Thursday, July 10, 2014

beauty and the beach

Now that we're heading into summer travel season, I hone my packing essentials for quick and easy, pick-up-and-go trips...whether we're going to the local beach for the day, a weekend at a lakeside cottage, or a week long road trip.  After years of travelling abroad, I've learned to carefully edit and use items that are readily available. As long as I'm diligent and stick to a few rules, these simple (and inexpensive) tricks have allowed me to travel light with only a few essential beauty supplies without too much disruption to my own humble, every day beauty routine.  With age comes the beauty of knowledge.  

In no particular order, here's my Top 10 Simple Beauty Tips...The Beach Edition.

put sunscreen on first
I'm very diligent when it comes to slathering and reapplying sunscreen on the kids.  We practically wear sunscreen year round (especially on the face during ski season).  Often people forget the sunscreen until they're already out the door.  The trick is to put a solid "base" of high SPF sunscreen lotion on your face and whole body BEFORE you get dressed and leave home or where you're staying, so at a moment's notice, you're already covered and you're fully covered (you also don't get any on your clothes). Like moisturizer, it becomes part of your daily morning routine and all you really need to do is keep a small bottle in your purse (I love sunblock face sticks!) and bring it with you to reapply.  This is what I do with the kids, so I'm not chasing them to put on sunscreen once we arrive at the beach (and they've jetted off to do their water sports).

get lemon fresh clean 
Lemons can be found at any hotel (kitchen or bar), or make sure you bring them on your trips if you're going local. When we were in St. Lucia, on our way to the beach I requested a small glass of sliced lemons from the bar en-route. Lemons work in a pinch if you don't have wipes (it works great to de-grease your hands after applying sunscreen).  It helps whiten the tips of your nails for that pseudo french manicure look (just top with clear nail polish), and rubbing a little lemon slice along the lips exfoliates them, giving your lips that naturally rosy, bee-stung look.

get natural highlights
Speaking of lemons, take a slice or two and squeeze some of the juice onto the wet hair.  The hair will lighten as the heat from the sun dries it.  I love how it gives the hair a sun-kissed look without harsh chemicals.

rinse your hair with beer 
At the end of the day, rinsing the hair with beer helps restore moisture  (yes, I know for some people this may be a waste of a good cold beverage).  A little goes a long way, and after the sun has lightened and dried your hair, restoring the moisture will ensure it doesn't look like dry hay. You can save half a glass of beer, right?

exfoliate with sand
One of the oldest tricks in my book is to slough off dead skin on the feet and legs by massaging them with (clean) beach sand.  It would make your skin feel soft and smooth and when you return to your home, hotel or cottage, just shower and add moisturizing lotion.  Your legs will feel like you were just at the spa.  

shave with conditioner
Forget bringing all those bottles of shaving cream.  If you've exfoliated all the dead skin cells using the sand at the beach, your skin will be ready for a closer shave.  I like using hair conditioner instead of shaving cream (one less product to bring on vacay and there are always bottles at hotels...you don't need the expensive stuff).  It softens the hair making it easier to shave and your skin will feel extra soft and silky.

bring a small jar of coconut oil
If there is one product that can replace many, it's coconut oil.  Found at almost any grocery store, I usually put about ¼ cup of coconut oil in a plastic seal-able travel bottle/containers (or a small round food container works too).  Coconut oil is not liquid like olive oil.  If kept at room temperature, it stays paste-like in texture.  I love how this oil has many uses...I use it as a night moisturizer (body and face), on the hair to tame frizzy and fly away hair (it also helps with dry scalp), and it helps heal the skin after shaving (great for razor burn!). It is a great all-natural moisturizer and I use it on the kids after their shower, especially after their skin was parched from the sun at the beach.

leave the curling iron at home
I don't like travelling with too many appliances, so the curling iron generally stays at home if we're travelling by plane.  To get those beachy curls, nothing works better than salt in the ocean water and after a swim, all your hair really needs is a quick tousle, let it dry naturally and you're set.  If you're not visiting the sea (perhaps a lake or pool?), then a trick that I use is to sleep with my hair damp, scrunched up in a bun.  The next morning my hair has the messy beach look.  If you want more controlled curls, sponge hair rods take up very little room in the cosmetic bag and replicates the spiral curl/beach look. (instructions posted here).

