers and even Chinook and Coho salmon. All these can be spotted, if you’re lucky, travelling upstream to breed at specific times of the season. There are muskrats, minks, at one time river otters populated the area and hopefully will again, along with the usual fauna, racoons, rabbits and deer. Of course there are busy insects as well and the always hungry mosquito so don’t forget to use an insect repellant before you venture into the area.

 

Encroaching industry
Encroaching industry

It is a great spot to “cure your nature deficit disorder” say the members of Friends of the Second Marsh. There is always a need to protect this area against pressure for future industrialization of the area east of the marsh and citizens are ever vigilant to prevent this happening. the peacefulness is broken by the sound of machinery at work. Many hundreds of Oshawa citizens remain alert, hoping their efforts will prevent attempts at future industrialization. Anyone can visit Oshawa’s Second Marsh. It’s free! There is a bus service and some on street parking on Colonel Sam Drive. It’s a lovely bike ride from anywhere in the city or like we do, carry your bike down in the car and ride along from the General Motors Headquarters.

Does your city have a unique preserve like Oshawa’s, a hidden gem?

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Off to Prince Edward County

 

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A good friend of mine owns some property about 250 kilometers from our home city. She doesn’t drive so I thought a day trip to see her property would be a great way to spend this fine summer day, and off we went on our little adventure. We left early, about seven thirty am, and drove east to a spot called Prince Edward County, known to the locals simply as the County. It’s located at the eastern end of Lake Ontario and just west of the head of the St. Lawrence River, spectacular! It is an island of about a thousand square kilometers with about 500 kilometers of beachfront including a popular tourist site appropriately called Sandbanks, named for its gorgeous sandy shoreline. This area is home to the world’s largest freshwater sand dunes. We visited the more southern piece that faces Lake Ontario. Much of this part has rocky beaches and a lot of brush but a little bit inland are lush rolling fields and farmland. Because we were about to hike through some bush, my friend and I rolled down our pantlegs, tucked them into our socks and put on walking shoes. We also wore longsleeved shirts. A little warm, yes, but we had to protect against ticks that carry Lyme disease. Whether those tiny insects have made it to the County or not, I don’t know, but I’d rather be safe than sorry.

 

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So we made our way to the rocky shore, I have an affinity for water and could have sat and watched the small waves lapping up to smooth the stones for ages. Just about all the rocks were nicely rounded, perfect skipping stones. Most were your garden variety rock with a few sandstone and granite stones there to add interest. Mother Nature sure knows how to decorate with colour and texture rivalling any designer. We found a little crab skeleton and then stopped by a small pool to watch tadpoles swimming about, so peaceful. (big sigh) Interestingly the firs that abound are mostly juniper and there is a lot of  deciduous growth as well. I think a trip back in the fall to enjoy the autumn colours is definitely in order.

 

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The area is known for its produce, particularly organic produce and thanks to an interesting microclimate, has become well known for its fifty vineyards and about thirty wineries. It is now a designated viticultural area supported by tourists and wine lovers from far and wide. We made a stop at one of those wineries, where the owners give tours and tastings. It’s also well known for locally produced cheese from the Black River Cheese Company. Every year the community and tourists gather for the Great Canadian Cheese Festival. The County also boasts that it is a community of artists and local chefs.

Because it is a wonderful, organic fruit and vegetable producing area, we felt our visit wouldn’t be complete without a stop at a farmer’s sales stand where raspberries, blueberries, zucchini varieties, potatoes,beets and so many other fruits and vegetables were available. Since I love my fruits and veggies and you can’t beat the flavour of organic produce, we did stock up a bit. Then it was on to a great little spot for lunch. I enjoyed a prime rib sandwich topped with the absolutely best tomato I’ve ever eaten and my friend had smoked salmon with cream cheese. Both our sandwiches were on homemade bread and accompanied by a salad made with locally grown veggies, really, really good. The owner was very hospitable and wouldn’t you know it, we both hail from the same part of the country, sixteen hundred kilometers away. It really is a small world!

We didn’t have time to do the eastern part of the island, so I would say this side trip should be more of a weekend getaway rather than a day trip. Visiting this fertile island should be at the top of anyone’s “staycation” plans or a spot to show visiting family and friends.

