Hello, September!

There’s no denying that autumn in Canada is one of the best times of the year. Crisp red and orange leaves crunching under your feet, Halloween decorations making their yearly debut, the faint scent of apples and bonfires in the air…how could anyone not love it? For me, the colourful leaves signal new beginnings and the end of lazy summer days; it’s time to break out those knit sweaters, take on a new semester and indulge in various pumpkin-flavoured treats. It also means that my birthday is coming up (yay!), although this year 23 is looking more scary than exciting. (Pretty sure my grandparents were married, working and having kids at that age.) Still, nothing can stop me from loving this month! It’s such a magical time of year, second only to our beautiful snowy winters.

 

Autumn is one of the prettiest times of the year. Source: www.lovethispic.com.
Autumn is one of the prettiest times of the year. Source: http://www.lovethispic.com.

What did all of you get up to this summer? Mine was pretty laid-back – we hosted relatives from out of town and spent a couple of days in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and I caught up on several TV shows, both old and new (everything from Gilmore Girls to Lost to Chicago P.D.). I took some time to discover new music, work on my photography skills and discover interesting places around the city, all of which I’ll continue to document on my Instagram page (@theurbangazelle). Oh, and I was recently accepted to the in-school mentoring program with Big Brothers Big Sisters, which is really exciting! The organization is currently working on finding a young girl for me to mentor, which should be a fun and rewarding experience for both of us. Tips from seasoned mentors on what to expect would be greatly appreciated!

Now, back to the topic at hand: the end of summer 2015. The time seemed to pass quite slowly for me, though I’m sure for many of you it just flew by. So before you run out for your first Pumpkin Spice Latte of the season, take a few moments to reflect on what you learned over the past few months. Even if you didn’t experience any life-altering moments, hopefully you feel like you grew in some way. Did you get to check a destination off your travel list? Make some great friends? Kick butt at a job or internship? Whatever it is, be proud of it and make sure to keep crossing goals off your list this fall. Until next time, friends!

U.S. Supreme Court Rules in Favour of Same-Sex Marriage!

FINALLY! Today, the Supreme Court of the United States made history with its decision that states cannot ban gay marriage, a huge victory for millions of Americans. Countries like Canada and Britain made similar nationwide decisions years ago, but the debates surrounding gay rights have gained rapid interest in the U.S. over the past decade; this decision certainly puts some issues to bed!

Today’s ruling made the U.S. the 21st country to make same-sex marriage legal – wow! I’m sure this news will encourage other countries to make similar changes in favour of gay rights. There are, however, still many people around the world who “don’t believe in gay marriage”, so to those people I ask, “Who are you to tell couples their love isn’t valid?” While they may never change their minds and simply accept that love is love, they definitely can’t take away this incredible victory for gay couples and supporters of gay rights around the world. I’m thrilled for everyone whose hopes and dreams finally came true today! ūüėä 

Friday Favourites: Orange Is the New Black

This is a quick post to tell you that if you aren’t watching Orange Is the New Black, you’re seriously missing out! Based on American author Piper Kerman’s year in a federal prison (and book of the same name), the show follows a character named Piper Chapman (played by Taylor Schilling) as she learns how to survive amongst hardened criminals and adapt to her new, scary surroundings. An educated blonde woman from Connecticut, she fell in with with the wrong crowd in her 20s and was charged 10 years later for knowingly transporting a suitcase full of drug money. The character’s simple background is probably what makes her so relatable to the audience; other characters often comment that a “nice white lady” like Chapman doesn’t belong in prison. Similar to the hit show Lost, with each Orange¬†episode we find out more about the (often shocking) backgrounds of the other characters, which helps us understand more about where they come from and how they landed themselves in prison.

The writing on this show is excellent and every once in a while there are some real gems that leave me in stitches. For example,¬†this quote about vision being necessary for assassination¬†from a character named Red had me laughing for days. (I would post more clips, but the language is hardly ladylike!) Additionally, Orange has gained fame for its diverse cast, which includes a transgender African-American woman (portrayed by actress Laverne Cox), and its true-to-life portrayal of the struggles inside a federal women’s prison. Inedible, pre-packaged food, harassment from guards, bathroom stalls without doors and haunting trips to solitary confinement are just some of the challenges these women face. When they learn to work through everything together is when the real magic happens.

As much as I enjoy it, Orange can be tough to stomach at times. The issues the characters have to deal with are purposely difficult, likely because the directors and writers know that these things need to be examined. The often-present homophobia, racism and sexism is quite vital to Chapman’s story – if you’ve read the book, you know much of that inequality was experienced by the original Piper and her fellow inmates. Go ahead and check out the first season of Orange Is the New Black on Netflix – I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised!

