Summer Week 11: August Smiles

Hello blog friends! How are you doing? Hope all is well with you. Come on in to my blog space so we can share our news over a cup of coffee or tea.

Summer Week 11

Summer week 11, from August 30 to September 5 inclusive, delivered another stretch of good weather. Daytime high temperatures ranged from 22C to 27C (72F to 82F) with mainly sunny days and some rain mid-week.

Beach Visit

I cycled to Cherry Beach early one morning to get my quiet beach time. Cherry Beach typically achieves annual Blue Flag certification where water quality is safe for swimming. It was nice to walk along the beach and listen to the sounds of water and birds.

Cherry Beach.
Cherry Beach

There are picnic sites, restroom facility, parking lots, and dogs off-leash area outside the beach entrance which make this beach popular, especially on summer weekends.

Cherry Beach picnic site.
Cherry Beach picnic site

Family Visit

My sister and nieces came to visit on Tuesday. We sat outside 2 meters apart by the lake to chat and catch up on our news. My nieces resume their university studies next week so I was glad to see them before they get busy with school.

Lake view.

Park Visit

On another beautiful day, I went for a long walk and paused at Larry Sefton Park. The United Steel Workers of America funded this park creation in 1977 to honor the memory of their director, Larry Sefton. I liked how the deep terra cotta wall provides a nice backdrop to the steel sculpture.

Larry Sefton Park

August in Numbers

August ended a few days ago so this week I completed my usual monthly review and month-end digital file back-ups. How did I do in August? Let’s see what the numbers have to say:

  • 1 family visit (and a repeat baking success: a coconut loaf).
  • 1 stand up paddling excursion.
  • 2 canoe excursions here and here.
  • 2 coffee meet-ups with friends.
  • 2 movies: Cake and The Boy Downstairs.
  • 3 digital concerts.
  • 5 blog posts.
  • 12 yoga sessions.
  • 13 strengthening workouts.
  • 20 books (see list below).
  • 21 cycling trips.
  • 24 walks.
  • 31 French and Spanish online sessions.
  • 31 meditations sessions.

Overall August was an excellent month for me. I enjoyed the good weather, had coffee chats with my siblings and friends outdoors, did a lot of cycling, paddling, walking, exercising, learning, reading, and writing.

Reading in August

By switching to e-books and not visiting the library, I gained time to read and enjoyed twenty fiction novels in August. These novels are all really good page-turners and once I start, I want to read to the end. During the day, I’m active and on my feet a lot so by evening time, I’m happy to sit down and get lost in a book.

Here’s my list in order of preference:

  1. The Sense of An Ending by Julian Barnes.
  2. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.
  3. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.
  4. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes.
  5. American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson.
  6. 99 Days by Katie Cotugno.
  7. 9 Days and 9 Nights (sequel to 99 Days) by Katie Cotugno.
  8. After You (sequel to Me Before You) by Jojo Moyes.
  9. Still Me (sequel to After You) by Jojo Moyes.
  10. One Day in December by Josie Silver.
  11. The Lying Game by Ruth Ware.
  12. Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn.
  13. Becoming Rain by K.A. Tucker.
  14. Surviving Ice by K.A. Tucker.
  15. Four Seconds To Lose by K.A. Tucker.
  16. Until It Fades by K.A. Tucker.
  17. Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman.
  18. Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton.
  19. The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory.
  20. The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver.

Novel #1: The Sense of An Ending blew my mind. I read this e-book in one evening as the story is engaging and it’s just 160 pages long. When I finished, my reaction was “Whoa, I didn’t see it coming“.

Novels #1 to #5: Even though love shines in all the novels I read, the deaths of bright and young people in my top five novels made me feel really sad after I finished the books. I had to do long bicycle rides and long walks to clear my head of thoughts about grief and unnatural deaths.

Novels #6 to #16: I usually don’t read sequels or multiple books from the same author in one month. Breaking my own rule, I read and enjoyed the young adult fiction sequel by Katie Cotugno, the trilogy by Jojo Moyes, and the series by K.A. Tucker. Novels #11 and 12 are good thrillers.

Novels #17 to #20: Just because I place the books last on my list, it doesn’t mean #17 to #20 are not good reads. I like all the 20 novels that I read in August. I’m glad to discover new-to-me authors and appreciate all the hard work that these authors put in to write their books. I hope my reading contributes to the overall encouragement for them to write more.

