Camping 101 (For the City Gal)

This post is not meant to insult those wonderful ladies who are seasoned outdoorswomen.  It is only meant to show women who like their comforts (like me) that camping really can be for everyone.
...  And yes, I mean REAL camping and not glamping!  Many of my friends are surprised to learn that I love the outdoors.  It is a hobby which has also become important to Corey and now it's a passion we share together.  Why are people surprised that I would choose to spend my weekends covered in bug spray?  Probably because I tend to be a "Type A" individual and some people may even describe me as high-strung.  In short, I like things a certain way; I like to schedule my free time; I enjoy working and planned activities; and I enjoy clean surroundings. 
I realize that this isn't exactly a recipe for a great outdoorswoman but I've found some ways to make camping more enjoyable for a city gal like me, and I'd love to share my hobby with you!
First of all, I should tell you that I come from a camping family.  Every summer, my parents would pack up the cars (that's right, they had so much stuff to make our trips comfortable that they took both cars!) and headed to Bon Echo Provincial Park.  These trips were always the highlight of our year and some of my best memories were of building the fire, hiking, mountain biking, watching the stars, collecting frogs and singing songs around the campfire. 
Don't get me wrong: Corey and I love living in the city.  In fact, living in Toronto is so important to us, that we were willing to sacrifice space and an extra bedroom in order to stay in the 416!  But even with our backyard oasis, there's something special about being truly far from city life that feels really special and distinctly summery!
The main reasons I love camping are:
  1. It forces me to relax.  Instead of trying to think of something productive to do, I am forced to just go for a hike or sit and read.
  2. It is quiet.  There's something really magical about the sounds you hear when you subtract all the sounds of the city.
  3. Corey and I connect.  It's great to have nobody else to talk to for a couple of days.  It forces us to talk and learn new things about each other and, just really catch up and connect.
  4. It's primitive.  They're something primal about working together to make shelter and cook over an open fire.  It makes me feel proud... like we could actually have a chance at surviving a zombie apocalypse or something...
  5. It's a treat for the senses.  Not only is the scenery gorgeous, but nature actually smells beautiful!
The photo above is a picture of our favourite campsite ever!  We were camped on the edge of Grand Manan Island (at Hole-in-the-Wall Campground.  Yes, that's the actual name and it's named after a famous rock formation.) and on the other side of that picnic table, is a cliff that overlooked the ocean.  We spent the evening sitting on the edge of the cliff and watching the seals play in the ocean below us.
We also camped for a couple of nights on the mainland at Fundy National Park, which is beautiful in a different way.
Last year, I took Corey to Bon Echo for his first time.  Our highlights were seeing a cute deer that let us walk right up to it...
... and canoeing along the side of Mazinaw rock so that we could see the pictographs up close.
We returned again this summer (and hope to go back at least once more) and I blogged about our camping weekend earlier this month.  Here are my favourite pics from that weekend:


So now that you've accepted (hopefully) the awesomeness that is camping, I'll share some of my tips to make the trip a little easier.
 Where to Shop
Our all-time favourite camping gadget was purchased online.  The BioLite Stove (below) burns dried twigs (so there's no need to bring fuel) and actually converts the heat from your fire to electricity to charge a phone, camera or light.  It's amazing and the company is using their technology to help the developing world, so we feel really good supporting them.

Aside from obvious stores, like Canadian Tire, Mountain Equipment Co-Op is our favourite place to find camping gadgets that we didn't even realize we needed.  That's where we purchased our head lamp flashlights, candle lanterns and the lightweight cook set pictured below.

What We Bring

Do yourself a favour and pack light.  Bring your tent, flashlights, a lighter, a bucket, lots of tarps, pegs, rope, a good knife and hatchet, bug spray and sunscreen.  You typically buy wood at the park, since you don't want to introduce new insects to the habitat.  Aside from that, there are kit lists all over the internet.  Do yourself a favour and bring more socks than you think you need, a good book and a big cooler.  We usually bring packs of condiments from fast food restaurants and just shop for ice, hot dogs and other food once we're closer to our destination.

What We Do

The best thing about camping is that there's no schedule.  That being said, we usually bring our fishing gear (and licences) and plan to wake up early at least one morning to go fishing.  If you want to rent a boat or canoe, you can usually find out ahead of time if there's a rental place nearby.  Some people like to go to the beach, but we prefer to hike, read and enjoy the wildlife.  We usually bring an iPod or guitar to sing songs around the campfire.  For us it's a chance to slow down and enjoy our own thoughts.

