10 Christmas Traditions to Start With Your Special Someone

I'm a big fan of traditions, especially around this time of the year. Why not get in the holiday spirit a little early and start thinking about creating a new holiday tradition with your special someone.

10 christmas traditions to start with your special someone

Taking the time to create new traditions will bring you closer together and strengthen your relationship. It will also give you plenty of memories to look back on. Here are some favourites:

Christmas sweaters
Ugly Christmas sweater parties are always a fun time. To ensure you don't create a fashion faux pas and show up wearing the same sweater as someone else, make your own! Thrift stores are a great source for red and green sweaters, and craft stores such as Michaels or Jo-Ann Fabrics have all the supplies needed to make it as tacky as possible.

10 Christmas Traditions to Start With Your Special Someone
P.s. These were homemade. No big deal.
Pick your own Christmas tree
Whether you go to your local grocery store parking lot or a Christmas tree farm, choosing your own Christmas tree as a couple is always special (and better for the environment then an artificial tree).

Christmas ornaments 
Add a new ornament to your tree each year. Choose something that has meaning to the both of you. 

Create your own hot toddy
Hot toddies are good any time of the year, from sitting around a campfire in the summer to warming up after a winter activity. Recipes can vary, and are fun to develop and test as a couple. Check out our go to hot toddy recipe here.

Go skating
Find a local community or park rink and take up a new winter sport. Not only is it fun, skating is great exercise.

10 Christmas Traditions to Start With Your Special Someone
This picture is quite embarrassing, but believe it or not, I did play hockey in my younger years.
Stocking stuffers
Get creative with your stocking stuffers by picking a new theme each year, such as the "date night stocking" filled with everything needed for a night out, or the "memory stocking" filled with sentimental gifts that bring back memories.

Pyjamas
Start a new tradition and give each other a new pair or pyjamas on Christmas Eve.  Flannels not your thing? Try a new pair of socks or slippers instead.

Christmas cards
Send Christmas cards to family and friends near and far. Make it more personal with a photograph of the two of you from the past year. There are several websites available like Minted, Shutterfly and even Costco that help you customize Christmas cards at an affordable price. Looking for something more environmentally-friendly? Send e-cards instead.

10 Christmas Traditions to Start With Your Special Someone
Our first Christmas card photo at the Reindeer Farm in Palmer, Alaska in 2010.
Movie night
Pick your favourite holiday classics and have a movie night. For us, the favourites are "It's a Wonderful Life", "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" (the original) and "Elf".

Go for a winter walk
With winter comes darkness and cold, but that doesn't mean you have to stay inside and be miserable. Make the best of the winter weather and go for a walk. The cold winter air is surprisingly refreshing.

10 Christmas Traditions to Start With Your Special Someone
Winter walks were a staple when we lived in Alaska

What Christmas traditions do you share with your special someone?


Leftover Turkey Noodle Soup

Looking for something to do with that leftover turkey from your Thanksgiving or Christmas feast? Well look no further. Here's a simple and inexpensive, but most importantly delicious, recipe for leftover turkey noodle soup. A few on-hand ingredients and less than an hour is all you need to make this satisfying soup that turns leftovers into a completely new dish.

leftover turkey noodle soup recipe

Leftover Turkey Noodle Soup


Ingredients:
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 2 cups cooked turkey, shredded
  • 2 medium onions, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 8 ribs celery, diced
  • 6 carrots, peeled and diced
  • optional greens: bok choy, chard, kale, shredded
  • 16 cups low-sodium chicken stock 
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 box pasta (penne, rotini, etc.)
  • salt and pepper, to taste

leftover turkey noodle soup recipe

Directions:
  1. Melt the butter in a large stock pot over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook 1 to 2 minutes. 
  2. Add the carrots, celery and greens, and cook for an additional 5 to 7 minutes until soft.
  3. Add the stock, turkey and bay leaves and bring to a boil. Allow to simmer for about 20 minutes.
  4. Add the pasta and simmer until soft (8-10 minutes)
  5. Add water to thin the soup if needed.
  6. Remove the bay leaves.
  7. Season with plenty of salt and pepper and serve. Leftovers freeze well.

