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The 15th Annual Operanation is Back With a Fairytale Themed Gala

Spring is here (yay!) and we finally have the weather to confirm this, which means one thing – event season is among us. There are only a handful of events that take place in the city that can incite a bit of FOMO if I have to miss out on it and the Canadian Opera Company’s annual Operanation event ranks high on the list. It is the first big event in the new year where people are actually excited to dress up and go out because the snow and cold weather is behind us.

This year on May 16th the COC will host their 15th annual Operanation event inside the Four Seasons Performing Arts Centre. With this year’s theme being inspired by the fairytale stories of next year’s opera stage, the evening is no doubt going to be a whimsical night full of surprises, adventure and voices of the company’s opera stars.

I can’t wait and I plan on taking the theme seriously when it comes to what I am wearing. I am thrilled to be given the chance to wear something magical from one of my favourite Canadian designer’s, Nikki Yassemi of Narces. I plan on bringing you guys along for the ride via my stories during my visit to her studio for my upcoming fittings and plan on letting you all in on the fun by helping me choose a look for the big night.

Photography by Ryan Emberley

If you’ve been lucky enough to attend Operanation before ,you already know it’s THE party of the season and tickets sell crazy FAST.  The COC was kind enough to give my followers access to tickets for this spectacular evening at a reduced rate HERE or you can access ticket sales via the link in my IG bio and use the code “SASHA” to grab yours. I can’t wait to see some of y’all there!

The Answer To All Your Last Minute Holiday Shopping Needs

The idea of going into the final week before Christmas without one gift being purchased yet would cause most folks insane anxiety. Rightfully so, if you expect to be picking up all the gifts on your list from *gasp* the MALL! I have learned from years of unnecessary panicking that last minute mall shopping is not the way to go if you want to enjoy the holidays without getting high blood pressure by December 24th. My motto has simply become this…No mall. No lines. No stress. It’s really just that simple and it means I get to chill and actually enjoy the holidays.

 

There are a handful of online retailers that I rely on during this time of the year, but I swear, Best Buy is the move for last minute shoppers. Why? Their “Reserve + Pick-Up” service is the ultimate destination for all the tech-obsessed people on your list, even the youngest ones. It’s actually brilliant and so incredibly efficient. A couple of days ago I reserved some items online and seriously within 20 minutes, I had received a confirmation notifying me that they were not only set aside at the store but also ready to be picked up at the Best Buy location closest to my house.

I got a chance to test out the service earlier this week when I ordered a special little pre-holiday surprise for my little girl that was delivered to our home by a Best Buy Blue Shirt employee. I partnered with Best Buy to add an extra-special step to this already awesome service – even though this is a service they don’t offer, we had the opportunity to have the gift delivered to our home by a Best Buy Blue Shirt employee to capture the full-effect of the surprise. It was actually really cute. We cruised the website until she found something that made her squeal and giggle. Not surprisingly, it was the Spin Master Zoomer Playful Pup. A bit of a mature toy for her but the kid is obsessed with dogs and a toy robot dog that can roll over, bark and answer to commands is the coolest gift ever, so I could never say no.

Reserve + Pick-Up is available all the way until December 24th, so Best Buy has you covered down to the wire. Just find the items you want, click the “Reserve in Store” icon and choose a location nearest you for pickup. An email confirmation is sent shortly after notifying you that everything is good to go for pick-up and will be kept on hold for you to pick up within 24 hours.

Ok guys, its probably time to stop reading about how to shop stress free this season. Let’s get you actually shopping and crossing items of your gift giving list right now by heading to BestBuy.ca.

Money Mindfulness: A Renewed Way To Look At Your Finances

Stress. We all have it and there are different causes. Relationships, work and health are probably the first ones that come to mind but 30% of Canadians claim financial stress as one of their biggest worries. THIRTY PERCENT! Credit Education Week runs until November 16th and last week I attended a money mindfulness retreat here in Toronto put on by Capital One Canada to learn a bit more about the topic and how I can take techniques I use for my own mental health and pain related issues and apply it to finances.

Captial One Money Mindfulness Retreat

Captial One - Money Mindfulness Retreat

So what is it about finances that command so much negative energy over people? I have not been able to stop thinking about it since the event. Could it be because the topic of personal finances can be embarrassing, if you seem to not have your sh*t together? I would imagine most people would feel more comfortable not only speaking openly but actually doing something about their relationship and work-related stress. Whereas with financial related stress, I’m certain it just gets internalized. Combine that with procrastination in finding tools to proactively manage money, or worse, denial, and one can find themselves in a mountain of debt. According to a Capital One and Credit Canada Debt Solutions study, we worry about our finances every day for about an hour. Just to put that into perspective for you, that’s about the same amount of time we spend a day eating. So the question is, what are we going to do about it?

The goal of Credit Education Week is to help empower Canadians and give them the tools and knowledge to help mitigate financial stress. At the event last week, we got a chance to go through several activities to gain more insight on just how much financial stress impacts the daily lives of Canadians, which apparently ranks as the second largest day-to-day worry behind overall health. Followed by a series of mini workshops that included mindfulness, meditation and yoga practice with Joga House Founder, Jana Webb, that got me thinking about how I can approach my own money management in 2019. Never having student debt, multiple credit cards or poor spending habits, which I know makes me an anomaly, I am already ahead of the game I guess. However, there’s always room for improvement and I am down for anything that can help me reach my financial goals faster.

