To celebrate International Self-Care Day, I’ll be posting a series of positive messages that I created to hopefully inspire you to do something nice for yourself once in a while! You’re worth it!
I have created this beautiful garden where many people will come to be healed” – prophecy given to Ste. Anne’s by Jay Rawlings
“You went to the spa by yourself?” This was the reaction I got from a couple people when they found out that I recently went to Ste. Anne’s Spa in Grafton, Ontario for a much-needed self-care spa day. What’s up with that?! Why is it that people think it either impressive or unusual that one should do things alone? Anyhow, that is a subject for another post, I’m sure! But today is International Self Care Day so I wanted to share my recent solo girl’s spa day getaway to Ste. Anne’s Spa
Riding Solo for this Self Care Day
It hadn’t occurred to me that it was unusual to go to the spa alone. I mean my idea of relaxation and pampering involves me riding solo and being left alone to just kick it, in silence, preferably with a good book and in beautiful surroundings! What can I say?!, I love my own company! Embracing solitude is simply another equally rewarding way to make the most of a spa experience, isn’t it?!
I no longer drive so I was excited to learn that Ste. Anne’s can arrange for Via Rail train tickets and provide a shuttle service as part of my spa package! Woot-Woot!
My initial trepidation about this solo selfcare spa day was, “what the heck was I gonna do all day by myself?” I had the whole day to myself. I had nothing to worry about of course. Ste. Anne’s Spa took care of everything for me, including booking my train tickets and providing shuttle service to the spa. They even sent my itinerary with suggestions of what to pack for the day. All I needed to do was pack my things and show up!
I began my day with breakfast, followed by the most amazing Eucalyptus Body Wrap (with a facial and head massage! h.e.a.v.e.n.) that left me feeling lighter and all kinds of relaxed and rejuvenated! I also did a Gentle Yoga wellness class that was enjoyable and the perfect way to wind down.
I had a stress-free, super relaxing time wandering the beautiful, spacious grounds, listening to the birds sing, feeling the sun on my face and the soft breeze on my skin. I strolled slowly, aimlessly, and completely at ease.
I got excited to find little gardens dotted around the property where you could sit, quietly and listen to the rhythm of the flowing water against the rocks and the faint, soothing melody of wind chimes being softly kissed by the wind. Peace and tranquillity are the only words I have to describe the experience.
The only time I realized how many small groups of people were at the spa was during lunch and afternoon tea while I was in the dining area. Otherwise, I was pretty much left to walk and chill out in peace and enjoy the serenity of the place.
Solo Spa Days are Awesomeness
Would I do it again? Absolutely! By myself, yeah, or even with my besties. The one thing I wish I had done, however, was to learn to sit still a little longer, close my eyes and just be in the moment. I struggle with that at home but taking this small step outside my comfort zone and to have this experience is enough for now.
Photo: Cassandra McD.
We travelled to Iceland in May and I’ve been meaning to share some of the highlights and low-points of the trip with you, so here you go! (WARNING: This is a long post so grab your coffee, settle in and enjoy!)
The Outdoors for the Not-so-Outdoorsy: Stepping Outside my Comfort Zone
First things first, I’m not at all an outdoorsy person! I mean, I think I went camping once, in maybe 6th grade – I’ve blocked it out of my memory so I’m not even sure that really happened! So, this trip to Iceland, with the vast landscapes, waterfalls, sheep and spots where scenes from Game of Thrones was filmed (ok, so I was totally looking forward to that part), was going to be well outta my comfort zone, for realz. But, that’s what this year is about, finding small ways to step outside my comfort zone and get comfortable with discomfort.
Photo: Cassandra McD.
I didn’t anticipate what awaited me on this trip. What awaited me you might ask? White Walkers!!! Kidding! But honestly, there might have well been when we found ourselves on a mountain in a snowstorm and visibility was zero. We couldn’t see who, or what was coming along the trail.
Photo Credit: Jerome Clark
Something to keep in mind is that Iceland weather is truly unpredictable, even during their summertime. Pack appropriately with options of layers for warmth and protection from the elements!
Where we stayed
Photo: Jerome Clark
My cousin was in-charge of the accommodations. To save costs we stayed at an AirBnB in the City Centre and bought groceries at a local supermarket called Bonus. We were told by a local, it’s where the locals’ shop and better bang for your buck than other places. Also, a burger and fries at a restaurant could easily cost about $30 CAN so buying a sandwich at the supermarket was our better option!
