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If we’ve learned anything from 2020, it’s that taking care of yourself should always be a priority

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Elevate your pyjama game

Illustration by Alanna Cavanagh

People who make sheets often like to remind us that we spend about a third of our lives in bed. Well, the chunk of time we spend in our pyjamas is even greater – and seems to be growing every day. With stay-home orders extending likely for the rest of the season, many of us are experiencing a lifestyle shift that’s being catered to by clothing companies such as Alex Mill, which are adding sleepwear to their offerings that’s stylish enough to wear outside. The American brand recently partnered with The Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon to launch P’Jimmies, a collection of cotton pyjamas meant to be worn all day. Another addition is Hill House Home’s Nap Dress, a hybrid garment that gives day-to-night dressing a whole new meaning.

When no one has a reason to get dressed up, we’re left to find our own. “Even if you don’t care what you sleep in, it still feels good to be wearing something nice, especially in a time like right now when you’re not wearing your dresses and high heels very often,” says Alexandra Suhner Isenberg, founder of Vancouver’s The Sleep Shirt. For Fleur du Mal founder Jennifer Zuccarini, sleepwear is a matter of self-care. “I believe how we dress … affects our mood and how we feel,” says Zuccarini, who recently introduced washable silk pieces to her line. “When you start the day by putting a beautiful lingerie set on, or a luxe silk pyjama set, you’re taking care of yourself.” And if we’ve learned anything from 2020, it’s that taking care of yourself should always be a priority.

– Caitlin Agnew

Learn a new diversion

Illustration by Alanna Cavanagh

If the thought of tackling yet another jigsaw puzzle is too much to bear, you’re not alone. Dominoes was the activity of choice at my grandparents’ farmhouse in Quebec, and it’s just one of many offline ways to pass the time while challenging the noggin this winter. Playing a classic game of skill helps keep the mind sharp, offers a break from screen time, and is a hobby that’s catching on. Last fall, Netflix show The Queen’s Gambit gave the would-be Olympic sport of chess a Hollywood-level profile boost not seen since 1993′s Searching for Bobby Fischer. Backgammon has found a famous fan in supermodel Cindy Crawford, who posts on Instagram about playing the game, while a friend of mine gets a weekly mental workout with his household on Mahjong Mondays. For a more dexterous option, look no further than crokinole, the Canadian classic that brings elements of curling and shuffleboard to the dining table.

“I was a fan of games long before quarantine forced us all to revisit the pastimes of yore,” says potter, designer and author Jonathan Adler. His stylish line of home decor includes a posh brass and marble tic-tac-toe set, a chunky acrylic chess board and backgammon sets in a range of colourful designs. For Adler, the multifaceted benefits of a beautiful board game range from aesthetic to personal. “The best ones like backgammon exercise your brain – which, when you’re my age, is important – while looking chic on your cocktail table. Plus, anything that allows me to gloat over a win against my husband Simon is okay by me.” A little friendly competition might be just what your evening is missing.

– Caitlin Agnew

Give your pantry a worldly makeover

Illustration by Alanna Cavanagh

Call it kitchen burnout, culinary malaise, dinner dolour – finding motivation in the kitchen has never been more challenging. One coping technique I’ve picked up from chef friends is to raid the world’s pantry for versatile ingredients to incorporate into everyday meals. Chef Cat McInroy of the Well Bread Culinary Centre in Whitehorse knows the situation all too well. She’s often called on to help home cooks find inspiration. “People get into ruts,” she says. “When we find something we like, we make it over and over again – my job is to help them find those comfort recipes and then alter them into something new.”

One of her favourite tweaks often strikes novice cooks as peculiar, but McInroy swears by it. “I add sauerkraut and sauerkraut juice to pretty much every dish that needs a little something,” she says, including “meatballs, soups, sauces, braised meats, roasted vegetables and even chocolate cake recipes. Instead of just loading more salt into a dish to season it, adding the finely chopped sauerkraut or a splash of the juice gives an instant balance and umami infusion.”

