Category Archives: Family

HELP…GET ME OUTTA HERE – I’M HAVING WAY TOO MUCH FUN !

This coming weekend, Ottawa will experience the launch of a fun, interactive live game that challenges problem-solving skills, patience, and bravery at CLAUSTROPHOBIA, the new “escape room” game venue located in Ottawa’s Hintonburg/Mechanicsville neighbourhood.  I recently spoke with Claustrophobia founder and architect of the current two rooms , Jennifer Schnare (below) who kindly shared the who, what, where, when, why and how about this worldwide phenomenon where teams of friends, family, classmates or co-workers are locked into mysterious rooms and have to solve puzzles and clues in order to unlock the door….and escape.  It’s a thrilling, spine-tingling game that results in trust and team building which usually ends up with tons of laughs all around.

Everest 341Jennifer, what inspired you to open an escape room gaming venue?
I played an escape room for the first time about a year ago and was immediately drawn to the concept. Not only did I have an amazing time in the room and trying to solve the puzzles, but I continued thinking about it after I left.

Why Ottawa?
I first started the planning for Claustrophobia to launch in Toronto but it quickly exploded into a phenomenon and there were a significant number of competitors. I moved to Ottawa and quickly saw that there was a market here, too, and only one other competitor.

get me out Key ImageWhat’s the background or history of the “escape room” phenomenon?
The real life escape room phenomenon was inspired several years ago by “escape room” video games popularized in Japan, and the live game has already taken off in the U.S., England, Switzerland, Japan, Taiwan, Malaysia, Thailand, and Mainland China. Over the past couple of years, escape room game venues have mushroomed all across the US and now Canada, and is ideal for families, friends and companies looking to encourage team building with their staff.

trapped2Who writes all the clues and comes up with the room themes for Claustrophobia?
I do with the help of my close family and friends. I wouldn’t have been able to do this without their support!

Did you personally have to search for all the furnishings and nic-nacs to create the correct ambiance for each room? And where did you find these things?
Yes, I found all the furniture and décor accessories! This was a big job, sourced over months. Kijiji was my biggest source for the larger furnishing – I was renting a Uhaul and driving around Ottawa and surrounding areas by myself, relying on the kindness of the seller to help me lift things. Many of the smaller pieces came from sites like e-Bay, Etsy and Amazon.

labWhat business background do you have that suggests you will make Claustrophobia a resounding success?
I’ve worked as a fundraiser and marketer for over 12 years. This has allowed me to gain the skills in everything from managing a budget, sourcing and working with vendors, to finding cost-effective ways to advertise, developing creative ideas and problem-solving.

Do your friends and family think you’re nuts…or are they all supportive and helping out?
Oh yes indeed, they do think I’m a bit of a nut…LOL…but they’re all very supportive and love to help out. Most have said that they “can’t believe I am doing this” and “I wouldn’t have had the guts to do this” but I wanted to take the risk because I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t. And I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur.

Describe the two rooms your currently offer, and their capacity.
There are two rooms – The Laboratory (see description here: http://claustrophobiagame.ca/escape-rooms/the-laboratory) which accommodates 2 to 5 people. The second room is The Hostel (see description here: http://claustrophobiagame.ca/escape-rooms/the-hostel) and it accommodates 2-4 people. It’s important to me that the rooms don’t feel crowded and that you don’t have to play with strangers. I also wanted to ensure you have a full hour to complete the puzzles.

RoomAny plans to increase or expand the current rooms?
Yes! My current venue has the room to expand and I’m already in the process of mapping out the new game room called ‘The Gallery’.

trapped lockHow do people book the rooms and do you have any plans for a Claustrophobia tournament in the near future?
People can book via the website. For the grand opening weekend coming up (March 12-March 15) we’re offering a special discount: $25 per room using promo code ESCAPE25. I don’t have plans for a tournament at this early stage but there are opportunities for corporate team building, birthday packages and of course we have a prize for the team who gets out the fastest every month by room.

ClaustrophobiaBlack (2)To learn more about Ottawa’s newest live “escape room” venue and to book a room, please visit www.claustrophobiagame.ca

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THE LITTLE TORONTO NEWS SITE THAT COULD – MEET PUBLISHER KJ MULLINS OF NEWZ4U.NET

About 18 months ago, I was introduced to one of Toronto’s unsung heroes, a woman who launched a news site that champions the underdog stories and gives a voice to those causes and issues that don’t get much exposure in mainstream media due to their lack of media “sexiness” or mass appeal. These are the stories that confront day-to-day life and issues in the naked city.  KJ Mullins is passionate about Toronto and her neighbours, and publishes her daily NEWZ4U.NET e-newspaper with the help of talented reporters and photographers dedicated to bringing the real news to you without corporate or advertiser “filters” and without fluff or filler content.

