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. 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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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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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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Say Hello to Stress-Free Meal Planning with HelloFresh Canada!

Sesame Beef Stir-Fry by HelloFresh
Sesame Beef Stir-Fry by HelloFresh

It’s the little things that make a big difference. Last week, not having to plan, shop, or think about my meals made my week so easy – this, thanks, to a delivery from HelloFresh Canada.

I usually do the meal planning, shopping, and cooking for my family and I love doing it. Being a stay-at-home/work-from-home mom, I have more flexibility in shopping and cooking than most households but, every once in a while, I find myself in a rut and out of time and out of meal ideas. The kids complain that the meals aren’t up to their expectations and ‘why can’t we have something good’! I’m not upset when I hear those words – I just ask them to make a list of their top 5 favorite foods and I go from there.

Having said that, getting HelloFresh Canada delivered to my door last week was such a treat!

Roasted Pork and Peppercorn Sauce by HelloFresh
Roasted Pork and Peppercorn Sauce by HelloFresh

In case you’re not familiar with the concept, HelloFresh is a service that makes meal prep and family time fun. The chefs at HelloFresh come up with meal ideas based on in-season produce, and they source everything locally, which I love.

All you have to do is go online, choose your meals, and then get everything delivered to your door. You choose the type of plan you want (pronto meals, which are ready in 30 minutes or less; family meals; or veggie meals), the number of people you want to feed, and the delivery date. It’s a subscription service that you can stop by following the instructions online.

HelloFresh Canada Delivery
HelloFresh Canada Delivery

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8 Steps To Stress-Free Holiday Baking!

Holiday Baking TipsI love to bake and it’s something that I do several times a week, all year long! People ask me what I do with all the baked goodies, but the truth is that we eat most of them, take them for school lunches, and share them with friends. The latter is especially true around the holidays, because we end up gifting a lot of baked treats. It does take a bit of planning to get it done effortlessly, so I’m sharing my 8 steps for stress-free holiday baking!

Holiday Baking TipsStep 1: Make a list of what you want to bake
This step sort of starts itself around the beginning of October when you see holiday baking magazines in the check-out aisle. It’s easy to get inspired and reminded about what you want to bake. I usually take out holiday baking books from the library and do some online searches. I also ask my husband and kids what their favorite treats are, and I add them to my list. Don’t be afraid to try new recipes, because it’s always fun to find new favorites. Stay tuned for an upcoming post on some new treats I’m going to bake this year!

Holiday Baking TipsStep 2: Clean out the freezer and fridge
Although we have a frost-free fridge, I still find that there is some frost build-up in the bottom of the freezer. This is probably because of the uneven temperatures in our kitchen and because we open and close the fridge a lot. I find the beginning of the holiday season to be the best time to do a big clean. Purging expired and freezer-burned food clears space for storing all of the holiday goodies. This takes me 24 hours to do as I let the fridge sit overnight, but it feels so good to start the holiday season with a clean and empty freezer!

Holiday Baking TipsStep 3: Take an audit of your ingredients, spices, and flavourings
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7 Holiday Gift Ideas Inspired By The Toronto Gift Fair!

It’s mid-November which means it’s the Christmas and holiday season everywhere you look! Given that clothing, shoe, electronic, department, and jewelry stores derive anywhere from 20-30% of their annual revenue from holiday sales, it makes sense that stores are heavily promoting gift-giving!

And, for us consumers, getting a head start on holiday shopping is always a good way to enjoy a stress-free holiday season. I’m always amazed by my friends and family who are so ahead of the game. You know what I mean: that friend whose house is all decorated by December 1st and whose shopping list is done. This is the friend who’s enjoying the holidays the way they’re meant to be enjoyed: relaxing in front of the fireplace and listening to Christmas carols – doing anything except shopping at the mall! Every year, I say I’m going to get more and more things done ahead of time, and I do a pretty decent job, especially with my holiday baking! (more on this in a future post).

Because buying gifts is the most time-consuming and most difficult part of the holiday season, I thought I’d suggest some ideas for preparing and completing your list. Here are some ways to think about your holiday gifts, as inspired by the Toronto Gift Fair. Continue reading

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Always With Love

It’s Valentine’s Day and last year I wrote a post (link here) about why I’m okay with Valentine’s Day.

Valentine’s Day is as good a day as any to talk about love because every day is a good day to talk about love. But, what is love, really? It’s lots of things and it’s about describing how you feel about lots of things. It’s about falling in love with a person or your first-born child. It’s about loving something inanimate like your first home. It’s about forgiving people and accepting them for who they are, and that, to me, is the most important part.

The title of this post comes from my Dad, who, since I’ve become a parent, has repeated to me: ‘always with love’. By this, he refers to how I parent, discipline, guide, and teach my kids things. It’s so hard to be patient, to forgive the things your kids say to you or about you. It’s so hard to punish or tell a child you don’t approve of what they’re doing, nicely. But, that’s what you have to do, and, to do it properly, you have to do it with love. Continue reading

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The Chevrolet Volt And The Perks Of Going Electric

Do you have an electric or hybrid car? Have you ever thought about owning an electric car? My family doesn’t own one, but after recently test driving the Chevrolet Volt, I’m wondering why it’s taken me so long to seriously think about the perks of owning an electric car.

We’re in a car industry revolution now, like it or not. The rules of the game in vehicle technology and how we think about transportation in general have changed significantly over the last few years.

Not only do we have connected cars, but automated or self-driving cars are here, with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers forecasting 75% of cars on the road will be automated by 2040. And, electric cars are becoming easier and more economical to own, in part due to advances in clean energy, increased battery life, and wider availability of charging stations in buildings and malls.

