Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Spring fun list

Greetings! I'm back from Chile, feeling energized from the experience, enjoying this beautiful week at home, and making plans for my next adventure.

I'd like to wrap up my winter fun list which I started on December 21 as posted here, with my update #1 in January, and update #2 in February. The last item Explore Chile in March on my winter fun list is now complete. Separate posts to come with highlights of my fantastic adventure in Chile.

Today I'm sharing my spring fun list and linking up with several fun-loving bloggers. I'm excited to be in spring season. I love the sunshine, the freshness in the air, and the increasingly warmer temperatures. In my neighbourhood, I see spring flowers growing and the trees start to look greener. When I walk outdoors in the morning, I hear bird songs and see ducks swimming leisurely in the lake. The sights of new beginnings are invigorating. Bring on spring!

My Spring Fun List from March 21 to June 20, 2018:
  1. View two art exhibitions.
  2. Attend eight music recitals.
  3. Watch ten movies.
  4. Review French.
  5. Take a long weekend trip with my family.
  6. Meet up for coffee or lunch with my friends.
  7. Go to farmers' markets starting at the end of May.
  8. Explore the Baltics in May-June.
My spring fun list is full of new experiences for me. I'm eager to give it a whirl. Item #8 gives me lots of reading to do. I'm thinking of visiting Tallinn in Estonia, Riga in Latvia, Vilnius in Lithuania, and Warsaw in Poland. My travel planning checklist will come in handy again.

How are things going with you? What do you do for fun this season? If you've been to any of the capitals in the Baltics, please share your experience.

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Give it a whirl

I discovered the above public art structure on one of my walks along the waterfront. I didn't see the title nor the artist's name at the site so I looked it up. From what I could find online, I believe it's the work of Alice Aycock, an American sculptor who recently presented some of of her work in an exhibition entitled The Turbulence Series in New York.

This art work made me think of words such as spin, whirl, twist, tornado, white, force, centrifuge, wind, as well as the expression "give it a whirl" as in give something a try for the first time.

When we give something new a whirl, it stirs up our regular routine or our normal environment. It engages our senses and makes us pay attention. It can also be disturbing because we're dealing with the unknowns. However, we usually learn something new from the experience.

I believe it's necessary for us to give it a whirl from time to time. It doesn't have to be something big and scary. It can be as simple as walking a new route, trying a new healthy recipe, or figuring out how to use a new tool.

For example, this month I gave the following a whirl:
  • I added a small new exercise to my workout routine. It required me to coordinate my limbs, alternate left side right side, and keep count (while remember to breathe).
  • I used a new selfie stick for the first time. It's simple to set up but I'm still practicing getting the pictures the way I like.
  • I walked a new route and discovered the above art structure, which led me to learn more about the artist's work, and inspired me to write about it. Could this potentially be a new win circle for me?
Some benefits to give it a whirl from time to time:
  • Inject freshness into our routine
  • Engage our senses and stretch our mind (ever heard of brain plasticity?)
  • Explore and discover something new that may be enjoyable
  • Practice how we handle changes and become more resilient
  • Appreciate what we have even more
Spring is arriving in a couple of days in my part of the world. It's the season for new beginnings and growth. I'm thinking about my spring fun list, and adding a few small whirls.

How about you? Have you given something new a whirl recently? Please share.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Wellness Wednesday Mar 7

Welcome to our third Wellness Wednesday monthly link up which started on January 10th this year! Today I'm providing a progress update on my February wellness goals, setting new goals for March, sharing my favourite exercise equipment, and linking up with several fabulous bloggers who are also on this wellness journey.

If you have a wellness-related post, please feel free to join us by selecting the blue link at the bottom of this post, visit the linked up blogs, and leave a comment to let them know you stopped by.

My progress update on my February wellness goals:

1. Meditate 15 minutes daily: I've been doing this daily because it works for me. I love the short duration and the focus during meditation. At night when I meditate with deep breathing, it helps me fall asleep.

2. Exercise one hour daily: Throughout February, I walked 5K each morning, except Sundays when I ran 5K. I alternated my gym days and yoga days during the week. In total, I exercised in the gym twelve times, did yoga at home twelve times, and ran 5K four times.

