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 BØRNS 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! :)

Friday Favourites: Coconut Oil!

I often come up with new segments for my blog. Sunday Movie Review, for example, was a good idea that I promptly forgot about after the first post. Whoops! My record for keeping up with a weekly segment is probably two weeks, but this time I plan to stick with Friday Favourites. And don’t worry – rather than focusing on a topic like beauty products that only appeals to some of you, the topic will differ each week. Restaurants, music, awesome websites, travel, organizations I support…you name it! 

Let’s kick off this inaugural post with some info about today’s topic: coconut oil. I’m sure you’ve heard about it, tasted it, maybe even tried it on your skin or hair – but did you know that there are over 30 surprising uses for it? Natural face mask, body moisturizer, under-eye cream and smoothie-thickener are just a few of them, with face mask being my personal fave. I’m sitting in my living room, having just slathered a 1/2 teaspoon’s worth of it on my face, and you wouldn’t believe how relaxed and pampered I’m feeling right now. If you have a jar of coconut oil at home, go do it. Seriously! This stuff seeps deep into the skin and pulls out all the gunk that clogs our pores, leaving our faces softer, cleaner, more radiant, and smelling like a tropical paradise.
 
If you’re not sure how to get started or have reservations about applying oil to already oily skin, follow along with my step-by-step guide below. (Sounds like I’ve put a lot of effort into it, but I’ll be honest: Google did most of the work for me.) Also, the whole process may seem time-consuming, but I promise each step makes your face feel more luxurious than the last:
1. Rub a half-teaspoon of solid coconut oil between your fingers. Apply to clean, dry skin in gentle circular motions for about 15 seconds.
2. Leave on for 5-15 minutes, depending on how deep a clean you want.
3. Run a washcloth under warm water. Wring the water out before pressing the cloth against your face for 30 seconds, letting the steam open your clogged pores. (This is an especially great step if you have stubborn blackheads.)
4. Gently wipe off the remaining oil with the damp washcloth and pat dry with a clean towel.
5. Voilà! You’re finished. Now bask in the envy of people around you who stare jealously at your suddenly glowing, younger-looking skin. ;)
As I mentioned earlier, coconut oil has multiple amazing uses. Here are some you may not know about: body scrub (try mixing with sugar and olive oil), lip balm, face cleanser, frizz-fighter, split-end repair cream, body/foot lotion, cuticle oil, tooth whitener, shaving cream, makeup remover…the list goes on! It can also be used as a stimulating scalp massage oil to improve circulation and promote hair growth. It’s also great in curries or stir-fry!
The Nutiva brand (above) that I bought was about $12 from Amazon.com, but it doesn’t really matter where you buy it from as long as it’s organic, virgin, cold-pressed oil. Give it a try and see what you think! Let me know in the comments if you love it as much as I do.
Until next time! 💋

7-Day Yoga Challenge: Try It with Me!

Given the positive comments regarding my post about living longer, it seems my readers are more willing to make healthy lifestyle changes than I’d expected. (Kudos to you!) A few nights ago I caught my dad trying a “yoga at your desk” video I’d sent him and he actually seemed to enjoy it – hopefully it’s something he’ll keep doing until he feels some relief in his upper torso as well as in his mind. But he never would have searched for exercise videos to follow along with; people are much more likely to try these things when they don’t have to spend time searching for what they want. That’s why I’ve come up with this seven-day challenge, which is to complete at least 10 minutes of yoga per day. If you’ve never tried yoga before, don’t worry! Usually, when people hear “yoga”, they conjure up images of strong, skinny, flexible people twisting their bodies into mind-boggling positions. While many yoga teachers fit this description perfectly, you’d be surprised at how many people you know practice it. They may not be skinny and they may not eat and drink and live organically, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t reaping the many mental and physical benefits of yoga. Also, fancy workout equipment isn’t required – a simple yoga mat, a firm bed, or the floor all work equally well. (If you have certain restrictions that prevent you from practicing yoga on the floor, follow this routine twice a day at your desk: http://youtu.be/vLPfP1oRJFM.)

