Finding well-being through travel and books.
Hello and welcome!|
I have two great passions in life.
The first one is travel. After a series of life-changing events, my husband and I decided to spend the kids’ inheritance and see as much of the world as possible (I’m still bitter about Damascus). Our bible? A Thousand Places to See Before You Die. Please join us on our adventures seeing new places, meeting fascinating people and trying new, exciting, and sometimes just plain weird, food.
My second great passion is books. Reading expands my interior world in the same way travel expands my external one. And, books are a great way to armchair travel - not only through distance but through time as well. My tastes are eclectic, so we’ll be looking at a wide range of writing in a possibly haphazard fashion. Come along for the ride!
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|“The animals here are not tame, they are innocent. And we want to keep them that way.” Our expedition leader, Ramiro, gave us our orientation talk aboard the Santa Cruz, a Galapagos expedition vessel run by Metropolitan Touring.
Ramiro’s face was friendly but there was a bar of steel in his voice. “The short history of the islands when buccaneers and privateers hunted the animals by simply walking up to them and then killing them, was too short for them to genetically encode a fear of humans. They have nothing in their DNA that tells them to be afraid of us.”
The Galapagos, indeed all of Ecuador, takes the greatest care to make as little impact on the environment as possible. There was no doubt that we would all be following the rules and regulations of a visit to the Galapagos.
“The animals won’t run away from us nor will they avoid us. It will be up to us to maintain a two-metre distance from any animal or bird.” This was to prove to be tricky later. “There is to be absolutely no touching of the animals and no feeding of the animals. Stay on the paths and do not leave anything behind. The environment is to remain as pristine as we found it,” Ramiro concluded.
With that, we were ready to disembark into the pangas for our first excursion, Punta Pitt on San Cristobal Island.
We landed on a beach littered with sea lions and their pups. We were all a bit stunned as we realized that Ramiro had not exaggerated. The animals either completely ignored us or were curious and tried to approach us.
To read the rest and see the fabulous photos, click here.
|One of the best parts of my trip to Ecuador was a visit to Mindo. The town is located about 79 km northwest of Quito in one of the richest areas of the planet in terms of biodiversity with over 350 species of birds and over two dozen species of butterflies. And it was the butterflies that really entranced me when we visited the Mariposas de Mindo, the Butterfly Garden. This is the largest butterfly farm in Ecuador and you can get up close and personal with hundreds of butterflies.
Twenty-five species, all local ones occurring in the surrounding cloud forest, are bred here including the Morpho granadensis, the Brown owl eye and the Heleconius sara. A guide took us through a room where we could see the butterflies in all four stages of their lifecycle: egg, caterpillar, pupa and finally the adult butterfly. Pupae of all the species are hung up in rows outside the display room. The adult butterflies emerge from here and are then transferred to the flying area. The cocoons mimic many forms such as leaves and twigs to camouflage themselves.
We were let loose to wander around the flying area, an enclosure filled with hundreds of the beautiful creatures. There were a number of plates filled with overripe bananas scattered around the garden. A little dab of banana on a finger, would lure a butterfly to come and hand-feed. The Butterfly Garden raises thousands of butterflies every year and, as many of these species are endangered, most are put back into the wild as part of the centre’s conservation program.
After wandering around the garden for a while, I was drawn back to the rows and rows of cocoons waiting to hatch. This is a superficial pause in the life cycle of the butterfly.
On the surface, the insect has withdrawn from the world, apart and yet still vulnerable. But underneath, profound metabolic change is taking place.
It occurred to me, as I stood before them, that we need the same stage as humans in order to effect any significant changes in our lives. Read the rest and see the photos here
|It’s no secret that these days I’ve been far more likely to be found in a state of mindlessness, rather than mindfulness, overcome with the administrivia of everyday life and occasionally missing the big picture altogether. So, I was looking forward to David Cain’s talk “Creating a Life of Well-being” with considerable interest.
David is a huge proponent of better living through mindfulness and he has just released a wonderful e-book called .You Are Here, A Modern Person’s Guide to Living in the Present
David led off by differentiating between “happiness” and “well-being”. We often say that we want to be happy (an emotion) but what we really want is to experience well-being (a state of being).
According to David, to experience well-being, a person needs to do several things: (1) she needs to have a sense of individual vitality, (2) she needs to engage in activities that are meaningful to her, (3) she needs to have a sense of independence and purpose, and (4) she needs to have a stock of internal resources that will give her the resilience to cope with things that do not go according to plan. Well-being is arguably the ultimate goal of human endeavor. Experiencing well-being means experiencing an excellent life—serene, useful, and worth living. You can test your current state of well-being here .
Learning to be in the present moment (mindfulness) is generally recognized as one of the key requirements for achieving a state of well-being. Mindfulness is often equated with meditation. While meditation is certainly one way to achieve mindfulness it is by no means limited to it.
I like Jon Kavat-Zin’s definition: “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.
