Dear Dad Thank You For Accompanying Me To Mombasa

My letter to my dad was published in Maclean’s online and appears in the June print issue.

I was born in Mombasa, Kenya in 1978. That’s where my story began. But until March of this year, I couldn’t really say that I had been there. My parents, grandmother and I immigrated to Canada before my first birthday and, while my upbringing certainly included East African flavours, I always knew I wanted to go back and experience it for myself.

East Africa was home to my paternal and maternal sides of the family since my great-grandparents’ generation. They arrived from India in the late 1800’s for employment and entrepreneurial opportunities. In reality, this is just a blip of my history; since the beginning of time, my family called India home. (I actually took a DNA test and learned I am 100% South Asian. Without a doubt, India is my first home). But, East Africa is the most tangible for me because it’s so recent. I’m also enamoured by the fusion of Indian/East African food and the marriage of Cutchi and Kiswahili (in Zanzibar, where my maternal grandparents were born, the languages are so fused that the Ethnologue actually lists Cutchi-Swahili as one of the languages of Tanzania). Because I still have family in Kenya (and don’t in India), I figured I’d feel a special sense of home in my birthplace.

For much of my life, I envisioned returning as an adult. Finally, at the age of 40, I was able to make it happen! Not just on my own but with my dad who, it turns out, is a fabulous travel partner, and the best person to go ‘back in time’ with as his memory and nostalgia really brought our history to life for me.

It was a short but deep journey and I am already planning on taking my kids, husband and hopefully dad again in the next few years.

I wrote a thank-you letter to my dad for accompanying me to our birthplace. My heart still fills with joy when I think of our adventures and I am so grateful to him for connecting me to the land and people in Mombasa.

My letter was published in Maclean’s Before You Go column and I am proud to have my words in this iconic Canadian magazine.

Read My Full Article On Maclean’s Here

Highlights From Our Trip To Ucluelet, B.C.

Ucluelet is actually really easy to say (u-CLUE-let) but I only say it correctly when I say it out loud. In my head, I say u-CLAY-let and that, I blame solely on my husband. Yes, I am publicly outing him for mispronouncing this word. It was such a big part of our trip (laughing at his inability to just say it right, for heavens’ sakes). One of the unofficial games we played as we drove across Vancouver Island was Who Can Say Ucluelet Worse Than Dad? My 4 year old took the prize with ukulele-let.

Where We Stayed

We had a fabulous time in the rugged beauty of Ucluelet, B.C. where we spent 2 days and one night perched on a cliff at the Black Rock Oceanfront Resort. To say the views from our Two Bedroom Trail Ocean View Suite were incredible is a bit of an understatement. The windows in the bathroom, each bedroom, and living room all revealed gorgeous black rock, sparkling blue water, driftwood and beach that was all, literally, steps away.

Ucluelet, Ukee, British Columbia, B.C., Vancouver Island, road trip, Taslim Jaffer writer
View from the bedroom image credit Taslim Jaffer
View from Blackrock Oceanfront Resort image credit Taslim Jaffer

It was the perfect suite for the 6 of us and I would love to book the same one in storm watching season!

What We Ate

As I mentioned in my article for Surrey604, Ucluelet is a quieter town than Tofino and we didn’t find a lot of family dining options. Armed with a couple of recommendations, we made our way to the main drag and found ourselves parking at Howler’s Family Restaurant. Not only did we hear the food was delicious – we were intrigued by the fact that it has a bowling alley right in the restaurant! The kids LOVED this! After stuffing ourselves with fresh fish ‘n chips, fish tacos and grilled cheese, we made our way to the lanes.

Howler’s Family Restaurant in Ucluelet image credit Taslim Jaffer

My favourite part about this restaurant experience (aside from the fish taco – totally recommend it!) was meeting another family who were visiting Ukee for the first time. They were originally from Ottawa but now living in the Yukon. And they spoke French! If you’ve followed along on this blog or my Instagram stories, you know that I am currently learning Spanish. French is a language I used to be fairly fluent in. Since high school, I haven’t practiced it regularly at all, but learning Spanish has made my French come back with a vengeance. So, I was thrilled when this random encounter afforded me a chance to practice it. We had a great conversation (I was slow and imprecise) during which I learned that she had spotted some whales earlier that day. In fact, we heard this from people we were to meet the next day as well. We kept our fingers crossed for a sighting story of our own but weren’t so lucky this time!

