Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Wellness Post #2: Icefest 2019

Welcome to the second Wellness link up of 2019! We had a great kick-off in January. My first Wellness post of the year, A Fresh Start with Winter Flowers, was posted here. Feel free to join in on the fun with your recent or past wellness-related posts every second Wednesday of the month.


I believe I'm doing well with my health goals which include daily meditation, walking 6x/ week, strength workouts 3x/ week, yoga 2x/ week, and swimming 1x/ week. While my meditation is fifteen minutes long, my walks and swimming sessions are forty-five minutes each. My strength workouts and yoga sessions are one hour each.

I use a simple sheet to keep track of all my goals for 2019, and write a monthly wrap up on my blog. My January wrap up, including my Health activities, is posted here.


For this month's Wellness post, since the optional prompt is Healthy Heart and February is Heart month, I planned a 'fit and fun' outing to Icefest 2019. This is an outdoor event that showcases ice sculptures and live ice carving demonstrations. Its location is in Bloor-Yorkville area, in the heart of Toronto. This year's theme is Hollywood North, inspired by the success of the film industry in Toronto, and Yorkville known as the home of the stars.

The Icefest event sponsors also support the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation. Volunteers from the Heart and Stroke Foundation were on site to accept donations and answer questions. Their banner says "Life. We don't want you to miss it." I'd encourage readers to have a look at the Get Healthy section on their web site for heart-healthy tips on how to eat well, get moving, maintain healthy weight, stop smoking (if you smoke), and manage your stress.

    • Choose a point of interest: Icefest 2019.
    • Bring what I need: Warm clothing, winter boots, a hearty winter spirit, my purse, and camera.
    • Arrive at the start time before the crowd arrives.

    • Walk briskly for 20 minutes outdoors to arrive at the event location.
    • Walk around to view the ice sculptures and take photos for about 1 hour.
    • Choose a nice spot in a coffee shop to warm up and reflect after.

    1. Visual: There were about thirty amazing ice sculptures on display and a dozen live ice carving demonstrations. I include some of the photos that I took below.

    Lights, Camera, Action!

    Film reels, paparazzi, and an iconic Oscar

    An iconic Oscar, cinema facade, and a giant popcorn


    Director's chair


    Marilyn Monroe ice sculpture



    Maple Leaf Hollywood North

    Car Crashing the Berlin Wall

    Maple Leaf and Oscar

    There were several more ice sculptures to promote the local businesses. Yorkville Park was also nicely decorated with lights and red balls. The park must sparkle at night with the lights and the crystal-clear ice sculptures.

    Light decorations at Yorkville Park

    Red ball decorations at Yorkville Park

    Yorkville Park

    2. Auditory: The ice carving competitors were working hard using various saws and carving tools. The spectators commented on the ice sculptures and the work in progress. Icefest Lounge had live DJs who played a special selection of music. It was a fun and festive atmosphere.

    Ice carving in progress

    Ice carving in progress

    3. Olfactory: The aroma from food trucks, hot chocolate stands, and surrounding coffee shops and restaurants were welcoming on a chilly day. Sassafraz Patio, one of the local restaurants, featured Icefest cocktails and hot beverages.

    4. Tactile: Spectators could touch the ice sculptures. Many people posed to take pictures at the Icefest photo booth and next to the ice sculptures. Some even climbed to sit on the giant ice Director's chair.

    Icefest 'Photo Booth'

    • Raised heart rate from the brisk walk outdoors.
    • An enjoyable walk in Bloor-Yorkville area in the heart of Toronto.
    • Positive sensory experiences.
    • A coffee break to relax and warm up.

    OVERALL RATING - I gave this outing 5 out of 5 points, one point for each of the following:
    • Affordability: Admission to the event is free.
    • Elements that support wellness: The site is walkable, with a small park nearby.
    • Fun: The ice sculptures were impressive and artistic.
    • New experience: It was my first visit to Icefest 2019.
    • Uniqueness: The Icefest is annual and its theme is unique every year.

