Vancouver and Maui…Work, Then Play!

Ka'anapali Beach (Maui) with the island of Lanai in the background
Ka’anapali Beach (Maui) with the island of Lanai in the background

It seems that summer vacation has taken over my blog because I haven’t posted in about six weeks!  So, it’s no surprise that this post is about our recent trip to Vancouver and Maui.

Because I plan any family trips we take, I get to ultimately decide (with some input from my husband and kids, of course) what we do.  This puts quite a bit of pressure on me, but it’s always worth it and my family tells me that they see more than most people do in any given city!  Admittedly, I tend to cram a lot into each day.

One of the things that works for us is to sightsee first and then end up on a beach somewhere where we can just relax.  I’m sure many people do this.  It just makes sense to get the walking and touring out of the way, knowing that the reward is some serious downtime.

In mid-June this year, we went to Vancouver and Maui.  It wasn’t the original plan, but an itinerary change beyond our control allowed us to sneak in a few days in Vancouver before hitting the beach.  Here’s what we did.

Vancouver from Grouse Mountain
Vancouver from Grouse Mountain

Vancouver
To get to Maui from Toronto, there are no direct flights, so you have to stop somewhere along the way.  My husband and I had been to Vancouver many years ago and the stop in Vancouver was the perfect opportunity to visit again and take the kids to see the west coast of Canada.

After a 5 hour flight, we landed in Vancouver on a sunny and warm-ish day. Vancouver is known for milder and wetter weather than the rest of Canada, so we felt lucky on that first day.

Canada Place, Vancouver
Canada Place, Vancouver

We quickly checked into our  hotel and headed to Canada Place for lunch. When you stand looking out at the water, you see the mountains, North Vancouver and the five Sails of Light at Canada Place.  Canada Place was built for Expo 86 and is a Canadian icon.  Cruise ships sail from this port, conventions are held, and the sails are lit in a variety of colors to commemorate various holidays and events.

Capilano Lake, British Columbia
Capilano Lake, British Columbia
Grizzly Bear Exhibit, Grouse Mountain
Grizzly Bear Exhibit, Grouse Mountain

From Canada Place, we took a bus up to Grouse Mountain, north of the city. It’s a short bus ride through Stanley Park and across the Lions Gate Bridge. We took the Sky Ride (versus hiking up the ‘Grouse Grind‘) to the top of the mountain where we saw grizzly bears, the ‘Birds in Motion’ show, a lumberjack show, and the beautiful scenery around us.

Capilano Suspension Bridge, British Columbia
Capilano Suspension Bridge, British Columbia
Cliff Walk, Capilano Suspension Bridge, British Columbia
Cliff Walk, Capilano Suspension Bridge, British Columbia

On the way back to the city, we stopped at the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park where we walked across the bridge over the Capilano River, did the Cliff Walk, and enjoyed being in nature.

Stanley Park Totem Poles, Vancouver
Stanley Park Totem Poles, Vancouver
Granville Island, Vancouver
Granville Island, Vancouver
Laduree Macarons, Vancouver
Laduree Macarons, Vancouver

Our second day in Vancouver, we took a cab to Stanley Park, one of Canada’s most well-known urban parks, at over 1000 acres.  It was pouring rain as we walked to the Stanley Park Totem Poles.  We cut our park visit short because of the rain.  We then headed over to Granville Island for lunch, via a short ferry ride.  Granville Island is home to art galleries, food stalls, and craft stands.  In the afternoon, we rested at the hotel pool and then went out for Chinese food at Chongqing. After dinner, we enjoyed walking along Vancouver’s fashionable Robson St where many stores were open late.

On the third day, we headed to the Vancouver Art Gallery and took an excellent guided tour of the current Picasso exhibit.  The exhibit is organized into six periods in Picasso’s life, as inspired by the 6 women in his life.  The exhibit is very well done and we all enjoyed it.  If you are in Vancouver through October 2, 2016, I recommend this unique tour for its insights into Picasso’s work.  After the exhibit, lunch, and some window shopping, we headed to the airport.  The ‘work’ part of our vacation was almost complete.

Ka'anapali Beach, Maui, Hawaii
Ka’anapali Beach, Maui, Hawaii

Maui
Six hours later, we landed in Maui, where the ‘play’ part of our vacation would soon begin.  Knowing my family and the couple of things we wanted to do in Maui, I planned two laid-back activities in the first 3 days, leaving the last 4 days to do basically nothing.