Where We Played

I’d say the highlight of our short stay in Ukee was the Wild Pacific Trail. The Lighthouse Loop of this trail is a gorgeous MUST for people of all ages. My 4 year old did amazing as we walked among stunning foliage that hugged some of the most beautiful coastline I have ever seen. We couldn’t have asked for better weather; the sunbeams sparkled on the deep blue, interrupted only by jet-black rock.

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View from the Wild Pacific Trail image credit Taslim Jaffer

Ucluelet, wild pacific trail, ukee, vancouver island, taslim jaffer writer

Ucluelet, ukee, vancouver island, wild pacific trail, taslim jaffer writer

I would love to go back and do more of this trail (sans enfants) as well as make Ucluelet a romantic destination during storm watching season (sans enfants aussi, bien sur).

One of my favourite photos from this trip was in front of this mural we found on the side of a motel – I mean, what’s a trip without a spontaneous pose in front of public art? Plus, we figured this could count as our whale-sighting story!

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Although I opened with ‘Ucluelet is a quieter town than Tofino’, I don’t say it like that’s a bad thing. Ukee is the perfect getaway for any Nature-lover. As well, anyone who travels to small towns knows that one of the perks of an intimate space is the ease with which you can meet a local, share a conversation and learn more about the hidden gems.

Have you been to Ucluelet? What is your favourite memory from there? Is there another small town you’ve visited that I might appreciate? I’m looking for the perfect writing retreat and would love any of your recommendations!

taslim jaffer writer


Road Trip: Nanaimo To Ucluelet And Tofino

Last Spring break, we took a trip to Victoria on Vancouver Island and had such a great time. This year, the Island called to us again! We ended up on a road trip from Nanaimo to Ucluelet and Tofino – a gorgeous 3 hour drive that we broke up to accommodate some must-see sites.

We had reservations on the 5:45 pm ferry from Tsawwassen to Duke Point on the last day of school. Being able to reserve with BC Ferries gave us peace of mind; we didn’t want to get to the island too late so really did not want to miss the ferry! Also, that sail time perfectly coincided with dinner which we grabbed at the White Spot onboard. As parents, we automatically plan for fatigue and food considerations when travelling with the kids! The sailing was smooth and fun; dinner took up most of the first hour, and then the kids enjoyed playing cards, browsing in the gift shop and, of course, we took the obligatory photo on the deck.

I spent a lot of time on BC Ferries in my early childhood when we lived in Victoria and our extended family lived on the mainland. It’s such a thrill to be able to take my kids on these nostalgic tours of the Salish Sea and we’ve already got some ideas of where we’ll head next. But first, let’s recap this trip!

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ucluelet and tofino, ucluelet b.c., tofino b.c., bc ferries, vancouver island, spring break, road trip through vancouver island, taslim jaffer writer

When we arrived in Nanaimo, we rested our heads at the Howard Johnson Harbourside Hotel. Located close to the terminal, it was the perfect spot to catch some zzz’s before heading out first thing in the morning.

Cameron Lake

Our total driving time of the day was 2.5 hours (to Ucluelet) but we were determined to take the trip as slow as possible. That’s one of the beauties of a road trip, after all. The freedom to stop at whim. After driving for about 50 minutes, we saw a sign for Cameron Lake and decided to pull over for a stretch. When we piled out of the minivan, we found the trail that led down to a pristine picnic spot complete with sandy beach, calm, reflective waters and serenity. It was picture-perfect. This would be an ideal spot to time a packed lunch.

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Cameron Lake rests on traditional Kwalikum First Nation territory and is a popular spot for swimmers – at least, the swimmers who can brave the cold waters…and the mysterious lake monster that some have claimed to have seen! The lake was so beautiful that I think, maybe in peak summer temperatures, I’d take my chances with the island’s ‘Ogopogo’.

Cathedral Grove (Macmillan Provincial Park)

Cathedral Grove is located on traditional Hupacasath First Nation territory and is an endangered old-growth Douglas Fir ecosystem. Now this is a place you cannot drive by! Home to ancient rainforest – and I mean, 800 years ancient – this stunning remnant of what once covered the entire island is definitely worth a slow walk-through. It doesn’t take long to complete the trails but why rush it? It’s important to stay on the trails so as not to damage the biosphere, but there is a lot to see from the path whether you look ahead, to the sides…or waaaaaay up.

