This Mama Needs a Vacay

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

Monday, September 16, 2019

Sephora Haul



I'm obviously no beauty blogger or beauty queen. My general philosophy is to use whatever it is I have. The problem is actually that I have a lot of products. Things I read about, see online or have someone recommend I often end up getting and trying.  It's a bit of a problem, especially since I rarely ever finish products before moving on to the next one. So I decided that I was going to streamline and just focus on the products I love and not buy anything until I had completely run out.

Enter the Sephora VIB sale this past August. Gulp.  I had to take advantage one final time (or at least until their next sale), and stock up on some of my favourites, and try a couple of new products out. But hey, with Sephora's amazing return policy I can return whatever doesn't work out for me. So here's what I bought in my recent haul, some items are repeat and some are new.
On Repeat:

Nars Radiant Creamy Concealer: This is the one make up product I would not want to do without. I love the texture, the coverage and the colour matches to help cover my under eye circles. 
Re-buy? YES

Caudalie Premier Cru Anti-Aging Eye Cream: I was introduced to Caudalie first during a facial at Toronto's Miraj Hammam Caudalie Spa and was hooked instantly. This eye cream is thick and perfect to help moisturize my delicate under eyes.
RE-buy? YES

Caudalie Premier Cru Anti-Aging Cream: I matched the eye cream with the Premier Cru cream that I use primarily when my skin is dry, such as in the winter months. I don't breakout from it and it's not greasy or oily.
RE-buy? YES

Herbivore Coco Rose Coconut Oil Body Polish: I love love the rose smell of this body scrub, plus the hydration from the coconut oil. But mostly it's the smell I love.
Re-buy? YES

Bumble and Bumble Hairdresser's Invisible Oil Heat & UV Protective Primer: I purchased this after I used a trial sample that I got from Sephora. I love the smell and how it protects my hair from the heat torture I put it through.
Re-Buy? YES

New:


Charlotte Tilbury Matte Revolution Lipstick (Colour: Pillow Talk) : I bought this one a whim, mostly because I liked the packaging and I saw it recommended somewhere online (I forget where). But the colour doesn't work for my skin tone. It washes my lips out. I still love Tom Ford's Indian Rose as a neutral pink for my skin tone ( that is on my Re-Buy list for sure)
Re-Buy? No

Briogeo Apple Super foods Shampoo & Conditioner: I decided to purchase this Shampoo and Conditioner duo once I tried the free sample I had. I was able to get two uses out of my samples, and was hooked! It made my hair so healthy and shiny.
Re-Buy? Most likely

Caudalie VineActiv Vitamin C Anti- Wrinkle Serum: So as a Caudalie fan, I'm keeping with the same line of products. I had been using the Premieur Cru serum, but it is pricey and I didn't love the smell. So I'm trying this one out because it has Vitamin C which should eliminate a step before my serum (or is that for after?)
Re-Buy? Undecided 

Earth's Nectar Jojoba & Tea Tree Scalp Oil: Lately my scalp has been a disaster! It's been very dry and flaky and even the medicated shampoo hasn't been great. I've been using this oil lightly on my clean hair on the spots that are super dry and then use more as a scalp massage before I wash my hair. So far I really like this product! When used sparingly the smell is very mild and it absorbs well onto my scalp and has been helping with the dryness without making my hair weighed down with oil.
Re-Buy? YES

What are your Must Have Beauty Items? Any that I should add to my list for the next sale?



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Thursday, September 12, 2019

Celebrating Year One on the blog!


It's officially been one year!

One year since I set up my blog.
One year since I posted my first post.
One year since I got out of my comfort zone.
One year since I stopped making excuses.
One year since I finally just did it.

The idea of starting a blog had been circulating in my mind for several years. I've always  enjoyed writing, I've always loved to share my honest experiences and reviews on places I've been to and talk frankly about my parenting truths. Plus I needed a creative output, the endless cycle of laundry and dishes wasn't doing it for me. I needed something else. So a good friend planted the idea of writing a blog. Then another friend whispered some kind encouragement about writing online, then another friend yelled at me and basically told me to get off of my butt and just do it already.

So I finally did it. I set up a blog. This Mama Needs a Vacay was born. It took multiple false starts for this blog. I was trying to find the right focus, the right name, the right look. Nothing ever felt perfect, so it all just lay lost someplace out on the inter web. But somehow, this time one year ago, I just did it. I created this site, imperfect as it was, imperfect as it still is. But it's here, and it's been one whole year.

