5 Ways To Make Toronto (Or Any Big City) Feel Smaller

Nathan Philips Square at Toronto City Hall
Nathan Philips Square at Toronto City Hall

Ever feel like Toronto is getting too big, too busy, and too hard to get around? Well, you’re not alone. In 2016, the census metropolitan area of Toronto was almost 6 million and is growing at a faster rate than the national average. In fact, Toronto ranks as North America’s 4th largest city in terms of population, according to the Economic Intelligence Unit, after Mexico City, New York, and Los Angeles.

I love living in a big city. There are always new exhibitions to see, restaurants to try, and quaint neighborhoods to discover. In fact, I often feel there are so many options to choose from, and that I miss out on some fantastic opportunities because I just can’t be in two places at the same time!

One of the things that I’d like to share more with you, the readers of my blog, is how to live slow and intentionally. I didn’t realize there was a term for how I like to live. I’m an emotional person, love connecting with people, and tend to overthink things. But I also appreciate all the things life has to offer, the big and the small, the material and the immaterial. I like being alone as much as I like being with others. And, I like walking outside as much as I can, enjoying nature and just feeling a part of the world. Yes, even in a big city, you can experience much of mother nature.

One of many paths in Toronto
One of many paths in Toronto

But if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the traffic and the crowds on the subway, I get it. In the past few years, I’ve had reason to walk rather than drive and I’ve loved it so much. It’s helped make the city feel more cozy, alive, and familiar. If you’re looking for that intimate feel, then consider the following suggestions to make Toronto, or wherever you live, feel like a smaller, quieter city.

5 Ways To Make Toronto, Or Any Other Big City, Feel Smaller

Dutch Dreams ice cream parlour in St Clair West, Toronto
Dutch Dreams ice cream parlour in St Clair West, Toronto

1) Live close to your home
This means shopping locally for groceries and as many services as possible. Find a barbershop and walk-in clinic near your house that you can walk or bike to. Find a nearby gym, flower shop, health food shop, auto garage, and aesthetics salon. Dine at local restaurants. Walk to the local ice cream store. Use your local library and tailor. A few years ago, I broke my elbow and couldn’t drive for 6 weeks. I was so grateful that I had conveniently chosen a nearby physiotherapist, drugstore, hairdresser, and dentist.

Yorkville on a quiet Sunday morning
Yorkville on a quiet Sunday morning
Downtown Toronto on an early Sunday morning
Downtown Toronto on an early Sunday morning

2) Choose odd times to run errands
By this I mean start early or end later. If you’re an early morning riser, you’ll get the best spots at your local coffee shop, patio, and playground benches. The sooner in the day you do something, the calmer it is and the more it feels like times are simpler. Thinking of going to the mall? Get there when it opens and be home by lunchtime. Not an early bird? Head out for a productive weeknight of grocery shopping, bookstore browsing, filling your car with gas, and hitting the local library or gym. I often run these errands in the evenings and get parking right at the front door!

Toronto's Beltline Trail
Toronto’s Beltline Trail
Quiet Toronto side gardens
Quiet Toronto side gardens

3) Get on a path
Toronto dubs itself ‘A City Within a Park’ which means you should be able to get on a trail very close to your home. Go for a run or long walk. Get your bike, skateboard, or scooter out and enjoy an afternoon with family, friends and pets. Make it a picnic. Whenever possible, choose a way or a drive home through a park or tree-lined street. Look for interesting flowers or landscaping and just enjoy that connection with nature.

The Farmer's Market at Wychwood Barns in Toronto's St Clair West neighborhood
The Farmer’s Market at Wychwood Barns in Toronto’s St Clair West neighborhood
Summer music in the city of Toronto, outside the Royal Ontario Museum
Summer music in the city of Toronto, outside the Royal Ontario Museum

4) Attend local activities like Farmers’ Markets, street festivals, and community activities 
There is a definite trend towards supporting local businesses and farms, and that makes sense. It’s better for the environment to source and buy things closer to where they’re made and consumed. Farmers’ Markets are great for this. In my neighborhood, in St Clair West, the The Stop Farmer’s Market runs at Wychwood Barns every Saturday, year-round. How great is it to walk there in the morning and buy your groceries for dinner that night?