Ka'anapali Beach, Maui, Hawaii
Ka’anapali Beach, Maui, Hawaii
Sail Trilogy, Lahaina Harbor
Sail Trilogy, Lahaina Harbor

We stayed on Ka’anapali Beach in West Maui, not far from Lahaina. Ka’anapali Beach is one of the best beaches on Maui because of the beautiful beaches, surfing, restaurants, and proximity to excursions.  On the second day, we went on an early morning Trilogy Tours sailing excursion to Lana’i, an island about an hour and a half from Lahaina Harbor.  What makes Hawaii special is the island hopping!  Cinnamon rolls, a chicken teriyaki/stir fry lunch, snorkeling, a Lana’i island tour, sailing, and drinks made this trip special.  Our kids loved it.

Old Lahaina Luaa
Old Lahaina Luaa

The following evening, after a day of relaxing, we attended the Old Lahaina Luau, the 2015 Reader’s Choice best luau in Hawaii as ranked by Hawaii Magazine.  We could see why right away.  The luau is pricey, but the hosts, activities, service, food, narration, and generosity were worth it!  You don’t feel like the place is crowded and each table has a server who guides you through the evening.

Sea Turtle, Ka'anapali Beach (photo by a fellow traveler)
Sea Turtle, Ka’anapali Beach (photo by a fellow traveler)

On Maui, there are lots of other popular activities like helicopter rides, biking down Haleakala, and taking the Road to Hana tour (the latter of which we had done years ago), and day trips to other islands.  We didn’t do any of those trips because we had been on the go for almost a week.  Spending the rest of the vacation relaxing by the pool, taking twice daily beach walks, spotting sea turtles, and going out to eat was great.  The weather was warm with lots of wind, making the heat bearable.  My daughter and I also took a hula dance class and learned how to make leis in nearby Whaler’s Village.

Sunset in Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii
Sunset in Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii

So, that’s how we spent our summer vacation in Vancouver and Maui – ‘working’ (touring and sightseeing) first, then ‘playing’ by relaxing on a beach chair!

How are you spending your summer vacation?

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New York City…Again!

Bryant Park
Bryant Park

Last summer, I blogged about our short trip to NYC in a post called “30 Hours in New York City“.  We covered a lot of the highlights (Top of the Rock, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Neue Galerie, Tenement Museum) that New York City has to offer in a short period of time and it was a lot of fun.

Last week, I was lucky enough to spend a few more days in New York City. But, this time, I had a completely different experience for three reasons: it was my second visit in less than a year, I had time to spend on my own, and I didn’t overschedule myself.

This got me thinking about how nice it is to visit a big city for the second, third, or fourth time.  So, what made this subsequent visit to New York City more meaningful?

For one, I was familiar with the pace and energy of the city and knew how to plan and what to expect.  I knew it would take time to get around so I factored that in and didn’t rush myself.  For those of you who know me well, I tend to run on the late side.  You would have been surprised at how on time I was this week!  I also anticipated the crowds and brought my patience. Finally, I walked on Park Ave more when I was in a hurry to avoid the crowds on Fifth Ave.

Park Avenue
Park Avenue

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How to Squeeze More Month Out of May

IMG_7076It’s May!  Yay!  Although I’m thrilled that spring has finally sprung, I’m feeling tired and frazzled – are you feeling the same way?

If you have kids, then the month of May is one of the busiest months of the school year as teachers add homework in order to finish teaching the curriculum in time for exams.  It’s also when plays, recitals, playoffs, championships, year-end parties, and many assessments take place.

Even without kids, you’re likely feeling the time crunch because it’s the last month before summer holidays.  Projects are basically at a standstill in the summer given staggered vacations and long weekends.  Socially, people like to catch-up before everyone goes in different summer directions.  Let’s face it: in North America, we live for the summer when we tend to ‘take it easy’ or travel.  Maybe that’s why May is so busy as we gear up for the long break!

IMG_7047So, how can you keep calm while squeezing more month out of May?

Here’s what I’ve been doing:

