… but how do you buy groceries? https://buthowdoyoubuygroceries.com Notes from a car-free family in Toronto Sat, 14 Apr 2018 23:06:14 +0000 en-CA hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.2.2 The mighty pannier https://buthowdoyoubuygroceries.com/the-mighty-pannier/ Sat, 14 Apr 2018 23:00:00 +0000 https://buthowdoyoubuygroceries.com/?p=280 If we’re going to talk But How Do You Buy Groceries, than we need to take a moment to give our thanks to the mighty pannier.  Used by so many Dutch people, we used to call them ‘those Dutch bike bags’ until we learned the real name.

Photos from Amsterdam Cycle Chic (great site!)

And these bags hold so much! We use the Basil brand black canvas ones that is a dual bag that straddles the back rack.  They’re durable, water resistant, and have clips to close them, although when I get flowers I leave them open a bit to not smush the flowers.

Today’s example, my weekly fruit and veg purchase:

2 boxes strawberries
9 peppers
3 big white potatoes
1 sweet potato
1 giant red cabbage (this thing will end up in so many meals)
baby spinach
fresh big leaf spinach
tulips (gotta do fresh flowers)

All in one mighty pannier bag.


So … but how do you buy groceries?  Easy.  super super easy.

“Reason #9 to Live Car-Free: Never Getting Stuck Behind the Garbage Truck Again https://buthowdoyoubuygroceries.com/reason-9-to-live-car-free-never-getting-stuck-behind-the-garbage-truck-again/ Thu, 01 Mar 2018 16:46:30 +0000 https://buthowdoyoubuygroceries.com/?p=149 In many parts of Toronto, the streets are narrow.  The Annex, Leslieville, Riverdale … we all have those similar narrow streets many of which are one way streets (some are for some mind boggingly bizarre reason still two-way).  And for most days work perfectly fine as residential connectors weaving together our neighbourhoods. The narrowness actually works well to keep car speeds at safer speeds to see the wide expansive roads of Leaside or Lawrence Park.   But once a week, come garbage day, we feel the squeeze.

The mighty garbage trucks comes around doing the weekly collection, and for so many of our streets, no other vehicle can pass. And in a car, it’s infuriating.  Drivers honk their horns, crane their necks out of their windows to see what the hold up is. The odd clever clot tries to drive up on the sidewalk to pass, until the remember oh, ya. It’s garbage day so there are of course bins lining the sidewalks. And eventually many drivers turn off their engines, defeated, and sit and wait.

Except the  bicycle.


The folks on bikes, they zip right by.  Justifiably feeling smug. It’s that one time of the week when I always think:  so how’s your clown car habit working for you now? yup, that’s what I thought.  weeeee!

But how do you buy … beer … https://buthowdoyoubuygroceries.com/but-how-do-you-buy-beer/ Thu, 08 Feb 2018 17:16:07 +0000 https://buthowdoyoubuygroceries.com/?p=274 Easy!

That’s six 2-4’s from Left Field Brewery in there. Brought home on a sunny cold February day.

The Best Toronto Day Camps – within 5 min of a subway stop https://buthowdoyoubuygroceries.com/the-best-toronto-day-camps-within-5-min-of-a-subway-stop/ Fri, 14 Jul 2017 17:40:47 +0000 https://buthowdoyoubuygroceries.com/?p=183 We are completely spoiled for choice of summer camps in Toronto.  There is absolutely something for everyone!  And with Toronto being a world class city, the facilities that our kids have access to are outstanding.  Plus, you do not need to drive your kids to camp.  In fact, it’s better for everyone that you don’t drive your kids to summer camp.

So let’s explore the best camps within a 5 min or less walk from a TTC stop. You’ll notice that in summer the subway and transit in general is not as rammed as it is during the school year.  There are enough people on holidays or cottages to give the TTC some breathing room. Also, Torontonians are generally fairly kind when you travel with kids, offering up seats etc.

If your office is at one of these stops – bonus!  Otherwise, ride together to camp, enjoy the chat, drop off, hop back on and get on your way to work without the grid lock and road rage.