 

The Marine Railway Spectacular

 

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We are fortunate to have very good friends who own a cottage on the shores of Lake Couchiching in Orillia, Ontario. They also have a pontoon boat and take us out on it when the opportunity arises, When planning a weekend at their place last summer, our friend asked if we’d like to boat up to the Big Chute Marine Railway. Who could possibly say no to spending a whole day on a boat meandering a waterway that leads through some of the loveliest scenery, to an engineering marvel? Not me that’s for sure. So we made plans, packed up some snacks, lots of water and of course sunscreen, and prepared for our boating excursion. No alcohol involved as it’s frowned upon when boating and against the law for the skipper to drink when boating. Knowing this would be a whole day, we set off pretty early, just after breakfast and prepared to enjoy. Let me give you a brief history of the Marine Railway and the Trent Severn waterway it accesses.

The waterway itself extends from Trenton in the south on Lake Ontario, up about 386 kilometres to Georgian Bay on Lake Huron in the north. The boats pass through a series of locks, swing bridges and under taller bridges. The small portion we were boating through would take almost nine hours to traverse, involve three locks and a swing bridge. Samuel Champlain was the first European to travel the entire distance in the 1600’s and he would have had to portage several times carrying his canoes overland to avoid waterfalls and rapids. The route was later canalized and in 1833 construction of the locks began. It took eighty-seven years to complete and by 1920 a boat could complete the route. Initially the system was built for industry but is now used for recreation and tourism.

Travelling by boat is not about racing up the river. There are speed limits enforced to protect other boaters, swimmers and water craft. We enjoyed the magnificent scenery and peeks at cottages along the way, marvelling at the ones that had a hundred stairs from cottage to lakefront. If I was in one of those I’d take a full day’s supply of whatever so I didn’t have to walk those stairs three or four times, unless I had a weak bladder.

So we chugged along slowly and quietly, enjoying utter relaxation that only the water can bring. Our boat, even with the canopy up, was low enough to go under the swing bridge, barely, and I held my breath as we went; whew we made it. Then on to the first of the three locks. when travelling through a lock, we had to drop the bumpers over the side and attach to a metal ring so we didn’t float all over the place. You drive in, get ready and the lock doors close behind the boats. The locks can hold quite a few boats and you just sit there and let the water level do its thing. It was my first time in a lift lock so really exciting. The walls look so high, probably twenty feet or so, the water is let in through unseen pipes I presume, and we just slowly rise to the level of the next part of the river. On the return trip the process is reversed. It really doesn’t take too long to go through each lock. I wish I had timed it but I think no more than a half hour at each one. Of course we did extend that a couple of times for needed bathroom breaks. The waterway meanders off in different directions but fortunately, the folks at Parks Canada have erected large, painted signs so we didn’t get lost. Well actually, we did once but that was because the sign was covered by overgrown brush and we didn’t see it.

 

 

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Finally we came to the Marine Railway! It is so neat! First you gently float your boat into a cradle of sorts. There are helpers to get you straight and they place slings under the boat front and back that are then attached to the mechanism. Each boat is cradled separately, there are front and back wheels for each to keep the boats level and the slings keep your boat steady. A system of hydraulics raises your boat out of the water, on rails, about sixty feet up and then down the other side where you are gently deposited into Georgian Bay, unhooked from everything and off you go to explore some more. It seemed that the whole bay is visible from the top of the railway, just gorgeous!

We didn’t have time to explore very far into the bay as the locks close at seven pm on the weekends and we had to get back but wow I hope we get to take a weekend the next time we do the trip!

And Then It Hit Me!

 

 

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I want to blog and write, but I am very slow to publish. The first week was great, I followed the challenge precisely, but somewhere in the second week I really lost momentum. Was I suffering from the procrastinator’s excuse, writer’s block? No, I’m still writing a bit every day but I am not finishing, refining, or publishing. Herein lies the problem, and then it hit me! Because my main theme is about my life as a retired person, I’ve been trying to include many topics at once instead of assigning myself a single theme and writing about that one until it is done at least for the time being. It may be one blog or five, but they all should be following the theme of the week or month. So back to square one and using a proper schedule to write about the topic. This is so important and I only just realized how important it is for me to follow an organizational chart.

 

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I am a former operating room nurse so I tend to be a little obsessive-compulsive about work, most of us are and this carries over somewhat into our personal lives. When I retired, I decided to bury that part of me and allow my brain free rein. This probably wasn’t the best idea as now my brain goes in a hundred different directions a day, never really settling into any one line. Again back to square one, picking a theme and writing about it.

