Category Archives: Life

Winter Mood

Winter Mood | Sophster-Toaster Blog

Winter will be here soon. Although I’m excited to experience the first winter in our first house, I’m also a little worried about how my mood and emotions will fare once the Christmas magic and anticipation have passed. I used to have a really rough time staying upbeat, happy, optimistic and hopeful during the long and cold Canadian winters but I’ve been doing a little better every year since deciding to take preventative action. I’ve developed a few strategies I find helpful for avoiding or coping with winter sadness that I would like to share with you today in hope that you can find something that might work for you.

Winter Mood | Sophster-Toaster Blog

The first big change I made since growing up and not being too cool to wear and hat, scarf and proper boots, was to invest in good, cute and warm outwear. Over the years, I’ve collected a few different high quality coats, boots and accessories so I always have something the works. I have a cute toque for everyday, a gorgeous hand knit headband for when my hair just isn’t right for my tuque, light mittens, warm mittens, a scarves in different colours and styles, a fun coat, a more practical coat, and warm, waterproof boots. Being able to build up layers suitable for any weather, and actually being comfortably warm outside, has made all the difference. It’s no wonder I hated winter when I was standing outsize, freezing in just a coat, mittens and the wrong shoes.

Another important thing I now do during the winter is to go outside and appreciate the sunny, slightly warmer days. Hiding inside all winter just makes me more miserable. Now I try to get out and good for walks, making sure to visit the spots that were summer favourites. I’m always amazed by how beautiful and serene the forest can be on a winter day. Going out and seeing how much activity is still going on in nature, even though all the people have cowered away, can really change the way you think about the season that is supposedly dormant.

Winter Mood | Sophster-Toaster Blog

This time of year can feel like a losing battle when the days are getting shorter by minutes everyday. When all I want to do is put on my pajamas and watch tv from sunset (4:49 pm on the day I am writing this) to bedtime every night, I find it helpful to pick up a hobby to occupy those dark hours. This year I’ve been trying to make fun, healthy, homemade dinners with my husband at least five nights a week. When we put so much focus into preparing a proper meal, it’s easy to forget it’s been dark for two hours before we start eating.

On that note, something I’ve just started doing this year, is trying to keep the kitchen stocked with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. I try to focus on the vegetables that are still in season locally while also mixing in some tropical fruit that is coming into season elsewhere. I ate grapefruit for the first time last week and really enjoyed it! (I know, I assumed I would hate it because I hate grapefruit juice.) I hope to make a habit of grapefruit breakfasts throughout the winter to bring a little bit of summer sunshine to those cold and gloomy days. I hope striving to eat a healthy and colourful diet, while everything outside the dining room window is drab and bleak, will help me stay happy and energetic during the winter.

My last tip seems so simple, but can be one of the hardest to achieve. I find it so crucial to my happiness in the cold months to ignore that desire to hibernate every night and try to get out with friends, family or my husband at least once a week. Just getting out of the house to go huddle with them in theirs – especially if they have a fireplace – and doing the same for them, can make a huge difference to the way I feel. Every year when it starts to get really cold, my husband and I go out to a great, a-little-fancier-than-usual restaurant, just to enjoy the intimate dining room with the huge, beautifully decorated wood-burning fireplace. We look forward to it all year. It gives something special back to the season where it feels like nothing happens after New Year’s Day.

Winter Mood | Sophster-Toaster Blog

Between bundling up properly, and getting excited about it too, getting out to be social or stay active, taking up a hobby, and eating healthy (yay grapefruit!), I hope you can take at least one tip from me and work it into your winter self-care routine!

Winter Mood | Sophster-Toaster Blog Winter Mood | Sophster-Toaster Blog Winter Mood | Sophster-Toaster Blog Winter Mood | Sophster-Toaster Blog

Top Oast House Brewers
Jeans GAP
Socks H&M

Winter Mood | Sophster-Toaster Blog

All photos by me.

Favourite (Budget) Beauty Finds

Favourite Budget Beauty Finds | Sophster-Toaster Blog

For a long time, ever since I started wearing makeup in high school, I stuck to drugstore, budget beauty products. Money was tight, I wasn’t very good at makeup and it was what mom did. Some products were great, and I still use them today, but I suffered through others. I waited desperately for the day they would be nearly used up so I could justify trying something different.

Then I moved to a bigger city. I made an effort to learn how to do my makeup I found wonderful, small, handmade brands online. And then, a Sephora came to town! With a sudden surge in options, and a slightly bigger budget, I started looking for higher quality options that wouldn’t cost me too much more.