Friday Favourites: Living in Halifax, N.S.!

After living in Halifax for four years, the question I get most often is, “Do you miss it?” That’s a loaded question, and for several reasons. Although I miss the town’s scenery, seafood and the feeling of being a student at both the University of King’s College and Dalhousie University, I don’t miss being unable to drive around the town and not having any family in the same province. I miss having roommates – there were 10 different people in total, some of whom I’m still good friends with – but I do not miss having to move in and out of a house or apartment twice a year.

I mean…come on. How could I not miss this place? Photo courtesy of http://www.abc-lang.com.

I’m sure you can think of many cons (and just as many pros) of the school you went to or town you lived in, but in the end, I think what matters most is the experience you had and the memories you’re left with. :) Now that I’m living at home in Toronto, I long for the days when I had my own place; being in Halifax for so long taught me that I can survive on my own! I may slice my thumb open on a cheese grater once in a while (twice, actually) and my savings may take a major hit if I live near a Sephora or a Thai take-out place, but being responsible for my own furniture, groceries, finances and transportation taught me a lot about myself and how much responsibility I can handle. Then again, the major perks of living at home are getting home-cooked meals and not having to pay rent, so I’m tempted to live with my parents for another year or two to spend time with them and, of course, save money while I work/study!

If you’re in high school or university and have never lived away from home, I highly recommend it. Even if it’s just for a summer, it’s so exciting to branch out and see how you fare in a different city or country! If money in an issue, staying with a family member or good friend in a new city would also be a great experience. You’ll make new friends, try new activities, taste new foods…some of the friends you make and activities you discover may even become lifelong interests. I ended up going on two beach holidays with one of my roommates (hey, Rachel!) because we became such good friends; to this day we still plan trips together and I consider her one of my closest friends.

I plan to graduate from Dalhousie this October and I’m really looking forward to going back to Halifax. Not only will I finally get to wear that gown and cap and receive my diploma, it’ll also be great to catch up with old friends and see what’s changed in the city since I was last there!

World Oceans Day: 5 Things You Need to Know

Since today is (unofficially) World Oceans Day, I thought I’d compile a list of important facts about the ocean that you may not know. Sure, you can identify a clownfish (shout-out to my buddy Nemo) and have finally learned how to pronounce “anemone”, but did you know that oceans provide 80% of our oxygen? Or that here in Canada many of us knowingly contribute to the widespread disintegration of marine ecosystems?

 

Picture and caption courtesy of National Geographic: “A green sea turtle floats past a reef toward open waters near Palau in the Pacific Ocean. Green sea turtles are one of the most endangered animal species on the planet.”

 
Most of these facts are from http://www.worldoceansday.ca or http://www.ocean.nationalgeographic.com:

1. The ocean covers 71% of the Earth’s surface and is home to roughly one million species, some of which are yet to be discovered and named. Each one is unique and plays an important role in the ocean’s ecosystems!

2. Sadly, our beautiful, pristine oceans have become “garbage dumps.” When beach-goers and boaters carelessly toss plastic, styrofoam and other trash into the water, marine life – including fish, whales, birds, and turtles – ingests it and the consequences are dire.

3. There are over 2,000 endangered marine species around the world, including polar bears, sea turtles, bluefin tuna, hammerhead sharks, certain types of coral, and blue whales, the largest living mammal on Earth.

4. An estimated 8 million tons (!) of garbage finds its way into our oceans each year. The largest concentration of plastic is found in the North Atlantic garbage patch, a massive area of debris that the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and Europe are responsible for.

5. Approximately 3.5 billion people currently depend on the ocean for their primary source of food. Experts estimate this number will double in 20 years, which is why there has been a global surge in sustainable fishing practices in the last decade.

Wow! That was a lot of (necessary) info. It’s so great that people have started to take steps towards leading more eco-friendly lives. In fact, there are some smart lifestyle choices we should all be making. For example, we can choose to eat only sustainably-caught seafood, we can switch from plastic and paper to reusable and recyclable household items, and we can walk, bike, or carpool when possible in order to reduce our carbon footprint. For more info, click¬†here.