I recently sat down with KJ and asked her to tell us all about NEWZ4U.net and what prompted her to create the site.

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Tell us a little about KJ Mullins – what is your personal journalism/business background?
KJ: I started out in college on the journalism track but went to drama/psy instead. Ten years ago after other jobs and being a stay at home mom, I got the writing bug again and this time went full steam.  One of the first articles I wrote back in college helped to bring forth positive changes for disabled students rather quickly, and seeing that I could make a difference was really powerful.

KJ MullinsWhen was your website first launched?
KJ: I launched NEWZ4U.NET on May 12, 2010.

What first inspired you to create Newz4U & what news niche wasn’t being fulfilled by the national newspapers?
KJ: I wanted to get my voice out there and the voices of others who may not fit into the mainstream model. Social issues like homelessness, poverty, LGBT issues and the arts are often overlooked in the mainstream because if it’s not a ‘front and centre’ story it isn’t sexy. The same is true with stories on the city’s front line responders – in mainstream media the motto of if it bleeds it leads also means that stories about good works aren’t covered. It’s rare to find articles about the various Kops and Kids programs that do curb youth violence.

homeless porter_002 DSCF8097How did you source your first news items?
KJ: We have always sourced our news items in the same way; with on the scene and through interviewing with fact checking. We also use reliable newswires for additional coverage. 

What sort of feedback did you receive from readers once the first few editions were e-published?
KJ: Knock on wood, from the beginning we’ve had positive feedback. For the readers who had personal issues in the city like a pot hole appearing and reappearing at their Toronto Community Housing building which we helped to bring positive results, the feedback was extremely positive.

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DSCF0879Who are your readers and how do you reach them?
KJ: Our readers are mostly from Toronto and are generally 25+, evenly mixed between genders. Most have university educations and many are movers and shakers. They are interested in social change and the arts.

DSCF3761As a web-based news source, what sort of reach does Newz4U enjoy?
KJ: In 2014 we had over 449K readers who read over 2.4 million articles. We average 31K monthly readers going through 146K articles.

What stories do you look for?
KJ: We are always looking for new stories about social issues. Fresh produce in the city, and childhood hunger is a current issue we are tackling hard. In Canada’s largest business city it is mind-blowing how many go to bed hungry every night or haven’t got a bed to sleep in. We’ve covered Pride and the Caribbean Festival for several years, looking into the areas that aren’t touched by mainstream.

DSCF2517The arts are also a strong interest for us. We cover as many events, big and small, as possible. Right now we are working on the RBC Taylor Prize and the Lionel Gelber Prize, both covering Canadian non-fiction literature. Each shortlisted book is read and reviewed prior to the prize announcements. It’s a lot of work but promoting our Canadian authors is very important. These men and women are putting forth some amazing work. Photography, fine arts and music are also a prime focus. We hope to be at the Junos this year with one of our newest writers whose focus is music.

DSCF8833 DSCF6408We will also be covering sports at the Pan Am Games. Our sports photographer, Hugh McClean, has been covering soccer and rugby in the past year, two sports that get very little coverage in the city.

?????????????????????Do you offer sponsored pages or ad space and if so, what is the range of $s?
KJ: This is a hard one for us but yes we do have ad space. Ads run from $25 to $150 a month depending on placement. We have plans to change up our layout in mid-March/early-April that will allow for pages to be sponsored as well. Prices for this are still in the works.

We also have a sponsorship program which gives ‘free’ ad space for Toronto small businesses. Our Angel sponsors keep us going and growing.

NEWZ4U.NET gives back to the community by offering local grassroots and small charities space for promoting themselves and their events for FREE.

How do people reach you for editorial coverage and/or advertising?
KJ: We are always available via email at editor@newz4u.net. We respond within 24 hours Monday-Friday. You can always get in touch with me personally on Twitter @kjjournalist.

20141018_143931Above photo: G.J. Fordham

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CANADIAN INT’L AUTO SHOW DELIVERS BRIGHT SHINY TOYS FOR GROWN UPS!

20150212_092907I spent this past Thursday trolling the aisles of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre with the media pack, ooo’ing and aaah’ing at the big shiny cars and trucks being unveiled at this year’s Canadian International Auto Show (www.autoshow.ca) Runs now to Feb.22.

