A happier, safer winter with boots that don’t slip

Last winter I spent a disproportionate amount of time kvetching about my boots to Tristan as we walked the dog after dinner each night. Our rural street is sidewalk-free and not a bus route, so it spends most of the winter with a hardpack of icy snow on it, and I hate, hate, hate walking on it when it’s slippery. It makes me feel like a little old lady as I totter along, focusing all my attention on ensuring that my feet are not about to go sliding out from under me. That’s no way to pursue my daily goal of 10,000 steps, with teeth clenched in anticipation of a fall.

Do you remember this article about how most winter boots fail even the most basic traction test from last winter? Of course my boots were not on the list, and I spent the whole winter idly wondering whether better boots would make for more enjoyable winter walks. It’s not the cold temperatures that keep me inside on winter evenings, it’s the fact that I just don’t feel comfortable walking on the ice — especially holding a dog prone to lurching at snowflakes and shadows.

That’s why I was particularly delighted to say “Heck yes!” when the nice folks at Mark’s invited me to a demonstration of the innovative anti-slip technologies and slip-resistant footwear they offer. I’ve always liked Mark’s for their variety of styles from work wear (whether your work is in an office, a hospital or a construction site) to casual wear. One of my family members is sporting a new Mark’s coat thanks to a Black Friday sale, and another wore his elfin-inspired Mark’s winter boots well into May last year. This is just a few of the boots they had in stock that illustrate the range of styles in men’s and women’s footwear that incorporated anti-slip technology:

Photo of boots

I learned on my visit to Mark’s that depending on the boot manufacturer, there are a couple of different types of anti-slip technology. Boots made with the Green Diamond (as seen in this Cascade model) and Vibram’s Arctic Grip (as seen in these seriously adorable Sperry boots) technologies have granules in the soles you can actually feel. They’re slightly different from a technology standpoint but the outcome is the same – improved traction on wet and dry ice.

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What was really fun is that they’d brought a giant slab of ice right into the store, so I could try out the various anti-slip technologies. I have to admit, I was impressed. First I just sort of kicked at the ice, but then I really tried hard to slide across it and it was like trying to skid across a hardwood floor with those little grippy things on your socks – I could feel the boots literally digging into the ice. You can see here where I’ve made scratches in the ice trying to skid.

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Over the years, I’ve tried a few different cleat and crampon-type solutions and have always been frustrated by them. Either they’re a hassle to use, or they fall off, or they destroy my 20m wooden porch as I traverse it from the front door to the driveway. It makes so much sense to have a gritty texture baked right into the soles of the boot, and it’s so thoroughly embedded that even as the rubber wears away through use, new bits of the grippy grit material are exposed, ensuring you many years of traction.

The article I referenced earlier was based on a study that’s put out by iDAPT, part of Toronto Rehabilitation Institute – University Health Network, called “Rate My Treads.” It’s a very Canadian innovation: they’ve set up a lab to test the slip-resistance of boots by having real people walk in the boots across icy surfaces in subzero temperatures with winds up to 30 km per hour. They traverse an incline and give snowflake ratings based on the boot soles’ ability to maintain traction. They found last year that more than 90% (!) of the boots they tested did not meet their minimum standard for slip resistance. Mark’s carries several of the brands that did meet that minimum threshold, though, including Merrell, Sperry, and Wind River. See the full list of boots that iDAPT tested and rated here.

Are your winter boots on the nice list or the naughty list this holiday season?

(Disclosure: I received compensation for participating in and writing about the demonstration of the technology behind Mark’s slip-resistant boots, but all opinions expressed here are fully my own.)

Ketchup wars

I have been following with interest the story of French’s versus Heinz ketchup. If you’ve missed it, the story so far goes something like this.