Don’t forget – TTC is free for kids 12 and under!

Bloor: City Hope Camp at St. Andrew’s United Church (1 min walk 33 meters)

Ok, so this one is actually kind of the hardest subway stop for summer camp!
There is a great community summer camp run here with a focus on the Jamestown area residents.  I put this one down for the families that live in the area, this is the camp for you!

Ages: 5+

YMCA Camps

Wellesley: Toronto Central YMCA (4 min walk 350 meters)

This is one of the bigger YMCA camp locations, so they really do have a bit of everything.  Sports, swimming camp, film making, dance and cheer leading, cooking, creative writing, lots of STEM camps and even a babysitting training camp for older kids.  This YMCA also has a stellar indoor pool that campers use throughout the day, awesome facility less than 5 min from the subway station.

Ages 6+

College: Ryerson Skating Camps at Maple Leaf Gardens (3 min walk 220 meters)

the lovely Maple Leaf Gardens

Related to the Ryserson Summer Day Camps (below), there are several camps run out of Maple Leaf Gardens.  Ok, technically it’s called Mattamy Athletic Centre, but being born and raised in Toronto, this place will forever be Maple Leaf Gardens to me.  And part of the appeal for me of these camps is because it’s freakin’ Maple Leaf Gardens!! So, they have Skate Training and Skill Development camp that includes use of some fancy off ice skating treadmill equipment and the Hockey Fundamentals Camp. And you get to tell your coworkers that your kid is doing camp a Maple Leaf Gardens! Bragging rights!

Ages 6+

Ryerson Summer Camps

Dundas:  Ryerson Day Camps  (5min walk 350 meters)

There is more to Dundas Station than the Eaton’s Centre.  Ryerson is right there!  There is a huge selection of camps at Ryerson Summer Day Camps!  Aside from really solid sports camps, this is the place to do more obscure interests like Film Making, News Academy,  Architecture and various engineering and programming camps.  When our son was 6 years old he did the lego stop motion film camp which is run in Ryerson’s film school.  The camp included a full screening of their films – with popcorn and director Q&A 🙂 Ages 6+

GTA Photography Classes

Queen: GTA Photography Classes (5 min walk 350 meters)

Specialist photography camp within minutes of Queen Station (5 min) or King subway station (3 min) – fantastic! Kids camps and teen camps including the more advanced topics like editing and specialist photography (street documentary or sports photography) for older kids.

Ages 8+

King:  Design Exchange (4 min walk 280 meters)

Design Exchange Camps

Ok this camp is actually a less than 5 min walk from King, Union AND St. Andrew and connected into the PATH – one of the easiest to reach by transit.  And it’s in the heart of the financial district, so very convenient for the downtown office working parents.  The camp offerings are surprisingly diverse. Fashion, toy design, sewing, interior design but also drama, architecture, and culinary skills that even includes menu design!

Ages 6+


Girls Rock Band Camp

Union:  Sony Centre for the Performing Arts (5 min walk 350 meters)

Girls Rock Band Camp – cool!  And it’s in a top quality performing centre where professionals perform all the time!  This camps is actually equal distance from Union Station as it is from King Station and a great option if you’re GO training it home after.

Ages 8+

St. Andrew: TIFF (5 min walk 450 meters)

TIFF film camp

How amazing is it that your kid can go to film camp at the home of the internationally famous Toronto International Film Festival.  Cool eh?  Ages 8 and up they offer a variety of film related camps.

Ages 8+


Canadian Opera Company

Osgoode: Canadian Opera Company (2 min 150 meters)

Yes your kid can actually take opera camp with the Canadian Opera Company at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, because ah…. Toronto!  So many world class facilities, only so many weeks in summer!