3. Smile or laugh daily: By writing this goal down, I remember to find humour and genuinely smile or laugh every day. It's one of my 'win circles' so it will stay on my list.

4. Enjoy two family outings on two different weekends: I met this goal when we went away the first weekend in February and went to our family party on Feb. 18. Both locations are about 35 km (25 miles) away from our home. The change of scenery was good, and we had great fun with our extended family and friends.

5. Attend two piano recitals with my friends: I met this goal on Feb. 16 and Feb. 23. The first recital was piano only. The second recital was a piano and violin duet. All three performers were amazing!

My March wellness goals:

We're changing from winter to spring where I live. With nicer weather, and to give myself variety, I'll replace my two completed social goals in February with two travel goals for March as listed below.

1. Meditate 15 minutes daily.
2. Exercise one hour daily.
3. Smile or laugh daily.
4. Explore Chile in March.
5. Plan for spring travels.

My favourite exercise equipment:

Over the years, I've used a number of exercise equipment such as elliptical, treadmill, stationary bike, indoor rowing machine, bosu, dumb bells, pulley station, balls, and skip rope, to name a few. Yet my favourite exercise equipment is actually my body. I think our body weight is excellent for calisthenic workouts, and other types of exercises such as yoga.

Some examples of good calisthenic exercises that we can do with our arms, legs, and body weight include: abs, planks, side planks, push-ups, burpees, jumping jacks, mountain climbers, squats, or lunges. Start with selecting 5 or more exercises and keep repeating without a break between sets for at least two sets each, and you'll be amazed what a workout it is.

Short on time? Try the scientific 7-minute workout as published here. Want something more gentle? Do light exercise and the ten basic stretches as shown here.

Regardless of what equipment we have for exercise, I think the key to success is to exercise consistently (use it or lose it).

Your turn... How are you doing with your wellness goals? What is your favourite exercise equipment or gadget?

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Exploring Chile

Greetings! I'm planning a trip to Chile as mentioned in a previous post here. Today I'm writing about what's on my itinerary, and what I hope to see and do in Chile.

What's on my itinerary?

Chile is a long and narrow country on the Pacific Ocean side in South America. The header picture for this post shows the top half of the country and its neighbours. You can click to enlarge the picture. From my travel readings, I gathered that Chile's five main areas to visit, from North to South, include:
  • North and the Atacama Desert
  • The Central Coast where Santiago, the capital of Chile is located
  • Easter Island
  • The South with its lakes and volcanoes
  • Patagonia and Antarctica, with Torres del Paine National Park as the major attraction
Initially I was going to explore just the Central Coast. However, SKY Airline, the local Chilean airline, had a special offer that made a trip to another region affordable. Easter Island is remote and hence fairly expensive. Torres del Paine National Park would require more travel time to reach the park and fully explore it. The South area with its lakes and volcanoes seems nice. The Atacama Desert, described as the driest desert in the world, sounds intriguing with its moon-like landscapes, lagoons, geysers, and salt flats.

It's unlikely that I'll travel to the moon in my lifetime so I decided to visit the Atacama Desert area and the Central Coast of Chile.

What do I hope to see and do?
  • In San Pedro de Atacama (Point A on the map), I hope to take a walking tour to explore the archaeological capital of Chile, a day tour to visit Moon Valley, one of the many lagoons, and salt flats, and a visit to the Tatio geysers if my time and energy allow.
  • In Santiago (Point B on the map), I'd like to do one or two walking tours to explore the capital city.
  • In Valparaiso (Point C on the map), I'd like to do a walking tour to explore the city, known for its steep funiculars and colourful homes. If time allows, I'd also like to visit Vina del Mar, a coastal resort city near Valparaiso.
This itinerary would let me experience a mix of historic archaeological monuments, natural wonders in a desert, and urban sights.

I'm feeling excited about the trip. A new adventure awaits!

