June 12, 2018

Father's Day Caddy Craft

Dads sometimes get gypped when it comes to homemade Father's Day gifts. I mean, how many paper ties does dad really need?! We've done our best to gift the dads and granddads in our life some really crafty and unique creations -- everything from DIY garden stones to custom aprons to canvas art.

If you're looking for a gift that dad will not only appreciate, but it's functional and easy to do in less than a week's time, you'll love the Father's Day Caddy we made last year. Made is a loose term because we didn't actually build the container boxes, but we did paint them. With love. That's all that matters.
Start with a wooden crate or caddy. I picked ours up at Michaels (not sponsored), but I've since seen similar at Dollarama. Natural wood will work as well as stained wood. Pick your favourite "dad paint colours" and have your kids cover the caddy in paint.



Here's the fun part: go out and buy a few really cool, perhaps local craft brews and fill your caddy. Now dad and granddad get a homemade creation that they're really excited about.


Add felt pads to the underside and don't forget to add the date for memory-sake. And when the beer is consumed, remind dad he can use the caddy for condiments for the next BBQ, to hold the remote, car keys, water bottles, and mail. 



June 05, 2018

Daytime Makeup Look

I'm often asked about how I do my make up. I'm not a makeup artist but I do LOVE playing with new products and makeup. I remember spending hours as a teenager, blending colours and creating new looks.

I've amassed quite the cosmetics collection, but you don't have to. In fact, it only takes a few good products to achieve a polished daytime look.

By request, here's my first makeup tutorial! It's a simple daytime makeup look. Enjoy, and please don't forget to LIKE and SUBSCRIBE. Want to see more? Please let me know!



May 31, 2018

Grease Returns to Toronto! #greasetoronto


Grease in Toronto is back for a limited 6-week summer engagement; my mom and I had the chance to take in the ever popular show this week at the beautiful Winter Garden Theatre in Toronto.

No matter how many times I've seen Grease, on stage or on screen, one thing's for sure -- it never gets old. It's one of those shows you can see over and over, and in my case, over again.


The new(er) Grease in Toronto brings the audience right into Rydell High, with a fully interactive lobby and Diner, carnival games and stage set up. Stock up on Grease merch or have a cocktail before showtime and during intermission.




You can't ignore the singing in this performance -- it's simply outstanding. Every single cast member has a knockout voice that will launch you back into your seats. Total powerhouses. And also really, really cool? The majority of the cast are not only Canadian but graduates of Sheridan College's Musical Theatre Program. Props to Randolph, Ryerson and other local schools, too. Worth noting -- simple, yet effective choreography where the audience can participate (hand jive anyone?!), and seamless set designs that take you from the diner to the drive-in, classroom, Marty's house and the infamous school dance.

The new Grease in Toronto features some returning cast (Janel Parrish as Sandy), and fabulous new additions, like Matthew Helfer as Danny (who can pass as a John Travolta/James Marsden look alike!). It's always fabulous to see my childhood neighbour, Michael De Rose, lighting up the stage as Teen Angel, a role he'll be sharing in the coming weeks. See special cameo appearances by DWTS' Mark Ballas (June 7-10), George Canyon (June 12-17), Logan Henderson (June 23-29) and Drake Bell (July 3-8).

For more information on Grease The Musical, and to buy tickets, visit the website: https://buff.ly/2GIvbcq

Disclaimer: I'm a Grease in Toronto Ambassador and received free tickets to attend the show. As always, the opinions on my blog are my own.

May 29, 2018

Make the Change and Spread Local Love #locallove

Disclosure: I have partnered with YMC and Local Love and have received compensation for this post. All opinions are my own.
When I was a kid, Michael Jackson's Man in the Mirror was one of my favourite songs. Maybe back then I liked the beat or the melody, or maybe MJ was simply the King of Pop and everyone loved it. Today when I listen to the lyrics, they give me goosebumps. "If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make the change." Make the change.

What change? How big? How small? What difference will it make? 

Here's the reality: every flower starts with a seed. Every revolution begins with an idea. And a person. And passion. And purpose.

I've always been a believer in helping others, whether through charity work or with a new business venture, a project, a home reno, babysitting. To this day, I often do a lot of "work" without payment. And I'm sure that raises many eyebrows. But somewhere deep down, I believe all this kindness will come back to me. 

People sometimes stop me and mention how busy I am, and how they'd love to do "something" but they don't know where to start. Who to help? What cause to support?

Earlier this year, I partnered with the United Way of Greater Toronto to introduce you to their new e-zine called LocalLove.ca  LocalLove.ca is a place where you can find easy ways to live well and do good in your community. You'll learn about local initiatives, meet change makers and feel inspired to do the same. 

By signing up for the Good News Newsletter, you can read about people in your community doing great things every day; grassroots goodness that makes a big impact.

And that got me thinking about all the opportunities that come my way, right here in York Region, and even closer to home, in Vaughan. I thought I would share just SOME of the initiatives I'll be supporting this year. Some are larger than others, and many started with an idea or a group of friends with kind hearts:


The Purse Project -- COMPLETED 2018 -- led by my friend Sandra, a team of ladies and our children filled over 300 donated purses with everyday luxuries and delivered to York Region shelters in time for Mother's Day. It was really nice for me to bring my eldest along to show her that giving back is a) something everyone can do and b) when you work together, you create a community of people who like to do good work. I personally delivered 80 purses to Sandgate Women's Shelter in Richmond Hill; the Executive Director said our initiative made her week. It made mine, too.

Take Home Kits & HandFull Hearts -- As many people know, I'm an avid preemie supporter. Isabelle was born 30 weeks premature, and I have spent countless hours informing people about preemies and supporting preemie parents. I was recently approached by an organization called Take Home Kits to help with a local, York Region event that brings together preemie parents. It's still in its early stages, but I'll be lending a hand. And HandFull Hearts is another charity started by a fellow preemie mom. Last holiday season, a large group of volunteers filled over 100 baskets to be delivered to Mount Sinai, Sick Kids and Mackenzie Health Hospital. As Isabelle spent 7 weeks at Mackenzie Health, I helped lead that cause, delivered baskets and sat and spoke with parents who had children in the hospital. 

CIBC Run for the Cure -- this is a much larger event, but one that has its heart in local communities around the country. For the last 7 years, I've been a volunteer Run Director in York Region, leading both the Richmond Hill and Vaughan events. In Vaughan alone, we helped to raise more than $2 million dollars in 5 years. This year, I made the decision to step aside and let others take the lead. Of course, I'll still join the committee; more hands make less work, and every little bit counts. 

Waves of Changes for Autism -- this gala started with an idea from two local Vaughan women who wanted to give back. Now in its third year, it has grown to a massive event, last year helping more than 30 local families with financial assistance for autism services. I've already spoken to Ellen and Loredana; I want to help. Somehow. More to come. 

There are so many ways to help and to make that change. 
And you can even start smaller, too. 

Take the lead on a local street clean up, or massive garage sale. Donate all the proceeds to your favourite hyper-local charity. Volunteer at the food bank, deliver food to the homeless, raise money for a local child who's unwell.

If money is the issue, give yourself and your time. In my opinion, there's no greater gift.

May 25, 2018

Shop and Learn with a Dietitian at Loblaws

When it comes to healthy eating, there is an abundance of information out there. And it seems everywhere you turn, there is a new strategy, plan, routine, or lifestyle encouraging another diet or meal plan. Even when you're well versed in the topic, which I believe I am, it's still quite confusing and often misleading. And here's the caveat: no two people are alike, so no two diets are exactly alike. 

Healthy eating is so individual, it's best everyone knows and understands what works best for themselves.



Loblaws stores have in-store Registered Dietitians to educate consumers and provide personalised nutrition advice and help plan healthy meals that everyone will enjoy. Many Loblaws, Zehrs and Independent stores across the country offer these dietitian services, and for a small fee, you receive one-on-one advice while grocery shopping. 

Earlier this month, I took a visit to a Loblaws store in Richmond Hill, where I met Judy, and together we went shopping, discussing my needs, and the needs of my family (since I'm the primary meal maker). We compared products and came up with meal and snack ideas, as well as how to make better choices in a pinch. 

Let's see how much I remembered!




We started off in the vast produce section, where Judy reminded me to aim to fill half a plate with fruits and veggies (two open hands) for every meal. Choose brightly coloured non-starchy vegetables, like dark green, leafy ones and whole fruits over juices, including the peels as much as possible. 

Great snacks my family already enjoys include berries (especially raspberries since they're highest in fibre), grape tomatoes, kiwi fruit (which you can eat the peel!). To boost your energy, it's important to balance your meals and snacks with protein and fibre (carbohydrates) together to stay full, i.e. apple slices with a small handful of nuts. 

Loblaws is already making shopping easier by taking out a lot of the guesswork with the Guiding Stars Program. Foods that have 2 and 3 stars are foods you can consume every day, and products with 0 or 1 star are "sometimes" foods.



More staples to add to your diet: ginger and garlic. Full of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, garlic and ginger also add depth of flavour to your meals, so you don't feel compelled to load up on the sodium. 

If you don't use enough of it fresh, garlic and ginger also come in convenient squeeze bottles, which, Judy tells me, work just as well. That's good to know, because I don't buy ginger ALL that often, but I always seem to want recipes that call for that delicious root!


Wild, farmed, fresh, frozen. Seafood is often a confusing zone of the supermarket, but it's so good for you. Fatty fish like salmon and trout add those good omegas to your body -- perfect for your brain. Looking for the Certified Sustainable Seafood designation is one way to know the fish you're eating was properly caught. Judy suggests at least 2 servings of fatty fish per week. 

The bakery isn't a section I visit often, but it's a good practice to remember to choose whole grains over white, with at least 2g of fibre per slice. The more fibre food has, the more your body breaks it down.

My favourite section of Loblaws/Fortinos stores has got to be the Natural Value (aka healthy organic) section. I could spend a day in this zone, looking at all the products and labels. It's important, here, to still look at all product labels and analyse the sugar content, proteins, fibres and sodium. 

The general rule, Judy explains, is to look at the Daily Value (DV) Percentage. 5% of a daily value is considered low, while 15% of a daily value is considered high. The goal, for me at least, is to keep the sugars and sodium down, while keeping the protein and fibre up. 

PC Blue Menu products often offer higher protein or higher fibre options. And this is where it's so important to read labels carefully -- take note of the portion size, as well as the sugars (cause that stuff gets hidden in everything!)





Even in the healthy section, it's important to read those product labels. Just because it's "natural" doesn't mean it doesn't have a lot of sugar, and that goes for "sugar-free" products, too. Kombucha, probiotic yogurts and fermented foods are good for you, just watch that sugar and sodium!




There's lots to discover in the dry goods aisles including many, many different types of legumes: lentils, beans, peas -- dried and canned. It's also the spot where temptation may set in with the cookies and snacks and treats that pass themselves off as healthy when they're not. 

Granola bars are a big culprit, says Judy. Aim for at least 4 g of fibre and less than 8g of sugar per serving. I'm not surprised that my fave Kind bars fit perfectly in the safe zone -- loaded with great protein and fibre. 





And cereal! Can we talk cereal?! Well, I don't even eat cereal, but my hubby and kids go through boxes at a time. Obviously, the boxes with the cute, colourful characters are super sweet, but even the plain ol' boring cereal needs some attention. To the label, that is. 


This is THE place to look at portion sizes, Judy warns, as it's a place many people get fooled! 



Following our tour of the supermarket, Judy even sent me reminders for the next time I go grocery shopping solo, which is perfect because there was a LOT of information! 

As I mentioned earlier, even though I feel pretty educated when it comes to food and making the right choices for my family, there is ALWAYS more to learn, and now I feel that much smarter after taking a trip around Loblaws with a dietitian. It's another great reminder to be mindful of the food I'm putting in my cart before I put it in my (or my family's) tummies. 

For more information on the Loblaws Dietitians program, visit loblaws.cabookadietitian.ca, or if you’re local, schedule an appointment with Judy by emailing her at

judy.chodirker@loblaw.ca.




Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post. As always, the opinions expressed on my blog are my own.

May 22, 2018

Toyota Sienna for the Modern Mini Van Mom

Disclosure: I have partnered with YMC and Toyota and have received compensation for this post. All opinions are my own.

In 1990, my parents bought a minivan. It was a deep red Toyota Previa, the first of its kind, and that vehicle took us across the country. Literally. 

In 1991, we loaded up that van (my sister and I hid dolls under the seats!) and road tripped to Prince Edward Island, stopping in every province and major city along the way. 



That's my mom, sister and I in front of the Chateau Halifax -- with our beloved Previa to the left. She's even wearing a black leather bra!


Four years later, we went Westward, all the way to Victoria BC and back -- a three-week venture in the van. I remember sitting in the front seat with my dad, playing navigator or co-pilot, and videotaping out the window as we drove through days of canola fields in Saskatchewan. 


When we weren't road tripping, the Previa was my mom's daily ride -- and she loved that vehicle, and so did we. It was bittersweet when it came to trading it in; we put more than 300,000 KM of memories on that red spaceship. 

But since that time, there has always been a Toyota parked in my parents' driveway or garage. They continue to value Toyota vehicles for their safety, ease of navigation, and price point. My sister and I both learned to drive on a Toyota, and I have yet to find a vehicle that compares to the little silver RAV 4 I acquired from my dad. It was my first vehicle -- my little dinky dino ravioli. 

Fast-forward many years later, and I'm married with children, and many of our friends are trading in their vehicles for a minivan. Gulp.  While I'm so fond of our minivan memories, the thought of driving one scared me. 

They are just so. big. 
I am so. short. 

I mean, I can barely see out of the vehicle I currently drive. But the storage would be a huge help. With 2 kids, a dog, a business, dance classes, grocery shopping, we are constantly filling and OVER filling the vehicle we drive. Add a double stroller to the mix, and it was nearly impossible; the trunk was full before we left the house.

So when I got the opportunity to test drive a Toyota Sienna for an entire week, I was excited about it. This would be the best way to see if the vehicle would fit our lifestyle: drop offs and pick ups, highway driving, city driving, loading with gear, car seats -- just a typical week. There are 6 different models of the Sienna available, with various upgrades and features, starting at $34,690 CAN. We drove a 2018 XLE AWD. It's the only All-Wheel-Drive minivan available in Canada. 




VISIBILITY

Where do I start? Well, how about the second I sat in the driver's seat: beautiful visibility, fully adjustable seat and mirror control. My biggest fear of not seeing out the back was put aside when I saw the very impressive rear view camera. Not only does it show the rear of the vehicle, but it also articulates a bird's eye view shot (Limited AWD), so you can gauge where you are in relation to objects around you. It makes reversing and rear parking so much easier. There's also a camera in the front grill of the van so you can perfect all parking jobs. 


Let's talk blind spots and changing lanes -- the 2018 Sienna offers additional security of Toyota Safety Sense. ALL models are equipped with Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist (it'll drift you back into the lane if you cross over the line without signalling!), Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, and Automatic High Beams. All models come standard with 8 airbags, and LE and XLE models also offer Blind Spot Monitor and a Rear Cross Traffic Alert (when you're reversing and another car drives by, the vehicle will beep). These added safety features not only impressed me but also made me feel much safer about driving with my kids.

STORAGE

But of course, one of the main reasons people move over to the minivan is storage. With 7 and 8 seater options, there is tons of room in the Sienna. The second row has just as much legroom as the driver and passenger, and even those sitting in the back row will have enough room to stretch out. The large sunken trunk is impressively large. My only wish is it had a trunk cover, but if you're looking for space to stow groceries, equipment, hockey bags, etc, you'll find more than enough room. We even used the back row for overflow storage and still had a very comfortable ride. 






(Photos Above: 1) That's 8 large garbage bags full of purses to donate to a local charity. 80 purses and the trunk is still half full. 2) The true storage test is a trip to Costco. Got all my groceries and even hanging baskets. 3) A Stella and Dot show, and I didn't have to disassemble my clothes rack.)

BELLS & WHISTLES

And some of the biggest selling points -- the bells and whistles. The add-ons to the Toyota Sienna definitely sell themselves and make life easier for a parent. Double sliding automatic doors, automatic trunk release, Dual Power Moonroof, premium leather seats, and Three-Zone Temperature Control, so everyone is comfortable. My kids LOVED the Dual-View Entertainment System featuring a widescreen display so you can watch a movie or even play a game in ultra-wide screen mode. You can even split the screen so two people can watch different things at the same time. 


Oh, and here's the best part -- two sets of wireless headphones, so parents don't have to hear what the kids are watching! And the best, best part? A silent ride with no fighting! If that's not a bonus, I don't know what is!
What else can I say? This is one fancy mini-van. And it's definitely a modern one at that. For the mom on the go, there's SMS-to-speech, email-to-speech, and advanced voice recognition. Entune 3.0 Audio is standard on all 2018 Sienna models, which includes cell-based Navigation. And the Driver Easy Speak is pretty cool, too. No more shouting to the people the back row -- with a built-in mic up front, you can convey messages to the back through speakers, with the touch of a button. The XLE models feature a Premium Audio package and even more sophisticated navigation technology, and you can certainly visit the website for all those impressive specs.


NITTY GRITTY

With a 3.5L V6 engine, the Sienna is designed for low weight and noise. It is a VERY smooth drive, and believe me, you do not feel like you're driving a bus. In terms of gas consumption, the ECO indicator, which is standard on all models, lets you know when you're being efficient with gas. In our week of use, we averaged 12L/100km, which is impressive for a vehicle of its size. 

There is so much more I can say about the Sienna, from the features to the stylish interior, the comfort and ease of driving. But it was the kids' reaction that topped the cake. We knew the monitor would be a hit, obviously, but I never realized how much they would love the automatic sliding doors, the ability to walk inside the vehicle, climb into their car seats easily, and transport friends and grandparents with us. When we returned the van, Isabelle asked me when we would be getting it back. Maybe sooner than you think, kid. 

Now, where should our first road trip be?