Thursday, 30 November 2017

5 simple pleasures for the holidays

December is a very festive month where I live. The earlier sunset time brings on lots of lights in the city. The cooler temperatures and the occasional snow flurries make us wonder if we'll be having a white Christmas. The window displays at the banks, office buildings, and stores are fantastic to look at. There are several holiday fairs to visit as well, like the Swedish Christmas Fair that I wrote about here.

For many years now, my family and I intentionally keep a very simple holiday plan, focusing on being together, having lots of free time, and sharing sensory experiences. We stay away from buying material things that we do not need.

Today I’m sharing my list of five simple pleasures for the holidays, and linking up with several other bloggers who also have fabulous holiday plans. Thanks, Leslie, for coordinating the link-up.

My five simple pleasures for the holidays:

1. Make donations to help those in need. We usually donate money, non-perishable food items, clothing, and/ or winter accessories.

2. View the various light displays in the city centre. There are many to view near where I live. I hope to capture some of the fantastic light displays with my camera, and if the pictures turn out well, I'll post them on my blog.

3. Listen to choirs singing joyous seasonal music. It's always so uplifting to hear the amazing vocals.

4. Taste freshly baked goods with chocolate or ginger or cinnamon flavour. Sometimes we bake them at home, sometimes we buy from the local bakery. They seem to bring warmth to the season.

5. Enjoy a big family gathering and dinner on Boxing Day (December 26). This gathering usually includes my parents, my siblings, their spouses, their children, and my family. We pick December 26 since it's a statutory holiday in my province, and to avoid schedule conflict with Christmas Eve or Christmas Day parties. We rotate the hosting duty annually among the siblings and co-ordinate the food items that every family unit brings to the gathering. It's our happy time to chat, share news, eat, drink, laugh, and take pictures.

The above five activities always make us feel good and create warm family memories.

Your turn...What five fun activities do you do for the holidays?

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Swedish Christmas Fair

I’ve got a short list of holiday fairs or Christmas Markets that I’d like to check out in the next few weeks. True to my interest in international travel, the first event that I attended this weekend was the Swedish Christmas Fair.

I had been to Sweden before and have fond memories of the country and its people. So far Stockholm was the only city where I stayed in a quirky youth hostel which lies in a docked ship, overlooking the Gamla Stan (Old Town) and the Royal Palace. My fun-filled visit to Stockholm deserves a retrospective post some day...

It was an enjoyable afternoon at the Swedish Christmas Fair where I learned new information and captured some of the fair activities in the following pictures.

1) St Lucia, born in Italy, died a martyr's death and was declared a saint in 303 AD. St Lucia is the symbol of light during the darkest season of the year. Lucia celebrations are one of the foremost cultural traditions in Sweden. On December 13, Swedish families, schools, and the workplace celebrate Lucia by singing traditional songs like Santa Lucia. The Lucia Pageant with young carolers dressed in white, holding candle lights while singing traditional Swedish Christmas carols,  were lovely.

The Lucia Pageant
2) The Swedish folk dancing performance accompanied by music was lively, with many quick steps, and move co-ordinations among the performers. It reminded me that dancing is an excellent way to stay in shape.

3) The Sami art and cultural exhibition was informative. I learned that the Sami are an indigenous people of the Arctic. They live in an area called Sápmi that stretches from the Kola Peninsula in Russia through Northern Finland, Sweden, and Norway. According to the Norwegian Sami Parliament, there are about 100,000 Sami, and Norway is the country with the highest number of people considering themselves Sami. Different Sami groups are defined by their traditional source of livelihood and geographical location (e.g. The Mountain Sami, The Sea Sami). The Sami national day, common for all Sami, is on February 6. The date was chosen to commemorate the first Sami National Conference held in Trondheim, Norway in 1917. The Sami language is related to Finnish, and can be divided into several main dialects. Six of these have their own written form.

Sami art

4) The Swedish Christmas Market featured high quality Swedish art and craft, charming traditional Swedish Christmas decorations, and imported Swedish products such as Lingoberry jam, Knäckebröd (Crispbread) which has been baked in Sweden for 500 years and can be topped with just about anything, from plain butter to caviar.

Cards with Swedish design

Boxes of candlesticks
Table cloths
Star-shaped lights

Lingoberry jam
I love the multiculturalism in my city that enables me to experience the Swedish Christmas Fair, and brings back fun memories of my travel to far away places such as Sweden.

What fun activities did you enjoy this weekend? Please share below.

