Summer Beauty Favourites

7th 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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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

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. 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 set up 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 at least 6 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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10 Places To Stay In Costa Rica

17th March 2018

Villa Michelina Manuel Antonio

During our two months in Costa Rica, we stayed in luxury villas, Airbnb condos, hotels and even, a co-working hostel! We wanted our experience to be a healthy balance of mingling with locals to Instagram-worthy, ‘I’m on vacation’ mode!

So here are the 10 family-friendly places we checked into ranging from $100 to $500 CAD a night. Keep in mind, we were here February & March which is high season.

(This is not a sponsored post. We funded this trip entirely on our own and specifically curated these places based on our needs.)

Costa Rica Villa 1

Villa Michelina / Manuel Antonio — This is one of the first places we checked into and it pretty much ruined me! Nothing screams 3000 sqft of ‘luxury’ than soaring 20 ft ceilings, over-the-top headboards and a pool on the edge of a cliff! This 3 bedroom Bali-inspired home is so baller, I basically holed myself up in here for a week — even refusing to go out for dinner and opted to make my own meals in the gourmet kitchen! We also had many critters visit us during our stay… monkeys, iguanas, exotic birds and bull frogs mated on our patio! Downside is the house is secluded on top of a steep hill and you have to drive into town so that’s when a 4×4 SUV comes in handy. ($500/night) *****

Selina Hotel Coworking

Selina Hotel / Manuel Antonio — This is the perfect hub for digital nomads with both an open air and air-conditioned co-working space ($10 USD per day), a restaurant, 3 pools, a yoga lounge and accommodations. It’s mostly hostel style but we stayed in a deluxe cottage room with a private bathroom and balcony. Social and networking events happen weekly (free and some costs $10-15 USD). It’s centrally located and across the street from El Avion, my favourite restaurant in Costa Rica. There are multiple locations around the world. $200/night. (Bunk beds in a shared room starts at $26/night.) ***

Titi Condo Costa Rica

Titi Condos / Quepos — After we decided to extend our trip, we found this place on short notice. It’s a basic 500 sqft two bedroom condo in a gated complex and the price point is ideal for longer term stays. Neighbours are friendly locals and retired expats whom you share a small pool and laundry with. Comes with a housekeeper who checks in every other day. Kinda reminds me of the Melrose Place concept minus the love triangles and drama! ($125/night) ***

Volcano Villa La Fortuna

Volcano Villa / La Fortuna — It’s all about minimalistic and modern features at this 2 bedroom home. The show stopper is the gorgeous volcano view and a rooster that will wake you up in the morning! The hosts are a friendly young couple who lives next door and runs this Airbnb like pros. She’s Canadian and he’s Costa Rican and that’s how the love story goes. You will need a car to transport you to the local attractions (Arenal Volcanos, Hanging Bridges and Hot Springs) as this place is set back on a rural dirt road. ($350/night) ****

 

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My Son Is An Only Child… For These 7 Reasons

15th March 2018

CJ

Now that my son is four I’m constantly being asked if I plan on having more kids. So I’ve come up with a humorous (and very honest) answer… no more, because CJ is like having THREE boys already!

Truth is I wish I could have more. This photo was taken on my birthday a few years ago. Hubby planned a surprise spa day for me at Hockley Valley and CJ was a year and half. Every time I see this my heart strings get tugged because I know it’ll just be him (and his pet rock) forever.

See I’ve always had this ‘two kids or nothing’ rule. But now that I’ve had my first, there are seven very valid reasons why I decided to stop at one…

Private school

1) Private school is $24,000 a year. That will jump to $30,000 when we move to California and he enters kindergarten (age 5 in the US). YIKES! We decided to be open to public school options after hearing so many success stories of great schools in the Bay Area. HOWEVER, this (spared) tuition money isn’t going to be automatically plopped into our savings (or raising another child) because it’ll go straight into the over-inflated rent/mortgage we will have to dole out to snag a Peninsula or East Bay address. FML you can never win right?! Simply put, we can do it and have an ‘average’ life as a family of 4 but heck, we work hard so why settle for mediocre?! We love traveling and already have a wonderful and comfortable lifestyle but it’s only meant for 3 people. Now if we won the lottery…

Tired dad

2) We are exhausted AF! CJ has always been a very active boy. In utero he would have dance parties in my tummy! As a baby his feet would always be up in the air kicking away. Every time we had a play date in the park, I was THAT mom wildly chasing after her toddler while the other moms and babes were able to chill and enjoy a picnic. He just cannot stay still (alright he’s a boy) but truth be told… I’m bloody tired and some nights I crash at 9pm in the middle of reading him a bedtime story. Sure we can throw the dice and maybe the next child will be ‘less spirited’ but who knows and at this point, we likely will never find out. (This also ties into #5.)

 

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Kids Saving The Rainforest & Animal Sanctuary Tour

14th March 2018

Sloths

I finally got to see a sloth up close and personal and this lady of leisure even has the same name as me! 🙂

Did you know sloths sleep 14-16 hrs a day and their fur actually feels rough like velcro?

That’s what I learned on the Kids Saving The Rainforest tour. This non-profit was founded 20-some years ago by two 9 year old girls — one Canadian and one American. An encounter with a wounded sloth impacted these friends so much that they decided to step up and do something to help preserve/protect wildlife and the rainforest they lived in.

Kids Saving The Rainforest

KSTR was then born with the mission of educating people about the ecological importance of the rainforest. The girls (Janine and Aislin) sold painted rocks to raise money.  Later, the restoration program, rescue center and animal sanctuary was created. It’s truly impressive, all the work and care that has been put into this organization and space!

This was also a fantastic teaching opportunity to demonstrate to our preschool son how one small idea can blossom into a life changing venture!

Macaw

This past weekend we went on a tour and had a chance to visit with some of the animals and hear their stories of survival. Sadly, many were selfishly used for profitable entertainment purposes. Kerri, our lovely guide explained that as cool as it may be to take a selfie cuddling a sloth, they are actually not meant to be held by humans.

 

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