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ucluelet and tofino, ucluelet b.c., tofino b.c., vancouver island road trip, spring break, taslim jaffer writer

Don’t be deterred from stopping here if it happens to be raining – the trees offer an amazing canopy and you will be well protected from rain and wind. What I’m saying is, don’t miss this opportunity.

Ellis River

Another place we stopped at spontaneously but one that you should definitely think to include on a road trip to Ucluelet and Tofino. We noticed some beautiful rocky terrain and cars parked on the side of the road, so we decided to take a look. A short flight of stairs led to a huge ‘playground’ of boulders and puddles, and the sound of a gushing river. This is where we ended up having our packed lunch and then explored for awhile.

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ucluelet and tofino, ucluelet b.c., tofino b.c., taslim jaffer writer, road trip through vancouver island

Ellis River was our last stop until we reached Ucluelet mid-afternoon where we spent the night at Black Rock Oceanfront Resort. It would have only been another 40 minutes to Tofino if we had kept going but we couldn’t pass up the chance to do the Wild Pacific Trail and watch the waves crash onto the famous black rock of this area. So, Ucluelet is where we stopped for the night and it certainly deserves its own blog post.

Stay tuned for my next two posts detailing each destination. I hope this comes in handy for you if you’re planning this epic road trip. If you have any particular questions, please leave a comment!

Thinking of taking a road trip from Nanaimo to Ucluelet and Tofino? Here are some stops we made along the way that really added fun and adventure to our trip!

Thank you, BC Ferries, for providing me with a travel discount. It’s a pleasure to share my family’s adventures. All opinions are my own.

taslim jaffer writer


Highlights From Our Trip To Mexico: Part Two

Last week, I shared Part One of our trip highlight reel. Thank you for all your comments here, on Facebook and on Instagram! I loved sharing those photos of our trip to Mexico and have been eager to put this post together to show you more of what we loved. This edition showcases the people and language, the food, some off-resort adventure and the joy of vacationing with extended family.

If you’ve been reading for awhile, you know that I’m learning Spanish on my own. I’ve totally enjoyed the experience of learning by listening using the Michel Thomas CDs. Here are some other tools I’ve been using as well. Just today, I joined a language diary challenge on Instagram hosted by @joyoflanguages and am hoping to post something in Spanish every day in February! (I’m not the best at daily challenges but all the more reason for you to pop by there and give me a little encouragement, por favor!)

The Spanish line at the end of today’s post means, “I’m excited to learn more Spanish every day.”

Obviously, I was super excited to practice what little Spanish I know with some locals, and in fact, it was a goal of mine to have at least one (slow but successful) conversation with at least one local. And I did it! In fact, I can’t even count the number of conversations I had. Some were short, and others were longer. I had nailed the expression, “Estoy aprendiendo Espanol” (I’m learning Spanish) so that I could begin each interaction with that caveat. It was amazing to see people’s faces light up, and the feedback and encouragement I received was all kind and warm. Talk about further motivation to keep practicing! It was fun to read the signs around the resort and around town. All the ‘learning by listening’ fell into place when I saw the words represented visually. Such a cool experience.

I’m pretty sure you’re interested in the food. It’s usually the first thing I ask people about their vacation experience! I can honestly say, the food at Dreams Riviera Cancun Resort & Spa was amazing! There was the perfect variety of Mexican and international cuisine, at the buffet restaurant and at the other themed restaurants. We ate at every one except the French restaurant and that’s partly because we loved the food everywhere else so much we repeated certain restaurants! From the chicken enchiladas for breakfast at the buffet to the pizzas de queso (cheese pizzas) at the Barefoot Grill for lunch to the Thai curry at the Asian fusion restaurant for dinner (and ahem, several snacks in between) we were well-fed and happy.

My aunt, oldest daughter and I even took a cooking class where we made a delicious, fresh guacamole and ceviche. That was a fun experience and another place where I gained some Spanish vocabulary.