bring clear nail polish 
I often have my nails polished and ready to go prior to any vacation, but with wear and tear from being active with the kids, I find those manicures don't last very long.  Instead of bringing a bottle of nail polish remover (and risking a spill in your suitcase), you can remove cracked or chipped nail polish by applying a clear nail polish or top coat to the nail and removing your existing polish  promptly with tissue. (or use the peel-able water based nail polish, as mentioned in my post here).  Clear nail polish also works in a pinch for non-beauty emergencies like stopping a run in hosiery, helps keep kid's buttons from falling off (if you paint the threads in the middle to secure it) or stops the ends of shoestrings from fraying (just glue/paint the frayed ends together...the polish hardens nicely).

remember to stay hydrated 
This really is a no-brainer, but it's tempting to drink the tropical cocktails or alcoholic beverages all day while on vacation...and it's easy to forget that alcohol doesn't keep you hydrated. I can not stress the importance of drinking plenty of water especially while under the sun.  As difficult as it may seem, limiting the alcohol consumption and increasing the water intake (whether it's coconut water or a glass of water with lemons or cucumber slices) is not only good for your skin, but good for your body's metabolism too!  

You don't necessarily need to visit a beach to use many of these simple tips. Whether you're travelling abroad or enjoying a staycation, my favourite and best beauty tip above all...is to smile and cherish the moment.

Have a Simply Beautiful Summer!

Friday, July 04, 2014

true patriot love

This past week we had the opportunity to celebrate Canada's birthday in Ottawa.   I've always wanted to take the kids there on Canada Day, as there's no better way to experience true patriotism and appreciation for your country than to celebrate it's birthday right at the nation's capital.

Even though approximately 100,000 people (according to Ottawa police) were in attendance for the Canada Day Festivities "On the Hill", it never felt overwhelmingly crowded.  It's a beautiful city to visit, and below are a few places I'd recommend to try, whether you're in Ottawa for a Canadian holiday or for a jaunt on a long weekend.


We drove to Ottawa, so finding a centrally located hotel was key. We parked our car for the duration of our stay and walked everywhere.  All major attractions and destinations were within a 10 minute walk or 15 minute shuttle bus ride.

The Lord Elgin Hotel
I love the grandeur of historic hotels and prefer to stay somewhere that has some history.  We stayed at the Lord Elgin Hotel, which was built in 1941, named after the 8th Earl of Elgin, and has hosted many dignitaries. Centrally located in downtown Ottawa overlooking Confederation Park and just a few short blocks away from Parliament Hill and many attractions, with free WiFi and a Starbucks on site, this hotel had the old world charm of yesteryear but the modern amenities suitable for young families. It is a decent stay if you book a breakfast/parking package.
(Another similar hotel alternative is the Fairmont Chateau Laurier...it was sold out at the time of booking)

Ottawa has a burgeoning culinary scene and there was so much variety to choose from. We chose restaurants that had fresh local offerings and were also family friendly.

Play Food & Wine 
(in the Byward Market)
Part of the Beckta group of restaurants, this restaurant delighted the foodies in our house.  Shared small plates of scallops, artic char, mussels, pork belly, watermelon salad, and an impressive wine list made this a wonderful spot to enjoy local food offerings.  As part of my son's ever growing love of cheese tasting, their cheese plates were a delectable treat. ~Cheese favourites were Cendrillon (a goat cheese from Saint-Raymond, QC) & Canotier de L’isle (cow cheese from L’isle-aux-Grues, QC).  We thoroughly enjoyed the Pinot Noir, Chimera, Capiaux, (Sonoma, California, '12).  All dishes were fantastic.

Fatboys Southern Smokehouse
For some hearty grub, this place had good old fashioned, southern style slow cooked BBQ meat (ribs are their specialty).  Large servings, along with comforting sides like bacon mac n'cheese make this a casual and fulfilling meal. Get ready to get messy...and don't wear white. Take. big. nap. afterwards.