Instead of writing just out of my head, I must also start researching my blog topics more thoroughly. This is very important and since I don’t know everything about everything, I don’t want to give wrong information either, it’s time to put on the research hat and go to Google or Wikipedia to get educated. My experiences, or those of others, will round out the blogs nicely. see? Now I have a plan!

 

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So please bear with me as I begin again with this month’s topic. Day trips in Southern Ontario will be my focus and I hope you’ll follow along and enjoy this exploration of the southern portion of the province where I live. If you read and enjoyed my fifth blog, Weekend Getaway, you’ll appreciate my next one about the marine railway.

 

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Happy Birthday to Me!!

 

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Yes today is my birthday and it’s a big one! I’m officially a senior citizen and I choose to celebrate this milestone, not weep about it. Actually the only birthday I really hated was my twenty-fifth and I have no idea why. Maybe because it was the quarter century mark and was the first time I thought of myself and the word century together. But today is my day and I get to do whatever I want, even if that’s nothing at all. And on this day, I choose to make my New Years’ resolutions, rather than wait for that very cold, dreary January day when I really feel like doing nothing.

Food always plays an important role in our family celebrations. Today is no different and I choose to go to a Chinese buffet that I really like and, along with the rest of the family, have a true gorgefest. The type where they have to roll you out to your car after such extravagance. My faves are not even the Chinese food available, but a roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, then some crab legs and lo mein. Those are my choices (and it is all about me) followed by a wonderful sampling of the numerous desserts available.

 

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Todays activities also include doing dishes. Why such a mundane chore you ask? Because I seem to be the only one who can properly load a dishwasher here. But that’s okay, then I go up to my office to write and work on the sorting and organizing of my craft room/office. These are the things I want to do and it’s all about me today, yay!

As for my resolutions, well first and most important, I will work hard to get my thirty day blogging challenge done in, oh about seventy-five days. To achieve that I’ve started outlining some blogs and filling in the blanks so I can write more efficiently. I’ll also be making changes in lifestyle that are good for my health. That’s a bit boring but necessary at this age.

To take a quote from my ninety year old mother-in-law, “age is just a number, enjoy the time you have every day”. So happy birthday to me! And many more!

Happy Birthday

 

 

You CAN be a Smarter Shopper

 

 

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I think we all know how to decrease our grocery costs but it’s not something we think about constantly. Still, going over the rules before you shop will help you become a smarter shopper. I raised three sons who ate like every meal was their last and my hubby and I both have decent appetites, so buying groceries has always taken a decent chunk out of the monthly budget. When the last son left home I found I was still cooking as if I had a full house and we wasted a lot of food. Shameful! I finally learned to cook for two and will only cook more if I know we have a night coming up when we have to be out of the house quickly and I don’t have time to cook supper. Plus I mentally made a rule that once a week we’d have leftover night and finish off whatever was in the fridge. When I was growing up we always had a leftover night but I didn’t keep up the tradition. Now I have brought it back. Not only are we far less wasteful but it gives me a night off from the stove and it’s good for the budget as well.

Here are some other ways to save on your food budget. Once in a while the hubby and I will get takeout from a local restaurant. The portions are huge so we split a meal and even have some left over for a meal on leftover night. Even when we eat in the restaurant, we’ll often split a meal or, if each of us wants something different, we make sure to take home the leftovers. Obviously I’m a little hung up on leftovers but they’re really good! If you don’t like to use leftovers try keeping a list of what you throw out every week. Be honest and don’t leave anything out. I think you’ll soon start cooking smaller portions or even consider having a leftover night in your house. We haven’t even gone to the store yet and we’re saving. I always make a list too, I may not follow it exactly but I’m less liable to overspend when I follow my list. Next I dig out all my coupons and the weekly grocery flyers. I’ve become quite good at price matching, it no longer embarrasses me to dig out my flyers and show the clerk what another store is charging versus their prices. And coupons are really helpful especially if used in conjunction with a sale price. Stockpiling also helps to save as long as you’re aware of expiry dates. The rule “first in, first out” needs to be followed if you’re stockpiling. I am not a rabid couponer but I do use them, if I remember to dig them out of my purse. I do know a few people who really, really get into this and have cupboards devoted to their piles of dry goods. I keep them on my list of places to make a beeline to if there’s ever a natural disaster.