Read the rest of the blog post here
|As I mentioned in my last post, the theme of this particular Chautauqua was Happiness and Freedom. Like many other people in the western world who have all of their basic needs met (food, clothing, shelter), I have the luxury of worrying about how happy (or not) I am. I became so interested in it, in fact, that a number of years ago I became fascinated with the Positive Psychology movement and returned to graduate school to do a masters in psychology. “The field [of Positive Psychology] is founded on the belief that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, to cultivate what is best within themselves, and to enhance their experiences of love, work, and play.” Positive Psychology Centre .
The talks of each of the three presenters during the Chautauqua were fundamentally based on the research in Positive Psychology.
Cheryl Reed gave a presentation on happiness based largely on the work of Marci Shimoff* , Sonja Lyubomirsky**, and the Sedona Method.
Our experience of happiness can be broken down into three areas. Fifty percent of our ability to be happy is based on genetics, our fundamental make-up. Ten percent is governed by external events—whether we have enough food, adequate shelter, clothing, money, a job and so on. However, forty percent is entirely within our own hands. It is governed by our interior world—our thoughts, feelings, and actions. Even just tweaking this forty percent slightly can make an enormous difference in the level of happiness we experience.
Read the rest here .
|Two weeks ago, I was in Ecuador to attend a Chautauqua hosted by Cheryl Reed of Above the Clouds Retreats (insert hyperlink). The Chautauqua was an adult education movement that was popular in North America during the 19th century. The purpose was, and still is, to encourage learning through lectures, music, culture, events and storytelling. The theme of this particular Chautauqua was to explore happiness and freedom, and to learn about a small part of Ecuador. I was very excited about the week-long event, as David Cain (insert hyperlink), a blogger whose posts I read faithfully, would be presenting, as would the inestimable J. D. Roth (insert hyperlink).
Our group spent the first night in Quito, where I discovered that being at nearly 10,000 feet of altitude was not exactly my favourite place to be, then we left the next morning to head for our retreat headquarters, the El Encanto resort in the cloud forest.
On the way, we stopped just outside of Quito at the Mitad del Mundo (the Middle of the World) where, by 500 BCE, the ancient Quechua people had already figured out that the Earth was a sphere and therefore must have a dividing line in the middle. They named this central line, as determined by the equinoxes (equal day and night), Inti (sun) Nan (path). Over 2,200 years later, in 1735, a French Geodesic Mission set out for Quito to pinpoint the location.
The Mission’s expedition lasted for nine years and succeeded in obtaining a fairly accurate measurement of the equator as determined by modern military GPS, and also in naming Ecuador (French for equator). Ironically, the French could have saved themselves a lot of time and money by just asking the Quechua, whose observations of the sun’s path gave a more accurate reading than the French instrumentation. Perhaps if we get out from behind our equipment and use our senses to actually observe the world around us we end up with a better idea of reality.
Read the rest here
|I love the food hall at Fortnum's. It reminds me so much of an earlier time and the British Raj. My father used to tell me stories about his adolescence in India, and the "desiccated memsahibs" gossiping on their wide verandas over endless cups of tea. Somehow, I always imagined the tea coming in fabulous baskets from Fortnum and Mason, even though it was grown locally in Darjeeling and Ceylon.
Fortnum and Mason has a a long and distinguished history. It began in the early 1700's when William Fortnum, a young footman to Queen Anne, discovered that the Royal family required fresh candles every night. The enterprising (and cheeky) youth set up a profitable side business in 'gently used' candles which gave him, and his landlord, grocer Hugh Mason, the funds to begin Fortnum and Mason. Soon afterward, the store established close ties with the British East India Company which enabled them to import exotic and unique items to serve the broadening tastes of the growing middle class as well as the aristocracy. Their hampers, shipped by Fortnum's own mail service (until 1839 when the GPO was formed creating a postal monopoly), are, to this day, shipped far and wide.
As later in the trip we will be visiting friends who recently welcomed twins, we needed to shop for baby clothes (I swear that Rene's "grandpa gene" has kicked in - there was no other reason why we had to do this shopping first!). Fortnum's has a fairly small children's section but the shoes looked just the thing for fashion-forward tots.
Stumped in our quest for the perfect baby clothes at Fortnum's, we walked down Picadilly, past Hyde Park, and on into Harrods, which is located in Knightsbridge. There, we found a huge children's sections with some eye-watering prices. Eventually, we did settle on an adorable outfit for each child. Later, Rene said," it's too bad they're going to grow out of them in a few months. Oh well, then they will be able to dress their teddies in the clothes."