Where we ate
Well, given that prices were exorbitant for everything in Iceland we bought groceries at the local grocery store. We did visit a Thai restaurant and had pizza! Well, because we love pizza and burgers and fries!
Photos by Cassandra McD. and Jerome Clark
What we did
Because there were three of us we had planned ahead of time that each person would provide a list of three things they wanted to do while in Iceland and then we would narrow the list down based on costs and time.
Luckily for me I travel with some awesome family members who, like me, are fairly easy-going and we didn’t have any issues selecting things to do that we could all enjoy as a group (well, ok, I was not too keen on the horseback riding – I was terrified of that tour but I was out-numbered on that so I decided to feel the fear and do it anyways!“)
The tours we took were well run. We did a Citywalk tour, GoEcco hiking tour and Ishetar Icelandic horseback riding tour. When we weren’t touring we spent some time walking around Reykjavík, checking out shops and a couple museums.
The weather served up some real doozies and stole the show in terms of vacation memories. Even the locals remarked that the wonky weather was unusual for May. We experienced rain, strong winds gusts that made an umbrella useless, then came periods of hail and snow all within minutes and daily throughout the entire trip.
Although the weather made for limited exploring we agreed we would have loved to do more walking around the city for sure.
Here is the list of most of the activities we did during our 5 days in Iceland (links to websites included to learn more about each activity):
- Liked: Shuttlebus straight from the airport and return trip that dropped us off minutes away from our accommodations. Place to store luggage and opportunity for some cool photos.
- Didn’t Like: The facilities were not well heated. It was freaking freezing outdoors but when you were inside, it was not that warm. It’s also pricey.
- Liked: The tour was 2-hours and “free” but you could make a contribution at the end of the tour if you choose to. It was a great way to meet fellow travellers (met another Canadian), learn about the Iceland history and about Reykjavik.
- Didn’t Like: Nothing bad to say about this tour at all. It was a great way to start our trip and to get insider tips on where to eat, shop, or what other things to do on your trip. The fact that it was two-hours and free was awesome as we got to set our own budget for donations.
- Liked: Our Guide – he clearly had a passion for the environment and was very knowledgeable. The hike was an easy one to do for non-outdoorsy types like us!
- Didn’t like: the snow-storm that rolled in and left us covered in snow and with frozen fingers and toes. Thumbs down!
- Liked: That they had rain gear that you could put on. Also, I got to ride an Icelandic horse for about an hour ( I’d never been on a horse before so this was quite the experience)
- Didn’t like: We picked the wrong tour. Although this was presented as something even for people who had never been on a horse, I felt the group was too big and the instructions to minimal for our liking and with our nerves, well, we probably should have done more research and signed up for the Meet the Horse tour.
- I had never been on a horse, close to a horse or even knew how to fix the straps on my helmet. So, when I was put in a line then handed the reins with a massive beast attached and told to “Go!” I was a bit shocked and very uncomfortable. This was followed by a not-so-cooperative horse that I ended up exchanging for another!
- This experience deserves a post of its own so to keep this short, I survived but I think next time doing the Meet and Greet with the horses might have been more appropriate.
- Liked: The architecture and The staff. We had the best chat with the staff there about Canada and a random conversation about Trapped – an Iceland drama I watched on Netflix. Don’t ask!
- Didn’t Like: The weather ruined the views from the observation deck. We braved it for a few minutes but hurried back into the warmth of the indoors.
Photos: Cassandra McD.
- Liked: It was free to simply walk around and admire the stunning architecture. The gift shop had some cool merch as well. It was worth a quick tour even if we were not seeing a show or buying any merch.
- Bonus: There is a free bus that takes you from the Harpa to the Pearl.
Photos: Cassandra McD.
- Liked: You were able to get some cool shots of the exterior, interior and panoramic views of the city.
- Didn’t Like: That I took me basically the entire trip to feel comfortable pronouncing the name and knowing full well that I still ain’t saying it right!
5 Travel Takeaways:
- Location, location, location – the AirBnB my cousin booked was a prime location and given the weather was so awful, it was nice to be able to walk a short distance to do grocery shopping.
- Timing is everything…sort of – Apparently July and August would have been a much better time to visit. It’s their summer and the most likely time to get decent weather.
