31 Things I’m Grateful For in March

Duck in a calm lake

March was such a turbulent month due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Where I live, event cancellations, business closures, and school closures have been happening since March 13 to slow the spread of the virus.

The Province of Ontario has ordered all non-essential businesses to close since March 25 until further notice. The City of Toronto has cancelled all events and festivals until June 30. This means my family and I are prepared to live our new “normal” in a much quieter city for the long haul.

I had planned a trip to Spain, leaving on March 16. Fortunately, the airlines cancelled my flights on March 12 and gave me full refunds. I was able to cancel my hotel bookings without penalty. I’ve been feeling grateful every day.

Since March has thirty one days, I thought I’d list 31 things that I’m grateful for:

  1. Being at home.
  2. Being healthy.
  3. My family: Everyone is well.
  4. My friends: Everyone is well.
  5. Access to clean water, fresh food, and a warm home.
  6. Access to a phone, a computer, electricity, and internet service.
  7. Quiet time to reflect.
  8. Opportunities to cheer up my friends.
  9. Opportunities to help my elderly neighbours.
  10. The first signs of Spring, a new season.
  11. The trail by Lake Ontario.
  12. Outdoor walks to exercise.
  13. The changing weather: sun, clouds, and rain.
  14. The clear blue skies.
  15. The sounds from birds, ducks, and swans.
  16. The warmth of the sun on my back.
  17. The soft petals of spring flowers.
  18. Meditation time.
  19. My resistance band for strengthening exercises.
  20. Yoga practice time.
  21. Free public art to view.
  22. My blogging community.
  23. Books to read.
  24. Free online concerts to listen to.
  25. Free online shows to watch.
  26. Free online courses to take.
  27. New recipes to try.
  28. Home-made meals with my family.
  29. Being an introvert.
  30. My morning coffee.
  31. My afternoon tea.

Every item on my list makes me feel calm and smile.

Thank you, my blog friends, for reading. I hope you and your loved ones are in good health and are adjusting well to the current situation. I’d love to hear from you.

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

2020 Reading: First Update

Greetings! I hope everyone is staying safe and keeping a healthy routine. While at home this week, I took an inventory of what I’ve read in the first three months of 2020. I use the Toronto Public Library 2020 Reading Challenge as a guideline to read more widely and add a few categories on my own to make my reading more interesting.

Last year I read thirty two books in the first half and thirty books in the second half of 2019, or 62 books in total. This year I had set a modest reading goal of 36 books because I was planning to travel frequently. Well, with the COVID-19 pandemic and travel cancellations, I may be able to read more than 36 books after all.

Here’s a look at my year-to-date reading listed by author’s last name:

  1. Celestial Bodies, Jokha Alharthi, translated by Marilyn Booth.
  2. Wherever She Goes, K.L. Armstrong.
  3. Bad Move, Linwood Barclay.
  4. Elevator Pitch, Linwood Barclay.
  5. Stand On The Sky, Erin Bow.
  6. Love Walked In, Marisa De Los Santos.
  7. Bone Black, Carol Rose GoldenEagle.
  8. At The Mountain’s Edge, Genevieve Graham.
  9. Comics Will Break Your Heart, Faith Erin Hicks.
  10. And The Mountains Echoed, Khaled Hosseini.
  11. The Flatshare, Beth O’Leary.
  12. A Better Man, Louise Penny.
  13. Daisy Jones & The Six, Taylor Jenkins Reid.
  14. Snowmen, Mark Sedore.
  15. The Art of Racing in The Rain, Garth Stein.
  16. 26 Knots, Bindu Suresh.
  17. A Delhi Obsession, M.G. Vassanji.
  18. Starlight, Richard Wagamese.

Number of books read: Eighteen books from January to March 2020.

A book originally written in a language other than my first language: Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi, translated by Marilyn Booth. Altharthi makes literary history as the first female Omani author to be translated into English and as author of the first novel written in Arabic to win the Man Booker International Prize 2019. She shares that extraordinary success with translator and Oxford professor Booth.

A book by an Indigenous author: Bone Black by Carol Rose GoldenEagle, and Starlight by Richard Wagamese.