Starting off at 10 minutes per day is a great way to ease your body into the practice. You might get frustrated that you can’t bend a certain way or reach your toes, but if you do the same moves each day your body will eventually do what you want it to. I’ve listed several instructional videos below, some beginner and some intermediate, so that we can follow along with a proper yoga teacher. I suggest sticking with one video for the week and deepening and intensifying the poses each day. A couple of the videos are 20 minutes long, so feel free to either stop at the 10-minute mark or continue through the whole routine. On day one, before choosing your video, take note of how your mind and body feel. Are you stressed out? Anxious? Easily aggravated by the little things? Is there tension in your neck, shoulders and back? Ask yourself these same questions after seven days of yoga and you should be able to say “no” to each one! Because whether you choose to do this challenge for peace of mind, weight loss, or flexibility, you’ll achieve all three simultaneously. That’s the power of yoga, my friends…it’s truly wonderful for our well-being.

Videos

Beginner yoga for weight loss: http://youtu.be/GnHTeHAZQhM

Intermediate yoga for weight loss: http://youtu.be/5pnOoxwi9aE

Beginner yoga for relaxation: http://youtu.be/0o0kNeOyH98

Intermediate yoga for relaxation: http://youtu.be/cgaYOh1c4wo

Want to Live Longer? Here’s How!

I heard something yesterday that I wanted to share with all of you. Someone on the radio was explaining why it’s important to stay fit and healthy; their reasoning was simply, “We only get one body.” That really made me stop and think. It’s such a simple statement, but those are words to live by if I’ve ever heard them! It made me realize that our futures are being determined by the way we’re treating our bodies right now, and I’m not just talking about what we eat. Not making time to exercise, combined with a lack of water and poor sleeping habits, doesn’t just result in obesity, grogginess and stress headaches. It can lead to serious health issues such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and even cancer. We might say we’re too young or too busy to worry about these things, but think about it – when you retire, do you want to relax on a beach somewhere, healthy as a horse, or be confined to your house all day, unable to enjoy your golden years because of your many health problems?

It’s often our priority to do well academically and financially, and as a result our physical and mental health suffers. Because of the fast-paced lives most of us lead, we feel there’s no possible way to make healthier choices without sacrificing time or money. Fortunately, that’s not quite true. Here are three simple tips we should all follow in order to maintain a healthy, balanced lifestyle:

1. Exercise more. You’ve heard this before, I know, but it’s more important than you realize. Did you know that just 2.5 hours of exercise per week can reduce your risk of an early death by 15%?! That’s no joke! And the great news is that getting the required amount of exercise isn’t as hard as you think it is. Taking the stairs instead of the elevator, parking a few minutes away from your school or office and taking a stroll around your neighbourhood are simple ways to get the half hour of exercise that’s recommended per day. Cardio and weight training are the simplest ways to slim down and tone up, and they don’t even require you to join a gym – you just need a street to walk on and some 10- or 20-pound dumbbells to have at home. Resistance bands are also a great way to tone arms and shoulders. Over the last two weeks, I’ve found that incorporating a thrice-weekly circuit of 30 minutes of yoga, 10 minutes of using a resistance band and 30 minutes on the treadmill have improved my overall mood as well as my fitness. My goal is to add some squats and planks into the routine to target my glutes and core. Additionally, if you have the time and money for a personal trainer, it’s worth the investment. After all, aren’t motivational speakers always saying we should invest in ourselves?