- Thermal underwear is a lifesaver – Pack extra layers, including socks and thermal underwear! Also, if you happen to bring pjs, they also make for a good added layer of warmth.
- Waterproof things, one of the best inventions ever! Buy some. A pair of waterproof hiking boots, waterproof outer layer shell jacket and phone carrying case to slip your phone in.
- Having a positive attitude is the best carry-on. The weather sucked but we were able to find lots of laugh about and have wonderful conversations with people we met during our stay. We had bad weather but made good memories!
Lastly, what I loved about Iceland
My favourite thing about the trip was the people! Hands-down. Everyone was really friendly and helpful.
My suggestions for those of you who more city travellers and non-outdoorsy but who want to get a little outside your comfort zone and stretch yourself a little bit without going all into a full-on camping and outdoor adventure, then Iceland is a great option to consider.
One thing we wished we had the opportunity to do but didn’t because of the weather was renting a car and doing a day trip. Tours can add up so renting a car would have been a great option to see a bit more. That being said, I would love to go back and experience Iceland in better weather! Perhaps a stop-over may be in my future!
June was National Migraine and Headache Awareness Month, and I was happy to be able to share my migraine journey as a part of the #MoreThanAMigraine campaign to help raise awareness.
The Migraine Struggle is Real!
Migraines and me, well we’ve have had a long, tumultuous relationship. My earliest memory of migraines was when I was 11. At the time I had no idea the debilitating pain, vomiting, sensitivity to light and noise, all common migraine symptoms, would be something I would be living with for most of my life. I simply believed for a long time I had headaches.
The stuff that other people say
If you suffer from migraines you probably can relate to having well-intentioned people give you unsolicited suggestions about causes and advice on potential cures even though they have never suffered from migraines or rarely had headaches.
- “It’s just a bad headache” – my mom used to say this. She’d give me over- the-counter pills for headache pain relief and tell me to sleep it off.
- “You read too much!” – this may have been partly true because I eventually did need glasses.
- “Take magnesium, iron or calcium.”
- “It’s probably you’re diet. Go gluten-free!”
Incidentally, lack of knowledge plays a big part in why migraines go undiagnosed for years, as mine did.
Set it Off: Facts and Triggers
After being diagnosed with migraines in my 20s, I set out on what I think is typical for people who suffer from migraines, trial and error methods of trying to identify what the triggers were.
Some of my triggers include scents like vanilla or lilac, and many perfumes, red wine, too much caffeine, and certain types of soft drinks. Then there are the triggers I have zero control over, like hormonal changes that happen during PMS (yup, every month) or changes in weather. I live in Canada, so you know, that’s pretty much every day!
I’ve learned through my experience and meeting others with migraines that we have different experiences with migraines. I’m guessing the one thing we may have in common is that migraines, whether episodic or chronic, can severely impact on our quality of life, including missing days off school or work and affecting productivity and time with family and friends.
One time I was asked to photograph someone for their website, my first paid gig as a freelance photographer. On the day of, however, I was hit with a migraine. I showed up, put on my best smile and barrelled through the shoot like it was the best day ever while in pain and feeling nauseous the entire time. The client couldn’t tell that I was not at my best. It made me angry, frustrated and questioned whether I could do freelance work at all if migraines were going to be an issue.
My migraines are episodic, meaning I have them less than 15 days each month (sometimes they can last for days). I met a woman who has chronic migraines, which are ones that happen for 15 or more days per month. She told me she had migraines every single day. It blew my mind that she was able to hold a job and live while in pain every day. But she told me she has a system of pain management in place that works, and that is routine for her.
Suffering from migraines, regardless of the type, just straight up sucks, 100% for the individual and their loved ones. Having to miss the championship game for your kid’s basketball team, or piano recital or awards ceremony because of a migraine can be painful for the parent and the child.
Ain’t No Cure for these Blues
Since there is no cure for migraines, when it comes to migraine treatments, one size does not fit all. Before my particular course of treatment, my migraine would typically last for 14 hours. I would be curled up foetal position on the bathroom floor, in the dark, cellphone in hand, crying and wondering when I should call 911 for help. I felt like death.
After trial and error, I’ve found a combination of preventative and alternative treatments that work for me.
I’ve managed to cut the duration down to about 7 hours on average. I take less time off work, get to spend more time with friends and family and don’t stress out as much about going on vacation.