We also spent an afternoon/evening off the resort and in the town of Playa del Carmen to do a little shopping on 5th Avenue. I loved seeing people hanging out in the street-facing bars, or walking to their apartments just around the corner from the shopping area. My oldest got her hair braided and we bought some hats and souvenirs. Another time, sans enfants, I’d love to just slide right into one of those bars with my husband and meet some locals. You know, with my bottled water. Because I want to be Carrie but in some instances, I’m Charlotte. (Remember the girls’ trip to Mexico when Charlotte was so afraid of getting sick – and then she was the only one that did? But I’m getting there, and if you stick around long enough, you’ll be witness).

We also did a full-day excursion where we spent the morning at the Mayan ruins in Tulum and then the afternoon at the ecological park in Xelha. I wrote about that adventure and shared some tips on Surrey604. The kids loved going off-resort as much as they loved splashing at the pool and playing in the sand on the property. As they get older, I can see us doing more off-site. For now, a day and a half was perfect.

As I mentioned in Part One, we met my aunt and cousins from Edmonton there. Normally, we see each other every year or two, and it’s always at their place or ours. Sometimes there’s an event that brings us together but then it’s not the relaxed, quality time that we would want. So we decided to meet somewhere else, somewhere where nobody was hosting and we could experience something new.

Among all of us we had a gazillion pictures (give or take) and I’m so glad. On dreary, rainy Vancouver winter days, it’s nice to remember the sun and fun we had in Mexico.

Have you vacationed with extended family? How did it go? Tell me in the comments!

Until next time, dear Readers…hasta la vista! Thanks for reading about our trip to Mexico!




Highlights From Our Trip To Mexico: Part One

I just went through all the pictures we took on our holiday to Puerto Morelos, Mexico and realized this highlight reel needs to be broken up over two posts. So, this is Part One of our trip to Mexico. If you read my last post, you know it was a pretty big deal for the 5 of us because it was our first big vacation together – and for me it was extra special because it was my first huge venture outside my comfort zone since my honeymoon. (If you haven’t read that post, I would love it if you do. It will give you a little more insight into my travel history).

If you’ve been anywhere tropical, you know that from the moment you disembark the plane – whether it’s directly outside or onto the covered bridge leading to the gate – you can just feel it. It’s a kind of warmth that sinks into you, wraps itself around your bones, lifts your hair a little and promises new experiences. I felt the same when I landed in Orlando, Honolulu, Maui, Grand Cayman, Atlanta, and Varadero; it was a reminder I was definitely not on the West coast of Canada anymore! At the same time, as we juggled carry-ons and kids toward the baggage carousel, I pictured my mom in another tropical beach town…Mombasa, Kenya where she grew up. That feeling of her being with me on this adventure made me instantly promise her that I’d get to Mombasa someday, too. But first, I was going to enjoy this trip to the fullest.

When we arrived, it was already growing dark; by the time we got to our resort, it was pitch black and past dinnertime. So, it wasn’t until the next day that I got a proper glimpse of the palm trees and the beach that confirmed we were really on our Mexican holiday.

It didn’t take us long to feel settled at the resort. Dreams Riviera Cancun Resort & Spa is the perfect size for a family looking to relax with plenty of beach and pool time. There was food everywhere – it was delicious and will obviously make the highlight reel so stay tuned! Everything was close by and the staff was just amazing. Within just a few days, I could go to any restaurant I had already eaten at and they knew without me telling them that I have an allergy to kiwifruit. Maybe that’s just a really weird allergy, but the fact that they remembered was indicative of the exceptional care and attention to detail we became accustomed to. Very quickly, we relaxed into vacation mode. And that was truly a highlight; being with the kids in a slow-paced bubble was amazing. Enjoying the kids and watching them fall in love with a new place definitely ranked up there as a highlight.

It wasn’t just relaxing with the kids, of course, that made this trip awesome. We met up with my cousins and aunt from Edmonton, and it was such an amazing experience to vacation with extended family. (Also a highlight that will show up in Part Two). The first night we got there, after some really enthusiastic screams when we caught sight of each other in the lobby, we headed to the buffet for dinner. Once we piled our plates high and met back at the table, my aunt suggested that Nadir and I choose a night to go on a romantic date. We didn’t turn it down! In fact, I got to spend a lot of time with my hubby and as you know, that’s one of the things I plan to do more of in 2018 to make this year awesome. Our trip to Mexico was great for rekindling our desire to travel together into our sunset years.

Thanks for reading Part One of our highlights – stay tuned for Part Two where I share about food, family, Spanish and off-resort adventure!