Conclusion

I’m grateful for all the good things that happened. My family and friends are safe and well. I continue to follow public health measures to stay safe and well, too. I look forward to making the most of September.

How did your week go? How was your August? I’d love to hear your comments.

I link up here.

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

Summer Week 6: July Smiles

Butterfly

Hello blog friends! How are you? Hope all’s well with you. Come on in to my blog space, make yourself at home with a coffee or tea, hot or iced, and let’s chat.

Summer Week 6

Summer week 6, from July 26 to August 1 inclusive, was sunny and warm. The high temperatures ranged from 28C to 33C (82F to 91F). We had heat warning on Sunday and Monday, brief showers on Wednesday, and the rest of the week was beautiful.

I enjoyed plenty of outdoor time cycling and walking on the waterfront trail or in parks by the lake. The flowers in the gardens continue to be amazing. So many colours, shapes, textures, and lovely fragrance that keep bees and butterflies busy.

My new activity of the week was Stand Up Paddling (SUP). I did SUP for about three hours on Toronto islands with my small ‘social bubble’. We paddled and had so much fun. The water was calm and warm. I saw a great blue heron, dragonflies, Eastern kingbirds, pretty water lilies, idyllic sailboats, and more.

Sailboat

July Smiles

Since we’ve just finished July and are now at the beginning of August, I thought of summarizing my fun in July in simple numbers:

  • 1 stand up paddling trip
  • 2 movies (see titles below)
  • 4 blog posts
  • 6 digital concerts (see performers below)
  • 6 kayaking trips
  • 13 yoga sessions
  • 14 strengthening workouts
  • 15 books (see list below)
  • 24 cycling trips
  • 26 walks
  • 31 online French and Spanish sessions
  • 31 meditation sessions

The two movies were both based on true stories and great performances. I gave each movie 4 stars out of 5:

  • The Big Short (Christian Bale, Steve Carrell and Ryan Gosling).
  • The Whole Wide World (Renée Zellweger and Vincent D’Onofrio).

The six concerts were performed beautifully by:

On the COVID-19 front, case numbers in Toronto have been on the downward trends so as of July 31, the City allows more businesses to re-open, now including indoor gyms, dine-in restaurants, and movie theatres that meet public health guidelines. Masks are required in indoor public spaces and people are advised to continue social distancing.

July Beach Reads

Glorious books and e-books! I was in the mood for reading and set a new personal best reading record in a month: 15 books. I enjoyed every single one of them, about half were e-books and the other half physical books. I re-read some of the chapters in each of the books. They were that good!

15 books read in July 2020

All of the authors were new to me, except Jenny Colgan and John Grisham. Although I read Neil Pasricha‘s articles and listened to him on TED Talks before, this was the first time I read one of his books. I’m glad to discover K.A. Tucker who lives in a small town outside of Toronto.

Most of the 15 books are contemporary romance, with adventures, suspense, or thriller twists. Most, not all, have happy endings. They transported me to faraway places such as Bora Bora, England, Israel, Italy, Scotland, Vietnam, Zimbabwe, and various states in the USA.

I group the books into my Top 5 Picks, Next 5 Picks, and Last 5 Picks, based on how much I liked the story and the writing style. They are in alpha order by author’s last name below.

My Top 5 Picks:
  • Beach Read by Emily Henry.
  • Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng.
  • Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens.
  • The Happiness Equation: Want Nothing + Do Anything = Have Everything by Neil Pasricha.
  • The Simple Wild by K. A. Tucker.
My Next 5 Picks:
  • The Place We Met by Isabelle Broom.
  • Every Breath by Nicholas Sparks.
  • Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman.
  • Burying Water by K. A. Tucker.
  • Ten Tiny Breaths by K. A. Tucker.
My Last 5 Picks:
  • The Cafe by The Sea by Jenny Colgan.
  • Gray Mountain by John Grisham.
  • The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo.
  • Be The Girl by K. A. Tucker.
  • On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong.

Conclusion

July was an enriching and fabulous month with fitness, family, friends, and fun while social distancing. I look forward to making the most of August.

How was your July? What are you reading? I’d love to hear your comments.

