All the latest and greatest products

Gifts for Outdoor Lovers December 17, 2010

Filed under: Consumer Goods — shinypackages @ 10:17 am

When it comes to enjoying the great outdoors, there’s no reason to feel like Randy. You remember Randy? He’s Ralphie’s little brother from A Christmas Story, the 1983 movie about the most wonderful time of the year. Poor Randy was bundled up so tight in a one-piece snowsuit that he couldn’t put his arms down. Things got even worse when he was knocked into a snowbank and couldn’t get back on his feet.

Don’t be a Randy this winter. Luckily, enjoying life outdoors in winter has become a lot easier thanks to huge leaps in clothing technology.

The worst thing you can do is wear heavy jeans and a massive parka when it comes to playing outdoors. The secret, as you may have heard, is in layering. Your dual goals in this exercise are moisture control and warmth. And it all starts with the base layer (in the olden days, we called this long underwear).

You have a choice of several base layer fabrics, each with a unique set of properties. The three most common are silk, polypropylene or wool. The first two will do a fine job of pulling sweat away from your skin, which will make you feel warmer and more comfortable. Wool will wick moisture too, plus it’s a lot warmer and has natural odor resistance (especially compared with polypropylene which gets smelly very quickly).

My money is on the new crop of Merino wool base layer garments. This fine fabric eliminates the itch commonly associated with wool, plus adds a layer of warmth that you’ll appreciate on the coldest of days.

After the base layer, load up with as many warm layers as you figure you’ll need. These can take the form of fleece hoodies, wool sweaters, light down parkas or insulated pants. The final layer, called the shell, is an important addition if you need to block wind or water (from falling snow). Choose a shell that’s waterproof and breathable.

Now that you’re all suited up, it’s time to get out there and have some fun. Here’s a collection of gift ideas to help you make friends with Old Man Winter.

The Tilley Aviator

Possibly the hippest Tilley hat around, this one has a rain and snow repellent wool exterior and has a genuine shearling interior. The smallish ear flaps that can be buttoned up to help you hear. Like all Tilley products, it’s guaranteed for life not to wear out and insured against loss. $135

Journeys Travel & Leisure Supercentre
102-326 Wardlaw Ave.

Kodak PlaySport

This video camera is rugged, waterproof and compact—perfect for that warp speed ride down the toboggan hill. It records in full 1080p HD (plus a couple of other modes) and comes with built-in software for easy sharing on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. It also works as a 5 MP camera. $159.95
At Best Buy, Future Shop, Walmart or at

Ryder Goggles

The Shore is a new model for downhill mountain biking. Yes, you read that correctly. This pair features shatterproof double lenses with integrated tear off posts, a vented frame, 100 per cent uv protection and a fog resistant coating—all very important while engaging in this somewhat risky behaviour. $49.99

Visit for where to buy or call 1-800-665-2903

Coleman Mummy Bag

There are those among us that camp in the winter. That means sleeping outdoors. Luckily, there’s a bag for that. The mummy shape fits snugly around the body, plus there are drawstrings around the shoulders and head to keep out the draft. It has a rating of -17°C. Let’s just hope there’s no wind chill. $99.99

At some Canadian Tire stores or always online at

GV Kid’s Trail Snowshoes

Easy to adjust, freeze-free and lightweight. Oh why can’t all snowshoes be this easy? For kids up to nine years old, these snowshoes fit over any winter boot. Strap them on and let them fly around the park. They even come in pink!

1300 Ellice Ave.

MEC Merino Long Johns

Keeping warm is all about the base layer. Make a good choice for what’s next to your skin and you’ll be good to go all day long. These long johns are soft, itch-free, stretchy and they pull moisture away from your skin. Plus they’re stylish enough to wear around the cottage as pajamas. In men’s and women’s colours and sizes. $62.

Mountain Equipment Co-op
303 Portage Ave.

Thermos Tumbler

Finding a travel mug that actually keeps your coffee hot is easier said than done. This one performs like a rock star, and looks pretty good doing it. The double wall vacuum insulation helps your bevies stay hot for up to five hours. Plus it features a built-in tea hook, which easily holds tea bags or most loose leaf infusers. Leak-proof lid with one-hand, push button operation $27.99

Available at London Drugs, Canadian Tire and Walmart.