A book that made me laugh: Bad Move by Linwood Barclay. Barclay is a former columnist for the Toronto Star, a Canadian daily newspaper. I used to read his column and enjoy his humourous writing style.

A book under 200 pages long: 26 Knots by Bindu Suresh at 151 pages and Snowmen by Mark Sedore at 170 pages.

A book over 450 pages long: Elevator Pitch by Linwood Barclay at 453 pages.

A book for young adults: Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin Hicks and Stand on the Sky by Erin Bow.

A book to be made into a mini TV series: Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid.

A book with a dog’s view of life: The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein.

A book written in three days: Snowmen by Mark Sedore. This is Sedore’s first published novel and the winner of the 32nd Annual International 3-Day Novel Contest.

A book that took me to other places in Canada:

  • British Columbia: Starlight by Richard Wagamese.
  • Nova Scotia: Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin Hicks.
  • Quebec: 26 Knots by Bindu Surash and A Better Man by Louise Penny.
  • Saskatchewan: Bone Black by Carol Rose GoldenEagle.
  • The Arctic Circle from Canada to Russia: Snowmen by Mark Sedore.
  • The Yukon: At The Mountain’s Edge by Genevieve Graham.

A book that took me overseas:

  • Afghanistan: And The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini.
  • India: A Delhi Obsession by M.G. Vassanji.
  • Mongolia: Stand on the Sky by Erin Bow.
  • Oman: Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi.
  • The United Kingdom: The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Toronto library branches have been closed since March 13 until further notice. I look forward to picking up a few books that have been on hold for me when the library reopens. In the meantime, I have a few books at home waiting to be read. Knowing that makes me smile.

What about you? Any recommendations? I’d love to hear your comments.

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

Fit And Fun Walk: Waves

Greetings! This week I took a cue from Mother Nature and decided to do a Wave-themed walk to photograph wave-themed artwork that has been installed in the last ten years in downtown Toronto. The city has been growing so there are always new things to discover. On this beautiful sunny day let me share some interesting artwork with you.

The Real Waves

Here we are at the start of Yonge Street where the 0 km Toronto sign is located on the sidewalk. Yonge Street used to be listed as the longest street in the world in the Guinness World Records until 1999. Can you see the small waves in Lake Ontario and the shadow of the curved railings?

Waves at the start of Yonge Street and in Lake Ontario
Waves at the start of Yonge Street and in Lake Ontario

The WaveDecks

Further west along the waterfront there are three WaveDecks named Simcoe WaveDeck, Rees WaveDeck, and Spadina WaveDeck. The WaveDecks are meant to give urban dwellers a feel for life at the lake.

Simcoe WaveDeck opened in June 2009. The design of this and the other WaveDecks was inspired by the shoreline of Ontario’s great lakes and the Canadian cottage experience.

View of Simcoe WaveDeck from the lake
View of Simcoe WaveDeck from the lake
Street view of Simcoe WaveDeck
Street view of Simcoe WaveDeck

Rees WaveDeck opened in July 2009. The wavy benches and wooden path are right by a small marina where canoes, kayaks, and sailboats launch in late spring through to fall.

Street view of Rees WaveDeck
Street view of Rees WaveDeck

Spadina WaveDeck opened in September 2008. It has received numerous design awards. On a spring day, it’s nice to sit on the curved bench facing the lake while mallards and ducks swim below our feet.

View of Spadina WaveDeck from the lake
View of Spadina WaveDeck from the lake

Wave Side Sculpture

From Spadina WaveDeck, we head north west to see the Wave Side sculpture designed by Toronto-based artists, Jennifer Marman and Daniel Borins. This artwork was made of stainless steel and was installed in 2011. It references a wake of waves, the ribs of a ship, and the shape of the waves inspired by ship curves.

Wave Side, 2011 by Jennifer Marman and Daniel Borins
Wave Side, 2011 by Jennifer Marman and Daniel Borins

Shoreline Sculpture

Now we head east to see the Shoreline Commemorative sculpture designed by Paul Raff, a Canadian architect and artist. This artwork was made of glass, bronze, limestone, and sandblasted brick and installed in 2014.