P.S.: Check out these 10 awesome underwater sites! http://www.cntraveler.com/galleries/2014-12-18/10-incredible-underwater-sites-around-the-world-bali-tulum-maldives/?tw=social

Friday Favourites: Face Products With SPF

Now that summer’s here, we can finally enjoy some fun in the sun! Beaches, parks, exotic getaways…wherever you go, I’m sure you’ll come back with a fantastic tan. Lucky you, but keep in mind that too much sun can wreak havoc on our skin through overexposure to harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. Not only can they cause skin cancer, they can leave us with wrinkled, saggy, leathery skin. (Not cute.) While our bodies certainly need sunscreen, I think we often forget that it’s just as important to slather our faces with it. Below, I’ve listed SPF-filled alternatives to some of the face products that you probably already use. Be sure to leave a comment recommending your must-have face and body products that offer sun protection!

1. Moisturizer

Aim for SPF 30 or higher to shield yourself from those pesky UV rays. Moisturizer is a necessary step in keeping your skin soft and supple, so why not buy one with SPF and protect your skin while you’re at it? These days you can easily find face products that fulfill your every need, whether your skin is aging, dry, oily, sensitive, acne-prone..you name it. Drugstores have everything! Contrary to popular belief, though, it’s not just women who should be using a daily moisturizer/sunscreen. Men, your skin needs to be protected from the sun as well – maybe this summer you can decide to use a basic sunscreen every time you’ll be outside for more than 15 minutes.

2. Lip Balm

This is something we need but always forget. Wrinkled lips are not attractive; luckily, you can find lip balms with SPF 15 at your local drugstore for just a few bucks. Apply it to dry lips when you’re outside and craving some moisture – you probably won’t remember it has SPF in it, so it won’t feel like a chore. Girls, pick up a tinted version for a pop of colour! Guys, check out places like Wal-Mart and Target for basic lip balms that offer sun protection.

3. Makeup (foundation)

Again, this is an important one. I use a powder foundation containing SPF 15, so not only does the lightweight makeup stay in place on a hot day, it adds a protective layer on top of my moisturizer. Simple yet smart, right? The coolest part is that if you don’t like (or remember…) to use moisturizer, the foundation has you covered. Additionally, BB and CC creams are great for those of you ladies who want primer, tinted moisturizer and sun protection in one handy product.

So grab your sunscreen, a good book, a cold drink and go enjoy the great outdoors. Don’t forget that sunglasses, hats and light scarves look great and provide essential sun protection. Happy Canada Day and Happy Fourth of July to those of you celebrating this weekend!

Friday Favourites: Easy Chocolate Chip Cookies 

Sometimes we all crave homemade comfort food, am I right? Today I woke up itching for freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies and decided to, as usual, try out a random online recipe. Luckily, today’s was a winner! It called for five simple ingredients, all of which you probably already have at home: flour, egg, sugar, chocolate chips, and either butter or margarine.

 

You have no idea how hard it was to resist eating these while I took the picture…

Since the recipe isn’t mine, I’ll link it for you here. FYI, I substituted margarine for butter, which I think made the cookies less soft than expected – the consistency is closer to shortbread, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing! You’ll always get varied results even if your measurements differ to the recipe by just a teaspoon or two, so be prepared for a slightly different batch every time.

They needed about 9 minutes to rise and brown slightly; at 11, the edges started to lightly burn. The result was a doughy yet moist cookie, and the chocolate chips gave them the sweetness they needed. If you have ten minutes, go test the recipe out for yourself! Happy baking :)

Friday Favourites: Numi Mat√© Lemon Green Tea

If you’d enjoy an organic, healthy, flavourful green tea with a hint of lemon, Numi Mat√© Lemon is perfect for you. An infusion of South American Yerba Mat√©, Chinese green tea, and Lemon Myrtle from Australia’s rainforests, this earthy blend is something I crave every day. 

We all know the benefits of drinking green tea (it lowers cholesterol and blood sugar, promotes better skin, and has antioxidants that prevent cell damage, to name a few), but add lemon into the mix and you’ve got yourself one hell of a healthy cup! Not only does lemon help remove toxins from our systems, it has tons of vitamin c and aids the body in absorbing catechins, the healthy chemicals that green tea is chock-full of. In fact, it’s been proven that the addition of lemon to green tea will result in more catechins in your cup! 

