January Wrap-Up

Some winter blues are glorious like the sunny blue skies that we had last Wednesday. I went out for a walk and sat down in one of the Muskoka chairs to soak in the warm sunshine, daydream, and observe nature. It was quiet and blissful by the lake.

On my left, several seagulls took off and glided in the air. On my right, two Canada geese swam and a few ducks dipped in the calm harbour. The shimmering lights in the water prompted me to reflect on the first month of 2020.

Beautiful winter blue
Beautiful winter blue

January was a fun and enriching month. My extended family had a big get-together to celebrate a few family birthdays and the Lunar New Year. My friends and I met on several dates for coffee and lunch catch-ups. We’ve figured out how to embrace winter!

In between these social gatherings, I completed all my health goals and enjoyed plenty of leisure activities (8 art exhibits, 1 wildlife photography exhibit, 4 blog posts, 6 books, 31 French and 31 Spanish online sessions, 3.5 movies, and 3 recitals). I’m grateful for such a great month and an amazing start to the new year.

In case you’re curious, below are more details. I keep track of the data for my own benefit.

Arts

One of the advantages of living near the centre of a big city is the access to cultural events year round. I continue to be amazed by the quantity and quality of new art exhibits I can view for free. In January, I saw eight interesting exhibits:

  • Anxious Audience by American artist Rashid Johnson.
  • Black Diamond by Toronto-based artist Krystal Ball.
  • Blues Klair by Belgian artist Vincent Meessen.
  • Loop: An interactive light and sound installation with six giant wheels. Visitors sit down inside the wheel (zoetrope), pump the bar, and make the image cylinder turn to display the hand-drawn black and white animations.
  • Feels: An installation of carved acrylic pendants in gold and turquoise colours by Emma Piirtoniemi.
  • Hold Everything Dear: A contemporary exhibit by Hajra Waheed.
  • Ingenuous Purpose: An exhibition featuring beautiful dog blankets and hangings made by the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre (KDCC) Sewing Group in Whitehorse.
  • What we found after you left: A contemporary exhibit by Naeem Mohaiemen.
Black Diamond mural by Krystal Ball
Black Diamond mural by Krystal Ball

Blogs

I made a few changes to my blog, including new header image, new tag line, updated Travel page, updated Wellness page, and added Award-free and Copyright notices on the right side bar. I also wrote four posts and hosted the first Wellness Weekend 2020 link-up:

Blues Klair exhibit by Vincent Meessen
Blues Klair exhibit by Vincent Meessen

Books

I enjoyed reading six books which took my imagination from places in Canada to the United States, across the Atlantic to the United Kingdom and then India:

  • 26 Knots by Bindu Suresh.
  • Starlight by Richard Wagamese.
  • Bone Black by Carol Rose GoldenEagle.
  • The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein.
  • The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary.
  • A Delhi Obsession by M.G. Vassanji.
Books I read in January
Books I read in January

Health

I met all my health goals, felt great, and slept well in January:

  • Greeted every new day with a smile.
  • Meditated 15 minutes daily.
  • Made 26 outdoor walks, average 8 km (5 miles) each walk.
  • Completed 13 strength workouts in the gym, one hour each.
  • Attended 9 yoga classes, one hour each.
  • Went swimming 5 times, one hour each.
  • Had 4 full rest days.

Languages

I continue learning French and Spanish lessons on Duolingo, about 30 minutes every day. It’s a good exercise for my brain!

Loop art installation
Loop – An interactive light and sound installation

Movies

My neighbour friends and I resumed our movie nights after the holidays. We enjoyed watching the first three movies and did not like the fourth one so we ended our evening half way through it:

  • Judy starring Renee Zellweger.
  • Gemini Man starring Will Smith.
  • Harriet starring Cynthia Erivo.
  • The Lighthouse starring Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson.

Music

I enjoyed three excellent concerts, each was about one hour in duration:

  • Sonatas for piano and violin by Beethoven performed by James Parker, piano and Mark Fewer, violin.
  • Solo piano recital by Brazilian musician Andre Mehmari.
  • Solo piano recital by Toronto-based musician Bryn Blackwood.
Anxious Audience by Rashid Johnson
Anxious Audience by Rashid Johnson

Similar to Travel

The Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2019 exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum took my friend and I to exotic places visually. The amazing exhibition showcases all-new photographs from around the world reveal striking wildlife, breathtaking landscapes, and the remarkable beauty of our natural world.

After our museum visit, we walked to the new Eataly store. It’s a bustling Italian marketplace with three restaurants, nine take-away counters, and a cooking school. In the full market, we found hundreds of culinary delights imported from Italy. We agreed to return here for our next coffee and lunch meet-up.

