In Honour of Canada Day: 15 Crazy Facts About Canada You Didn’t Know

Happy 150th, Canada! This year marks a big anniversary for our great nation, and while not all Canadians will be celebrating, the majority of us will be sticking Canadian flags on every bare surface we can find and admiring the fireworks with our friends and families. I’ve compiled a list of 15 fascinating facts about (I mean, ‘aboot’) Canada – feel free to use these tidbits to impress your fellow Canucks this weekend.

  1. Our national motto is “A Mari usque ad Mare”, meaning “From Sea to Sea”.
  2. Canada is the second-largest country in the world, second only to Russia. Many Canadians insist that it’s also the second coldest country in the world, second only to Russia.
  3. The coldest temperature ever recorded here was -63C (-81.4F) in the Yukon. See what I mean? Brrr!
  4. We’ve created overpasses for wildlife. In Alberta’s Banff National Park, there are a number of curved highways and tunnels covered in greenery which allow animals such as bears, moose, deer, wolves, and cougars to safely cross highways instead of wandering onto the road and causing collisions. Neat, eh? Read more here.
  5. The North American beaver is our national animal.
  6. About 75% of the world’s pure maple syrup supply is produced in Canada. Yum!
  7. During the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, our athletes set two records: most gold medals won by a country during a Winter Olympics and most golds won by a host country during a Winter Olympics. That’s definitely something to brag about!
  8. Canada has about 1400 airports, the largest and busiest of which is Toronto Pearson International.
  9. In Saskatchewan, hoodies are called “bunnyhugs”. Aww.
  10. About 30% of Canada’s land mass is covered in forests.
  11. Canada is home to nearly 60% of the world’s polar bear population.
  12. The name “Canada” is said to come from the Iroquioan word kanata, meaning “village”.
  13. British author A. A. Milne fashioned the beloved Winnie the Pooh after a black bear cub he frequently visited at the London Zoo, who was named “Winnipeg” by the Canadian soldier who donated her. The soldier’s hometown was, of course, Winnipeg, Manitoba.
  14. Montreal is the the fourth largest French-speaking city in the world. Ooh la la.
  15. Residents in Churchill, Manitoba often leave their cars unlocked during the winter to provide shelter for pedestrians who might encounter polar bears.

Happy Canada Day!

Spring Cleaning 101: Follow These Steps to Save Time and Energy

For many of us, spring cleaning is a dreaded task. You have a year (or more) of dirt and dust to get rid of, and you’re looking at hours of spraying, wiping, vacuuming, mopping, and sweeping. Sound familiar? Well, you’ve come to the right place! Below are some foolproof tips to help you strategize your time and minimize frustration, so pull on your cleaning gloves and turn up the music as you check each of these items off your list.

Tip: Before you begin, do yourself a favour and complete some basic stretches, like these, to help prevent muscle pulls and strains.

In the kitchen:

  • Work top to bottom – wipe away dirt and dust from the upper cabinets and counter-tops before sweeping and mopping the floor.
  • Before spraying and wiping up counter-tops and dining room tables, use a napkin to push crumbs and dust onto the floor. Vigorously shake place-mats and tablecloths above the floor to get rid of crumbs.
  • If possible, move tables, chairs, and appliances aside in order to get your broom/vacuum/mop into hard-to-reach places.
  • To avoid back pain when sweeping, vacuuming, and mopping, bend your knees rather than your back. So, instead of bending at the waist, bend both knees while keeping your torso straight, letting your arms and legs do all the work.
  • Sweep towards the centre of the room, creating one big pile. If you have a mini duster and dustpan, squat down (instead of reaching down) while you sweep the pile into the pan. If you just have a large broom, it helps to have someone else hold the pan in place while you sweep the contents into it.
  • Clean your microwave and electric kettle with vinegar – find out how and why that works here and here.
  • Be careful to not use too much spray on counter-tops as that can leave a grimy or greasy residue.
  • Dishwashers and ovens often come with a self-cleaning option, so let those run if they’re available.
  • After mopping the floor, use an old bath towel to absorb the moisture.