I’ve found similar results with all kinds of ingredients from around the world. Lime pickle, an intense Indian condiment made from spicy, fermented whole limes, is superb with curries and roast meats as well as blended with yogurt into a zesty dip. I drizzle Calabrian chili peppers on sautéed greens, burgers and anything that needs a bright, fresh punch of heat. Dukkah, a versatile Egyptian spice blend with nuts and seeds, makes a great replacement for breadcrumbs and transforms steamed vegetables and avocado toast when sprinkled over top. ‘Nduja, the spicy spreadable Italian salami, was once chefs’ secret ingredient but is now widely available. Spread on toast, stirred into a pot of beans or slathered on pizza, it has the ability to transform even mundane dishes into something special.

– Chris Johns

Turn your bathroom into a spa

Illustration by Alanna Cavanagh

Remember those decadent days when we’d treat ourselves to a day at the spa, indulge in its fabulous amenities, luxuriate in the peaceful environment and be pampered to our heart’s delight? During the pandemic, it’s become a distant memory for many of us.

COVID may have forced the closure of many of our favourite retreats, but that doesn’t mean you can’t spoil yourself by recreating a spa-like oasis in your own bathroom, says Elizabeth Brown, manager of the Ancient Cedars Spa at the Wickaninnish Inn in Tofino, B.C. “It’s so important to take the time to relax and rejuvenate, to treat yourself and let the stress and worries melt away,” she says.

To create the right mood – after all, ambience is key – start with a calming playlist. Light a scented candle, dim the lights and run a steaming bath with epsom salts and a few drops of a favourite essential oil (eucalyptus or lavender, perhaps) to soften the skin and soothe tired muscles. Grab a bath pillow, lay back and place cucumber over your eyes (to soothe puffiness).

After the bath, Brown recommends a body exfoliant, homemade or store-bought. A favourite of hers is the Surf Beach Scrub from local business Tofino Soap Company.

If making your own, mix ¼ cup of carrier oil (olive, coconut, or almond oil will do), ½ cup brown or white sugar, some ground-up oatmeal – and if you want even more exfoliant, add used coffee grounds. “Work from your toes up to your heart, in a circular motion,” Brown says. “Don’t rush. A self-massage might not be a heavenly as one from the spa, but it aids in circulation, lymphatic drainage and gives your skin a dewy, healthy glow.”

After stepping out of the shower, moisturize with a body butter or oil, wrap yourself in a robe and make a cup of calming chamomile tea before returning to reality.

– Gayle MacDonald

Nap like the Nordics

Illustration by Alanna Cavanagh

I first discovered Northern European bed-making several decades ago during a stay with my then partner at a small hotel in Hamburg, Germany. Atop our big double bed were two single duvets folded in half like two tacos and placed on each side of the bed. Exposed was the fitted sheet underneath. No top sheet. It struck me as odd, like something you’d find in a military barracks or youth hostel. But it also looked kind of fresh and orderly.

What I soon learned is that it is the key to a healthy relationship, an act of love and consideration. We all have a preferred temperature and blanket weight for optimum sleep. And with this system, when you are sharing a bed, there is no more fighting about who’s hogging the duvet, nor flailing limbs to wake you up.

According to Tor Kjolberg, the Oslo-based editor of the destination blog Daily Scandinavian, “Almost every marital bed in Scandinavia uses two single duvets instead of a double.” It’s ingrained in the culture, though no one can pinpoint the exact origin. Reasons range from that “together but apart” equitable Nordic mindset (like on a first date, you always split the bill) to the pair of duvets serving as a marker of upward mobility (historically, sharing a bed was for the lower classes).

But everyone seems to agree on one thing: Those statistics about Scandinavians being the happiest humans on Earth extends to the that large part of their lives they spend sleeping. According to a 2019 report from sleep research and product reviews site, five out of six of the countries with the world’s top sleepers are Nordic.

These days, as we spend so much time at home and in each other’s faces all day, the idea of having a little bit of something to fully call our own – even if it’s just a duvet – is certainly appealing (if perhaps even necessary for our sanity).