The North Face Maplekat Boot

The North Face has become a big brand for one simple reason. It’s great stuff. These do-anything winter boots are super grippy for treacherous surfaces—like your driveway. They’re great for snowshoeing, a winter hike or a snowmobile ride. Available in a couple of colours for both women and men.

1300 Ellice Ave.

KOBO: What’s in My Library December 15, 2010

Filed under: Consumer Goods — shinypackages @ 10:48 am

Here’s a partial list of the books I have downloaded and read since getting my iPad in April. I use the Kobo app. do you detect a pattern?



Christmas Shopping: An Antique Gift

Filed under: Consumer Goods — shinypackages @ 8:56 am

Originally published in the Winnipeg Free Press Last Minute Gift Guide, December 15, 2010


Temptation must be conquered.

When you’re in an antique shop looking for a Christmas gift, please remember that this isn’t about you.

“Your tastes may be very different from what the recipient might want. I know it’s difficult to do because we have so many lovely things here,” says Flic Trott, a 50-year volunteer at Things Antiques and Gifts. Yes, 50 years of volunteering with the Women’s Committee of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, purveyors of this Corydon Avenue shop.

Shop co-manager Judy Fields adds that sticking to a budget may also help narrow your choices and finally make a selection. “We really do have price points for every customer. If you don’t mind buying something that someone else has had, you can really find some bargains.”

There are delightful turquoise rings and elegant glass bowls in the $25 range. And then there are more substantial selections such as the 59-piece set of Birks sterling flatware, priced at $1,800. A new set of this quality would easily cost twice of three times as much.

Things Antiques and Gifts accepts pieces on consignment as well as outright donations. The proceeds go to the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. The shop has a loyal following of regulars who are always on the hunt for pieces to add to their collections, whether it be tiny Hummels or cream and sugar sets, but only of the sugar bowls do not have lids.

“People buy for themselves and they buy for others, and every interest is so unique. There are things I am not remotely interested in that others absolutely love,” added Trott.

Both Trott and Field agree that the joy of working in the shop is hearing the stories of the pieces that come in and perhaps learning a thing or two.

“Some customers come in and say I want a piece of silver. We ask if they want sterling or silver plate, and sometimes they don’t know. Then we have other customers that know a great deal and we love learning from them,” Trott said.

Royal Doulton Robin Hood Mug

Take one look at this 1959 mug and you’ll soon see it bears a striking resemblance to Errol Flynn, who would forever be associated with the bandit after his appearance in The Adventures of Robin Hood in 1938. If someone on your list is a Royal Doulton collector, this is a must-have.


Edinburgh Crystal

Just for fun, I checked out the price of a single piece made by Waterford Crystal, perhaps the most well-known name in the fancy stemware business. The Lismore white wine glass sells for about CDN $72. That’s why this set of four, six ounce glasses from the equally well-know Edinburgh Crystal is such a fantastic deal. And yes, they make that lovely ping sound when you flick the lip.

$60 for four

Shelley Demitasse China Set

Imagine serving espresso after dinner in this charming set. Shelley china hasn’t been made since the 1960s and there’s a big following for these lovely English pieces. The 16-piece set includes cream, sugar, a coffee pot and six cups and saucers.


Rhinestone Tiara

Is there a little girl on your list with a penchant for all things princessy? You can’t go wrong with this sparkly tiara. It’s the real deal, studded with dozens of rhinestones (and not one missing). $116

Things Antiques and Gifts, 913 Corydon Ave, 284-7331

Mon. – Sat. 10 am – 4 pm



Filed under: Consumer Goods — shinypackages @ 3:33 pm

Men and women both have a need for speed, but what is it about cars that turns their particular crank?

Come back with me to 1982. Imagine a plucky 17-year-old high school girl with keys to a 1974 Cutlass Supreme, blue with a white top. She knew the guys in shops class were busy customizing and super-tuning their Chevy Camaros and Dodge Chargers. She also knew they had a weekend tradition of heading out of town and pitting their rides against each other on a quarter-mile strip of Whiskey Road. The prize was pizza.