Ages grade 1 – grade 12

St. Patrick: AGO (5 min 350 meters)

AGO Summer Camp

This one fills up fast.  Registration is open, and it’s basically gone within a few weeks. And the camp is really that good. A great feature of camps at places like the AGO and ROM is that young campers get to explore the gallery before it opens to the public, they get the space to themselves.  When our son did art camp at the end of the week there was an art show for parents to come see all their work displayed, so cool.  AGO camps also pop down to the Grange Park for outdoor time, and this year it’s even better with the brand new redeveloped park open to the public!

Ages 5+

Queens Park: Future Design School (1 min walk 88 meters)

Very cool camp right in the heart of the Mars Innovation Centre.  This camp is a entrepreneur engineering and design camp.  Kids build prototypes and learn to pitch ideas to an audience.  Super cool camp.

Ages 10+

Future Design Camp – very serious designs!

Roooaaar! ROM summer camps

Museum:  ROM or Gardiner Museum of Ceramics (1 min 76 meters)

Ok, 2 really good options here, I couldn’t decide! Top pick goes to the ROM because of the better hours, and dinosaurs!

Royal Ontario Museum or just ROM to basically everyone, has day camps that are both half day and full days that cover a variety of topics: animals, critters, Egypt, wildlife .. and of course dinosaurs!

Gardiner Museum offers ceramic and clay arts camps in their workshop space. Their 9:30am start time isn’t the greatest for most office job working parents, but like the ROM, they do offer the sometimes much desired half day camps (parent friends who have nannies have often said they’d love more half day options to help manage the cost when already paying a nanny).

Ages: 5+ (ROM) and  7+ (Gardiner Museum)

St. George: U of T (1 min walk 110 meters)

U of T Camp directions encouraging walk/cycle/transit. Awesome parking blurb!

U of T’s summer camps get an extra vote from me for putting right on their registration package an encouragement to get to camp any other way but driving.  Also under the section for parking, they start with bike parking before even discussion car parking.  bravo!

U of T offers a huge variety of sports and their camps have a strong word of mouth reputation amongst parents for the high quality instruction.  Camps fill up fast!

Ages: 4+

Honourable mention to RCYC.  Even though the RCYC is a private club, their summer camps are actually open to the public.  And, they run a bus service from the St. George Station clubhouse.  Bus picks up the kids 8am sharp from there and heads down to their ferry launch on Cherry Street for a day on the island.  Return time is 5:30pm. Pretty sweet.

Spadina: Maximum City (2min walk 120 meters)

Urban planning camp – cool!

Ok, maybe the coolest camp, and then one I wish parents could go to! This is an urban planning and urban design camp.  Each week they focus on a different urban theme such as designing better public spaces or welcoming newcomers, an amazing camp! #jealous

Ages: Grades 4 – 12


Honourable mention:  Alliance Francaise.  Their Spadina location offers an ever increasing variety of summer camps run in french.  For many parents with kids in french immersion this is a great way to keep up their french skills over the summer break.  And it’s only a 2 min walk (19- meters) away from Spadina station.

Ages: 5+



So get out there … ride the rocket to summer camp!

Reason #10 to Live Car-Free: The End of Car Cleaning Chores https://buthowdoyoubuygroceries.com/reason-10-to-live-car-free-the-end-of-car-cleaning-chores/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 01:25:02 +0000 https://buthowdoyoubuygroceries.com/?p=167 Did I mention that we used to own a car?  yup, we did.  In fact at one point in time we were the dreaded 2-car family (I know! I hardly recognize previous me).

2005 – 2006: single car owners

The first car we owned was a Smart Car back in 2005.  One of us landed a (what at the time, seemed like a) dream job, up in Markham.  Back then, we didn’t really flinch.  We just figured it was time to do what everyone else our age was doing, buying a car.  But being the practical urbinistas that we are (without knowing that was even a thing) we opted for the brand new to Canada car, the Smart Car.  Back then hardly anyone had them, they were such a rare site that people would stop on the street, point and stare at us.  I can’t recall exactly which aspect of it appealed to us the most… we were living in a condo downtown, I think we wanted something great on gas that was good for commuting.  The small size definitely appealed to us for cutting through traffic. Later one of us was offered a job in Europe and we packed up our lives sold our condo and car and took off for a new life in the UK.

