Back To School Traditions

16th August 2018

Back To School

CJ started Montessori School in Toronto when he was two. Then at four, he joined Life Project Education for a few weeks while we were digital nomading in Costa Rica. Next month he’ll be entering pre-kindergarten at his new school in the SF Bay Area.

This kid sure gets around! And I was right there with him at every first drop-off… with a big encouraging smile all the while holding back tears behind my extra large sunglasses.

We mark the end of summer (gosh is it really, already?!) with a trip to the CNE, filling our bellies with cinnamon dusted Tiny Tom donuts. Then it’s all about the photos on the first day. Bribing CJ with swedish berries for a snapshot by his locker. At the end of the school year, we ask his teachers to write messages in a copy of Dr. Seuss’ “Oh The Places You’ll Go”… which we plan to give him on his graduation.

Back to school sign

Here are a few other fun ideas to kick off your new school year…

Get a large t-shirt made with “class of _____”. How cute would it be to take a photo each year and watch them grow into their grad shirt. (It’s going to be #classof2032 for us!!)

If you have little ones, tame their jitters (and your anxiety) by reading The Kissing Hand or The Invisible String together.

Make a schuletüte – a great arts and crafts project! Based on a German tradition, it’s basically a school surprise ‘cone’ that parents fill up with supplies and treats. Check out Pinterest for inspo.

 

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Let’s Not Make It A Political Or Geographic Thing, It’s A People Thing!

23rd July 2018

Flowers Basil

I had planned on staying glued to the news and mourn silently from abroad because my home town of Toronto is Trending on social media for another tragic shooting. One too many all in a few weeks. I’m SAD, SAD, SAD and now angry because my Twitter feed has been peppered that somehow the Danforth Shooting was America’s fault (guns coming across the border)!!

Why do I care because everyone is blaming America for its poor leadership so what’s one more eye poke?

I CARE because my husband and I chose to move our son to the United States last month despite how ‘discriminating, violent and horrible’ a county it is. (Thank you friendly Canadians for pointing that out.)

HOWEVER….

Yesterday, a woman who lives across the street decided to come over just to say hello. This is our first meeting. She wore a red 45 #maga hat. She came back a few hours later with flowers, basils and strawberries, all grown from her garden and a cookie for my son.

In our King West condo, we’ve been in an elevator with neighbours riding up/down 30 floors, listening to Trump bashing and boycotting the US. Not a nod of a greeting, no acknowledgement that there is a little human being making a silly monster face at you (too busy on Instagram and tripped over our stroller).

Sure this is a small gesture but what experience do you think my son is going to remember having lived in both countries? When we teach him acts of kindness, who’s a better example?

I love you Toronto but you are so full of hate now and I’m heartbroken.

I’m just saying… friends, please don’t make it a political thing. Or a geographic thing. I keep reading how people are ‘shocked that it happened in such a family oriented community’. That’s just naive. Because at the end, it’s really a people thing. <– This goes for guns too.

Banning weapons works in functional societies. And it clearly appears that ours is broken. So let’s address the bigger issues of mental health and a burnt out over medicated population (especially in large dense cities like Toronto). Lock up anything that is destructive but if there is a will, there is a way.

And really why do you want to see a whole country fail because of one election? Because that also means you want to see my family fail since we now live here and my husband’s business is 90% American.

So as I’m typing this in my cozy home in California, my son is at summer camp and I’m not even sure where hubs is but I hope they (and your family) are safe. Such incidents like this remind us that no one and no place is invincible. Canada AND United States. Let’s work on being kind to each other.

End rant.

 

Summer Beauty Favourites

11th July 2018

Summer Beauty

When it comes to beauty in the summer, less is definitely more. I like to keep my routine quick and simple. Here are my favourite products to help you get through the sun and heat…

Argan Brightening Facial Scrub

Acure Organics is one of my favourite beauty brands. For the past five years, I’ve been using their facial wash, toner and this fabulous scrub (twice a week) to get a deep cleansing experience like I would at a fancy spa. The scrub has just the right amount of grainy texture so you can feel it working on your face but it’s still gentle enough that sensitive skin doesn’t feel tight or dried out. ($15)

Burt’s Bee Facial Towelettes

I always have these wet towelettes stashed in my purse so I could remove makeup and excess oil lickety split. The Peach and Willow Bark version exfoliates (bonus!) and smells absolutely delicious. They comes in a pack of 30 and are a beauty must-have at home and on the go. ($10)

Lavanila The Healthy Deodorant

I love the Lavanila product line because they use natural ingredients and are bursting with beautiful scents like vanilla, lemon, coconut and grapefruit. This deodorant contains no aluminum, paraben or propylene glycol and doesn’t leave yellow pit marks on your white shirts. The only downside is it doesn’t stop sweat completely so if you are really active, you will need to reapply the deodorant to ensure maximum odour protection. ($17) Also comes in a travel size. ($11)

 

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Hey Moms, Don’t Be A Susan!

