Sunday, 27 May 2018

How did my blog start?

Greetings! While I'm traveling in Europe, I've scheduled this post to share how my blog started and some highlights about my blog. I actually wrote it as a guest post on Donna's Retirement Reflections blog in October 2017 and added some small updates in May 2018. I highly encourage you to visit Donna's wonderful blog where she shares her reflections, new chapters, new discoveries, and new adventures. Tell her I send you!

Here's what I wrote:

Natalie the Explorer is my first personal blog that I started on October 10, 2016. Prior to creating it, I've been keeping a paper journal and various electronic files documenting my personal plans, explorations, and experiences for many years. I've also been an international pen pal, and now email pal, with friends in Asia, Europe, and America. I had some pen pals in Africa and Oceania as well, but we lost touch. Blogging seems to be a good fit for me to continue writing and sharing my activities with friends.
Format-wise, I use one of the free templates on Blogger so what I can do with the layout is limited. Content-wise, my blog currently reflects my explorations and experiences in the following three areas:
1) Exploring my city: I live in Toronto, Canada. My hubby and I choose to live close to the city centre and without a car. Toronto is a dynamic, multicultural, and relatively young city, compared to other cities in the world. It’s one of the fastest growing cities in North America with a walkable centre and a well-used public transit system. We are far from an ocean or a mountain but are right by Lake Ontario, one of the five Great Lakes, so I go to the waterfront frequently to enjoy one of our city's best natural resources.
One of my friends once told me "walking down a block of Yonge Street in Toronto, you meet half of the United Nations." I enjoy exploring the various neighbourhoods, either by walking, or taking public transit, and experiencing the diversity of the people, culinary scenes, and cultural events. From May to October, the city hosts many outdoor public arts and entertainment programs and festivals, more than I have time to attend. Even as a long-time resident, I still discover hidden gems, and have yet to run out of things to explore in the city.
2) Exploring the world: I started traveling when I was a teenager and have happily continued since. I like reading about a new destination, planning a trip to go there, exploring to learn more about it, and hopefully gaining positive and memorable experiences at the end of the adventure. Conveniently, Toronto is also an international travel hub, offering non-stop flights to many world cities.
I've actually met some of my close friends from my travels. At the beginning we shared the common interest of travel, however, as time progressed and our friendship deepened, we shared our life's ups and downs, as well as in-person visits.
My travel style has been eclectic, from backpacking, staying at youth hostels, university residences, to all-inclusive resorts, to vacation rentals, and everything else in between. I aim to have a mix of trips with family and/ or friends, and a solo trip to a new destination each year. At the time of writing in 2018, I've been to Chile and currently traveling in the Baltics before reaching Poland.
3) Practicing healthy living: I must confess that I’ve been having so much fun attending local events and traveling abroad since May that “healthy living” mentions on my blog have been mostly about my learning Spanish [and French] for brain plasticity and my physical exercise goals. As I grow older, I’ve been more disciplined with practicing healthy living. I hope to write more posts about this topic in the winter when I’m at home longer.  
Aside from the usual exercising and eating a balanced diet, I work on other components that make my life healthier, such as positive relationships with family, friends, social connections with my community, fewer materials, more fun experiences, and self-initiated changes. I like to intentionally add variety and moderate challenges to prevent myself from plateauing or declining. Most of my fitness, social, and fun activities are free or low-cost as I try to optimize the resources that I have.
In summary, on my blog, at this time you can expect to see posts with pictures on:
  • Local events and places that I've explored
  • Foreign places that I've visited
  • My personal plans, quarterly fun lists, and monthly updates
  • People, places, things, and life events that inspire me to write
  • Tips to share
Thank you for your time. I look forward to receiving your comments.

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Spring fun list update #2

Greetings! The last four weeks seemed to pass by quickly. It's time to review my Spring fun list update #1 and see where I've made further progress. I'll be linking up with a group of terrific bloggers who also maintain their seasonal fun lists.

My Spring Fun List Update #2:

1. View two art exhibitions: Done and enjoyed! I actually viewed six art exhibitions as written here and here, plus two that I haven't written about yet. This has turned out much better than I thought.

