This Mama Needs a Vacay

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

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

My Top Ten Reads of the Decade

Sorry, getting back to the blog has been a much slower process than I had planned for 2020.  But I am here now! Yay me! I big part of what I love to do is to read, but 2019 was a much slower reading year than usual. In fact I didn't get anywhere close to hitting my reading goal on GoodReads. I'd like to think that this year I'll be better and read more, but I'm not making any promises. I am excited to pick up some of the books that I've got lining my bookshelves and making more time for me to do what I love to do - read!

But I wanted to reflect back on some of my absolutely favourite books from the last decade.  Now, not all of these were published in the last decade, some are older, but they are all books that I read in the last 10 years.  I record my book list on Goodreads, and usually add in notes and the dates read so I have a reference point.

Here's my best of the 2010's list:

  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman: At first, this book reminded me of The Rosie Project (a good read, but not a favourite stand out.)  Set in contemporary Scotland, this book tells the journey of Eleanor as she navigates the world with her limited social skills and how she even works on a romantic relationship, the story is endearing and entertaining.
  • Dreams from My Father: A story of race and inheritance by Barack Obama: As a fan of this former president, this book was not from the last decade admittedly, but it is one that I read in this last decade, so it's going on my list.  It perhaps is one of my most favourite non-fiction books (a genre I don't read that often actually).  Obama is an eloquent writer and story teller and this book did not disappoint. Interestingly enough when I read Becoming by Michelle Obama this past year , she talks about how her husband went to Indonesia for 6 weeks to write this book!
  • The Casual Vacancy By J.K. Rowling - I'll be honest, the only reason I started reading this book was because it was by J.K Rowling and I'm a huge fan of the Harry Potter Series. The book starts off slow, but Rowling introduces and develops multiple diverse characters and describes the setting in the UK with such mastery. She discusses social issues that aren't normally discussed and does them in such a compelling way. This would be on my list of one of my all time favourite books.
  • Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng: This book discusses so many issues and will often have you divided about where you stand, it makes for a great book club choice for the discussions that can come out of it.  I loved how Celeste Ng uses a small town in Ohio as the backdrop of this story and explores different perspectives in motherhood. I'm super excited for the screen adaptation that is coming out this spring too!
  • Bear Town by Fredrick Backman: This isn't Backman's most popular or well known book, but it definitely left an impression on me.  The books takes your on a journey that examines the issues and incidents that happen in a small town that worships at the alter of hockey and how the many different characters respond to what happens. I read it in one sitting (on a plane!).
  • Can You hear the Night Bird call by Anita Rau Badami: Once again, this book was not published in this past decade, but that is when I read it. So it counts (my blog, my rules!). This book makes my list as one of my all time favourites because of the story that is told.  It is a story that tells of the Sikh, female experience and perspective during 1984 both in India and in Canada. The events that unfolded leading up to the Air India bombing are a part of my history as a Sikh Canadian, and this was the first (if not only) fiction literature that I read that I felt was impartial, balanced and beautifully executed. 
Other notables:

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
Ru by Kim Thuy
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney
The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill
The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

My favourite authors:

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri: Perhaps my very favourite author, I have loved each one of her books.

Harry Potter Series: I'm not going to pretend to remember when I actually read all of these but it was in the last decade that my eldest fell in love with the series too. 

The Cormoran Strike Series by Robert Galbraith: Yes, technically Robert Galbraith is J.K Rowling and they are the same person, but still if an author makes me savour a mystery series like this, it's a win! 

What are some of your very favourite reads? Share in the comments, I'm always looking for recommendations!


Friday, January 10, 2020

A Hockey Mom Survival Pack

January 10th is National Hockey Mom Day. If it really isn't a thing, it is time to make it a thing. Because being a hockey mom does require a unique sense of dedication, organization and commitment. And frankly I could use a little acknowledgement for this role that my husband signed me up with.

