The countdown to #Backtoschool is on and that means backpack shopping is in full swing. In my travels on the 'net I went looking for backpacks that would work for kiddos, teens and mature students. I also looked for quality construction. My boys use their backpacks for school, sleepovers, carry on bags (traveling) and everything in between so we need something that will hold up to some wear and tear. 

Gap $49.95
Love that color combo, perfect for boys and girls.

L.L. Bean $39.95 
The Youngest choose this as his backpack last year and it is still going strong, plus you can monogram it!

Timbuk2 $144
Made in San Fransisco, holds a laptop and you can customize your colors! I love the all red look.

 GapKids x ED $44.95
Gaps collaboration with Ellen Degeneres's ED lifestyle company. The backpack is meant to be colored on to make it your own!

Herschel $59.99
I can't resist polkadots!

Which backpack is your favorite?

Back to School for Teens

Prices in Canadian Dollars unless otherwise noted

In yesterdays post I shared how much I love back to school season and before I started buying myself back to school supplies, I had a lot of practice getting my kids ready for the start of a new school year. I just love making lists and checking off each item (so satisfying) and as much as I love shopping, I also love a good deal. When you are shopping for two teenagers it can get very expensive, very fast! I've learned a trick or two in my time and I thought I would share some of that knowledge!

  • The best advice I ever got (from AMH!) is if you love something, buy multiples. 
  • Speaking of multiples, shop at stores that provide discounts for buying more than one (ex. BOGO sales)
  • Collect points from each store that offers them. You can either get free products, gift cards or exclusive coupons
  • For the stores you shop at the most, sign up for their emails to get pre-sales info and special savings
  • Take an inventory on last years clothing. If they still fit into something and it's in good shape, cross that off the list
  • Stick to timeless clothes. Be wary of anything too trendy as it will probably be out of style before they even wear it
  • Shop during the week and not on the weekends. The mall on the weekends leading to Back to school is hectic and some stores will offer mid week deals! 
  • Don't wait until school has already started to go back to school shopping. More than likely the best stuff is already gone. I usually start 2-3 weeks before the first day of school

I wanted to get as much use out of each item as possible on my teens back to school list so I choose items in navy, grey and red. They are great colors and they mix so well with everything else they have in their wardrobe! My criteria for clothes is "can it pull double duty?" meaning, can they wear this to school and on weekends. Actually, each one of these pieces can be worn with existing summer clothes to slowly transition into fall and then worn together during the cooler months making them span not only weekday/weekend wear but seasons as well!

A few notes about each selection

L.L. Bean is known for their great quality and parents of boys know how important that is for jeans. I suggest 3-5 pairs of jeans to start the school year.

The Bay carries great brands at great prices and I love the ease of online shopping. You can't go wrong with a plain Ralph Lauren oxford and if the sizing is off, The Bay accepts returns in store. Don't forget to collect your HBC Rewards!

Old Navy is a great store for stocking up on essentials and I have always had great luck with their outerwear. Boys usually run warm so until it starts snowing, my boys will only wear vests. Their leather belts are well made and at that price it makes it easy to stock up!

WalMart Canada is another great place for essentials. My boys swear by their athletic shorts and use them for all their pre and post school sports. I always grab multiple packages of their socks and multi coloured ones make it easy for folding. They have a wide selection of watches and we have never had an issue with Timex ones (and my boys are pretty rough on them)

American Eagle is the one store both mom and boys can agree on no matter what. I like the preppy feel to their shirts and the boys think AE is "cool". We both agree that their plaid oxfords are great for both school and weekends and the instore sales can't be beat. We also collect points at AE and periodically we get coupons in the mail

Roots is back on the "cool" list as well. We made a quick stop in store last night with the boys who were impressed with the style and comfort of their sweaters. I was very excited about that since I grew up on Roots!