What We Eat

First of all, bring drinks!  Also, bring some of those Starbucks individual packets of instant coffee and a coffee mug!  You'll thank me later.

Everything tastes better outside so here's a list of our favourite things to eat.
  • S'mores (obviously)  We have the extendable metal forks so we don't need to worry about finding and whittling down long sticks.  They also work well for...
  • Hotdogs.  Normally these gross me out... but they taste really good when you cook them over a fire.
  • Corn and baked potatoes.  These are best done in tin foil.  They take longer than you expect so put them on the fire early.
  • Pancakes.  We usually premix our batter at home and bring it in a squeeze container.  Sometimes we'll add wild blueberries if we pass a farmer's market on the way.
Don't forget napkins, dishes and cutlery... we usually each bring our own spork.

Girlie Luxuries
  • Put a tarp under your tent, as well as on the ground inside the tent and outside over top.  The extra protection against moisture will make life more pleasant.
  • French braid your hair before you leave and try not to touch it if it's just a weekend trip.  The second you touch it, you'll want to wash it.
  • If you need to shower, most provincial parks have 'em.  Bring flip flops and use unscented shampoos.  Don't be that girl applying makeup and spritzing herself with perfume, only to leave the restroom and walk into a cloud of mosquitoes.  Those girls are the camping equivalent to that guy who practically bathes in Axe body spray and then drives his mom's minivan to the club.
  • Air mattress and pillow.  Nobody needs to know.
  • Keep the fire bucket full of water to rinse your hands when they feel disgusting.  I always have some biodegradable soap on hand around the campsite.

Surprise Tips
  • Chill out!  You're probably not going into the middle of nowhere your first time.  If you forget something, you can probably buy it in town.
  • Learn a skill that you can be proud of.  By now, I could probably set up our tent and tarp the campsite with a hand tied behind my back, but learning to build a campfire is a great survival skill... and it's fun too.  There are tutorials all over like this one, but don't over think it.  Bring heavy gardening gloves, twist some newspaper into long sticks, add some dry kindling and build your tepee around it.  Presto!  If it's going out, you're probably smothering it.  If it's smoking too much, your wood's probably wet.  Make sure you cover it with a tarp at night.  This isn't rocket science... but it is pretty satisfying!
  • You have nothing to prove.  If you're inexperienced, don't sign up for a canoe trip on your first outing.  If you need to ask what a thunderbox is, you don't want to know.  Instead, opt for a campsite where you can park your car.  That way, the cooler can go in the car overnight and you don't need to worry as much about animals. 
  • Remember: Raccoons are not scary wild animals.  If you see them in the city, they shouldn't scare you in the wilderness.  Also, daddy longlegs are not real spiders.  You'll have a better time if you keep these facts in mind.
  • Take lots of pictures.  Nature's really beautiful, and you'll want to remember that while you're shovelling snow in January.

Happy Camping!


5 Tips to Start a Gallery Wall

Corey and I have always collected art, and we both love the idea of an art-filled house.  A gallery wall is a great way to display multiple pieces and we have been considering creating one in the living room for a few weeks.

One of the main reasons we think this makes sense, is that we really want to paint the walls a dark navy shade of blue.  Many people have asked if we feel it will be overwhelming in the small-ish space, but we think that the bookshelves and art will help to break up the dramatic wall colour.

In case you're curious, our collection of paint swatches has grown and I think I've finally decided on a favourite.

The other reason we considered a gallery wall is to balance our room.  With our new bookshelves, we have tons of visual interest on one side of the room, while the opposite side is totally empty.  This makes the room feel lopsided to me.

I had never seen a gallery wall span a doorway as well as an angled wall like we have, but I figured it would be worthwhile to experiment.  After all, one of the benefits of hanging art before you paint is that mistakes are easily covered.  I began brainstorming arrangements for my art.

