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.

What Have You Been Reading? Part 2

Back in June this year, I wrote about the thirty two books that I read in the first half of the year. Now that we’re in mid-December and 2019 is coming to a close, I thought I’d write another update to share the books I read in the second half of the year.

Books Read in 2nd Half of 2019

From July 1 to December 15 29, I read twenty eight thirty books. Not bad considering that I was traveling frequently during this time period. I list them by author’s last name as follows:

  1. The Next Person You Meet in Heaven, Mitch Albom.
  2. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou.
  3. The Christmas Train, David Baldacci.
  4. The Suspect, Fiona Barton.
  5. The Life Lucy Knew, Karma Brown.
  6. The Favourite Game, Leonard Cohen.
  7. Little Beach Street Bakery, Jenny Colgan.
  8. The Bookshop on the Shore, Jenny Colgan.
  9. The Endless Beach, Jenny Colgan.
  10. The Moroccan Girl, Charles Cumming.
  11. Crimson Lake, Candice Fox.
  12. Less, Andrew Sean Greer.
  13. All Things Consoled, Elizabeth Hay.
  14. The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway.
  15. The Chai Factor, Farah Heron.
  16. Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, Gayle Honeyman.
  17. A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini.
  18. The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini.
  19. And Then You Were Gone, RJ Jacobs.
  20. Elevation, Stephen King.
  21. The Matchmaker’s List, Sonya Lalli.
  22. Happy People Read & Drink Coffee, Agnes Martin Lugand.
  23. Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
  24. Full Disclosure, Beverley McLachlin.
  25. Becoming, Michelle Obama.
  26. Dual Citizens, Alix Ohlin.
  27. The Black Jersey, Jorge Zepeda Patterson.
  28. Kingdom of the Blind, Louise Penny.
  29. Call Me Evie, J.P. Pomare.
  30. The Vanishing Season, Joanna Schaffhaussen.

P.S. I updated the above image and the list of books on December 29, 2019 to include two additional books that I read between December 15 and 29 (The Chai Factor and The Matchmaker’s List).

My Reading Goal for 2019

My reading target was three books per month or 36 books in 2019. My actual reading was 62 books in 2019 (32 in the first half plus 30 in the second half of 2019). I’ve unexpectedly exceeded my reading goal (yay me!).

Top Picks?

In case you’re looking for my “top picks”, it’s difficult for me to short list the books I’ve read this year. Each of the sixty two books that I read is a good read, many of them are award winners or bestsellers. The authors come from various countries around the world. Their bios, stories, and story settings are quite interesting.

Try Something New

I think reading choices, like music, depend on our mood. My suggestion is if you find one of the above book titles intriguing, look up the brief summary of the book on the internet and see if it appeals to you. Also be open to branching out from your usual book genres.

I’m thankful to have access to the excellent Toronto Public Library (TPL) system. I find the TPL 2019 Reading Challenge fun to do. The proposed categories introduce me to new book genres, new topics, and new authors. They make me read more widely. I look forward to reading more in the New Year.

What have you been reading in 2019?

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

Reviewing Health Goals: What Went Well?

At the beginning of 2019, my overall plan for the year is to create nice memories with my family and friends, to stay healthy, and to enjoy life. I have nineteen specific goals and group them in three categories: Family & Friends (five goals), Health (six goals), and Leisure (eight goals).

We’re now in the second week of December. I’m gently wrapping up the year 2019, starting with a review of my six Health goals in this post. They were on my Blogger blog so I’m copying them over in a table format and adding my results next to each goal.

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

Health Goals in 2019

GoalResults
Meditate 15 minutes dailyDone daily. Meditation clears my mind and sets a positive tone for the day.
Find humour to smile or laugh dailyDone daily. 2019 has been an amazing year for me and I find it easy to smile or laugh.
Walk 6x/ week, 45 minutes each timeDone and some more. I continue to live a car-free lifestyle. I’ve been walking longer distance in the Fall.
Strength workouts 3x/ week, 1 hour each timeDone consistently. I feel fit and healthy. The exercises improve my balance, focus, stamina, and strength.
Yoga 2x/ week, 1 hour each timeDone consistently. My body is flexible and I can do a range of motions without pain or difficulty. The deep breathing practice helps me sleep well.
Swim 1x/ week, 1 hourDone consistently. Swimming relaxes me and builds endurance at the same time.

What Went Well?