We have to find treatments and ways to manage the pain that meet our specific needs. For some, it’s preventative measures, like migraine-specific medication, therapeutic options like BOTOX for chronic migraines (yes, that’s right, BOTOX was approved in Canada in 2011 to be used to treat chronic migraines. I have no experience with it but consult your doctor for more details). Alternative options such as acupuncture, massage therapy or chiropractic treatments may also work for some people.
I still experience debilitating migraine headache days, sometimes migraines that last for up to three days, but these are infrequent now and for that, I am very grateful.
If you or someone you know suffers from migraines, check out www.mychronicmigraine.ca where you can take a simple quiz to determine whether you might be a chronic migraine suffer and learn more about chronic migraines.
How I start my day has changed considerably when I was forced to cope with chronic pain that left me unable to sit or walk for months. Then I suffered from burnout which left me feeling mentally, physcially and emotionally exhausted. To say it was a rough year is an understatement.
Burnout threw me off my game and I needed to take back some control, in small ways and switching up my morning routine was one way I was able to do this successfully.
Now getting up and starting my day off in quiet before I get my hustle on is essential to me. It’s been my lifesaver. I also read a Fast Company article If you want some general information about how successful people start their mornings, Fast Company article on how successful people start their mornings which was helpful in reinforcing the notion that how we start the day is so important for wellness.
What were my mornings like before? Well, I would get up at 6:00 with the alarm, usually after a restless nights sleep, groan loudly and curse, and immediately start to think about work and all I needed to get done that day.
One of the big issues for me was being super hydrated and waking up with headaches and for a migraine sufferer, this only added to my crappy morning mood. Here’s a Reader’s Digest article about some of the implications for dehydration while sleeping.
Once I was out of bed, I would get into distraction mode. I turn on the television to take in the morning news and immediately sit there, like a zombie, watching the highlights and maybe even getting a little depressed at the not so happy news stories.
I would eventually make turn my attention to charging my phone. Naturally, I would stop to check emails and a quick look at Instagram.
Then I would absentmindedly take a shower as I continued thinking, stressing, about the day ahead of me.
Basically, I was kind of sleepwalking through my mornings. Sometimes I was so lost in thought I wouldn’t remember getting dressed or recall the journey into the office. Sound familiar?
Downing in the emotional and physical quagmire of burnout forced me to try some new things. I created an info-graphic to highlight my mellow morning routine.
What ways do you find to get your day off to the right start, especially if you have kids and a full house?
VARIETY IS THE SPICE OF LIFE and intentionally getting uncomfortable is the secret to really kicking that spice up a notch!
This approach to life is what’s kept me, in many ways, out of the clutches of prolonged periods of depression. It’s been a solid practice for maintaining my mental wellness. The odd thing is that I hadn’t connected it to my happiness before. If I’m not learning something new, then I’m usually pretty miserable.
How I do it
I’m a lifelong learner – if I could get paid to take classes for a living, I’d probably be happy (assuming it’s not math…). Every year, as part of my goal setting, which involves sitting down with a pen and post-it note and jotting a few things down, I try to list one new thing I want to do or learn for the year, sometimes more.
Several years ago, I decided to do my first solo travel. I went to Chicago and fell in love with the city and solo travel! I’ve since visited solo to a few other countries including Spain and Portugal.
I have taken a 10-week technical boxing class, which was intimidating – it was in a real boxing gym and the guy, well, he looked like he coached many champs in his earlier days. I absolutely LOVED every, single, gruelling, sweat-drenched, bit of the workout! To this day, I will swear that boxing is the best fitness workout you can get!
I have also taken classes in kickboxing, taekwondo, Spanish, salsa and Cha-cha lessons (omg, sooooo embarrassing!) and ice skating – I still can’t figure out how to stop without crash landing, but I haven’t broken any bones or hurt anyone, so I’m ok with that.
In all of these activities I’m usually mediocre at best, or sometimes the classes were not that great, but I always stick with it through the end. I’m still happier for taking the time to do something for myself, that is, to intentionally get uncomfortable, learn something new, meet new people and just have a good time.
5 other Awesome Benefits of Getting Uncomfortable:
- You’re in control. You decided what new thing you want to try and just go for it!
- You’ll feel a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment when you take that first step (ok, you’ll probably also feel sick to your stomach, but that should pass…eventually)
- You’ll feel a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment having done it.
- Your more risk-averse friends will totally admire you (yes, I am a Badass, cha-cha dancing superstar, that’s right!)