But in this last year, every like, every click, every comment, every DM, every share, every text message, every word of support that I have gotten from family, friends and strangers 
has given This Mama a purpose. So I thank you. I thank you for all of your support. I thank you for every click, comment, share. I thank you for reading this.

What's up next? I don't know exactly. But I do know that I started this strictly as a family travel blog because I was playing it safe. I had also had a banner travel year celebrating my 40th birthday so I had lots of content to share. However I've got more to share. So slowly I'm helping the blog turn into a different direction where there still will any kind of travel related content that I can muster up (which also means, ahem - honey, I need to book some trips!). I'm also going to share more of my parenting thoughts and journey. I'm going to share my interests in reading, fashion, eating out and basically thoughts on whatever may be happening out in the world. I'm going to share more of this mama.

I hope you continue to stay on this journey with me. But more than anything else, I thank you for being here already and for reading this.


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Monday, September 9, 2019

What I read this summer




I had grand dreams of sitting poolside with my book, soaking in the warm weather checking off my summer reading list. But I had forgotten about the kids. They were there too. Usually happy and in the pool but there was splashing and calls of "Mom! Watch me! Watch this! Are you watching?", all which makes reading a little distracting. But I was going to read and get caught up on my Goodreads reading challenge ( alas, I'm still quite far behind).

So I choose some books this summer that were more entertaining and light that some of the others that are sitting on my bookshelf beckoning to be read ( yes I see you The Ministry of Utmost Happiness: A Novel, I'll get to you soon!) I wanted to read books that were a form of escapism where the noise of the splashing wouldn't distract me. But I also stuck to a bit of a theme, I choose book by female authors from a South Asian background. The fact that there were so many new choices for me to pick from this summer was a win right there. There was a time not long ago when I didn't see so much diversity reflected on the shelves at the bookstore.


Here's (some) of what I read:


The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters: A Novel, by Balli Kaur Jaswal: Follow the adventures of three British born Indian sisters who embark on a journey to India to fulfill their mother's last request. This was a fun read which made me emotional (which isn't saying much to be honest, I'm a crier), but also was enjoyable reading about the sisters' adventures in different parts of India.  I enjoyed reading the descriptions of the different parts of India and comparing them with how I had recently experienced them. Balli Kaur Jaswal also does a good job with touching upon a lot of issues that South Asian women living in the diaspora have to deal with in different stages of their adult life.

The Chai Factor, by Farah Heron: The fact that the author, Farah Heron is a Toronto based desi mom had me excited to read this. The story follows Amira the engineer who doesn't date and stays laser focused on her professional goals but who unwillingly falls for a lumberjack.  I didn't expect a romantic novel like this, but I savoured it! 

Pride, Prejudice and other Flavours, by Sonali Dev: Dr. Trisha Rajee breaks some family rules and has to redeem herself in the eyes of her family, but falls in love along the way. Another romantic novel, but set in San Francisco in an affluent, over-achieving Indian family with Jane Austen's themes woven throughout. Part of me wanted this book to hurry up and end so I could get my happy ending and stop being so frustrated by the two main characters, but then I felt bored and lonely when it was done!

Stories for South Asian Super Girls by Raj Kaur Khaira: I bought this for my daughters, but I also loved going through it to find so many stories about South Asian women and their amazing accomplishments. The illustrations are beautiful as the stories are inspiring, and really this book should be on the bookshelves for everyone as it seeks to empower young brown girls by telling stories of women who look like them. It would make a great gift!

What did you read this summer?




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Thursday, September 5, 2019

Why Los Angeles is the perfect place to take your teen



Southern California, home to surfers, palm trees, perfect weather and Hollywood stars galore. Los Angeles is the epitome of cool. Which makes it the perfect place to take your teenager to help earn you some "cool mom" points.  (My kid is cringing even as I write those words.  Consider my "cool mom" card to be revoked). 




In trying to carve out special one on one time with our kids, we decided to start a new family tradition : taking a short trip with each of our kids before they start high school. They get to pick the place as long as it's within continental North America (sorry kid - no Maui for you!). So Los Angeles it was!

Our requirements for this trip were that our teen had to come up with a general itinerary, or at least a list of places she would like to see and what she wanted to do in LA.  While Universal Studios made that list, it didn't make our itinerary as we had 3 short days to discover all we could in la-la land.



