May Mash-Up!

May brought a mixed bag of events.

It started out on a fabulous note! Everything came together perfectly that I was able to get to High Park again when the trees were in peak bloom on a gorgeous sunny day! I had an amazing afternoon enjoying the blooms from a blanket on the hill, snapping several pictures, enjoying the sun, sipping a delicious cider. There was just enough of a gentle breeze to make the petals fall so delicately like snow in the air. Simply magical. It was a great escape from reality, if only for a few hours. I went mid-week and it was super busy, I can only imagine what the weekends are like. I’m thankful that I won’t find out! One of these years I’ll make it to Japan or DC for some larger cherry blossom festivals, but for now, I’m thankful I can view them locally.
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Unfortunately, a little over a week later brought an unfortunate event. I was involved in a wee accident when someone decided to change lanes into my poor car. Thankfully it was at a relatively low speed, and the damage in the beginning appeared minimal, and neither of us were badly hurt. I had a few lingering muscle aches and pains and bruises that went away after about a week. I’m also super thankful for an amazing insurance company who handled it all so well. I know, not often people say good things about an insurance company but CUMIS was top notch.
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My poor barely 1 year old baby Jetta. The damage came in at $3200. Oy.
I may be skipping ahead, but I’m happy to report that my Jetta is back from the car hospital after spending 2 weeks there, and we are very happily reunited and she is fully healed.
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A week after the accident, I was cottage bound to spend a weekend with family. It was good to connect, reconnect and wish my dear cousin well as she enters a new and exciting phase in her life.
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I got to see a really pretty full moon over the water while I was there. Also, while I was there I revealed to mom I had a blog. I figured it was time to come out of the blogging closet to her. So, Hi Mom!

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What Happened?

Can anyone tell me what on earth happened to March, April and May and why on earth I didn’t blog a single word in that time?  It’s all so much of a blur to me that I actually have to consult my calendar, iPhoto and my “Journal of Awesome” to see what those months were like. I’ll do my best to catch up with some of the highlights over the last few months. I have renewed my domain, so sunshineandsweettea.com is here to stay for another year. I really need to be better about using it. Flickr upping the photo storage limits definitely helps!

March was a super busy month with a lot of work. But I did take some time out for a little play! Early in the month I went to an Orchid Show at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington. It was a perfect way to try to usher in spring by looking at beautiful blooms of my favourite flowers! I was blown away at how many different types of Orchids were on display and for sale. I fell in love with one type, called an oncidium Sherry Baby that has such pretty blooms, and smells like chocolate. I also sat in on a lecture about how to care for orchids and learned so much. I learned what I was doing right with my orchids that were thriving, and I learned why one of mine died (and I finally accepted it would not be resurrected).

A and B Larsen orchids - Oncidium Sharry Baby 1063-21

Mid March I had a wee getaway with friends to Niagara on the Lake for a weekend of R&R, some spa, some wine tastings, and general giggles and good times. We stayed at the amazing Pillar and Post. Had a fabulous dinner at a sister property Escabeche. On the first day we went to Reif Estate Winery and I fell in love with their tarot card themed wines.
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I wound up buying their “Fortune Cabernet Rose”. It was a fantastic wine, and the label was also amazing with the fairy and the glitter. I haven’t drank it yet because I continue to hoard it, but I’m sure I’ll drink it soon because I plan on going back to some of these wineries again!  Back in the room there were some belated birthday celebration bubbles.
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I must say, Moet Rose is fantastic and was a most excellent treat. I am a fan. Another dinner was at Stone Road Grille just down the road from the Pillar and Post. The food was fantastic, as was the service. But, the neatest treat was by far the cotton candy dessert!
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The evening was perfectly capped off in the hot springs at the 100 Fountain Spa at the Pillar and Post. I’d already had an incredible massage there earlier in the day and that spa has worked it’s way into my heart as one of my fav spas. I am very spoiled blessed to have been able to visit so many fantastic spas in Canada, the US and Mexico that I have some pretty high standards, and 100 Fountain ranked extremely high with me. Definitely in my top 5 – I waver between 3rd or 4th best on my list. Either way, the hot springs, the soft snow flakes gently falling in the cool mid-March evening was amazing. Untitled

I’ll update April and May in 2 separate posts to follow. I hope this is a sign of me back in the blogging saddle again…

Also – in full disclosure – I was not compensated in any way for my reviews on these places, simply sharing some wonderful experiences! 🙂