Ole Mason Jar is a new-to-me brand of shirts and polos made in America. For each item purchased they donate food to feed families in North and South Carolina so you can look good and feel good! My boys like the cool (there is that magic word again!) design of the mason jar and think it's great to support a company that cares

I'd love to hear some of your tips, share your thoughts below!

Happy shopping!

Back to School for Mature Students

"Don't you love New York in the fall? It makes me want to buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly-sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address." You've Got Mail

I love making lists and getting back into a routine so it's only natural that I look forward to back to school season. Over the years I have enjoyed getting my boys all the school supplies they need and then a few years ago I started buying supplies for myself! Three years ago I started at the University of Waterloo working on my BA and I really had no idea where to start when it came to supplies. I've spoken with a few other mature students and we've all agreed that you don't need too much to get started. I decided not to buy a laptop and I worried that I might have made the wrong decision but it turned out to be the right one for me. I didn't want to have to carry such an expensive item to and from classes and in the 9 courses I have already taken, I've never needed it. I have a great desktop at home that I have used to write every paper and take every online exam. 

These are the supplies I started with and replenish at the beginning of each year

1. I love David's Tea iced tea and I drink a lot (I mean a lot) of water. I always bring a travel mug with me and there are usually water refill stations on campus.

2. Notepads are how I keep organized. I keep one on my desk at home to make lists or special reminders, like which book I need to check out at the school library.

3. Pencils, I swear by pencils! I take a lot of notes in class and I like the fact that I have a built in eraser to quickly correct any errors. 

4. Planners are a necessity, especially for mature students! You have your home life, work life and school life and it's easy to over schedule or miss something if you don't have it written down! A Rifle Paper Co. planner will be a first for me, I usually buy a Lilly Pulitzer one, but my favorite store in Galt, The Art of Home, is now selling them. Support Local!

5. A Boat & Tote is a great double duty bag. You can carry all your supplies to school, work or to the farmer's market on the weekend! 

6. I am known for my colorful post-it's and there really is a method to my madness! I use post it notes to call out sections of a textbook and my notebook when writing papers and I use the little tabs to mark the chapters we need to read on my textbook. I try to sell back as many textbooks as possible so I don't want to mark up the pages. 

7. Anyone who has ever sat through a night time lecture will know how important it is to keep warm. This quarter zip pullover is thin enough to throw into your bag on the way to school, but thick enough to keep you warm until class is dismissed. Sitting through a 3 hour lecture while shivering is no fun and it seems that no matter what the temperature outside is, the lecture halls are always freezing! 

I'd love to hear what everyone else is using, are there any back to school supplies that you just can't live without?

Good luck this school year!

New York in 24 Hours

I'm going to show you how I did New York City in under 24 hours. This was not a shopping trip or even a "visit every bakery I can find" trip (which are both my favourite kinds of trips). It was all about one!

Little story on how this trip came to be. The Toronto Blue Jays acquired pitcher David Price and in doing so rallied an entire city around this team. My hubby, who loves baseball even more than me, called on a Friday afternoon and said he could get tickets to see Price pitch in Yankee Stadium. The only catch was we would have to drive through the night to get there and we would only be in New York for 24 hours. AMH called his brother and he was game as well. With three drivers splitting driving duties we could actually make this work! 

At 1am on Saturday morning we left Kitchener/Waterloo and set out on the 8 hour drive to New York City!

A room with a view. While our stay was extremely short, it was nice to look out to see the iconic Essex House hotel. 

By 9 am we arrived at our hotel, The Salisbury in Midtown (123 West 57th St.). After parking our car in the hotel's lot (about a block away) and leaving our bags with the front desk (check in is 3pm) we were on our way to the Yankees game at 1pm!

After a much needed stop at Starbucks, to which I became known simply as "Blue Jays", we headed into the subway at Columbus Circle and took the D train to 161st Street in the Bronx. It was very easy to know which stop to get off at, the signs all say Yankee Stadium and you just follow the sea of Yankees jerseys. Very, very lucky for us, we were not the only Jays fans on the subway. There was a sea of Blue Jays jerseys on the subway!