Where's your next adventure? Tell me more.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

February in a sentence a day

Greetings! I took the above picture of the Toronto skyline on February 26. It was a glorious Monday. We only had snow a couple of times earlier in the month, then the temperatures stayed above freezing, with some days reached 11C (52F), so all the snow melted and gone. The short-term forecast is looking perfect for my daily walks.

It's month end which means it's time for me to review my February. In a nutshell, I made February a fantastic month by staying active and sharing social time with my family and friends. Sprinkled in a long weekend getaway, four movie nights, two piano recitals, one art exhibit, daily meditation, learning Spanish, and life is great! As a result, twenty eight days of winter went by in a flash with plenty of good reasons to keep me smiling.

I'm linking up with several fabulous bloggers who are documenting their month in a sentence a day. Be sure to visit their blogs as shown at the bottom of this post for more inspiration.

February in a sentence a day:

1. Welcomed February with a 5K morning walk on the waterfront trail, practiced yoga at home, met a friend for coffee in the afternoon, and watched American Made movie with my neighbours in the evening.

2. Started this happy Friday with a 5K walk and one-hour exercise in the gym, then packed my carry-on and left by train with my family for our long weekend trip, only about 35 km (25 miles) away but still a nice recharge.

3. Woke up to winter wonderland as it had snowed overnight, had breakfast with my family, then walked 5K on a freshly groomed trail, did yoga in the hotel, lunched, and met up with our friends for dinner.

4. Had a leisure breakfast with our friends, checked out at noon, took a nice train ride home, got the appliances to do laundry and dish washing while I went for a 5K run, and back home to make dinner.

5. A marvellous Monday doing what I enjoy: a 5K walk, taking pictures of nature scenery, exercising for an hour in the gym, reading, and writing.

6. Walked 5K on the waterfront trail, practiced yoga at home, did more reading, writing, and prepared dinner.

7. Walked 5K, had a nice coffee chat with a friend, met another friend for a fun workout in the gym, and enjoyed reading blog posts from the Wellness Wednesday link up.

8. Walked 5K, did a small grocery run, practiced yoga, and watched the inspiring Breathe movie in the evening.

9. Exercised in the gym for an hour while it snowed outside then returned home to do laundry, lunch, and housework.

10. Walked 5K, practiced yoga, did three grocery runs, took a nap, and relaxed in the evening.

11. Made this Sunday nice with a light breakfast, a 5K run, lunch, reading, writing Be happy, don't worry post, and cooking dinner.

12. Enjoyed a 5K walk in the sunshine, spotted ten swans in the harbour, met a friend for coffee, went to the gym to exercise, and relaxed in the evening.

13. A terrific Tuesday getting things done: a 5K walk, yoga, reading, writing, laundry, and dinner.

14. Exercised in the gym for an hour then enjoyed a nice Valentine's day chatting with my loved ones, and sharing a box of decadent chocolate with my hubby.

Flowers on Valentine's day

15. Walked 5K, practiced yoga, and watched the action-packed The Foreigner movie in the evening.

16. Started Happy Lunar New Year's Day with one hour in the gym, then met up with a friend to attend an amazing piano recital by Jialiang Zhu, before returning home for dinner.

17. Walked 5K, did three grocery runs, practiced yoga, laundry, reading, and wrote this post to share how I plan for trips to foreign countries.

18. Ran 5K in the morning then went to our fabulous, fun-filled family party about 35 km (25 miles) away, and returned home much later than normal.

19. Exercised in the gym for an hour, and spent the rest of this Family Day at home with my family, reading, writing, napping, and making dinner.

20. Walked 5K, saw the Caledonia docked in the harbour, and practiced yoga at home before heading out again to see the Black History Month exhibit.

21. Walked 5K, exercised in the gym, met a friend for a fun coffee chat, and returned home to prepare dinner.

22. Walked 5K, practiced yoga, did some reading, writing, and watched the heart-warming Wonder movie in the evening.

23. Walked 5K, exercised in the gym, met up with a friend to attend the amazing piano-violin duet performed by Tristan Savella and Royce Rich, returned home to make dinner and booked a hotel for our family get-away in April.

24. Walked 5K, did three grocery runs, practiced yoga, and relaxed at home the rest of the day while thinking about win circles.

