Roncesvalles Polish Festival in Toronto

This weekend is Polish Festival on Roncesvalles in Toronto, Ontario.  This will be the second year that we have gone with friends to the Polish Festival and we thought we should share with you some tips on how to make sure you have an awesome experience!

  1. Take public transit so that you can avoid driving there, if you can. While there are options for parking, they aren’t great.  Try going to the Dundas West subway station and walking south on Roncesvalles.  Within a couple of minutes of walking, you are at the top of the street and surrounded by delicious food vendors.
  2. Bring your appetite! (and cash…some vendors do not take credit cards)  My favourites:
    • Perogis (cottage cheese or cheddar cheese) – the best vendors for perogis, in my opinion, are Benna’s Bakery and Deli and The Knight’s Table (proceeds to charity, so extra win for stopping here!).
    • Roasted corn – shake lots of spices on there!
    • Polish sausage – if you like sauerkraut, make sure you get some on there.
    • Pickle on a stick – I’m a huge fan of the ones sold at The Knight’s Table but beware – they are very juicy.
    • Bigos – this is a type of hunter’s stew made with cabbage and pork.
    • Ice cream – while there are ice cream trucks with all the classic offerings, you should definitely consider checking out Ed’s Real Scoop. This year, they featured pierniczki-flavoured ice cream. I learned that pierniczki is a type of polish gingerbread.
  3. Get ready to play…. the festival has small rides and games available for children (and those young at heart).
  4. Carry a bag or backpack with you. There are a lot of vendor stalls set up and businesses open along Roncesvalles, some with special prizes and promotions.  You may be able to pick some free samples or good deals.
  5. Polka polka – the music at Polish Festival is great and there are occasionally dancers showing off their polka skills and traditional costumes. There are multiple stages and buskers set up along the street.
  6. Get your drink on. There are beer gardens along Roncesvalles.  If you can, try some Zywiec (a Polish beer).  Try to stake out a place to sit after you have had your fill of the food offerings.  We found a few tables around 7:00 p.m. and drank beer as the sun set and long after.

Na zdrowie! (Cheers!)

Calming Collar for Cats – Product Review

Lately there has been a lot of construction around and in our apartment building (welcome to Toronto – it never seems to end).

We have noticed that Mr. Cat has become a bundle of anxiety when there is construction taking place, particularly when he has been left alone all day in our apartment listening to the loud noises going on just outside.  Normally, when we get home at the end of the day he is hungry but well-rested and in a playful mood.  Whenever there is construction ongoing, we come home at the end to an incredibly cranky and whiney fur-monster.

Most of the time, Mr. Cat is a pretty chill beast.  He travels well and has rarely engaged in destructive behaviour or scratching (see our post on cat-proofing furniture here).

That said, given his latest antics and the fact that the construction outside is nowhere near completion, I thought it would be worth giving this product a try: SENTRY Calming Collar for Cats.

You can buy it here:

Here is the description by the company of how it is supposed to work:

SENTRY Calming Collars use patented good behavior pheromone technology. Using a pheromone that mimics the one mother cats produce to calm their kittens, the collars are clinically proven to reduce or eliminate stress-related behavior such as inappropriate marking, destructive behavior, clawing and anti-social behavior. Collars help alleviate problem behaviors triggered by travel, thunderstorms, fireworks and new social situations. This collar continues to release calming pheromones to your cat for 30 days. It can be used for cats of all ages and breeds without long-term side effects.

Mr. Cat does not normally wear a collar.  When he was a kitten he was a remarkable Houdini and worked his way out of any collar we tried to keep on him.  At some point, we just gave up trying to put a collar on him.  He is a strictly indoor cat and is micro-chipped, so there is really no need for a collar.

Having never tried a calming collar before, I was definitely skeptical that it would be effective for Mr. Cat, but I felt compelled to give it a try.

When I opened the box, I saw that the collar is in a sealed package.  I definitely recommend opening the package over a sink.  There is a flaky power on the collar that peels and crusts off when you touch it.  You don’t want to get in on your floor, and even though I’m sure it must be safe for your cat, I wasn’t a fan of getting it all over him either.  The powder was a bit gross at first, but I just wiped it off into the sink using a paper towel.  You can immediately smell the lavender and camomile and you can smell it on your hands if you are handing the collar without gloves.

I kept the collar pretty loose and slipped it onto Mr. Cat, who was sleeping.  Unlike our experience with most collars, he didn’t fight it.  He seemed a bit confused and kept sniffing but laid back down almost right away.  We left it on for a few hours during the construction and noticed that he napped almost the whole time.  Other than trying to scratch and lick it a tiny bit, he didn’t try to pull it off.  This surprised me because he could have easily slipped it back over his own head.  It was certainly loose enough for that.

Overall, it seemed to calm him.  While Mr. Cat was wearing the collar, he did tend to stick close to us when we were home, for example, sitting next to me and stretching out beside me on the couch and following me into other rooms.  While he would do this occasionally before, he consistently does it while he is wearing the collar (maybe because he wants us to take it off?).  He definitely seemed relaxed and I was able to handle his paws more than usual.  I think that the collar might be useful for days when we need to trim his claws.