Given all of these exciting advancements, my husband and I were definitely interested in test-driving the latest Chevrolet Volt at Hogan Chevrolet, in Scarborough, Ontario.

Hogan Chevrolet, Scarborough, Ontario. Photo by SweetLifeStyle.ca
Hogan Chevrolet, Scarborough, Ontario
Photo by SweetLifeStyle.ca

About The Chevrolet Volt

The award-winning Volt, although technically a hybrid, runs on an electric motor and gets additional energy it needs from the gas-powered generator (detailed specs here).

We test drove the Volt Premier which operates with elements of automated technology such as Side Blind Zone Alert with Lane Change Alert, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, and Lane Keep Assist. These are fancy ways of saying that the car’s technology is scanning the area for potential accidents, which made us feel safer. We actually liked the red lights in the side mirrors checking our blind spot and helping us switch lanes safely.

Driving and Pricing the Chevrolet Volt

Although our drive was on a typical snowy Canadian day, we felt it was ideal for testing the Volt’s performance.

The first thing we noticed is that the Volt’s beautiful blue color added to its compact, sleek look. When we got in, we felt like we were in a sports car because the car was somewhat low to the ground. With the engine on, the Volt is very quiet and you wonder if it’s running. The dashboard is actually a screen with very cool graphics, like a top-down view of the electric motor, and information about which energy source is being used to run the car. I could see myself wanting to keep the energy source electric at all times!

Photo by SweetLifeStyle.ca
Photo by SweetLifeStyle.ca

In terms of acceleration, the Chevy Volt was responsive, fast, and performed like a gas-powered car. You could’t tell it was an electric car, even at over 100 kms/hr on the highway!

The Volt took corners comfortably and we were impressed with how quickly and smoothly the brakes reacted on the snowy road surfaces. The car handled well and we felt in control, especially given the wet weather. Our very patient and knowledgeable salesman, Paul, explained that part of the appeal of the Volt is the regenerative braking which recharges the battery as you brake.

The interior of the car felt roomy, especially in front. The back seats are okay but only seat two people comfortably because the middle seat requires the third person to straddle the battery cover. I was very impressed with how spacious the trunk is and the two back seats fold down for more room.

The Volt Premier has an MSRP of C$42,490. With government incentives, the price is closer to $34,000 – higher than the average compact car. Our salesman told us that the cost to run the Volt on electric charge is about $30 a month. So, there are big savings. We currently spend about $3500 a year on gas, 10 times more than the electric running cost. You must factor this in when making a decision to purchase an electric car!

The Chevrolet Volt Customer

The Volt is a bought car. Buyers have done their homework and thought about their driving and charging needs carefully.  You need an outlet to charge the battery, so you need to live in a house or an equipped building. You also need to consider your daily driving needs. If you want to keep your drive electric, your daily round trip should be kept to 85 kms unless you’re headed to a place with a charging station.

What about a long trip or getting your Volt from one local electric driving area to another? With a total range of 672 kms, you could, under ideal driving conditions, take the Volt between Toronto and Montreal, without recharging, thanks to the gas-powered generator. That’s amazing. Purely electric cars just don’t have that range yet.

The best part of our test drive came at the end of our visit when a customer who already owned two Volts came over to tell us how much he and his daughter loved them. By the way, I just want to say here that we got the impression that customers were like family at Hogan because everyone seemed so friendly and wanted to talk! Anyway, this gentleman especially liked the low charging costs as well as the fewer gas station visits. He also drove his car regularly to the cottage, explaining that, even if the gas powered generator kicked in on the way to the cottage, once he reached his destination and charger, local trips would be back to electric power.

Owning a Chevy Volt gave this customer pride of being part of an  environmentally conscious community. There’s a non-profit organization called Plug ‘N Drive that helps customers set up their charging station at home and educates the public about the electric car industry. And, resources like the PlugShare app locate nearby charging stations.

The Bottom Line on the Chevrolet Volt

After this test drive, would I buy an electric car? Absolutely. The no-compromise handling, advanced features, and quiet operation of the Volt make it very attractive. An electric car would suit our needs as we are city drivers, 99% of the time.

The best part about owning an electric car, other than the $3200 I would save on gas, is being part of an environmentally savvy group of like-minded people who are proud to add new meaning to the concept of driving responsibly.

Our Chevrolet Volt test drive opened our eyes and mind to a new way of looking at transportation in general, and electric cars in particular. These are exciting times for the car industry, and I think we’ve only scratched the surface in terms of options, savings, and social responsibility!

This post was created in partnership with the friendly staff and customers at Hogan Chevrolet, but, as always, all opinions are my own. (Photos are taken from chevrolet.ca unless otherwise indicated.)

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New Year’s Resolutions, Goals, or Both?

Happy New Year to all of my readers!

How do you feel about a new year? How do you feel about making New Year’s Resolutions? If you made any last year, did you keep them? Do you set New Year’s Goals as well?

To quickly answer these questions: I find new years and new beginnings to be generally exciting and hopeful. I’m okay with making some New Year’s Resolutions and managed to keep most of mine from 2016. As for New Year’s Goals, I think they’re as important as resolutions. When I asked my family if they thought there was a difference, we all agreed that resolutions are more like daily habits we want to work on while goals are longer term items we work towards that can be measured and tracked. (If you want to read more about setting goals, you can check out this link to the Mind Tools website.)

As I look back on 2016, I would say that I had a great year, for which I feel lucky given the many terrorist attacks and tragedies we saw. I traveled more than ever, which is a big deal for me as I overcame a lot of anxiety over traveling by plane. I caught up with more family and friends than ever, and I’m so happy about being in touch with them more regularly, thanks to social media and long distance conversations over the phone or WhatsApp. And, I got to spend time blogging, connecting with new people, and learning a lot about freelance writing. Continue reading

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