Captial One - Money Mindfulness Retreat

Photography by David Pike

I’ll admit it, mindfulness and money conventionally aren’t two things that you would think should go together but once we got into the activities and a did a few mindful practices, it all started to come together for me. For those who aren’t really familiar with what “mindfulness” is, it really is just the practice of awareness. A heightened awareness, or simply being cognizant of why and how you’re doing something. Taking a mindful approach with your money combined with meditation or yoga can significantly lower the stress and anxiety around money. While I can give credit to myself for being fiscally responsible in terms of avoiding debt, I do love to shop. I mean, who doesn’t? The bad part is that lately I’ve been treating it like a legit pastime. Leaving the house to browse and shop without a plan or agenda, leading me to make a slew of unnecessary purchases, when I should be creating a list and only buying what’s on there. Sounds like the basics but you’d be surprised how many make the same mistake. There were tons of other valuable information shared but here are a few highlights that definitely stood out to me during the retreat that you may find useful:

Mindful Money Monitoring

Be aware of the numbers when it comes to your financial statements. Understand that the money going out must be lower than the money coming in. Be wise when it comes to paying off your bills, specifically when it comes to car loans and credit cards with revolving credit balance. Making minimum payments still incurs interest! Last but not least, understand the importance of having a good credit score because it really does matter. It can be the difference between getting a home (or not). Want to improve your credit score? Credit Canada Debt Solutions has some useful tips on their site. It’s also beneficial to keep track of it and Credit Keeper can help you do that. It’s a useful online tool created by Capital One that gives you access to your TransUnion credit score – for FREE. It’s refreshed weekly, so you can check your score regularly.

Get Comfortable with Budgets

Nobody likes to hear the word budget. I used to think that word had a negative connotation but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. My coach used to always say, “If you fail to plan…you plan to fail!” and having a budget is essentially having a plan for success. I am embarrassed to say this but Réjean and I don’t budget plan together so that is one of our priorities for the new year. I discovered some helpful tips on how to create one and a link to a free budget worksheet on Credit Canada’s website that you can find here.

Goal Getter

It’s impossible not be successful when you set goals for yourself. Creating a budget for yourself, especially if it’s more on the strict side, can be easier to handle once you have an idea of the big picture. Set immediate, short and long term goals and you will probably find it easier to make scaling back on spending more manageable.

Getting your finances together can seem like a daunting task but it doesn’t need to be. Thanks to Capital One Canada and Credit Canada, there are some amazing resources out there to steer you in the right direction. With it being Credit Education Week (and 2019 right around the corner), there’s no better time than now to set some financial goals. To learn more about CEWC and to discover what events are taking place in your city head to www.cewc.ca.

This post is in partnership with Capital One however all views and opinions are my own

The Glow Up at Hillcrest

Shopping used to be my number one favourite pastime. That is, until Maxwell came into the picture. I know some mamas love passing the time there with their hub but the thought of fighting for one of two designated family parking spots, struggling to find somewhere to breastfeed or warm up a bottle and don’t get me started on changing diaper full of poo in a busy washroom with no privacy. Yeah, no thank you!

I had been hearing rumours about a mall mecca for mommies that promises to make the shopping experience with a baby on board not only manageable and actually convenient. I was intrigued. So much so, I was willing to compromise Max’s nap schedule to make the trek 35 minutes outside of the city to Richmond Hill to see this with my own eyes. Quite a few of you mamas that happen to live in the area have told me after seeing my IG stories that Hillcrest has been around for an eternity and had no idea about this major renovation they recently went through. Guys, the glow up is REAL! This project includes a refresh of both interior/exterior with a whole new north wing, tons of new retailers and yes some very much needed conveniences for the whole family, specifically mommy shoppers.

West Coast Kids - So Sasha
West Coast Kids has a gigantic section for baby accessories and the Bugaboo shop in shop is the perfect place to find your dream stroller. Love this updated version of the Buggaboo Bee.

West Coast Kids Hillcrest - So Sasha

Wondering if Hillcrest should be destination for your next family shopping haul? Here’s the lowdown on how it measures up based on our experience:

Location. If you live Newmarket, Markham, Thornhill or Richmond Hill, this is basically a stone’s throw away for you and I am a bit jealous of your proximity. For you downtown folk that consider anything north of Bloor St unchartered territory, if you’re are located close to one of the major highway arteries in the city, the drive to Hillcrest can be surprisingly easy as it’s a straight shot up the 404 north. Your best bet is to strategically plan to travel outside of high traffic times. I left the city around 10:20am and comfortably made it there at 11am. We left to head back to the city around 3pm (and yes we actually stayed that long) and missed most of the afternoon traffic. It isn’t located close to the highway exit and is about a 9-minute drive for the DVP still once you exit so in rush hour it could add on to your transit time.

Parking. SO. MUCH. FAMILY. PARKING. I was actually really impressed. Where you normally see anywhere from 1-4 spots allocated for family designated parking total. Hillcrest is setting the bar damn high with several…and I mean several at each of their main entrances.

Hillcrest - So Sasha

Hillcrest - So Sasha

Hillcrest - So Sasha

Shopping Experience/Retailers. Hillcrest doesn’t claim to be anything they are not so if you’re looking for solely high end shopping across the board, this is not the place for you. However, if you’re looking for a collection of retailers to appease the everyday shopping needs for everyone in your family, you will not be disappointed. They have the all the regular mall retailers everyone knows and loves; The Gap, H&M, Mendocino, Hudson’s Bay, SportChek, Aldo, Old Navy, Aritzia, Sephora and Indigo (opening here soon) but I think people will want to go for the stores they can’t find just anywhere like SportingLife, Miniso – a really cool Japanese specialty store that I’ve never seen before, Okaïdi, West Coast Kids and their newly opened HomeSense/Marshalls. I am always looking for decor items for the house and can never go wrong with that store. The HomeSense at Hillcrest is actually incredible. So is Marshalls. Kid you not, I spent over an hour in there picking up stuff for Max and other miscellaneous stuff that I have convinced Réjean we absolutely need. Do you remember Maxwell in this unicorn suit from my stories? I don’t know if it’s for Halloween or for everyday wear but she looked irresistible in it. If she wanted to wear just that every single day, I would totally let her.

HillcrestGlowUp - So Sasha

HillcrestGlowUp - So Sasha

HillcrestGlowUp - So Sasha

HillcrestGlowUp - So Sasha
French kiddie brand Okaïdi has a European vibe, great quality and amazing price points

I spent the rest of my time powering shopping. I passed through Artizia like a Tornado and copped a super cute skirt and classic tee that I plan to wear next week to an event with Maxwell. There was a quick stop in at Sephora to quickly stock up on some Tatcha products and I was even able to find some great pieces to create a couple fall looks for Réj at SportingLife before dedicating the rest of my time to all things baby.