25. Ran 5K and enjoyed this gorgeous, sunny Sunday with high 11C (52F), before getting laundry done and dinner made.

26. Walked 5K, enjoyed another gorgeous sunny day, exercised in the gym, did some reading, and writing.

27. Walked 5K, enjoyed another glorious sunny day with high 10C (51F), spotted two Canada geese, practiced yoga at home, and checked my travel gear in preparation for my trip next month.

28. Wrapped up a fantastic February with a 5K walk, an hour exercising in the gym, reading, writing, and family time.

Now I look forward to enjoying March and spring season.

How was your February? Please share.

Sunday, 25 February 2018

Taking stock: Win circles

Greetings! I read this article where Neil Pasricha wrote about finding 'win circles' in life to create positive habits. It prompted me to think about the ripple effect and to take stock of my own win circles.

I looked around for a picture of water circles, which I thought I had in my photo collection, but couldn't find it. So I used a Canva ocean water template for my header picture in this post. It came with the words carpe diem in the centre, just perfect!

Neil defined win circles as 'any series of small habits that positively impact each other in a circular and never-ending fashion'. I came up with three examples of my own.

My three win circle examples:

1. I added a 5K morning walk to my day, in addition to my regular exercise routine. I enjoy observing nature during my walk, I get the extra exercise, and I sleep better. After a good night's sleep, I'm more likely to go for another 5K walk the next day.

2. I set a goal to look for humour and smile or laugh every day. As I find humour, I share it with my family or friends, and we all smile or laugh. Smiling or laughing relaxes me. The fun moments strengthen my familial or social relationships. When I'm relaxed, I'm more likely to look for humour, or to book another meet-up, or to think about the fun time we had, which makes me smile.

3. Each morning I set three small goals to achieve that day. They're usually one for my health (e.g. walk 5K), one for my family or friends (e.g. make dinner tonight), and one for fun (e.g. watch a movie). It's easy to come up with three, to remember just three things, and to complete three. I feel satisfied at the end of the day. I sleep better. After having a satisfying day and a good night's sleep, I'm more likely to set another three small goals the next morning.

I'm thinking about what other tiny positive habits that I have or can do to create more win circles in my life. I'm keeping my eyes out for them.

How about you? What are your win circle examples?

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Winter fun list update #2

Greetings! It's February 21st which means it's time for me to provide a second progress update on my winter fun list for the period of December 21, 2017 to March 20, 2018.

You might like to see my original list here, and my first progress update here.

My Winter Fun List Update #2:

1. Exercise one hour daily: In progress. I've been meeting my daily target since December 21. The community pool that I use was closed from January 26 for about four months. So I've been walking daily, going to the gym three times per week, doing yoga at home three times per week, and running 5K once per week.

Nothing like winter to have an urban beach to myself LOL. At time of posting, the snow has melted and gone. With temperatures above freezing point for the next several days, and longer daylight hours, spring is in the air!

2. Continue learning Spanish 15 minutes daily: In progress. I haven't missed a day since December 21. The short duration works for me. My upcoming trip to Chile in March keeps me motivated to learn.

3. Enjoy three family outings: Exceeded by one. It turned out that we had four fun family outings including one family gathering on December 26 that I wrote about here, a three-day family trip to Ottawa in January, another three-day family trip in early February, and a family potluck dinner this past weekend. For our out-of-town trips, we took the trains which were quite comfortable.

VIA train to Ottawa

4. Go on five coffee or lunch dates with friends: Exceeded by two. I was thrilled to be able to book time with my friends and make our dates happen. The wintry weather did not derail our plans. So far, I've met up with my friends for coffee twice in January, four times in February, and lunch once in January.

5. Attend seven cultural events: Exceeded by five. Since December 21 to date, I've watched seven movies (Star Wars The Last Jedi, Despicable Me 3, Dunkirk, Battle of the Sexes, American Made, Breathe, and The Foreigner), attended two piano recitals (performed by Jana Luksts and Jialiang Zhu), and visited three art exhibits (Toronto in 2050 photo exhibits, Winter art exhibits, and the Ice Breakers 2018 outdoor art installations that I wrote about here.)