I can't even take credit for the idea of taking the subway, this was all my brother in law's idea. We purchased MetroCards in the subway station from automatic machines. We loaded $20 on each and planned on using them for our 24 hour visit, each swipe takes $2.75 from your balance. It was the greatest idea! No fussing with change or taxi's and since we had only a small window, it really cut our travel time. 

Once we were at the game we were able to relax and enjoy ourselves. The game was great, the Jays won, and the stadium was massive! I took quite a few photos that I will share in a future post.  

After the game we headed back to West 57th and changed out of our "Blue Jays" clothing. When I think about eating in New York the first thing I think of is pizza. We stopped at the first pizza place we could find, Famous Original Ray's Pizza on 7th. New York pizza is the best in the world and even a hole in the wall place serves great slices. It's not just the deliciously thin crust, its the inventive toppings! We each got something different but my hubby's was the most creative, ziti pizza!

After we ate, we wanted to see as much of the city as possible. We stopped by the Ed Sullivan Theater at 1697 Broadway to see the new signs announcing Stephen Colbert as the host of Late Show.

We took a subway and headed towards the World Trade Center. Pictured above is the World Trade Center Transportation Hub which, according to the website, will open in 2015. I'm no expert but it looked like there was still a lot to be done. They are calling it "Oculus" and in architecture terms that means a circular opening. I'm not sure how that plays into this, as my initial thought and I heard many other tourists share the same one, is that it looks like fish bones.  

One of two reflecting pools and waterfalls (the largest man-made waterfalls in North America). They were built on the same spot as the twin towers and the bronze panels surrounding the reflecting pool is inscribed with the names of those lives that were lost on September 11, 2001 and February 26, 1993. 

The side entrance to One World Observatory. The all glass building is simply stunning in person. 

The building stands at 1,776 feet (the year of America's independence from Britain) and has five elevators for those wishing to visit the observation deck. The ride is 60 seconds and among the fast elevators in the world. The line up to get in was around the block so we kept moving to try and visit a few other places. 

Walking along the Esplanade in Battery Park we saw some of the cutest sailboats in the East River, including this navy, white and wooden beauty that I would have loved to sail home in. 

And then we saw this monster party boat! The photo truly does not convey how large this boat was. I could have invited 50 friends to party on this boat and we would all have been comfortable. It was beautiful and I also wish I could have sailed home in it! 

One World Trade Center at night. 

Once night fell we decided to head back to our hotel, by taking the long way of course! We had to cram as much in as possible! We started walking up Wall St, past the The New York Stock Exchange.

And stopped to listen to a tour guide at Federal Hall. 

On this site in Federal Hall George Washington took the oath as the first President of the United States of America.

I felt like I was in National Treasure! Oh I still love that movie! We grabbed the Subway and headed back to our hotel to catch some sleep. Not pictured was walking through Times Square. It's been a few years since I have been to Times Square and honestly, it is much seedier than I remember. If you've never seen it, you have to see it at least once in your life. If you've been to NYC before, skip it. 

The next morning we were up and on the streets by 7am but we couldn't leave without visiting a family favorite, Europa Cafe at 205 West 57th St. (that and I needed a tea, bad!)

You can sit in and have a leisurely New York City breakfast experience (like my mom always does) or grab your breakfast to go and head to Central Park which is only a block away (what the whole family usually does) but there was no time this morning. We grabbed our pastries to go and I chose the pain au chocolat but secretly wished I tried the homemade poptarts, they looked delish!

By 8am we were in the car and leaving the city via the George Washington Bridge. 