7th July 2018

Mom truth

Parents, please read this article This Is Why Social Media Makes Modern Parenting Hard… and don’t be a Susan! She’s a unicorn anyway.

Susan is that woman, that mom. We all know a Susan. She’s an over-achiever, but makes it all look effortless. She only needs three hours of sleep a night. She doesn’t just have a crafting table, she has an entire crafting wing in her house!

Susan has a cookie cutter for every occasion, including Arbor Day and Flag Day. She never misses a volunteer opportunity. She has a freezer full of homemade casseroles and a refrigerator full of pre-prepped nutritional and delicious meals (toddler and adult versions of course).

Susan’s children are never bored. They are always engaged in developmentally appropriate sensory play, thoughtfully running their little hands through moon sand or rainbow oats or feel frames. They don’t watch TV.

Once upon a time, I really tried to be a Susan. I was a high achiever ‘super mom’ for probably a year and half and took mega pride in juggling my career as a marketing exec, blogger, teacher and new mama who shopped all organic and strived for that polished playful Instagram feed.

Well not always… see that photo above? It was taken after I left for two minutes to go pee. That is after holding it in for the last hour to feed, dress and wipe his boo boo’s. Only to come back to every toy taken out including an opened Canada Post parcel. The little monster was supposed to be sick that day and stayed home from school. The struggle is real!

So now I’m just CJ’s mom who goes to bed — yes sometimes at 9pm! with stickers in my dry-shampooed hair, promising myself that I’ll try harder tomorrow. So mamas, even if you are not a Susan, you are still doing great!

Share your Susan moments in the comments section below and follow my less than perfect #momlife on Instagram!

 

A Step By Step Guide To Moving To The United States

4th July 2018

Moving To USA

When CJ needed more green space, we quickly realized that our big city life was expiring. Then hubby wanted to be closer to his clients to grow his business and after an extra long stretch of winter, I was simply done with the cold…  so we began hatching out a plan to move from Toronto to the SF Bay Area!

As exciting as it is moving to another country, it is also a LOT of work. Planners got to plan right! It took over a year to secure our E1 Visas, sell most of our stuff and transition our business. We even snuck in some travel in between, including a Route 66 road trip!  

Route 66

Now that we are finally here, I thought I’ll share some tips and advice to help other expats who are considering a move to the US, less overwhelming. From finding a new home to filing government paperwork, here are some important things you should know and plan before throwing that farewell party…

US Visas

There are many types of visas. Most common ones to get are through a company, whether it’s an internal transfer or a new hire. If you own a small business, you may qualify for the E1 or E2 visa. I wrote a detailed step by step guide on how to apply for an E1 visa here.

Importing a Car (from Canada to US)

While this is not a costly endeavour, it is a time consuming and very tedious process so I’ve dedicated an entire post and outlined the 5 mandatory steps here. If you are driving there are 2 options: import your car at the border or wait till you get to the port of your new home State. You can also visit the US Customs and Border Protection website for more information.

International movers or pack your own pod?

My cousin moved from Ottawa to LA and she spent over $5,000 USD hiring movers. Since we sold most of our furniture and just needed to move 35 boxes and our bicycles, we decided to use a Pod service. To keep costs even lower, we actually drove our stuff across the Buffalo border and loaded it into the Pod ourselves. Instead of having them drop it off/pickup, we saved $2,000 and ended up paying around $3,000 for a 16x8x8 container.

Since we planned on taking our time to drive Route 66, there was no rush in getting our things delivered at a set time. So from Toronto to San Francisco, the Pod arrived in 9 days and we had it stored for the rest of the month for an additional $160. 

Departure meeting with a cross-border accountant

Do you know that if you have RSP’s, TFSA’s and other such Canadian investments, those can be taxed in the US? I didn’t either!