Through the Eyes of the Bear

6. Start a new blog link up: Done! I was excited to see the Wellness link up launch on Wednesday January 10, and the second link up on February 7. Thank you to all bloggers who are participating, and readers who have left encouraging comments. The next Wellness link is on Wednesday, March 7. The topic is Favourite exercise equipment or gadget, and an update on our Wellness goals. We'll be thrilled if you join us then.

7. Plan an independent trip to Chile: Yes! I booked my flights and accommodations about a month ago. Now I'm ticking my list of how I plan for trips to foreign countries. I'm getting excited about the trip.

8. Explore Chile in March: Pending. A new adventure awaits! If you've been to Chile, I'd love to hear your comments.

That's my progress update for now. I'm pleased to have three exceeded, two done, two in progress, and one pending. By staying active and social, I'm enjoying the winter season. I'll wrap up my Winter fun list on or around March 18.

How are things going with you? Please share.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

How I plan for trips to foreign countries

Greetings! I mentioned in my winter fun list update post that I'm planning a trip to Chile in March. It will be my first time visiting Chile solo. I don't have any family or friends there and the official language in Chile is Spanish. After researching and booking my flights and accommodations weeks ago, I took a break. Now I'm slowly getting back into trip planning state of mind which prompted me to share how I plan for trips to foreign countries.

How I plan for trips to foreign countries: 

1. Read and inquire about potential destinations: This gives me an idea of where the country is located, its general safety level, entry requirements, how to get there, the main attractions, the official language spoken, currency used, availability of public transit, and general cost of living compared to my home city. I do most of my travel readings online by visiting the official web sites, travel web sites, and blogs. I also talk to my family and friends in case they have been to the destinations.

2. Select the destination to visit: Once I've done step 1, I select the country to visit based on my availability to travel, the weather at the destination for when I plan to visit, my interests, and travel budget. In general, I prefer to visit countries that do not require a visa to enter. I also check to see if any vaccination is necessary. If a visa or vaccinations are required, they take more preparation, more time, and incur more expenses. The local weather is important as it affects what to pack, how comfortable it is for outdoor activities, and how easy it is to get good photos. Who wants to walk in pouring rain with moisture fog on the camera lens, right?

3. Book my flights: I check various flight-booking web sites and the official web sites of the airlines to compare fares before booking.

4. Book my accommodations: I check various accommodation booking sites, and the hotel web sites to compare rates and read their cancellation policy before booking. Depends on my flight arrival and departure time, the room check-in and check-out time sometimes play a factor in my booking decision. Free WiFi is always a plus.

5. Book my train tickets or bus tickets or car rental if applicable: I prefer to visit countries where I can take trains or buses, as opposed to drive a car. I'd book my tickets in advance for popular routes, or trains that require seat reservation. Some rail companies give significant discounts for early bookings, like when I travelled by train in Ireland. I usually book directly with the rail or bus company.

6. Buy a SIM card in advance if needed: It's nice to have my mobile device working upon arrival. In some countries, it's less expensive to buy at the airport upon arrival but language may be an issue to complete the transaction, or the store is closed when I arrive.

7. Buy travel insurance: To have peace of mind and coverage should I need it. I add the insurance contact number and my insurance policy number to my mobile device and my contact list (see #10 below).

8. Buy foreign currency: To have a small amount of cash on hand upon arrival, and to be familiar with the bills in advance. I also print out a cheat sheet with Canadian dollars and the foreign currency travel exchange rates that I found here, and put it in my wallet. It's very useful to quickly figure out the exchange rates and how much I'm spending. It worked wonder when I explored Central Europe and used three foreign currencies (euro, forint, and koruna).

9. Notify my bank and credit card company: To inform them of my travel plans and when I may use my card abroad. I add their 24/7 phone numbers to my contact list in case my card is lost or stolen.

10. Have useful tools ready: I'm referring to maps, or a phrase book. I prep my mobile device for what I need for the trip, and create a contact list with key contact information. I usually keep the contact list both on my device and a hard copy (see #12 below).