What was a highlight for you on your most recent family vacation? I’d love to hear in the comments! Any recommendations for where we should visit next?

I Can’t Be A Travel Blogger Without Telling You About My Fears

I have to share something with you guys. I can’t post any more travel stories here without telling you THE story. The one that sets the stage for who I am as a traveller and travel blogger. I have to tell you how, time after time, I’ve turned down or postponed trip after trip because of a fear that had grown inside me due to one bad experience.

Do you follow many travel bloggers? Read their blogs and enjoy their photos and captions on Instagram? Me, too. And one word that always shouts at me from these feeds is ‘fearless.’ They’re not saying it, but it’s what I absorb when I see their images of unique places, doing all kinds of amazing things. It’s inspiring! My own travel bucket list is long and exciting, but I don’t want you to think I was always able to embrace the world the way I can today. I’m up to date with my vaccines and recently got my Hep A, but nowhere did they offer to shoot me up with a dose of Courage – so if you’re feeling low on it when it comes to leaving the comfort of your home, I want to say, I get it. Before I get ahead of myself, here’s my story on how I went from eager to fearful to travel blogger.

From Eager To Fearful To Travel Blogger

Too many years ago, my husband and I went on a honeymoon to Varadero, Cuba. When we booked our trip, I was excited for our first overseas experience together, not to mention the rest and relaxation we were promised. I didn’t think about anything else. After all, I had flown to Maui for a week on my own and stayed in a hostel just a few years before, doing all kinds of things like hiking Mt. Haleakala in fake Birkenstocks and black dress socks (not lying). A week on the beach with my new husband sounded easy and blissful.

When we arrived, I was dazzled by the colourful resort, the friendly people and the beautiful white sand beach. My husband and I walked hand-in-hand up and down the shoreline, noting the older couples, silver-haired and smiling, that stretched out on beach chairs. “We’ll be just like them, travel the world everywhere, till we’re way too old to do it anymore.” These promises stirred excitement within me. I wanted to see it all.

A couple of nights later, something happened. I didn’t know if it was something I ate or whether this was bound to happen no matter where I was, but I got ill. I was nauseous all day, all night for the remainder of the trip. Not actually getting sick but always feeling close to it. I assumed that when we got home, I would feel normal, but I didn’t. My doctor prescribed a strong antibiotic just in case there was some sort of infection. That didn’t help. Weeks later, I was still nauseous every day. I would start the day feeling OK but from the moment I ate anything, I’d feel ill.

Finally, I got in touch with a naturopath who gave me some suggestions on how to cleanse my system through diet and some supplements; within a couple weeks, I noticed a huge difference. I felt so much better. In fact, I remember the first moment I realized I wasn’t nauseous. I was out for a walk on a late winter’s day. The snow was melting and running off into the sewer drains. The birds were chirping, the sun was shining. And I wasn’t nauseous. I was so happy! I stayed on a clean diet for another 6 months or so and even when I re-introduced some of my old favourites into my meals I felt generally good.

For a long time, I acquainted travelling overseas with feeling sick. This was a bit of a bummer for both my husband and I as we had hoped to travel far and wide throughout our lifetime. He didn’t push me, though, as he was the one who sat up with me during the nights I was too nauseous to sleep. He knew what I had gone through. However, we didn’t just confine ourselves to home; we travelled to different parts of Canada and the United States. But anything that felt outside of my comfort zone, we passed up. Including a complimentary all-inclusive vacation to Puerto Vallarta that my husband earned through his business.

Over the years, I’ve come to understand that what happened to me could have happened to me anywhere, including at home. That the actual cause of my symptoms was likely an imbalance of my good and bad gut bacteria which is something that occurs over time. I had just come off a really stressful couple of years and this was probably just the time my body started screaming about it.

And Then I Took The Plunge

As our children grew, that itch to take them places also grew. I wanted them to know the world and its people. Hear different languages being spoken, see different ways of living. And know that they had a place in a much bigger world. We have done quite a few local trips around the Pacific Northwest (B.C., Alberta and Washington), a driving tour of  Ontario, and flew to Atlanta, GA. But it wasn’t enough. With many families of young children travelling to Mexico, we decided that that would be our first big excursion.