I link up here.

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

June Smiles and Summer Week 2

Pink poppies.

Hello blog friends! How are things going? I hope all is well with you. Come on in to my blog space for a coffee (or tea) chat and catch up on our news.

If we were having coffee (or tea), I would share that Toronto had a full week of sunny and warm days. We said goodbye to June and the first half of 2020. We welcomed July with a Happy birthday to Canada on July 1. Life in Ontario continues to evolve with some good news on the COVID-19 front.

June was a month full of stunning sights and fragrance from flower blooms. Birds continued to be active and they filled my mornings with beautiful sounds. The lake shone like diamonds in the sun. I took many photos and included some samples in this post.

June in Numbers

I feel grateful to wake up every day with a new set of 24 hours to live. We all had 30 full days or 720 hours in June. Of the 720 hours, I spent about 240 hours for Sleep, another 240 hours for Home Life, and 240 hours for Fun.

I kept track some of my fun activities in simple numbers. Every one of the following items made me smile:

  • 1 new baking success: Banana blueberry loaf. Recipe below. I used blueberries instead of cranberries.
  • 2 coffee dates with my sister.
  • 3 bicycle rides.
  • 3 online jazz and piano concerts: Miles Davis jazz at Lincoln Centre, Diana Krall on YouTube, and John Legend’s live streaming from his home studio.
  • 4 blog posts.
  • 4 movies: Election, Margot at the Wedding, Keep the Change, and One Week. All four were good although I liked One Week the most.
  • 6 books: They were included in my Reading Update #2.
  • 13 strengthening workouts.
  • 13 yoga sessions.
  • 26 walks to where I could see beautiful flower plants and fish-themed art.
  • 30 online French and Spanish sessions.
  • 30 meditation sessions.

Some good news on the COVID-19 front, mainly easing of restrictions and re-opening of businesses. Here’s what’s of interest to me:

  • up to 10 people allowed for social gathering.
  • up to 10 people allowed in social bubbles.
  • library curb-side pickup by appointment.
  • dental clinics, hair salons, farmers’ markets, ferry service to Toronto Islands, malls, and restaurant patios although I’m in no rush to go to these places yet.

Summer Week 2 in Pictures

The second week of summer continued to be sunny and hot with a heat wave that lasted several days. The high temperatures ranged from 27C to 33C (81F to 95F) plus humidity so it felt a few degrees hotter. Not a drop of rain the entire week.

My day went something like this:

  • Morning: Breakfast, meditation, cycling, walking, and strengthening workouts or yoga. I usually take photos during my walk.
  • Afternoon: Lunch, checking in with family and friends, home maintenance, and language lessons. Kayaking in the late afternoon if lake is calm.
  • Evening: Dinner, reading, writing, movie or music, and sleep.

A sample of what filled up my senses one morning last week:

Another sample to show more water, some Canada geese and aquatic plants, with a pop of red colour from my kayak:

On July 1, to do something special on Canada Day, I went kayaking with my best friend within the Toronto Islands for about three hours. It was a beautiful time while being in peaceful company with cormorants, egrets, ducks, fish, swans, turtles, lots of green plants, and fresh water.

Great egret within Toronto Islands.
Great egret within Toronto Islands

Conclusion

I was so happy and grateful for how June turned out for me. Week 2 of summer 2020 was amazing. Words are not adequate to describe the beauty that I see every day. The weather forecast for the coming week is sunny and warm again. I look forward to making the most of it.

How was June for you? How did your week go? I’d love to hear your comments.

I link up here.

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

May Smiles

Tulips

Hello blog friends! How are you doing? I hope all’s well with you. Come on in my blog space for a coffee or tea. It’s the last day of May and a Sunday so I hope we can linger and catch up on what’s been happening. Let me share with you what brings me smiles in May.

Pink tulips

Spring continues to transform the scenery in my neighbourhood. Every week what I see is like one of many acts in a theatre play, where each act brings on new props. Tulips, trilliums, and dandelions have reached their blooms while lilacs and other flowers are getting to their prime.

Health

Lake view on a sunny day

I’m thankful that the lockdown started in the spring, as opposed to winter. Spring is the ideal time to visit local parks and gardens to see the beautiful trees and blooming flowers. They brighten my day and keep me in good spirits. I’m also thankful to have Lake Ontario nearby so I can go and soak in the ever-changing views and watch active bird life.