I started with Sephora. Sticking to the store brand, I picked up some blotting papers. As a person with oily skin who hates wearing foundation, these blotting papers have become an essential staple.

Then during last year’s Christmas party season I decided to splurge and get my first ever non-drugstore eyeshadow palette. At about $31 Canadian, this is one of the most expensive items in my collection but I couldn’t be more pleased with it. I was shocked with how easy the higher quality eyeshadow was to apply the first time I used it. With more colours, more of each colour, needing less and the high quality of the makeup and packaging, I think this palette is definitely worth the price!

Favourite Budget Beauty Finds | Sophster-Toaster Blog


After these successful forays into big-girl makeup purchasing, I was confident enough to start seeking out small, handmade brands. There were a few things I was looking for when building my new makeup collection that I just couldn’t find from the big brands. I wanted makeup that was cruelty free and made in an environmentally responsible way with fewer, more natural ingredients.

After years of using strong antiperspirants that weren’t good for me and were damaging my clothing, I decided to look for a more natural/ old fashioned option. I stumbled upon an Etsy shop called Bunny Butt Apothecary that carried natural, vegan deodorant in a dozen amazing scents and fell in love. As it was a few weeks before my birthday, I choose the birthday cake scent and I’ve never looked back. It doesn’t work as well as antiperspirant, obviously, and usually needs at least one reapplication throughout the day but I’m so happy with it! I bought the 85g tube of deodorant two years ago and I’m only just starting to run out!

I then started to wonder if there was such a thing as mascara that didn’t clump and glob up. I soon came across the great (and somewhat local!) Batty’s Bath brand of makeup and skincare products. This is the best mascara I have ever used and I will be a customer for life! It’s a little pricey but the safe, non irritating ingredients (why did I put up with those for so long?), smudge-proof yet easy-to-remove formula, and conditioning elements are so, so worth it! After about a month of using this mascara, my eyelashes stopped falling out as easily and were therefore noticeably longer, thicker, softer and healthier. But the best part: a normal tube and wand the don’t fall out of the cupboard or make application overly complicated.

Favourite Budget Beauty Finds | Sophster-Toaster Blog


There are a few drugstore brands that have stayed close to my heart all along. I have been absolutely smitten with Rimmel Moisture Renew lipsticks since my first tube. They are cheap enough to not worry about hating or losing but still feel indulgently creamy and moisturizing. My go-to, everyday shade is Rose Blush but I love the bold Red Alert for when I feel like getting all dolled up.

Favourite Budget Beauty Finds | Sophster-Toaster Blog

I’ve been around the block with just about every brand of nail polish and my very favourite is still the super cheap, like $2.50 cheap, Sally Hansen Hard as Nails Xtream Wear. It comes in a rainbow of trendy colours, goes on evenly and doesn’t chip for at least five days. What more could you want from a drugstore nail polish?

My most recent budget beauty find is old fashioned Nivea Creme. I grabbed the classic travel/ purse size tin (now plastic) for a few dollars before my recent trip to Panama. I had never used it before and was shocked by how many jobs it could do. I bought it as a general moisturizer/ night cream but soon found it was also great for putting on a sunburn, removing make-up and softening up hangnails. It’s heavy duty, but not greasy, and, uniquely, still features the original early 20th century sweet floral and citrus scent.

Favourite Budget Beauty Finds | Sophster-Toaster Blog

Some other great budget products I love are drugstore brand Rimmel universal lip liner, cheap amazon buy Real Techniques eyeshadow brush, and gorgeous Ombrelle lightweight SPF 30 face sun lotion.

I’ve found, through my many years of wearing makeup, that I can find most of my essential beauty products at the drugstore. What I save with these budget brands, I can spend on the few things that take a little more money to get a much better product.

Favourite Budget Beauty Finds | Sophster-Toaster Blog

The Details

1) Blotting Papers Sephora Charcoal Blotting Papers
2) Mascara Batty’s Bath Clean Slate Natural Black Mascara
3) Lip Liner Rimmel Moisture Renew Clean Lip Liner
4) Lipstick Rimmel Moisture Renew Lipstick in Rose Blush
5) Eyeshadow Brush Real Techniques Shading Brush
6) Cream Nivea Creme
7) Nail Polish Sally Hansen Hard as Nail Xtream Wear in Mint Sorbet
8) Eyeshadow Palette Sephora Collection Colorful 5 Eyeshadow Palette in No 10 Milk to Dark Chocolate
9) Nail Polish Sally Hansen Hard as Nail Xtream Wear in Giant Peach
10) Deodorant Bunny Butt Apothecary The Pits Veggie Protein Deodorant in Let them Eat Birthday Cake
11) Face Sun Lotion Garnier Ombrelle Ultra Light Advanced Weightless Face Lotion SPF 30
12) Lipstick Rimmel Moisture Renew Lipstick in Red Alert
13) Makeup Bag Nara Rha (old)

All photos by me.