 

 

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Now here we are at the grocery store and it’s true, shop the perimeter of the store first. All the fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, poultry, fish, bread, and dairy products are on the perimeter. The stuff you don’t really need, processed foods, etc, are in the centre aisles. Besides the walk around the perimeter is good for you too. Most of the stores I go to give pretty big discounts on meat and poultry if you buy in bulk so I do that and then divide and freeze when I get home.

Just a few more hints now. Go through your shelves and realize there are some things you may never use. Get rid of them, donate to a food bank or give to a friend. Make sure to check the expiry date first. Store your food in air tight containers to keep it fresh or buy a little less of something. Make sure your fridge is working properly and remember there is a good reason why the produce drawer and the deli drawer are there. Use them for produce and deli. We don’t usually have deli meats on our menu so I find that drawer is a good spot for my milk bags but it really isn’t intended for that use. Some folks do their own canning and pickling, I made my own jam this year and it probably cost me half of what I would pay at the grocery store. An easy vegetable bed can give you enough fresh produce for a little while and freezing your own veggies is really simple. Imagine that fresh taste all year round! I hope these few little tips will help you spend less at the grocery store and that you too will spread the word and help others become smart shoppers too.

How Prices Have Changed – Or Not

 

 

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Now retired, the hubby and I are on a fixed income and I, as the grocery shopper, am much more aware of our day to day spending. No longer do I pop into the nearest grocery store on the way home and pick up whatever I decide, on the spur of the moment, will be our supper that day. Now I go in fully armed with coupons and flyers; I know how to price match and am relentless at hunting for bargains. My lists are legendary! But there is a difference in grocery shopping now, the money doesn’t stretch as far as it used to. I may have been a bit ‘laissez-faire’ about spending before I retired but I know that over the last five years or so, prices have gone up – a lot.

To give you even more to ponder, here in Canada, our measurements are in metric. Instead of pounds and ounces, we have kilograms and grams. I think my generation are the last to be able to convert fairly easily having lived with both systems, But although our weight measurement is metric, grocers still advertise price per pound instead of per four hundred fifty four grams or per kilogram. Why? Well it appears cheaper that’s why. After all $5.99 per pound seems a better deal than $13.18 per kilogram doesn’t it?

There are some good reasons for price increases. Fuel prices have soared, wages go up, farmers need more for those same reasons but I’d bet the main reason is to satisfy the company shareholders who expect larger returns on their stock prices year over year. All this aside, the makers of the goods as well as the grocery chains themselves, use some interesting ways to increase profit without consumers even noticing.

A few years ago, before social media was a big influence, the producers of canned tuna reduced the size of the can from 7 ounces to 6.5 but kept the price the same. It came out on the television news but was only a small blurb and most of us were outraged for about two minutes. There was no boycott, no rally against the big companies, just a shrug and acceptance. Then a couple of years later, I saw a commercial for a certain brand of pickle in which an employee was saving his company money by removing one pickle from each jar. This one caught my attention but again no one boycotted or sent petitions to the company and I was busy with other things going on in my life.

 

 

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But I’m retired now, on a fixed income, and watching my pennies so I have a reason to find out all I can about the prices I’m paying and how companies are sneaking prices up with out us even knowing about it. The biggest price hike happens when companies decrease the size just slightly and charge the same price. Or they may even drop the price a bit but the trick is that the price per gram (or ounce) is still up on average of nine percent. I mean do you always read the price per gram and remember it from month to month? Hmm there’s a good project for someone, keeping track of per gram changes. But because consumers are more sensitive to price changes than size changes, we make it easy for them. Have you noticed, for instance, your peanut butter looks to be the same as ever, but now there’s a scoop (indentation) on the bottom so the jar actually has less in it. Many company’s will actually brag about their great, new packaging that’s ergonomically designed and blah, blah, blah but they won’t tell you it actually holds less than it used to.

Best things you can do to fight these changes is to be aware of what’s happening and start shopping smarter. There is a long list of things we can change to better manage our grocery costs, probably worthy of another blog but I do believe in being an informed shopper and in telling others. I also am a letter writer and I will write to various companies to let them know I’m on to their ways and am very aware of their price manipulation. It might not make a difference but I always feel better after I send off those emails.