HillcrestGlowUp - So Sasha
Just 1/4 of the West Coast Kids location at Hillcrest. It truly is your one-stop shop for all things baby and kids with the best collections and unique products

West Coast Kids

West Coast Kids - So Sasha

West Coast Kids Hillcrest - So Sasha

West Coast Kids Hillcrest - So Sasha

West Coast Kids - So Sasha
Love, Love, LOVE these books especially the ones specific to Toronto!

We also found a super cool store named Okaïdi. It’s a French brand that has recently landed here in Canada, with only a couple locations to date. The baby girl collection is quite adorable and super affordable so Maxie got to take home some new outerwear and dresses to take her through the season. The newborn and baby collections remind me of clothing that I found in boutiques when we were in Barcelona but the prices are more aligned with Zara Kids and H&M. But truthfully friends, the mall’s piéce de resistance is West Coast Kids. I think there is one other location, but it pales in comparison to the one you will find at Hillcrest. Hands down the best and largest collection of merchandise for kiddos from newborn to teens. Every square inch of the of the space has speciality items ranging from books and apparel inspired by our city of Toronto, super fun accessories, high end outerwear – Mackage parka’s for toddlers if you can believe, tees inspired by hip hop, the cutest footwear to keep your mini in style through all of Canada’s seasons, the coolest strollers and nursery items that will have you rethinking your decorating choices. I wanted everything in the store for Max. EVERYTHING. And tried to justify she needed it all too, plus a new nursery LOL. I did exercise some restraint and left with a couple of cute dresses, some new books for her reading collection and the YYZ sweatshirt you guys have seen her rocking on my stories from Canadian brand Posh & Cozy.

HillcrestGlowUp- So Sasha

West Coast KIds - So Sasha

Hillcrest - So Sasha

Hillcrest - So Sasha

West Coast Kids - So Sasha

Food. You will find the regular food court restos here and even a Panera Bread location, however it’s not actually connected to the mall. There are some tasty speciality spots like Uncle Tetsu’s for those who are obsessed with the Japanese cheesecakes that people line up for year round at the downtown location, Bake Code and Chatime (hello, my fave!) for the bubble tea aficionados. After all the cardio I did shopping for hours my last stop of the day was actually at Chatime for a Mango bubble tea and a matcha croissant – and yes both were they are insanely delish.

Hillcrest - So Sasha

Mommy/Family Amenities. The extra family designated parking spots are one thing but Hillcrest really knocked it out of park with some of the extra conveniences they thought of for families. The mall is actually all one level so it makes navigating with a stroller and young toddlers simple. Both men’s and women’s washrooms have baby change stations so the dad’s need not worry when they venture to this alone with the kids. For the mamas who are still breastfeeding, you’re going to love this…they have a nursing room so you can feed your bub quietly in private and wait for it, the Guest Experience Kiosk offers complimentary diaper kits plus baby bottle warming. It’s located a bit away from where the nursing room and washrooms, but it’s nice to not have to run around a food court asking for milk to be heated. I actually used the service when we were finished shopping so Max could have a bottle for the ride back home.

Hillcrest - So Sasha

HILLCREST FINAL ROUNDUP

Was it worth the drive to Hillcrest? Yes. Would I return to shop? 100%. I’m already planning our next visit and will probably do it with a few girlfriends and their kids. I am in need of a little refresh on our holiday décor so that is the perfect excuse to go back and the Homesense there is bound to have everything I need. Plus, there are loads of things I still want to get for Maxie at Okaïdi and West Coast Kids.

Intrigued? Head over to HillcrestMall.ca for all the details on the renovation, new store openings, promos, and upcoming events.

This post is in formal partnership with Hillcrest for either monetary compensation or product however all opinions are my own.

The Inaugural Millie Speaks Conference Series: “Your Authentic Life” Hits Toronto Sept 29th

There’s something special coming to Toronto ladies and I can’t wait to share this news with you. Next Saturday September 29th at the Arta Gallery, I am going to be apart of the very first Millie Speaks event. Created by Founder Chelsea Brown, Millie is a new company that in all honesty has the capability of being something HUGE. The goal. To inspire and support women in their journey to LIVE TRUE through a series of speaker conferences and exclusive travel experiences. The inaugural female centric speaker series, appropriately titled, “Your Authentic Life” has been created for like-minded women looking to inspire and be inspired by each other. I am so deeply honoured to be a part of such a phenomenally diverse group of panelists and stoked to hear the stories and tales from the other women who I look up to so much. I’m really also looking forward to being totally candid with all of you in attendance and open up more about my personal journey to where I am today. A 38 year former athlete, turned Marketer, turned entrepreneur and mom to a 1 year old, who has overcome so much adversity to find my way to true happiness and success. I will get to speak to this more during the conference. Trust me, I am fully aware that happiness and success mean very different things to different people and having one doesn’t necessarily mean you have the other. Took me years and quite a few road bumps along the way to learn that.

Millie Speaks: Your Authentic Life
Photography by Nicole Lewis – NicoleLewisPhotography.ca

So…what You Can Expect From Millie Speaks: Your Authentic Life? Over the course of the day, you will get to sit in on a series of three different panels showcasing women who champion as “Living Authentically” and courageously embracing what’s unique to them.  “The Everyday Heroine” who has achieved an impressive level of success but still experience an element on self doubt in their lives, and the “Adventurists” who have unlocked their own potential and greater perspective through travel”. The list of 10 panelists, including yours truly all bring different backgrounds, expertise and perspectives, which to me means there will at least be one panellist you’ll connect with on a deeper level.

Millie Speaks: Your Authentic Life

The moderators aren’t to be outdone by the panelists and are a group of amazing women, some you may already know of; Noreen Flanagan Editor in Chief of Fashion Magazine, Sangita Patel from ET Canada, Sarah Daniel; Beauty Editor and Creator of The Hidden Beauty Podcast and Dominique Lamberton from OnRoute Magazine. Plus, two Key Note Speakers that will BLOW. YOUR. MIND.

Millie Speaks: Your Authentic Life

In between all this amazingness…(yup, there’s more!) the day will kick off with an uplifting meditation. You’ll also get to check out the FASHION Magazine lounge, enjoy mini facials, hand massages and complimentary skin analysis from Caudalie – the ultimate brand in luxury skincare, fuel and refuel with great food, drinks and so much more.