Pictures from Panama City

In the spirit of Earth Day, I want to present Panama City as it really is.

Pictures from Panama City \\ Sophster-Toaster Blog

I could have easily cropped out all of the construction workers, squatters and scaffolding, but that isn’t want this picturesque city of contrast looks like. In Casco Viejo, the old French Quarter of the Panama City, every third building is undergoing massive renovations as they try to reclaim this twice torched part of their history.

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Some buildings have been restored to their former grandeur and breathtaking beauty while others sit as empty shells, waiting for their turn to be reclaimed. The city has strict rules about not altering the exteriors of these buildings. Leading by example, the city repaved the old roads of the neighbourhood with authentic, old style brick to bury all the modern power and communication cables.

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When you walk through the neighbourhood, gazing up at the terraced buildings and catching glimpses of skyscrapers and ocean down its narrow streets, you really do feel as if you’ve been transported to a different time and place, separate from the modern city and modern world. But as beautiful as this city and its people’s efforts to restore these scorched and crumbling blocks are, they aren’t out of the woods yet. Climate change, El Niño and drought have joined the long list of threats to the people and the landscape of Panama.

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There are brush fires – some controlled and contained, some wild and ferocious – burning in the hills and along the highways. There are villages without drinking water. Many homes and businesses collect rainwater during the wet season to be used to flush toilets in the dry summers. We are nearly one month into the wet season now without a single drop of rain so many of these toilets are no longer working. Last year, when the rains didn’t come until November, severe water restrictions and an air conditioning ban were put into place. The airports, malls, hotels and office buildings of Panama City were not permitted to run air conditioners during the day. The water levels in the lakes and rivers that feed the Panama Canal are devastatingly low. If the rains don’t come soon, restrictions will have to be placed on the size of ships that can enter the Panama Canal – the largest Panamax ships are built to have only 24 inches of clearance in the locks. If this happens, the price of almost everything will increase around the globe.

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As you scroll through the pictures of this beautiful city, country and world today, consider all of the things you may take for granted and all of the things you can do to minimize your impact on this incredible environment we all share.

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All photos by me.

Handmade Gift Guide 2015

Buying handmade means buying something special. When one person, or a small team of talented people, are entirely responsible for a product and work on a project from initial idea, to sourcing materials, to handcrafting the product, right through to selling, shipping and customer service, they are able to ensure their values are upheld every step of the way. Whether it be a commitment to environmental sustainability, fair trade ingredients or incredibly high quality products, someone who has a hand in every part of the process finds it easy to achieve these goals. When you shop small, local or handmade, you are supporting these people and their devotion to the aspirations and ideals that many of us share.

Here are some of my favourite handmade items this year:

Sophster-Toaster Blog Handmade Gift Guide

Zephyrus Terrarium by ABJ Glassworks (Pennsylvania, United States, $65.00)

Crochet Braided Headband by Plexida (Greece, $9.58)

Stud Earring Set by Liperla (Turin, Italy, $22.60)

Because Cats Pinback Button by Sparkle Collective (Toronto, Canada, $1.54)

Teen Dream Enamel Pin by Ludlow Luna (Pennsylvania, United States, $10.00)

“A Certain Glamour” Cat Watercolour Print by Water in My Paint (Canada, $7.70)

Haters Gonna Hate Bunny Tote Bag by Hello Harriet (Winchester, United Kingdom, $16.00)

Antler Ring by Autumn Equinox Jewelry (New Hampshire, United States, $32.00)

Sunday Plaid Eyeglasses Pocket Square by The Honey Press (Massachusetts, United States, $25.00 – 40% off with coupon code “CLOSING40”)

Lace Up Slippers by White Noise Maker (Wellington, New Zealand, $29.00+ depending on size)

“Will Perform for Cakes” Side Plate by Jimbobart (London, United Kingdom, $35.00)

Terracotta Serving Bowl by Baskakova  (London, United Kingdom, $43.49)

All prices in USD. All photos via respective shops.