What do you do with your turkey leftovers?

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What Inspires Your Senses? 0.2

"What Inspires Your Senses?" is back for round 2! Thank you to everyone that participated in October. Let's make this month bigger and better!

If you're not familiar with WIYS, on the last Wednesday of every month, I will challenge you to select 5 of your favorite personal photographs - one that best describes each of your 5 senses: see, smell, taste, touch and hear. As an added challenge, come up with one for the "sixth sense", an open-ended category to interpret your own way. The photos can be ones you've taken recently or those you've dug out of the archives, those you've taken in one location or in several and even those you've taken with a DSLR or on your smart phone. No photography skills are needed, just your imagination and creativity!

Let's get to it...

I was recently doing some reminiscing, looking at photos from our ultimate road trip, the 4500+ mile journey from Alaska to Toronto. The road trip was total sensory overload - the scenery was a visual buffet and the car was filled with emotions as we left the place we called home for three years. Here's what inspired my senses on our long road trip home.
HEAR: Nothing but the open road 
Road to Whitehorse, Yukon
SMELL: Relaxation in the Liard River Hot Springs
Liard River Hot Spring, British Columbia
FEEL: Sad for these orphan brown bear cubs 
Somewhere in northern British Columbia
SEE: This iconic Canadian landmark 
Rouleau, Saskatchewan
TASTE: Wisconsin cheddar and Alaskan smoked salmon
Eau Claire, Wisconsin
"SIXTH" SENSE: Love for my road trip partner 
Jasper National Park, Alberta


Meet your co-host!

Connect with Sheryl here:  Blog  
|  Bloglovin  |  Twitter  |  Instagram  



What inspires your senses?

How to participate:
1| Linkup your blog post with the photos that inspire your senses.
2| Follow your host (Mar @ t.o. & fro) & cohost (Sheryl @ How To Make a Life).
3| Link back to the party in your post, either with text or button below.
4| Check out as many blogs as you can to see what inspires others' senses!
5| Share on social media, using the hashtag #whatinspiresyoursenses!
6|  Linkup will be open for 1 week.

t.o. & fro

Mark you calendar for the next opportunity to linkup on Wednesday, December 31!
Interested in co-hosting in the future? Check this out. 





Hold the Moving Trucks!

Don't forget - the next round on What Inspires Your Senses? is coming this Wednesday, November 26. Get your photos and creativity ready for this monthly photography-inspired linkup!

Last week I made the big announcement that we recently bought our own place. It's been about a month and a half since we signed our life away, and its finally starting to sink in that we're both poor and homeowners.


But, before we get too excited, I have a confession to make - you won't see any packing photos or stressed tweets coming from this camp for quite a while. Our boxes remain taped shut in closets and basements at my parents' and inlaws'. Why? Sadly, the place we bought is in preconstruction. Meaning they haven't started building. Our future 2 bedroom condo with our massive terrace is still a vacant lot and we're still almost 2 years away from using our wedding gifts.

So why did we buy a preconstruction? For us, it was a no-brainer. In Ontario, the down payment for a house is 20%. Sure as first time homebuyers theres ways to get around it, but we didn't want to go there. In Toronto, the cost of housing is extremely high, with the average starter home well over $400,000. I'll let you do the math on that one, but can tell you that not many people in our position have that kind of cash to hand over upfront. And so, buying preconstruction allows us to save and stagger the down payment over the two years. We also couldn't really pass this place up. It's in a fantastic neighbourhood, close to transit, family, Lake Ontario, good schools and all of the amenities we need. We would have been silly to walk away from it.

But have no fear, while the moving trucks are on hold, there will be plenty of pins and dreaming posts around this corner of the web in the time being. 

Kale, Quinoa & Bean Soup

Why is it about this time of year that makes soup a favourite meal? Is it the weather? Or is it that I get lazy and the simplicity of a one pot meal is so appealing? 

Whatever is it, this kale, quinoa and bean soup is a winner. It is simple and inexpensive to make, has great flavour and is hearty yet healthy. Oh, and its also gluten free.