Cheese variety at Eataly Toronto
Say Cheese at Eataly Toronto

So that was my January. How was yours? What good things happened? I’d love to hear your comments.

Copyright © 2020 natalietheexplorer.home.blog – All rights reserved.

What Are Your Plans for 2020?

Happy New Year! I hope everyone enjoyed a wonderful holiday season and you’ve gotten off to a great start on this new year and new decade. It’s exciting to have a brand new year ahead of us and a fresh calendar to pencil in upcoming events and activities.

2019 was an amazing year for me. It’s going to be a hard year to top. I’m thankful for all the good things that I either achieved or received in 2019. Now I’m planning to make 2020 a fantastic year.

Plans for 2020

I see this year and the new decade as part of my “go go” phase. I intend to stay active while I can. This doesn’t mean that I fill my calendar with all kinds of events. On the contrary, I’m selective with what I add to it and there is blank space for relaxation and spontaneity.

For blogging purposes, I group my plans under Health, Leisure, and Travel. Embedded in them are time with my family and friends and new learning. I like the simplicity of having three items for each group and add a bonus item under Travel to round up my list of ten.

Health

  1. Greet every new day with a smile.
  2. Continue to maintain good health by doing meditation (15 minutes daily), outdoor walks (6x/ week), strength workouts (3x/ week), yoga (2x/ week), and swimming (1x/ week).
  3. Try a new fitness activity.

Leisure

  1. Continue to enrich my life with arts (3 exhibits/ month), books (3x/ month), concerts (3x/ month), movies (3x/ month), and lessons of French and Spanish (30 minutes daily).
  2. Volunteer at a fun event in the city.
  3. Try one local dish at each new travel destination.

Travel

  1. Do four fun trips in Canada with my family.
  2. Revisit wonderful countries like Spain and Iceland.
  3. Attend a reunion with my longtime friends in California, USA.
  4. Explore one Canadian province and three countries that are new to me.

I use a simple spreadsheet to track my activities and goals. Stay tuned for my progress updates in my monthly wrap-up blogs.

Wellness Weekend link-up

A friendly reminder that I’ve changed the title of last year’s Wellness Wednesday series to Wellness Weekend and it’s now on the 3rd Sunday of every month. The first Wellness Weekend link-up is on Sunday, January 19. The optional prompt is Warm up. You’re invited to join in on the fun with your wellness-related post.

So what are your plans for 2020? I’d love to hear your comments.

Copyright © 2020 natalietheexplorer.home.blog – All rights reserved.

2019 Wrap-Up

Holiday greetings to you all from Natalie the Explorer! I took the above photo at the Winter Flower show where the poinsettias were bright and beautiful. Today I’m wrapping up 2019 and reflecting on the highlights of my year.

Highlights of 2019

Blogging
Health
  • I reached all my health goals as written here. I feel healthy and happy. Thankfully, my family members are in good health, too. I channel some of my positive energy and stamina into leisure activities and travels.
Leisure
  • Lots of enriching leisure activities! I keep track of the numbers which add up to 50 art exhibits seen, 62 books read (see the lists here and here), 48 concerts heard, 44 movies watched, and daily French and Spanish lessons done on Duolingo. I’ve also enjoyed taking photos and I’ve shared some of them on my blog.
Travel
  • Lots of travels in Canada and abroad! Some trips were with my family, some were to visit family and friends, and some were solo adventures. I wrote about them on my blog so feel free to check out my Travel page. All of them are amazing destinations to explore.
  • I marveled again and again at Canada’s beauty during my family trips to Kingston, Regina, Sault Ste. Marie, and solo trip to Vancouver Island.
  • My sister and I took two trips together. We had a fantastic time exploring Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Slovenia in March and Ecuador in December.
  • I enjoyed visiting my cousins and met up with one of my longtime friends in June in Germany. We did sightseeing in and around Munich, visited the beautiful Heidelberg Castle, and took a day trip to Salzburg, Austria.
  • I traveled solo to Guatemala in January, Malta in June, and Vancouver Island, BC in September. At each destination, I met new friends, saw beautiful sights, and learned something new.

So those are my 2019 highlights. I’m thankful for an incredible year with good health, many enriching cultural experiences, fun travel adventures, and happy times with my family and friends.

I’m looking forward to a new year just as amazing as this year and continuing my blogging connections with you all. Wishing you good health, joy, and peace in 2020!

Copyright © 2020 natalietheexplorer.home.blog – All rights reserved.