(in Byward Market or Sparks St.) 
For an afternoon snack or after dinner dessert, Beavertails are a sweet treat.  Found at various locations across Canada, it's first permanent location was in Ottawa. Arguably one of Canada's iconic culinary treats, these whole-wheat pastries are stretched by hand to resemble the tail of a beaver, topped with a choice of toppings. (cinnamon sugar is a traditional flavour)

Gelato at Piccolo Grande (or Pure)
We were undecided with which place received our vote for best gelato.  Both Piccolo Grande and Pure have two locations: one in downtown Ottawa as well as one in the Byward Market.  Pure was recommended by many locals, but Piccolo Grande seemed to have more interesting exotic flavours and claims to be "voted best in Ottawa".  I liked Piccolo Grande for the lychee nut gelato...it was out of this world! 

You'll just have to try both and decide for yourselves.

Ottawa has no shortage of museums and on Canada Day (July 1) all museums and shuttle bus transportation are FREE! We only visited two museums (we were stalled at lunch so we didn't make it to a third attraction). The Canadian Museum of Nature and The National Gallery of Canada (the one with the big spider statue at the entrance) were also on our list to see.  There are family packages available and if we returned on a non-holiday, I would would consider purchasing a CityPass.

Visit the Canadian War Museum
With tanks and planes preserved from the war on display and knowledgeable war Veterans available on the premises to provide more information and details about the machines and history of the war, this was quickly the favourite museum of our kids.  We arrived early so it was still relatively quiet from the crowds...this only made the war tanks more magnificent and larger than life.

Visit the Canadian Museum of Civilization 
(formerly Cdn. Museum of History).
This museum took us through the history of Canadian civilization.  Scenes depicting various centuries gave a lesson on how the Canadian people have evolved through history. A children's museum on the main floor is ideal for really young children (the under five group).  On Canada Day, there were free shuttles directly from Major Hill Park to Jacques-Cartier Park in Gatineau (where the Canadian Museum of Civilization is located)

Take a boat taxi across the Ottawa River
A short 10 minute ride across the Ottawa River from the Museum of Civilization provided lovely views of Ottawa from the water and a cool ride in the hot summer weather. Passengers disembark at the base of the locks where the Rideau Canal meets the Ottawa River.  If you're lucky, you'll get to watch the boats go through the locks from Rideau Canal to get to the Ottawa River.

Take a tour of the Parliament Building
We took the "quick tour" (The Peace Tower & Memorial Chambers) which is ideal for busy families as it took about 2 hours to go through (including line ups).  If you have older children (and are able plan ahead as you can only purchase tour tickets offsite during the summer!), you can have full tours of the whole Parliament building.

There are plenty of (free) things to see just by walking around in the city.  The streets were impeccably clean and we always felt safe no matter how late we walked around in the evening.

Changing of the Guards
At 10:00 am every summer morning, the pageantry of the marching band and military drills performed for the Changing of the Guard takes place on Parliament Hill.

Beginning with a parade from the Cartier Square Drill Hall (Laurier Avenue near the Rideau Canal), the marching band and soldiers proceed down Laurier and Elgin Street past the War Memorial, and then onto Wellington Street to Parliament Hill.

Bonus:  Our hotel was situated right on Elgin Street, so the parade passed right in front of hotel. We sat on the hotel benches to watch, then followed the guards right to Parliament Hill where we watched the Changing of the Guard ceremony.

Check out the Byward Market
Enjoy local fruits and food at this outdoor market.  Street performers and local arts and crafts make this a vibrant place to see and do some local shopping.  Most of the amazing restaurants are found here.

Check out The Rideau Canal/Ottawa River
Surrounding Parliament Hill is the Rideau Canal and the Ottawa river where you can see a magnificent view behind the Parliament building.  Monuments and statues are also located behind the Parliament buildings, and if you're lucky during the day, there are tour guides that can provide more information about the monuments and Parliament. My history buff husband was in his element, teaching the kids about the significance of the buildings and what it means to Canada.

In the winter, the Rideau Canal becomes the world's largest skating rink.

See the Fireworks (Canada Day)
Attend the biggest Canada Day party on Parliament Hill for the concerts, activities as well as the magnificent fireworks. Well organized stations for water, emergency, and lost children are set up around the park, and security was thorough.  If you're in Ottawa the night before, there is plenty of room to sit on the grass and enjoy listening to the rehearsals of the music acts preparing for the big day. It's just as entertaining to see what goes on behind the scenes! There's something truly magical listening to the choir rehearse the national anthem while being at Parliament Hill.