Many websites offered advice on creating a gallery wall but most of the advice was pretty complicated and involved cutting out sheets of paper to mimic the size of your art and arranging those on the wall first.  Honestly, we have so little free time that I really wasn't thrilled about hanging "fake art" on our walls first.  Call me impatient but I decided to wing it.  I did follow some of my own basic rules:
  1. Assemble your art and choose pieces that work together.  We decided not to worry about the frames matching but we did find that a lot of our art worked together in terms of colour theme.  We were also happy to notice that we had a variety of different sizes to work with.
  2. Separate your large "anchor" pieces.  This is important to balance your collection.
  3. Choose your most challenging piece of art, and position it first.  This may be your largest, but for us it was a large piece which would fit on our diagonal wall behind the chair.  We hung this first and sort of let the collection grow out from it.
  4. Consider the visual weight of items with saturated colours or large dark frames and try to balance them with lighter pieces.  One of our prints is in a large dark frame but there is so much white space that it still feels visually light.  This allowed me to group it with smaller but "heavier" pieces.
  5. Leave room for your collection to grow.  This is the fun part!  I can already think of a couple of paintings and photographs which would work well in our gallery wall once they're unpacked.
You may recognize some of the art from the condo, (I've owned some of them since I was  renting my first apartment at Yonge and Davisville!) but there are a few new pieces:

I blogged about this stunning print of a swimmer painting shortly after we moved in:

Although I've been scribbling for weeks, I blogged about this doodle, once I'd decided to buy an Ikea frame and incorporate into our gallery wall:

I just found Layla by chance while browsing a local vintage shop:

And here's our gallery wall:

I didn't bother moving my purse for the shot but it actually sort of works with the art.  Can you tell that blue and green are my favourite colours? 

The art really engages the formerly bare space (below) and it actually makes the walls feel larger.  By hanging a painting on that diagonal wall behind the chair, we also give the impression that the room is wrapped in art.  It gives a potentially awkward space some purpose!

You'll notice that our oversized mirror has found a home beside our couch.  We think it makes the room feel brighter and larger... almost like a faux doorway!  What do you think?

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A Visit to St. Jacobs with My Mom

One morning this week, my mom and I found some time to dive an hour outside the GTA to St. Jacobs County for some shopping and visiting.  St. Jacobs is a charming little village near Kitchener and browsing the little shops is a lovely way to spend a summer day.

Sharing a building with the Spring Street Antique Market is a lovely shop with harvest tables, benches and beautifully finished wood products.  Its contents are mostly country chic decor but they carry some very modern goods as well.

Although we've decided on a clawfoot tub, this beautiful wood surround is just stunning!

I love stained glass but I've never thought about how it's put together.  This half-finished stained glass art reminded me of a beautiful paint-by-numbers picture.

Of course, the Spring Street Antique Market was one of my main attractions.  We were greeted by these lovely old paintings in ornate frames.

I also loved the beautiful china plates, teacups and colourful glass:

The vintage rugs were absolutely gorgeous.  I would love a large one for our house... but it's not a priority just yet so we'll budget for one later.

Upstairs, there was a great assortment of mid-century, deco and mod furniture and lighting.  The prices weren't amazing but there were still a few deals.  My mom and I enjoyed window shopping.

A trip to St. Jacobs wouldn't be complete without visiting the local architectural salvage store, Artefacts.  My mom bought a tile mold there years ago and it looks beautiful displayed in one of her bookcases.

I wished I had measured the air return in our living room.  One of these antique register covers would look beautiful in the new/old house.

I also loved the old windows!  These would look beautiful as wall art.

I'd love to cover a ceiling with the tin tiles in the background of this picture.  The antique wrenches in the foreground caught my eye for Corey.  The store owner let me take home an interesting small one for $5.

These salvaged tiles were colourful and very beautiful.  At $25 each, I couldn't afford to buy them for our kitchen or bathroom but they were good eye-candy!

Perhaps it's because Corey works in electrical, but I'm a sucker for a cool industrial light.  These beauties were about 2 feet across and only $70 each!

Our house is filled with original door hardware but they're all painted white.  Seeing these made me want to have ours restored properly!

It was a lovely day out and a great chance to spend some time with my mom.  Visits have been few and far between lately since we're been working so hard for months! 
The wrench also found a good home on one of our new living room bookshelves.

Spring Street Antique Market - 8 Spring St. St. Jacobs, ON N0B 2N0 519-664-1243
Artefacts Salvage & Design - 46 Isabella St. St. Jacobs, ON N0B 2N0 519-664-3760

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