In your bathrooms:

  • Use an all-purpose cleaner that will work on every surface – the floor, sink, faucets, shower tiles, tub, toilet, counter-tops, etc. (Browse through eco-friendly cleaners here.)
  • Wipe away streaks on your mirror with a soft cleaning cloth (as opposed to napkins or paper towels, which often leave behind bits of lint). Use the all-purpose cleaner or a specialized mirror cleaner.
  • If possible, turn off your ceiling fan and overhead lights and wipe them by hand or use a small vacuum to get rid of dust and mold.
  • Sweep up – you may be surprised at how much dust and hair will appear.
  • For a really deep clean, don’t forget to scrub shower curtains/doors, wipe the insides of cabinets and cupboards with a wet towel, throw bath mats and towels into the laundry, and use a disinfectant spray to clean the garbage bin and doorknobs.

In your bedroom:

  • Dust accumulates everywhere, so make sure to wipe everything down (including window sills, bedside cabinets, desks, lamps, drapes, and so on).
  • Remove everything from your cabinets, bookshelves, and drawers. Use a dampened cloth to wipe up the dust from the shelves and drawers, then let them air dry while you reorganize their contents.
  • Place everything from your closet on your bed or couch and open the windows to let your closet/drawers air out. Optional: spray Febreze fabric freshener or a homemade air freshener onto your clothes and into your closet and drawers.
  • Sweep and vacuum the floor and rugs, making sure to get into the corners, closets, and underneath beds and desks.
  • Throw your bedsheets, pillowcases, and pajamas into the laundry. Dry-clean or machine-wash your duvet if it hasn’t been washed in at least 3 months, or simply let it run for a cycle in the dryer on the lowest heat setting to fluff it up and get rid of dust.

For the windows:

  • Use a streak-free cleaner and a soft cloth (microfiber is best) for a sparkling finish.
  • For larger windows, a squeegee may come in handy to cut down on time.
  • Don’t forget to wipe both sides (though you may want to hire someone to clean the outsides if you have very high windows).
  • Rather than spraying and wiping random spots, try to go vertically or horizontally to limit streaks.
  • Use the all-purpose cleaner to wipe away dust and grime from the window sills.

Happy cleaning!

Architectural Digest’s Style & Design Tips for April 2017

Did you know that Architectural Digest has been around since 1922? The cover design and magazine layout have changed multiple times since then, of course, but to this day the magazine still remains a renowned international resource for home design and decor. Its staff must already be hard at work on changes and improvements for the publication’s upcoming 100-year anniversary!

April and May are popular months for spring cleaning and home renovations, so with that in mind, I hope you’ll get some good information from the below tips.

1. Don’t be afraid to break the rules when decorating.

Monogrammed pillowcases, Serpentine sofas, brightly-painted walls, and vibrant art all made appearances in this month’s issue. No matter how “out there” your decor may be, the magazine reiterates that the idea is to showcase your style, so don’t worry about what others might think of it! So don’t hesitate if you want to display an undulating couch or paint every room a different colour.

2. Incorporate ethnic pieces for a “global flair” and patterned floors, pillows, and carpets for a “geometric punch”.

Whether it’s a Persian rug, Moroccan bowls, South American textiles, or African sunset paintings, there’s no doubt that worldly accents make you appear more worldly. This has been a recurring theme in many issues of Architectural Digest, so we can assume the trend is here to stay. Also, adding geometric designs around your home will brighten and modernize your space. Start with something small, like a lamp shade or picture frame, and work up to floor-length curtains or the floor.

3. Old-school glamour is making a comeback – think opulence by way of stunning jewel tones, brass accents, and porcelain.

Both jewel tones and brass accents are reminiscent of Old Hollywood glamour, which the magazine says is a very sought-after theme right now. Stunning jewel colours such as emerald, ruby, sapphire, and gold (as seen on the April cover) can instantly take your dining or living room from boring to elegant.