As a mom to three hockey players who are girls, I never, ever, ever thought that my life would revolve around a sport that I knew nothing about. As a child of immigrants, growing up in Canada, it was not the sport we grew up watching. In fact the only thing I knew about icing was that it belongs on a cake (or cupcakes!).

Yet fast forward, and here I am with 8 years of being a hockey mom under my belt. With all of that experience, comes a lot of insight as well. I'm basically a semi-professional hockey mom guys. I know how to organize car pools, how to make healthy meals that will be consumed all through the evening as kids come and go, how to pack healthy snacks for post practice, and how to get out of tying their laces so I don't develop blisters. It's a fine balancing act, but I do it for the kids. It's always for the kids.

So if you are a fellow hockey mom or know a hockey mom or even thinking of putting your kids in hockey (talk to me first!), then I believe that you deserve to be prepared. There are a few basics that all hockey moms need in order to survive the many months spent in a hockey rink.

Here are my picks :

1. Warm Boots: your toes are often the first thing to go. You need to invest in a pair of stylish, warm boots. Make sure they are comfy! I'm a big fan of Blundstones, but these here also would do the trick.

2. Blanket: yes, you need one. Get the coziest one you can find and keep it in the car just for this purpose. I love this Eddie Bauer one, because we could all use a little sherpa luxury too.

3. Seat Cushion: Next to triple ply toilet paper, your tush will thank you for a warm, comfy seat most. This one is easy to carry around.

4. Another blanket: Oh you have one already? Get another one because sometimes a fellow mom needs one too. This one is great because it folds up into a handy little lumbar pillow as well, because carrying those hockey bags and sitting on all those uncomfortable arena benches can do a number on your lower back.

5. Insulated Cup: A hot cup of coffee or tea is basically what we survive on during the season, and this cute cup will also let everyone know to stand out of your way (and not to say a word about how your kid is playing!)

6. Essential Oils: Moms needs to stay healthy during the season, and this little kit from Saje is basically a pocket pharmacy to help whatever may ail you. The stress release one comes in handy in those overtime nail bitters.

7. A good book: Sometimes you've got a lot of time to kill and can only watch your kid do so many crossovers during a practice. Keep a good read with you, this one by Fredrik Backman is a favourite because it tells a complex story of a small hockey town.

8. A long, warm coat: You need a long, warm, coat that isn't too heavy as a basic staple. I love this one from Lululemon because it is literally like wearing a duvet.

9. Wool Socks: Back to those toes - they need some extra loving you know.  My personal favourite in the winter is these Roots wool socks. 

10. Cow Bells: Yes, you need to show up as that supportive, if not annoying, hockey mom to all the games. People will love you or maybe not, but these cow bells from Amazon  can certainly help save your voice from all that cheering (so that you can use it to yell at home for the kids to pick up their hockey equipment and put it in the garage instead of the front hallway.)


Sunday, December 29, 2019

What to wear for New Year's Eve: A Masala Mommas Edition

It's the end of a decade, and a time for new beginnings, resolutions and fresh starts. I put together a few different looks for Masala Mommas about what to wear this New Year's Eve, no matter what kind of celebration you have planned.

Head over to Masala Mommas to take a look, and from this mama to all of you - I thank you for you reading this little blog and wish you all a very happy, very healthy 2020!


Monday, December 9, 2019

All that sparkles

You know how all those glittery, sequinned things we see in the store windows this time of year call out your name? Yeah, those. So pretty.  Then you know how somehow you bring home that glittery, sequinned thing and then wonder how you are supposed to wear it more than once? Yeah, that.

I'm showing you how it is indeed possible to wear those sequinned things multiple times in many different ways. Two years ago I bought a matching white sequinned top and skirt - I know  matching! I fell in love with the look together, but hadn't worn the two items much on their own. While this particular one is no longer available, Zara has this pencil skirt and this matching blouse which has a similar feel to it. This top and skirt from H&M also has a similar feel. Another option is from Mango here and here.

The skirt can go a long way with whatever you have in your closet: a button down, turtleneck, sweater or even a t-shirt. 

The sparkly top can be dressed up with leather pants or dressed down with distressed denim. 