Are you ready to open your minds (and hearts) to REAL conversations with REAL women? Tickets are now available for sale and will go quickly as space is extremely limited. To purchase tickets and for more information go to Millie.ca.

My Art & Sole Custom Shoemaking Experience with Buick

Cars to me is what clothes are to most people. A way to make a statement without having to say a word. This sentiment is also shared by the design team at Buick who has put a considerable amount of time to help reposition the brand and create a vehicle that represents the highest quality of Buick luxury to date. The new Enclave Avenir has single handedly changed the way the way the world, myself included, will view Buick going forward. I know some of your perceptions have already changed just from reading my blog posts and following along on my IG stories. This brand transition has been successful because Buick has been taking cues from other industries that have a high regard for craftsmanship. The design team has used interior design, fashion and beauty trends as their main source of inspiration with one simple goal in mind. To create a vehicle that would be an expression of a discerning, fashion forward and conscious consumer.

BuickStyle Art & Sole Academy Event - So Sasha

BuickStyle Art & Sole Academy Event - So Sasha

BuickStyle Art & Sole Academy Event - So Sasha

Buick Style Art & Sole Academy Event - So Sasha

To celebrate this new direction and their successes with the new premium Avenir trim line found on the Enclave and Lacrosse, I was treated to an intimate evening with the Buick team and some friends at the Art & Sole Academy; the first shoemaking school in Canada that offers workshops and classes in the art of custom shoemaking. I was chauffeured to the event in a white Enclave that has the same Avenir trim as my own and it was pretty nice actually to be able to to relax and enjoy the ridiculous amounts of legroom that’s available in the middle row. Learning the ins and outs of the shoemaking process from Art & Sole’s owner Jennifer Allison was amazing but what blew all of our minds was that we all got to design a custom pair of leather driving shoes for ourselves that night. Not just any old leather either may I add. We got to choose from the same leather options that are available in the 2018 Buick Enclaves. Now  that should say something about the quality materials used inside these vehicles. We each traced and measured our the bottom of our feet and instep and then went on to choose the base style, colour of leather, leather type, uppers, lace and trim details. So fun, yes, but the plethora of options made it pretty stressful, not going to lie. Then we went on to learn a basic stitching technique for leather fabrications from Jennifer. This was definitely not my strong suit but I will soon have a custom shoe to match the interior of my Buick and that’s pretty damn cool. Before heading home, we even had personalized keychains made by the lovely chap below with our initials on it.

BuickStyle Art & Sole Academy Event - So Sasha

BuickStyle Art & Sole Academy Event

 

Members of the GM and Buick design team were on hand and it is really inspiring to see a group of women behind this dynamic team. Over the past couple years, I have gotten to know Catherine Black, Buick Colour and Trim Design Manager who in my opinion has the coolest job ever. Black is in charge of developing concepts, colours and shapes that reflect Buick’s customer alongside the marketing, engineering, and manufacturing departments. She is also the face of the design team often called upon to brief media on some of the trends they have forecasted several years prior to vehicles hitting the auto show circuit. I actually got to chat extensively with her about the design details for the Enclave Avenir over a year ago during it’s reveal in NYC at NAIAS and she has this to say about about where the Buick teams are today,

The whole synergy and interaction between the designers, clay and digital sculptors, engineering and colour & trim is extraordinary. Together we are charged with evolving the brand and the portfolio with the timeless qualities we value most – beautiful, premium, comfortable, effortless and intelligent.”

BuickStyle Event - So Sasha
Photos by Pamela Lau for Buick Canada

My custom shoes, fingers crossed, should be arriving in the next few weeks and I can’t wait to show you guys what I designed. Even more excited  to own my very first driving shoe that will not only look great but be functional too. Want in on customizing your own pair of leather driving shoes from Buick? Starting May 15th, you can express your own personal style by customizing and designing your own, which is pretty major. They will be available in very limited quantities, but on the upside, they will be made available on www.artandsoleacademy.com/buickstyle for only $189, when trust me, they are probably worth a lot more. Head to Buick.ca to find more information on the Enclave Avenir and full portfolio of Buick’s 2018 vehicles.

This post was created in partnership with Buick Canada however all thoughts and opinions are my own

My Wellness Experience at Le Monastère des Augustines with Buick Canada

I have been going non-stop since I had Maxwell. I took two short weeks off but after that it was pretty much back to my regularly scheduled programming. Truthfully, I haven’t been feeling my best and my body has slowly been giving me signs that it’s time to slow down a bit. I’ve been craving some breathing room and a reset to figure out what my next steps were going to be to help find balance during this time of transition as a working new mom. The idea for my mindfulness getaway to Quebec City’s actually came while driving Max inside my new car. I had made the decision to upgrade to the 2018 Buick Enclave Avenir in January. The extra space and safety features were definitely a catalyst for the change but I also loved the fact it has it’s own ionizing clean air filter that eliminates dust, bacteria and pollen in a car I spend a lot of time driving my daughter around in. It is a genius idea. Then I started thinking, as blessed as I am to be able to have things like this to help enhance the quality of my family’s life, nothing will trump how my energy and well-being will affect them at the end of the day. After my short stay at Le Monastère des Augustines, I implemented five small but important things that have made significant changes in my daily life. More on this later, but first let me share with you what this magical place is all about.