Checking Off My Holiday Fun List

Greetings! It’s December 21st, time to share how I did on my holiday fun list that I wrote here. I had five items and wanted to have free or low cost, and environmentally-friendly fun. So here we go:

1) View the holiday light displays: I walked with my family in the downtown core to see beautiful holiday light displays. In Eaton Centre, the tallest Christmas tree was quite a centrepiece. Big banks and major department stores also set up amazing decorations.

Christmas tree at Toronto Eaton Centre
Christmas tree at Toronto Eaton Centre

2) Listen to live holiday music: My friends and I walked to see the Cavalcade of Lights at City Hall. This event marked the official start of the holiday season in Toronto. The 53rd annual celebration featured the first lighting of Toronto’s 15-metre (50-foot) Christmas tree, live musical performances, a skating party and a spectacular fireworks display. I love the hundreds of dazzling lights that hang above the ice rink and all around Nathan Philips Square.

Cavalcade of Lights in Toronto
Cavalcade of Lights in Toronto

3) Bake a Ration cake: I baked a Second World War Ration cake with the recipe found here while listening to music. It was an easy and relaxing activity. The kitchen smelled good. The cake turned out well even though I used an 8-inch round pan instead of a square pan. My family and I enjoyed the yummy treats. Success!

A slice of Ration cake
A slice of home made ration cake

4) Give food and hope: The local Metro grocery store creates convenient, ready-to-go food bank bags. Metro will make a donation of $1 to Feed Ontario for each bag purchase. I bought a few bags of food items to let the recipients know that I care.

Food donation
Food donation at Metro grocery store

5) Walk to show the Earth some love: I walked outdoors with my family through the Financial District to the main shopping centre (see item 1 above) and with my friends to City Hall (see item 2 above). Each time we stopped to watch the Hudson’s Bay Christmas window displays. Here’s a snapshot of what’s behind the five windows and the toy soldiers on guard (click on the photos to enlarge them):

So I checked off my holiday fun list. We enjoyed the lights, the live music, the cake, and the outdoor walks. It felt good to donate food to help less fortunate people in the city. All of these activities were either free or low cost, and I’d say environmentally friendly.

What I love most is how Mother Nature displays a simple and beautiful decoration for the season: Fresh pine cones on the tree.

Coming up next week: My sister is hosting our annual family holiday get-together. Three generations in my family will be there, plus a few family friends. We’ve coordinated the dinner menu and each of us will bring food and drinks to share. I’m looking forward to this party!

Wishing you peace, joy, and good health for this holiday season and in the New Year 2020.

Click here to join Leslie and share your holiday list update.

Copyright © 2020 natalietheexplorer.home.blog – All rights reserved.

November Wrap-Up

Hello December and goodbye November! November is the cool month sandwiched between glorious October and festive December. My response to the cool temperatures in November is to go for colours, lights, music, and sunshine whenever the sun appears. Books provide a good escape, too. Let me share my highlights with you and I invite you to tell me yours.

November 2019

Arts

I visited four free and colourful art exhibits with my family and friends in November:

  • The Chrysanthemum flower show was flowers and art in one.
  • The Day of the Dead festival showed a lot of orange flowers and several ofrendas.
  • The unveiling of the Annual Christmas window display at the Bay was eye-catching. The Bay is a major department store here.
  • The Cavalcade of Lights event at City Hall was dazzling.
Pink and yellow mums
Floral display at the Chrysanthemum show

Blogging

I wrote six blog posts to capture the highlights of my fun adventures in October and November. The theme seems to be hiking on trails or walking in the gardens, partly because Autumn is the best season for these activities and partly because I enjoy walking and nature:

Books

Six very good books in different genres, written by authors from Canada, Mexico, the UK, and the USA kept me entertained:

  • The Suspect, a crime fiction novel by Fiona Barton.
  • The Bookshop on the Shore, a romance novel by Jenny Colgan.
  • Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, a social drama fiction novel by Gail Honeyman.
  • Full Disclosure, a crime fiction novel by Beverley McLachlin who was the former Chief Justice of Canada, the first woman to hold that position.
  • Dual Citizens, a social drama fiction novel by Alix Ohlin.
  • The Black Jersey, a crime fiction novel by Jorge Zepeda Patterson, translated by Achy Obejas.

Concerts

I enjoyed listening to three wonderful classical concerts performed by the following talented musicians:

  • Lisa Tahara, piano and Brenna Hardy-Kavanagh, violin
  • Ryan Phelps, piano
  • Jean-Luc Therrien, piano, Michael Perry, violin, and Mai Tategami, violin

Family

My family and I visited the Day of the Dead (Dia de Los Muertos) festival where we saw several colourful ofrendas on display. While most of the ofrendas were for people who passed away, the Ofrenda dedicated to the Bees, created by Jade Leyva, was environmentally focused.