2006 – 2011: Car free bliss

In the UK, car ownership never even crossed our minds.  We moved to  London, central London too.  So central that our postal code had a 1 in it.  We were 2 blocks from Kings Cross station with 6 tube lines running through it, multiple buses, national rail and international Eurostar.  We were in transportation heaven!  Even with all that transit, I still opted to walk the 3.7km walk to work, it only took about 45 min.  I actually found it never really rained nearly as much as people think it does.  Later I started biking to work, my first taste of urban cycling.

But we never felt like we needed a car.  I’ll admit the first few months involved a slight habit adjustment.  We went to IKEA for the first time to stock up on things and had the initial moment of panic, and then realized that the stores there made it super easy.  There was delivery service available right after you purchased your goods.  There was also a designated pick up spot for taxis to pick you up and take you and your goods home.  And there was easy transit, a bus and then the Victoria line tube. Later there was online ordering with delivery. And so, you figured it out.

Car free living in Taipei.  Kid loved taking the high speed trains. He also loved saying hi to the locals from the snugly comfort of a baby carrier.

We managed IKEA trips just fine.  Later we bought a couch, a mattress all with delivery options.  Our local grocery store was at the end of our street.  Not the big box behemoth North American sized stores, but a Tesco Metro.  An urban concept store that seemed to always have everything we needed.  Our fridge was the small British style, but we grew accustomed to it did more frequent trips and started questioning whether our North American fridges  *should* have capacity for so much food, fresher is better, right?

So car free was pretty easy.  And we got really used to it.  Everyone talks about how expensive the UK is.  I never really felt that way.  Not owning a car, paying insurance, parking etc sure did help though.

At the end of 2010 we took a 7 month secondment to Taiwan.  Having lived 4 years car free, of course getting a car didn’t even come to mind.  By now we already had one baby and still didn’t feel like our lives were lacking without a car (we of course owned a car seat for him because UK hospitals won’t let you leave the hospital without a car seat even though we walked home from the hospital, but that’s another story from another time).  We lived easily and happily in Taipei without a car. Everything we needed was in walking distance or reachable by transit and taxis. By now car free life was easy and natural.

2011 – 2013: the 2 car family

In 2011 one of us accepted a transfer to move to Belgium, and off we went, 2 adults 1 baby, and 1 cat.  The funny thing about Belgium is that taxes are incredibly high, one of the highest in the world.  But the Belgians got really good at working around the high taxes.  They added all sorts of things to make your cost of living workable with lower take home pay.  We were given a variety of taxable benefits like lunch vouchers (which could actually be used on groceries) and car allowances.  We found that most companies gave all employees company leased cars, your seniority in the company merely dictated the class of car you were qualified to choose from the catalogue.  My company went further and issued everyone fuel cards as we all travelled a lot for work purposes.  Sure I had a tax impact on my take home pay, but I was given a BMW wagon to drive around with insurance covered and free gas.     Well alright, we were more ‘normal’ adults.  Then my spouse landed a job in a suburb that required him to drive, so we purchased a car and suddenly we went from zero cars to 2!

And now, back to the point of this post.  What was amazing to us is how quickly our cars got dirty.  Crumbs from kid snacks, receipts, take away coffee cups, food wrappers, CDs… (probably for the best that drive through fast food wasn’t really a thing where we were living!).  There was always some stray toys for our now toddler.  We had water bottles, umbrellas … Most days I was driving around a storage closet worth of stuff!

Never a missed opportunity carry more stuff

And we weren’t the only ones living in a constant state of messy car.  Any time we were in someone else’s car I would see the same thing…. just bits of stuff all over the car.  If I car pooled, my friend who was driving would spend a few minutes sifting through debris to make space for me to sit. It’s no wonder there are so many articles online dedicated to cleaning your messy car.   And so many products for organizing your stuff in your car.  Organizing stuff on the back of a seat, in your trunk, in the cupholder area, in the glove box. A trash can for your car. and proving that no space should be left unoccupied with stuff, even the side of the front passenger seats.