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20150212_083417 20150212_083512 20150212_083543As Nicole, the auto reporter for The Rider newspaper, was too sick to attend the show, I promised her I would take tons of pics and grab all the marketing materials for her so she could write her column from her bed…poor thing, but what dedication.  The Rider (www.therider.com) targets the horse industry in Ontario and our story focus is on the trucks and haulers suited to heavy farm work so I was thrilled to see the first unveiling was the Truck of the Year – the Ford F150 (below)

20150212_081706Lots more Fords followed…including the pretty Ford promo ladies (below)

20150212_090150 20150212_085437 20150212_090206 20150212_093110More trucks, including my faves from last year, the Denali & Silverado (below)

20150212_084439 20150212_084550 20150212_084249I was also pleased to see some old vintage faves such as the VW Camper, the Jeep and a Cdn NASCAR stockcar.

20150212_091706 20150212_091925 20150212_091755But I have to admit, my heart belongs to daddy…or should I say “grand-daddy”. The vintage car collection sponsored by the nice folks from Cobble Beach Resort up on Georgian Bay (www.cobblebeach.com) whose annual Concours d’Elegance vintage car show takes place Sept. 13th and features 100+ rare vintage autos.

20150212_093856 20150212_093847 20150212_094529 20150212_094405 20150212_094421 20150212_093746I was fascinated by the rare yellow Stutz Bearcat (above) along with other early and mid-century autos. Just look at the atomic fins and lights on this baby…

20150212_094320 20150212_094312They also hosted a special display of turn of the century autos along with the Murdoch Mysteries tv series cast – Jonny Harris, who plays Const. Crabtree attended and rumour has it that other cast members will be dropping by over the course of the show.

20150212_093827 20150212_093808 20150212_093607 20150212_093704I ran into my friends and fellow bloggers, Carcia & Telly Campbell of http://www.itsmusicfashionlife.com who were filming interviews and featuring some of the more innovative displays including this one (below) where Telly tried on a suit that made her feel like an older person – slowed responses, lethargic behind the wheel and on the brakes. Yikes, welcome to my world, girl!

20150212_101603 20150212_101611Whether you’re a true blue gear-head or just love looking at cool cars, the CIAS’15 is the show for you, so set aside a full day to go thru all the displays throughout the North and South buildings of the MTCC.  And if you have little lugnuts, they will love test driving the mini Ford F150 trucks (below).

20150212_090258Lots more to see and do, including the Auto Exotica display featuring Lamborghini, Ferrari, Bentley, Aston Martin, Maserati, Lotus, Tesla, Rolls-Royce and Pagan in the lower level of the North Building.  Here are a few more random shots of my exciting day at the Auto Show…big thanks to the organizers of the media day – bravo, good job on keeping us well fed and watered!

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ICEFEST TAKES OVER YORKVILLE (Toronto) FEB 21 & 22.

BIA-IceFest2015-eBlast-600x270For the past 10 years, the folks at the Bloor-Yorkville BIA have hosted a fun family festival of all things winter in the heart of Yorkville Village, featuring ice sculpting, entertainment, hot food and drinks, all sorts of interactive fun for all the family, tons of great shopping and lots of pretty lights at night.  This year’s theme will be “ancient Egypt” so they’re inviting everyone to come “walk like an Egyptian” around Toronto’s premier tourist & cultural hub, Yorkville, on Saturday February 21st & Sunday February 22nd. “Frozen in Time” is an ancient Egyptian-inspired showcase of ice carvings including a 3D  pyramid, plus depictions of  Egyptian gods and pharaohs including Anubis, Iris and King Tut.  There will also be a giant interactive ice carving of sitting camel where visitors will be able to get their photos taken as a keepsake.

424U2559Open to the public each day between noon – 5 pm, the Village of Yorkville Park and Cumberland Street will be the centre of Icefest attractions, with additional ice carving demonstrations taking place throughout the neighbourhood.

424U2193 (2) 424U2203 424U2288On Saturday, February 21st starting at 12 noon, the 15th Annual Sassafraz Ice Carving Competition will take place at the east side of the Village of Yorkville Park.  Twelve ice carvers from across Ontario will compete for the People’s Choice Sculpture Award! As great masterpieces begin to emerge beneath the picks, chisels and chainsaws of the talented carvers, visitors will cast their vote for their favourite ice carving sculpture throughout the afternoon. Winners will be announced at 5:15 pm that day.

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424U2225 424U2389Last year, I found the dolphin from HydraSense who was posing for photos so I just had to get in there myself, too!