My Numi stash comes from amazon.ca (about $10 for 18 tea bags), but I’m sure you can find it at most health-food stores. $10 may seem steep (pun intended) for a package of tea bags, but when it comes to Numi, you get what you pay for. They seem to use fairly high-grade tea, packaging that is mostly biodegradable or recyclable, and Fair Trade Certified ingredients (find out more at numitea.com). Additionally, reports have shown that pricier tea brands tend to use more efficient practices, leading to more nutrients and catechins in their green tea. In other words, you’re likely not getting as many good things out of that lower-grade tea you paid a couple bucks for. So there! ;)

I’ve experimented with different ways of steeping this tea, and the following steps have produced the best cup so far: first, let the water settle for at least one minute after boiling (I’ve found that pouring scalding hot water onto the tea bag results in a strong, burnt flavour). After pouring, gently use a spoon to press against the tea bag and watch the colour deepen as the water absorbs all the good stuff from the leaves. Finally – and this is important – instead of leaving the bag in for 3-4 minutes like the label suggests, leave it in for only 1-2 minutes. Any longer and it may develop that unpleasant burnt taste I mentioned earlier. (Of course, this depends on your preferences; you might enjoy a stronger taste.) 

The scent is warm, woody and lightly medicinal. I immediately feel more relaxed after a few sips and usually sleep better after drinking it. (Note that the caffeine content of green tea is fairly high and as a result many people can only drink it during the day.) On the other hand, if you’re like me and caffeine does nothing to wake you up, feel free to drink it morning, day and night! Green tea is excellent for your health, easy to prepare and tastes great. Try it – you won’t regret it. :)

Friday Favourites: The World Partnership Walk 

Almost 10,000 participants walked the streets of Toronto in 2014. Source: sultanofsamosas.ca

Like many people, I tend to be wary of supporting foundations and charities unless I know the majority of funds go directly towards the cause. That’s why I’m so happy to support Aga Khan Foundation Canada (AKFC), a non-profit organization that puts 100% of funds raised into their international development programs! Who wouldn’t want to help support such a great cause? :) AKFC is an agency of the Aga Khan Development Network, which was founded by His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan, spiritual leader of Shia Ismaili Muslims.

The World Partnership Walk, an annual event dedicated to raising awareness about global poverty, was created in 1985; I’ve been walking in it since 1996! This very successful initiative of AKFC is currently held in 10 cities across the country, with Toronto’s 5K Walk coming up this Sunday, May 24th at Metro Hall. According to AKFC, the Walk is “Canada’s largest annual event raising money and awareness to End Global Poverty”, and funds raised for the event go towards projects that can “revitalize a rural economy, ensure clean water and sanitation, strengthen community-based organizations and educate new generations of girls and women.” That last one is particularly important – it’s commonly said that educating one woman means educating her entire village. Gotta admire AKFC for having such a strong inclination towards investing in women!¬† For more info, click¬†here.

Fundraisers for the Walk raise millions each year, with some individuals and groups even raising tens of thousands of dollars. My annual goal of $2000 pales in comparison, but every penny counts – even raising $100 can result in a better future for someone in Africa or Asia. Anyone can register and help fundraise, so let’s all keep that in mind for 2016. In the meantime, this Sunday’s events start at 10am; hope to see you there!

Friday Favourites: Zella Day

If there were one person who could turn a loud rock song into a soothing, acoustic delight, it would be Zella Day. This funky American singer first captured my attention with her cover of The White Stripes’ famous rock anthem, “Seven Nation Army”, which¬†gained her many fans and over 80,000 views on YouTube (have a listen¬†here)!¬†I later heard (and loved) her catchy hit single, “Hypnotic”, which you can check out here. It’s geared more towards the pop genre than her other songs are, but it’s still mellow enough to be considered indie.

She’s been described as a “happier Lana Del Rey”. Source: http://www.last.fm

There’s something special about enjoying an artist’s music before they become world-famous, you know? They’re still in the early stages of exploring their personal sound and learning to collaborate with other singers. For example, listen to Zella’s acoustic cover of “Electric Love” by singer B√ėRNS¬†here¬†– I really like the simplicity of this duet! Just two voices, a guitar, and lots of fur. Very ’70s. On a side note, can you believe she’s only 20?!

Her debut EP, Zella Day,¬†includes hit songs “East of Eden” (here)¬†and dreamy lead single “Sweet Ophelia” (here); both feature a toe-tapping beat and her beautiful, haunting vocals. While it would be great to hear her songs on the radio, I think her current sound is too indie/alternative for that. And maybe that’s a blessing in disguise, as so many artists start off with a unique sound only to become Hollywood-ized and eventually only churn out generic pop songs. I’d hate to see that happen to Zella…it would be such a waste of her talent!

Other songs of hers to check out are “Compass” and “1965”. Her album¬†Kicker¬†comes out June 2nd, so stay tuned for a review. Hope you guys enjoy her music as much as I do! :)