Street art on Queen St West in Toronto
Street art on Queen St West in Toronto

Another way to live locally is to pretend you’re a tourist and consult neighbourhood publications, visitor magazines, and city blogs for happenings. This is such a great way to discover street festivals, special exhibitions, new restaurants, and local, often free, concerts. Check your local councillor’s and local MP’s web page for upcoming community gatherings where you can get involved and meet new people. Go on a family afternoon where you explore the city’s street art. And, consider a staycation in your own city — you can check out my post on our Toronto staycation, here.

Cedarvale Ravine in Toronto's St Clair West neighborhood
Cedarvale Ravine in Toronto’s St Clair West neighborhood

5) Get to know your neighbours 
Nothing makes a big city feel smaller than being able to connect with people you see on a regular basis. You probably see the same people walking on a nearby trail or going for a run. Say good morning and smile. By taking time to get to know your neighbors, even if it’s briefly seeing them on the street or in the elevator, you feel like part of a community of people who frequent the same places and share the same experiences.

Toronto's High Park Gardens
Toronto’s High Park Gardens

I’m sure there are other ways that you’ve figured out how to slow down and enjoy your city and neighborhood and I’d love to hear about them in the comment section below. It’s these little changes and social connections that leave us happy and feeling like life’s a bit quieter and more intentional, in our small neighborhoods within the bigger city of Toronto — or wherever you live!

In front of one of the 12 portraits from the Faces of Regent Park, a downtown Toronto  neighborhood (By Toronto artist Dan Bergeron)
In front of one of the 12 portraits from the Faces of Regent Park, a downtown Toronto  neighborhood (By Toronto artist Dan Bergeron)
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How To Make The Best Avocado Greek Salad!

Avocado Greek Salad
Avocado Greek Salad

There’s one salad that my husband and kids can all agree on, and that’s my Avocado Greek Salad! It’s also a hit with guests at our summer barbecues, and all year-round. It’s very easy to make, and with the avocados, feta cheese, and olives, it’s a filling and delicious salad. Most people ask for the recipe after they’ve tasted it.

Greek Salad, like most foods these days, means different things to different people. There are so many variations at restaurants and in homes. Some Greek Salad is made with iceberg lettuce, others with romaine lettuce. The type of feta cheese used (sheep or cow) can make a difference in taste, as can the type of tomato (plum versus hot house versus beef steak or even cherry tomatoes).

And, the original Greek Salad is not likely what you’re having when you go to a Greek restaurant in North America. The traditional Greek Salad, called Horiatiki, is made with tomatoes, green peppers, red onions, and cucumbers – without any lettuce. It’s dressed with sliced feta, kalamata olives, salt, oregano, and the best olive oil and (sometimes) vinegar — this is what you’ll find served in most restaurants in Greece.

Although the traditional Greek Salad is delicious, my family likes it with the addition of romaine lettuce and a whole avocado. Yes, I said avocado! We all know the health benefits of avocados: they’re low in saturated fat, contain zero cholesterol, and are high in potassium. There’s also something about the avocado that lends a creaminess and dimension to the salad. Continue reading

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7 Reasons I Love Visiting With Family

Broummana, Lebanon
Broummana, Lebanon

7 Reasons I Love Visiting With Family

In the last month, I’ve visited with family in two very different parts of the world, and I wanted to share with you why I loved these two family visits. In early March, I went to Lebanon to visit my parents, brothers, and extended family, and, in late March, we went to the US to visit my husband’s family. Although these trips were in places far apart from each other, the reasons I enjoyed the visits are very similar.

As part of being mindful of how I spend my time, I really paid attention to the visits I had and why they were so important and meaningful. Visiting family seems like something you do because it’s associated with a certain holiday or milestone. Sometimes you feel like you need to make these visits out of obligation or expectations. Sometimes you love making the trips and taking the effort. And, sometimes, you’re just so darn grateful for the opportunities and savor each moment. The latter is how I felt in the last month.

Here are the 7 reasons I loved visiting with family recently. I hope they inspire you to plan more visits!