  • Going to pick up my kids earlier and taking a book while waiting.  It’s my quiet time while I’m transported into a different world.  I savor every moment.  Sometimes I also eat alone and read, which, albeit anti-social, has a calming effect.IMG_6769
  • Not sleeping in on the weekends because the sound of peace and quiet at home and in the city makes me feel calm for the rest of the day.  Just lying in bed with time to think is heavenly.
  • Unplugging from electronics and social media.  This has been easier for me, for some strange reason, now that the days are longer.  Even if I’m on my devices for half an hour less a day, I feel more relaxed.
  • Walking more.  This means ‘mindfully’ not driving to nearby places.  It also means parking a bit away from my destination and enjoying walking outside in warmer weather.IMG_6941
  • Watching TV with the family.  Believe it or not, this is an activity that we don’t do that often, but on the weekends when the kids need a break, watching TV can be very relaxing as we sit together.
  • Going for a bike ride.  Hands down, this is one of my favorite spring and summer activities.  Living in Toronto, which dubs itself ‘a city within a park‘, you can get on a number of trails within minutes of your house.  On my bike, I’m not talking or thinking that much – I’m just focusing on the trail.IMG_6864
  • Spending more time outside.  This could mean gardening, putting out lawn furniture, or manually watering the lawn just to get some quiet time in.
  • Saying no to activities.  This is a hard one for me because I don’t like to say no.   But, I’ve said no to a few events this month because I felt that I wouldn’t enjoy the events as much as I needed the downtime.  It’s one of the best things I have done for me and my family.

Do you feel you need to squeeze more month out of May?  I’d love to hear what you do!

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A Confirmation Brunch For My Daughter

FullSizeRender-13When I was 13, I had my Confirmation at our church.  My 8th Grade Catholic friends and I had attended weekly catechism classes during the year, culminating with a retreat and ceremony.  That weekend, I also received a letter (that I still have) from my parents that reduced me to tears because it talked about how I was growing up.  My sponsor and role model was a family friend and someone I see and speak to all the time about life, friendship, and advice.  Getting confirmed was a big deal and something I remember very clearly as part of my Catholic upbringing.

So, with my daughter’s Confirmation coming up this Wednesday night, I wanted her to celebrate the religious journey she has been on for the past 13 years.  Because everyone loves brunch foods, we agreed on a Saturday morning Confirmation Brunch.

But, first, what is Confirmation?  In the Catholic Church, Confirmation is one of the 7 Sacraments (Baptism, Communion, Confirmation, Confession, Anointing of the Sick, Matrimony, and Holy Orders).  According to American Catholic.org, sacraments ‘are ceremonies that highlight what is sacred, significant, and important to Christians‘.  In particular, Confirmation is about being sealed with the Holy Spirit.   During the ceremony, each confirmant will be anointed with oil and the phrase ‘be sealed with the Holy Spirit’ will be stated.  The Protestant Church also celebrates Confirmation.

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Matzoh Crunch!

IMG_6585This week is Passover and you may have seen Matzoh Crunch in your grocery store or bakery.

I first saw this recipe when David Lebovitz (chef, baker, and cookbook author) appeared on the Martha Stewart show about 10 years ago.  It looked very easy to make, and it is!

Up front, I should say that I make this dessert all year round and get special requests from my kids and friends.  Matzoh Crunch is the popular name and David Lebovitz’s version is called Caramelized Matzoh Crunch With Chocolate.  Basically, it’s a cracker base with a caramel/toffee topping and chocolate.  What’s not to like?!

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Have You Looked at Coach Handbags Lately?

IMG_5693As a purchaser of Coach handbags over the years, I’ve noticed a style change in the past 2-3 years.  Perhaps you have, too.

During my first few weeks at university, one of my friends was carrying a sleek, elegant handbag that I thought was a bit too fancy for college.  It looked like a slim briefcase but in a ladies’ purse version.  When I asked my friend about it, she was very proud of the fact that she had worked all summer and treated herself to this handbag.  It was from Coach.

Coach has been around since 1941 when it started as a family-run business in New York City.  An iconic American brand, Coach ‘went on to define “accessible luxury” for a generation’.  This year, Coach turns 75 and you can read more about its history and reputation as a quality leather house here.

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Insta-Lebanon: My Trip in Pictures

View of Sannine Mountain from Beit Meri in Mount Lebanon
View of Sannine Mountain from Beit Meri in Mount Lebanon

[This post also appeared in www.aramcoexpats.com on April 14, 2016]

Two weeks ago I was in Lebanon celebrating my dad’s birthday and spending time with my family.  It had been almost 4 years since my last visit.  A lot has changed but the most interesting difference for me was the ability to document my trip on Instagram!

First, a few personal comments on #MyLebanon:

Lebanon has never been my home for longer than a few weeks on vacation, but it is where my parents and family are from.  It is my home and native country.  A country of about 4 million people in an area of 10,452 sq kms, Lebanon’s history has included Romans, Phoenicians, Ottomans, and a Civil War.  The most important features of Lebanon for me are the 3 languages most Lebanese speak (almost every spoken sentence includes Arabic, English, and French words), Beirut’s once-nickname as the Paris of the Middle East, the many religious sects, and the undeniable joie de vivre of the Lebanese.