    I was pleased with how well this winter outing turned out. I left the Icefest feeling energized and joyful. The brisk walk and the incredible ice displays were good for my heart and mind.

    Be kind to your heart and have a happy Valentine's day!

    Heart-shaped #BeKind ice sculpture

    How are you keeping your heart healthy? I'd love to hear your comments.

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    Saturday, 9 February 2019

    Boat Trip on Lake Atitlan and Santiago Village

    Greetings! In January, I visited Guatemala in Central America. My itinerary took me to Antigua, Chichicastenango market, Lake Atitlan, Santiago Atitlan village, and Guatemala City.

    I had a wonderful stay in Antigua, one of Guatemala's former capitals and a UNESCO World Heritage site. You might like to see my post on Antigua here. From Antigua, I booked a shuttle van service to visit the open-air market in Chichicastenango. You might like to see the colourful handicrafts and textiles that I posted here.

    From Chichicastenango, I continued on and stayed overnight in Panajachel, the gateway to Lake Atitlan and the twelve indigenous villages around the lake. The next morning I woke up to a beautiful view of Lake Atitlan at sunrise.

    I took a boat ride across Lake Atitlan to visit Santiago Atitlan village and had a fantastic time there. I interacted with a few local women, visited the village church and market, and explored the village on foot, before taking another boat ride back to Panajachel.


    Guarded by the volcanoes Atitlan, San Pedro, and Toliman, Lake Atitlan is a great combination of scenic beauty, peaceful atmosphere, and rich in Mayan culture. The Lake is Guatemala's national and international main attraction.

    On the morning of my visit, the weather was sunny, with clear blue skies, and the wind was calm as I waited for my boat to arrive. Knowing that Lake Atitlan is the deepest lake in Central America, with its maximum depth at 340 meters (1,120 ft), I was pleased to see life vests handed out to the boat passengers. The boat that I was on could accommodate twelve passengers and three crew members. Fortunately, we had a smooth ride both ways and did not need to use our life vests.

    Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

    The boat is coming!

    At first, the sound of water hitting the bottom of the boat seemed loud but I soon settled in the rhythms and enjoyed the spectacular scenery around us. The lake water glimmered in the bright sunlight. At a distance, I could see Fuego volcano actively spewed ash into the air every ten minutes or so.

    Glimmering Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

    View of active Fuego volcano from Lake Atitlan

    As we got closer to our destination, I got a better look at the surrounding volcanoes and the local fishermen. It was very peaceful and beautiful. The boat ride lasted about twenty five minutes and we soon arrived at the dock of Santiago Atitlan village.

    Volcanoes surrounding Lake Atitlan

    A fisherman in Lake Atitlan


    Santiago Atitlan (or shortened name Santiago) is one of the twelve lakeside Mayan villages around Lake Atitlan. The first inhabitants of the Lake settled here and it's where the Mayan villagers keep their traditions at its purest.

    Upon landing, I followed the pier and walked slightly uphill to the main street of the village. There are small shops and local businesses lined up on both sides of the street. No matter where I looked, it was a visual treat. Fortunately, there was no tourist crowd so I took my time to walk and enjoy the village.

    First view of Santiago Atitlan village

    Boat by the pier, Santiago Atitlan village

    Boat dock, Santiago Atitlan village

    The main street in Santiago Atitlan village

    Paintings at a local art gallery


    Santiago Atitlan village is known as a boat building and arts and crafts center by Lake Atitlan. The village is also famed for its striking purple clothing.

    I had read that if possible, visit Santiago Atitlan village on a Sunday to see literally every local woman wearing their best typical clothes as part of their traditions. Well, I was there on a Friday so when I saw two local women in a textile shop, I stopped to browse and spoke to them with my basic Spanish.

    I learned that the older lady is 73 years old and was a mid-wife in the village. Both women wore colourful tops and long skirts with a fabric belt. Their tops showed embroidered birds and flowers. The fabric belt was a mix of Mayan red and purple, the colour of Santiago Atitlan village. The older lady gave me a shy smile and showed me how she created her head dress.