I love road trips, especially ones in New York State. Interstate 81 has some of the cleanest and most adorable rest stops and the one we visited in Binghamton, NY is by far my favorite. It's the cutest white building with food vendors inside, local fruit vendors outside and WiFi! Outside is a stellar view of the mountains, which I posted on my instagram, and they are active on social media! The small sign at the bottom of the photo asks you to take a selfie and submit to their Facebook page!

It was a very quick trip and it made me realize how much I miss visiting NYC! My favorite time to visit is during the fall and Christmas time, the city takes on this glorious glow and nothing beats seeing Macy's all decked out in holiday trimmings.

Have you done a quick trip to NYC? What places did you see? Anything you recommend?

Mexican Fiesta with Rick Bayless

After our tour of Maker's Mark (I just can't get enough of the shutters with the iconic bottle) we were ushered to a garden set in the center of the the distillery buildings for a Mexican Fiesta!

We have always wanted to tour the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and when we received notification that Chef Rick Bayless would be signing his new book, More Mexican Everyday, it was exactly the push we needed! AMH has been watching and reading Rick Bayless for a few years and took up cooking after being introduced to his show. We had a great few minutes with Rick and let him know we traveled from the Toronto area to meet him. He was quite pleased to hear my hubby started cooking because of his show! We purchased the book and had Rick sign it just before we took this photo.

For those not familiar with Rick Bayless he is an award winning Chef specializing in Mexican cuisine, based in Chicago. He has multiple restaurants in and around Chicago, Frontera (casual) and Topolobampo (a 4 star restaurant) are his most well know. His award winning show on PBS, Mexico - One Plate at a Time, follows Rick as he travels to different regions in Mexico to showcase how locals create their regional signature dishes. He then takes those lessons back to his home kitchen in Chicago and recreates them, sometimes substituting ingredients that are more accessible in a North American kitchen. 

Maker's Mark decorated in a fiesta theme and had stations set under white umbrellas with various Mexican fare. The fiesta started after the distillery closed for the day so attendees were able to take self guided tours (we opted for a guided tour earlier in the day, you can see that post HERE).

There were stations for Mark-eritas, pork tacos, shrimp ceviche, chips & guacamole, popsicles and the delicious grilled corn on the cob you see above! 

A local mariachi band kept the party going!

I was so glad to see how colorful the decorations were, I definitely matched the theme! Also, my hats off to all my Southern girls for managing the heat and humidity and keeping the frizz in check. The struggle is real my friends!

I just love this Lilly Pulitzer Augusta Shift in Deep Sea Blue Quahog Chowder print I purchased from my local Lilly store, Island View in Oakville, Ont. The dress is 100% cotton and very light, which made it a good choice for spending the day outdoors in Kentucky, which was about 91 degrees in the shade. 

WOW Wednesday with Crystal Reia - Focus on the Positive

Our health & fitness is not about perfect technique, or being on time to the beat. Sometimes we just get caught up in the mechanics of it all. Or??? "I have to lose "x" lbs by" "I don't like the number on the scale" " I will never be able to do a push up"...

Our brain is wired to focus on the negative!! If 9 out of 10 people say something nice to you and then 1 person says something bad? What do you tend to focus on? The bad. right???

We need to learn to rewire our hardware and focus on the positive and stop bringing up the negative! Celebrate the little victories and look at how far you've come in your journey and all the things that you can do! Before you know it you'll be doing things you never thought you could!

99% of the time it is YOU holding yourself back. Instead of saying "oh I'll never hold my plank for a minute." What if you turn that around and said "What if I could?" With a positive mind you'd be surprised at the things that you can do and accomplish. Little or big? They are all accomplishments.

So let's really focus on enjoying the journey and knowing that everyday we are feeling stronger, more positive and that we are making a difference in our own lives and the people around us! You are more of an inspiration to your friends and family than you realize!

So the next time your brain tries to think or zero in on the negative... remember this little poster I'm posting today! Take a deep breath and let it go! You cannot control the reactions and actions of others but we can control how we react
You have the power to make your day great!