The Last Escape

I’m barely home from what is reported to be the sixth and final Creative Escape and I still have a hard time believing it’s all over.  The end of an era, if you will.  I’ve attended the last 3 Creative Escapes hosted by the amazing Heidi Swapp and Bazzill Basics Paper company, and the last 3 were held at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort in Chandler Arizona.  Every year that I’ve been fortunate to attend it’s been the last week of August, and always deliciously HOT!!!  It is a dry heat, as they say, but honestly you have no idea what it is like until you experience it.  The event has been termed the “ultimate scrapbook indulgence”, and in my experience so far it is definitely true.  I have attended 3 CKU’s prior and they don’t even begin to shine a candle to Creative Escape.  Heidi and Bazzill really do all the important things right.  What I also find I can’t appropriately describe is how inspired I feel when I’m there, and when I get home, and how emotional the event can be for me.  Sometimes in all those projects, learnings and fun, a glimmer of perspective and real life shines through.  It’s amazing how something like that really does put life, and what is truly important into focus when you least expect it.  This year was no exception and did not disappoint.  This post is mostly just going to be an event and travel recap. I will do a project recap once they are all finished, and for the first time ever they are all either complete or close to it (or as close as they’ll ever get).

So first of all, the lovely state of Arizona. Wow, what a special place. I keep trying to get to Sedona and the Grand Canyon, but I never seem to schedule enough time to make it happen.  This year was no exception.  Next time, honestly next time.  The scenery in the Phoenix area is completely beautiful.  Buildings and homes tend to be lower rise and in hues of brown because of the heat.  Premium parking isn’t necessarily closest to the door, but in the shade, and some places do have shade constructed in the parking lots.  I used to think I’d love to live in that area and that the heat would help my seasonal affective disorder, which I’m sure it would, but I learned on this trip that I need to live in a bigger city.  That said, and this is totally shameful to admit, I do blend in Scottsdale, and could easily live within that lifestyle.  Just to show how everything in Arizona is different, I snapped this pic of the McDonald’s closest to the Wild Horse Pass.  

Incidentally, for a cactus to grow arms like this one has, it needs to be at least 50 years old. That is one mighty old cactus!

The Sheraton Wild Horse Pass.  I have such mixed feelings about this resort.  It is a beautiful and serene property.  It’s very secluded and isolated, which just adds to the nice vibe.  Service, however, is so hit and miss, and there are so many irritating annoyances.  The first year they kindly placed me in a room overlooking the very scenic parking lot, and extremely far away from the conference centre where Creative Escape was being held.  The second year, after several battles, I was still an inconvenient country mile from the event, but at least had a nice view.  This time, while view was of the river the water shuttle uses, it was super convenient to the event.

The kicker for me though is as a rewards member I’m supposed to be given a complimentary room class upgrade, which I’ve never received, but have watched others in line ahead of me get no questions asked.  I think it’s ridiculous most higher end hotels make you pay for internet, when the lower ends give it for free.  But, what makes it worse here is that it is for pay, and wired, and the wire never reaches overly far to where it would be comfortable to be, just a firm chair and desk though the bed and comfy chair are in view. So close, and yet so far.  I also find the resort highly buggy and get several insect bites if I try to sit in the lobby or lounge and use the free wifi, and 2 out of 3 years I’ve managed to get some pretty nasty spider bites there too… as if I’m not terrified of spiders enough…  That said, here’s one of the amazing views I love at the Wild Horse Pass – sunset from the lobby, looking down onto the lounge and out to the pool, golf course and beyond. Stunning.

On to the fun stuff!

I stopped at Nothing Bundt Cakes on my first day in and picked up one of my fav flavor bundt cakes; white chocolate raspberry!  Yes, they sell nothing but bunt cakes, and I’ve tried most of them, and they are completely amazing!!  And the staff at this location on Ray Rd. are super super nice.  Don’t even question it, just know, you NEED to go.

I reunited with friends Gretchen, whom I first met at CKU Nashville in August 2007, and Dee, a friend of Gretchen who attended CKU Provo in August 2008. We of course had to dine at Arriba because it’s tradition, and the food is amazing, and so are the drinks, and it’s unbelievably inexpensive.

Wednesday began with shopping at the amazing LSS run and owned by the fine Bazzill folk, Scrapbooks, Etc.  The store is massive, but here is a glimpse at one small part. And of course, they have the latest and greatest, as well as a huge fabric section. Clearly having some klout pays…

And if that wasn’t enough, it was followed by shopping at the Bazzill warehouse where I got my yearly fill on Bazzill goodies.

Speaking of Bazzill goodies, one of the things I love most about shopping at Scrapbooks Etc. is their lollipop wall! 🙂 So so yummy! 🙂

Wednesday evening led to dinner at the amazing Rawhide Steakhouse.  18 of us ladies from the Yahoo group traveled over for dinner together and had a fabulous evening.  We definitely could have had more join us, but Rawhide capped our table at 18.

Last year I actually tried rattlesnake there, and it really did taste like a salty popcorn chicken.  This year there was apparently a shortage on rattlesnake! Who knew?!  I settled for ribs, overcooked steak, shrimp and a delicious prickly pear margarita.