4. Architecture works inside, too! Majestic archways, wooden dining room tables, and oddly-shaped furniture will never go out of style.

If you want to display cool furniture that no one else will have, pick up an exposed wood table or an art deco-style piece. (IKEA has both, and at affordable prices.) Arched windows, entryways, or doorways, as seen here, can make your home look like it was designed by a world-famous architect. And who doesn’t want that?

5. Jazz up a plain bathroom with eye-catching tiles and mosaics.

Tired bathrooms, be gone! As explained here, mosaics and punchy tiles can make your powder room look big and extremely stylish. FYI: placing fun wallpaper over boring walls and installing cheap yet chic sink fittings definitely counts as redecorating.

6. Turn your bedroom into a mix of nostalgia and comfort.

Decorate with simple elements from your childhood that take you back to the easy, carefree life you likely had as a kid. Patterned bedspreads, vintage mirrors, and wooden headboards are a good place to start. Often, modern bedrooms feel too reminiscent of a hotel room; while that works for some people, others may feel more at ease in a room that feels like the space they grew up in.

 

 

This Earth Day, Here Are 7 Simple Ways to Reduce Your Environmental Impact on Earth

On April 22nd, 1970, after witnessing the devastating effects of a massive oil spill in California, U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson successfully inspired 20 million Americans to march and demonstrate until environmental protection became a part of their country’s political agenda. Since then, April 22nd has been celebrated as Earth Day every single year. Today, it is a global event aimed at educating people from all walks of life about how we can help create a healthy and sustainable environment. (First and foremost is to reduce, reuse, and recycle.)

Whether we know it or not, each of us has contributed in some way to climate change, air and ocean pollution, and environmental degradation. According to wired.com, “In 2014, plastic grocery bags were the seventh most common item collected during the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup, behind smaller debris such as cigarette butts, plastic straws, and bottle caps.” Those are likely some of the items each of us throws away on a weekly basis, and that’s something we need to change. The following is a list of ways to reduce your environmental impact on our planet!

1. Use travel mugs and reusable water bottles instead of Styrofoam, plastic, and paper. 

This is one of the simplest tips on this list to adhere to. You can find affordable travel mugs and BPA-free water bottles at Walmart, Costco, or your local grocery store. Globally, we create so much pointless plastic and paper waste that ends up decomposing in landfills and oceans. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans throw away an estimated 25 billion Styrofoam cups per year (around 82 cups per person). That means there are literally millions of pounds of Styrofoam and plastic debris floating around in our oceans, which pose a very real risk to the health of marine life. Bonus: many coffee houses, such as Starbucks, will reward you with a $0.10 or $0.20 discount on drinks when you bring your own mug or tumbler. Starbucks even sells an environmentally-friendly, reusable cup for $2 that is an exact replica of the brand’s traditional paper ones. 

2. Carpool, walk, bike, and use public transportation whenever possible. 

This isn’t an option for everyone, but it’s worth making the effort if you do have access to a bike, shared car, and/or public transportation. You’ll cut down on the amount of pollution you produce and may even get to your destination more quickly. If Canadian and Americans (roughly 372 million of us) carpooled, biked, or took the bus every other day, we’d make a noticeable difference in the amount of emissions our countries would produce. 

3. Switch your plastic grocery bags for reusable ones. 

You can find these bags everywhere (try Walmart or your local grocery store). Whether they’re made of cotton, straw, or recycled materials, you’ll be reducing the number of plastic bags you throw away each year that end up negatively impacting marine life or taking decades to decompose in landfills. 

4. Lower your water and energy usages. 

You might be surprised at how much of a financial and environmental impact your household’s energy consumption and water usage have. These are a few ways to reduce your water and energy bills: only run the laundry and dishwasher at full capacity and during off-peak hours, don’t leave the water running while you brush your teeth, take faster showers, fix leaky faucets to save wasted water, turn off the lights when you leave a room, only turn on the heat and air conditioning when necessary, buy energy-efficient light bulbs, and unplug electronics from the wall when they’re not in use.

