Mardi Gras is an exciting celebration, known around the world for its colourful parade floats and beads thrown into the crowd. This exciting event is a great time to experience the personality and culture of vibrant New Orleans, held every February. The colourful masques, costumes and parade floats are only one of the reasons to visit New Orleans during Mardi Gras. It’s a once in a lifetime trip, and to make it happen for 2017, you need to start planning now!
A family games night always thrills my kids, and after a busy start to the school year, I decided to surprise the boys with just that.
The first thing my kids do when checking into a new hotel (after saying hello to everyone in the lobby, fighting over who presses the inside button in the elevator and insisting on opening the door themselves) is jump on the beds. We not only do we have lift-off, but we have 150% approval for Watermark Beach Resort in Osoyoos, British Columbia.
Amenities range from fully equipped gourmet kitchens (the grocery and liquor stores are right next door) and washer and dryer in the suites, to poolside grilling stations for easy dinners (if you can pass up the restaurant.)
This Okanagan lakefront resort offers huge tapas plates in the Watermark Restaurant, wine tastings in the lobby, a waterslide in the outdoor pool, two hot tubs, yoga and pilates classes and the Illumination Spa and Salon.
If the kids tire of the waterslide (funny joke), the lake is adjacent to the property and features a three-sided dock to keep little ones safe yet allows the older ones to practice their cannonball form in deeper water. The Osoyoos Yacht Club is a short walk down the beach and we were able to hitch a catamaran ride and then test our salmon fishing skills, which were excellent incidentally. (Even though it was a banner year for salmon and the government actually increased the limits…).
When the boys and I were by the pool, we ordered to-die-for grilled cheese and homemade mac and cheese for lunch. I actually managed to tear them away from the waterslide for 6 minutes in order to eat!
For dinner, the family went to Watermark’s tapas-style restaurant run by terroir-inspired Chef Adair Scott. It also boasts it’s own wine label and to-die-for views.
They have made the small kitchen into an advantage by creating grilled dishes such as arctic char, chicken confit, local steaks and tapas-style fare (spicy prawns, tenderloin carpaccio or quinoa cauliflower salad, anyone?) presented artfully and cooked skillfully.
It really shouldn’t be called tapas. The dishes are huge – and you will want to finish it all. Much of the organic produce comes from Covert Farms, and the herbs are all grown a few feet away in the resort’s garden.
My son was transfixed one day watching a wedding underneath our balcony and it was all I could do not to ‘shhh’ loudly when he asked questions about the ceremony. There are learning opportunities even while on a beach vacation!
While in Osoyoos we made many a kid-friendly excursion, including the Miniature Train Museum and Rattlesnake Canyon Amusement Park – you can see our Osoyoos Top 10 list HERE). But one of the best ‘excursions’? Home Hardware. Just up the street from Watermark is an amusement park in itself. You will want to set aside about an hour. We picked up swim goggles, a cooler for the 75 pounds of salmon we were bringing home and garden décor.
From now on, Osoyoos will be on my summer hitlist – not only for the fresh salmon and organic fruit, but as an excuse to make memories with my family at Watermark Beach Resort.
Disclosure: Watermark Beach Resort has been awarded the Tripadvisor Hall of Fame for the past five years. We were hosted for a weekend and loved it so much we stayed an extra night. All opinions are my own.
I’ve had the experience of traveling to the French leeward island of St. Barth, located 35 miles south of St. Martin in the Caribbean. I’ve never been the same since. The white sand on 22 beaches with shallow reefs coupled with the 2,500 acres of marine reserve make this a pretty special place. For a family vacation, we’d advise looking into a villa. At 2-4 bedrooms, sharing with extended family or a group of friends is a fabulous way to experience ‘les Anses’.
Sibarth represents the best villas on St. Barth and has created a collection of villas that are perfect for a family vacation. Despite its jetset reputation, St. Barth is a perfect family destination with calm beaches, casual beach-side restaurants, and water sports such as snorkeling and paddle boarding. But the jetset reputation also doesn’t hurt. Nor do the Parisian influences. Bon Voyage!