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Last year, worlds collided in the condiment aisle when Heinz introduced mustard not too long after French’s introduced ketchup. There was a lot more going on behind the scenes than just new product launches, though. If you grew up, as I did, in southern Ontario, you knew that Heinz ketchup was made in Leamington, a small town just outside of Windsor. In 2014, Heinz stopped making ketchup at the Leamington plant, which meant that not only were those factory workers out of work but all the local farms who supplied tomatoes to the plant were devastated as well. This article says Heinz consumed more than HALF of Ontario’s processing tomato crop, and Leamington’s economy was so inextricably bound to Heinz that it was called “Tomato Town.” The Toronto Star reported in May 2014:

This much is certain: Leamington ketchup is done. No longer will 200 bottles of the red stuff roll off the Leamington line every minute. No longer will the plant, which really has played a muscular role in the growth of the global conglomerate, boast of 80 million bottles of ketchup made annually. No longer will Heinz ketchup sport the “Proudly Prepared in Canada” label, the one with the red maple leaf, a claim made since the first bottle of Leamington ketchup was stoppered in 1910.

As a result, that monster-sized rendering of a ketchup bottle on the Oak Street side of the factory, the one with the crowing banner “Home of Canada’s Finest Ketchup,” will have to go. As for the argument over whether the Canadian version is sweeter than the Heinz ketchup made in the U.S. of A. — well, that conversation is over.

Into that giant footprint stepped French’s in January of 2016. French’s started making tomato paste for ketchup at the Highbury Canco plant formerly occupied by Heinz, using local Canadian tomatoes. Then suddenly everyone was talking about French’s ketchup in a social media groundswell after one fellow’s impassioned Facebook post went viral last month. As more and more people shared Brian Fernandez’ post about how he loves French’s because its ketchup is free of preservatives, artificial flavours and high fructose corn syrup, French’s ketchup flew off the store shelves. Each time I visited the grocery store this month, I chuckled to myself seeing the nearly sold-out shelves of French’s ketchup.

It was an easy decision for me as a consumer. Canadian made? Yes please. Inputs produced by Canadian farmers? Yes please. Free from high fructose corn syrup and preservatives? Yes please. I have been a lifelong fan of Heinz ketchup, but it was clear to me which brand I’d be buying from now on.

And so my jaw literally dropped open when I read this morning that Loblaws has said it will no longer carry French’s ketchup.

Loblaws told CBC News it has sold French’s ketchup since 2014, but the particular brand of the condiment was not extremely popular.

“Demand for the product has been consistently low,” a company official wrote in an email. “As a result, we have decided to no longer offer it as part of our regular inventory.”

The article goes on to say that “French’s ketchup stock is still available in some Loblaws stores, but not all.” I can tell you this for sure: I shop at my local Your Independent Grocer with fierce loyalty, and I’ve been a Loblaws customer for decades, but I will go to whatever store I need to in order to stock up on French’s ketchup, and I will never buy another Heinz product.

I hope Loblaws realizes how utterly tone-deaf and ham-fisted their actions appear and retracts this decision. I’m not saying they should exclusively carry one brand or another, but to exclude a brand riding a wave of popular support because it is made locally, supports Canadian farmers AND is more healthy? What were they thinking? I think Beloved put it best: here in Canada, it should not be the President’s Choice, but the Prime Minister’s choice, and the people’s choice. We’ll be a French’s ketchup family from now on.

What do you think? Spring thaw means BBQ season here in Canada: will you be re-thinking what’s on YOUR burgers and dogs from now on?

Edited to add: Dang, I knew the blog was powerful, but I didn’t realize quite how powerful! *wink* The Toronto Star is reporting that Loblaws has relented!

“We’ve heard our Loblaws customers. We will re-stock French’s ketchup and hope that the enthusiasm we are seeing in the media and on social media translates into sales of the product,” said Kevin Groh, the company’s vice-president of corporate affairs and communication.

“We will work with French’s to make sure we are in-stock as soon as possible,” Groh said Tuesday.

Imma call that a victory. Thanks for listening Loblaws!

Disclaimer: This post is my personal opinion only, and does not in any way reflect the opinions of my employer.