Tip: Use shape wear to tuck oversized sweaters (or any of the tops) into so that there is no bulkiness or sequins showing through your pants or skirt. 


Monday, December 2, 2019

Holiday Style

'Tis the season for get togethers, parties and celebrating with family and friends. December marks one of the busiest social times of the year, and I know we all can feel the pressures to look put together and festive but don't want to be breaking the bank. 

So I put myself up to the challenge of putting together some looks with some versatile basics, many of which I have in my closet and maybe one or two investment pieces that I'm willing to add into my wardrobe (twist my rubber arm!)

1. H&M 2. Intermix 3. Aritzia 4. Reiss 5. Aritzia 6. Zara 7. Saks 8. J Crew 9. J Crew 10. Banana Republic 11. Banana Republic 12. Sephora

First start by shopping your closet for some basics that can be mixed and matched to come up with some different outfits:

  • Tops: Most of us have some sparkle in our closets, and a versatile sparkly blouse goes a long way. Pick a blouse in a jewel tone, or even in a basic black but try lace or velvet or a beautiful silk that be carried throughout the rest of the year as well but one that works perfectly in the festive season. I also like this, this and this one. Cashmere is versatile and luxe and a timeless investment, or even a cashmere blend sweater will add luxury and coziness to your wardrobe.

  • Bottoms: Before investing in a new pair of pants, pull out your favourite dark denim or black trousers and try to incorporate them. But if you are looking to buy a new pair of pants this season, I've been in love my my faux leather pants from Aritzia and looking forward to them being my go to option instead of my usual jeans this season (tip: swap out the belt that your pants may come with).  Don't forget the midi or maxi skirt this season, I love a good sparkly one but I'm also into this satin slip one, and this velvet one here.

  • Basic Black Dress: we all have at least one black dress in our closet, and while we may think they are boring, they can be practical and versatile.  Try to invest in one that is flattering for your body type. I'm a fan of a sheath dress that hits just above (or below) the knee. They can be easily dressed up but also used as a base to layer other more casual pieces with.
I took a party dress from a few years ago and layered over a cozy sweater and used a belt to cinch the waist. 

  • Shoes: Now we are speaking my language! While I'm still eyeing the classic stunning Manolos, there are lots of great options in different price points. I like these and these . Also keep your eyes open for comfy, yet glittery flats which are perfect for smaller dinner parties where you want to be more comfortable or if you are over the high heel life. I like these and these .

  • Accessories: these can change up an outfit easily! I'm a firm believer in the power of a red lip, and MAC's Ruby Woo works well on most skin tones. Arm your wardrobe with some sparkly accessories such as statement earrings, a fancy clutch, a glittery belt and this season's hottest trend - the embellished head band.

Ok, now we've got some of our basics, lets see how we can put them together for different looks for different gatherings and parties you may have this season.
If you have a formal party maybe an office or corporate party, the little black dress can do no wrong.

A casual get together? Flats and Sparkles and something cozy

A casual dinner party at home calls for comfy for something more cozy. Use a belt to cinch in a bulky sweater.

Works for any event at home or out on the town

Sparkle it up for a fun night out

Start with sequins, then add more. New Year's Eve means adding in all the glitter. Staying in? Throw on the flats instead


Monday, November 25, 2019

72 hours in San Francisco

Hey 'Frisco, wait - no, sorry. I meant Hello San Fransisco! Sorry, I think I just committed the ultimate faux pas about this California city, please forgive me. The rest will be all good things, because I think I love this city. It's not just because my team, The Toronto Raptors, won their first NBA Championship there. Oh wait, another faux paux committed. I'm sorry - truly.

We had less than 72 hours in this city, but I think we got a decent taste for all that San Fransisco offers, and it left us wanting more. I'm sharing our highlights - which basically was everything!

Day 1: 

We took a $50 cab (although ride sharing is huge here, because of course this is where it all started), from the airport to our hotel.  We landed on The Huntington Hotel on Knob Hill because it is part of the American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts Program , and we like the benefits that we get with this program. (I wrote about these here and here).