Le Monastere de Augustines- So Sasha

Le Monastere de Augustines - So Sasha

So with that realization, I was on the hunt for a truly unique wellness experience and discovered a real gem about eight hours drive from Toronto. Le Monastère des Augustines is a little wellness haven found in the heart of Old Quebec (Quebec City). Occupying the restored wings of the former Hôtel-Dieu de Queébec monastery, one of Quebec’s most significant historic sites, the hotel is for those who are on or looking for a true path to holistic health. The property opened it’s doors back in 2015 after three years of rehabilitation and renovations that had to meet extremely strict historical guidelines and a carefully curated team of historians and architects spent an enormous amount of time researching every square inch of the the property; to ensure it was restored respectfully to the way it was 400 years ago. Inside you’ll find:

  • A boutique with teas, wellness products, books, healthy grab & go food options and meditation accessories.
  • A museum and archives with 1 linear km of documents and rare ancient books. It houses a permanent exhibition illustrating the social and spiritual involvement in the first hospital on the continent north of Mexico and the development of Quebec’s health system as we know it today. It also has the original pharmaceutical and medical objects, works of arts and artefacts that the sisters held on to for years and donated to the monastery. There are guided tours that recreate the experience of a 17th century cloister
  • The vault, located basically underground, is where many of the movement classes take place. It’s where I did my morning sessions and it has such great energy in there. Fun fact, this room was only a quarter of the height it is now. The original floor was removed and the ground was dug out to create this large space. The hallway leading toward the vault (found below) gives you an indication of how low the ceilings are in the original building.
  • A church where the nuns still congregate daily at 5pm for mass and to sing with the choir. Guests are welcome to meditate or practice yoga on there own outside of mass hours.
  • The spa where guests can receive personalized holistic and nutrition consultation services or indulge in facials, lymphatic drainage or their preferred choice of massage therapy in 30, 60 or 90 minute durations

Le Monastère des Augustines is also a non-profit organization. When you think of a wellness retreat, dollars signs is usually the first thing that pop into your head because let’s be honest, most are grossly overpriced. All funds and donations to the monastery are actually used to protect and enhance the heritage of the Augustinian Sisters, to help with Le Monastère’s mission to promote the wellbeing of individuals and society and to make it’s services affordable and accessible to as many people as possible.

Le Monastere de Augustines - Sasha Exeter

Le Monastere de Augustines - So Sasha

Le Monastere de Augustines - So Sasha

Le Monastere de Augustines - So Sasha

Le Monastere de Augustines - So Sasha

I feel somewhat inclined to clarify just in case it was not clear during my stay. If you’re for a luxurious getaway with Michelin star dining with a couple of cute yoga classes sprinkled in throughout your stay, this is not the place for you.  Taking inspiration from the Augustinian Sisters, who founded the monastery nearly four centuries ago, Le Monastère des Augustines, main goal is to take care of their guests mind, body and soul through meditation, food and a specific movement series. The design, programming, and food is all about simplicity and created with distinct purpose. The rooms are without clocks, TV or docking stations for iPhone/iPods to ensure that you have zero distractions in a space that should be reserved solely for sleep. However, they do have wifi throughout the property but they encourage guests to decompress and take a tech detox during their stay. The programming for the movement series, oddly not described in much detail on their website, are all scheduled before each meal and trust me there is good reasoning behind it. I promise, more on this later. As for the food; the restaurant’s approach is based on the principles of conscious nutrition using mostly organic, local and seasonal products.

The Accommodations

Le Monastere de Augustines - So Sasha

Guys, the room’s at the monastery are probably one of the coolest aspects of the hotel and are the perfect design juxtaposition between old and new. There’s a total  of 65 rooms split almost evenly between authentic rooms restored in the spirit of monasticism and contemporary rooms with modern design and amenities. After my hotel tour on IG stories, people seemed to be fascinated by the character and charm of the authentic rooms. The teeny tiny doorways are an indication of just how small the sisters of Augustine were back then and it’s just so cool to be able to see exact replica’s of what their rooms were like dating back to 1639. For reference check out Marie-Eve standing in front of an authentic suite and she is only 5’2″. The majority of the furniture in these rooms are original, historic pieces with the exception of the beds, mattresses and sink – and have all been manufactured right in Quebec, which is really cool. However, these rooms do not have their own bathrooms so guests must use communal washrooms and shower rooms during their stay.

Here’s a peek inside one of the monastery’s authentic rooms

After a quick poll on my stories, most said they loved the idea of the authentic rooms but were not thrilled about the shared washroom facilities. To be honest, the communal facilities are actually quite nice but there’s nothing like having your own with a bathroom with a deep tub for pre bedtime soaks. My contemporary room came with the just bare necessities but really well appointed. There were lavender beads in my closet giving my clothes the most beautiful scent during my stay. The wool Hudson’s Bay blankets at the bottom of the beds in this wing is a sweet added touch. And even though Le Monastère claims that luxury is not what they are about, their plush white bathrobes say otherwise.

Le Monastere de Augustines - So Sasha

Le Monastere de Augustines - So Sasha

The Daily Movement Program

Le Monastere de Augustines - So Sasha

Le Monastère is designed in a way to ensure that all ages and fitness levels are able to participate and benefit from what’s being offered. There are no high intensity workouts in sight and the programming is based on the practice of yoga, pilates and Qing Gong. You won’t find any difficult yoga flows or reformer machines. Each of the movement classes are primarily meditation based where breathing is the main focus with gentle movements from each practice incorporated into the 45 or 90 minute classes. Personally, not exactly what I am used to as I prefer something more challenging, however it forced me to slow down and focus on opening my body through my breathe. Turns out, I actually loved it and my body responded to it really well. I followed my midday practice one day with a massage and I was surprised my legs allowed me to walk back to my room. I was complete mush and so relaxed. The series is works well for those who are just getting into meditation, amazing for older guests who require more low-key activity and I even met one woman from the east coast that was there as part of her injury rehab program prescribed and suggested by her physician.

Le Monastere de Augustines - So Sasha

The classes are strategically scheduled at the exact same times each day before meals are served in the restaurant at 7am, noon and 5:30pm. Reason being, having food in the digestive system can interrupt with the rhythm of the body while going through these movements. While practicing yoga, pilates or Qing Gong (Tai Chi), the goal should be to have your energy be centralized towards the movement and poses, instead of going towards managing the process of digestion. Practicing on an empty stomach provides the chance to efficiently harvest the energy from the energy reserves of our body such as muscles, liver and body fat – encouraging the body to efficiently burn extra calories Not to mention, twists and turns with food in your stomach can also cause issues in the digestive tract.

The Food

Le Monastere de Augustines

“Le Restaurant” as it’s simply called is where I dined during my stay with the exception of one dinner I had off site at Chez Boulay because I was told by just about everyone I met there that I had to go. Chef Christophe Perny approach to creating the menu each day is fully aligned with Le Monastère’s holistic health principles. All meals are done buffet style with the exception of lunch and there are options for everything offering vegetarian, fish and meat dishes.