Photo by Ryan Baker on Pexels.com

I’m committed to maintaining good health and as such I’ve designed my health routine to suit me. Here’s what went well:

1) Enjoyment: I choose activities that I like and that I can do year-round. This increases the chance that I look forward to doing them, and I can do them regularly without any significant gap.

2) Variety: I have six activities and goals for each. I do a different set of activities each day and make changes to keep the routine fresh and engaging. My yoga instructor also delivers a unique class every time.

3) A mix of structure and flexibility: The structured activities are my yoga class which is on Tuesday and Thursday, from 9 to 10 AM. The remaining activities are on my own time although I usually complete them in the morning.

4) A mix of group and solo activities: In my yoga class, we have anywhere from 12 to 22 participants in each class. My other health activities are solo although I do work out in the gym with one of my friends every few weeks and I do see other people in the gym and at the pool.

5) Self-care time: Some of my walks are with my family or friends. The rest of my health activities are by myself (gym, meditate, swim, walk) or in a class (yoga) so I have that time just for me.

Where does all this lead?

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Life Quality: I’d say my life quality is excellent this year. I’ve enjoyed several health activities, a variety of leisure pursuits, and frequent travels. I’ve made new friends from my yoga class, as well as through blogging, and travelling.

Gratitude: I’m very thankful for having my good health. It enables me to enjoy life with my family and friends. I can be of help to them when needed.

My thank-you to everyone who has participated and/ or supported the Wellness Wednesday link-up with your comments. I also want to thank Leslie for joining me on this journey and for setting up the monthly link-up codes.

Photo by Giftpundits.com on Pexels.com

What went well health-wise in 2019 for you? Would you do anything differently in the New Year? I’d love to hear your comments.

Click here to join in the last Wellness Wednesday link-up of 2019. I look forward to continuing our blogging connections with you all.

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.

7 Tidbits about Chrysanthemums

As soon as November starts, the temperatures dip where I live. This means part of my regular walks is done indoor and I intentionally look for colours, the brighter the better.

One recent walk is to see the indoor Chrysanthemum Show at Toronto’s Allan Gardens. The gardeners do a fantastic job of putting on wonderful displays of a wide variety of chrysanthemums. I love the beautiful flowers and learn several fun tidbits about them.

7 Fun Tidbits about Chrysanthemums

1) Popularity: Chrysanthemum flower is one of the most popular flower in the world, 2nd place to be exact, next only to Rose.

Red chrysanthemums

2) Special Status: Chrysanthemums are the November birth flower, the 13th wedding anniversary flower, and the official flower of the city of Chicago. Japan also has a National Chrysanthemum Day, which is called the Festival of Happiness.

Pink and yellow chrysanthemums

3) Name and Location Origins: The name “chrysanthemum” is derived from the Greek words chrysos (gold) and anthemon (flower). Chrysanthemums are tropical flowers. They are native to Asia and northeastern Europe.

Basket display of chrysanthemums

4) Sizes, Shapes, Colours, and Varieties: Chrysanthemum stem can reach 5 to 15 centimeters (2 to 6 inches) in height. Flower can have 1 to 25 centimeters (0.4 to 10 inches) in diameter. Other than its traditional yellow colour, there are also other colours such as purple, lavender, pink, burgundy, bronze, white and red. There are 40 wild species of chrysanthemum and thousands of varieties created via selective breeding.

Gold and yellow chrysanthemums

5) Cultural Meanings: Chrysanthemum flowers have different meanings in different cultures. For instance, in Asia, Chrysanthemum is a symbol of friendship, luck, joy, optimism, and happiness. While in Europe, white Chrysanthemum is associated with funerals.

White chrysanthemums

6) A Good Indoor Houseplant: Chrysanthemum flowers contain a chemical called pyrethrum which is a natural bug repellent. These blooms also remove toxins from the air and are thus considered a good indoor houseplant as well.

Mums at Lena and the Swan pond

7) A Great Landscaping Plant: As a landscaping plant, the chrysanthemum makes a beautiful Fall display for the home garden. Chrysanthemums can dominate a growing area with the many varied shapes, sizes, and colors. I’m totally convinced when I see the display below.

Peacock-shaped display of chrysanthemums

I think chrysanthemums provide an outstanding climax to the season before the colds of winter arrive. I enjoy a wonderful walk to Allan Gardens. The greenery and flowers in the garden pavilions brighten my day.

How well do you know about chrysanthemums? Is any of the above tidbits new to you?

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