Enjoy :)

kale, quinoa and bean soup recipe

Kale, Quinoa & Bean Soup
Servings: 4-6

Ingredients:
2 tbsp butter
1 clove garlic, finely minced
2 shallots, finely minced
1 bunch of kale, chopped into bite size pieces
4 cups veggie broth
3 cups water
1 can white navy beans
1/2 cup uncooked quinoa 
1 tsp salt, to taste
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp chilli powder
pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)

Instructions:
1.  In a large pot, sauté onions and garlic in butter at medium heat until translucent. 
2.  Add kale and sauté for about 5 minutes.
2.  Add broth, water, beans, salt and spices. Bring to a boil.
3.  Add quinoa and simmer for 20 minutes.
4.  Taste, and add additional salt and spices if necessary.
    kale, quinoa and bean soup recipe

    Linking up with Treasure Tromp for Treat Yo' Self Thursday. Treat yourself with this delish soup!

    Lets Take a Tour


    Today we are going to take a little tour through T.O. & fro and answer those questions you've been dying to know - the hows, whys and whats behind the blog. A big thanks to Christine at the So-Called Homemaker for the invite.

    What are you working on now? 

    I am a very busy bee, always working on something and trying to come up with new ideas. In my personal life, I am working on saving my pennies for the new condo we just bought. If you follow me on Pinterest, you will notice that I am creating a wish list of furniture and home decor ideas for when we take possession. In my work life, I am constantly working to share my passion and commitment to the environment to inspire others to care for our natural world. And most importantly, and what this tour is all about, in my blog life, I am constantly a work in progress. I am working to expand T.O. & fro's reach since moving back to Canada, and on developing my new photography-inspired link up call "What Inspires Your Senses?". (Join us for the next round of WIYS on November 26.)



    How does your work differ from others in its genre? 
    With some many blogs in blogland, it is often hard to set yourself apart from other bloggers. If I had to give T.O. & fro a genre, it would be "lifestyle", a little bit of everything in one place. But what sets me apart? The majority of the blogs that I read are US-based, and with my home base in Toronto, I am able to share different things, like traditions and things to do and see. As a small town raised, big city living girl, I share a fresh perspective on the many differences between the two, and as an environmental educator, I love to share why it is so important to care for our natural world, especially in today's world.

    Why do you write/create what you do? 
    Long story short, because I enjoy it. This blog once started as a way to share our adventures with friends and family when my husband and I lived in Alaska. Now that we're back home and see our family regularly, the focus has changed. Now, I just genuinely enjoy writing and having a creative outlet. Just the other day my husband pointed out how far T.O. & fro has come since it began back in 2010, then called "Our Alaskan Staycation". Although I'm sad we still don't call the great state home, I absolutely LOVE what the blog has become. I also enjoy the community and friendships that I have created through blogging. I think one of the coolest things is being able to connect with women across the world that share the same interests. 

    How does your writing/creative process work?
    With an hour commute each day to and from work, I have a lot of time to think. I always carry a notebook in my bag, and also take advantage of the notebook app on my phone. I am constantly scribbling notes when a brain child appears, and often draw inspiration from my morning commute, walk through downtown or morning newspaper. Toronto is such a vibrant city, there is no shortage of inspiration.

    Thanks for taking a quick detour out of your busy day to get a glimpse into the workings of T.O. & fro. Like what you read? I'd love for your to hang around! Use code SMALLTOWN30 for 30% off all Small Town ad space.

    Tag, you're it! Check out these lovely ladies taking the torch next week...

    Jamie from SnapGinger
    Bloglovin  |  Twitter  |  Instagram  |  Facebook  |  Pinterest

    Becca from Two Places at Once
    Bloglovin  |  Twitter  |  Instagram  |  Facebook  |  Pinterest


    Out of My Comfort Zone with eShakti



    I consider my wardrobe very simple - lots of pastels and neutral colours. The number of coloured or patterned items in my closet can be counted on one hand. I'll admit, I have also never been a dress girl. Even my wedding dress was a struggle. I want to be able to wear dresses, I really do, but for some reason, I just can't.