Quick Review about the Huntington: It's a small, boutique hotel with charming details, although a little dated, but with wonderful staff and a quiet, central location.  The early check in and upgraded room definitely didn't hurt for making our choice a successful one. 

An Upgrade to a suite at the Huntington Hotel
A historic property

After settling into our hotel, we needed to find some grub. As big fans of Gotts Roadside Burgers in Napa, we found a location here in the city too. So we headed down the hill (the easy part) and walked about 20 minutes to Gotts Roadside Burgers in The Ferry Terminal building. Have you been to Gotts yet? If you are ever in San Fransisco or the Napa area, actually run! Grab your self a delicious burger and some garlic fries, oh maybe some tacos, and get it. So yum!

The Ferry Terminal building

You can spend time walking around the ferry building eating your way through yummy donuts, fresh goods from the farmers market and lots of other local delights. You can burn off all of the yummy food by trekking back UPHILL towards the hotel. Be warned, make sure you have comfy shoes and are dressed in layers.


Across from the Huntington Hotel is the stunning Grace Cathedral and the Huntington Park.

We were lucky enough to head over the bridge to Oakland to catch a playoff game (yay Raps!), but came back for a delicious dinner at Francis .  We found this charming restaurant by using the SF Eater Guide, in fact it was our resource for our last two trips in Cali cities when we were on the hunt for good 'grub.

Day 2: 

After breakfast at the hotel, we decided to put on our comfy sneakers and layer up our t shirts with jackets for a day of walking and sight seeing. Note: The weather can change quite quickly: one minute you can be lightly sweating while walking up the steep hills in the sun, and the next quite chilly with the brisk winds taking over. Dress in layers.

We took a stroll down to the kitschy and touristy Fisherman's Wharf.  It is worth visiting to take in the sights of the seals basking in the sun (and singing!), to pick up some salt water taffy in more flavours than you could have imagined,  see Alcatraz from over the water or take a tour over to the infamous prison via ferry (the tours c
an take anywhere from 2 hours to 5 hours. We opted to wait for the next time we come with the kids). There are lots of other attractions in this area to keep you busy, from the Aquarium of the Bay to whale watching tours to renting segways and bikes or just strolling the different stores and shops on Pier 29.

We continued on our walk to The Presidio which is a massive park on a former military post that offers great views (and access directly to) the Golden Gate Bridge. 

Stop off for a treat at the Original Ghirardelli store, you can't miss it in the Ghirardelli Square because of the massive sign. Then buckle up to head back up the steep hills folks!

We took the route back so we could see the famous Lombard Street - something I would never attempt to drive down! We meandered through the streets and just took in the different sights and sounds of the city before we headed back for a rest from all of the walking! (Tip: you don't have to walk, you can take an Uber or trolly car!)

The famous Lombard Street

We capped off our second day with drinks and apps at a rooftop patio 620-Jones and then a delicious dinner at Bar Crudo, highly recommended if you are into raw fish ( I mean that in the best way!)

Walking into 620-Jones

Day 3:

Ah Game day (spoiler alert, Toronto won). 

After grabbing some breakfast at the hotel, we hopped into the hotel's complimentary car (another perk!) and got dropped off as far as they could provide in their 3 mile radius and landed in Japan Town. From there we walked 20 minutes to see the famous "painted ladies." (note that the walk can take you through some streets that may not super friendly.) The famous Victorian row houses, dubbed the painted ladies, were on our list because our kids are fans of Full House. So we had to head up to see them for ourselves.

The painted ladies

Next we headed down to Union square ( a 40 minute walk - we needed to make sure we got our steps in!), where you can shop, shop and shop. It's home to all the high end shops and big department stores, as well as the Taj Campton Place Hotel. We stayed here on a quick trip last year as well, and loved the service, charm and location of this property. 

We wrapped up our last day with dinner (and a game 4 win!) in China Town at Mister Jiu's, a delicious high end Chinese cuisine in a historic part of the city! Get there earlier and walk around to take in the sights and sounds of China Town.