    First, she let her long hair loose on one side. Then she wrapped the thick and very long red band around her hair. Next, she wrapped the band around her head several times until she reached the end of the band and tucked it neatly into the folds. It was an interesting process. The best part was she calmly sat down with her complete head dress and gave me a smile with pride. I thought she looked beautiful!

    1. Let loose of the hair to one side

    2. Wrap the band around the hair

    3. Wrap the band around the head several times

    4. Done! Here's the front

    5. Here's the back

    6. A beautiful smile with pride

    The women in the village keep the Mayan culture alive by wearing their traditional clothing. I saw a few men wearing traditional shorts or pants with embroidery, however, most village men were wearing khakis or jeans.


    Santiago Atitlan village is known for its worship of Maximon, a Saint created by Mayan priests back in the days. I visited the local church but did not take any picture inside.

    The village market was busy and lively with many local villagers when I arrived. Once again, the colourful handicrafts were eye-catching. The vegetables and fruit were fresh and abundant.

    Santiago Atitlan village market

    Making corn tortillas

    Woven baskets at Santiago Atitlan market


    There are many buses and tuk tuks in Guatemala. All the buses are painted in bright colours. One of the well-known local bus lines is Esmeralda. The public bus tickets are charged by kilometers and gas price! The tuk-tuks are usually red.

    An Esmeralda bus in Santiago Atitlan village

    A tuk-tuk in Santiago Atitlan village


    A boat ride is a wonderful way to enjoy the scenery by Lake Atitlan and the surrounding villages. Once you arrive at any of the twelve villages, it's straightforward to walk from the dock to the village main street as I had done in Santiago Atitlan.

    Santiago Atitlan boat dock

    Boats by Santiago Atitlan village

    All in all, I had a perfect day by Lake Atitlan and a wonderful visit to Santiago Atitlan village. The vibrant colours and what I experienced there will stay with me for a long time. My next and final stop is Guatemala City, before flying home.

    What do you think? I'd love to hear your comments.

    Tuesday, 5 February 2019

    January Wrap-Up

    Greetings! This post kicks off my first monthly wrap-up in 2019. I plan to write a wrap-up for each month so I can look back and see how well the year has turned out.

    January was a wonderful month for me, with a mix of fun activities and events at home and in Guatemala. We had a beautiful New Year's Day. The weather was mostly mild and sunny for the first two weeks of the year. My adventure in Guatemala took me to Antigua, Chichicastenango market, Lake Atitlán, Santiago village, and Guatemala City. The trip went very well from beginning to end. When I returned home, we had two major snow storms in a week but Mother Nature has since returned normal temperatures to us. Without further ado, here's my January with the topics in alpha order :)

    JANUARY 2019


    In January I saw a lot of beautiful and interesting art work at the Nordic Glass exhibit in Toronto, an art gallery in my hotel in Antigua, and another art gallery in Santiago village in Guatemala. Antigua Guatemala is a UNESCO World Heritage site so the whole city is living art, mostly in colonial and baroque styles, as I posted here.

    Nordic Glass exhibit in Toronto

    Ironwork in Antigua Guatemala

    Painting seen in Antigua Guatemala


    I blogged about my goals for 2019 here,  a progress update on my Winter Fun List here, what made me smile here, a fit and fun post for the first Wellness link up of 2019 here, and my sightseeing in Antigua Guatemala here. The next Wellness link up is on Wednesday, February 13, with Healthy Heart as the optional prompt. Please feel free to join in on the fun.

    A fit and fun walk in Allan Gardens


    I enjoyed reading the following three books in January:
    • On Writing: Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King, 288 pages
    • The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart by Holly Ringland, 400 pages
    • The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, 316 pages - This story was made into a movie with the same title, starring Emily Blunt. Have you seen the movie yet?