    When eShakti approached me to review a piece of their clothing, I knew I couldn't pass up the offer for a free piece of clothing and to try something new. As I scanned through the pages of tops, dresses and skirts, but mostly dresses, my eyes naturally fell on those similar to pieces I already had, basic and neutral. "How about this one?", I asked my husband. "Live a little", were his words. After a bunch of back and forth, I thought it would be fun to just hand the computer over to him and allow him to pick for me. See if he could possibly get me out of my comfort zone and into the world of girly colours and dresses. I only had three minor conditions, a) it must be work appropriate, b) I must be able to wear it in more than one season, and c) I don't wear red. His only criteria was to stop standing over his should so he could pick in peace. 

    Turns out, the guy has pretty good taste, and opted for the Sophie dress in wine... 


    Yes, it is basic and no, it doesn't have pretty patterns, but it is a dress and it is colourful. Baby steps here people.

    Choosing the dress was the hardest part. Ordering was a breeze - with sizes for every body type (0 to 36W) and customizable sleeve type, neck type and dress length. Shipping was also quick, the dress arrived on my door step within two weeks.

    When the dress arrived, it looked exactly as pictured on the website. The size I chose fit perfectly in the waist, however, it was a little tight in the chest area, which is something I rarely have an issue with. My favourite thing about this dress is definitely the colour. The wine colour can be worn across all seasons and paired with the perfect accessories, like a statement necklace or even a belt, makes this dress a win in the work attire department. Possibly even for someone with dress phobia like myself.

    eShakti believes that all women have the right to wear affordable fashion that is made for them and makes them look their absolute best. Use code "toandfroblog" for 10% off your order (valid 11/11/2014  12/11/2014).

    Where to find eShakti:
    Shop  |  Facebook  |  Pinterest  |  Instagram

    Disclosure: Financial compensation was not received for this post. A sample product was gifted from eShakti in exchange for the review. All opinions expressed here are 100% my own. A big thank you to eShakti!

    Recipe SEO Tips: How To Optimize Your Recipe Posts

    I'm no SEO expert or foodie professional, but I do enjoy sharing recipes. I share them because I want others to enjoy them. But in order for that to happen, I must first optimize my recipe posts in order for others to find them online. 

    Recipe structure is extremely important, not only for aesthetics, but also when it comes to search engines and the ability for others to find your recipe. Follow these 8 simple steps to create a well structured and SEO-friendly recipe post.

    Recipe SEO Tips: How to Optimize Your Recipe Posts

    Think hard about the post title. What would you search to find this recipe? For example, you have a recipe for lemon and zucchini muffins - titling your post "lemon and zucchini muffin recipe" would be much more SEO-friendly than "tasty muffins".

    Make the first photo your finished product. This is the photo that most social media will display when the recipe link is added. Show off that delicious recipe! Place this photo after the title and intro, but before the ingredients.

    Only one recipe per page. More than one recipe per page will not only make the post lengthy, but also harder to find. 

    Create one ingredients list, but use labels to separate recipes. For example, if you sharing a cake recipe, create one list of ingredients, but separate the ingredients for the cake and for the icing using different labels. 

    Create bulleted or numbered lists. Place all ingredients and directions on a separate line.

    Use the words "ingredients" and "directions". Search engines will pick up on this.

    Use other common recipe words. These include "prep time", "cook time", "serving size", "nutritional information" etc.

    Add image titles and alt tags. Alt tags explain what the image shows and are great for your SEO. For example, you have a recipe for homemade salsa and have added alt tags that read "homemade salsa recipe". If someone does a Google image search for "homemade salsa recipe", your photos for that recipe are more likely to appear than if you left the alt tags empty. [For a quick alt tag tutorial, check this out.]


    Do you have any additional recipe SEO tips?

    Batty's Bath: Another Happy Customer

    This month I'm welcoming Batty's Bath back to t.o. & fro! Batty's Bath is a botanical skin care and soap company based in southern Ontario and every. single. product. is lovingly hand-crafted using planet-friendly, people-friendly and animal-friendly ingredients. Amazing. I'm not the only one that is hooked on Batty's products. My sister-in-law recently took the leap from using expensive creams, lotions and potions to going all-natural. Another happy customer. Here's her story:

    How would you describe your skin before using Batty's Bath?
    I have dealt with rosacea for as long as I can remember. My skin has acne-like bumps, is dry in some places, oily in others, and overall, unbalanced. The red flushing over my cheeks and nose and sensitivity that come along with the rosacea comes and goes in varying degrees, and with no apparent cause.