February is my least-favourite month. And not just because the only time I was ever dumped was on Valentine’s Day. Daft cow. Anyway, holiday bills are still flowing in and the Canadian and US governments are all talking about budgets and fiscal responsibility. Ugh. But where finances and family budgeting used to be considered ‘I wish I were an ostrich’ words, Sandra Hanna, co-founder and CEO of Smart Cookies has turned me around. In sharing her top 10 tips for saving money, she suggests throwing out the term ‘budget’ (too much pressure) and finding hidden ways to save money – making it into a game. She had so many tips I couldn’t write them fast enough. I was so inspired and challenged to take charge of my finances.
A Smart Cookie’s Tips on How to Save Money
1. Sell things you don’t need. Along the ‘game’ lines, we’ve had a blast taking photos of items and being creative with descriptions. Taking interesting photos and using terms like “Pottery barn-style dresser” and “shabby chic” can get an item sold quickly.
2. Instead of heading to the store constantly, save time and money by using food you already have. Supercook.com and Myfridgefood.com will give you recipes with items that you have on hand (and may be craving…) The recipes they suggest may also get you out of a rut and help your kids to expand their culinary horizons.
3. Cardswap.ca is a gift card swap so that you can mail in a card you’ll never use and replace it with either cash or a card you need. While Aunt Betty was kind in giving you a giftcard for a movie, the extra dinner and childcare costs make it not so budget-friendly. Swap it for something like a new slowcooker – and save even more on comfort food.
4. Search for the hidden money in your household. This can be a fun one for children too. Turning off lights, using Tide Coldwater to save on hot water bills and making a fire instead of turning up the heat can be fun as well as rewarding. PGeveryday.ca is a great resource for coupons on products you use all the time.
5. Hair schools provide a great inexpensive alternative to pricy salons.
6. Rent, don’t buy expensive clothes. If you live in the US, Rent the Runway. Enter your zip code, size and event date up to 6 months in advance and our calendar will help find available dresses and accessories. You can book rentals for a 4 or 8 day period. In Canada? Rent Frock Repeat. They send you 2 sizes to ensure a good fit.
7. Choose your apps wisely. Purchasing apps can be fun – .99 cents here, $2.99 there. It can add up. Buy when they are free or on sale – with Freeappaday.com and Appminer.com and make sure you try the free versions first to ensure you will actually use them.
8. Apps like www.groceryzen.com allow you to eliminate impulse grocery buys by organizing your grocery list aisle by aisle. (And you won’t forget the milk).
9. Control your own Entertainment: Vimeo lets you live stream your apple TV and curate your own content.
10. Save your time (and money) by never waiting on hold with Gethuman.com
One of the key changes I have made is registering for Mint.com, an app and website that tracks my bank accounts, credit cards and budgets. (Why, exactly did I think $50/month was adequate for clothes? Funny joke..) It takes a bit of investigation to realize that your information and passwords are secure, but once you make the leap, you will never be in the dark about your spending patterns.
Sandra’s other inspiration? Respect moms. Whether you work outside the home or focus on saving money inside the home (or both), Moms are a very powerful bunch in the financial and budgeting world.
Jill Amery was given the opportunity to interview Sandra Hanna as part of the #PGMom program through Proctor and Gamble. As always, her opinions are her own.
Thank goodness I have friends with older girls. If not I wouldn’t have known about One Direction. And when I met Emma, a resident of the Ronald McDonald House Vancouver, I wouldn’t have been able to connect nearly as well. I always end up at RMH around the Christmas season. Last year the boys and I delivered new unwrapped toys and my kids refused to leave for 2 hours after having an extraordinary time playing with the other children.