The piece is designed to raise awareness and pay tribute to the untold millions of bees that have died in recent years due to herbicide and pesticide. Bees sustain food system and ensure food security. Their rapid decline is threatening the future of all species, including the human race.

Ofrenda dedicated to the Bees by Jade Leyva
Ofrenda dedicated to the Bees by Jade Leyva

Friendship

My friends and I went to see the Christmas window display at the Bay downtown. The theme changes every year. This year includes traditional holiday music while smart robots make snow angels, wrap gift boxes, print Santa’s list, etc. There are five to six extra large windows where passers-by can see the actions and bright objects. It’s really fun to watch.

The Bay Christmas window display
The Bay Christmas window display – Gift assembly line

Health

I completed thirteen strengthening workouts in the gym, five swimming sessions, and seven yoga classes. Each session lasts one hour. I also meditated 15 minutes daily and walked outdoors six days per week. On weekdays I usually walk 8 km (5 miles), and on Saturday 3 km (about 2 miles).

Home

In lieu of travelling in November, I work on a few home projects to get ready for the holidays. I tidy up my home room by room, put out some winter decorations, update my calendar with a small number of social events, bake a cake, make donations, and write greeting cards. I’m pleased with my progress at the moment and will continue to tackle more home projects in December for a fresh start on January 1.

Season of Cool window display
Season of Cool window display

Learning

I continued my daily French and Spanish lessons on Duolingo. Some of my other new learning include fun facts about chrysanthemums, how cycling teams work while they compete at the Tour de France, and how to bake a Second World War ration cake.

Movies

Unlike the above amazing arts, books, and concerts, the three movies that I watched were not so great. The Farewell was the most interesting out of the three:

  • Can You Keep a Secret?
  • For Love or Money?
  • The Farewell

Overall

November was a very good and productive month. I continued my health and leisure activities and got organized for the holiday season. I look forward to enjoying Christmas and New Year with my family and friends.

The holiday lights and Christmas trees are everywhere in the city centre now. The temperature is hovering at freezing point, give or take a couple of degrees Celsius. We’re expecting snow today. So it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

How was your November? What good things happened? I’d love to hear your comments.

Copyright © 2020 natalietheexplorer.home.blog – All rights reserved.

5 Fun Activities for the Holidays

Holiday decorations

My blogger friend, Leslie, invited me and other bloggers to share my holiday fun list with her on November 21, and a quick update on how I did on my list on December 21. I call my list a Fun list since I don’t ever have a bucket list.

Now I’m challenging myself to have fun this holiday at either no cost or low cost and to be environmental-friendly as much as possible. I also want activities that engage my senses. So I come up with the following five for the period of November 21 to December 21.

5 Fun Activities for the Holidays

1) View the holiday light displays: The big banks and major department stores downtown always put up dazzling holiday displays, some with fairy tale themes. City Hall also has a real 15-metre (50-foot) Christmas tree that will be lit up at the end of November. I plan to do a 30-minute walk to get there and enjoy the visual treats for free.

2) Listen to live holiday music: I usually go with my friends to the Cavalcade of Lights event in November and/ or the annual holiday concert in December at City Hall. Both events offer wonderful music performances and are free to the public. Again I plan to do a 30-minute walk to get there.

3) Bake a Ration cake: I found this Second World War Ration cake recipe here. It would be fun to make it for the holidays. The cake is low cost as I already have the ingredients in our pantry. The kitchen will smell good. If the cake turns out well, my family and I will satisfy our taste buds with the yummy treats. Win-win-win.

4) Give food and hope: It’s a sad reality that we have people who rely on food bank because they have nowhere else to turn. I plan to donate online or buy food items and donate at a local grocery store. I’ve got the list of food items that our local Daily Bread Food Bank always needs because of their high nutritional value (e.g. baby food and formula, peanut butter, canned fish and meat, canned fruits and vegetables, rice, grains, lentils, beans, dried pasta, pasta sauce, canned tomatoes, cans of soup and stew, powdered, canned and tetra pak milk).

5) Walk to show the Earth some love: It would be fun to map an outdoor route with a few points of interest and walk it with my family or friends. We bring a warm beverage like hot chocolate or hot apple cider in our reusable travel mugs and enjoy it during or at the end of our walk. I keep my fingers crossed for reasonable weather between November 21 and December 21 so that I can complete this activity.