2. Get more sleep! Waking up feeling well-rested is definitely underrated. When we lack sleep, we tend to crave sugary foods and drinks (for example, Coca-Cola) to give us bursts of energy. It works sometimes, but it’s always followed by a sugar crash which leaves us even more exhausted than we were before. Add in the fact that the high amounts of sugar, sodium and empty calories we’ve just ingested work to contradict the effects of any exercise or healthy eating we do, and we’ve got ourselves a pretty sour situation. Getting 7-8 hours of shut-eye each night promotes better brain function, which can lead to increased energy and better moods, which can lead to stronger motivation to work out. Bingo! That sounds like a win-win situation to me. And if that didn’t convince you to sleep earlier tonight, maybe this will: each hour of sleep that we lose can cause reaction responses worthy of someone highly intoxicated, making you a danger to yourself and others if you’re driving while tired. It also causes an influx of stress hormones which signals your body to absorb fat. Talk about adding salt to the wound…

3. Eat right (you knew that was coming). It’s tempting to order a cheesy pizza or pop a frozen dinner into the microwave when we’re too tired to cook, but these things do more damage to our bodies than we realize. Constantly eating processed foods, though easy and cheap, can lead to additional fat being stored around the body, most notably in the belly. I’m not sure about you, but I’d rather lose belly fat than gain it! Many people stay away from buying organic foods because they think it’s more expensive, but there are so many ways to eat better without breaking the bank. For example, invest in a small blender (about $15 at your local grocery store) and whip up daily breakfast smoothies. Not only are they easy and tasty, they also provide you with important nutrients that you probably wouldn’t get otherwise. I love blending strawberries, blueberries and bananas with low-fat Greek yogurt – the fibre keeps me full and the fruit is just enough to satisfy my sweet tooth. Green smoothies can also be an excellent source of fibre, vitamin c, vitamin a, iron and potassium. When it comes to meals, fish, soups, stir-fried vegetables and lean meats are tasty alternatives to pasta, rice and other carb-filled dinners. If you want to keep some carbs in your diet, go with whole wheat pasta and bread and brown rice instead of white. I suggest limiting your dessert options to fresh fruit with a scoop of ice cream or gelato, though with Valentine’s Day coming up, it’ll be almost impossible to resist indulging in chocolates and cookies. That’s okay, as long as it’s in moderation. One cookie and one piece of chocolate per day won’t kill you – in fact, the powerful antioxidants in (dark) chocolate are actually good for you. So have at it! :)

Bonus tip: stay positive. Don’t let pictures of fit celebrities and swimwear models get you down. If you want to reach a certain goal, you will. Just follow the above steps and don’t forget to have fun with it! This saying might be a little cliché, but it really is about the journey as opposed to the destination. If the above info prompts you to make some changes in your life, leave a comment and tell me about it! I’m right here with you on your journey to become a healthier, better you.

Til next time!

Life & Death

In a nutshell, this post is about death.

It’s a difficult topic to talk about. It happens everyday, yet we never expect it to happen to our loved ones. When it does, it’s like the ground opens up from beneath us and we feel a loss that leaves a deep, irreplaceable hole in our hearts. Knowing we’ll never see that person again is probably the most difficult part of all; if we didn’t get to say our final goodbyes, that feeling of regret is something that stays with us forever.

Recently, a young man in my religious community was involved in a fatal accident. I never met him or his family, but my parents did and were able to attend his funeral. He was just 19 years old. When something so tragic happens to someone so young, there are no words to describe how unfair it is that that person didn’t get to live the long life they deserved. There were 2000 people at this young man’s funeral, though I’m sure that was just a fraction of the people who knew and loved him. From what I understand, he was a great son, a great friend, and a great brother. The sad part is that he’ll never get the chance to become a great father, a great husband, and a great grandpa. Life can be unfair, and what’s more, death can be unfair.

One of my favourite aunts passed away when I was in high school, and although I still carry that sadness around with me, I feel lucky that we knew her death was coming. Yes, she was young and vibrant. Yes, seeing her health deteriorate was incredibly hard to witness and is something I’ll never recover from. But we were given a chance to say goodbye, unlike the family of this young man. It is so horribly cruel that their goodbyes had to be at his funeral, after he was already gone.

I didn’t look into my aunt’s open casket at her funeral because I wanted to remember her in her prime: beautiful and happy, with a permanent smile that truly lit up rooms. I think of her as a ray of sunshine. That may not make sense to you, but to me, that’s just who she was. She was sunshine, to everyone that knew and loved her.