Lebanese people like to live, period.

For me, Lebanon is a beautiful country where mountains jut up from the Mediterranean Sea much like some of the California coast.  The sea and mountain views are stunning.  Most mornings, people can be seen sitting in their pajamas on their balconies, sipping coffee and enjoying the views.  It’s what they live for.

My Lebanon is a Christian village called Broummana in Mount Lebanon, about 20 mins east of Beirut.  Village living is peaceful, traditional, family-oriented.  Aunts, uncles, cousins and neighbors drop by.  Falling asleep to frogs croaking and foxes howling and waking up to roosters crowing is inevitable.  Cicadas sing all summer long and can be annoyingly loud. Churches, tolling bells, and religious ‘nooks’ (blog post soon on this) set up with Virgin Mary statues as well as other local saints can be found outside many homes.

Memories of summers spent in Lebanon swirl in my head almost all year long.  I absolutely love visiting my home country.  I leave with my batteries recharged from all the family love. And, my suitcases are full of roasted nuts, baklava, pistachio nougat, and many other Lebanese sweets. Oh, and did I mention shoes?  Lebanese-made shoes are still my favorite, made with love, style, and genuine leather.

I hope you enjoy this blog post which highlights my Instagram photos.  I’d love to hear your views on what you thought of Lebanon before and after these posts!

Enjoy!

On my first day in Broummana, I went for a walk with my dad.  It was the clearest day of my trip.  This is an infinity pool looking south and west onto a range of mountains.  You can see the mountain villages sprinkled across the valley:

Ghabe, Mount Lebanon
Ghabe, Mount Lebanon

This house is a modern home that is built to look like it’s an old house.  Note the arches and the yellow stones used as well as the wooden shutters.  It has a red tiled roof that you’ll have to take my word on:

Roumieh, Mount Lebanon
Roumieh, Mount Lebanon

One day my aunt and uncle took us to the Shouf mountains and the home of two palaces dating to the early 19th Century.  The first is Beiteddine, the home of Emir Bechir and the second is the Mir Amin Palace, now a hotel.  I love the tiled carpet at the bottom of the pool. The Shouf region is the prettiest, most peaceful place I have visited outside of Broummana:

Beiteddine Palace
Beiteddine Palace
Mir Amin Palace Hotel
Mir Amin Palace Hotel
Traditional Lebanese desserts at the Mir Amin Palace Hotels
Traditional Lebanese desserts at the Mir Amin Palace Hotel

Zaytouna Bay is a ‘waterfront promenade’ in Beirut near the Beirut Souks shopping area.  The Beirut Marina is there as are restaurants such as Paul and Pinkberry.  We went for a ride out on the Mediterranean from Zaytouna to Jounieh Bay.  The weather was unseasonably warm for this time of year.  No complaints here!

Beirut Marina at Zaytouny Bay
Beirut Marina at Zaytouna Bay
Jounieh Bay boat ride
Jounieh Bay boat ride

One day we went on a short trip to Our Lady of Lebanon, a visitation site and cathedral dedicated to Lebanon’s patron saint, the Virgin Mary.  The views of Jounieh Bay are breathtaking from here where the Virgin Mary majestically overlooks the sea:

Our Lady of Harissa
Our Lady of Lebanon
Jounieh Bay
Jounieh Bay

On the day I went to Beirut Souks, there was a demonstration going on so I couldn’t see what I wanted to see.  The pink flowering trees against the yellow stoned buildings were so beautiful.  As I had never seen spring in Lebanon, I was quite happy with this compromise!

Pink flowered trees in Beirut Souks
Pink flowered trees in Beirut Souks

There are Roman and Byzantine ruins in several parts of Lebanon.  One site is in Beit Meri, the village next to Broummana.  We went at dusk.  Here I am with my brother on a mosaic tiled carpet.

At the Roman ruins in Beit Meri, Mount Lebanon
At the Roman ruins in Beit Meri, Mount Lebanon

Mount Lebanon has blankets of pine tree forests.  Cicadas hide here as do goat herds, frogs, and foxes.  When you look closely, you can see that these pine trees look a bit like broccoli!

Pine forests of Lebanon
Pine forests of Lebanon
The pine trees of Lebanon
The pine trees of Lebanon

Driving around Broummana, you can see both mountain and sea views.  I must say that I’m partial to the sea views because I like the peaceful mountain living while being able to see the excitement of city living a few kilometers away in Beirut:

View of Beirut from Broummana, Mount Lebanon
View of Beirut from Broummana, Mount Lebanon

My last photo was taken on the flight out of Beirut.  You can see how big Beirut is and get a feel for what the summers are like in the beach clubs like the Movenpick Hotel Beirut in this photo:

View of Beirut with Movenpick Hotel Beirut in the bottom left
View of Beirut with Movenpick Hotel Beirut in the bottom left

So, that’s my trip in photos as seen on my Instagram feed.