How about you? What do you have on your holiday fun list?

Click here to share your plans.

Copyright © 2020 natalietheexplorer.home.blog – All rights reserved.

October Wrap-Up

Hello November and goodbye October! October was a beautiful month with gorgeous autumn foliage everywhere I looked, an extra-special Thanksgiving, a trip to Sault Ste Marie and Agawa Canyon, and plenty of leisure activities. Let me share my highlights and I invite you to tell me yours.

October 2019

Arts

I viewed many interesting artworks at the Community Film and Art Festival, Nuit Blanche event, and Toronto Biennial of Art event. However, my favourite artwork in October was Mother Nature’s autumn foliage palette, from various shades of green to light yellow, to golden, to orange, red, and stunning crimson.

Red maple trees
Red maple trees

Blogging

I wrote five blog posts in October and used my phone to take all the blog photos which turned out better than I expected:

Books

I enjoyed reading six books in different genres. I had read The Old Man and the Sea a long time ago and re-read it. The book won the Pulitzer Prize in 1953. It’s an impressive novella to me because the writer packed a powerful story with vivid descriptions in under 100 pages.

  • The Endless Beach – a romance novel by Jenny Colgan.
  • All Things Consoled – a memoir by Elizabeth Hay.
  • The Old Man and the Sea – a novella by Ernest Hemingway.
  • Elevation – a science fiction novel by Stephen King.
  • Happy People Read & Drink Coffee – a romance novel by Agnès Martin Lugand, translated from the French by Sandra Smith.
  • Kingdom of the Blind – a crime fiction novel by Louise Penny.

Concerts

I attended seven amazing classical concerts, some with my friends. The performers are all award winners at international competitions. They played wonderful music composed by Brahms, Chopin, Debussy, Edgar, Rachmaninoff, Schumann, and more:

  • David Potvin, piano.
  • The Bedford Trio: Alessia Disimino (violin), Andrew Ascenzo (cello), and Jialiang Zhu (piano).
  • Tristan Savella, piano.
  • Peter Stoll, bass clarinet, and string quartet.
  • Younggun Kim, piano.
  • Timothy Ying, violin and Lydia Wong, piano.
  • The Ezra Duo: Jacob Clewell, viola and Sasha Bult-Ito, piano.

Family

My family had an extra-special Thanksgiving dinner this year as my uncle and aunt came to visit us from Montreal. Aside from a delicious meal, I enjoyed every bit of the pumpkin pies that we had for dessert. Pumpkins are another sure sign of autumn here.

Pumpkins

Friendship

I met my friends at some of the concerts mentioned above. On a nice autumn day, we went for a walk to check out the newly opened Garrison Crossing bridge. It’s the first stainless steel bridge in Canada.

Spanning over two rail corridors within the core of downtown, the full bridge required two separate installations. The first and north end of the bridge is 52-metres-long. The second and south end of the bridge is 29-metres-long. I like that the bridge is for pedestrians and cyclists only.

Garrison Crossing bridge
Garrison Crossing bridge

Health

I completed twelve strengthening workouts in the gym, four swimming sessions, and nine yoga classes. I also meditated and walked outdoors 5 to 8 km (or 3 to 5 miles) every day. October was the perfect time for outdoor walks as temperatures were cooler and autumn foliage provided gorgeous scenery.

Autumn foliage

Learning

Some of what I learned include my daily French and Spanish lessons on Duolingo, Garrison Crossing bridge construction, the history of Sault Ste Marie Canal, how the locks work at the Canal, and Agawa Canyon.

Movies

I watched four movies and liked Red Joan and Toy Story 4 the most:

  • Alladin
  • Toy Story 4 – surprisingly good for a sequel.
  • Stuber
  • Red Joan – based on a true story of Joan Stanley, who was exposed as the KGB’s longest-serving British spy.

Travel

My family and I travelled to Sault Ste Marie, a city located in northern Ontario. We did a few hikes in Sault Ste Marie, and took the train from Sault Ste Marie to Agawa Canyon where we did more hiking.

When we exited Sault Ste Marie airport, we saw a green Welcome sign on the left and a glimpse of colourful autumn foliage on the right. I’ll share more details in a future post.

Welcome to Sault Ste Marie
Welcome to Sault Ste Marie
Autumn splendour
Autumn splendour

Overall

Every day in October was amazing. I look forward to enjoying November with my family and friends, continuing my health and leisure activities, and plotting new adventures.

How was your October? What good things happened? I’d love to hear your comments.

Copyright © 2020 natalietheexplorer.home.blog – All rights reserved.