    Why did you decide to start using the products?
    It has been very difficult for me to find something that works for my rosacea, and I have spent a lot of money trying. I've been prescribed creams before, but did not like to idea of using steroids or antibiotics on my face, so I wanted something that was more natural. I was hooked when I heard Batty's products were all natural, and local. I instantly loved her website and how she provides resources for varying degrees of problem skin, from rosacea to eczema,  and explains every single product in great detail, including recommended routines and ingredients.  It was very clear that she has a passion for making quality products and helping people achieve healthy skin.

    What products are you currently using?
    I am currently using the rosacea skin care kit which contains the primer facial moisturizerquick tint antioxidant moisturizersoothing cleanserwet clay mask and charcoal cold press soap.
     
    Batty's Bath rosacea kit
    (Photos courtesy of Batty's Bath)
    I also occasionally use the grapefruit & patchouli olive oil facial soap for acne prone skin, and the mineral cream concealer (in warm sand) and mineral makeup foundation are part of my daily makeup routine.
    grapefruit & patchouli olive oil facial soap // mineral cream concealer // mineral makeup foundation
    (Photos courtesy of Batty's Bath)
    What is your current skin care routine?
    One great thing about Batty's kits is that they come with a recommended routine. As per the rosacea kit routine, I wash my face with the soothing cleanser when I wake up in the morning and then apply the primer facial moisturizer to my face and neck. In the evening before bed, I wash my face with the charcoal cold press soap, sometimes after the grapefruit & patchouli olive oil facial soap if I feel my skin is particularly oily, and then apply the quick tint antioxidant moisturizer.  I use the wet clay mask once a week, leaving it on for at least half an hour. In order to detox and calm my skin, I am trying to avoid store-bought makeup filled with chemicals. Instead I use Batty's all-natural mineral makeup daily and absolutely love it! I used to apply a primer before my foundation and concealer,  but have found that I do not need one with Batty's makeup. I understand that using all-natural skin care products are just the first step to a healthier me. I am also trying to sleep more, drink more water, eat better, get more exercise and reduce the overall stress in my life. 

    How would you describe your skin after using Batty's Bath?
    After 2 months of use, my skin is much more clear and balanced, and the rosacea-related redness has definitely subsided. I have even received compliments from friends, family and coworkers!

    Will you use Batty's Bath products in the future?
    Absolutely!


    Interested in trying some of Batty's Bath skin care products? Sign up for the Batty's Bath newsletter to receive a free shipping code! Stay tuned for her North American free shipping day on December 1, 2014, just in time for Christmas :) 

    Other Batty's Bath posts:
    Where to find her:
    Website  |  Shop  |  Blog  |  Twitter  |  Instagram

    We Put a Dot on It!

    We've been back in the mother land for almost a year and a half. Time seriously flies. We've spent time living with family, in team housing and then when Steve retired, back to living with family. While living with family is great on the budget, it isn't always ideal for your relationship. With our plans to keep Toronto as our long term home base, we knew we needed to start looking for a place to call our own. And not just in a September to May, hockey season kind of way.


    When thinking about buying our first home, I have a long list of musts...

    Must have a garage.

    Must have 2+ bedrooms and bathrooms.

    Must have a large backyard.

    Must have an amazing kitchen.

    Must be open-concept.

    And absolutely MUST be close to the water.

    But then, I am brought back to reality. Who am I kidding, I live in Toronto, and unless by some miracle we win the lottery, that list of musts ain't happening.

    And so, I reevaluate...

    Must be within our price range.

    [And must have 2+ bedrooms and an amazing kitchen.]

    Turns out, when I come back down to reality, shit gets done because I can now officially announce...  we put a dot on it!!




    We're homeowners! 

    And bonus, it's a 10 minute walk to the water.

    More to come in the following months...