I don’t think we’ll ever understand why good people are taken from us. I like to think it’s because someone “upstairs” needed them more than we do here on Earth, though even that isn’t a good enough explanation. We’ve all known someone who’s passed away, and I think all we can do is to remember them at their best. That’s how they deserve to be remembered: full of love, laughter, and life.

RIP to all of them.

20 Crazy Facts You Didn’t Know About Canada! 🍁

Made In Canada. Source: swanparadise.com.
Made In Canada. Source: swanparadise.com.

Hey there, fellow Canucks! Today, I hope you’re joining the millions of Canadians whose sole mission is to celebrate this great nation we live in. From BC to NFLD, ladies and gents are barbequing, drinking, swimming, drinking, picnicking…and did I mention drinking? We sure know how to party on this side of the pond! This year, my family-friendly Canada Day will be alcohol-free, but I invite the rest of you to grab a cold beverage (maybe a Molson Canadian if you’re feeling especially patriotic) and enjoy this list of facts you probably didn’t know about Canada.

1. Canada actually got its name by mistake. When French explorer Jacques Cartier arrived in the new world, locals invited him to their “kanata”, meaning “village”. He and his companions thought they meant that the name of their country was “Kanata”, which was later changed to the name we know today.

2. You know that green ink used on American dollar bills? That was invented in the 1850s at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec.

3. Toronto, Ontario is home to the longest street in the world. Yonge Street stretches from Lake Ontario to Minnesota; that’s almost 2000 km.

4. Canada holds the record for most gold medals won at one Winter Olympics with 14 Golds at the 2010 games. Impressive!

5. St. Paul, Alberta, is home to the world’s first UFO Landing Pad, which was built in 1967.

6. Kids around the world count on Canada Post to answer their Christmas letters on behalf of Santa Claus. Our postal service has replied to more than 1 million letters written in over 30 languages – including braille!

7. Roughly 15,500 of the world’s 25,000 polar bears live right here in Canada. And FYI: we do not ride them to school! Where did that myth come from, anyway?

8. Halifax, Nova Scotia is closer to Dublin, Ireland than it is to Victoria, British Columbia. Think about that for a moment – it’s kind of mind-blowing!

9. The country’s longest place name is Pekwachnamaykoskwaswaypinwanik Lake, in Manitoba. (Try saying that five times fast.)

10. The number of annual car accidents involving moose: 247.

11. Canada has one desert. The 15-mile-long stretch of land located in British Columbia is apparently the only desert in the world that has a boardwalk.

12. We have 20% of the world’s fresh water and more lakes than all other countries combined. It’s safe to say that you’ll never be thirsty here!

13. We take credit for the inventions of basketball, peanut butter, IMAX, Trivial Pursuit, garbage bags, egg cartons, the walkie-talkie, and standard time, to name a few.

14. It is said that Canada produces 80% of the world’s pure maple syrup, most of which is made in Quebec. You’re welcome, world!

15. Halifax has more pubs per capita than any city in Canada. (No wonder it’s home to thousands of out-of-province university students.)

16. More than two billion Tim Hortons coffees are sold each year. Funnily enough, only 56% of Tims customers can roll their r’s.

17. Thought the Loch Ness Monster was the only mysterious lake creature out there? Think again: locals say a fierce water monster named Ogopogo lives in Lake Okanagan, British Columbia.

18. In Dawson City, Yukon, you can join the Sourtoe Cocktail Club by sipping on any beverage, so long as it has a real human toe at the bottom. The club’s motto: “You can drink it fast, you can drink it slow – but the lips have gotta touch the toe.” (Gag.)

19. The beaver has been Canada’s national symbol for over 300 years. Contrary to popular belief, a Canadian snack called a “beaver tail” doesn’t actually include any beaver; it’s a fried pastry made of dough and icing, flattened to look like a beaver tail.

20. Americans have been known to masquerade as Canadians when travelling (seriously), likely due to the hospitality we often encounter simply because of our nationality. We always knew y’all wanted to be more like us!