That’s why it’s important to setup an appointment with an accountant who specializes in cross-border taxes at least one month before you leave. You’ll receive advice on restructuring personal assets and/or how to most efficiently conduct business in the US if you are a SMB owner. (You may need to setup a B Corp etc.)

At $300-500 CAD for a one or two hour meeting is pretty expensive but I still consider this a worthy investment. IRS is mean and complicated to navigate yourself especially during your first transitional year!

Finding accommodations

Put the word out and start your search about 5-6 months before your desired arrival. We decided on a short term rental which I lucked out and found on Craigslist. We figured half a year is a good timeline to feel out a neighbourhood before committing. And since we sold all our furniture, we picked a  furnished place to ease the stress of having to immediately go shopping.

Airbnb and HomeAway are obvious places to look for rentals and I use them often for vacations but I found with longer term stays, the service fees can add up. However, you can always reach out to the owner and negotiate a monthly rate as well. I’ve seen some that were discounted 40% for longer term stays! Don’t forget to also scope out Zillow, local Facebook groups, Sabbatical Homes and World Schooler Exchange . In the East Bay, the community site Berkeley Parents Network (BPN) rocks for finding short term stays.

If you plan on buying, talk to a realtor 7-8 months before your target moving date. Give even more time in competitive real estate markets. If you are planning to move to the Bay Area, my cousin, Kelvin owns Sequoia Real Estate so give him a ring!

 

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How To Import Your Car From Canada To USA

30th June 2018

Import Car to USA

Hubby has a serious attachment to our car so when we made the move to the US, the car of course, was coming with us!

We considered railing it but after getting a quote of $3,000 USD, we decided the money would be better spent on a fun Route 66 road trip with hubby’s dad. CJ and I would then fly to Phoenix to meet them and the three or us would continue the drive to our new home.

During our research we found articles that were outdated or written by people who never even went through the process! So we decided to share our experience of how we imported our car from Toronto to San Francisco.

There are 5 mandatory steps…

1. Get a clearance letter

Three weeks before your department date, call your vehicle’s corporate office to request a clearance letter. Which basically states that your car conforms to safety and environmental protection standards. They will ask for your VIN and other manufacture information which can be found on the stickers on the driver’s side.

At Lexus it took less than one week to receive this letter by email and there was no charge. However, we did have a scare when we found out that vehicles made after 2007 were required to have a tire pressure feature. Luckily the premium package for our RX350 had it so we were cleared!

Prepare ample time to get this letter incase modifications are required or you decide to avoid the hassle altogether and just buy a new car when you get to the US.

2. Paperwork at the border

We entered the US at the Detroit border. There was a one page ‘vehicle clearance’ form to fill out and an inspection by the Border Patrol Officer. Remember to have your proof of registration with you. Your name and ownership title must match the purchase agreement or you will need to go back to your dealership to get this corrected. (This could be the case if you purchased your car second-hand from Craigslist or if the car was given to you by your parents, etc.)

Because of an agreement with NAFTA, there is currently no import charge.

Alternatively you can import your car at a port in the State which you plan on moving to. Here are the ports of entry. IMO this is an easy process so it’s better to get it done and over with when you cross the border instead of driving all the way to your new home State. Imagine if  somehow your car doesn’t meet standards and you end up having to drive all the way back!

 

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Disney World: 5 tips to help you stay sane in the happiest place on earth

12th June 2018

Cinderella Castle

BY GUEST BLOGGER, SHARON LUI

For my recent birthday, my dad gifted me a pair of vintage Mickey Mouse ears that he bought in the 1980’s on our first family trip to Disney World in Florida. Seeing those magical ears instantly brought back memories of me at 7 years old, standing in front of Cinderella’s castle, wondering when I was going to marry my prince one day.

Of course, these happy flashbacks convinced me to book my own family vacation to Disney. However, I quickly learned that planning a one week family vacation for 7 people (myself, my husband, our 3 kids and my senior parents) was not for the faint of heart! Is it possible to book a Disney trip and do everything our family wants to see, ride and eat in only 7 days? Could we enjoy the high-energy atmosphere of the parks but also allow time for rest and relaxation? The answer, is a resounding ‘YES’.