I’m committed to stay fit and have fun in May. I do a combination of meditation, strengthening exercises, walking, and yoga to keep me calm and strong. By adding Chloe Bent’s 20-minute dance cardio workout to my Friday fitness routine, I have something fun to look forward to on Fridays.

Home

White trillium flower

Grocery shopping continues to be interesting. Some products are still on short supplies or unavailable when I’m at the store. Fortunately, brand substitutions have brought satisfying results. One of the three supermarkets in my neighbourhood requires shoppers to wear masks. Bars, coffee shops, and restaurants can offer take-outs, delivery, drive-through, or curbside pickups only.

I used Jean Paré’s Muffins and More recipe book to bake my first Coconut Bread. It was easy to make and turned out very good. It would go well with coffee or tea. I’m learning to bake one new recipe per month just for fun. I’ve progressed from no baking to five successes!

Leisure

Pink tulips

Blogs: May 31 marks a full year that I’ve been using WordPress for my blog. I’m happy with WordPress and still enjoy blogging. Several ideas are floating in my mind so stay tuned for the next post 🙂

Hot Docs 2020 Festival: I enjoyed viewing some of the thought-provoking documentaries from the Hot Docs 2020 festival, one of the biggest documentary film festivals in the world, from the comfort of my home.

Languages: I learn French and Spanish lessons daily on Duolingo.

Movies: These movies are all about love and relationships. I gave them 3.5 to 4 stars out of 5. Their locations made my travel heart happy.

  • Ma Ma starring Penélope Cruz (Spain).
  • Boy starring James Rollestone & Taika Wahiti (New Zealand).
  • Girl on a Bicycle starring Louise Monot (France).
  • This Beautiful Fantastic starring Jessica Brown Findlay and Tom Wilkinson (England).
  • Take Me Home starring Sam Jaeger and Amber Jaeger (USA).
Pink trillium flowers

Music: I listened to a lot of pop music in May plus 2020 Jazz concert at Lincoln Center Gala, and classical concerts at Berlin Philharmonic Digital Concert Hall.

Readings: To shake up my reading routine and since May is Short Story month, I paused my book reading and started reading 73 Canadian short stories available free online. I also listened to actors’ readings of Harry Potter’s The Philosopher’s Stone or The Sorcerer’s Stone, chapters 1 to 7.

Shows and Theatre Plays: In May, I watched MacBeth, The Tempest, A Streetcar Named Desire (with Gillian Anderson), and the Cirque du Soleil special One Night for One Drop.

Walks

With a little planning, each of my walks outdoors is interesting. It’s getting warmer as we move into summer so I leave home earlier in the morning and add sun protection to make my walks more comfortable.

A wild bunny
A wild bunny

Two nice wildlife surprises made me smile this week. I saw a bunny, maybe the same Easter bunny that I spotted in April, and three new Trumpeter swans with tags X01, X02, X03 in the harbour. They are not the Trumpeter swans P24 and T63 that I saw before. The Trumpeter swan was near extinction about forty years ago so I was pleased to see five of them in two months.

Three Trumpeter swans X01, X02 and X03
Three Trumpeter swans X01, X02, X03

Conclusion

The end of May marks 22 weeks into 2020 and 11 of those weeks were under heavy COVID-19 impact. I anticipate that it’s a long haul even as restrictions ease up. In my own small world, May is a good month. I’m grateful that everyone in my circle of family and friends is safe and well.

Lake view with water taxi and ferry

June usually brings good weather here and Toronto Public Library starts curbside book pick-ups in early June. I look forward to being outdoors as much as possible and reading more books in the coming weeks. After all, the lake view and a good book are irresistible.

How did May go for you? What good things happened? I’d love to hear your comments.

I’m linking this post to Su’s The Changing Seasons at Zimmerbitch blog for the first time and my regular link-ups here.

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

April Smiles

Orange tulips and daffodils

Hello blog friends! How are you doing? I hope you’re well. Come on in so we can share a coffee or tea and our news. If we were having coffee, I’d share with you what made me feel positive and gave me five big smiles since I mentioned my Gratitude list. Heads up that there are lots of spring flowers in this post.