Where we stayed:


For starters we contemplated where to stay, should it be in glamorous Beverly Hills or ocean side in Santa Monica. We ended up opting for the Fairmont Miramar. You can find out why we chose this property and other thoughts on a full blog post that I wrote here.

The Fairmont and location in Santa Monica made for a pretty good choice for our teen.

Other hotels that we had considered were Shutters on the Beach in Santa Monica, which is directly on the beach and the ultimate in luxury. Except that the rooms couldn't accommodate the three of us in one room and upgrading to a suite was $$$$. We also considered the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills where good friends of ours recently had the most exceptional stay.


What we ate:

A major part of our travels always revolves around eating good food! Luckily for us our teen loves to try new foods. I usually do my research before hand (this time we had recommendations by a friend who lives in LA and we also used LA Eater to give us suggestions). 
Breakfasts were in the hotel at the Fairmont's Fig restaurant where the teen may have gotten a selfie with The Terminator himself! (gimme back my cool mom points). 

Lunches were out and about, but dinners were researched and booked. 
We ate at:
Rustic Canyon in Santa Monica - a Michelin starred farm to table concept restaurant that was delicious and with great service.
Gjelina - a hot and happening restaurant in Venice,  which has good food and a cool vibe but personally we found the 20% automatic gratuity to be excessive (especially since the service didn't match)
Osteria Mozza - a Michelin starred Italian restaurant in Melrose, which was good.

Other notable restaurants that were recommended to us:
Bestia 
Bagel
Republique
Felix
Animal
Nobu Malibu (tip - you can try a walk in since reservations are super hard to get)


What we did:

While the Los Angeles area is known for theme parks, in our short 3 day itinerary we opted to not do Universal Studios and Disneyland (after all we couldn't make the other kids at home too jealous!)

Instead we did:

Surf Lessons - this was high on the list of requests by the teen.  She's a natural water baby and loves the ocean, so her and dad got private surf lessons with the Santa Monica Surf School. Their instructor Adam was amazing and this kid is now ready to become a full time surfer!
    Surfer Girl





Beach Life: The L.A are beaches are perfect with huge stretches of soft sand.  We did the Venice beach and boardwalk, Santa Monica Beach and Pier, and the Malibu Pier and Surfrider Beach.  We didn't spend a lot of time at the famous Santa Monica Pier because it was busy and what not things this time around, but it is a vibrant and fun place.



Santa Monica



Warner Bros. Studio Tour: We opted for a studio tour since we were in Hollywood after all. We did the 3 hour tour. We bought our tickets when we got to the studios but you can buy your tickets online ahead of time.  The tours run every 30 mins and are $69/pp.  We had a great time on the sets of Friends, exploring all things Harry Potter, seeing the props from Marvel movies and keeping our eyes peeled for any celebrity sightings (there were none though).

Warner Bros. Studio Hollywood

Rodeo Drive and Beverly Hills: We had to make a stop here even though we weren't planning on doing any shopping (boo!).  There was a free Louis Vuitton exhibit that we went into and we have to say it was the highlights of our stroll along the famous street.

Inside the LV exhibit

Griffith Observatory and Park: This was a pleasant surprise, because it was a part of L.A that I didn't expect - the hills and the views of the city were beautiful.   The Observatory is free except for parking (ahhhh the L.A parking!). It is a great spot for some educational angles but also just for some beautiful views of the city and of the famous Hollywood sign.  Bring water and comfy shoes as well and place for a hike up there. The Observatory does have a little cafe to purchase food or you can bring a picnic and enjoy the grounds.





Hollywood Walk of Fame and Chinese TCL Theater: one of the most famous parts of Hollywood. It is crowded, busy and touristy but we found it was worth it - for the 45 minutes we spent there. Especially for the teen who enjoyed looking for the different stars on the walk of fame.






Malibu: ah Malibu, beautiful but expensive and busy on a weekend. We paid $8 USD for ice cream (each!) on the Malibu Pier.   Some cute shops and restaurants and some laid back casual style but also some dressed to impress stylish people. 




Other things we did:

We drove down the famous Sunset Blvd, during sunset through Beverly Hills and then Bel Air.  We didn't check out any celebrity homes because I didn't have an information on any of that, so we just took in the sights.

Abbot Kinny Blvd in Venice is a great place to stroll and take in the shops and restaurants, we spent a little time there before our dinner out at Gjelina.