When there is no construction, I take the collar off him and keep it in a sealed plastic bag.  We are going to keep trying it out whenever we have to put Mr. Cat in a stressful situation and will update this product review in the future with any new information.

Have you tried this product or something similar to it?

Time is the Coin of Your Life

I’ve been spending my free time the last few days working through Hillary Rodham Clinton’s new book, What Happened.  I’m burning through it fairly quickly, though I have to admit, as a young woman pursuing a profession, it’s heartbreaking at times and I have to put it down.  Throughout the book, Hillary Rodham Clinton has sprinkled a lot of great quotes, and I thought I would share with you one of my favourites so far:

Time is the coin of your life.  You spend it.  Do not allow others to spend it for you.

– Carl Sandberg

Saying “no” to people who are asking for your time can be very difficult.  I think this quote serves as a beautiful little reminder to be intentional with how you use your time, even if it means pushing back on others when it’s necessary.

Finding a Cleaning Service & Saving Money on Cleaning

One the best decisions we have ever made is hiring a cleaning service to help us out some times.  We don’t use a cleaning service very often for ourselves – probably 5-6 times per year.  I am conscious of the cost and with only having two people (and a cute domestic short hair cat that sheds, but not too much!), it takes some time for our place to get messy enough to justify it.

Basically, I think this is one of the best gifts you can give to yourself or to someone else.  It is great to leave the deep cleaning to someone else.  No one wants to spend what little free time they have on a weekend scrubbing the area behind their fridge or the grout between the tiles in the bathroom.  It also helps us to avoid any arguments that we might have over who is going to do which tasks because neither of us is enthusiastic about cleaning.

It was once suggested to me that a gift card or an offer to pay for a cleaning service is a great gift for a graduating student who is moving, new parents, or a grieving family.  When their lives are in a state of upheaval and change, offering an extra set (or two) of hands to help a family keep their space in great shape is often welcome.

Here are some tips for researching and hiring a cleaner or cleaning company:

  1. Ask around. Do any of your friends or colleagues use a cleaning service?  See if anyone in your circle of friends/family has a company or cleaning service that they recommend or that they have tried and do not
  2. Do some research online for companies that advertise services in your area. We live in Toronto, so I searched for companies that offer services in our neighbourhood.  I checked out the large companies (Merry Maids, for example), as well as smaller companies.
  3. For each cleaning service that you learn about, consider whether they will meet your needs. For example, we wanted to know:
    • Whether they had good reviews and recommendations. While online reviews are not always 100% accurate, we definitely dug into this a bit.
    • Are they available on weekends? We wanted to make sure we could be around to let the cleaners in.  Our cat is also a bit anxious with strangers, so we like being home to at least make the introduction.  Many cleaning services are happy to do their work when you are not home, but you will have to work out the logistics of ensuring they are let in and the door is locked after they are done.
    • Are they pet-friendly? Do they make any guarantees regarding cleaning pet hair?
    • Do they bring their own cleaning supplies and equipment, or do they expect you to provide everything? Personally, while we have cleaning supplies and gloves on hand, I prefer for the company to bring their own materials.
    • Do the cleaners use natural or non-toxic products, or offer you this option? If you will be providing the cleaning products, you can determine what they will use, but in the event that they are bringing their own, you may want to find this out.  While many people enjoy the “lemon-y fresh” smell that some cleaning products leave behind, it’s important to remember that many cleaning products use harsh chemicals that probably aren’t good for us or for our pet.
    • Will the same person(s) be assigned to our home each time we schedule a cleaning? Will they work in a team of more than one person (in which case, the total time they spend in your home may be shorter)?
    • What does the cleaning service cost? Is it based on time or on the amount of space being cleaned?  Do they charge extra for certain services, like cleaning in cabinets or wiping down baseboards?
  4. Consider trying out more than one cleaning service before committing to one for regular cleaning, unless you are super happy with the first service you tried.
  5. Don’t be afraid to give or to leave instructions. For example, if we are having guests over, I might ask that they pay special attention to our guest room and bathroom.  Also, provide feedback.  If something was missed or overlooked, bring it to their attention.

I’ve included a link to the service that we use, Maid in T.O., below.  We live in Toronto and found that when we researched our options, they seemed to have the most flexibility.  I think it’s awesome that they have an option to only use green cleaning supplies.  Not only do they do a great job, but they also accept sporadic bookings, including on Saturdays, which is key for us:

I find that after we have a cleaning service through our place, it is easy to maintain the cleanliness for the next month or so just by wiping up and tidying messes as they happen.

Here are some ways that we save money by keeping our place tidy and stretching the time between our cleaning services:

  • We sometimes make our own cleaning supplies from normal kitchen ingredients – not only do we already have these items on hand, but they are relatively inexpensive (ex. baking soda, vinegar, etc. – I will post some recipes on this blog at some point and then link them here!)
  • If you need to buy cleaning supplies, pick them up at the dollar store – the products are almost exactly the same as the ones you see in your regular grocery or chain store but are sometimes significantly cheaper
  • Make a point of keeping some cleaning supplies in the rooms where they will be needed so that you are more likely to reach for them to clean up a mess when it occurs – we keep some basic supplies under the sink in each bathroom and the kitchen, as well as in the hall closet where the litter box is on the floor
  • Set a timer and take 10 minutes or so a day to catch up on dishes and to tidy up
  • Set a timer and take 15 minutes or so each weekend to dust, wipe down your counters or vacuum, especially if you have people coming over

Enjoy your clean space!