424U2169 (2) Gwith sharkAs February is Heart Month, Bloor-Yorkville will be fundraising with participating partners and sponsors in support of the Heart & Stroke Foundation. For a $2 charitable donation, “Kiddie Ice Cubes” will be distributed each day at 2 pm, in the Village of Yorkville Park with a collectible toy inside. Patrons will also be able to sample tasty Maple Syrup Taffy from 1 pm ­ 4 pm each day on Cumberland Street for a $2 donation. Through IceFest, Bloor-Yorkville has raised over $54,000 for the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

20140222_121217424U2247This is an all ages family friendly, FREE event, all you have to do is bring is warm clothes, a hearty winter spirit, and maybe a camera to capture the moments in ice forever!  Photos from last year’s fabulous IceFest courtesy of Henry Lin and a few by me, too.  For further event Info:  http://www.bloor-yorkville.com/icefest/

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ALLEN GARDENS OFFERS BEAUTIFUL HOT-HOUSE FLOWERS IN HEART OF TORONTO

20150111_145237I recently enjoyed a quick trip to paradise…or at least the closest thing we have here in Toronto’s grey, chilly downtown core.  Allen Gardens is a series of botanical greenhouses offering a variety of climates from tropical to desert and I always welcome the opportunity to wander through the pathways breathing in the fragrances or spotting the unique and beautiful blooms.  I managed to catch the tale end of their Christmas displays so there were tons of poinsettias in all shades of red, pink, yellow and event white (below) and there were even some “flower people”, too.

20150111_144322 20150111_144747 20150111_144020 20150111_144030I then took a stroll through the cactus & succulent collection (below) with all the prickly stems and hot dry atmosphere….

20150111_144354 20150111_144422 20150111_144505 20150111_144609…and on the way back, I took in the beautiful hibiscus and a few random plant decorations (below)

20150111_144249 20150111_144210 20150111_144305 20150111_144315Passing through the big palm house, I then went into the area with the ponds, statues and lots more flowers, including some stunning orchids.

20150111_144909 20150111_145053 20150111_145226 20150111_145337They have a charming pond that’s populated with koi as well as a few turtles who decided to make an appearance just as I passed by….

20150111_145319 20150111_145423Throughout the greenhouses, I found a number of festively decorated Christmas trees (below)

20150111_144901 20150111_145503After about 30 minutes of enjoying the floral beauty, I headed back outside, past a few more pretty flower beds…

20150111_145443 20150111_144102 20150111_144845…then back up Jarvis Street, passing by the beautiful old Victorian/Edwardian houses on my way home.

20150111_143202(0) 20150111_143237All in all, a lovely way to spend a grey old winter’s afternoon in Toronto.

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For information and hours, please visit: http://bit.ly/1u5PKc6

 

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FESTIVE SUNDAY STROLL IN DOWNTOWN TORONTO

It was a grey old day in Toronto but unseasonably warm, and having suffered with severe bronchitis over the past 10 days, I really needed some outdoor exercise so on went the good walking shoes and I headed down Yonge Street (the longest street in the world, apparently) to take in the Christmassy sights.

20141130_130611 20141130_130641My first stop for quick snaps was the gorgeous old College Park building which still has a number of its original bronze light fixtures (above) and architectural details in tact. when I first arrived in Toronto in the mid-70’s, this was a big department store called Eatons, with many floors of clothes, furniture, home decor, toys and haberdashery – it even had a wooden escalator which, I’m told, is still there hidden behind false walls. The building has been converted into stores, offices and condos – sad but that’s progress for you. If you look up and also up close you’ll notice beautiful carvings and bronze roundels (below)

20141130_130702 20141130_130803A few blocks further down and I came to the Yonge-Dundas Square, a gathering place for tourists, students and shoppers, and today there was a community event promoting drug-free student life with all sorts of exhibits and displays (below)…..

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20141130_131623 20141130_131617… sadly, all I could smell in the air around the area was dope!! At least the folks in the Square were doing their best. Surrounding this square is a mass of billboards and advertising hoardings, sorta like a mini Times Square…and the famed Hard Rock Cafe (below)

20141130_131758 20141130_131856 20141130_131921Moving further down Yonge St, I walked past the stunning Elgin Theatre (below) where the annual Christmas pantomime Cinderella was playing. Look at this magnificent entrance….

20141130_132035Last night, the annual lighting of the city’s official Christmas Tree took place – this year I stayed in bed with a box of tissues, Buckley’s cough medicine and crap on TV, so as I wasn’t able to enjoy the entertainment and fireworks in person, I decided to pop over to Nathan Philips Square and take a few shots of the tree, City Hall & the skating rink in daylight and without all the crowds.