Even though our visit to Ottawa was brief (two nights), we visited many museums and attractions that can be enjoyed beyond Canada Day.  There are plenty of things to see and do throughout the summer (many more museums, restaurants, beaches, summer concerts) and the rest of the year (Winterlude in February and The Canadian Tulip Festival in May are popular).  The best part of our trip was the energy we felt when so many people came together to celebrate this beautiful country.  Nothing sent chills down my spine more than singing our national anthem with hundreds of thousands of people during the fireworks.  We really felt our true patriot love...and can't wait to visit again.

 To all my Canadian readers, I hope you had a great Canada Day!

To all my American readers, Happy July 4th Day!

{Disclaimer}: There are NO endorsements or affiliations with any of the businesses or establishments mentioned in this post.  I just wanted to share all of the simply beautiful  places my family enjoyed while visiting Ottawa, and all opinions are my own.

Friday, June 27, 2014

swimming upstream

My children's school started summer break one week earlier than most of the surrounding schools this year.  So we decided to take advantage of what I seemingly thought would be a quiet week, going to attractions that wouldn't be busy since most of the kids were still in school.

We decided to visit the new Ripley's Aquarium, going early in the morning thinking we could have the whole place almost all to ourselves.  Little did I factor that many schools do field trips during the last two days of school (ughh!), and we found ourselves swimming upstream, so to speak.

Our day started by missing the train...we saw it leave the platform as we ascended the stairs.  Once we arrived at the aquarium, my jaw dropped as we saw bus load after bus load of school children line up to get in.  Luckily we were able to "fast pass" the crowd by purchasing our tickets online the night before.

We decided to do what we did at Disney...do the "back nine" first (I'm sure many of you golfers out there understand this).  In other words, we headed to the end of the aquarium and worked our way back towards the front entrance.  We were able to miss most of the crowds, we ate lunch ahead of the long line ups, and got to see a few interesting shows to boot.

After the lunch crowd dispersed, we were able to really enjoy the best part of the exhibit...the shark tunnel!  And we made it just in time for feeding, so we felt like we were swimming with the sharks.

Although the day may not have started as we had originally planned, it worked out after all and we learned that sometimes going against the crowd works out better at the end.  

{Disclaimer}: There are no endorsements or affiliations with any of the businesses or establishments mentioned in this post.  I just wanted to share the simply beautiful  experience my family enjoyed, and all opinions are my own.

Garlic Scallop and Bacon Pasta
Makes 4-6 servings.

  • 10 scallops
  • 10 slices of bacon
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp. dried parsley or 1 tbsp. fresh parsley
  • ¼ cup of grated parmesan cheese
  • 450 g of pasta (linguine, spaghetti or fettucine work here)

  • Preheat oven at 375 degrees.
  • In a cast iron skillet, wrap the scallops with bacon, and bake for approximately 20 minutes.
  • Boil the pasta as directed.
  • In the meantime, in a small saute pan, brown the garlic in olive oil and butter, until the garlic is softened.
  • Remove from heat and stir in the parmesan and parsley.
  • Add cooked scallops and bacon, and toss until scallops and bacon are coated with the garlic oil.
  • Toss with cooked pasta.
  • Top with more parmesan, as desired.


Friday, June 20, 2014

out of the shell

During a town hall meeting at our kid's school the other week, a parent balked at how much "love" and attention the kids were expressing towards each other in the classroom...particularly some of the girls towards the boys, and the school should have much stricter policies that would eradicate emotional expression and focus more on academics.

I know as a parent of an expressive child who's genuinely kind to everyone, I understand the need to guide and protect our children from the backlash of showing "too much love", as it may be distracting or misinterpreted.  Although there is a fine line between innocent and inappropriate adoration, suppressing the freedom of expression, especially positive expression in our children, is NOT the answer.  It would rob our children of the innocence that childhood brings...the untainted, unbounded generosity and kindness in humanity that we now as adults fight so hard to hold on to.

If children aren't allowed to embrace and accept each other within the safe environment of the classroom, how can we expect them to learn how to embrace others outside of it?