In case I didn’t have enough fun while out and about, I made sure my room was set up for fun times at all times as well!

Friday I got to watch a dust storm threaten to roll in from the distance, but it never really seemed to amount to anything.

Friday evening led to some fun times with friends, and some casino losses at the nearby casino.

After 2 days of classes and the bazaar on Thursday, Creative Escape was coming to a close. I loved listening to Heidi Swapp speak as the closing keynote speaker.  I loved getting to spend some last few moments with friends from years gone by, and getting to know others even better this year. I shopped for Jody at CKU Nashville 2007 as her secret sister and we’ve met up every single summer since. She’s an awesome lady and a lot of fun to be with, and I have tremendous admiration for her strength.

Add in the Michigan and UK connection and the good times just amplified. Sarah from the UK reminded me so much of my good friend Suz back home it was almost like having her there with me.. except I wished she was actually there with me.

2 quotes I loved from Heidi’s keynote, that had me in tears I’ll have you know (the speech, not the quotes).

Some of the aftermath of projects and shoppings…

Sunday I partook of some much needed relaxing at the amazing Aji Spa. It’s probably my 3rd favourite spa behind Le Blanc Spa and Aventura Spa.  I treated myself to a treatment called “Bahn” because you can have a massage or facial at any old spa and I like to try things that are unique to that spa.

bAhN (Blue Coyote Wrap) Symbolic of Coyote’s coat turning the beautiful color of Bluebird, our proprietary Azulene mud is applied to the body. Unlike prideful Coyote, as the blue is removed, your skin will feel more radiant, soft and beautiful. The entire experience is completed with a hydrating cedar and sage oil full body massage. Your therapist will give you a copy of the Bluebird and the Coyote Legend for you to take home and share with your friends and family.

Now that I’ve had it, it was nice, but I can’t say the mud was outstandingly amazing for my skin, but love the steam capsule, and it did help my nasty spider bite.  If I should make it back to Aji, I will likely just stick with the less expensive massage, but I’m glad I tried the Bahn all the same.  After that I had an amazing lunch and cocktail and spent the rest of the day enjoying the spa pool and the rest of the facilities. It was hard to leave because it’s really up in the air if/when I will be able to return.

As the sun sets on the final Creative Escape I am filled with nothing but gratitude I was able to go for so many years. Gratitude for finally making it to the beautiful Arizona. Gratitude for meeting so many fantastic amazing women. Gratitude for learning from so many great talents in the industry. Inspired to go home and create more. Thank you to all for so many amazing memories. Until we meet again, I treasure all the moments that are absolutely Worth Remembering.

Five-ish Things

I made the decision last week to attend my 3rd and the final Creative Escape in Arizona in August hosted by the lovely Heidi Swapp and Bazzill Basics Paper.  If you’re not a scrapbooker, those names will mean nothing to you.  But, it’s serving as good inspiration for today’s post.  One of the projects I’ll be working on at Creative Escape requires me to “bring five photos featuring things/people/events in your life that evoke special memories”.  I spent last night sifting through iPhoto trying to pick the 5 best, and thought I’d like to share them here as well.  I may share the project when complete, but I really don’t think my work is all that good.

Unfortunately, I’m up to 18 defining photos, so I’ll need to pare it down quite a bit. Here are some selections from the pared down list:

1. Cindy and I. Cindy was my trainer some years back. I was just starting to work with her when this was taken. She pushed me to places I didn’t think I could go. I definitely reached my greatest overall fitness with her. Already as I write this I know this photo won’t make the final grade because I also have a lot of negative feelings and disappointments around it too as our goals seemed to be very different, and mine never reached.

2. My Girls, Socks and Matisse! I love those two little sweeties so much.

3. Steve and I, on the eve of my 30th birthday on my first trip to Le Blanc. This night was a fabulous night that began with a 9 course tastings menu with wine pairings by the Sommelier on the 3rd floor terrace. There was just us and one other couple, and a saxophonist. We went to the lounge just inside after and spent the night sampling several different martinis made by an amazing bartender, who also made a point of getting me special cakes from downstairs when he heard it was my birthday eve. Very very very special night.

4. My sweet cousin Katie and I, at my 30th birthday party. I have so many memories surrounding this birthday. It was the worst birthday I’ve ever had, and yet in the middle of it all I had some bright pockets of just feeling so loved. It meant the world to me to have her there for my party.

5. The Malecon, Puerto Vallarta. We had a great day on the town in Puerto Vallarta, and by serendipity found this amazing cafe where we sat on a balcony overlooking the malecon, watching the sunset, sipping the most delicious lattes I’ve ever had. It was an amazingly special and impromptu night. We had our share of adventures trying to make it back to our resort as a result of staying out too late and enjoying the night too much. I was just getting the hang of the settings on my camera and happened to catch this magical photo, and it’s probably the one I’m the most proud of.