11. Let someone know: I leave my itinerary, booking confirmations, and a copy of important documents with someone close and whom I can contact during my trip. I also register on Government of Canada Travel Abroad web site.

12. Have a back up: I keep a hard copy of my IDs, confirmed reservations, and key contact information separate from the originals, as well as an electronic version on my mobile device.

13. Book my airport transfers if needed: I usually take airport shuttle service or local transit to get from the airport to the city centre and vice versa. Most of the time, I can buy tickets on site. In some destinations, it's wise to book the transfer service a few days in advance.

14. Pack my carry-on and day pack: I travel light and my luggage has always been under the allowable weight. It's a good practice to pack and carry before departure date, to see how comfortable I am with the overall weight.

15. Check in my flight and get my boarding pass 24 hours in advance: Most airlines that I fly with offer this option. Having my boarding pass in advance saves me time at the airport.

That's pretty much how I plan for trips to foreign countries.

How about you? What do you do differently? Please share.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Sharing love

We have at least three reasons to celebrate and share our love today and this weekend:
- February 14: Valentine's Day and International Book Giving Day.
- February 16: Lunar New Year's Day, the Year of the Dog, celebrated by about a billion people on earth.
- February 19: Family Day, a holiday in my province.
Given that it's mid-winter where I live, the weather forecast looks good with above freezing point temperatures and some sunny days.

In my close family, we chose February 18 to get together and celebrate with a potluck dinner. We co-ordinate the menu and each family unit brings something to the party. I foresee lots of good food, wine, and yummy desserts this Sunday. We'll also share hugs, conversations, board games, and laughs. It will be fun family time again, just like Christmas!

As to sharing our love of books, there will be reading time with the children, book talks, and recycling of books among our family members.

I truly appreciate these family gatherings. Everyone has a full on schedule. Just to pick a date that works for all of us seems like a mission at times. We all get along and want to stay connected so we make it happen. I'm looking forward to sharing a lovely Sunday with my close family.

Wishing you a Happy Valentine's Day and Happy International Book Giving Day!

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Be happy, don't worry

I heard the song "Don't worry, be happy" played on the radio today. It prompted me to think about how I've been sleeping well and feeling happy in general. I can't remember the last time I worry about something. So I decided to place the positive before the negative and name this post "Be happy, don't worry" :)

When something bothers me or makes me feel worried, I think about it then act. I don't let it stay in my mind for too long as I find if I let the worry sit, it weighs me down. I've used one or more of the following simple techniques to bust my worry.

12 simple ways to bust worry:

1. Make a list of the worries. By writing them down, I get them off my mind and onto my notepad.

2. Analyze the list. I separate my worries into two buckets: what's within my control, and what's outside of my control. Sometimes by reviewing the list, I realize that some of my worries are repetitive, and I actually have less to worry about.

3. Act on what's within my control. Even simple actions like doing the next few techniques make me feel that I'm progressing towards a resolution to my worry.

4. Talk to someone close. This usually gives me a different perspective and by getting my worry off my chest, I feel better.

5. Go for a walk somewhere close to nature or exercise. Nature has an amazing way of calming my mind, or distracting me from thinking of my worry. Exercise is a great stress reliever.

6. Meditate with deep breathing. By focusing on my breath, I'm not thinking about my worry or anything else. Deep breathing is known to relax our body.

7. Find humour like call my funniest friend, watch a comedy, or read a comic book. Laughing is a great stress reliever, too.

8. Focus on three good things that happened. This usually makes me realize that it's not all bad, in fact, it's actually been pretty good.

9. Take a warm bath to relax. If I have lavender-scented or lemon-scented bath mix on hand, I'll use it.

10. Look at cheerful colours like a nice bouquet of fresh flowers or a cheerful picture.

11. Listen to soothing music. Either soothing music alone, or the combination of listening to a soothing play list and walking usually makes me feel so much better.

12. Accept that there will always be uncertainty and "this too shall pass". When I think of my past worries, I don't remember what they were so they can't be that important.

I hope your day is happy and worry-free. If you're worrying about something, try the above techniques and see if they work for you.  

If you have other ways to overcome worry, please share.