The Scary Spirit of Halloween

Two children dressed up as ghosts trick-or-treating on Halloween.

The end of October brings many things along with it – colder weather, shorter days, and of course, Halloween!  At this time of year I always prepare myself for a breakout of pumpkins, candy, and amazing Halloween decorations.

Much like my fall blog post a couple of weeks ago, I decided to find several must-dos to help everyone get into the Halloween-y mood:

1) Screemers is one of Toronto’s best haunted theme parks, featuring a wide variety of terrifying attractions and shows, including the Zombie Prizon, The Haunted House, and Skull Castle.  Join Screemers this October as they celebrate 25 years of terrorizing their guests!  For adults, kick back and hit up the Vampire Lounge and toss back some liquid courage before coming face to face with your greatest fears.

2) The infamous Halloween Haunt at Wonderland is one of the most popular Halloween attractions out there.  Feeling brave enough?  There are 700 monsters scattered around the park as well as mazes, live shows, and scare zones.

3) Every now and then, I do love a blast from the past.  If you haven’t already gone to…or even if you have….go watch the original, Rocky Horror Picture Show in theatres. There are several showings at the Ted Rogers Cinema throughout October and into November.  Don’t forget to dress up and bring your props!

4) Save some money this year and rent a costume instead of buying one!  Everyone wants a cool costume at an affordable price, and for something you only wear once a year, plenty of people are looking to save some money. Malabar, located in Toronto, does just that.

5) Choose costumes from historical figures, superheroes, animals, and more!  Be cautious of what your costume will be this Halloween, as more people are starting to make more conscious decisions on what to wear.

6) Choose something unique to give out on Halloween night!  Instead of giving out candy, give out arts and crafts supplies, fun school supplies, or toys.  There’s even one person in our neighbourhood who hands out Webkinz.  Make this Halloween a memorable one for kids.

7) Take a peek at Casa Loma’s Haunted House!  Make your way through the spookified castle and immerse yourself in a terrifying environment.  Witness iconic Halloween figures, such as Dracula, the Phantom of the Opera, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

Halloween only comes around once a year. Make the most of whatever you decide to do, and most importantly, don’t be afraid to get into the Halloween spirit!

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Falling in Love with Fall

Pumpkins at Reesor's Farm.

As I get older, I am becoming more and more fond of the fall season.  Whether it’s apple picking, going to the pumpkin patch, taking a drive up north to see the leaves change, or hitting up one of the many fall fairs, I truly find it an extremely enjoyable time of year.

While I probably should have written this blog a few weeks ago, given the great weather we’ve been experiencing, there’s still lots of time to get out and experience many fall-themed activities.  These may include:

1. Carl Laidlaw Orchards is perfect for apple picking!  Pick your fill of apples for a crispy, tasty treat, or turn your gatherings into a hot and filling apple pie. Some farms seem to be closing down as farmers sell the land to builders, so you may want to get out apple picking before you can’t anymore.

2. Take a hike or bike on the Don Valley to see the leaves change. The weather is perfect – not too hot, not too cold, and everybody could use some exercise.  Now is the best time to get outdoors before our cold, Canadian winter comes romping along.

3. If you’re looking for some more leaf-changing, and perhaps some nice pictures too, consider taking a drive to Campbellville and Kilbride – about an hour’s drive from Toronto. There are five regional parks in Campbellville and an abundance of great scenery and trees.

4. When driving around Kilbride, try and spot the iconic farmhouse driveway that was the default fall wallpaper for Microsoft several years ago.

5. Take a fall boat cruise on the RMS Segwun – North America’s oldest operating mail steamship. This year is its 130th birthday!

6. Support a local farmer and buy a pumpkin at the pumpkin patch…Downey’s Farm Market, Brooks Farms, and Reesor’s Farm Market, to name a few. Spruce your pumpkin up and decorate it in time for Halloween!

7. Attend some fun fall festivals!  Hit up Pumpkin Mania at Rounds Ranch for pumpkin-themed games, farm animals, and a pumpkin to take home for yourself, or swing by the Pumpkin Festival at the Buckhorn Berry Farm for wagon rides, corn mazes, and a spooky haunted barn.

8. Cross something off your bucket list and take a hot air balloon ride!  The changing of leaves makes for a once-in-a-lifetime experience along with some beautiful scenery. Give Sunset Balloons in Scarborough a try!