Smile #1 – Family and Friends

My family and friends are well. We stay in touch by phone, text, email, and the occasional virtual meetings. Most of my family members who are working are essential workers so they’re actually busier and under more stress than usual. Knowing that everyone in my circle is safe and in good health makes me smile.

Smile #2 – Health

If we were having coffee, I’d share that I was diligent about my health routine in April. I meditated every day, practiced deep breathing and yoga three times per week, and did strengthening workouts three times per week. I also walked outdoors five or six times per week, about one hour each time.

I’m mindful of keeping a safe distance from everyone else. Most of the time, it’s easy to do physical distancing because there is no one in my path when I go. My 5K walks let me see Lake Ontario, beautiful spring flowers, wildlife, and interesting murals and sculptures. They keep me in good spirits.

Smile #3 – Home

If we were having coffee, I’d share that in April, I baked my first Blueberry Coffee Cake. It would go well with our coffee or tea. I used Jean Paré’s easy-to-follow recipe from her Muffins and More book. She’s a Canadian and author of the Company’s Coming cookbook series that has sold over 30 million copies since 1981.

The cake was a success so I’d make it again in the future. The topping has cinnamon which smells very nice when I bake the cake. I included the recipe. Note that I used blueberries instead of cranberries. Raspberries work, too.

Smile #4 – Leisure

During this global pandemic, there is a huge amount of arts and entertainment available online 24/7 without extra cost. With my library card, I have access to more leisure materials than time to explore them all. In April, here’s some of what I enjoyed:

  • Books: I was happy to spend time away from the screen and read over 1,000 pages from three compelling books, Dear Life by Alice Munro who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2013, Angela’s Ashes, a memoir and Pulitzer Prize winner by Frank McCourt and The Sisters Brothers, finalist of several literary prizes in 2011, by Patrick deWitt.
  • Films: My library card gives me access to a great collection of films and documentaries. I chose to watch three films in April: The Gold Rush, Modern Times, and Call Me by Your Name. The first two are Charlie Chaplin’s comedic masterworks. The third film won several awards in 2018 and its location reminded me of my wonderful time in Italy.
  • Languages: French and Spanish lessons on Duolingo are my fun brain exercises, 30 minutes/ day. I chose two languages that have similarities to challenge myself. They also remind me of my many trips to France and Spain. The happy memories make me smile.
  • Music: I listened to Andrea Bocelli: Music for Hope, One World: Together At Home, and Stronger Together, Tous Ensemble concerts, plus numerous classical concerts online at the Berliner Philharmoniker Digital Concert Hall, and music played by professional DJs on the radio.
  • Shows: The Cirque du Soleil Premier show on CirqueConnect and The Nutcracker ballet at Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre were incredible to watch. Pre-pandemic I wouldn’t be able to watch them from front row seats. In April I could watch them in close details from home for free.

Smile #5 – Blogs

I wrote five blog posts in April and the “Oscar” goes to Life is Like A Box of Chocolates with the highest number of comments I received to date. Your comments brighten my day, thank you! Please keep them coming. I have fun reading your blogs and leaving my comments, too. Check out this page to see where I link up.

Tulips

Stay Safe and Healthy

So I had many good reasons to smile and feel grateful for in April. The recipe for me to be well emotionally, mentally, and physically is to stick to my health routine and spice up my day with a variety of leisure activities.

I expect to continue staying at home most of the time in May, except to go out for exercise walks and groceries. I hope this 3-geese sign brings you a smile. Stay safe and healthy everyone!

How was your April? What makes you smile? I’d love to hear your comments.

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

March Wrap-Up

Hello blog friends

I hope you and your loved ones are staying safe and healthy. March started smoothly for me for the first twelve days, then on Friday March 13, things started to change rapidly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As the grim news unfolded around the world, I felt grateful to be home with my family. We made adjustments to our routine and prepared to stay in for the long haul.

I chose my photo of a row of colourful Muskoka chairs in the sun as the header image for this post. The sunshine is welcoming, and these chairs provide relaxation. Imagine we’re gathering in a wide circle for a coffee chat and it’s my turn to share my month of March with you.

Family and Friends

I’m grateful that my family is well, I’m well, and my friends are all well so far. We stay in touch by phone, text, or email as usual. There were two family birthdays and my friend’s mother turned 94 in March. I made sure to say happy birthday to all three.