The text on the red brick wall states: “For 10,000 years this was the location of Lake Ontario’s shoreline. This brick wall stands where water and land met with a vista of horizon”.

Shoreline Commemorative, 2014 by Paul Raff
Shoreline Commemorative, 2014 by Paul Raff

Why Do These Waves Make Me Smile?

  • They are accessible and free to the public.
  • They enhance the public space appearance.
  • They soften the angles of concrete buildings.
  • They connect the land and the lake.
  • They are about water movements and water is essential for life.

I hope that despite the grim pandemic news you continue to stay healthy and find bits of joy in your day. I also hope you enjoy the virtual walk with me and find the artwork through my lens interesting. Be well!

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

Looking Forward to Spring

Hello and welcome to the third Wellness Weekend link-up of 2020! I hope that despite the grim COVID-19 pandemic news, the new season entices you to do something that brings you joy. The link-up optional prompt is Spring Forward so I’m sharing the 5 things that I look forward to in Spring.

5 things I look forward to in Spring

1) Sunny days, longer daylight hours, and milder temperatures: On Sunday March 8, we started daylight saving time and moved our clock forward an hour. We had some gorgeous sunny days this week, with high temperatures reached 14C (57F). Although it was still on the cool side for the rest of the week, it felt very nice for outdoor walks.

A sunny day by Lake Ontario
A sunny day by Lake Ontario

2) Spring flowers in local florist shops and gardens: During one of my walks this week, I saw potted camellias, daffodils, forsythia, and tulips for sale at some of the local shops. Soon we’ll have pansies, cherry blossoms, and more spring flowers in our local gardens and parks. They bring cheerful colours to the city which has been mostly white or in muted colours throughout the winter.

Pink and highly fragrant Camellia Lutchuensis
Pink and highly fragrant Camellia Lutchuensis

3) Bird watching: We have a lot of mallards, ducks, swans, and Canada geese in Toronto Harbour. The long-tailed ducks are fun to watch as they dip and stay under water for a long time before popping up. The red-winged blackbirds have returned with their vocal chorus. Soon they’ll be nesting and become aggressive to anyone who goes near their nests. Bird watching will then take on a slightly different meaning 🙂

Mallards and American black ducks
Mallards and American black ducks

4) Spring outdoor activities: Time to swap skates and skis for wheels like bicycles or roller blades. I look forward to cycling and heading out on one of the dedicated bike paths in the city. Spring is an excellent time for cycling before the hot and humid summer weather arrives.

Bike Share Station
Bike Share Station

5) Syrup, the sweetest sap, as in Maple Syrup: As winter wanes, maple trees’ sap starts to flow and the maple syrup harvest can begin. Throughout March we have festivals to celebrate one of Canada’s tastiest exports – maple syrup. Many public events unfortunately got cancelled due to the COVID-19 outbreak. However, I look forward to enjoying one of the maple lattes at Second Cup Coffee, a Canadian coffee retailer and roaster.

Maple Fresh Coffee Brew, Maple Latte, and Maple White Hot Chocolate
Maple Fresh Coffee Brew, Maple Latte, and Maple White Hot Chocolate

Click here to join in on the fun and share your wellness-related post, or let me know what you’re looking forward to in spring. I’d love to hear your comments.

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

Glass Vessels That Bring Joy

During one of my recent walks in the city, I stopped by Harbourfront Centre to see an art exhibit of glass vessels. Glass vessels have been so integral in our lives. It’s hard to imagine what we would do without them: Drinking glasses hold our water and wine, vases beautifully display flowers, bowls contain tasty snacks, jars store our food, and bottles keep perfume and serum…Just to name a few.

At the exhibit, the work of two artists, Nadira Narine and Jared Last, caught my eyes. I’m sharing some photos of their collections. The items were displayed behind glass vitrines (another form of glass vessels?) so please excuse the glare and reflections in my photos.

Nadira Narine’s glass vases

At first glance, the vases look like they are made of clay but a closer look shows the beautiful glass work by Nadira Nadine. I like the warm colour combinations which likely come from her cultural roots as she was raised in Panama City, Panama.