#GrowingUpCanadian: Generation X edition

While we were waiting for the rain to let up in PEI, I was surfing Facebook (I’d rather be surfing the actual sea!) and came across this BuzzFeed article about a new trending hashtag on #GrowingUpCanadian. I should have known I was not the target demographic audience when the first point made reference to autocorrect, but yeesh – I have no idea what *most* of these things are.

So, my Gen X bloggy peeps, let’s do this properly. Never mind the millennial edition, what did it mean for you to be #GrowingUpCanadian in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s?

I’ll start! #GrowingUpCanadian in the 1970s meant:

Wanting Fran to see you in her magic mirror on Romper Room.

Dreaming of being featured on Tiny Talent Time (I was back in London last summer and tickled to see that CHCH has relaunched a new version of this old favourite of mine.)

Credit: Jj98 on WikipediaYou know the theme song that starts:

There’s a voice that keeps on calling me
Down the road, that’s where I’ll always be.
Every stop I make, I make a new friend,
Can’t stay for long, just turn around and I’m gone again
Maybe tomorrow, I’ll want to settle down,
Until tomorrow, I’ll just keep moving on.

You slow danced to Bryan Adams’ Heaven at the school dance.

Coveting the breakfast cereals you could see on commercials but not get in Canada.

You wrote a school project about Terry Fox.

Wearing Beaver Canoe and Roots long before the Americans discovered them.

You brought boxes of Kraft Dinner to throw at the stage during a BNL concert.

You had a crush on JD Roberts or Erica Ehm.

Your favourite snack foods were Hostess ketchup chips and Pop Shoppe pop (lime was my favourite!)

Beloved grew up in Windsor and is a few years younger than me, so I asked him for his input. I laughed out loud when he said, “Bear wrestling on CBC.” Um, okay, I’ll have to take his word on that one – somehow that escaped my cultural experience.

Okay, that’s all I could come up with off the top of my head. What about you? What defines #GrowingUpCanadian from your childhood?

WestJet does Christmas right

I kept seeing this pop up in my social media feeds today. It finally popped up often enough (it takes a LOT of recommendations to get me to watch a video!) that I clicked on the link, and I am so glad I did.

Do you have five minutes to invest in the most heartwarming video of the season? Spend it here:

Isn’t it delightful? I cried the first time I watched it and cried again when I showed it to Beloved. A nice, happy sort of cry. And WestJet says “If our Christmas Miracle video on YouTube reaches 200,000 views, WestJet will donate flights to a family in need, so they can be together for the holidays.”

They’re just over 50,000 views as I share this. Add your clicks, you’ll be glad you did!

(Not a sponsored post!)

Alice Munro wins the Nobel Prize for literature

I have two blog posts I’ve been noodling away at in stolen moments this week, one on skating lessons and one on Instagram. So it makes perfect sense that I drop everything and write a post about Alice Munro, right?

Well, it does because I just heard the lovely news that she has won the Nobel Prize for Literature. She is first Canadian-based writer to win the world’s most prestigious literary prize. Remember when I used to blog about books? I’ve been pining for those days lately, and when one of my lifetime idols wins the Nobel freakin’ Prize, that’s defintely worth blogging about!

I’m sure it speaks to my rather scattered sensibilities and curiousities when I tell you that the three most influential authors in my life (so far) have been Alice Munro, Stephen King and Douglas Coupland. I “discovered” Alice Munro way back in my teen angst years, and gobbled up everything she had written to date. I was entranced in large part because many of her novels and stories are set not just in Canada but in the part of the country where I grew up (in London, Ontario). I recognized the sleepy villages, the rolling farms, the verdant fields, even when she didn’t call them by name.

But on a deeper level, she also wrote about the experience of being a woman in terms to which I could strongly relate. Her characters are quirky and thoughtful, leading ordinary lives that occasionally break open to reveal the extraordinariness woven into the fabric of all of us, just below the surface. It was through Alice Munro that I learned to be open to and observe and love the beauty in minutaie.