5. Pack waste-free meals, picnics, and snacks.

As noted in tip #1, it is incredibly important for each of us to reduce our amount of Styrofoam, plastic, and paper waste! Rather than packing breakfast or lunch for yourself or others using Cling Wrap/plastic wrap, paper napkins, and plastic utensils, use Tupperware, real cutlery from home, and basic cloth napkins that can be tossed in the laundry when they get dirty. Reusable food containers (such as Tupperware) can be used in any situation, from bringing home food after a family get-together to packing away leftovers at a restaurant to storing your entire take-out meal. (The last two sound a little extreme, but a quick Google search proved that they’re good ideas that help cut down on waste.) 

6. Upgrade to energy-efficient home appliances.

Look for home appliances such as dishwashers, air humidifiers, and refrigerators that are emblazoned with the ENERGY STAR logo – this means they were built to reduce energy consumption and money spent on said energy. (Products become ENERGY STAR-certified when they reach high levels of energy efficiency.)

7. Eat local, or go vegetarian if you’re really committed. 

The idea of eating locally is that food that is grown, produced, and manufactured locally (usually within 100 miles) doesn’t have to travel very far to end up on your plate, thus reducing the amount of emissions produced in preparing your meal. Restaurants have caught on to this trend and often have tasty “farm-to-table” or “sustainable” menu options. You can take further action by becoming a vegetarian, which is not a new lifestyle choice but has garnered tons of support in recent years as research shows that it results in fewer emissions produced per person. Find out more about eating locally here and more about becoming a vegetarian here

Why Do So Many of Us Take Family For Granted?

Admit it: more than once, you’ve been forced to plaster on a smile when a family member announced they’d be dropping by. You had planned catch up on work or relax with a new book, and you just know your sibling/uncle/parent will inevitably get on your last nerve. Or perhaps you’re groaning at the thought of attending yet another family get-together with extended relatives from out of town. It’s okay – we’ve all been there.

But wait a minute. Is it okay? Whether immediate or extended, your family is just that – your family. They share your blood, they have the same parents or grandparents or cousins as you, and they likely grew up with you or raised you. They’re the ones who will be there for you no matter what. So why do we ignore them and treat them like second-class citizens?

I think one reason is that, unfortunately, we see that behaviour around us all the time. Think about it – how many movies have you seen where the main character humorously complains about their family? How many times have you heard the expression, “Too bad you can’t choose your family, but thank God you can choose your friends?” I’ll tell you: too many times. (Even hearing it once is one too many times. It’s a cruel expression.) We hear our friends and family criticizing relatives and think it’s normal for us to do the same. Perhaps it is normal in our society, but that doesn’t make it right.

Another reason is that we know they’ll always forgive us. My grandmother, for example, is a sweet little lady who my family and I often describe as “overly helpful.” The problem is that we focus on “overly” instead of “helpful.” When she voices her opinions on our personal choices or insists that her recipe is better than ours, she’s not trying to control us; she’s trying to help us. Even though we sometimes forget this and don’t give her as much attention or respect as she deserves, she doesn’t hold that against us. She knows we understand that she wants the best for us, and therefore she remains supportive, loving, and mild-mannered. She’s also the only grandparent I’ve ever known, and if you’re in a similar situation (i.e. if you have only one cousin or sibling or aunt), you may understand the need to treat that person with extra love and care because they’re extra special to you. It’s something I try to remind myself of each time I talk with her.

Many of us assume that we have decades of exasperatedly sitting through family get-togethers ahead of us. Sadly, life is often cut short and people are subsequently left with regret. So, if you ever catch yourself thinking about a relative in a negative way, do yourself a favour and reevaluate your reasons for having those thoughts. Are you frustrated about something else and taking it out on that person? Are you secretly jealous of them for being further along than you in life or work? Do you have unresolved feelings towards them for something that happened in the past? Maybe you’re subconsciously looking past their great qualities and only seeing the not-so-great ones. Whatever the case, you’ll feel so much better if you change your negative attitude towards them. Chances are, so will they!