Cat-Proofing a New Couch

We recently purchased a brand new set of couches. As a young professional couple just starting out, our apartment is basically an Ikea showroom circa 2012, consisting almost entirely of remnant mismatching furniture from our student days. Recently, we have been gradually replacing the most worn-out pieces in our apartment when we can find a good deal in the spirit of making the place seem a little more “adult”. When our items are in reasonable shape, we pass them on to friends or family members who have a use for them.

In the course of removing our old couches to make room for the new, we were forced to realize just how badly Mr. Cat had scratched them up and destroyed them. These couches had been in our apartment from the time Mr. Cat first came home as a tiny kitten with zero scratch-only-in-certain-places training.

While he had gotten a lot better about sticking to his own furniture for scratching, out of an abundance of caution we wanted to protect our new purchases as much as possible.

Here is a list of the steps we took to adjust Mr. Cat to the new couches and to discourage him from marking them up:

1. Double-Sided Tape

We put strips of double-sided tape (carpet tape) on the corners and edges of the new couches in the same locations that he had scratched and torn up on the old couches. Mr. Cat HATES double-sided tape. He tried pulling it down once and panicked while trying to get the sticky tape off his paws. I helped him pull it off almost right away (so no harm done), but he got the message. Don’t touch the tape. We left the tape up for several weeks, pulling it off when guests came over and then putting a bit back up in the key spots we had identified. We no longer have to keep double-sided tape on the couch, but we keep some around just in case.

Before using the tape on your furniture, test it in a small area to make sure it will not damage your fabric. Here is a link to the type that we use:

2. Bitter Apple Spray

If you have never used this product or something similar before, I highly recommend giving it a try. It has been an incredibly effective deterrent for Mr. Cat and has reduced the amount of double-sided tape we need to use. Huge pros: it is scent-less (at least, to humans!) and is invisible. We spray this on the edges and backs of the couches where Mr. Cat would prefer to scratch now and then. It is natural and it has not stained our new furniture – that said, please test it on a small area of your furniture to confirm that this will be the same for you before you go to town spraying it everywhere.

This product comes in a spray bottle or in a dabber bottle. We personally use the spray bottle, but I have heard that the dabber bottle comes in handy when using it on cats for medical purposes, etc. In general, I am very careful when using the spray bottle not to get the spray onto any of the cat furniture or areas where we don’t mind Mr. Cat to be hanging out. We do not want to accidentally deter him from the areas that we would like him to use, nor do we want to cause him unnecessary stress or confusion.

3. Cat Furniture

Around the same time that the new couches were delivered, we purchased some cat furniture to put near the couches – at the same time that we deterred Mr. Cat from our seats, we provided him with some spots of his own and rewarded him for using them.

First, we put a scratch lounge near one of the couch corners that we expected he might be drawn to and used cat nip on it to encourage him to use it:

These are really cool. Not only are there different textures for Mr. Cat to scratch on, but he can lounge on top of it as well. He loves it! What I like is that it is relatively small and we can put it away or move it to a different area easily. It is also easy to vacuum and to keep clean.

There are versions which are made from cardboard rather than carpet, if your cat likes that type – unfortunately Mr. Cat is not a fan of the cardboard scratching products and has never really taken to them. Here is a link to one that I wish he would use:

The second item that we purchased for the living room was a cat tree with places for him to sit that are higher than the backs of the couches. Mr. Cat used to rest on the tops of our old couches, mostly because I think he could see everything going on in the room. We wanted to give him a spot to look over top of everything without being on our furniture.

We went for a cat tree that is tall and narrow, much like this one:

When the cat tree first arrived, Mr. Cat was somewhat afraid of it. It took some time for him to come around to it but now he is always on it. We encourage him to use it by occasionally putting cat nip on the scratching posts and feeding him a treat while he is sitting on it now and then. We also do not tease or bother him with toys too much when he is on it unless he is in a playful mood.

Do you have any suggestions or ideas for cat-proofing new furniture? We would love to hear from you!

The Best Relationship Advice

I learned the best piece of advice for relationships – not only romantic relationships, but for when you are talking to anyone – a friend, family member, colleague – from a pre-marriage course that my husband and I took through our church while we were planning our wedding.

This piece of advice stuck with me because I immediately realized that it could be applied in nearly any context, whenever I am having a conversation.

The advice is this:

Before you speak to someone, consider the following three questions about what you are planning to say:

  1. Is it true?
  2. Is it necessary?
  3. Is it kind?

If you cannot quickly say “yes” to at least 2 of those 3 questions, don’t say it.

In my experience, running through these 3 considerations now and then have assisted me with keeping conversations positive and meaningful.