This year, I was drawing on mugs to wrap for the house so that families would have something handcrafted, homey and festive for the holidays. And wow. Totally appropriate! These parents devour coffee. Of course they do. Many don’t sleep much between their childrens’ treatments, and with going to the hospital and giving attention and education to siblings also living in the house, there’s not much free time. I, too, am a coffee addict (with apparently no good excuse) and jumped at the chance to try the new McCafe take-home coffee at this event. Little did I know I’d be transformed by positive, loving children at the same time.
A new arrival from Powell River was among the most polite boys I have ever met. “Please”, “thank you”, smiles and an artistic talent that made me stare. He was wearing a Ronald McDonald House shirt and decided to draw the logo on his mug. (I drew a bunch of sunshines and happy stuff as it was the only way my heart wouldn’t break – especially when I made eye contact with the other moms there.) If I could have purchased his mug, I would have. He was so proud. With shining eyes and meticulous wrapping, he joined me by the Christmas tree for a photo. One little girl took her place snuggled under the tree. Yes – she was definitely a gift. Cute as a button I think the expression goes.
I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to teach a dance class. Cook a meal for the families. Lead the kids in a theatre sports game. The experience just solidified my affinity with the charity and I know I will be back shortly. There is so much good that we can all do and when I visited the house in London, Ontario I realized what families with severely ill children might need. You can always drop the following to your local RMH. (There are 317 houses in 31 countries throughout the world and in 2011 , there were 513 families served worldwide.).
– Tupperware to transport leftovers to the hospital so parents don’t have to leave the bedside of their children
– Toys for Christmas and the holidays – often parents cannot get away to shop – even for siblings staying at the houses.
– A hot meal for the house (you can book a date, buy groceries and cook)
– Volunteer to teach a yoga class, fitness training, do a craft or share one of your talents.
– Drop off some treats or baked goods for families to enjoy between hospital visits (label the ingredients).
– And then there’s coffee… but now that McDonald’s has launched it’s McCafe Premium Roast take home coffee, the need will be much less great.
I was so happy to learn that McDonald’s supplies so much (besides the beds and positive atmosphere for families in need) to the houses. Even suppliers and staff run frequent dinner-cooking nights. Pretty cool. And seriously? After meeting the happy kids and being with the parents? No better place on earth. Unless you’re not a visitor. As volunteers at the houses say “It’s the best place ever that you hope you never have to stay in.”
Feeding a family can get pretty expensive. If you’re not a great menu planner, here are a few ideas of healthful dinners that won’t break the bank. If you have other cheap dinner ideas to add, please give us suggestions in the comments!
1. A Baked Potato Bar if a great interactive family affair. Each person can choose toppings, including sour cream, chives, bacon, cheese, chili, and baked beans.
2. Pancit is a traditional Filipino dish that helps extend meat portions with the use of noodles and vegetables.
3. Homemade Pizza is fun to make as a team and if you don’t want to make the dough, there are loads of ready-made pizza shells on the market. Spread pizza sauce on the shells and let your little chefs become ‘pizza doctors’.
4. Fish tacos using grilled frozen basa filets are healthy and economical. Much like the baked potto bar, each family member can choose how to assemble their taco. Tomatoes, salsa, cheese, greens and sauces all add spice and depth of flavor (as well as extending the more expensive fish part of the meal)
5. Puff pastry filled with bean/lentil salad is nutritious and great for the family budget.
6. French onion soup isn’t difficult to make. We cook the onions for over an hour in olive oil with a piece of waxed paper covering them at the bottom of the saucepan. Add beef stock, some stale French bread round s and grated cheese. Voila.
7. Crepes filled with hotdogs and tomato sauce for the kids and something a little more interesting for you are great to have on hand.
8. Turkey a la king is simple and extends your holiday dinner leftovers. Served with egg noodles it is a budget-friendly option.
9. Spaghetti bolognaise (make the sauce in bulk when ground beef is on sale and freeze in portions.)
10. Pulled pork sliders – do it in the crock pot for an easy and tasty meal.