Reason 1: My family is a part of my history
This sounds so obvious, but it’s really deeper than having people who are related to you. I’m talking about the family resemblance, the common cultural background, a country’s understood traditions, and the feeling of connectedness. When you’re around your immediate and extended family, you see where some of your mannerisms and points of reference come from. For example, in Lebanon, we’re a bit of loud family. We yell from room to room or outside to someone in the garden. The neighbors pretty much know what we’re up to! In my family in particular, we are bitterly honest with each other and we tell it like it is. For spouses and in-laws, this may seem harsh at times, but it’s what we’re used to and how we grew up. It’s done lovingly, really. Engaging in this banter made me understand that growing up like this was normal for me, but that it might not seem so normal to my nuclear family of my husband and two teens, or for my in-laws. Continue reading

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The Best Banana Oatmeal Muffins I’ve Ever Made

Banana Oat Muffins
Banana Oat Muffins

This Banana Oat Muffins recipe is one of my new favorite recipes and I wanted to share it with you in time for the weekend.

I’ve been obsessed with oatmeal these days: steel cut oats for breakfast, dark chocolate oatmeal cookies, breakfast oatmeal cookies (recipe blogged here), and oatmeal waffles (recipe here)! There’s something filling about oats and the fiber content is a plus. So, I’m always on the lookout for all kinds of ways to enjoy oatmeal.

The other day I googled banana oat muffins and a few recipes came up. I spent time going through the recipe comments because I think that’s one of the best ways to know if the recipe works and how much people like it. Well, the Banana Oat Muffins recipe from Genius Kitchen had so many amazing reviews and comments, I just had to try it!

Banana Oat Muffins
Banana Oat Muffins

The best thing about these muffins is that they use about 5 bananas, or 2 cups.  I always seem to have ripe bananas in the fruit bowl and this recipe put them to great use. Continue reading

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Strawberry Banana Oatmeal Waffles

Strawberry Banana Oatmeal Waffles
Strawberry Banana Oatmeal Waffles

I’ve been meaning to post this Strawberry Banana Oatmeal Waffle recipe for some time now and, given that it’s National Waffle Day, why not?

Oatmeal is a food and fiber that I’ve always loved, be it in cookies, for breakfast, or in granola bars. Now I’m loving oatmeal in waffles. It also seems like waffles are all the rage these days, so I’ve probably been craving them subliminally. Have you seen the chicken and waffle recipes on Instagram and social media? What about waffle sandwiches at brunch? I admit to partaking in the latter.

When I was looking around for an oatmeal waffle recipe, I came across lots of them: gluten free, vegan, sugar-free. I tried many versions and tweaked the sugar levels. Interestingly, many used maple syrup, but I just stuck to regular sugar, to keep the batter thick. I played around with the fruit ingredients, sometimes using applesauce from a jar and sometimes increasing the fresh fruit content to where I didn’t include any applesauce.

The thing about this strawberry banana oatmeal waffle recipe is that it’s pretty forgiving. As long as it’s not too runny or too thick, a waffle iron can handle it! I also make it in a big glass measuring cup, which makes pouring it onto the waffle iron very easy. Continue reading

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Apple Crumble Cups – So Tasty and Presentable!

Apple Crumble CupsIf you like crumbles, or anything with oatmeal, sugar, and butter in it, then you’re going to love these Apple Crumble Cups that are easy and oh-so-presentable!

I’ve written two posts on crumbles (peach/strawberry and peach) in the past. If you’ve ever wondered what the difference is between a crisp, a crumble, and a cobbler, it’s that crumbles contain oatmeal. This recipe is from allrecipes.com and is originally called a crisp, but it’s technically a crumble!

The reason I wanted to share this recipe is because I’ve been searching for one that makes mini crumbles. I was served something like this at a friend’s house, and I loved how cute and compact it is. Yesterday I was talking to my mom about a recipe she had seen on TV, and it reminded me of all the uneaten apples sitting in our fruit basket. I had to make some type of crumble!

Apple Crumble CupsHere’s the recipe, as taken from Allrecipes, attributed to Debbie Eckstein. I’ve changed the name to call it ‘Apple Crumble Cups’ instead of ‘Apple Crisp Cups’. At the end, I’ve given tips on how I made my cups. Continue reading

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Sharing the ‘Little Things’ That Made Me Happy In A 24 Hour Period!