Le Monastere de Augustines - So Sasha

Le Monastere de Augustines - So Sasha

Done in complete silence, post yoga breakfast consists of homemade yogurts, chia seed pudding, fresh fruits, artisan breads, jams, tea and coffee. Fresh juices and smoothies are also available. The sisters ate all of their meals in silence . Doing things with a mindful intention was very important to them, even when it came to nourishing their bodies. Not talking also meant that they took their time while eating, chewed more and had better digestion. The hotel thought observing silence for all three seatings would be a bit too severe for guests so it is only mandatory for the first meal of the day. It sounds a bit dramatic but I must say, starting the day off with the awakening series followed by a quiet and nourishing breakfast, can be just the thing you need to change the trajectory of your entire day.

Lunch is hands down the best meal served in their resto and also the largest. It is a three course meal beginning with an elaborate salad bar with two soups to also choose from. Your choice of main (vegetarian, fish or meat option), ending with a guilt free dessert. The kitchen actually doesn’t contain any processed or refined sugars whatsoever. As I ploughed through my second course of lunch, our tour guide/Monastery PR Manager, Marie-Eve, shared with us the reasoning behind this decision. Eating a larger lunch, gives way to a lighter dinner that has been proven to help with digestion. This has also been linked to better sleep.

Dinner did not blow me away as much as the lunch but it met it’s purpose. Similar to the breakfast, it was buffet style with a full salad bar, soup options and mains to choose from for vegetarian, fish and meat eaters. This too was followed by dessert. The items were all of easily digestible foods and I must say, I slept so much better the first night we dined in the monastery restaurant than the following when I devoured a steak at Chez Boulay.

My Le Monastère de Augustines Take-Aways

I think a lot of people leave wellness retreats with grandiose ideas of making huge life changes when they return home and within a day they get swept right back into their old routine. While their intentions may be there, sometimes the changes are so dramatic, it’s just not feasible to see it through in the real world when you have work commitments, kids, family and friends pulling you in a million directions. So here’s what I’ve implemented since I have returned home:

Meditation. 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes at night. I had to be honest with myself, anything longer than that with Maxwell around, just won’t get done. I make it even easier for myself and do it right in the comfort of my bed. While 15 minutes doesn’t seem like a long time, believe it is torture for those who are used to going non-stop. This is my starting point but I am hoping to make it up to an hour by summer.

A Mindfull Approach. Slowly down. Taking my time. Being more mindful with everything I do. Taking the time to enjoy every bite of food I put into my mouth and concentrating while I chew. Taking in my surroundings during my runs and walks with Maxwell. Giving my daughter my undivided attention and not being distracted by the television, cell or laptop. I mean, there will always be times where I have to check my email, answer calls or respond to a text while Maxie is around but I am doing my best to keep some special time for just me and my girl.

Le Monastere de AugustinesSilence. As much as possible. When you live with a partner and a baby it is challenging to do this but I am no longer driving with music playing while I’m alone. I’ve chosen quiet over the radio unless I have a guest riding with me. On our way back from the monastery, Jess and I listened to the spa channel on my XM satellite radio

Le Monastere de Augustines
Photography by Jess Baumung and Le Monastère

Large(er) Lunches & Lighter Dinners. Not really a hard one to implement if I’m honest but I have trimmed down my dinner portions and now opt for heavier meats for lunch sticking with fish and veggies for dinner.

More Baths Before Bed. This requires no further elaboration. One of the reason we got our place is because of the bathtub in what is now Maxie’s bathroom. Bath time done right with low lighting and lavender scented epsom salts, always leads to a great night sleep.

For more information on Le Monastère des Augustines or to book your very own unique wellness experience in the heart of Quebec City, head to www.monastere.ca. 

This post was sponsored and in partnership with Buick Canada, however all views and opinions are my own!

Our Algonquin Road Trip Adventure with Buick

One very important and reoccurring discussion Réjean and I had when I was pregnant was around how we could maintain our lifestyle and continue to do the things we love like explore and travel as new parents. As much as we love our new role as mum and dad, we are still who we are as people and that shouldn’t stop just because we have a little one. With Maxwell more adjusted to traveling in the car, more specifically her car seat, we were finally ready to take on a short road trip last month. Now, Réjean being from a small town in eastern Canada, he loves being up north out of the city and has been begging me to go camping for as long as I can remember. As for me, I couldn’t be more of a city girl and my idea of camping is literally staying at a hotel without 5 star amenities. We truly couldn’t be more different in that sense but we promised each other we would take turns on choosing our family adventures and after a game of rock, paper, scissors; Réj won the right to choose the first one. And I am kinda glad he did because we had a ball and laughed our butts off the entire time.

So Algonquin bound we were with a newborn and probably way more camping equipment than we probably needed. I thought if I was going to try this camping thing out, I want to have everything on hand to make it a legit experience. But just let me be clear… instead of jumping into my camping experience two feet at a time, I decided it was best to just dip my proverbial big toe in first. With it nearing the end of November, a baby on board and me not knowing how I was going to handle the remote wilderness, it made sense to keep the trip short and sweet, LOL. I was pumped though. Not only was it our first family road trip. It was also the first time we did a long(ish) journey in our Buick Envision and I don’t feel like a vehicle really becomes part of you and your family until you’ve done a road trip in it.

The greatest part of a road trip isn’t arriving at your destination. It’s the memories you make along the way with the ones you love!”

Buick Envision

Now just to show you how little I know about camping, I had assumed that you just sort of roll up to a campsite and basically set up wherever you like but apparently it’s not much different than booking a hotel stay. This I didn’t discover until the day before we were set to leave. Large Provincial parks and sites like Algonquin Park, you are usually required to either book online or via phone for a camp plot on your lake of choice (and yes, there are multiple lakes to choose from). Your choice is based on whether you would like electricity or not, access to showers, car access or if you are REALLY into the outdoors; a walk-in site. The latter is where you have to hike for miles to the interior to set up shop. Yup, no thanks…I prefer to be on the perimeter where I still have access to cell reception. I imagine that availability could be tough during the summer high season. After October, all of Algonquin’s parks are closed for the season, with the exception of Mew Lake, which can be used for both day and overnight camping. Lucky for us, not many people wanted to be out there in 11 degrees so we basically had the site to ourselves minus another couple and a gentleman who clearly looked like it was not their first time to the rodeo.