- It has the power to be transformative. You will learn something about yourself from all that discomfort, like, Ummm, that you are in fact a badass.
This year, to step outside my comfort zone, I’ve committed to taking “self-portraits” and sharing them here @thisgirlwithcamera for all to see. Just writing that made me feel a little queasy. I’m still getting used to it, maybe even enjoying it a little!
(Inspiration for this post is from Get Happy: Lessons in Lasting Happiness by Dr Anthony Gunn)
What interesting ways have you found to ‘spice up” your life lately? Leave a comment.
Photos by Cassandra McD.
It’s the weekend! And that means its time for one of my favourite activities. Brunching! Ahh, if brunch was a sport, it would practice it professionally!
One of the restaurants in Toronto that I’ve been to a few times for weekend brunch is Wish Restaurant. Celebrated my birthday here last year as well. I’m a sucker for great design and this place has this French, rustic vibe going on that’s chic and inviting (also it’s a place that serves my two fave meals, French Toast and burger and fries! Never disappoints!)
Be forewarned, the space is on the small side but the patio is great in the summer. If you happen to walk by during a weekend afternoon you will notice that the place is filled with the constant hum of conversation and a constant stream of people. It gets seriously busy really quickly so my advice would be to make reservations and do that early.
I will mention that the last time I was there, we were politely encouraged to leave after a short time as the table was reserved for other patrons. This is not uncommon for hotspots in the city. So, if you’re looking for a place to gab for hours with the girls this may not be the place for you.
- Always make reservations in advance
- Try to get there for an earlier brunch time slot as it’s less busy
- Take a couple pics for the IG, it’s def an Instaworhy spot, don’t you think?
If your a brunch lover too, would love to hear what is your favourite brunch dish?
photos by cassandra mcd.
I decided to try to learn food photography by watching YouTube vid and using only natural light. It was my solution to being able to practice photography during the long, cold winter months when I’m hunkered down at home. I also thought it would be a good opportunity for me to get me into the kitchen and trying some different recipes. I don’t enjoy cooking that much so I wanted to make it more enjoyable.
It worked. I joined, then Gastropost, a foodie community, that had weekly food missions that we could participate in for a chance to get our photo featured in the weekend National Post newspaper. That was pretty fun. I got featured several times and found myself looking for new recipes on a regular basis. Gastropost sadly ended last year but it was fun while it lasted.
Not that long ago, I was involved in a weekend project where I got to make and shoot a few different “simple recipes” for a friend. I had a full test kitchen going on and I will never do it again! I underestimated the amount of work involved. Also as a natural light shooter, I only had a small window of decent sunlight to get the shots done so I had to work fast. It was still fun and I have some photos and lessons learned I want to share with you, starting with 5 simple tips for planning a food photoshoot in natural light.
5 Natural Light Food Photo tips for Beginners:
- Know your limits: Limit what you plan to shoot. Try only a couple dishes in one shoot, especially if you are not a hardcore planner (I’m not) and you may want to experiment with plating and try different setups
- Planners Win: Pre-plan your shoot – Pinterest is great for styling ideas
- Get it together: Organize your props and put them in a reachable spot. The more prepared you are the less amount of time and precious sunlight you’ll waste. I speak from experience!
- No Fillers Please: Never use flash, never! if it starts getting dark, you are better calling it a day.
- Leftovers are good motivation: If you are just learning, like myself, one tip is to think about if you can freeze the food or keep leftovers for lunch or dinner. This serves as an excellent determining factor in what I choose to shoot!
I’m sharing my photos of a simple Stuff Mushrooms dish photographed in natural light, using an old beat up Canon Rebel T1 with the 50mm lens that cost about $100.
Hope you enjoy this and get inspired to shoot something for your blog or social media or…cook something yummy!
1 lb fresh mushrooms, medium sized
¼ cup parmesan cheese, grated
¼ cup dry bread crumbs
¼ cup onion, finely chopped
½ tsp dried oregano leaves
¼ tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
- Brush or wipe mushrooms with a damp cloth. Remove stems from mushrooms. Set caps aside. Finely chop mushroom stems.
- In a medium bowl, combine chopped stems and all remaining ingredients.
- Press mixture firmly into mushroom caps, mounding on top.
- Place on a sheet pan with shallow sides.
- Bake at 350F for 18 to 23 minutes.
- Serve warm.