Enjoying the little things in life

When you enjoy the little things in life, you feel happier. It sounds simple, and it is. You know what I’m talking about: the little things like appreciating a blue sky after a few days of rain, walking around comfortably in above zero temperatures after weeks of freezing weather, and engaging in a pleasant 15 minute conversation with your teen.

In today’s busy world, I feel like I’m always on the go and that I don’t have a second to myself. Well, in the last few days, I’ve enjoyed a lot of little things that have made me happy, despite running around and overscheduling my time. Perhaps inspired by the little notebook I picked up from the dollar store recently or perhaps inspired by mindfully appreciating every moment I have with friends and family, I thought I would share the simple things that brought me joy over a 24 hour period.

Here are the little things that made me happy over the course of a day: Continue reading

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Chocolate Candy Box Cake – Sooo Easy To Make!

Chocolate Candy Box Cake Made With Kit Kat Border
Chocolate Candy Box Cake

Every once in a while, you come across the easiest wow-factor cake and you wonder why you’ve never tried to make it before! That’s how I felt about the chocolate candy box cake that I’d been seeing on Instagram for a while now.

I’ve heard this cake called: ‘chocolate candy box cake’, ‘candy box cake’, or ‘Kit Kat cake’ – the latter because of the border around it. It’s basically a chocolate cake that has a bunch of candy on top. It has a border made of Kit Kat or other chocolate finger treats or pirouline wafers. You can make it in the shape of a circle or a rectangle and you can put only chocolate on it or a mix of candy and chocolate. Once you’re done, wrap a ribbon around the cake, and you’re done.

I did some online searches and watched a few YouTube videos for tips on how to make the cake. There’s lots of inspiration out there, so have a look.

Here are the 5 easy steps I took for making my daughter a chocolate candy box cake for her 18th birthday. You can also read my last post on throwing a surprise 18th birthday party, where we served this cake. Continue reading

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5 Tips For Hosting An 18th Surprise Birthday Party!

My oldest daughter turns 18 in February and we decided to throw her a surprise 18th birthday party. She’s got a lot going on during her last year in high school including balancing school, social life, and university applications. We knew she wouldn’t have time to plan something that we could work on together, so I thought it best to throw her a surprise. I’m glad we did, because, a few days after her party, she said that she would not have had time to plan a party on her own.

I’d never thrown a surprise party at home before, so this was new to me. The hardest part was hiding some of the decorations and the cake, as well as orchestrating her being out of the house. Also, having 3 hours to decorate and get the food and activities ready was quite a challenge. But, I had lots of people helping me and it all worked out. I think the main thing to keep in mind is that kids like to be together, no matter what the occasion.

Here are my 5 tips for throwing a successful 18th surprise birthday party: Continue reading

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Finally Feeling Like It’s Okay To Talk About My Anxiety Journey

(Originally published on January 31, 2018)

It’s Bell Let’s Talk Day today in Canada and, although I’ve struggled with anxiety for over 25 years, I’m finally feeling like it’s okay to talk about my journey. Bringing attention to mental illness is not something that comes easily for me because I’ve often worried about being judged by my anxiety. It’s probably a function of my age (I went to school in the 1900s, as my daughter likes to say) and a function of how others around me have told me to behave and (not) talk about my anxiety. I can’t blame my parents for telling me to keep quiet about my feelings when I was a young adult, when the real effects of having anxiety began to surface for me. It just wasn’t talked about if you wanted people to think you were normal.

So, I talked about my anxiety to my close friends, who were there for me as I dealt with a specific problem. Outside of the situation, we didn’t talk about what was happening in my mind, for two reasons. One, I didn’t really know there was a term for it because I tended to have mainly trigger-based anxiety and, when I wasn’t anxious, I was generally fine. Two, I was too busy to sit down and think a lot about anxiety as a topic and as a treatable illness – I had to finish school, get a job, move on with my life. My friends and I didn’t talk about mental illness as a subject or what I was going to do about my anxiety. We dealt with the current crisis and symptoms, and moved on. As long as I was busy, I could keep my anxiety at bay.

Continue reading

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