Let me know what you think!

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So What If Saks Fifth Avenue is in Canada Now?

Saks Fifth Avenue Eaton Centre
Saks Fifth Avenue Eaton Centre at Queen and Yonge St, Toronto

Saks Fifth Avenue opened its first store in Canada last week at the Toronto Eaton Centre and opened its second Toronto store today at Sherway Gardens.

So what?

Well, if you’re a shopper like myself, you follow these openings with interest for the simple reason that having more places to shop is a good thing!

While I could talk about the department store and its future (not very promising according to some experts), I’m not going to because I happen to love department stores and want them to be around forever.  An excellent article on The Business of Fashion website talks about the challenges and changes coming for department stores.

Instead, I want to talk about why I think Saks Fifth Avenue has arrived in Toronto at just the right time for both the retailer and the consumer.

Saks Fifth Avenue
Saks Fifth Avenue Eaton Centre

Firstly, can we talk about our Canadian Dollar and the fact that it’s trading around 70 cents US for the first time in the past 13 years?  What’s more upsetting is that the currencies were at par only 3 years ago.  Now all I hear is my family and friends outside Canada wanting to come shop here because ‘it’s such a good deal’.  Of course it is at that exchange rate.  I’m expecting Canada to be packed with visitors this year!

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Mini Love Crossbody Purse from Rebecca Minkoff

Rebecca Minkoff Mini Love Crossbody
Mini Love Crossbody in Latte by Rebecca Minkoff

Mini purses are an interesting fashion item.  Every time I see one, I ask myself: how practical is this bag?  Even though I think the answer is that it’s not practical most of the time, I do think that there’s a time and a place for a mini purse.

The purse in this post is from Rebecca Minkoff, an American designer that makes clothing, handbags, shoes, and jewelry.  According to a September 2015  article in Glow magazine, her company has 12 deliveries a year, meaning there’s always something new to consider.

Rebecca Minkoff Mini Love Crossbody
Rebecca Minkoff Mini Love Crossbody

This ‘Mini Love Crossbody’ bag is the ‘mini’ version of the larger Love Crossbody bag.  It’s a classic looking, leather, quilted front-flap bag with a turn-lock closure.  The chain and leather strap can be worn long, making the purse a cross-body.  Or, it can be shortened and worn as a shoulder bag.  What I like most about this bag is the Chanel-inspired look.

Admittedly, this mini purse can pose a challenge because of its limited use.  It’s really more practical for an evening out, a quick trip to run errands, or on occasions when you don’t want a huge bag like an afternoon at the movies or a neighborhood walk.  In other words, it’s not your everyday purse.  Instead, think of it as a purse for lots of different special occasions.  For example, it’s a great purse to take on a trip if you need a dressier evening bag and you are limited for space. Also, it can be a perfect purse to take to work because it is not bulky and can be easily carried along with a laptop/briefcase. Continue reading

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Here’s Why I’m Okay With Valentine’s Day!

IMG_3682It’s Valentine’s Day this weekend!  Lots of people have lots of different views about Valentine’s Day.  Some people think it’s a huge commercial grab and don’t want to get caught up in it. Others don’t like that they’re told to show their love on a specific date.  Still, others don’t like the pressure that comes with this day like the expectation of chocolates, flowers, dinners, etc. And then there are those who love everything about the holiday and how ‘sweet’ it is.

Just so you know where I stand, let me tell you that I don’t expect a lot for Valentine’s Day in terms of gifts or dinner or anything like that.  In that sense, I’m pretty easy to be around on Valentine’s Day, and we celebrate in a rather low-key way.

Maybe that’s why I can come up with three reasons why I’m okay with Valentine’s Day:

FullSizeRender-10Reason Number 1:
The reminder of love!
It’s okay for us to have a special day in the year to tell our loved ones that we care.  It’s that simple.  If we celebrate our birthdays, anniversaries, mother’s day and father’s day once a year, then what’s wrong with having one day where we mindfully tell one another that we care about each other?  You don’t have to succumb to all of the commercial pressures of flowers, perfume, and dinners.  Buy or make a card,  spend an hour having coffee with your partner, or play a game with your child.  That’s it.  This is not a public holiday.  Think of Valentine’s Day as a love ‘reminder’ day. Continue reading

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