We booked a one week stay at Dreams Riviera Cancun Resort & Spa through our travel agent, Zahra at Beach Wedding Vows. I think I badgered her a hundred times about food and water quality. (What kinds of medications should I take? Are you sure there will be enough bottled water for the whole week?) She was super patient with me and totally understanding when I explained to her my concerns. She assured me I would be OK.

So, last December the 5 of us took our first big flight to Cancun. I have so much to share with you about that amazing trip – but I’m saving that for another post (or three). I do want to tell you how this time when I travelled, I got infected by a bug…the travel bug! And it’s reminded me of all the deeper experiences I want in this lifetime. It really wasn’t the all-inclusive aspect that got me hooked (although being able to say, “Me gustaria dos pizzas de queso, por favor several times a day was pretty awesome. So happy I invested the time in these tools to learn Spanish!).

Travel motivates me to learn new languages – one of my interests!

It was a wonderful week of great food, company, beach time, a little adventuring and eye-opening experiences for my kids. We were all sad when it was over, and my son even cried at the resort as we were leaving. Over the Christmas holidays, we made a family travel bucket list and it is extensive. My husband and I have rekindled our dream of travelling together into our retirement years. We want to be silver-haired and smiling while walking hand-in-hand in Europe and Asia. Imagine the insight I’d have as a travel blogger by then! (I mean, I’m not actually going to retire from this, right? I hope not!).

I think what I went through, mentally more so than anything, gives me a unique perspective to offer you, dear Readers. We aren’t all born with adventure coursing through our veins, or some of us have had experiences – relevant or not – with travelling that has put us off or made us more guarded. I get that. I totally get that, and as I share with you my travels near and far, I will keep that in mind. Maybe my posts will inspire you to travel farther and deeper. And I promise to share any tools along the way to help the more timid traveller experience the majesty of this incredible planet.

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Come see the world with me!

Remembering My True Self

I’m so thankful that I’m becoming reacquainted with that girl inside me who once spent her college days writing out bucket lists and languages-to-learn lists when she was supposed to be studying for exams. I like this girl. A lot.

What’s YOUR travel story? Eager? Fearful? Both? I’d love to hear in the comments. Also, please say ‘hi’ on Instagram – I love sharing travel and other photos there.

Thanks for reading!


3 Reasons Why Netflix Binging During Air Travel Is Smart, Smart, Smart

I just learned that 57% of Canadians binge-watch their favourite Netflix entertainment in the air! Now that you can watch without WiFi, the airplane is the perfect place to catch up on some shows or distract yourself from turbulence by immersing yourself in the perfect movie. We happily downloaded movies for our 3 kids to watch (on two separate iPads – the youngest got her own, and the older two shared) for our recent trip to Mexico. We knew from the get-go that there were only so many snacks and colouring books we could pull out of our magic hat to keep these guys entertained, strapped in a seat for five and a half hours. A happy flight makes for a great start or end to a trip. We’re good with Netflix binging in public and it looks like we’re not alone!

Here are some suggestions on what to download for the kids for their air-travel Netflix binging:

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It’s not just about keeping the kids happy, though. There are some really good reasons why you should keep your Netflix shows on your tablet while you jet-set this holiday season!

3 Reasons Why You Should Download Netflix Entertainment For Air Travel

1. Your flight could be delayed. Sorry, I know that’s one of your fears as you book tickets in unpredictable winter weather. Actually, 63% of Canadians are worried about flight delays over the holidays. With your favourite shows at your fingertips, you can consider delays to be extra episodes just waiting to be devoured!

2. Another fear? Faulty in-flight systems leading to…no entertainment! I don’t think I need to elaborate on this. You’ll be the most popular person on the plane with Netflix on your tablet (just glance through the crack in the seats behind you – Seat 47C is peeking at your screen to alleviate his boredom!). In fact, 45% of Canadians who binge in the air have caught someone watching their screen from another seat!

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3. Ok, and if the in-flight system is working, what’s worse than the captain announcing the imminent landing right at the juicy part of the movie? The screen shuts off, the flight attendant kindly (but firmly) asks you to lock your lap tray, put away your screen and sit in a completely upright position. If that Netflix movie isn’t downloaded on your tablet, it’s as good as gone. You’ll never know if the ship sank. (Ok, that one isn’t available on Netflix right now so I’ll just tell you…it did sink. And it was really, really sad.)

Have I convinced you to add ‘download shows for Netflix binging’ to your travel prep list? Maybe this photo of my 3 year old daughter will remind you that a quiet child from CUN to YVR is the best child.