20141130_132827 20141130_132850 20141130_132921Heading to Yonge Street along Queen Street I looked at the festive windows of The Bay department store – how cute are these?

20141130_133300 20141130_133411 20141130_133424 20141130_133442In the store’s display windows at the corner of Queen & Yonge I found these cute sheep promoting the store’s own traditional blankets and colours….

20141130_133554 20141130_133600 20141130_133617As I walked back up Yonge, I noticed a large tent with signs saying it was a pop-up Christmas market featuring local artisans and craftspeople so I popped in for a quick look-see and the first vendors I met were a delightful couple featuring African hand-crafted cushions, carvings and other home decor pieces.

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Jean-Renaud (above left) and Kalinka (above right) told me about the beautiful cushion covers that Kalinka designs – leather corners and heavy cotton with stunning tribal prints. She is an interior decorator (Klemya Interior Decoration) as well as designer [ http://www.klemya.com ]  Jean-Renaud (JR) heads up a company called mTIDI which represents beautiful handcrafted items from Cameroon [ http://www.mTIDI.ca ].  Directly behind them was Rococoa Chocolates, a local chocolatier with delicious treats including these dark chocolate pearls…

20141130_140701…and (below) chocolate covered Oreo Cookies…complete decadence! http://www.rococoa.ca

20141130_140729I started feeling a bit fatigued – this was my first real outing since being in bed for 3 straight days) – so decided to grab the subway home. Caught myself in the mirrored advertising display at Yonge & Bloor subway station…hmm, not looking too worse for wear, eh?

20141130_144139I more block to go before bed and a nice cuppa tea. One more photo opp of the Christmas tree 1 block from home.

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Whew! Made it…am now sitting down, watching The King’s Speech on TV and enjoying a nice refreshing mug of Earl Grey tea.  And how was your Sunday afternoon?

 

 

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Celtic spirit comes alive & kilts are a-flying @ Beach Celtic Festival, Toronto

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Day One of the annual Beach Celtic Festival is done-and-dusted, and oh what a highland fling was flung! Lots of vendors selling and sampling everything from food to jewellery to clothing to home accessories…even wee Scots sock monkeys!!

Founded 11 years ago by my friend, Sandy Graham (below), who ran Route 66, Toronto’s hottest 50’s dance club back in the late 70’s, early 80’s while I ran Ollie’s, the 2nd best such club located in the Ports of Call multi-venue entertainment centre which was located at Yonge & Summerhill.

Sandy picSandy, a first generation Scottish Canadian, has been presenting Toronto’s only outdoor ceilidh at Kew Gardens in Toronto as a tribute to her late mother.  When her Mum was dying, she asked not be mourned but to be celebrated and thanks to her daughter’s dedication and persistence, the event has grown into what is now a local tradition, celebrating  the Scottish, Irish and Welsh diaspora who came to Canada to start a new life.

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Meghan Bold, founder of the Bold Steps Dance Studio, has choreographed many of the dances presented at the Festival, and has been supporting Sandy with fundraisers and promotional performances leading up to this weekend’s event.

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Check out some of the great vendors who have lots of goodies left in their tents for tomorrow’s visitors….

Dan and Laura Gordon of Whisky & Spice (below), the local hand-crafted premium mustards were busy sampling and selling their Whisky, Porter beer and Riesling/Apple flavoured condiments…yummmmm  http://www.whiskyandspice.ca 

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Tammy Watson, known as the “Canadian Mom” brought her wee sock monkeys to the event, along with some of the sweetest crocheted and knitted hats and toys for the wee ones.  http://www.Facebook.com/CanadianMomOshawa

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…and charming jewellery designer Stephanie MacKay (below) brought her stunning “druzy” rings and pendants that sparkled in the sunshine  http://www.mform.weebly.com

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Anyone who reads my blog regularly knows I’m a glutton for bling so when I saw the lovely designs of Fric & Frac Jewelry & Beads who set up their tent next to Whisky & Spice, I started oo’ing and aah’ing, drawing a crowd of shoppers. Look at these very affordable lovelies….

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20140906_171621http://www.fricandfracjewelry.com

Here are some more happy snaps……

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Toronto’s own Celtic Punk band, The Mahones, closed out the day’s festivities with a kick-ass performance that had the crowd clapping, dancing, whooping it up! http://www.themahones.ca

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Congratulations to Sandy on another fun-filled, family-friendly FREE festival in the heart of Toronto’s Beach neighbourhood! On Sunday, Sandy will be joined by knights (and maybe a princess, too) from the Medieval Times castle, and even more activities and entertainment.

http://www.thecelticfestival.com

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