Chinatown at night

What are your recommendations for San Francisco? Share in the comments because I can't wait to go back!


Tuesday, November 19, 2019

The Winter Blues

It's happening. I can feel it in my bones. The first major snow of the season has blanketed our roads, lawns and driveways. The frigid cold is settling in (much too early may I add). The dwindling daylight hours are making it difficult to want to leave the house after 5 pm or to even get out of bed before 8 am.  The lethargy is slipping into my bones making it harder to move and a dim fog is settling itself over my brain, making me want to do nothing and just stay cozy. The winter blues are here.

Every winter, usually in December right around the winter solstice, I get the blues. Like a dark, stormy navy blue kind of blues. The winter blues can affect many of us, particularly those who live in colder climates like I do in Southern Ontario (but seriously don't let the southern part fool you). Sometimes, these blues can evolve into Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). The disorder can zap you of your energy and affect your mood, and even start to cause depression. Other times the winter blues just makes everything around us blah. For me it can take away my creativity, dwindle my energy, blurry my focus and just overall make me miserable.

Which is why last winter I tried a revolutionary new treatment! I had done some careful research and was very courageous in volunteering myself as the test subject. I had decided to ditch winter for 9 glorious days and went down to Panama. Poor me, I know. Don't worry, I took the kids (and the husband) so it wasn't all roses and sunshine. Ok, it was A LOT of sunshine, you should see how much by reading my posts here and here and here (shameless plug). But the physical change and filling up on a large dose of Vitamin D and Vitamin Sea was exactly what I needed to get myself through last winter. Except that by March I felt depleted and needed an additional session of this therapy. Alas, my request (by my financial advisor aka my husband) was rejected. 

Since this winter, I have no prescription for a trip down south (although if anyone wants to get me a plane ticket, I won't say no),  I'm arming myself already with some tips that have helped in the past. 

What I do:
  1.  Light therapy: A couple of years ago I got myself a "happy light." We've probably heard about them and their benefits of helping to mimic day light without harmful UV rays. To be completely honest, I don't know if it actually works. But I do take mine out and plug it in by my desk and turn it on a few times a day starting in November. If anything it brightens up the room.
  2. Vitamin D: It is commonly called the sunshine vitamin, and I was advised by my family doctor to take 2000 IU/day - which means two tablets daily. (But please, consult your family physician first!)
  3. Talk to A Doctor: Before starting any therapy, even the light therapy or taking vitamins, go and speak to your family doctor. I usually schedule and appointment in Mid December to check in with her about how I'm feeling and to see what I am doing for myself to help those feelings of blahness. She's supportive and wonderful, and helps me monitor how I feel so the winter blues don't develop into something more.
  4. Move: Frankly, it's the last thing I want to do in the cold winter months when my body feels sluggish and cold. But I try to schedule in some group workout sessions a couple of times a week, pre paying for a class is a pretty good motivator! Plus working out with friends is wonderful for the soul. I also try to get out at least once a day for a walk (yes even if its freezing!. This is in actuality a lot easier than it seems. How you may ask? Get your kids a puppy and find out! (muahahaha - insert evil laugh)
  5. Lykke yourself: Yes I always promote self compassion and kindness towards yourself, and you should always 'like' yourself, but also trying "lykke-ing" too.  It is pronounces "Luu-Kah" and is the Danish word for happiness.  I had read "The Little Book of Lykke" last year and it helped to change some of my perspectives. Imagine a country where it can be much colder and much longer (ok, just as cold and just as long) as here in Canada, yet they have a way of enjoying the longest season of the year - and being happy with it! The tips in this book have helped me to (try) to enjoy winter a little more and to help change my perspective so I'm not just hibernating and waiting out the season. I'm trying to find happiness in my least favourite season. I'm getting outside and taking the kids outside to play, to skate, to toboggan, to hike and to take in the beauty that does exist in the frozen tundra that is Toronto.

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