Cancun: A Week in Pictures

As some of you know, my family and I returned on Saturday from a sunny vacation in Cancún, Mexico! We had six blissful days of swimming in the turquoise ocean, feeling the white sand between our toes, and gazing up at beautiful palm trees – quite a change from the cold Canadian winter we’re currently having. We didn’t venture into any cities or take any day trips (why waste a single minute of potential beach time?), so rather than boring you with descriptions of our daily routines, I’m going to show you what we did via the four hundred photos I took during our time away. (Oops.) Warning: photos may cause extreme envy!

Day 1 

We arrived in Cancún at 10:25AM and got to the Hideaway at Royalton Riviera Cancún by lunchtime. The Royalton is a large and elegant hotel complex situated right on the beach, and the Hideaway is a smaller, adults-only section of the hotel where we stayed once before in 2015. The Royalton’s buffet food is fantastic (we couldn’t get enough fresh seafood and vegetables) and it boasts a great variety of restaurants. Everything is included, so you can eat to your heart’s delight. As soon as we checked in, we had a quick brunch at Dorado, the small restaurant within the Hideaway complex, and then headed to the beach for the afternoon. The beach and ocean were gorgeous, even with clouds and a ton of seaweed (results of a storm from the previous day). Luckily, the beach wasn’t too busy and we had no trouble finding umbrellas to lounge beneath. Before dinner, I went to the gym to work out in front of the sunset, which became my daily habit (while my mum swam laps in the pool). We ate at the Royalton’s Japanese restaurant, Zen – the food wasn’t as delicious as we remembered from 2015, and there was a frustrating hour-long wait for a table. Still, the food tasted fresh and the presentation was really inventive! (See the matcha cheesecake below.) The Royalton entertainment that evening was a terrifying yet impressive fire show where performers juggled flaming batons while leaping and dancing around the stage.

View from the gym

Giant chess set on the Royalton side

View from the lobby

View from my 4th-floor room


The green tea cheesecake was really tasty

Day 2

It was another partly cloudy beach day, which meant less burning from the sun and more gusty winds (both of which were welcome in 27 degrees). I caught a gorgeous sunset at the gym and we later ate at the Royalton’s Hunter Steakhouse, where my parents had scrumptious steaks and I had – don’t laugh – salmon. (I’m not much of a steak-eater, and the salmon was very fresh and cooked to perfection!)

Breakfast at Dorado

Stunning views of the beach from everywhere in the hotel!

Talented housekeeping staff

This view motivated me to work out every day!

Funny how the sun coming out for a few minutes totally changed the colours of the ocean

Back to partly cloudy skies.


Day 3

The sun was a little less shy today! It made several appearances during the afternoon and we finally got to put our sunglasses and beach hats to good use. We dined at Opa, the hotel’s Greek-sounding Mediterranean restaurant, where we started with warm pita bread and a selection of tasty dips, including roasted red pepper hummus. My dad and I had Greek salads and the fresh catch of the day (tender sea bass on a bed of risotto) and my mum had tagine, a flavourful Moroccan stew made with meat (often fish, chicken, or lamb), potatoes, coconut milk, and spices. Needless to say, the tagine was delicious! We shared three small desserts: French créme brûlée, a platter of Spanish manchego cheese, and a Sicilian cannolo (also known as cannoli).

Cute towel elephant from housekeeping

The lights in the hallways were mesmerizing at night

Sadly, use of those white beds was not included – there was a fee of USD $75 per day.

Créme brûlée

Cannolo/cannoli

Sea bass

Pita with dips

Greek salad

Picture-perfect.