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My friend Raj over at Pink Chai Living had a pretty awesome idea for her recent flight to New York City. I’m going to have to download the same when I (hope to) go to NYC next spring!

Have you checked out the Netflix download feature?

As a member of the Netflix Stream Team, I receive some perks for sharing my honest opinions and ideas with you!



Learning Spanish With These 5 Tools

Earlier this year, I shared with you my goal of learning Spanish. I had planned to use these 3 tools to do it so that on my upcoming trip to Mexico I could have a successful (albeit short and slow) conversation with a local. Now, I know people on the resort speak English. I know I can order food and ask for directions in English. But I love languages, particularly Romance languages, and this was excellent motivation to embark on something new. I also believe it’s respectful and thoughtful to learn at least a little bit of the local language. (I highlight more reasons for language-learning in this column for Peace Arch News).

So, did I use the tools I thought I would? Some, but not all. And I found new ones along the way. Here’s what has been working so far:

5 Tools For Learning Spanish

1. My friend recommended I try the Michel Thomas CD collection for Beginner Spanish. And this was the most invaluable tool I used. I borrowed it from the library in June and ended up renewing it throughout the summer and into September until I could no longer renew it! And I am seriously considering buying the collection myself. I just LOVED the way Michel teaches. It’s all by listening which, frankly, is how language is best learned. (Think of how you learned your native language). At first I was freaking out a little. I felt like I should take notes, create a vocabulary list, pause the CD to repeat back. But I’m glad I used it the way it was intended. I think my second time around, I will make some notes because when I write things down they become emblazoned in my mind, but I was pleasantly surprised with how much I had retained just by listening. (He teaches other languages, too, if learning Spanish isn’t your thing).

2. Netflix!! I’ve always loved watching foreign films but my husband isn’t a huge fan. He doesn’t want to have to read subtitles while unwinding at the end of the day. I get that. But I’ve been able to convince him occasionally to throw on a Spanish movie so I can get used to hearing it spoken in varying accents, dialects and speed. And when I have a night to myself on occasion I know I can get my language geek on and watch something like: Palm Trees in the Snow, Amar, Ingobernable, La Nina, or La Esclava Blanca.

Just writing about this on this wet, grey day makes me want to curl up on my couch with a Spanish film or series! Have you seen any of these? Or have recommendations of your own? Please tell me in the comments below!

3. My sister-in-law is fluent in Spanish having studied it in university and then travelled to some Spanish-speaking countries. I should probably bug her more than I have been to practice with me since this is truly the way to gauge how much I know – plus, I can get immediate feedback and corrections which is important, too. But she has been a great source of encouragement. Amo a mi hermana!

4. Y musica! (Ok, I’m totally missing accents in my text because I don’t know how to find them on my keyboard. I apologize if you’re a Spanish speaker and this is making you cringe – if it helps, it’s making me cringe, too). So many people recommended I learn Spanish by listening to music and this made a lot of sense to me. I have fallen in love with the sounds of Enrique Iglesias, Fonsi, and Juanes. There are so many more artists out there that I have yet to discover. I’m particularly looking for ones like Juanes because I seem to pick up on his lyrics more easily. (Recommendations? Drop them below!) If you haven’t heard this song from him and Nelly Furtado, please take a moment to crank it and get lost for a moment in the beautiful words, melody and harmony.

5. T R A V E L! This is both a motivation AND a tool for learning Spanish. I don’t expect to be fluent without using this language in real life context and I can’t say I’m sad about adding travel to my list of tools. Did you know that Spanish is the official language in approximately 20 countries? And has about 400 million native speakers? Pretty amazing! Have you travelled to a Spanish-speaking country I should add to my bucket list? I’d love to hear!

As a member of the Netflix Stream Team, I receive some perks for sharing my honest opinion and ideas with you!

Easter Weekend In Whatcom County: The Highlight Reel

This past Easter long weekend we spent 4 relaxing days in Whatcom County – and even enjoyed some sun! Here are some highlights in photos.

I loved the ample time I spent outdoors where I practiced my photography using my Canon SX50 HS and my iPhone 6S. The sun was warm on my back, the air was fresh and my subjects were stunning.