Whatever you choose to do, enjoy and make the most of the fall season!

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A Slice of Happiness at Bitondo’s

Slice of pizza from Bitondo's Pizzeria.

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself in my old stomping grounds, down near Little Italy. Feeling a little peckish, I decided to head along College to grab a quick bite. I had been circling around, looking for a parking spot in the residential area, when I came across a small restaurant I had bypassed hundreds of times…Bitondo’s Pizzeria.

It’s a small pizzeria that looks like a restaurant still stuck in the 50’s…with signs painted on the windows and minimal decor…a place that has made a name for itself with the quality of its pizzas, panzerottis, and pastas.

When I stepped in, I was greeted pleasantly by a young lady and asked what I would like to order. Since I was in a hurry, I ordered a pizza slice, which was immediately warmed in the oven. It was about $5.00 for a slice and a drink, and the place was doing a brisk business, with some people sitting at the few chairs and tables inside the restaurant, and other opting to head outside and sit on a bench in the warm weather.

Much to my surprise, the pizza reminded me of an old-style pizzeria’s – it was not too thick, thin, or chewy.  In addition, both the cheese and pepperoni were extremely tasty, and didn’t seem industrialized – the quality was fantastic.

My only complaint is that there wasn’t much of a selection of cold drinks, despite having a large cooler.

During my time in the restaurant, I noticed employees answering phones and making pizzas for delivery.  Sadly, I live too far away to be a regular delivery customer, however, if you want to try an independent pizza place, in an old-school style, I highly recommend Bitondo’s Pizzeria!

Bitondo’s Pizzeria
416-533-4101

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Canadian Tire’s Tireless Customer Service

Storefront of Canadian Tire.

About a year ago, I bought a portable tire inflator that plugs into a cigarette lighter adapter from Canadian Tire – the one on Sheppard Avenue, near Leslie. I find this gadget comes in extremely handy when the temperature changes (as it causes a change in tire pressure). It’s certainly much easier than finding a service station with an air pump that works…not to mention that most stations now charge a loonie for air!

Recently, the pump has been giving me a bit of a problem, and when I tried to use it a week or two ago, it shut off completely and wouldn’t restart. I didn’t have the receipt any longer, but since this tire inflator was Canadian Tire’s MotoMaster brand, I decided that I’d try going back to the store to see what could be done.

After a short wait at the Customer Service counter, a friendly employee listened as I explained my situation to her. She started to apologize and told me that the product does not actually have a lifetime warranty, but only a one year warranty, which I had admittedly exceeded. During the interaction, one of the store managers happened to overhear the conversation, and without hesitation, approved an exchange. The employee indicated that I should grab another inflator off of the shelf, did some paperwork, and within minutes I was able to go on my way.

At a time when retail manufacturers seem to stand more and more behind the fine print in their warranties, it was refreshing to see a manager step up to the plate to keep customers happy. It goes without saying that a happy customer is much more likely to be a loyal customer, and I would think that’s what ultimately any company is striving for.

I can’t vouch for all Canadian Tire dealers but I’ve been happy with my experiences at this location and this visit only reinforced my belief that I was shopping at the right store.

Canadian Tire
416-226-4411
www.canadiantire.ca

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Happy Trails Claireville Ranch

Entrance of Claireville Ranch.

Back when my daughter was just three years old, we drove by a horse farm on the way to our cottage. Eventually, we started stopping at the farm as the owner would let her sit on a pony, and I would walk her around the property. The first time we did this, the owner thought she wouldn’t even last 10 minutes, yet an hour and a half later I was still going around the farm!

We continued visiting the farm, until they closed up (they’ve since reopened under new management), and her interest and love of horses has continued to this day.

One day, last year she asked if we could go horseback riding somewhere in the city, and after some research, we found a small facility known as Claireville Ranch, located at the Claireville conservation area in Brampton.

The ranch is located in a beautiful area, has about 25 horses and very pleasant and knowledgeable staff. The ranch provides pony rides for kids, trail rides, private trail rides, and riding lessons. The ranch doesn’t take reservations, but trail rides go out on the hour. An hour long trail ride costs $35.00 (however there are discount coupons online), which is one of the more inexpensive costs that I’ve come across.

