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.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Wellness Wednesday Feb 7

Welcome to our second Wellness Wednesday link up in 2018! Back on January 10, I wrote about the link up and my three wellness goals for January here. Today, I'm providing a progress update, setting new wellness goals for February, sharing my favourite cardio exercises, three suggestions, and linking up with a group of fabulous bloggers who are also on this wellness journey.

My January wellness goals progress update:

1. Meditate 15 minutes daily: Yes, I've been meeting this goal. The short duration works well for me. I meditate in the morning to set a positive start to my day. In the evening, I do it at bed time and add deep breathing to help me fall asleep.

2. Exercise one hour daily: Yes, in January I did my 5K morning walks, fourteen workout sessions in the gym, eleven yoga sessions at home, two swimming sessions, and four 5K runs on Sundays. The community pool that I use was closed on January 26 for about four months so I replaced my Saturday swims with walking or yoga.

3. Smile or laugh daily: Yes, I've been meeting this goal as well. It would be funny if I didn't, ha! By writing it down as a goal, I remember to find humour every day. The smiling or laughing out loud has made me more relaxed in my day-to-day approach to life matters.

My February wellness goals:

Now that I've established good wellness habits in January, my idea is to layer on new goals in the coming months. Using Valentine's Day in February as my cue, I'm adding two social goals to my list of wellness goals as follows:

1. Meditate 15 minutes daily.
2. Exercise one hour daily.
3. Smile or laugh daily.
4. Enjoy two family outings on two different weekends.
5. Attend two piano recitals with my friends.

My favourite cardio exercises:

Cardio exercise is any exercise that raises our heart rate. Some of the cardio exercises that I've done over the years include walking, running, stair climbing, swimming, elliptical, high intensity interval training, jumping rope, jumping jacks, shadow boxing, cycling, and indoor rowing.

Walking is my favourite since it's the easiest, simple, free, no training required, and I can do it just about anywhere. I can increase my walking distance, or my speed, or add a few flights of stairs or hills to get a good workout.

When I have access to a gym or a pool, my favourite cardio exercises are elliptical and swimming laps. Both elliptical and swimming have low impact on the knees. With the elliptical, I can change the incline to activate more muscles, or do high intensity intervals to make it more engaging. With swimming laps, I can change up the strokes so that I work all kinds of muscles and the continuous pace works my heart and lungs.

My three suggestions:

1. When you first embark on (or resume) an exercise program, focus on consistency, as opposed to intensity. For example, start with a low-intensity routine of 30 minutes, two or three times a week, until you have a solid routine. If you've recently recovered from an illness or injury, check with your physician before embarking on an exercise program.

2. Always do warm up before doing cardio exercises and cool down after doing them. This prevents injuries and muscle tightness.

3. Once you have a consistent exercise routine, make small, gradual changes to your cardio exercises to engage your mind and moderately challenge your body. There are so many ways to inject freshness into our exercise routine and to get more out of our exercises. I've named some examples above. I'd also balance cardio with other types of exercises to use different muscles, avoid wear and tear on the same muscles, and include 'rest' days to allow for recovery.

February is Heart month. I hope you'll take up a cardio exercise that makes your heart happy and healthy.

How are you doing with your wellness goals? Any tip to share?

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Ice Breakers 2018

For about three weeks in January, we had our normal winter temperatures but no snow. Then on Monday, the snow flurries returned starting in the afternoon, and ended overnight. The next morning, the weather conditions were perfect for my walk to visit the temporary winter art exhibit Ice Breakers 2018.

Ice Breakers is a fairly new outdoor public art event at the Toronto's waterfront. It started last year and was a huge success. This year, the Waterfront Business Improvement Area (BIA) hosted an international competition with the theme "Constellation". It attracted over 100 international submissions. Five designs were chosen, installed, and on display along the waterfront, from January 19 to February 25.

Here's a closer look at the creations that visitors can enter, climb, run around, look through, and use to make music:

1. Root Cabin by Liz Wreford and Peter Sampson (Winnipeg, Canada): The artists sourced 36 cedar roots from a plot of land near Georgian Bay that was being cleared to create Root Cabin. Like a constellation, Root Cabin is a mystery waiting to be discovered. Visitors enter the cabin to see pink coloured cuts of wood through gaps of weathered roots. The log cabin and tree roots reminded me of nature and mountains, as well as safe sheltering from winter elements.

Root Cabin

2. Black Bamboo by Bennett Marburger and Ji Zhang (Hanzhou Shi, China): Black Bamboo is made from 90 black painted bamboo poles, freely arranged to form a framework in an abstract cubic shape. The artists wanted viewers to use and interpret it as they please. Visitors can observe from a distance, look at it as a sculpture about constellations, walk inside and feel the space, or climb on top of it. I liked how the bamboo poles looked random yet they formed a sturdy structure.

Black Bamboo

3. Winter Fanfare by Thena Tak (Vancouver, Canada): Winter Fanfare is a series of orange rotating fan-sculptures or pinwheels. It's meant to emphasize the importance of every star in a constellation, whether it's in the centre or at the edge. The artist wanted people to be able to meander through the installation, or sit on it, or run in and around it. I liked the sense of equality of this installation, and the colour orange which is about creativity and social connections.

Winter Fanfare
4. Through the Eyes of the Bear by Tanya Goertzen (Calgary, Canada): Inspired by the Great Bear constellation, the artist wanted to create something inviting and playful. She used molded fibreglass covered in a red, soft, fleecy material to create this installation. Visitors can enter from the back of the bear's head to see the world "through the eyes of a bear", or to consider how humans interact with nature, or to imagine what it's like to be a bear. The bear looks so much better with some snow on it. I love that red and white are the colours of Canada's flag, plus polar bears are one of Canada's many attractions.

Through the Eyes of the Bear

5. Ensemble by Joao Araujo Sousa and Joana Correia Silva (Porto, Portugal): The artists were influenced by the constellation Lyra, said to depict a bird carrying a lyre. Ensemble is a labyrinth of 350 pipes that was installed right by Toronto Music Garden. The artists hoped to bring more life to the Music Garden and show that, even in the winter, public art can be fun and engaging. I liked the sounds made when people played with this installation, or when there was a light breeze.


I'm loving where I live for the sunshine, the waterfront trail, the ever changing lake view, powder fresh snow, beautiful and free public art.

How about you? What are you loving today?