Disney World

With some strategic planning and having best Disney resources at my disposal, here are five tips that saved my sanity and allowed my family to have the ultimate magical vacation…

1) SUBSCRIBE TO A DISNEY PLANNING FORUM

Knowledge is power, and what better way to acquire this information then from the Disney experts themselves, who practically live at the parks and offer their tips at a small cost. Touring Plans are an extremely invaluable resource for Disney planning fanatics, as they offer customizable touring plan templates (complete with rest breaks!) and provide a unique crowd calendar that predicts the best time of year to vacation. For only $20 USD, a two year touring plan subscription also includes a restaurant reservation finder service, an in-park chatline, real time ride wait times and a personalized faxed room request. The website forum also provided lots of advice for age appropriate rides, fastpass tips and the best restaurants and shows worth your hard earned money. Subscribing to this site saved me time, money and most importantly of all, stress! It is my first recommendation to anyone who is planning a Disney World trip.

Grand Floridian

 2) STAY ON DISNEY PROPERTY

If you want to take part in the full ‘Disney experience’, my advice is to stay onsite at one of Disney World’s 25 resorts.  You will get access to a slew of on-site perks, including round trip transportation to and from the airport, a 60 day fastpass booking window (in contrast to the 30 days available to off-site guests) and the option to purchase the Disney Dining Plan.  You will also have much closer proximity to the parks then your off-site counterparts (allowing the family time to head back to the hotel for a mid-day for a nap of course)! You will have unlimited access to Disney’s internal bus, boat and monorail transportation system.

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Update: Back In Toronto For A Wee Bit

15th April 2018

City Refinery Wendy

We are back from Costa Rica and will be in Toronto for April.

I didn’t realize until I stepped away for 3 months how much city life grinds on you. It really made me into an anxious production ruled by competitiveness and FOMO. Slow traveling has definitely helped me reset, become more tolerant and less rushed. So I am hoping to walk into the next chapter with a healthier purpose and higher consciousness!

Toronto Raptors Playoffs

Plans have shifted slightly since my last update… our Pod has been packed and shipped off so I can finally relax! Hubby is going ahead and driving Route 66 with his dad while CJ is sleeping over at my parent’s. Which means I get one whole week of me time! <insert happy dance>

Kiin Toronto

I’m looking forward to the Raptors playoffs, a spa day at Body Blitz, checking out the new SpinCo, indulging in all my favourite restaurants like Kiin (try their vegan Khao Yum made with 16 ingredients), Saku Sushi, Tabule and SLEEPING IN!!!

CJ + I will then fly to Arizona in May to meet hubby and from there, we will continue the Route 66 drive to our new home in California!

 

BarNotes: Orange Cardamom Cold Brewed Coffee

22nd March 2018

Orange Cardamom Coffee

I had this coffee in Costa Rica and was addicted after the first sip! I was only able to find it at Tacobar Jaco so I started making my own. Rich in flavour (the cardamon is a warm spice), it’s got both the zest and the buzz! I think you will enjoy it too.

Ingredients:

  • Your favourite coffee blend
  • 1 orange
  • Ground cardamom or 3-5 crushed pods
  • Almond or soy milk
  • Ice cubes
  • Simple syrup or sugar or agave

Preparation:

If you want to get fancy, here’s the recipe for homemade cold brew. Otherwise, you can just use your favourite coffee.

 

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Worldschooling: Life Project Education

20th March 2018

Life Project Education

I am so excited to share this post because I can’t speak highly enough about Life Project Education! I discovered it on a worldschooling website and was so intrigued that I emailed the owner and teacher, Alys immediately and enrolled CJ even before booking our flights! I actually never planned to go to Costa Rica haha but ended up making a whole ‘workcation’ out of it.

When it comes to education, I’m a really proactive mom who sits on the PTA and does extensive online research on all the different options so I really respect Alys for operating such a top notch teaching environment and recommend checking out this school yourself. Plus it’s in Costa Rica… beats your kid reading about sloths and macaws in textbooks when they can actually see them IRL!

Worldschool

Life Project is located in the beach town of Manuel Antonio and considers itself a world school.  So they accept international students ages 4-12 for a day, a week, a month or annually! Their teaching concept is holistic – inspired by neuroscience, child development and human ethics.

The class sizes are small and mixed age, however CJ received dedicated attention and a custom academic program designed for his level. He came home on day 3 to show me his pencil grip, then I overheard something about quantum physics in the 2nd week and during his 3rd week, his teacher commented that he spent 45 mins looking at a human anatomy book. ‘My child?!?!’ I asked proudly haha!

 

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