Glass art by Nadira Narine

Her bio explained that she’s been living in Canada for the last seven years and she explores objects and memories from her childhood for the purpose of self-exploration and a sense of connection to home.

Glass art by Nadira Narine

Jared Last’s glass bowls

Jared Last’s bio explained that he’s a Toronto-based artist who has been working in glass since 2011. He holds a BFA in Glass from the Alberta College of Art and Design where he graduated with distinction in 2016.

Glass vessels by Jared Last

Jared’s glass bowls with deep colours and black wavy lines are eye catching. I think each of them is a conversation-starter. They reflect his interest in colour, pattern, architecture and the unique optical properties of glass to create both functional and sculptural works.

Glass vessels by Jared Last
Glass art by Jared Last

What made me smile when I viewed the exhibit?

  • The glass vessels are visually interesting with beautiful colours, designs, and shapes.
  • The displays give me ideas to arrange my own glass vessels at home: a single item, a pair, or a group of similar items.
  • I learn about the artists and their portfolios, and look forward to seeing more of their work in the future.
  • Admission to the exhibit is free to the public, making art accessible to everyone.
  • The exhibit is on until June 7, 2020 which gives people lots of time to visit and revisit.

Here’s a glass bottle that I bought in Denmark during my travels. It continues to bring me joy:

My glass bottle from Denmark

What do you think of the exhibit? If you have a favourite glass vessel of your own, please feel free to share it in the Comments. Comments with links or images attached will be moderated.

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

February Wrap-Up

February started off with a fun girls’ night-in at my place with my sister and nieces, followed by a wine and cheese party with my neighbours, several coffee dates and movie nights with my friends, and ended with a nice family getaway.

For our February girls’ night in, I prepared a three-course meal. My nieces played a few piano songs. We chatted and played Scrabble after dinner. We all had a lovely time and agreed to have the next get-together in April. I used to host big family parties. Now dinner for eight feels just right and I’m thankful to have a dishwasher!

In between the social gatherings, I completed all my health goals and enjoyed plenty of leisure activities. I keep track of the numbers for my own benefit. Details are below.

Arts

Mermaid ice sculpture

I viewed six visually interesting art exhibits:

  • IceFest 2020: An exhibit of about 35 amazing ice sculptures, with the theme Awesome 80s. I’ve shared some photos in my previous post and am sharing a few more of the ice sculptures in this post.
  • Speculative Characters for Visual Inflection by Mia Cinelli. See Languages section below.
  • Building Black: Amorphia by Ekow Nimako. The exhibit comprised of eight West African masks made by over 50,000 black Lego pieces.
  • Colin Kaepernick Wants You to Know Your Rights exhibit: An exclusive Canadian debut public art installation, courtesy of Colin Kaepernick’s Know Your Rights Camp, featuring freedom fighters representing the organization’s beliefs, from athletes to activists to lawyers, scholars and actors.
  • Making of A Legend – Works by D’Wayne Edwards: This exhibit is made up of Edwards’ signature footwear designs for athletic companies such as Nike and Air Jordan and memorabilia.
  • Ascension Tech exhibit by Yung Yemi: A multimedia exhibition that explores ancient ancestral teachings and pays homage to African history.

Blogs

I did my monthly blog and media back-up, wrote four posts, and hosted the 2nd Wellness Weekend link-up of 2020:

The next Wellness Weekend link-up is on March 15. Optional prompt: Spring Forward. I hope you join in on the fun.

Books

Books I read in February

I enjoyed reading six fictional books which took me from the rock and roll scenes in Hollywood, to crime near Chicago, dramatic family life in Afghanistan, brave Kazakh eagle hunters in Mongolia, to adventures during the Klondike Gold Rush in the Yukon, and how comics break a couple of young adults’ hearts in Nova Scotia. Love is beautifully woven throughout each story:

  • Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid.
  • Wherever She Goes by K.L. Armstrong.
  • And The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini.
  • Stand on the Sky by Erin Bow.
  • At The Mountain’s Edge by Genevieve Graham.
  • Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin Hicks.