Whenever I venture far north into cottage country, I always fear that I will get lost somehow, but, this time getting there was the least of my worries. Our Buick Envision is equipped with OnStar and it was a great opportunity to test out the service and request turn-by-turn directions directly to the car at the touch of a button. Accessible via the infotainment system home menu or the small blue button located on the rear view mirror, OnStar is literally acts as a safety net, providing drivers with access to a live advisor who can provide assistance for just about anything, around the clock. In our case – directions to Algonquin’s Mew Lake, so we could worry less about missing a turn and just take in the beautiful scenery around us. The best part, seeing as though we skipped town on a workday, I was able to check emails and get some work done, while Réjean was behind the wheel thanks to OnStar’s 4G LTE wifi hotspot.

Buick Envision - So Sasha Buick Envision - So Sasha

So you’re probably wondering what does one pack for a day camping trip with a three month old baby right? We literally brought as much equipment as the car could fit, which turned out to be quite a lot of stuff. For a crossover SUV, the trunk has considerable cargo space. My friend and photographer Jess came along on the journey too and he had ample space in the backseat to relax and keep Maxie entertained on the drive. I am still amazed at how the Buick was able to design a mid-size crossover with the interior of a full-size SUV. The extra room in the backseat also came in handy as it was converted into a nursing and changing station for the baby throughout the day. I ran the car to keep it warm and toasty for her during these breaks.

I turned to MEC (basically a camping and outdoor MECCA) for all of the family’s needs from apparel, sleeping solutions and even cooking supplies. I know this sounds quite extra for a day trip but you just never know. Trying anything new with a baby can cause some anxiety so getting everything we needed under one roof made life so much easier. We bundled up in layers – sweaters and lightweight vests underneath our down Patagonia jackets that kept us surprisingly warm. We wore thermal tights as a base layer underneath wind breaking pants that were also waterproof in case of rain, which it did not thank God! Maxie was in this snowsuit the entire time, with the exception of on the drive to and from. I know some of you were worried about Max being out there in the cold but funny enough, she was the warmest out of the four of us the entire day.

Buick Envision Buick Envision - So Sasha Buick Envision Buick Envision - So Sasha

What We’re Wearing:

On Me: Women’s Patagonia Jacket  // Women’s Sandbagger Pants // Women’s Salomon Hiking Boots // Unisex MEC Glide XC Mitts // ClimaHeat Tights // Soft Wool Toque (sold out) similar here

On Réjean: Unisex MEC Glide XC Mitts // Men’s Osolo Backpacking Boots // Men’s Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket // MEC Cragalot Backpack

After obtaining our park permit and getting our plot assigned by the site attendant we decided it was best to start setting up the tent right away in case Maxie and I wanted to take a nap in there. One of the reasons why camping intimidated me so much in the past was because I always thought it would be such a chore to pitch a tent. I doubt I would have been able to do it without Réjean but it really wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. We used the MEC Cabin 4 Tent. It’s super spacious and has plenty of head room, so we didn’t have to crouch to get in and out, plus we were able to stand up to make changing our clothes easier. It sleeps four comfortably and has double doors allowing us to roll up one, so we could have a nice view of the lake. Our Mallard -5 Sleeping Bags were designed specifically for the weather conditions of November and were insulated with 650 duck down fill – #CozyAF!

Buick Envision - So Sasha Buick Envision - So Sasha Buick Envision - So Sasha Buick Envision Buick Envision - So Sasha Buick Envision

I know it must look like we nailed this trip but if you happened to be following along on my IG stories, you would know that there were a couple mishaps along the way. But hey, it made for some very entertaining moments to say the least. I definitely was not going to be eating tuna out of a can during my first camping trip so we prepped a large container of vegetables with olive oil and seasoning to go along with fish and steak we planned to grill at the site for lunch and dinner. I went up there smug and very impressed with myself remembering to scoop up a cooking grill when getting our MEC Camp Together Cooler but once we decided to get a fire going we realized with had no lighter, no gas tank or lighter fluid for the grill to get things going. Hands down the BIGGEST fail. Réjean literally had to purchase firewood, steal some flames from a neighbouring site and run back to our plot with burning firewood in his hands (as I followed and creepily documented it for Instagram stories of course!) A whole two hours later and we finally got a pit going enough to cook all our food.  The result. Slightly overcooked as it was hard to gauge cooking time over an open flame but having the meat and fish wrapped in foil paper somehow kept it moist. No word of a lie, it just as good as any BBQ steak I’ve ever had.

Buick Envision - So Sasha

These MEC Delux Camping Chairs were awesome. Comes with a built-in bottle opener, a cup holder that deploys when you need it and even comes with a pillow that can be adjusted to provide extra neck or back support

Very different from my type of adventure for sure but it was kind of nice being up there, away from the craziness of the city. Even the air smelled cleaner somehow. The campground actually prohibits music because sound travels so easily up there. Annoying at first because I had plans on using the car’s wifi to listen to the Spotify playlist I created specifically for the trip but in the end I was happy we couldn’t. It was just so peaceful and forced us to actually talk and connect – something that hasn’t been happening a lot lately due to our crazy busy schedules. Max was a total angel and made camping with a newborn easy for this mama bear. Clearly she won’t remember any of this but I am just so happy that we are able to do these things as a family and document it all so when she’s older she can look back at how much she did so early on in her life. My hope is that these experiences will set the foundation for a well rounded, well traveled little girl who will forever be curious, wanting to learn more about life.

Buick Envision
Photography by Jess Baumung

SHOP OUR FAVE CAMPING CLOTHING GEAR

Interested in learning more about our spacious crossover? Head over to www.Buick.ca for more information.
This post was created in partnership with Buick Canada. All opinions and views are my own.

Personalize Your Love & Holiday Wishes With Staples

We are in the fully swing of the holiday season, which still seems to blow my mind. I’m just not so sure where the time this year? You all know I got started on all my decorating and gift buying super early this year, so I had some extra time on my hands to do some things I never get a chance to do; like getting my hands into a little holiday baking. As the holiday season is a time to share love and best wishes with those around you, I decided that I also wanted to send out holiday cards for the first time ever. I guess having a baby and feeling a bit more domesticated will do that to you!