The Santa Monica 3rd Street promenade was walking distance from our hotel so we decided to check it out. The street is closed off to cars and is pedestrian friendly with street artists and performers, street art and lots of shops and cafes.

The 3rd street Promenade in Santa Monica



Other Tips & resources 

Resources:

Give yourself LOTS of time in traffic, especially for the airport. L.A traffic is a real thing ya'll!

LA isn't an inexpensive city as one may have guessed, be warned. Also be prepared to pay for parking everyyyywhhherrreee!

What are you not to be missed spots in LA? Share in the comments!
























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Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Fairmont Miramar Santa Monica


When we decided to head to sunny LA, with just our eldest, we opted for a hotel since it would be a quick stay. But of course, where to start when choosing a property and location? Our criteria included:
  • Luxury: I like nice things and I cannot lie and that means I like staying at nice places. As American Express cardholders we are able to pick properties from their Fine Hotels & Resort program which include a vast selection of luxury properties almost anywhere in the world. 
  • Perks: While I like nice things, I don't like to have to pay the big bucks (but really who does?).  So part of the advantage of booking the Amex FHR's program are the benefits included. For our stay at The Fairmont Miramar daily breakfast for 2 included was included, a guaranteed late check out (so we booked a late flight out and got a full day in), a $100 resort credit (which we applied towards lunch) and a room upgrade (see more below).
  • Location: Travelling with our kids means we need a family friendly hotel in a location that has things of interest for our kids and ideally are easy to get to. Walking distance to the beach is a big plus! Plus the location in Santa Monica meant we were somewhat closer to the airport when we were battling LA traffic (which is a real thing folks!). 

So based on price, availability and above criteria, we opted for the Fairmont Miramar in Santa Monica. My thoughts? Read on...


Rooms

I'm starting off with the weakest link here. We had booked a deluxe double ocean view room and were upgraded to a Premier Ocean View Room in the Ocean Tower. But honestly, I felt our room was (quite) below Fairmont standards (to put it kindly). It was smaller than expected with two double beds and a desk in the corner but had a balcony with chairs (nice). It was also a room that had some wear and tear, things need to be updated and replaced. The bathroom was small, especially for an upgraded room in a luxury hotel.  The view was more of a partial Ocean view and of the Santa Monica Pier but most mornings it's hard to see much anyways with the LA smog. Overall it was underwhelming and quite expensive for what it was. If we had brought our whole family, it would have been a very tight fit for the five of us in this room category, we would have to get two adjoining rooms or upgrade to a suite or bungalow.

 View from our Premier Ocean View Room

Service

I personally feel that the Fairmont brand has done a very good job with training their staff for their customer service. In reflecting on our previous Fairmont stays (the most recent being in Maui), it has been consistent from housekeeping to concierge to the front desk to basically every member of staff we encountered.


Amenities 

This property has valet parking for $50 USD a day (parking costs in LA - don't get me started!); a complimentary house car that can take you or pick you up from anywhere in a 3 mile radius (which we did use!); complimentary use of house bicycles (they also had bikes for kids); a beach club with shuttle provided to take you to their beach. However you have to make a reservation for this and as we were there on a busy weekend we were placed on a wait list and didn't get the beach club experience. That was dissappointing as one of the main reasons for choosing this property was its proximity to the beach.Here is a complete list of the amenities available at this property.

Complimentary bikes to take out 

One thing that we thought was thoughtful and fun was their Bedside Reading program where complimentary books are left in your room for you to take to the pool, the beach or even back home. And they had included one that was teenager approved.


Dining

We dined at The Fig Restaurant for breakfast twice and were met with friendly service, and delicious food and even a celebrity sighting!!! (hint: "I'll be back".). We also grabbed some lunch at the the little Dogtown Coffee cafe and were met with friendly service and fresh food.





Location

The Fairmont Miramar is located right across the street from Santa Monica beach and a short walk to the Santa Monica Pier. There are restaurants and shops within walking distance in the 3rd street promenade. The hotel is a 30 minute drive in moderate traffic to the airport, but also about 20-30 minutes to most locations in LA such as Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Rodeo Drive, Venice beach. 


The bungalows


Overall

Fairmont properties are consistent and we usually know what to expect from them. They are family friendly properties, but this one in Santa Monica also has a party vibe with their bar The Bungalow ( so if travelling with kids, ask to not have your room close to it!).  
Based on the location, amenities and service standard the Fairmont makes for a good choice, however the rooms are a little tighter for space if you have a family of four or more and frankly they need a complete re-haul especially for this price point. 