Health

Nike shoe ice sculpture

I completed all my health goals, slept well, and feel great:

  • Greeted every new day with a smile.
  • Meditated 15 minutes daily, 29 times in February.
  • Made 25 walks outdoors, average 8 km (5 miles) each walk.
  • Did 12 strength workouts in the gym, one hour each.
  • Attended 8 yoga classes, one hour each. Our regular yoga teacher was on vacation for two weeks. We got a substitute teacher and it was refreshing to practice a new combination of yoga poses with her.
  • Went swimming 4 times, one hour each.
  • Had 4 full rest days.

Languages

Characters for Visual Inflection by Mia Cinelli
Speculative Characters for Visual Inflection by Mia Cinelli

One of the art exhibits that I viewed was the Speculative Characters for Visual Inflection by Mia Cinelli. I found the characters interesting. From top left of the above photo and clockwise: Exaspericon, Snark marks, Shrug sign, Disinterest mark, Worried quotes, Awkward pause, Disgust mark, Skeptical quotes, Affecticon, Elaticon, and Angry quotes.

I continue to learn French and Spanish daily on Duolingo, 30 minutes each time. In addition, I learned a few new fun words from assorted online articles, such as kakeibo, a Japanese budgeting method, and clafoutis, a French dessert that I’d like to add to my baking repertoire.

Movies

E.T. ice sculpture

February was the month of Oscar awards so my neighbours and I enjoyed watching four good movie picks:

  • The Good Liar starring Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen.
  • Ford v Ferrari starring Christian Bale and Matt Damon.
  • Parasite starring Kang-ho Song and Sun-kyun Lee.
  • Knives Out starring Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, and Ana de Armas.

Music

Elton John and Madonna ice sculptures

Aside from listening to music from the 80s played by live DJs at the Icefest 2020 event, I attended three jazz and piano concerts with my friends:

  • The Tanya Wills Jazz Quartet played an hour of beautiful jazz songs from great musicians such as Miles Davis, Ray Charles, and Edith Piaf.
  • Emily Chiang and Megan Chang played an hour of piano for four hands from Beethoven, Schumann and Gabriel Fauré.
  • The Bedford Trio: Alessia Disimino (violin), Andrew Ascenzo (cello), and Jialiang Zhu (piano) played an hour of music composed by Beethoven and Frank Bridge.

Travel

My family and I took a three-day getaway about an hour west of the city. We stayed in a hotel, ate out, and met up with our friends who live in the area. The weather was cool and sunny, without ice or snow on the ground so we enjoyed walking outdoors. Even though we didn’t go far, the change of routine was great. Relaxation replaced grocery shopping, home cleaning, meal prepping, etc.

Love & Peace ice sculpture

So that was my February. I’m grateful for another enriching month. How was yours? I’d love to hear your comments.

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

Do You Love the 80s?

I hope you love the music, art, film, and fashion of the 80s. The Awesome 80’s was the theme of the 15th annual Ice Sculpture Festival in Toronto’s Bloor-Yorkville neighbourhood on February 8 and 9 weekend. It’s a family-friendly event and admission is free.

Over 70,000 lbs. of crystal-clear ice were carved into magnificent sculptures inspired by the music, art, film and fashion of an awesome decade. All things 80’s are retro-cool again! I’m sharing some of the ice sculptures on display at the festival.

The Main Ice Exhibition included an 80’s sculpture, a Boombox, an Elton John silhouette, Converse sneaker, Madonna – Desperately Seeking Susan, Leg Warmers & Heels, Andy Warhol, a Roller Skate and Eddie Van Halen.

The Main Ice Exhibition at icefest 2020

The Back to the Future sculpture was in the Photo Opportunity area for many photos and Instagram moments.

Back to the Future ice sculpture

The Terry Fox Run Walk Wheel Ride sculpture was #1 winner of the ice carving competition.

Number 5 (not Wall-E) and Van Halen’s The Flying V Guitar sculptures were #2 and # 3 winners of the ice carving competition.

I loved the colourful Icefest Lounge where visitors could take a break while listening to the curated selection of songs from the 80s. It made a huge difference when professional DJs played live.