My youngest would not turn around for this shot but I snapped it anyway. She loves the independence and freedom she finds in her little car and tricycle! {Canon}

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My son is happy amongst the trees, like his mom. He spent a great chunk of time building a fort in the woods, complete with a cardboard T.V. By the end of the day, he was filthy – and excited about getting back to it the next morning. {Canon}

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After a bike ride, these two sisters decided to have a picnic by the lake. Fresh strawberries, Ambrosia apples, Colby Jack cheese and whole wheat crackers made the perfect snack before jumping on their bikes again. {iPhone}

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One big kid and one little kid, pictured here enjoying some playground equipment. This was the first weekend in a couple months that we were actually completely and totally at ease. The only thing on our agenda was to enjoy each other’s company and play. It was the perfect break from work and commitments. {Canon}

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Ok, there actually was something on the agenda: an Easter egg hunt! Here’s a cluster of chocolate yummies ready to be found. (The sugar crash for the youngest was a bit of a downer for all of us! But this is the highlights reel, so I’ll just post the pretty pictures!) {iPhone}

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And the marina. In just another month or so, these boat slips will be occupied and summer will really be upon us. I captured this quiet moment before the excitement. {iPhone}

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I hope your long weekend was filled with the things and people you love most.

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3 Tools I’m Using To Learn Spanish

You know how some people write out their 5 year and 10 year plans? When I sat down to pen all the things I wanted to accomplish in my 20’s, I included a list of several languages, including Spanish. I didn’t learn any of them. But that is not the point. The point is that languages are intriguing to me – I like listening to the rise and fall of them, hearing the unique phonemes, and untangling the cultural elements that exist within them.

Last summer, I learned of an app called duoLingo after overhearing a blogger say she was using it to learn German. Suddenly, I had the ability to learn several languages right at my fingertips! I chose Italian kind of on a whim. It has a beautiful feel on the tongue, is lovely to listen to and I tend to lean toward the Romance languages after studying French through high school. Throughout the summer, I plugged into the app for 10-15 minutes a day…then that time eventually diminished to once a week when school was underway and life felt like it started up again. At this point I am about 10% fluent in Italian which means I can name some animals, some foods and tell you I am a beautiful woman (plus a little more) but let’s just say it’s not enough to get me by with Nonna.

I’ve left it alone for awhile, not really feeling motivated to keep learning a language that I don’t see myself using, and thus maintaining, in the near future. It was during a Zumba class last month while I was swaying my hips to a sultry Enrique Iglesias song and dreaming about dancing on the beaches in Mexico that I realized I should really be focusing on Spanish. After all, I am planning to go to Mexico with the family this winter, and I am more likely to use Spanish on my travels anywhere as Spanish is the second or third most spoken language in the world (depending on the source). And to be honest, I am not sure what the social climate is like in Italy at this point. As a brown-skinned traveller, this is something I unfortunately have to take into consideration when planning vacations. Does anyone have feedback on this? I’d love to hear!

My goal is to learn enough Spanish by December that I can have some form of a (probably slow) conversation with at least one local wherever we end up going in Mexico. And here’s how I’m going to do it!

  1. duoLingo will be my go-to app again. It now has the option to practice a conversation with bots after you reach a certain level. And there are also clubs you can form and join in which you speak only Spanish (I assume. I don’t know. Not in a club yet). I’m committing to 10 minutes a day Monday to Friday. And 20 minutes a day on the weekend.
  2. Since Enrique Iglesias is HIGHLY motivating for me, I’ve started listening to his music in the mornings to start my day. This is when I usually tidy up the kitchen after the hurricane (aka children) passes through. After listening, I pull up the lyrics in Spanish and English (what did we do before Google?) and pick out the individual words and match them up. I’m going to continue doing this with his songs and other Spanish-speaking artists you may recommend to me in the comments!
  3. Practicing with my sister-in-law, Zahida who happens to be fluent in Spanish. This is super helpful for me! I love to learn by speaking with other human beings. This way I can pause or stop or question something to death. And I can string together actually useful sentences in real-life context.

It would be awesome to be part of a meet-up at some point with a group of people for the sole purpose of practicing Spanish. But I know 1-3 above are do-able. I’ll keep you posted! If nothing else, learning this new language will give me the opportunity to stretch my brain and invest my time in something I think is fun.

I mean…watching this every day is hard work but I can imagine it’s a blast, right? 😉

Wish me luck!

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