It was also in reading Alice Munro that I learned about magic realism, a style I have come to love over the years. Once upon a time when I wanted to be a writer (that would be for most of the first three or four decades of my life!), I imagined that if I were to write stories they would be short stories in the style of Alice Munro – spare of superflous words, but with resonating insight into the human experience. And perhaps that’s why it’s best that I have turned in recent years to telling stories more with photographs than words – because perhaps emulating the best in her genre is a goal too lofty even for the pathologically enthusiastic. And I dont’ think I could ever restrain my innate verbosity.

When I went back to school in my mid-20s, I took as many courses in Canadian literature as I could. (Turns out that’s three, if you’re just doing an undergraduate degree.) I wish I still had a copy of what I remember to be my very favourite academic paper ever, an essay I wrote called “Pearls of Existence” and it compared the way Douglas Coupland and Alice Munro reflect the transformative experience of growing up through the lens of minutaie and everyday experiences. I loved writing that paper, and I got a (very rare indeed!) A+ on it.

I absolutely love this quote that the Globe and Mail picked up and included in the article I linked above. I think it captures exactly what I love most about the work of Alice Munro. In the author’s own words:

“I want to tell a story, in the old-fashioned way — what happens to somebody — but I want that ‘what happens’ to be delivered with quite a bit of interruption, turnarounds, and strangeness. I want the reader to feel something is astonishing — not the ‘what happens’ but the way everything happens. These long short story fictions do that best, for me.”

Are you a fan of Alice Munro, too? Which stories or novels did you love – or not love?

Fare thee well, Commander Hadfield

Since I blogged about my delight in following Canadian astronaut and ISS commander Chris Hadfield back in January when he was kibitzing with Captain Kirk, it seems only natural that I’d share this with you, too. Best music video EVER!!

How could I not adore Commander Hadfield and what he has done during this mission? He’s at the intersection of everything I love: photography, social media, space, wicked fun science, razor sharp wit, a strong sense of play and an aw-shucks Canadian pride. Plus William Shatner and David Bowie on the side.

Thanks, Commander, for 144 days of wonder. Your mission has been a gift to all of us.

(Also, that’s two YouTube videos I’ve shared in a week. What is happening to me????)

Oh Tim Hortons, how you vex me

I am crazy busy this week. I don’t have time for Internet drama (but oh, there is drama) and I don’t have time for the forecasted 30+ cm of snow between now and Friday (seriously!) and I really don’t have time to talk at any length about coffee. But as we discussed on Twitter this weekend, it’s a simple fact of life: coffee sometimes trumps all.

I just got a press release from Tim Hortons. I am still not sure I’ve forgiven them for their Christmas cup faux pas, but I wanted to put this out there for your opinion. Apparently, they’ve broadened their coffee cup line so that starting next Monday a small is now an extra-small, a large is now a medium and an extra-large is four ounces bigger than it used to be.

From the press release:

Tim Hortons announced it will be brewing its biggest cup yet, with this month’s introduction of a brand new extra large cup. Beginning January 23rd, the new cup will offer coffee lovers across Canada a premium quality, extra large coffee at a value price. To accommodate the brand new cup, the names of the other hot cup sizes have shifted: the original small is now extra small, the medium is now small and so forth. The change in names of the hot cup sizes will apply to all hot beverages – guests will still receive the same amount of coffee for the same price, only the name of the size has changed.

I’m happy that they didn’t drop the small entirely, as since my last post on the subject of Tim’s cup sizes (hey, what can I say, I’m obsessed) I’ve grown kind of fond of the kiddie-size small — soon to be known as the extra-small. But do we really need to buy our in coffee 2/3 of a litre containers? I’m a hard-core coffee drinker and even I’m not sure I’d have many occasions to order THAT much coffee at a time.

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What say ye, bloggy peeps? Do you need your entire daily recommended dose of caffeine in one 24-ounce hit, or is there such a thing as too big a cup of coffee?