2. Attend eight music recitals: Done and enjoyed! The weekly program was exceptionally organized with the following accomplished performers:
  • One piano-violin duet recital by Asher Armstrong and Emily Kruspe
  • One four hands piano recital by Emily Chiang and Elizabeth Bang
  • Four solo piano recitals by Jean-Luc Therrien, Mary Kenedi, Andre Fu, and Vlad Soloviev
  • One soprano, mezzo, and organ recital by Allison Angelo, Ariana Chris, and Dan Bickle. Ariana Chris sang the Greek national anthem at closing ceremonies of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics.
  • One classical guitar recital by Daniel Ramjattan

3. Watch ten movies: In progress with 80% done! I enjoyed watching The Shape of Water, The Darkest Hour, Coco, I, Tonya, The Post, Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool and even Paddington 2. I gave thumbs down to Daddy's Home 2. Seven good movies out of eight seen. That's pretty good.

4. Review French 15 minutes daily: In progress. I'm right on target as I have not missed any day. I plan to continue my lessons until Fall.

5. Plan a long weekend trip with my family: Done and enjoyed as written in my spring fun list update #1. I'm now on to planning our summer trip.

6. Meet up for coffee or lunch with my friends: In progress. I was able to meet with my friends for coffee six times and for lunch once from March 21 to date. That's about once a week, pretty good in my book.

7. Visit farmers' markets starting at the end of May: Pending. This will have to wait until after I return from Europe, or I may visit a farmers' market while in Europe!

8. Explore the Baltics: Pending. I will be packing my suitcase and boarding my flight to Tallinn in Estonia in a few days. Feeling excited!

I counted three completed items, three in progress, and two pending. I look forward to completing my Spring fun list by June 20.

Bonus: One activity that I didn't have on my list but I've enjoyed a lot is to visit local parks and gardens in the Spring. The trees and flowers are beautiful at this time of the year here. Their growth is astonishing to me, especially after one or two sunshiny and warm days. The promising visual and fragrant treats make me look forward to doing my daily morning walk.

How about you? How are things going with you? Please share.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Spring Flower show part 2

Greetings! Today I'm posting the second group of the photos that I took at the Spring Flower show. You might like to see the first group of photos here. I'm less familiar with the flower names in this post. I like how the gardeners mix them and produce a variety of colour palettes. Let's start with the white orchids then jump right into more bright colours.

Bravos, you've made it to the end of the post! Thanks for viewing my flower photos. They made me smile.

What's making you happy today?

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Spring Flower show

Greetings! About two weeks ago I went to see the Spring Flower show at Allan Gardens Conservatory. The Conservatory is over 100 years old with a garden-filled greenhouse that is open to the public year-round. Admission is free.

Inside the huge greenhouse, there are five to six sections that contain tropical plants from all over the world, from palm trees to cacti, plus seasonal plantings. The gardeners have done a fantastic job in the garden design and mix of colours. I'm sharing a small selection of my close-up photos below.

Jade vine


Pink orchids



Red spray


Citrus tree

Garden path... more flowers

Flower wheels

There are about 16,000 square feet of green house space to explore. All the beautiful plants and flowers are yours to enjoy after you enter the Conservatory modest-looking doors.

Allan Gardens Conservatory

I hope you enjoy the pictures. The turquoise jade vine bloom was the most unusual to me. Have you seen it before?

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Wellness Wednesday May 9

Welcome to our 5th Wellness Wednesday link up in 2018! Today I'm providing updates on my April wellness goals, setting new goals for May, and linking up with a group of terrific bloggers who are also on the wellness adventure.

The optional prompt this month is Healthy hair and skincare tips. I'll share my simple hair and skincare routines. I look forward to reading any tips that my fellow bloggers or readers may have to share.

April wellness goal updates:
  1. Meditate 15 minutes daily: Yes, I met this goal. I find meditation sharpens my focus in the morning and calms my mind at night. The time duration works well for me.
  2. Exercise one hour daily: Yes, I met this goal by walking, running 5K, working out in the gym, and yoga as written here.
  3. Smile or laugh daily: Yes, simple fun experiences like my A to L fun, are making me happy.
  4. Read up on the four European capitals: Yes, I've done my reading on Tallinn, Riga, Vilnius, and Warsaw. I look forward to visiting these cities in less than three weeks!
  5. Watch two new-to-me movies: Yes, I watched three movies in April. Thumbs up for The Post, and I, Tonya. Thumbs down for Daddy's Home 2.
May wellness goals:

For May, I'll keep the first three daily wellness goals, and replace the two art and entertainment goals with travel goals as listed below.
  1. Meditate 15 minutes daily.
  2. Exercise one hour daily.
  3. Smile or laugh daily.
  4. Visit four European capitals (Tallinn, Riga, Vilnius, and Warsaw).
  5. Finalize summer travel plans.
My hair and skincare routines:

I have a simple hair care routine. I get a haircut approximately every two months. I keep my natural hair colour for now even though I have some grey hair. I like to let my hair air dry without using a hair dryer unless I'm in a rush to go somewhere. My hairdresser and other people have told me that my hair looks healthy so I'm happy to keep it simple.

Living in cold climate, to minimize skin dryness, I use moisturizer for my face and body pretty much year round. On sunny days, I add sun screen and wear a sun hat. I also drink water throughout the day and get adequate amount of sleep at night. My skin feels fine when I follow these simple steps.

That's all, folks! Now your turn...

How are you doing with your wellness goals? Please share below.

Sunday, 6 May 2018

A to L fun

I was thinking about simple fun experiences making me happy this week. I'm writing them from A to L, kind of using Denyse's A-L optional prompt, and will join her link up.

My A to L fun experiences:

1. Art exhibitions that are free to the public: One of them is Kader Attia's The Field of Emotion which features an installation of seventeen roughly-hewn wooden busts of wounded soldiers arranged before a projection of J'accuse, a 1919/1938 antiwar film by French film director Abel Gance. Another one is the Asian Heritage Month Festival 2018, Art and Photo exhibitions, featuring many beautiful art work and photos.

The Field of Emotion by Kader Attia

Asian Heritage Month Festival 2018 exhibitions

2. Blogging using a free Blogger template: I'm blogging mostly on Sunday and Wednesday, and connecting with bloggers internationally. Speaking of connections, on Wednesday May 9, we have our monthly Wellness Wednesday link up for May. The optional prompt is Healthy hair and skincare tips, or any wellness-related posts that you may have. Please feel free to join in on the fun.

3. Coffee chats with my friends: There are plenty of coffee places where we can sit down, spend a few dollars for coffee drinks, and catch up on our news. Do you agree with the sign below?

4. Daffodils in the public gardens: These flowers are seasonal where I live. On a sunshiny spring day, they seem to exude joy, happiness, and energy.

5. Email message: From my Finnish friend to let me know she's got ferry tickets to go to Tallinn and will meet me there in about three weeks. I am so excited!

6. Free French lessons on Duolingo: I'm taking them daily to improve my fluency. Or for under CAD$5 in Toronto, je peux acheter une baguette ou deux croissants et un petit café.

7. Gardens with spring flowers: Like the Toronto Music Garden where I saw small carpets of pretty blue flowers at this time of the year. I love to explore the local parks and gardens in my city.

8. Hugs and happy moments at home with my family: We hung out, prepared a few platters of food, some drinks, had dessert (see next item), and chatted until it was time to go to bed.

9. Ice cream, first scoop of the year: Saturday was sunny, with high temperature 22 C, and ice cream was on sale so I got a container of vanilla ice cream for under CAD$5 to share with my family.

10. Jelly beans in ten flavours in a cheery-looking box: The flavours are blueberry, buttered popcorn, cinnamon, coconut, licorice, sunkist tangerine, green apple, juicy pear, watermelon, and very cherry. Have you ever tried them? Which flavour is your favourite?

11. Koi fish: Like those seen swimming in a pond, at the base of Lena and the Swan statue, in the Allan Gardens Conservatory. The Conservatory is free to the public. Did you know that the koi fish symbolize good luck, abundance, courage, and perseverance?

12. Lake Ontario and the trail along the shoreline: This is where I enjoy my daily walk and nature. I'm loving where I live.

The Empire Sandy in Toronto Harbour

There's my dozen of free or low cost experiences making me happy this week.

How about you? I'd love to know your fun experiences. Please share.

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

April in a sentence a day

Greetings! About three weeks into the month of April, I decided to write my April in a sentence a day, using the A to Z Challenge 2018 schedule, with the first letter of the day goes from A to Z, except the last four Sundays of April. It was a fun exercise that made the writing process more interesting for me. 