Read the full story, originally published May 22, 2010 in the Winnipeg Free Press here.



Filed under: Consumer Goods — shinypackages @ 1:30 pm

We’re gearing up for a family camping trip this weekend. I’m struggling with the idea of letting our 12-year old son bring his iTouch along and perhaps a portable DVD player. I have to be careful with what kind of law I lay down. If he can’t bring his iTouch, can I bring my iPad to read on?

If you decide that camping will be electronics-inclusive, you need to get this tent, the Coleman Elite Sundome 6. It has a USB port inside that lets you charge a variety of electronic devices. That will come in mighty handy if it’s pouring rain and I want to watch the final episode of Everest: Beyond the Limit on my iPad.

The tent also has an LED lighting system inside. Brilliant! If you’ve ever tried to find your shoes in the dark for a midnight trip to the outhouse, you know how wonderful a light inside a tent will be.

Here are the specs on this beauty.

• 12’ x 10’ tent with 72” centre height
• Sleeps 6
• Hinged door for easy entry
• LED lighting system with lighted control switch
• USB port for charging most electronic devices
• Self rolling windows: a spring coils up to roll the fabric so the
camper doesn’t have to roll the windows manually

Available from Coleman at Canadian Tire for $249.99



Filed under: Consumer Goods — shinypackages @ 2:59 pm

Oh I do love a charcoal grill. I picked up a barrel-style unit at a garage sale last year for $20. It makes me expand my culinary horizons by attempting to replicate the marinated and grilled young onions, with greens, that are served at taco stands all over Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. I also smoked a pork shoulder in it last fall. Charcoal is my teacher, because it teaches patience and that’s exactly what I need to learn.

I was in Superstore last week and saw these kettle-style charcoal grills in person. They have a personality of their own—amazingly cute!

They make a great hostess gift or the perfect addition for a weekend camping trip.  Available in four bright colours: blue, red, white and yellow. For $29.99, how can you go wrong?

At Superstore.



Filed under: Consumer Goods — shinypackages @ 10:14 am

There are the wild horses in Alberta. And then there are the ones under the hood of my 2010 Ford Taurus SHO.

All week I’ve been looking for excuses to get behind the wheel of the 2010 Taurus SHO. I almost cheered when I found out I had to make a long trip around the Perimeter of Winnipeg on Tuesday morning. A Taurus? How could that possibly be exciting, you ask? Well, this ain’t your grandpa’s Taurus. It’s an SHO and those three letters make all the difference. Super. High. Output.

I should take a moment to talk about all the luxury features of this vehicle. Things like the suede and leather seats that have three settings of heat and cooling as well as a massage function, just like those chairs at the mall. I should mention the SYNC system that lets you chat hands free, the satellite radio and the navigation system. It would be responsible for me to talk about how quiet this vehicle is on the road and how it feels like you aren’t even moving at 50 kph. But I’m a little too ramped up to talk about that. Right now, I feel the need for speed.

Even though it’s 3.5-liter V-6, it feels like a big block V8, you know, the kinds of cars we used to drive in the late 70s. Technically, it pumps out 365 horsepower at 5500 rpm and 350 pound-feet of torque at 3500 rpm. The engine features direct fuel injection, variable intake-valve timing and two small turbochargers that put out a maximum of 12 psi of boos. If you have no idea what those last two sentences said, let me put it this way. She’s freakin’ fast. And seriously fun to drive.

I was driving down Main Street and gave her a little gas. She lurched like Greased Lightning. I was on the highway, doing about 80kph and tromped it. The pickup at this speed was truly impressive. The speedometer goes up to 220kph. And so does the needle, however briefly.

I can’t say that the body style blows me away. I would have put it in the ‘not a head turner’ category. But then I actually saw people stopping, pointing and turning their heads while I was parked in a shopping plaza one day. It’s subtle to say the least. It’s got that wolf in sheep’s clothing thing going for it.

And I’m still really struggling with the fact that this is a Taurus. With all those ponies galloping under the hood, I might have called it a Mustang but apparently that’s taken 🙂

The Ford Taurus SHO as road tested lists at just over $50,000.