It’s just that common.

Sadly I didn’t take an photos of the messy innards of our cars back than.  So I had a quick look on twitter for people’s pics of their messy cars – yikes!

Twitter, home to people with messy cars

Eventually a relative would come into town to visit, or we would hit a breaking point and we would have to take the time to clean the car.  And it’s tedious.  Vacuuming out crumbs?  ick.  pulling garbage and recycling out?  Going for car washes (because that’s how I want to spend my free time).  The big car clean out was as big a chore as a full bathroom scrub.  And again, not how I want to spend my free time!

Hours wasted at the car wash

2014 – now:  car free!

Now that we’re back in Canada and living car-free our car usage is through taxis (not so clean), uber (very clean) and car-share (insanely clean!).  Every car share I get I always sit down and notice, wow .. super clean in here.  Because of the sharing, we, and everyone else who uses it, clean up after ourselves, and the piles of stuff never has a chance to accumulate.  As far as vacuuming, detailing the car or going to the car wash… that’s all taken car of by the car sharing service.  The unpleasant chore of car cleaning has been lifted off our shoulders! And all for a lower cost to us?!  Ah-mazing!

So go on, stop owning a car.  Stop driving around in a metal box of junk.  And stop wasting hours cleaning your metal junk box! Free yourself already!

How Much Is Your Car Habit Costing You? – Real Life Example https://buthowdoyoubuygroceries.com/how-much-is-your-car-habit-costing-you-real-life-example/ Wed, 14 Jun 2017 17:18:00 +0000 https://buthowdoyoubuygroceries.com/?p=161 I love to read over these investment case studies in the paper:

Personal Finance Case Study in the Globe and Mail

It’s just so fascinating to see how other people spend their money, and what experts think they should do to improve things.  What’s fascinating to me is that for this couple, they spend $775 a month on car related things (not including the surprise repairs that seem to always pop up).  Within their overall budget, that $775 represents 6.8% of their total expenses. With 22.5% put towards retirement savings, they’re generally considered to be in good financial shape, doing all the right things.

But $775 a month for what sounds like one vehicle (“lease”)?

Annually, that’s $9,300.

Every. Single. Year.

You can do a lot of awesome car sharing with that money! You can buy cargo bikes, e-assist bikes.  You could also pocket a bunch of it and increase your wealth.  But alas, for now this is considered normal.



Where To Buy a Cool Wooden Crate For Your Bike in Toronto https://buthowdoyoubuygroceries.com/where-to-buy-a-cool-wooden-basket-for-your-bike-in-toronto/ Mon, 05 Jun 2017 14:50:34 +0000 https://buthowdoyoubuygroceries.com/?p=128 As biking continues to explode throughout Toronto, you’ll notice that people are upping their game in terms of cool ways to carry stuff on their bikes. Wire baskets are still super functional, but lately there has been a rise in wooden crates.

Wood crate explosion

Envious?  No worries, here are 3 local places to get your bike fitted out with a cool wooden crate.

1. Etsy

Still a favourite for me. Etsy is the place for local, handmade items. Whatever I buy from there inevitably becomes that cool piece that people keeping asking me about.

This handmade cedar basket is made by Toronto based Etsy shop.  It’s also pictured in Kensington, home of car-free Sundays.

Lightweight Cedar Bicycle Basket by Etsy shop Ivamir

2. Curbside Cycle

This place is a personal favourite.  We’re city bikers so it’s nice to find a bike shop that isn’t all about the $10,000 carbon road racing bikes. Here you can get city bikes, cargo bikes, and they offer the best doesn’t-look-like-bike-gear accessories in Toronto.  This wooden box sells for $59.99

Wooden Bike Box

3. Kijiji

You don’t have to buy a ready to go bike box.  You can pick up an old wooden crate off Kiji and put a little DIY into it.  All it takes is some waterproofing wood sealer and some zip ties to your bike rack and you’re good to go.  Or follow the many DIY instructions you can find online, like this one at designsponge.com

Apple crates on Kijiji



Reason #5 to Live Car-Free: The Environment https://buthowdoyoubuygroceries.com/reason-5-to-live-car-free-the-environment/ Mon, 05 Jun 2017 00:34:03 +0000 https://buthowdoyoubuygroceries.com/?p=118 This week more than any other week in recent years, the world has thought about and talked about climate change.  With Trump pulling the US out of their voluntary Paris Accord Commitments, 187 American city mayors publicly stated their commitment to adopt, honour and uphold the Paris Climate Agreement goals.