The school had a hot dog lunch fundraiser to help one hundred families displaced after a tragic fire. That morning as I was rushing out the door to drive to school, our daughter was carefully (and slowly) preparing her glass jar (with pretty bow to boot), not counting her money, but making sure all of her recently earned allowance went into the jar, to give more than just her lunch money, to those who lost their homes.

We were late for school but this time I wasn't upset, because my kids reminded me what really mattered...not rushing to be punctual, but deliberately slowing down to ensure that glass jar made it to school in one piece.  In the car ride, I could hear my son quietly talk about the jar, and how proud he was of his little sister.  With his extra money for snacks, my son added a bit more into the jar. For a sweet moment, they both sat patiently during the ride, as if they were about to deliver something precious. Participating in charities have certainly taught them to empathize with others and they truly feel accomplished when they help those in need (as mentioned in my last post, here).

Since this is the last day of school before the summer break, the grade I give their school isn't going to be solely judged based on an academic numeric mark on my kid's final report card.  After seeing how beautifully generous my children are, accepted in a loving and caring environment amongst good, upstanding friends, I think they've learned much more valuable lessons than any grade can reflect...striving for excellence, intelligence, kindness, thoughtfulness and the confidence to come out of their shells and onto the path to becoming strong leaders.

Simple Baked Scallops
(makes 4-6 servings)

  • 8 large scallops rinsed and patted dry on paper kitchen towels
  • 1 tbsp cubed butter (approx. ¼ tsp. on top of each)
  • 2 garlic cloves peeled andsliced thinly (one thin slice on top of each)
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • Preheat the oven at 400°C (392°F) 
  • In a cast iron skillet, coat the bottom with the olive oil.
  • Arrange scallops one layer.
  • Place one pat of butter (approx. ¼ tsp) on top of each scallop.
  • Slice garlic clove and place one slice on top of each scallop.
  • Bake for 20 minutes (depending on the thickness of your scallops), flipping the scallops at the half-way mark ensuring each side is browned.

Serve & Enjoy!

Monday, June 16, 2014

going the extra mile

One of my favourite family activities is to go for a family walk: on the trails, to the dog park or just around the cottage.  Not only does it give us the opportunity to get some exercise while enjoying our natural surroundings and breathe the fresh air, we’re not running from place to place…slowing down enough to connect with the kids.  Our walks gives us time with no pressure or restrictions, so we can talk to each other about anything, both big and small. Whether we’re observing how the seasons change around us, or confiding our big aspirations of making the world a better place, with our own dreams and visions.

According to a national opinion poll, conducted by the SickKids Foundation, 73% of Canadians believe that children’s lifestyles are not as healthy today as compared to their own youth.

I’m probably part of that statistic. As it becomes more and more difficult to compete with digital distractions, sometimes I find as parents, we have to go that extra mile to find opportunities that allow us to just be with each other…time to talk, observe and participate in something healthy together, both physically and mentally.

Last September, our family participated in a unique fundraising event that encouraged all ages to participate in (what is normally reserved for adults) a family type “walk-a-thon”. The Canaccord Genuity Great Camp Adventure Walk to benefit SickKids was an amazing opportunity to take part in a family adventure that not only fed our body…but also fed our soul.

Looking back at that day, not only did my husband and I show a good example of challenging ourselves physically to participate in the full 20km walk (which was not mandatory…you can choose to do 5 or 10kms or complete the whole 20km route), the kids learned that it helps our spirit by helping others…by supporting SickKids and helping improve the health of children nationwide. Knowing we were helping others gave them the determination to keep walking to reach the finish line.

Although we were part of a team of families who worked together to raise money for this cause, we felt like were a part of a larger family consisting of thousands of walkers who were united for a common goal. Everyone cheered each other on, especially during that last final stretch of the route.  Cars that drove by honked in support. There were perfectly thought-out, family friendly stops along the route: fun-filled “campsites” that either entertained the kids with games and activities (where they earned badges for each activity they participated in), or provided a reprieve (for the adults)…a little break to nourish with food, drink or rest.

$1.3 million dollars was raised.  After crossing the finish line, not only did the kids feel accomplished achieving their own physical fitness goals (completing the 20km walk), they also felt rewarded, knowing that their contributions really made a difference.

My kids learned that although the journey may sometimes be long and difficult, nothing beats that great feeling when you stay determined to reach your goals, because you will get to your destination if you keep moving forward…and go that extra mile.