April in a sentence a day:

1. Attended my extended family's April gathering and ate a delicious meal after running my usual 5K on Sunday, and publishing my 3 days in dynamic Santiago post.

2. Broadened my mind with French and Spanish online lessons and built more body fitness with a 5K walk and a one-hour workout in the gym.

3. Continued my fitness routine with a 5K walk, completed a yoga session at home, and cooked chicken with vegetables for dinner.

Signs of spring!

4. Decided to publish my March in a sentence a day post this morning, before dashing outside for a 5K walk, and a one-hour workout in the gym.

5. Examined my surroundings while walking 5K, exercised my mind and body with yoga at home, and enjoyed watching The Darkest Hour movie in the evening.

6. Filled this Friday with a fun 5K walk, an hour in the gym, and an hour of fantastic four hands piano recital by Emily Chiang and Elizabeth Bang.

7. Glad to discover the Sur Gallery and its Life in Flight art exhibition during my 5K walk, and to complete my grocery runs for the week without long queues.

8. Sunday morning started with a 5K run, published my post on Wine tasting, Vina del Mar, and Valparaiso and relaxed the rest of the day.

9. Had high hopes to meet my friend from Helsinki next month in Tallinn, Estonia.

10. Inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly while doing my 5K walk, then yoga at home, and found my travel guide reading quite interesting.

11. Joined one of my friends for a workout at the gym, and jumped in on the fun with my blogging friends for the April Wellness Wednesday link up.

12. Kick started this Thursday with a 5K walk, kept the day going with yoga, and was keen to watch Coco tonight.

13. Learned new words in French and Spanish, logged my 5K walk and gym exercises in my sheet, and listened to a lovely piano recital by Jean-Luc Therrien.

14. Modified my weekend routine due to the unusual ice storm by maximizing time indoors with 5K walk on an elliptical, cleaning up, and minimizing time outdoors with just one grocery run.

Snow and ice in mid-April

15. The ice storm continued this Sunday so I ran 5K on a treadmill indoor, and wrote about meeting my Finnish friend.

16. Navigated around big puddles while walking outdoors on this rainy Monday, and noted my progress during my workout in the gym.

17. Observed birds on the trees and ducks in the lake during my 5K walk, as well as my thoughts during yoga, and organized my European itinerary in May.

18. Photographed a few precious items on display at the amazing Kingston Prize art exhibition, published my Valparaiso street art post, walked 5K, and went to the gym for a workout.

Kingston Prize art exhibition

19. Quickened my pace during my 5K walk to get a good cardio, then quieted my mind with a yoga session, and enjoyed a Quaker snack while watching Daddy's Home 2 movie.

20. Revised my April sentence a day using the A to Z Challenge 2018 calendar after walking 5K, exercising one hour in the gym, attending Mary Kenedi's piano recital, and meeting a friend for coffee.

21. Savoured the glorious weather this weekend with my family, socialized with our friends, and posted my Spring fun list update #1.

22. Enjoyed this beautiful sunny Sunday, a nice 5K run, and time with my family.

23. Treated myself to a tasty lunch with two of my girlfriends after a 5K walk, took an hour to exercise in the gym, and ended the day thinking about the people who have been directly affected by the van attack #TorontoStrong.

24. Updated my calendar with spring and summer events, used the time during my 5K walk to take stock of the first four months of 2018, and found my yoga session today uplifting.

25. Visited Toronto Music Garden during my 5K walk, found a perfectly-woven bird's nest, went to the gym for a one-hour workout, and valued my time with a friend over coffee in the afternoon.

26. Walked 5K this morning, wondered about the weekend weather, wrote a few messages, and watched The Post movie in the evening.

27. XOXO was how I ended my email to my cousins and friends, before heading out for my 5K walk, followed by an hour in the gym, a shower, and an extra-special music recital performed by Ariana Chris (mezzo soprano), Allison Angelo (soprano), and Dan Bickle (organ).

28. Yes to 5K walk despite the rain, yes to yoga, and yes to travel planning for the summer.

29. Ran 5K on this glorious Sunday morning, felt great after a shower, posted A new whirl: 2018.04 edition, and went to see the beautiful Spring Flower show.

30. Zest for life was on my mind this Monday during a 5K walk, and Zen after a one-hour workout in the gym.

That's my April wrap up, an amazing month in my book. I'm looking forward to enjoying May.