You could almost see the lightbulb go off! Before I knew it, I was in Hambley's shopping for teddy bears! And this was the final result ... Read it and see the photos here
|"The most important lesson I’ve learned over the years is that running is a metaphor for success. Take things one step at a time, keep moving forward (even when you have to walk or crawl), and eventually you’ll reach your goal. Let go of unrealistic expectations while simultaneously pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. That’s the magic formula." Jill Angie, Running With Curves: Why You’re Not Too Fat Too Run, and the Skinny on How to Start Today (Difference Press, 2013)
Right from the first page, this delightful and inspiring book had me cheering for Jill, and every other human being who has ever wanted to feel stronger, fitter and to create a greater sense of self-worth. Jill writes with the authority of 15 years as a curvy runner, and the humour, insight and compassion of a good friend. Currently a fitness trainer and weight loss coach, she is adamant that no one is too fat (too old, too unfit; insert excuse-of-choice here) to run. The key is to focus on the journey, not an end goal.
This book is as much about the inner struggle of making a positive change in our life as it is about dealing with weight, muscles and sinews. While I found Jill’s expert advice on how to get started, taking it to the next level, appropriate dress (including the all-important sports bra) and equipment, and dealing with injuries to be very valuable, the most important section in the book for me was the one on how to take charge of our attitude. Success in any venture depends as much, if not more, on mastering your inner “mental game” as it does on mastering new technical skills. And, every time we try to make a significant change externally, internally a whole new battle begins.
Enter the Inner Mean Girl
As hard as it may be to deal with muscle soreness, fatigue and blisters, dealing with your Inner Mean Girl can be much more difficult. You know the Inner Mean Girl – we all have one (mine’s called Vampirella, by the way, but I digress). She delights in tormenting us with such questions as: “Who are you to think you can run (write a book, score a promotion, or insert any longed-for goal that takes you out of your comfort zone)? You’re too fat (old, out of shape, untalented … whatever) to do this. You’ll never be any good at it - so why bother?” Jill does a masterful and witty job of helping us beat our Inner Mean Girl at her own game.
This book is for you if you want to feel better about yourself now, not some far-off day when you are thinner or fitter. Many of Jill's tips can be applied to other challenging areas, too. As Jill writes, “It’s time to run your way back to self-esteem, confidence, and fabulosity.” Fabulosity – such a great word! Running with Curves is available on Amazon.com
After I finished the book, I had the opportunity to sit down and ask Jill a few questions: You can read our interview here
Come visit my travel blog Notes From A Broad
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|People come to veganism for many reasons: ethical, health and environmental are the main ones. Then, there are those who have veganism thrust upon them, which is what happened to Caren Albers when her husband embarked upon Dr. Neal Barnard’s 21-Day Kickstart Program.
“Wasn’t settling into early retirement together enough of a stressor for us? Now, bam, he announces he’s turning vegan? I wasn’t looking for a 24/7 buddy or a new vegan diet (which my husband never tires of reminding me is a lifestyle choice, not a diet). But somehow, they both came looking for me.”
That was when life as she knew it shattered into a million pieces. You can read the rest of the review, and my interview with Caren, here
|This week’s blog is a review of two books, written by a husband and wife! I met Frank at a writer’s retreat a few years ago and it was a thrill to see his book finished and published.
“We can think of life as a series of steps leading towards our dreams and goals. We start at point A and wish to proceed to point B but end at point S (stupid).” writes Dr. Stass.
Have you ever had a forehead smacking moment and said, “How could I have been so stupid?” My guess is yes since, according to Dr. Stass, stupidity is part of the human condition. Stupidities range from the innocuous (walking into a glass door because you’re not paying attention) to heartbreaking (affairs or abuses that end relationships) to life-threatening (like taking an unknown mountain road at night, in the dead of winter, before cell phones, thinking it was s shortcut and getting stuck in the snow when the road ended … yep, that one was me).
Why do we do these things? Dr. Stass draws on thirty-five years as a psychiatrist working in both inpatient and outpatient settings to explain the fundamental mechanics governing stupid actions. He identifies the most common types of stupidity and then breaks stupidity down into its component parts. Most importantly, he give tools and techniques to prevent, minimize and learn more effectively from our mistakes. Continued here .
|Her name is Jorani* and she is seven years old. When she was five, she decided there was nothing more in the world that she wanted to be than an Apsara dancer (celestial dancer). For this she would need to be trained in Classical Dance (or Royal Ballet), one of Cambodia’s most sacred art forms (dating back to c.1 - 6 centuries CE). Fat chance in the small village where she lived. Her parents were rice farmers of modest means and there was nary a dance school in sight.
Jorani was determined to study dance and her parents longed for a better life for their daughter. After lengthy inquiry, they found a dance school in Siem Reap where she could board, continue in school, and pursue her dream of becoming a dancer.
At age six, Jorani went for an audition at the School of Arts. Her parents knew her heart would be broken – out of the 1,500 or so children who audition each year, 50 are accepted into the program – but they also knew she wouldn't rest until she tried. However, it wasn’t that that kept her out. She was deemed to be hugely talented, but alas, the earliest children were accepted was age 10.
This seemed a truly formidable obstacle. Jorani wept and wept and wept. In desperation, her parents contacted the school again. Couldn’t they, just this once, make an exception? Read the rest and see the photos and videos here