Climate Mayors

Which is awesome.  But public statements, require actions.  And as the mayor of New York City said this week:

“Everyone in our own life needs to change our habits to start protecting the Earth,”.

Well ok, this is all sounded good.

But in that interview, an excellent question from a caller came in:

“How about you stepping up your game and leading by example [by] getting out of your SUV armada?” said the caller, Charles Komanoff, a longtime energy-policy expert from Manhattan and a Carbon Tax Center founder. “And if you need to go to the Park Slope Y five days a week rather than a gym near you, why don’t you take mass transit or even once in a while ride a bike like the vast majority of your fellow New Yorkers so you will know how we are suffering under a transit system?”

Mayor de Blasio leaves his SUV before a press conference in 2015. Photo Paul Martinka New York Post

Now that is spot on.

Reducing your driving is one of the biggest changes you can make in your life to reduce the impact on climate change.

And I’m not going to even push that you should go all-in on the car-free lifestyle (even though you should, it’s easy).  Let’s start with smaller steps, maybe a few trips a week that you would normally do with a car you do with transit, walking or a bike.  But does that really make an impact?

The answer is yes – hell yes.

I recently came across this Curbed Los Angeles article titled: Want to Support the Paris Agreement? Stop Driving So Much, LA  The answer: just 12 percent less time in cars—about two car-free trips per week—and Los Angeles will have fulfilled their commitment to the Paris agreement.

12 percent.  That’s not a significant lifestyle change at all.  So easily doable.  So do it!





…But seriously, I can’t not push it. If 12% can make a city meet a city’s entire commitment to the Paris Agreement, going fully car-free in Toronto can make a serious impact! Be a climate change champion!

What your car habit is costing you! https://buthowdoyoubuygroceries.com/what-your-car-habit-is-costing-you/ Mon, 22 May 2017 15:39:02 +0000 https://buthowdoyoubuygroceries.com/?p=113 The average Canadian really doesn’t stop to think about the cost of their car habit.  The funny thing is, this information is out there for the learning.

On average Canadians are spending 18% of their take home pay on their car payments.

That is 2.16 months of the year.

Over 2 months of the year, Canadians are working just to pay for their car(s) payments.

And that doesn’t even include the real cost of car ownership.  Fuel, insurance, interest payments, maintenance and repairs, parking and the often forgotten cost of depreciation.

Nerd Wallet gives a good summary $561 – $885 USD per month depending on vehicle size (spoiler alert, the SUV is costing you about 58% more than a small sedan!)  Using that as a good estimate, converting to Canadian, and you end up at 2.9 months for a small sedan up to 4.6 months for an SUV.  Now sure, sure, you can make arguments, that if you’re making average Canadian take home pay, are you really buying a more expensive SUV?  The answer though for many, is yes.  Plenty of Canadians live beyond their means.  Car ownership is taken as a given here.  And car companies have been extremely effective at marketing the messages that families need crossovers or SUVs.

There are no shortages of financial advice columns warning you have your crippling car habit…. yet here we are.  And probably because most people can’t fathom living without owning a car.  We’re hoping that the information in this site can help you break free of the shackles and live carfree.



We replaced active living in cities with driving to gyms & fake-walking on machines https://buthowdoyoubuygroceries.com/we-replaced-active-living-in-cities-with-driving-to-gyms-fake-walking-on-machines/ Mon, 22 May 2017 14:19:13 +0000 https://buthowdoyoubuygroceries.com/?p=106 I came across this great clip that sums up our crazy car-centric society: