This Mama Needs a Vacay

Parenting & Travel Blog with tips, guides, reviews and honesty about family travel and parenting.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Birthday Party Themes: Drake Edition

 Disclaimer: I am not a crafty mom. I am not a Pinterest mom. But I am a mom who gets suckered into throwing her kids a birthday party every year with some kind of theme.  EVERY. SINGLE. YEAR. But I can't complain, it is fun, especially when I see the end result and I think to myself: "maybe I AM a crafty mom!" We all have our dreams.

So this past October for my girl's champagne birthday I threw her a party Champagne Papi style. I think she liked it, but with tweens ya' never really know. But I am convinced it earned me my cool mom badge. Here's the breakdown:

Cupcake Toppers: My not so secret trick when hosting birthday parties for my kids is to do cupcakes instead of a cake. It saves me from having to cut the cake and even from using plates and forks. Plus the kids just want to eat the icing anyways right? So I always look for cupcake toppers that are easy to decorate in the chosen theme. For this year's Drake theme I found these toppers from Etsy. They come as a downloadable file which I printed in colour onto cardstock, then I got really craft folks. I cut them out and taped them to toothpicks. Super crafty right? I should really have a YouTube channel for all this.

Decorations: I got a even more creative and made some signs using Canva referencing Drake's famous lines and album titles. I printed them out onto card stock and then just glued some sticks that I found from the dollar store and voila - the kids didn't use them for photo-ops but oh well.
I wanted to keep the colour theme light and cheery and age appropriate and I also didn't want to do much work (hey, I'm honest!), so I ordered this set from Amazon. The colour theme means that I can reuse them again.

Banner: I wish I could say that I have an online template for you for this birthday banner, but sadly I don't. But the good news! I do have a cheap(ish) and cheerful hack for making one. I bought a set of gold letters from Michaels (these ones are similar). I was going to trace them out to make the banner, but who has time (or patience) for that! So I hole punched the letters and strung them together with some string to spell out the sign. 

Loot Bags: Simple hack: I bought some gold paper loot bags and just glued one of the cupcake toppers that I printed out on them. Effective and EASY (ok and maybe a little lazy, but whatever.  Why you gotta fight with me at cheesecake huh?)

Other touches: You can create you own invitations on Canva or order these on Etsy. Adding some gold and black balloons are an easy touch, as well as bottle of sparkling cider to substitute for champagne and maybe a label saying 'Champagne Papi." My tween nixed that idea because it was too lame. But I'm not judging (it was the tween, she was judging.)


Friday, October 25, 2019

That Zara Dress : How to style it different ways

This was the summer of "the dress." You probably saw it all over your social media feeds. The white maxi dress with black polka dots from Zara. The loose cut is flattering on almost every body type, and the neutral colours in a monochromatic pattern makes it work easily with any accessories and occasion. Spoiler alert! It now comes in black with white polka dots! Black for fall, how groundbreaking.

This IT dress even has it's own instagram page, where you can see how women all over the world style it. Check it out here: instagram page.

So after seeing this dress take over my social media feeds this past summer, I decided to order it and see how I felt. You are probably wondering, "is Raj really the kind of person that gets influenced by what she sees online and on social media?" Yes, yes I am.

So after purchasing the dress,  and humming and hawing if I'd actually wear it (and then realizing I was past the return deadline), I decided to figure out how I could get my bang for the buck and how many ways I can style it. By using whatever I already owned (boring), I figured out how to adapt this simple dress for different occasions (or how I'd wear it on vacation - a girl can dream, can't she?)

Perfect for Spring in Wine Country: or spring anywhere really. Throw on a denim jacket and your favourite slides and this very cute but impractical straw bag which basically fits a straw.

Hat: Roots 
 Denim Jacket: Gap 
Sandals: Zara 
 Straw Purse: Zara 
When the temperatures drop:  I wanted to call this one "Apres Ski" but who am I kidding? I don't ski, and my apres look would be my pjs! But a cozy sweater thrown over top and knee high boots will keep you warm and cozy wherever. 

Sweater: Zara 
Over the Knee Boots: Stuart Weitzman
Purse: Chanel

Beach Vacation: 

Roll up the sleeves, accessorize with anything colourful, and the flowy fabric of the dress makes it easy to wear out for dinner on any tropical vacation or in the summer
Earrings: Zara
Purse: Nordstrom
Sandals: Asos

Evening Out: Cinch the waist with a belt and add some structure with a blazer, and this dress works for the office or a dinner out in the evening.
Blazer: Rag & Bone
Belt: Gucci
Shoes: Valentino
Purse: Chanel

Fall Inspiration: When the leaves start turning colour, a cozy cardigan and booties make this dress for this season too! 

Cardigan: Zara
Belt: Joe Fresh
Boots: Vince
Purse: Chloe

Spring in the City :  Sneakers and leather make for a perfect outfit for exploring your favourite city or just running errands
Leather Jacket: Zara
Belt: Joe Fresh
Sneakers: Saint Laurent
Purse: Rebecca Minkoff

What's your favourite way to style a midi dress?

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Diwali Gift Guide

Diwali, popularly known as the “festival of lights” is celebrated by Hindus all over the world.  Some other faiths also celebrate during this time such as Sikhs who celebrate Bandi Chhor Divas to mark the release of Guru Hargobind Ji and Jains who observe Diwali as the mark of the final liberation of Mahavira. It is a time for celebration, reflection and spending time with family. Diwali symbolizes the spiritual victory of light over darkness, good over evil and knowledge over ignorance. While there are a variety of traditions to celebrate Diwali, giving gifts is a common tradition for everyone. Here is a gift giving guide with some inspiration on how you can spread the light this Diwali.

Follow this link to Masalamommas to check out the gift guide.

A fun activity box for kids from The Playful Indian

Greeting Cards from Kushiya Designs and The Neela Collective


Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Travel Tips: How to plan a family vacation without blowing the budget (maybe)

For a long time we didn't do any real family travel, other than visit family. No beach vacations, or big city exploring, no cruises or all inclusive tropical getaways for us and our babes.  

We were brave enough to take the littles on a plane, and even more brave by battling jet lag and time differences while naively trying to stick with their schedules (did I tell you about the time we thought weaning our kid off of her pacifier while driving from BC to Seattle was a good idea? Short version: it did not go well.)

But once we had gathered enough courage (and were no longer perpetually sleep deprived), we started to travel as a family. We were ready to explore the white sand beaches of tropical islands, to battle the concrete jungle of big cities, to take in the language, food and culture of places near and far. We were going to go on family vacations!

And if you've been following along on this blog, we've been travelling and having fun (that's my story and I'm sticking with it!). But it's not so much of a vacation for this mama, because I'm still parenting and 'momming' along during every trip. Yet, I'd still do it again, and again and again (sorry honey, didn't I tell you marrying me would be expensive?)

Gulp - yes family travel is expensive. I haven't figured out how to do it for free, but since I'm practically an expert (on nothing really) I've put some tips together that can help you plan a trip and maximize those dolla dolla bills y'all.

1. Set a budget: Figure out how much you can and will spend on a trip (then add a little buffer to that because it always goes over!) Every year I tell my husband (since he's our banker) about where I'd like to travel and when and how much I think each trip may cost. We then try to budget for them. In reality it's more about changing my expectations and putting off that trip to Bora Bora yet again (sigh).

2. Sign up for the offers: I know we don't love having random spam email come to our inbox, but sign up for emails from different airlines and hotels. For example,  in Canada there are really only the two major airlines, so I'm signed up for West Jet and Air Canada. Last week we received an email with 20% off flights anywhere in the world up until June. So I logged in at the last hour and booked flights for a trip in March! 

3. Try not to travel during high season: If you can pull your kids out of school, DO IT. I'm a firm believer that travel is education and the kids will be just fine missing a week of school. Plus the prices are often a lot less. Also, consider travelling during off season to some popular destinations. Yes, a beach trip sounds about perfection in the middle of a frigid Toronto winter in February, but it is likely to be more expensive than it would be in May. And really, a beach vacation is great any time of the year ( just watch out for hurricane season!). 

4. Reward Points: This may require some research on your part to find out how to best use the programs offered on different credit cards for travel. We use our CIBC Aventura for travel rewards.  Sometimes I use it just to pay for one person's airfare, depending on how many points we have.  We also use our yearly travel credit from American Express towards our flights, hotels or car rentals. Research to see what your credit card offers and use that to your advantage.

5. Book in advance: I like to book my flights in advance, about 3-6 months. That's also mostly because we are now limited to travelling during high seasons, and I have found that I can find the best prices then. But Sky Scanner has a full article here about when the best time to book flights out of Canada are.   

6. Check nearby airports: Expand your search to see if you can save on airfare if you drive out a little further. Sometimes driving to another city can save you big dollars if you are willing to spend more time driving.

7. All Inclusive : I'm not a lover of all inclusive trips, even though there is the appeal of not having to cook for an entire week! They can be quite expensive. We prefer to spend money ensuring we have spacious accommodations and to live more like home and to eat at local places.  But if that's your jam, go for it!  Check out this link for more tips about when to book an all inclusive vacation. 

8. Accommodation Rentals: Ask family or friends if they have any vacation rentals that they are renting out. One of our early trips was borrowing (yes for free!) a friend's townhouse in Miami. Another time we rented a 3 bedroom house from an acquaintance in Kauai for a fraction of the cost. I also like VRBO,, Sonder Stays, Air BnB, Kid and Coe for vacation rentals.

9. Travel with friends or family: If you can find someone you'd love to travel with, then you can share the cost of the accommodation and as a bonus the kids can have a built-in play dates! Meal sharing can help with costs as well as give you some down time and a little break. We do this in the summer when we rent a cottage with some family. 

10. Bring some food with you. When we stay in an accommodation with a kitchen, we often bring some of our own food since we can get gouged with exchange rates and inflated prices. Packing cereal (take the bag out of the box), bagels, snacks etc. can be helpful for both cost savings and convenience.  We invested in a durable large duffel bag for these extra things that we can fold up and put in our suitcase when we return since it will be empty. Just make sure you read the rules about what you can and can't bring into the country you are travelling to!

11. Early Check in/Late Check Out: check to see if the hotel that you are staying in has an early check in or late check out privileges.  We recently took our teen to LA and had 3 full days in the City of Angeles while only paying for two nights since we had early check in and late check out privileges. 

12. Adjust your expectations: Life with kids is unpredictable and on vacation even more so. Let them surprise you, but also let them eat ice cream every day if that's what will keep everyone happy.  When we took the kids to Paris years ago, the kids wanted to stop and play in every. single. playground we saw. And if you've been to Paris you'll know that there are a surprising number of playgrounds around every corner. Even though we came all that way, the best thing was watching our kids talk to other kids in French on Parisian playgrounds (while I got a mental break devouring my croissant).I can tell you that I hadn't included that in my itinerary.


Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Do we let our kids quit?

We've all been there. We sign our kids up for a program, team, activity, and they give it a try, heck - sometimes even stick with it for a full season or two, but then they turn on you. They refuse to go. There's no room for threats or bribes.  They want to quit.

And this mama ain't raising no quitters right? Right? Umm..right.

But it's not always that easy. 

My daughter recently had a week long school camp trip. It would be her second trip of its kind, but this one would be longer. She was going with her school, with her friends and teachers and it would be amazing. She'd love it just like her older sister did. 

But nope. I got a call on the second day that she was away. That call had a child, my child, trying desperately to hold back her tears and not let her voice crack. My child telling me that she needed to come home. No, she wasn't really sick, she just wasn't feeling well. No, she wasn't homesick exactly, she just wanted to come home. Yes she slept well the first night but just wanted her own bed. No, nothing had happened, she was just ready to be back at home.

So what do I do? Do I give in and let her quit and drive 2.5 hours each way to pick her up, or do I let her work through the last few days at the camp. My heart ached for her, as I knew she was unhappy, and yet I knew that she was in a safe place and that there was nothing seriously wrong. Do I honour my child's needs or do I encourage her to work through it and to become more resilient (I hope) in the process?

I gave her 24 hours. Mostly to buy myself some time to figure out what the right thing to do was.

She called me back.  I honoured my promise and I picked her up and she was happy and didn't regret coming home early at all. But I had still worried that perhaps I shouldn't have let her quit. That perhaps I had done the wrong thing. Am I teaching her that she can quit anything she wants and that's totally acceptable? And if I am, is there really anything wrong with that?

I don't have any regrets about my decision (what good are regrets anyways?)  But it did have me thinking about this notion of quitting and why as parents we are so anti-quitting. Is it really that terrible?

  • Quitting sometimes is ok.  Knowing when to quit something is important, whether it be a friendship that is toxic or a job that undervalues your work, it is ok to quit. It is ok to quit when something causes you a lot of stress, anxiety and unhappiness, because at the end of the day I want my children to be happy. If something doesn't work for them anymore, they need to know that sometimes it's ok for them to move on.
  • Quitting isn't a sign of weakness. Being able to say that you have to let something (or someone) go doesn't mean you are weak, in fact I think it means you have the strength and wisdom to recognize when something doesn't work for you anymore. 
  • Don't let yourself down: We've used the line "but you'll let your team down" on our kids when they weren't feeling up to going to a practice.  But I didn't stop to realize that they needed to not let themselves down first. They may have needed a break, or rest or just a chance to be kids. I want them to learn how to be able to put their own emotional needs first sometimes. 
  • There is a difference between following through on a commitment and quitting. We want them to honour their commitments, but also to recognize when something has come to an end because it no longer works for them.  And you know what? In all the times that we've allowed our children to quit something even after they've taken a break and closed out a season or a session (karate, soccer, piano, camp), they have had zero regrets. None at all. In fact, they've been happier and they've found another activity they love that fills their time instead. They may not become concert pianists but they may end up being a lead guitarist in a garage band. Whatever makes them happy.
  • My own fears: it's my own fears as a parent that get in my way sometimes of doing what is best for my child. If I let my kid quit something, what am I teaching them? Am I teaching them that they can quit anything they want in life and have no accountability? Will they then end up being horrible human beings who live off of us for the rest of their lives always ordering over priced avocado toast!?! If I let them quit then they won't know how to learn how to push through the negative experiences and won't learn to be resilient and therefore never succeed in anything ever in their entire lives while still expecting me to pay for their over priced avocado toast! The fears and anxieties can clearly spiral. But they stem from a place of love and concern.
Letting my children quit doesn't mean that they won't grow up to be well adjusted, happy humans. There are lots of other parenting tactics of mine that may end up doing that instead! Ha! I'm joking, but I do know that I have to treat each child, each event in their life as separate experiences and parent them as I see fit at that time, and that my friends, is something I won't ever quit doing!


Thursday, September 26, 2019

What's in my carryon

I aim to try to pack light for myself and for my kids, mostly because I don't end up needing nearly as much as I think I do. After years of having my carry on filled with all things kid related, I'm finally in a place where my own tote has whatever I need to make my flying experience as enjoyable as it can be.

My carry on bag: I invested in a large Longchamp Le Pliage Tote Bag, because I like the sturdiness of the leather handle, the zipper to keep everything inside, the durable fabric that is easy to clean and the fact that I can fold it up into a small little pouch for easy storage.

My essentials inside my tote always include the following:

  1. Hand cream : I love L'Occitane's shea butter and this one by Nivea is a long time favourite because I like having a thick cream for the plane, plus it remind me of when I was younger and would sneak into my mom's bathroom and slather myself in it!
  2. Lip Balm - I'm liking this one by Sun Bum with SPF 30 right now but my go to is always EOS.
  3. Passport Holder: I use this Tumi passport case that fits in our passports, nexus and  airport lounge cards. But this one is super cute and on sale now!
  4. Air pods - because I need to get onto the entertainment system ASAP. Air pods or sound cancelling headphones such as these by Bose are always in my travel bag.
  5. Swell Water Bottle because hydrate, hydrate hydrate!
  6. Gum - nothing like a minty gum to help refresh my breath and to help with the pressure in my ears. I like Pur gum these days.
  7. Caudalie Beauty Elixir - a spritz or two of this helps refresh my skin by moisturizing and toning it. And frankly I like having a little bit of the luxury in my bag with me.
  8. Reading Material: while I could pack a whole library, I try to stick to one book and one magazine, this one I couldn't put down during our flight to Maui.
  9. Blanket scarf - on our last flight we were freeezzinnggggg! Thankfully I had packed a light blanket scarf, but I'm looking for something warmer and more chic like this one from Cuyana
  10. Snacks - I try to stock myself with healthy snack such as trail mix, nuts, dried fruit or dry chickpeas. I'm really not this healthy, but I like to convince myself that I am, when really it's all about keeping my hangry self happy.

What are your essentials for your carry on?


Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Bullying: What role parents play - my latest for Masala Mommas

"When I was in kindergarten, my bibi (grandmother), would walk me to school everyday. The short distance I walked towards my classroom by myself (I was a big girl after all), was long enough for me to have my first bullying experience.  I had been pushed down by two older girls and called “paki.” 

Sadly, this wasn't the only time growing up that I heard those words. The racial slurs that I didn't quite understand as a child, were common to hear growing up in Malton, a suburb of Toronto that had a lot of Indian immigrants such as my family.  While the the scars of hearing these words have faded slowly, one thing that stands out clear in my mind is how my parents, specifically my mother, reacted.

Her strength, determination and intervention paved the way for how I try to deal with bullying now that I am a parent, because the sad reality is that bullying is very common.  Bullying says that 1 in 3 youth report being bullied recently, that doesn't even account for all of the incidents that go unreported.

Read more on Masala Mommas where I write about the role parents play in Bullying.

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