    I listened to three unique concerts and watched a dance under the Discover Dance program. Each of the performers listed below has very impressive biography. If you look up their names on the Internet, you'll see what I mean. I'm so grateful that I can experience these amazing cultural events for free.
    • Aiyun Huang, percussion and Mark Fewer, violin
    • Payadora Tango Ensemble: Rebekah Wolkstein, violin/ voice, Drew Jurecka, bandoneón, Robert Horvath, piano, and Joseph Phillips, double bass
    • Judy Loman, harp and Nora Shulman, flute
    • Louis Laberge-Côté, dancer, choreographer, and professor of dance


    My family had our first long weekend getaway at the end of January. It was quite relaxing as we stayed in a hotel and ate out. No housework to do, just family time! There was an overnight snow storm during our getaway and it was winter wonderland when we woke up in the morning. We enjoyed walking on the fresh snow and checked the foot (or boot) prints we left behind :)

    Winter wonderland


    I had three fun meet-ups with my friends in January. Two of them were coffee chats to catch up, and the third meet-up included a gym workout with my friend. A fourth meet-up was cancelled due to a snow storm and to be rescheduled. I also wrote a letter to my longtime pen friend in the UK.


    I was consistent with my fitness activities in January. When I was in Guatemala, I stayed at three different hotels and one of them had a usable gym. My rooms were all very spacious and comfortable so when I didn't have access to a gym, I did strength workouts or yoga in my room. In total, I did:
    • Meditation: daily, fifteen minutes each time.
    • Walking outdoors: 6x per week, forty-five minutes each time. Plus walking around to get from A to B or to do sightseeing.
    • Strength workouts: 13 sessions done, one hour each.
    • Yoga: 10 sessions done, one hour each (seven yoga classes and three do-it-myself sessions when the classes were cancelled).
    • Swimming weekly: 4 sessions done, forty-five minutes each.

    A hotel gym in Guatemala


    I continued learning French and Spanish on Duolingo, 15 minutes per day for each language. While I was in Guatemala, I took advantage of my time in a Spanish-speaking country to read all the billboards, street signs, and store signs in Spanish and also to speak basic Spanish to local staff.

    I discovered that Antigua has many Spanish schools that offer Spanish lessons, cultural activities, and lodging with a Guatemalan family for a complete immersion experience at reasonable prices. I visited one of the schools and picked up a brochure just in case I decide to pursue this option in the future.


    I watched five movies in January, four of them with my neighbours, and one in-flight when I flew home from Guatemala. I enjoyed all of them, except the first one.
    • The House with a Clock in its Walls, starring Jack Black and Cate Blanchett
    • What They Had, starring Hilary Swank and Blythe Danner
    • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, starring Lily James
    • First Man, starring Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy
    • The Wife, starring Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce


    I took a trip to visit Guatemala and had a wonderful time. The weather was perfect with sunny days and cool nights. The scenery and local people were nice. The food was tasty, with plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit. Guatemala produces good coffee and rum. The Mayan culture and their vivid colours are captivating. You might like to see my post on Antigua here, and do virtual shopping at the open air market in Chichicastenango here. More posts on Guatemala to come.

    Crafts in Guatemala


    While in Antigua, Guatemala, I saw Fuego volcano spewing ash every ten minutes or so. I've seen volcanoes in various countries during my travels but this was the first time I saw a volcano that is very active. Can you see the ash coming out of the Fuego volcano on the left in my photo below?

    Active Fuego volcano, Guatemala

    Next, on my return flight, I got a perfect aerial view of another active volcano near Mexico City. It's Popocatépetl (or Popo) volcano, which is the second highest peak and the most famous in Mexico. I could see the smoke coming out of the volcano. According to Wikipedia, Popo volcano erupted two days later on January 22, 2019 and spewed ash up 4km high.

    Active Popocatépetl volcano, Mexico

    On the same flight from Mexico City, I got to see the January 20-21, 2019 Super Blood Wolf Moon for several hours, and the total lunar eclipse by the time I arrived home. This is the last total lunar eclipse until May 2021 so I was thrilled to see both the super moon while I was at 40,000 feet altitude and the total lunar eclipse. Amazing and unforgettable sights!


    January was a wonderful month with a mix of fun activities and events at home and abroad. I gave it an A+ for sensory experiences. I'm on track with my goals for 2019 at the moment. I look forward to enjoying February.

    How was your January? What good things happened? Let me know in the comments!

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