Have an amazing week everybody!

Crystal Reia
Your Health-Your Choice


Maker's Mark Tour

On a very hot and humid afternoon we drove from Bardstown to Loretto to take the Maker's Mark tour. I don't know if the route we took is the only way into the facility, we followed our GPS and we ended up down backroads that are only wide enough for one vehicle and we encountered more than one farm vehicle we had to maneuver around. Getting there was an adventure all in itself! 

Once we arrived we checked in at the visitors center and waited for the tour to begin. If you plan on making the Maker's Mark tour part of your Kentucky Bourbon Trail I highly recommend bringing a camera and some comfortable walking shoes. The grounds are stunning and there is a lot to see! We started the tour in the Maker's Mark Distillery.

At each point our tour guide educated us on the history of Maker's Mark and the family who started it all. The SIV with a star you see on the top of these very shiny brass stills was created by Margie Samuels, whose idea it was to seal the bottles with red wax (she liked the look of a wax seal on bottles of spirits). The 'S' stands for Samuels, IV is to represent that her husband was a fourth generation distiller and the star is for Star Hill Farms, the name of their old family farm.

This was a first for us! They have giant vats of mash (the beginnings of bourbon) and they invited us to put our hands in it! AMH jumped at the opportunity and me, well I am more comfortable taking photos. They assured us that from here the liquid goes through many different steps to ensure it is not contaminated. 

After the still houses, we walked a little ways to a very small outbuilding where all the labels are hand printed! Margie Samuels original creation is still being printed and is what you see on your bottle of Maker's Mark. When they first started selling, Margie hand wrote every.single.label. Incredible!

I was excited to see the bottling production line and to watch them hand dip the bottles in wax! Each bottle is placed on a conveyor belt and moved to the filling, sealing, labeling and finally dipping stations. Before each bottle is filled with Maker's Mark bourbon, it is cleaned with a shot of bourbon!

The hand printed labels get a coating of glue before being placed on the bottle...

then it's down the conveyor belt to be hand dipped! These ladies can each do 30+ bottles per minute and each has a distinctive spin. When they see them for sale in store they can tell which one was theirs!

After dipping, the bottles travel through the cooling house made to look like all the buildings on the property. They are them boxed up and shipped to distributors all over the world!

Across from the dipping station is a gallery wall of previous Maker's Mark billboard ads. While each of them was great, including the Christmas one with a bottle covered in twinkle lights, my favorite is the Fenway Park scoreboard!

There are decorated barrels on the property to celebrate different varieties of Maker's Mark, this one is for the Maker's 46. To create the distinct, smooth flavor of Maker's 46 they take fully matured Maker's Mark, aged 5-6 years in charred oak barrels, and insert french oak staves (long planks of wood) and seal them up again for a few months. This is done over the winter as the cool air slows the maturation process. 

After seeing the bourbon being made, bottled, sealed and even looking around the many outbuildings (I can't tell you how much I adore the Maker's bottle cutout in the shutters that are on every building!) it was time to move to the most important part of the tour, the tasting!

A preview of things to come!

Our group was brought to the tasting room to try Maker's White, Fully Matured, Maker's 46 and Cask Strength. Our tour guide lead us through tasting each one and discussed what notes (flavors) we were tasting. She also taught us a great trick for smelling bourbon, hold the glass up to your mouth and breathe in. It's not about just smelling with your nose, it's letting the entire aroma fill your senses. And it has a great warm feeling to it! This will be perfect on cold winter days. 

The tasting room was conveniently located beside the gift shop that had everything from different varieties of Maker's, trinkets and Christmas ornaments, barware, barrels (that once housed bourbon) and even Vineyard Vines ties!

The ties are a great gift idea for the man in your life who wants to combine his love of bourbon with his love of dressing up!

We had a great day at Maker's Mark and it's not over yet! We attended a dinner and meet and greet event which I will share in tomorrows post.