Keeping A Routine

On or around March 13, we started receiving daily updates and urgent news about the virus spread in Canada, Ontario, and Toronto. The government started closing public schools, libraries, community centres, borders, etc. and advised people to stay home and keep a safe physical distance from others to slow the spread of the virus. More restrictions came as March progressed.

Since I had planned to be in Spain for the last two weeks of March, my home calendar from March 16 to 31 was blank. After my flights were cancelled, I decided to keep the routine that I had before the pandemic, with some adjustments due to the circumstances. I feel that this structure gives the day purpose, adds positivity to the day, makes it possible to manage time, and gives me a sense of achievement.

Lake view

Health

Throughout March, I continued with my health activities and felt good. This included daily meditation, outdoor walks, strengthening workouts, and yoga. I also kept my bedtime to get about 7-8 hours of sleep every night, and greeted each morning with a smile.

When the gym, yoga classes, and swimming pool were closed, I moved my exercises to my living room and alternated the dates: Strength workouts on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Yoga on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. I used my body weight and a resistance band for my workouts. I did shorter walks outdoors while practicing physical distancing and stayed closer to home.

Arts

Before March 13, I viewed three interesting glass art exhibits by Nadira Narine, Jared Last, Rob Raeside, and one clay and porcelain exhibit by Amber Zuber.

After all non-essential businesses were closed, I viewed public art that are available on my outdoor walks. Spring has arrived and nature provides subtle beauty everywhere I look.

Purple croci

Blogs

I wrote five blog posts in March, hosted the March Wellness Weekend link-up, and maintained my usual blogging connections. I also did the monthly back-up of my blog content and media. What’s new was an interview that I did for one of my blogger friends. It’s to be published in May so watch this space.

Books

I read six books in March: Celestial Bodies, Bad Move, Elevator Pitch, Love Walked In, A Better Man, and Snowmen. The list of the eighteen books I read in the first quarter of 2020 is here.

Home

Since I had planned to be in Spain for the last half of March, I didn’t do grocery shopping before mid-March. As a result, after my trip was cancelled, it took me several visits to the different supermarkets to get our usual groceries. Fresh produce was fine while some dry goods were sold out.

My local grocery stores started adding more sanitizing stations, redirecting incoming shoppers, placing markers on the floors for physical distancing, more frequent disinfecting of common surfaces, and reducing opening hours.

With the extra time gained from not going to any event, I experimented with two recipes: clafoutis and sugar-free banana muffins. I used blueberries for the clafoutis instead of cherries. Both recipes turned out delicious and I’d make them again. My thank-you to Suzanne and Malcolm at Picture Retirement blog for sharing the banana muffin recipe.

Learning

I continued my daily French and Spanish lessons on Duolingo. It’s part of my “keeping a routine” strategy. There is no excuse to lose my streak of daily lessons while I’m healthy at home.

Movies

Before March 13, I watched one good movie, Jojo Rabbit, with my neighbours. After March 13, we postponed our movie nights until further notice. Surprisingly, I haven’t had to reach out for any movie DVDs yet.

Music

Before concert halls were closed, I attended two wonderful classical piano recitals, one by the highly-gifted 9 year-old Sunny Ritter from Austria and the other by Lisa Tahara, Jayne Abe, and Victoria Yuan who played amazing two hands, four hands, and six hands piano.

Sunny Ritter

Travel

I had five trip cancellations due to the COVID-19 pandemic: Spain in March, two in Ontario in April, Iceland in May, and California also in May. No sadness though because the best place to be during these turbulent times is Home.

The airlines, hotels, and rail company that I dealt with have been great with updates and automated cancellation process on their web sites. I’m grateful to receive either full refunds or travel credits for all five trips via electronic means with no phone call or in-person wait times.

Volunteering

Earlier this year I had signed up to volunteer at two running race events, one in March and one in early May. The organizers had to cancel both events. After the COVID-19 pandemic was declared, I volunteered to call my elderly neighbours to chat. We’ve also been doing hand clapping or pot banging from our homes at 7 PM every evening to show our support for front line health care and other essential workers.

So that was my March. Now it’s your turn. I’d love to hear your comments.

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.

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.

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.

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.