Icefest Lounge

February is Heart month so volunteers from the Heart and Stroke Foundation were at Icefest. For a donation of $2, visitors could sample tasty maple syrup taffy or play vintage arcade games, including Pacman, at the Icefest Arcade Tent.

Icefest Heart sculpture

There were about thirty-five sculptures and I took photos of all of them. Just in case you don’t like the 80s, I share just a few in this post. I love the 80s!

What about you? Do you love the 80s?

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

Hiking to Devil’s Cauldron Waterfall

Welcome to the second Wellness Weekend link-up in 2020! I hope everyone had a nice Valentine’s weekend and your wellness plans for 2020 have been going well. The optional prompt for February is Hiking so I’m sharing a moderate hike to the Devil’s Cauldron waterfall. My sister and I completed this hike when we were in Baños, Ecuador.

Where is Devil’s Cauldron Waterfall?

Baños (full name Baños de Agua Santa) is located about 180 km (112 miles) south of Quito. This town is known for its waterfalls, hiking trails, and hot springs. The Devil’s Cauldron waterfall (El Pailon del Diablo) is 18 km from the town centre. It’s one of Ecuador’s most powerful waterfalls and one of the top rated attractions in Baños.

How challenging is this hike?

I classify this hike as Moderate because although the path is clearly marked, it has uneven surfaces. It also involves stairs and a suspension bridge. As long as you watch your step and are not afraid of heights or suspension bridges, the hike is rewarding.

Let’s hike together!

We started following the Green River (Rio Verde) to the Isla del Pailon entrance. While there are other entry points, this entrance lets us see the full height of the waterfall. Entry fee was $2 per adult and $1 per child.

Green River (Rio Verde) in Banos, Ecuador
The Green River (Rio Verde) in Baños, Ecuador

The water flow was strong, rushing by the black volcanic rocks seen along the river banks. On the right of the photo below, the walking path is behind the low lichen-covered stone wall. We soon understood why the wall is essential for our safety.

The Green River flows towards a cliff
The Green River flows towards a cliff

We followed the stone path and reached the suspension bridge. On the left, we saw the side views of the Devil’s Cauldron waterfall which plunges some 80 meters (263 feet) over a sheer cliff to the rocks below.

Side view of Devil's Cauldron waterfall
Side view of Devil’s Cauldron waterfall

It’s necessary to cross the suspension bridge to see the full view of the waterfall and to understand why it’s called the Devil’s Cauldron. The maximum capacity of the bridge is 50 people. Of course it swayed as people got on it. Crossing the suspension bridge was stepping outside my comfort zone but I did it!

Suspension bridge at Devil's Cauldron waterfall
Suspension bridge at Devil’s Cauldron waterfall

At the other end of the suspension bridge, we faced the Devil’s Cauldron waterfall. It is beautiful and powerful. Its appearance and sheer force are mesmerizing. People who stood at the Lookout platforms below looked so small next to the waterfall.

Devil's Cauldron waterfall, Baños, Ecuador
Devil’s Cauldron waterfall, Baños, Ecuador

We continued to descend the path to the lower level. When we stood at the Lookout place, we could feel the mists, see the curtains of water, and hear the thundering sounds of the powerful waterfall plunging straight down to the bottom.

Devil's Cauldron waterfall
Devil’s Cauldron waterfall

We could see the rocky bottom where water was churning before it settled into a smoother flow and another suspension bridge looking like a thin stick at a distance.

It’s amazing that the stone path was carved out of the cliff side to allow visitors to get close to the waterfall. The surrounding scenery was also beautiful with cascades running down the mountain sides.

Cascades near Devil's Cauldron waterfall
Cascades near Devil’s Cauldron waterfall

We walked back to cross the suspension bridge and exited the same way that we came in. On our way out, we stopped to admire a variety of pretty flowers grown along the path. I’m sharing a small sample below.

Gratitude moment

I’m grateful for another amazing day and another wonderful hike in Ecuador with my sister. Altogether we did about 3 km return trip with stairs and suspension bridge crossings. We learned something new about the Devil’s Cauldron waterfall. The hike and nature gave me new energy. I’m looking forward to our next hike.