An open letter to Tim Hortons

Dear Tim Hortons,

You know I love you. I’m pretty sure I single-handedly keep you in hockey pucks with my 2XL a day habit. In the battle for coffee drinkers that divides Canada into tribes like the Hatfields and McCoys, I have long sworn allegiance to you. I have been known to say that Starbucks coffee is overpriced and way too strong and just a smidge on the pretentious side, and I can never remember what I’m supposed to call an extra-large. Any coffee shop that requires a lexicon to order is probably not for me.


I have a confession to make. Much as it hurts my patriotic soul to say this, I think maybe Starbucks has won a space in my heart. It started many years ago when I needed a drive-thru on a Christmas Day in 2006, and Starbucks was there for me. I’ve started popping in to Starbucks more and more through the years. Granted, their coffee is still not my cup of, erm, coffee, but I do have a fondness for a venti green tea in the afternoon. And when a Starbucks barista found my wayward iPhone and kept it safe for me at the counter earlier this month, I felt my allegiance sway.

You know what finally sealed the deal for me, though? You just don’t mess with my Christmas traditions. Tim Hortons, where is the holiday coffee cup? Yes, you now sell ornaments and double-double chocolates and the ubiquitous $2 latté — but when you dumped the annual blue holiday cup to instead advertise said new lattés? You lost me.

I’ll stick with my morning XL from Timmies, but not with the same deep affection I’ve always felt. It’s a matter of convenience rather than loyalty now. There’s a new spot in my heart for coffee, and it’s got Starbucks written all over it.


Supersizing Timmy

Did you hear the latest? Starting tomorrow at select Tim Hortons locations in Kingston and Sudbury, the small coffee size will no longer be available, the medium and large will become the small (10 oz) and medium (14 oz) respectively, and the new extra large will be a whopping 24 oz — that outsizes Starbucks’ Venti by four ounces.

That’s more than 2/3 of a litre of coffee, folks, and the entirety of the daily recommended caffeine intake.

I have mixed feelings about this. I’ve always found the small size a bit of an anachronism, and Beloved and I refer to it as the “kiddie size”. On the other hand, I’ve got a 2XL a day habit, and I do love my coffee. There is no doubt in my mind that I have a bona fide addiction to coffee. In fact, it will be a conscious decision on my part to not supersize my XL with three milks, and to resist the the temptation to wring a few more milligrams of caffeine into my system.

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Apparently this brings the Canadian Tim Horton’s coffee sizes into alignment with the larger sizes south of the border in the United States. Nothing against my American cousins, but in the age of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution and all the general movement toward more reasonable portion sizes and an appreciation of restraint over gluttony, is this a smart move on the part of Tim Horton’s?

Do we really need to supersize our coffees? And more importantly, will I be able to resist the siren song of four more ounces?

A Canadian Autumnal Debate: To rake or not to rake?

When I mentioned to a few friends in an e-mail conversation that the 16 mature trees on our property were kicking my ass this fall, and that I’d filled more than 20 bags without managing to conquer even the half way point, one of the women who has been living a rural life for as long as I’ve been living in the city asked, “Why are you raking them up?”

542:1000 Autumn leaves

Why indeed? You mean, there’s a choice? Apparently, you can just mulch the snot out of them and (pardon the pun) leave them. But, if you can do that, why do most of the properties around here in Mature Tree Land seem to have careful rows of filled-to-bursting leaf bags lined at the roadside every week?

In defense of raking, it is a wonderful way to carefully inspect each inch of your new property. I found an entire raised and rock-lined garden bed in one corner of the yard that I hadn’t noticed before! And, it’s a great way to meet the neighbours before everyone goes into hibernation mode for the winter. (I had to laugh at the fact that everyone who walked by stopped to chat, and they all knew that we were the new family and exactly when we’d moved in. Small town indeed!)

What’s it like in your neck of the woods, bloggy peeps? Do you rake diligently? Or are you in the “wait for a blustery day to send it all next door” camp? Or maybe you just leave it on the lawn and call it compost? Do tell, I’m fascinated that there are choices other than seventeen hours of raking available to me!