Thursday, July 31, 2014

a midsummer dream

During my high school and university years, I was fortunate to spend my summers simultaneously working part time jobs to support my education AND attending one or two English literature/creative writing classes for extra school credits.  Back then, I looked at summer time as an opportunity to experiment and explore...taking jobs that were not in my realm of studies but peeked my curiosities (fashion) and classes that honed my writing skills (studying Shakespeare and Chauncer to fill my summer reading requirements).

You can say I had a lot of drive and was a bit of a keener.  Even though I had a few weeks of vacation to relax at the beach with my family or friends, for the most part, summer was a time to transform myself.  There were times when I actually looked forward to going back to school just so I can show how far I've grown and what I've proudly accomplished while others were working on their tan.

A bit of that feeling still carries with me today.  As we approach midway through a busy summer of trips, cottage and swim camps, I still have that slight nagging feeling like we haven't accomplished enough.  What have we learned this summer? What have we done?

As I ponder these thoughts, I look at how my kids glow in the pleasures of being outside splashing in the water, or how windblown crazy their hair get after a ride on their motor bikes, or the dirt accumulated under their fingernails from playing in the yard.  Yes, they still continue to upkeep their reading and arithmetic skills, and have accomplished graduating to higher levels with their swimming programs, but their greatest accomplishment this summer is making lasting memories that we too, created when we were kids. Cultivating new interests (like diving), visiting new places and meeting new friends without the pressure of schedules or competition.

As adults we have created a society that now suffers from decision fatigue and I think many of us long for those summer moments when we laid on the grass doing nothing but pointing out shapes made by the clouds. Or skipping rocks along the water.  A simpler time.  

I think there is plenty of time for our kids to grow up, when they too, will be inundated with overwhelming choices and decisions to make. Until then, I'll squash all those nagging feelings I've been having and appreciate that my dreams for this summer have already been realized...each day being with my family has been such a joy and gift...

...and we're barely half way there.

Parmesan Crusted Tilapia
Makes 4-6 servings

After weeks of indulging and consuming lots of BBQ meat, it's nice to occasionally switch to lighter fare to break the summer menu.  This recipe is great for those quick dinners that are light but still fulfilling...on those nights when you'd rather enjoy the beautiful outdoors than spending it sweating in the kitchen or over a hot BBQ.

  • ½ cup parmesan cheese
  • ¼ cup bread crumbs
  • ¼ cup of butter, softened
  • ¼ cup of mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp. thyme
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • Black of white pepper (to taste)
  • 4 fillets of tilapia (or any white fish of your choosing)
  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees
  • Add parmesan, bread crumbs and mayonnaise to the butter until well mixed.
  • Gently stir in the garlic, thyme and pepper.
  • Place the tilapia fillets in a single layer on a baking sheet.
  • Top with the parmesan crumb mixture.
  • Bake in the oven for 20 minutes or until the fish is cooked. (if you wish, you can broil the fish for about 1 minute to toast the crumb topping.
  • Serve (with rice or sweet potatoes).

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 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 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 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 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.