– Karen Burshtein

Use those gift cards

Illustration by Alanna Cavanagh

Now’s a good time to not only tally up your post-holiday gift card bounty, but to fish out those unused ones from years past stashed away in the bottom of purses or buried in a drawer. In 2018, $1-billion in gift cards were never used. The goal is to spend them, but wisely.

“Cards can lose value quickly if a store goes out of business,” says Kimberly Palmer, a personal finance expert at NerdWallet. “The most important strategy with gift cards is to spend them as soon as possible.”

Wise spending is easiest if you’re organized. Immediately load cards for online marketplaces and services or those with dedicated apps into an account, and make them the default way to pay the next time a purchase is made from any of those places. Put cards for everyday items in your wallet to be used as needed. Alternatively, apps like UGO Wallet allow for the digitization of physical cards, storing the balance on a smartphone. But what about cards that don’t fit those categories?

“There are two ways to manage that,” says Kathleen Daunt, a registered financial and retirement advisor at financial planning firm The New School of Finance. “Have a box where you keep these things and a note on your phone with what gift cards you have, or keep a Post-it note in your wallet. That way every time that you pull out your wallet, it’s a little reminder.”

The goal: to treat yourself – without your bank account noticing.

– Corrina Allen-Kiersons

Pull out the good stuff

Illustration by Alanna Cavanagh

With most excursions beyond the grocery store on hold, the delicious feeling of anticipation we get from looking forward to things has been replaced by the predictability of pandemic days.

Toronto sisters Julie Albert and Lisa Gnat say it’s possible to recapture those feelings of excitement by creating an atmosphere of pomp and ceremony at home. And the simplest way to do that is to reach into the back of the cupboard and dust off all your very best stuff – the bone china you inherited from your grandmother, the good silver (that likely needs a polish), the antique crystal and the fine table linens that only come out for special occasions.

“Just because we’ve been stuck in sweatpants for almost a year, doesn’t mean you can’t bring your A-game to an evening at home,” says Albert, who along with her sister has written several best-selling cookbooks. “It’s all about the little touches, the extra flourishes and the company.”

Decorate the table with fresh flowers, open that expensive bottle of Barolo you’ve been saving, and burn the sculptural candle that has been sitting untouched on your coffee table for years. Put out the luxury soaps and fancy guest towels. Plan a restaurant-worthy menu – or better yet, order a three-course meal from a splurge-worthy local eatery.

“It’s all about making the effort to show that you’re worth the effort,” Gnat says. “Leave ‘aging’ to cheesemongers, vineyards and butchers – be present and enjoy everything, because if this past year has shown us anything, it’s that living in the moment is the only way to go.”

– ­Gayle MacDonald

Give and get some bedroom bliss

Illustration by Alanna Cavanagh

Considering more people bought sex toys in 2020 than any other year in history, you don’t need a Red Room à la Fifty Shades of Grey to have a little fun. “The pandemic has provided some couples an opportunity to have frank discussions about personal space, communication and sexuality in ways they may not previously have explored,” says Dr. Alex McKay, executive director of the non-profit Sex Information and Education Council of Canada. And with a few more months of social distancing, there’s never been a better time to work on your relationship with your partner – or yourself.

A sense of playfulness is key, says Dr. Peggy J. Kleinplatz, a professor in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Ottawa and author of Magnificent Sex: Lessons from Extraordinary Lovers. “Openness to oneself and one’s partners and exploration are important contributors to the best sexual experiences.” From Shoppers Drug Mart to Indigo Books, personal massagers are now found everywhere, but the Rolls Royce of vibrators comes from Swedish brand Lelo. Presented elegantly, it’s sold at swish department stores such as Holt Renfrew and promises toe-curling ecstasy with devices like the new Soraya Wave rabbit massager with “wavemotion” technology that hits the G-spot with a come-hither motion.

To set the mood, former Selfridges lingerie buyer Virginia Marcolin’s new essential-oil-infused intimates line Effleure features lightly fragranced bikinis, culottes and G-strings in aphrodisiac scents such as lavender, black coconut and dark chocolate.

– Amanda Ross