6. Sea Turtles! On this night we walked 10km down the beach to release sea turtles into the ocean. 2 years prior I had to do this magical event on my own. This year Steve was healthy enough to take the long walk with me. It was an amazing moment to get to release these turtles again, and it was an even bigger accomplishment for him.

7. Goal weekend in Chicago. I’d just shed over 90lbs, had a great roadtrip with Mom from Toronto to Chicago to get there. I was at such a great place of feeling amazing to be me, in an amazing city, celebrating my cousin Ben’s graduation from high school.

8. Kim and I. Wow. Here’s where I get emotional. This was taken on the last day of my last trip to Calgary. Kim, Amber and I were the best of friends growing up together. I hadn’t seen Kim in probably 20 years, but we were able to pick up like no time at all had passed, despite going through so many big life changes on our own over the years. Amber isn’t physically in this picture. She is by way of love from the two of us. You see, I was there for Amber’s funeral. She was senselessly murdered. I always thought I’d reconnect with her, with the two of them at some point, to catch up on life. I didn’t ever get that chance and I have both nothing but regret it didn’t happen, and gratitude it did with Kim, even if it was over such a heartbreaking event. I still cry for her. I still grieve the loss of her. I still regret every moment that I didn’t reconnect with her. Next week is her birthday, she would have been 34. She was beautiful. She was so fun. I have so many wonderful memories of my childhood with those 2, my best friends, for life.

9. My first snorkeling trip. I was so apprehensive about going snorkeling as I’m not a fantastic swimmer, and it was with rented equipment that kind of icked me out. But, I couldn’t justify buying my own equipment when I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy it in the first place. This was just a little north of Playa del Carmen in Mexico. I went mostly to appease Steve. I wound up being one of the last to leave the boat, terrified, ready to return in a moment’s notice. However, once I started, I loved every second of it. This was a moment we connected together and snapped an underwater pic of us holding hands. I was the absolute last to get back on the boat and even then it was with great reluctance. Just goes to show you that you never know what you may enjoy until you try.

10. My first ocean splash. July 10, 2005 I woke up in Bucerias Mexico after arriving early that morning to PVR. Getting in that late pretty much just meant going to the room and getting some sleep to get an early start on the day. I also wanted to wait to go to the ocean until daylight when I could actually see it. So that morning, after hearing the ocean rumble from our room, and listening to the waves crash in over breakfast I finally made it to the ocean, got my feet wet, feeling the surf crash at my feet. Pacific Ocean, nice to meet you. Travel bug, thank you for your sweet sweet bite.

11. Muy bonita! What a funny night! We were at Aventura Spa Palace in Puerto Aventuras Mexico, going for our anniversary dinner. I picked to go to La Hacienda, the Mexican restaurant on the resort. He wasn’t overly happy with the choice but went with it in the name of happy wife, happy life. Aventura Spa Palace is a ~2000 room resort, in 10 3-storey high buildings. There are also 2 lobbies where the restaurants are held; the north and south. Our room was close to the north lobby, dinner was at the south. We were taking the quick way to the south, which means outside by the grounds, when on the walk the skies opened up into this HUGE downpour!!! We both got soaked! He was even more unimpressed with me at this point; cold, wet, and hating on Mexican food. Mid dinner, the mariachis came over and serenaded us. One leaned down during the song and whispered in my ear that I was “muy bonita”. This photo was snapped right after he said that.

12. Approaching the finish of the Soldier Field 10 mile run – May 2010. What an adventure! As I was nearing the end of my weightloss journey I developed a bit of a lofty ambition; to run the Soldier Field 10 mile run. It was definitely something I couldn’t have done 5 years prior at 90+lbs heavier, and completely out of shape. I set a goal, I chased it, and the pure joy on my face, even after running for 2 hours says it all. Fait accompli. To add to the drama, as I was on the last half mile they were shutting down the race and ordering everyone to walk due to excessive heat conditions. I almost started to sob because I saw that I was so close and yet so far from attaining that goal. Well, race rules be damned, I pressed on, kept running, kept in contact with a bike medic beside me to reassure him I was fine and not suffering any heat exhaustion and that I was well hydrated and fine to finish strong. He agreed I was fine to carry on, and that is my burst into the stadium. In being fully honest, it was tons of fun, every single mile. I’ve since pretty much retired. I’m not a runner. I don’t love the prep work. But the nice thing about goals, is once accomplished, they can never take that away from you.

13. I gotta be me – my first Tiffany. Because good things come in little blue boxes. In my case it was a beautiful necklace with a skate, in Tiffany blue, pendant. It was a total surprise that Christmas morning, and so very thoughtful. It may not be as life significant as some of the other memories, but it still makes me smile all the same.

And now to pick and print 5 of these fantastic memories! I’m glad I have some time to make this tough decision.