When I first discovered the place, my daughter wasn’t old enough to ride on her own, so I took her on a pony ride involving me once again walking her around the facility. Fast forward two years, and a few weeks ago, she asked if we could go back again. She’s older now, so she’s able to take a trail ride by going on a horse herself. Despite the beautiful weather and crowd on the weekends, when we got to the ranch, they had space for us on the next trail ride. After signing the waiver, being asked if we wanted to rent a helmet (I suggest this), and paying, we had a few minutes to hang around, grab a cold drink, and enjoy the area. Just before our hour was to begin, we were directed to our horses, the saddles were adjusted, and we headed out onto the trail.

We had a leisurely ride and about midway through, one guide asked if we wanted to go faster. Unlike many trail rides which only go slow, we were allowed to gallop at a steady pace for a short time.

During this recent visit, as well as our previous ones, the staff were all extremely friendly, polite, and knowledgeable, and perhaps most importantly….had safety as their primary concern. Our group of about 10 riders and two guides had a great time, and despite some sore muscles, I’m looking forward to going back again. After a quick stop at the snack bar, we were on our way back to our place, which wasn’t more than a half hour drive away. For a fun and relatively low-cost way to do something different in the city, consider visiting Claireville Ranch!

Claireville Ranch
905-794-0700
www.clairevilleranch.com

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Ride the Rocket!

Empty Toronto subway car.

A couple of weeks ago, the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) was in the news after a horribly frustrating morning of delays, due to switch issues, maintenance problems, and emergency alarms being pulled. While I realize that these challenges are experienced on a far too regular basis, for those passengers that rely on the TTC for their daily commute, I wanted to share some positive thoughts on the organization.

Although I am not a daily TTC user, I often take public transit when traveling downtown to events or meetings, as it is easier and less stressful than driving in a car. I’m able to sit and talk to my friends and family without having to focus on the road, and I don’t have to worry about finding parking.

Though the TTC undergoes plenty of maintenance, I have experienced minimal delays when traveling on the system and when delays do happen, I’ve found that the employees have done their utmost to get us moving again. Generally speaking, my trips have been smooth and comfortable and more than once I’ve found myself lulled to sleep by the swaying subway cars.

In more recent times, I also had the opportunity to use the TTC app, which provided me with accurate information regarding the bus schedule, allowing me to maximize my time visiting someone at the hospital, while also getting me to my destination on time.

My only two complaints would be the quickly rising cost of the fares and the added cost of parking at a TTC lot – why charge for parking when you’re trying to encourage people to leave their cars at home and take public transit?

One last thought…although becoming increasingly rare, I truly enjoy the look of those TTC operators who still wear the more formal “peaked” uniform hats (like the police or ship captains wear). These hats exude a more professional image, resulting in an increased level of respect from customers for employees and the industry.

The TTC has certainly had it’s share of ups and downs, but for more convenient and relaxing rides, consider taking the rocket from time to time.

Toronto Transit Commission
www.ttc.ca
416-393-4636

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Go-Getter Customer Service for Go-Karts

Go-karting track at 'Go-Karts @ Polson Pier.'

For quite some time, I’ve been wanting to take my daughter go-karting. While I realize that there are a number of indoor tracks in Toronto, I’m a bit of a traditionalist and I think it’s more fun outdoors. Although I’ve always been driving past one of the tracks up north, a friend recently told me about an outdoor track, right here, in the city, named ‘Go-Karts @ Polson Pier.’ Indeed, it seemed very promising.

Last Sunday I called the location to gather more information. The phone was answered by an older gentleman by the name of Bob, who also happened to be the owner. Bob was friendly, polite and patient in answering my many questions regarding the hours of operation, pricing, age and height restrictions, and whether it was busy (because I didn’t want to drive down and end up waiting for hours).

When he learned that it was my daughter’s first time he kindly offered us the management special, which brought the price down, considerably.  When we got down there, we met Bob, who came out to shake our hands while the employees set us up with tickets and helmets.  My daughter went with the two-seater car first before feeling comfortable enough to go out on her own. Within a few laps, she was zipping around the track like Emerson Fittipaldi, and having a great time.

The racing equipment and the track were clean and well-maintained, and the staff were pleasant, polite, and friendly.  Furthermore, Bob added to our visit by making it more personal and memorable.

After our fun on the track, we headed back into the downtown area for a bite to eat and some ice cream, which was the perfect end to a great afternoon.

I highly recommend visiting this track for a fun and somewhat different activity.

Go-Karts @ Polson Pier
416-778-5278
www.gokartsatpolsonpier.com

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