Pool Views






 Where do you like to stay when in sunny LA?

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Monday, August 26, 2019

My latest for Masala Mommas

Summer is almost over ( say it ain't so!), and with it may be the notion of the "summer body".
Check out my latest article for Masala Mommas where I talk about the ridiculous pressure women face to get and maintain a body that is fit for summer.




Click here to take you to Masala Mommas


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Wednesday, August 21, 2019

The Truth about Travelling with Kids

It sucks. There, I said it. Travelling with your kids can be a miserable, terrible and soul sucking experience. I know my posts on my blog and on my instagram tell a different story. The story of whimsical days at the beach, frolicking together in the warm gentle waves; of walking city blocks hand in hand exploring big city culture; of fun filled family days at amusement parks; of building memories that we will forever cherish.

Lies.

Ok, not all complete lies. I may be a little bit dramatic here (I like to think of it as one of my endearing quirks.) If you ask my kids, 99% of the time they come back with stories of the great time they've had and usually forget about the times that mom screamed - a lot. I usually come back from our trips and upload our pictures and think, wow - what a great time that was. The pictures remind me how breathtaking Haleakala was and how much fun the kids had playing in both oceans in Panama and how adventurous the kids were trying oysters in New York.

What those pictures fail to tell is how sick three of us felt from the altitude change and how we hung back in the car; how the no see 'ems ate us up alive in the Atlantic ocean to the point where we couldn't even sleep; and how much the kids complained that they were still hungry after eating dozens of oysters (and spending all my money). Because who actually takes pictures of the miserable moments? The whining, complaining, tantrum throwing, yelling, crying just don't make it into the photos. I just don't think to pull out the camera and document that part of the reality of our travelling, because I'm often too busy putting out the fires, wiping tears away (mine) and trying to (but often failing) to stay calm.



Also, If I'm also being completely honest here, there is a little bit of shame associated with the honesty too. I don't want to come home and only remember the terrible moments. I don't want to admit my kids made me cry on our vacation and that I wanted to leave them in Halifax to finish our East Coast trip while I flew home by myself (true story, I even checked the return flights!).

There is a lot of time, money and energy spent on planning and doing these trips, and I do them because I want to show my kids the beauty of this world. I want to show them different cultures, expose them to people and customs from around the world, to have them try new food and to see the beauty of our planet with their own eyes. I want to take in their reactions and see things that I've seen before through their lens. I also want my kids to be grateful and appreciative for these experiences and to be on their best behaviour at all times justifying the cost & time associated with travel and reassuring me of my competent parenting skills. I'm not asking that much (ha!)

Reality: not all of them will be happy posing for pictures
But we all know what the reality of travelling with kids can be, and frankly the everyday reality of parenting in general. It's not perfect, and that's ok. I have to remember that, but I also have to keep the following in mind when I travel with my family:

  1. There will be tears most days: and some days those tears will be mine. Just pack tissues.
  2. There will be complaints: of being bored, or tired or hungry. Pack snacks, lots of them. And maybe ear plugs. 
  3. Adjust your expectations: think the kids will be overjoyed with seeing The Mona Lisa or be thrilled with being taken to the most magical place on earth - Disney? Maybe some of the time, but they may also just be happy playing at a local playground so if they are happy, let them be.
  4. Remember that they do appreciate the work: just like with everything else involved in parenting, kids will one day, eventually appreciate what amazing experiences you've given them. I hope.
  5. Sometimes the trip isn't about them: it's about you and for you. Disney World was for my kids, but Udaipur was for me, and that's okay because the kids came along for the ride and were wowed themselves.
  6. A family trip still means parenting: Just because we are on a gorgeous beach in Maui, doesn't mean that I'm on vacation ( do parents ever really get a vacation?). I may not have to cook all of our meals, but I still have to parent. I still have to plan our daily itinerary, and pack the snacks and water bottles and set the navigation or pick out the restaurant and make sure we eat our meals before the hangry sets in. Oh and wipe snot, kiss the boo-boos, breakup the fights - you know - parenting. Just in Paradise.
  7. Set Time for me: I don't usually escape to the spa on family trips (although maybe I should!), but usually working in a 20 minute walk by myself, or browsing in a store or sitting on my own reading gives me the mental space I need to breathe. The kids can sit in front of the i-pad for awhile if they need to - it's their vacation too.


What do you do to help you enjoy the most out of travelling with your kids?

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