Day 4

Today was a full beach day followed by dinner at Grazie, the Italian restaurant at the Royalton. I couldn’t believe how gorgeous the sky was during the day! Hardly a cloud in sight, and bluer than I ever imagined it could be. Just gorgeous. But you don’t have to take my word for it – see for yourselves!

Tartufo (vanilla ice cream surrounded by a dome of hardened chocolate and dusted with cocoa)

Crepe with chocolate ice cream and some Nutella (chocolatey, hazelnut spread)

My pappardelle – slightly undercooked pasta, but still delicious

Lamb ravioli. Very tasty, but again, slightly undercooked

I lay here for hours, soaking up the sun’s rays and enjoying the sounds of the crashing waves



Day 5

I woke up with the sunrise today, and thankfully my phone was by my side when I went out on the balcony to watch the sun come up. An hour later, the sky was even bluer than it was yesterday! We found a more secluded part of the beach where there was less noise (and much less seaweed) and properly swam in the ocean for the first time. What a perfect way to spend our last full day at the beach! Dinner was at Mexican restaurant Agave, which we assumed would have fantastic local dishes. Ironically, it was the most disappointing meal of the week. Apart from the delicious shrimp, guacamole, and freshly-baked tortilla chips, the food was surprisingly bland and lukewarm.

6:45AM sunrise above the Hideaway complex

There was so much lush greenery on the property.

That brown structure is a wedding chapel overlooking the beach! We actually spotted a bride and groom there the following day.

Can’t decide whether sunrise or sunset was more beautiful…

Paradise!

Not a bad nighttime view!

The fish tacos were nowhere near as tasty as they were when we ate here in 2015

Vegetable tacos – cold, no spices or sauces, and the only flavour came from the corn!

Chicken salad – three cubes of chicken, hard cheese, and tasteless vegetables. Another pass!

Black bean tamale…awful. I noticed we weren’t the only diners leaving more food than usual on the plates.

Delicious! Fresh and juicy shrimps, which we each had as an appetizer.

Incredible fresh tortilla chips and guacamole! We filled up on these.

 

Day 6

Today was our last morning in paradise, so we spent it wisely: early morning wake-up call, an hour walking and relaxing on the beach, and one last buffet brunch. The blue sky shone brilliantly and the turquoise ocean was calm and glinting, making me wish we could stay just one more day in Cancún. Overall, the hotel was fantastic – friendly staff, not too crowded, a great variety of (mostly) excellent food, plenty of beach chairs and loungers, tons of activities for kids and adults, great nighttime entertainment, a clean gym with many machines, filtered water everywhere on the property so you don’t need to worry about falling ill, etc. If you’re travelling as a couple or as a group of adults, I’d recommend staying in the adults-only Hideaway section rather than in the main Royalton buildings; it’s a little more exclusive, more private, and the staff are more attentive as they cater to fewer guests (there are 340 rooms in the Hideaway section versus 800 in the Royalton). There were some little glitches here and there, but that’s usually to be expected in large resorts in Mexico or the Caribbean. I can’t wait to go back!

Me, taking it all in.

Happy International Women’s Day!

Hello, readers! How are you celebrating the women in your life today? 

International Women’s Day is a wonderful yearly reminder of the strength and resilience of the women who gave us life, raised us, and overcame numerous obstacles to get where they are today. Those of us lucky enough to come from families where women are wholeheartedly celebrated, supported, and encouraged to succeed have been given extraordinary role models; we can learn so much from the triumphs of our mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and sisters. 

This day is particularly important in 2017, which, just 9.5 weeks in, has already seen worldwide marches and protests against the sexist comments and bigoted views of Donald Trump. Today, the organizers behind the Women’s March on Washington encouraged women around the world to go on strike in a “one-day demonstration of economic solidarity…recognizing the enormous value that women of all backgrounds add to our socio-economic system – while receiving lower wages and experiencing greater inequalities, vulnerability to discrimination, sexual harassment, and job insecurity.” Go, ladies!

You can check out some awesome history and facts about International Women’s Day here. Thanks for reading!