Filed under: Consumer Goods — shinypackages @ 1:57 pm

I have a confession to make. I’m not the world’s biggest fan of Starbucks coffee. I find their brews a little too robust for my sensitive palate (are you buying that?). I do like their specialty coffee and teas, especially Passion tea on ice. And I like their new instant coffee.

Starbucks VIA Ready Brew hit the market a couple of months ago and are a big hit by all accounts. I hear no complaints about them. I like them because I can add a touch more hot water to tone done the bold taste. Plus I will finally be able to have a good cup of coffee on a camping trip. They come in a handy book of three packs.

Starbucks VIA comes in Colombia, Italian Roast and most recently, a decaf version of the Italian Roast.

The suggested retail price of  Starbucks VIA®Ready Brew Decaffeinated Italian Roast is $3.45 (3 servings) and $12.95 (12 servings)

The suggested retail price of the regular Colombia and Italian Roast is $3.45 (3 servings) and $11.95 (12 servings).

Get ’em at Starbucks.



Filed under: Consumer Goods — shinypackages @ 4:15 pm

I read this book because I had just finished reading In the Land of Long Fingernails by Charles Wilkins. I guess you could say I was on a bit of a funereal binge. I may read something called Grave Matters next.

I also read Curtains by Tom Jokinen because it was set in Winnipeg and I’m a sucker for a book that mentions street names I recognize and buildings I have set foot in.

This book is a perfect rainy day read. The curtains at the funeral home get pulled back for all to see in this funny, sad, touching and entertaining tale. A former CBC radio producer takes a job as an apprentice at a Winnipeg funeral home. That’s the story in a nutshell. There are the expected creepy parts that delve into the details of cremation and embalming. But what has stayed with me from this book more than anything else isn’t about death. It’s about life. And specifically—the dash.

So what is the dash? It’s that little line between the year you were born and the year you died and it makes all the difference. Think about it.
At most major bookstores or online at



Filed under: Consumer Goods — shinypackages @ 7:32 am

A bare bones motorist I am not.

I fully admit that bells and whistles impress the hell out of me. I’m not sure I could ever go back to a vehicle without heated leather seats, a premium stereo system and a sunroof that opens with the touch of a button. I like chrome, matching door handles and dark tint windows that make you think someone very important is sitting inside.

That’s why it stands to reason that the 2010 Lincoln MKT has knocked my socks off.

Let’s start with Active Park Assist, three little words that mean parallel parking will never cause your blood pressure to rise again as you try to wiggle into a spot. Here’s how it works: slow down and start looking for a spot. Touch the button on the console. The dash display will tell you to move ahead, then to stop, put the vehicle in reverse and take your hands off the wheel. Yes, take your hands off the wheel. Now all you have to do is work the brake and accelerator and let the MKT slide into the spot. The steering wheel spins this way and that way and corrects until you are perfectly parked. Admittedly, it’s a little unnerving to see your steering wheel spinning around like that but it does a better job of parking than I ever could, both from the right and left sides.

Now let’s talk about the LCD panel on the dash that can keep you occupied for days. Lincoln SYNC is a voice-activated communications and navigation system that will impress even your technology-crazy friends. A few pushes of a button and your mobile phone is paired with the vehicle’s onboard system. That means hands-free operation (even though your should really pull over to take a call). When it comes to tunes, I love the internal Jukebox. Slip a CD into the player, record it, and have it stored forever. That means no changing CDs. The system sounds like a dream. That’s probably thanks to the 14 premium speakers. Lincoln SYNC also includes a complete navigation system.

Now let’s talk about what’s under the hood. Please understand that I am incapable of rewiring my hitch or installing new ball joints, but I do know about horsepower. This Lincoln MKT has the 3.5 litre, V6 EcoBoosts engine. That translates into 355 horsepower and 350 lb ft of torque. What does that mean? Lots of ponies and lots of pick up. In other words, it’s tons of fun to drive.

With all its options, the unit I am driving prices out at just under $65,000. I could go on for days about the seats with both heat and AC, freezer in the backseat, sexy blue lights that come on inside the vehicle at night and the back hatch the opens and closes with a button touch. But that’s enough driving in the lap of luxury for today.