That’s all for now, folks. Thanks for reading! Enjoy the rest of your Canada Day and make sure to keep an eye out for UFOs, polar bears, and Ogopogo. Oh, and fireworks. ;)

A Day to Celebrate Women…As If We Needed an Excuse!

Happy International Women’s Day, everyone! I said this last year and I’ll say it again: please remember to celebrate the women in your life today. Whether it’s your mother, sister, grandmother, daughter, friend, wife, or girlfriend, I’m sure she’ll enjoy a reminder that she’s special to you. Tip: flowers are always appreciated!

Every woman deserves to feel like she’s beautiful, unique, smart, and irreplaceable – you’re a superstar if you already make the women in your life feel like this every day. And ladies, let’s remember that the men in our lives should be made to feel brave and intelligent and appreciated. It goes both ways, right? :)

Happy New Year!

Ah, 2013. The year we met Prince George, were shocked by the bombings at the Boston Marathon, saw devastation in the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan, celebrated Obamacare, and said goodbye to Nelson Mandela. It’s been a crazy year, hasn’t it? And it’s gone by SO quickly. What are you guys thankful for this year? Do you have any New Year’s resolutions? I think my one resolution is to laugh more. :) Though I did stumble upon a blog post the other day that said our end-of-year resolutions are simply a to-do list for the first week of January…I know it sounds a bit pessimistic, but for a lot of us, it’s kind of true! Maybe 2014 will be the year we change that.

I’m off to ring in the new year with my family, but before I go: JibJab, a website notorious for making music videos that poke fun at politicians and celebrities, has posted its 2013 “Year in Review” video (http://www.jibjab.com/originals/2013_what_a_year). It’s worth a view (or two)!

Hope you all have a safe and happy holiday season. Cheers, 2013!

The Art of A Genuine Smile

So. Darn. Cute. Photo courtesy of http://www.dannold.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/Kids-Smile-3-300x198.jpg
So. Darn. Cute. Photo courtesy of http://www.dannold.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/Kids-Smile-3-300×198.jpg

A smile is a powerful tool. It can light up your face, trick your mind into believing that you’re in a good mood, and give you a chance to show off your pearly whites. According to numerous surveys and studies, a genuine, lit-from-within grin on your face can make someone’s day and can even make someone fall in love with you. Smiles are insanely contagious; sometimes we don’t even realize that someone else’s happy or excited expression has put a similar expression on our own faces. I saw this short clip today and wanted to share it with all of you: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F-FNZyVzoJA. If you don’t automatically smile at this heartwarming exchange between a professional hockey player and an overjoyed young fan, you must be made of stone!

If you’re nerdy like me and want to learn more about smiling, here’s an article from http://www.wired.com that delves into some interesting aspects of it: http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/08/science-behind-smiles/. It explains how to tell if someone’s smile is real or fake, if animals possess the ability to smile, and why it benefits our mental health when we turn our frowns upside down. It also mentions that our tendency to display genuine smiles, as opposed to “social” smiles (which some of us force ourselves to wear in public because we think we’re being scrutinized by those around us), can reveal a lot about our personalities. The article also tells us that women and men have very different perceptions of what a big, genuine smile can signify. Most men are attracted to smiling women because they think it’s a sign of flirtatiousness, whereas many women who see men smile are able to assess not just the authenticity of that smile but also its object of affection, whether it’s a woman, a buddy, a child, or a plate of food. Pretty cool, huh?

So, wherever you are in the world, I hope you’re smiling (genuinely!) as you enjoy the winter weather. As for me, I’m off to the Bahamas for a few days – stay tuned for a post about that! (Still working on posts about my May trip to Cuba and September trip to New York City. Have I mentioned that I procrastinate?) Before I sign off, here’s your feel-good quote of the day: “The world is like a mirror; frown at it, and it frowns at you. Smile and it smiles, too.” – Herbert Samuels.

That’s all for me, folks. Until next time! :)