This September 27, 2014, join The Canaccord Genuity Great Camp Adventure Walk to benefit SickKids.  Register at www.WalkforSickKids.ca as an individual participant or as part of a team and all your fundraising efforts will go to support The Hospital for Sick Children.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/WalkforSickKids
Twitter: @WalkforSickKids
Hashtag: #WalkforSickKids

{Disclaimer} This post was brought to you by The SickKids Foundation, however the opinions and images are my own. For more information please visit www.walkforsickkids.ca.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

d is for dad

I love to watch my kids with their Dad.  He has such amazing grace and ease with them, and their relationship is filled with love, laughter and giggles.

It goes without saying that my husband plays such a huge role in our children's lives, and I see a lot of his special qualities in our kids:  leadership, intelligence, kindness and understanding.  

One of his favourite Father's Day gift from the kids was a "secret" year-long project (we dubbed it "project D") that the kids concocted last year...something special that showed how they cherish him, not just on Father's Day, birthdays or other special occasions...but every day, every season, all year long.

When he opened the framed photo, he cherished knowing we were dedicated to complete our "project" for him, wherever we were together as a family. Whether we were on our family vacation on the beach...

...or after a day of skiing together...

...or just hanging out in our backyard...

...we cherished our time together.  I think their Father's Day gift was worth a thousand words.

Happy Father's Day!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

six degrees of bacon

As vast and wide our world is, I am continually awestruck with how connected we really can be. I truly believe there really is "six degrees of separation"...that two people at opposite ends of this earth can be somehow be six or fewer acquaintances apart from each other.

Obviously with social media and it's "domino chain" effect, it's easier to "meet" people through common links on Facebook, Twitter or even Pinterest.  But I think good old fashioned travel and the ability to make fast friends, especially when crossing paths with other travellers with similar (or even polar opposite) views...can help us expand our knowledge of the global world, feeling just a little more connected, and accepting of others.

Sometimes there have been moments while watching a movie, when I'd recollect working with the person on the screen, or recall stories I've heard from others who've worked with that very person.  We used to play "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" on set, and oddly enough, I'd come fairly close to winning (I'm only 3 degrees away).

It's such a funny game, but it demonstrates how we really have the ability to be connected to someone out there, some how, through the relationships we have currently...or had in the past.  

These connections whether brief or long term are just part of the path to finding out who we are.   I believe there is a reason certain people are placed in our lives, and these chance meetings, more than we will ever know, have long term effects down the road. Some people challenge us to rise to the occasion.  Others are there to support and guide.  And a select few are there to give infinite and unconditional love.

This Father's Day, I hope my husband (and all the Dads in our lives) relish the day, acknowledging their role in raising amazing children who challenge, as well as guide us, to be better parents.  And I will cherish my husband's role in our life story together, giving and receiving everlasting unconditional love to me and our kids and guiding all those who know him, whether directly or six degrees away from him...to rise to the occasion and be a better person.

To all the Dads this weekend,

Happy Father's Day!

Bacon Sausage Pasta
Serves 6-8

Although our kids have really great, diverse tastes and have a international palate, one of their favourite foods is a breakfast one...specifically bacon (although sausage runs a very close second). This dish uses up left over (if we ever have any!) bacon and sausages used at breakfast or lunch.  Perfect to go with pasta and make a quick meal for dinner.

  • 450g penne pasta
  • 6 Breakfast Sausages (or Italian Sausages of your choice), sliced.
  • 6 Slices of Bacon, cut into 1" pieces
  • 750 ml of tomato sauce (or 300ml cream plus ½ cup of water, if you're doing a cream sauce)
  • ½ cup of parmesan
  • ¼ tsp. dried parsley (¼ cup fresh)
  • Cook pasta according to the package.
  • In a sauce pan, cook onions and garlic with 1 tbsp of butter or olive oil, until tender.
  • Add cooked sausages and bacon from breakfast. (if you didn't make this for breakfast, then cook the meat first, then add the onions and garlic to the meat). 
  • Add the tomato sauce and parsley.
  • Bring to boil, reduce and simmer for 5 minutes
  • Add ½ cup parmesan
  • Toss the sauce with the pasta.

Serve topped with more parmesan.