Click here to join in the Wellness Weekend 2020 link-up and share your wellness-related post. As your host, I will read your blog and leave a comment. For a full schedule of all Wellness Weekends in 2020, please see my Wellness page here.

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

A Walk Among the Roses

Valentine’s Day is almost upon us and in my part of the world, roses and chocolates are common gifts on that day. If you’re buying or receiving long stemmed roses in Canada and the United States, chances are the roses come from Cotopaxi in Ecuador.

An Ecuadorian red rose
An Ecuadorian red rose

Where is Cotopaxi?

Cotopaxi is one of South America’s most famous volcanoes and one of its most active ones. It’s located 60 km south of Quito and is within the famous “Avenue of Volcanoes” in Ecuador, a long stretch of 320 km (200 miles) comprised of tall peaks and volcanoes.

At the base of Cotopaxi volcano, there are many rose plantations or rose farms (seen as white buildings in the photo below). My sister and I took a walking tour in one of the plantations and learned how Ecuadorian roses are cultivated and exported to other countries around the world.

Snow-covered Cotopaxi volcano and rose plantations near its base
Snow-covered Cotopaxi volcano and rose plantations near its base

Why Roses Thrive in Cotopaxi?

  • Climate: Ecuador has the perfect conditions for growing roses. Ecuador is right on the Equator which means constant temperatures year round. During the day, it is around 20C (68F) and during the night, it cools down to 4C (39F).
  • Altitude: The roses grow in Cotopaxi at about 3000 meters (10,000 feet) above sea level. The intensity, luminosity, and the 12 hours of sunlight ensure the roses grow beautifully.
  • Volcanic soil: The soil in Cotopaxi is rich in minerals, allowing the roses to grow very tall with thick, strong stems, the largest blooms, and in the most vibrant colours.

What Does a Rose Plantation Look Like?

A rose plantation has many rows of white plastic-covered houses. Inside each house, many rows of Ecuadorian rose varieties grow more than 2 meters (6.5 feet) tall.

Rose plantation

Automated irrigation and heating systems control the temperature and relative humidity to ensure the optimal conditions for the plants. The rose buds are kept in perfect shape with nets.

Ecuadorian rose buds in green nets
Ecuadorian red rose buds in green nets

There are about 500 rose varieties in Ecuador. The rose plantation that we visited offers about 40 varieties. I attach a sample of six different roses here.

Once the roses are ready for harvest, they’re cut and placed in a pre-cool area where the outdoor heat is removed from the flowers as they arrive from the field, swiftly halting the opening of the flowers.

Next, the roses are placed in containers in a large hydration and packing cold room where temperature is kept between 0.5°C and 2°C guaranteeing quality prior to shipping. Rose production and international shipments are planned in time for special holidays such as Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day.

Roses to go
Roses to go

How Are Roses Used Locally?

Roses are sold in local markets or flower stands along the roads for a very inexpensive price. They are also given as complimentary gifts to visitors at the plantation. The local haciendas have rose arrangements in their reception areas and some give a long-stemmed rose to welcome their guests upon arrival.

Roses at Hacienda La Cienega
Roses at Hacienda La Cienega reception desk

Some hotels have more formal flower arrangements and gorgeous fresh roses on display, like this hotel in Quito.

Roses at a hotel in Quito
Roses at a hotel in Quito

Where To Buy Ecuadorian Rose Souvenirs?

The souvenir shop on the plantation site sells all kinds of rose products. For example, dyed roses, dry rose petals, rose-scented lotion, rose-flavoured tea, and since Ecuador also produces cacao, rose-infused chocolates as well.

A popular store chain named República del Cacao has locations in Quito, at Quito international airport and in major cities where you can buy Ecuador chocolates, cacao products, Panama hats, rose-related souvenirs, etc.

Blue roses

It was a real treat to walk among the beautiful Ecuadorian roses and receive them so freely during our stay in this area of Ecuador. I’m closing this post with a photo of a cute pair of llamas that we saw upon leaving the rose plantation.

Happy Valentine’s Week!

Two llamas

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

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.

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