Here’s the honest truth…I am by no means super crafty and knew if I was going to tackle this whole holiday card idea, it needed to be simple and affordable or else it just wasn’t going to happen. For years Staples as been my one stop shop for all my home office needs and figured their dedicated print team would be the best place to go to help me get this done. Their state-of-the-art equipment and certified “Print Pros” guarantee that any personalized gift idea you can dream up (canvas prints, puzzles, paper invites, gift labels or even professional place settings – if calligraphy invite design isn’t your thing!), can come to life.

Photography by Elaine Fancy

For our holiday cards I decided to keep it simple and use a photo of Maxie. I felt this was a much better option as our friends and family are always insisting I send them photos of her and just never get around to doing it. You can always go to your nearest Staples location to meet with a certified Print Pro if you feel like you need in person assistance, but seriously you can easily create just what you need online from the comfort of your home like I did on StaplesPrint.ca. There’s a dedicated “Holiday Solutions” section that displays all their service offerings from photo gifts to labels. In under just 10 minutes I was able to find a card template that fits my aesthetic, choose card stock, upload the photo, create a personalized greeting and place the order. This is a perfect solution for some of your holiday needs if you’re looking to avoid malls and crazy long lines this month. To make sure your personalized items from Staples make it in time for Christmas, orders need to be placed by December 10th. Head on over to StaplesPrint.ca for more information and gift ideas!

My Indigo Holiday Gift Guide

The holiday season is right around the corner and I am getting in the spirit early this year seeing as though this will be our first Christmas as a family with baby Maxwell. Once a self-proclaimed last minute shopper, I have now become that woman who has her tree up at the beginning of November and has already started purchasing gifts for family and friends. Trust me, I barely recognize myself.

Indigo is by far one of my favourite stores for gift giving, especially during the holidays. It’s the obvious choice for gifts for the avid readers in your life but they are so much more than just books. They have become the perfect destination for decor, novelty gifts, clothes, electronics and even the cutest stuff for babies. And who wouldn’t love a place that’s a one-stop shop for the entire family. Here’s a sneak peek at what I will be gifting my loved ones this year from Indigo.

Indigo Holiday - Sasha Exeter

For the Littles

Over the last two years our little family has grown as we’ve welcomed three babies into our clan. Indigo was one of my go-to’s when I was designing Maxwell’s nursery and I place I often shop for adorable onesies, books and baby decor. For Maxie, I love  Indigo Baby’s Cabin Cozy Bath Robe and “Snow Cute” onesie. For my baby niece Liv, we found the perfect  Jamie Baby Knit Pom Pom Hat in black by Lizette Handmade.

Indigo Holiday - Sasha Exeter

Indigo Holiday - Sasha Exeter

For the Guys

I always find gift giving for guys more challenging but I still think I will knock it out the park with these items for the men in my life. When I can get Réjean out of running gear into streetwear, his style is simple and classic. Keeping accessories to a minimum, he prefers to just stick to a watch when he’s not busy training. The Fossil Q Gen Smartwatch couldn’t be more perfect for Réjean. It has a classic design but also has a built-in fitness tracker. On the go, he’s able to check text messages, email, social media notifications and much more. Every few years author Dan Brown blesses his fans with a new best selling novel. My dad, a huge fan of Dan Brown will be more than happy to find the newly released “Origin” under the tree. What do you get a guy who has four kids under the age of seven (2 step kids and 2 of his own)? Well that would be my sleep deprived brother who will probably enjoy having a glass of whiskey or two during the holiday season to take the edge off his busy household with these Teroforma Whiskey for Two set. And I can’t forget my little guy Leilan. My nephew has become a book lover at the early age of two, preferring to have one of us read to him than play with his toys. I love the idea of gifting him one of the books my mom used to read to me every holiday season as kid “How The Grinch Stole Christmas”, by everyone’s favourite childhood author Dr. Seuss.

Indigo Holiday - Sasha Exeter

Indigo Holiday - Sasha Exeter

For My Mom & Mother-In-Law

Gifts for my mom and MIL (mother-in-law) couldn’t be easier thanks to Indigo. For my mom, I’ve chosen this Quilted Weekender and the 25th anniversary edition of Diana: Her True Story – In Her Own Words by Andrew Norton. A nod to my mother’s English background and love of who Brits fondly referred to as “The People’s Princess”. Réjean’s mom loves easy to wear, cozy clothing and I can just see her hanging by the fire wearing Indigo’s Jules Shawl Collar Cardi this winter.

Indigo Holiday - Sasha Exeter

For my Girls

Rupi Kaur stole every woman’s heart with the 2015 release of Milk & Honey. Her poems of love and heartbreak are relatable to any female with a pulse and the fact she’s homegrown talent from Canada is the icing on the cake. I’ve scooped up a few copies of this new age classic for a few ladies in my life. For the best friend who always has my back and is so old fashioned she often forgets she has an Instagram account…the Fujifilm Instax Mini 9 Camera is just what she needs to capture moments that don’t make it on the ‘Gram. Maxwell’s arrival into this world wouldn’t have been possible without our amazing Doula Leah Jackson, who we will turn to for postnatal support and care for the baby in lieu of a nanny. She’s a legit star in my eyes and couldn’t have thought of a more perfect gift for her than Indigo’s “You’re a Star” jewelry tray, which in my opinion is a multipurpose tray also great for change and other small items. Last not least, call me selfish…but I always add myself to my gift giving list because I deserve something fabulous too! Coffee table books are my fave and I love collecting ones on fashion and photographer. There is no way I am not adding Annie Leibovitz: Portraits 2005-2016 to my current collection.

Indigo Holiday - Sasha Exeter

Indigo Holiday - Sasha Exeter

Indigo Holiday - Sasha Exeter
Photography by Elaine Fancy

This post has been sponsored by Indigo as part of the Indigo Holiday Blogger Shop, however all thoughts and opinions are my own

For more gift ideas this holiday season check out Indigo’s Holiday Blogger Shop.

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