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.

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My Favorite Winter Scarf Is A Fashion Scarf

Wool/Silk Scarf by Kala Scarves

We usually think of winter as a time for thick, heavy-knit scarves that we wear with our coats, but it’s also the perfect time to wear a warm fashion scarf! Maybe you’re like me and tend to wear dark colors like blues, greys, browns, and black at this time of year. I find that adding a scarf in a complementary or contrasting print is a great way to add texture and depth to a monotone winter outfit.

You know I love scarves from all of the previous posts I’ve done, like this one and this one.

So, why do I love this Kala scarf in particular? This scarf has so many things going for it: it’s a 25% silk/ 75% Australian wool combo, making it super soft and warm; it’s medium weight; and, it goes through a series of cool colors from one end of the scarf to the other. I especially love that it’s Rothko inspire because he’s one of my favorite painters. If you’ve spent time in front of a Rothko painting, or been lucky enough to visit the Rothko Chapel in Houston, then you know that there’s a certain feeling of simplicity and serenity to his work. The abstract nature of this scarf adds an element of quiet color to any outfit. I also like the all-around small fringe. Continue reading

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Chicken-Ginger Noodle Soup – Perfect For This Freezing Weather!

Chicken-Ginger Noodle Soup

With wind chill values of -35 degrees celsius in Toronto, a bowl of warm Chicken-Ginger Noodle Soup sounds just right! It’s been so very cold these last few weeks in this part of North America and we’re spending a lot of time indoors. That means plenty of time with family and friends and lots of time to cook and experiment with new recipes.

A few weeks ago, I received the cutest package from Blue Goose Pure Foods, a Canadian organic meat producer that works with Canadian farmers who are committed to treating animals humanely. Blue Goose products are sold in grocery stores and specialty retailers across Canada, and they are easily identifiable by the illustrated blue and white chicken on the labels.

This is not the first time I’ve received a pre-arranged delivery from Blue Goose. The last one was a whole chicken and a recipe for Beer Can Chicken. You would’ve seen the details on my Instagram Stories, and the end result was a delicious, moist, tender chicken, which you can see here:

Beer Can Chicken made with Blue Goose Pure Foods Organic Chicken
Beer Can Chicken made with Blue Goose Pure Foods Organic Chicken

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Linzer Cookies- Something New For New Year’s!

Linzer Cookies with Black Cherry Spread from Bonne Maman
Linzer Cookies filled with Black Cherry Spread from Bonne Maman

Jam-filled sablé cookies have always been a holiday tradition in my family – it just wouldn’t be the holiday season without some kind of shortbread cookie in the lineup! In fact, when I used to come home from university, my mom had a box of these yummy cookies frozen and waiting for me. She still does that anytime I go home, no matter what time of year it is.

This holiday season, I tried a new version of jam-filled cookies: Linzer Cookies, from the Holiday Cookies* cookbook by Alice Medrich. The combination of almonds, almond extract, lemon and lime zest made the cookies unique, crunchy, and oh-so-tasty! Linzer cookies are, by definition, made with almonds, and originated in Linz, Austria.

Linzer Cookies made with Black Cherry Spread

Our wedding anniversary is between Christmas and New Year’s and, given that jam cookies are my husband’s most requested cookie, it gives me the perfect excuse to make one more holiday cookie (not that I need one) at this time of year. In fact, my husband reminded me earlier this week that I hadn’t made any this year! He also likes anything with almond flavoring, so these cookies were made for him! And, he loved them.

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6 Tips And Ideas For Packaging Christmas Cookies

Packaging Christmas CookiesIt’s as much fun to package Christmas cookies and treats, as it is to make them – wouldn’t you agree? All you have to do is search for  holiday gift wrap ideas online and you’ll find tons of creative and original ideas. I also love getting inspiration from magazines, books, and stores this time of year.
In my post on stress-free tips for holiday baking, I promised some tips on packaging baked goods. So…here are my 6 tips for packaging Christmas cookies.
Packaging Christmas CookiesTip 1: Keep in mind that it’s the thought that counts!
If you’ve spent lots of time baking or picking out the perfect edible gift, and you’ve gifted yummy food in the past, then you know that the receiver is really going to appreciate the time and effort that went into the gift. As my daughter says, it’s a more thoughtful gift when it’s homemade. This is another way of saying that there’s lots of food this time of year and that it’s about the thought behind the gift, not the quantity.

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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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Wearing Purples and Browns Together

Wearing Purples amd Browns Together
Wearing Purples amd Browns Together

If you follow my blog, you know I like to write posts about pairing colors together (here and here). I love my navy colors, but I also like mixing it up from time to time. Enter wearing purple and brown together.

Brown is a good winter neutral. It’s not as harsh as black or navy because it’s got more of a warm tone to it. And, purple is an interesting color because it’s made of blue and red. Actually, both brown (made by combining red, yellow, and black) and purple are considered composite colors. Purple and brown go very well together and you may see them combined on shirts, sweaters, and other items.

In this post, I’ve paired a light purple sweater with brown brocade floral pants. There are hints of purple in the pants, but not a lot. The lavender shade of the sweater brings out the similar tones in the pants. Interestingly, the complementary color to purple is yellow, not brown, but because brown has warm undertones in it, the combination works!

Wearing Purple and Brown Together
Wearing Purple and Brown Together

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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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