Monday, 20 November 2017

Fall fun list update #2

Greetings! I just returned home from a fantastic trip to Central Europe with my sister. Today I’m writing to provide Update #2 to my Fall fun list of twenty items, and linking up with several fabulous bloggers who also provide their updates. Thanks, Leslie, for organizing the link-up.

In my Fall fun list update #1, I reported that items #5 to 10, and #13 to 15 have been completed so let’s see what further progress I’ve made with my list since then.

My Fall fun list update #2:

1. Exercise in the gym 3x per week, one hour each time. In progress. I definitely achieve this goal when I’m at home. When I traveled, and didn’t have access to a gym, I modified my workouts.

2. Yoga 2x per week, up to one hour each time. In progress. This is do-able both at home and abroad.

3. Swim 1x per week, up to one hour. In progress. I achieve this goal when I have pool access at home. I didn't swim when I was in Ireland and Central Europe. The pool is currently closed for maintenance for two weeks in November.

4. Run short distance 1x per week, up to 5K. In progress. I’ve been running 5K every Sunday.

5. Celebrate Thanksgiving and my blog's 1st anniversary with a pumpkin pie. Yes! It was yummy.

6. Enjoy a therapeutic massage. Yes! It was a very nice self-care treat.

7. Travel to Ireland in October. Yes! I had a wonderful time exploring Ireland.

8. Visit Dublin, capital city of Ireland. Yes! I explored Dublin on foot and enjoyed the city very much.

St. Stephen's Green, Dublin

9. Explore the landscapes along Ireland's wild Atlantic side. Yes! Ireland's natural landscapes along the Wild Atlantic Way were amazing. I'd love to return for more exploring.

10. Write my first guest post on another blog. Yes! My first guest post appeared on Donna’s blog as part of her Sunday Guest Post Series on Sunday, October 29.

11. Email my friends who live overseas. Yes! It was very nice to catch up with my friends’ news.

12. Meet my local friends for coffee. Yes! So far three coffee dates and two lunch dates. This is a success considering we lead busy lives, I traveled abroad in October and November, and the holidays are coming.

13. Watch a new-to-me movie. Yes! In addition to watching Wonder Woman and Spiderman: Homecoming in Toronto, I saw a few movies while flying to and from Europe: Logan starring Hugh Jackman, The Mummy starring Tom Cruise and Russell Crowe, and Maudie starring Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke.

14. Attend a concert. Yes! In addition to attending the Red Slam concert in September, I also attended three amazing piano recitals in October and early November.

15. View a new art exhibition. Yes! I viewed several art exhibitions as mentioned in my September wrap-up and October wrap-up.

16. Take a trip to Central Europe in November with my sister. Yes, it was a fabulous holiday! I wrote about our itinerary here. Details to follow in another post.

17. Explore Budapest, capital city of Hungary. Yes! We toured beautiful Budapest, visited several landmarks, enjoyed local foods, wine, and the thermal baths.

Parliament Building, Budapest

18. Visit Bratislava, capital city of Slovakia. Yes! It was a perfectly sunny day to view Bratislava Castle, take a break in a traditional coffee house, and wander around the charming historic town centre.

Bratislava Castle

19. Re-visit Vienna, capital city of Austria. Yes! Vienna is as grand as I remembered her. Highlights include a visit to Schonbrunn Summer Palace, lots of walking in the city centre, climbing 342 steps up the South Tower of Vienna’s St. Stephen’s Cathedral to get panoramic views of Vienna, and enjoying local foods and music.

Schonbrunn Summer Palace

20. Explore Prague, capital city of the Czech Republic. Yes! To me exploring Prague is like viewing a beautifully illustrated storybook where every page is unique and full of amazing visuals and stories. I’d love to return to Prague for more and more wanderings.


I’m pleased to have completed sixteen out of twenty items on my Fall fun list. The fitness items #1 to #4 are ongoing forever, LOL. I look forward to creating a list for the winter season which officially starts on December 21.

Now your turn to share what you've been up to this autumn.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

5 favourite coffee shops

Inspired by the coffee houses in Budapest and Vienna, I’m writing about my five "go to" coffee shops in Toronto where I’ll take my visiting family or friends to share a cup of coffee or tea, and maybe some pastries.

Although we have many Starbucks and McCafe’s in Toronto, these five are Canadian or Toronto-specific. They all have good coffee at reasonable price and something unique to offer beyond coffee.

Here’s my favourite five local coffee shops by alpha order:

1. Boxcar Social for a nice ambiance, and the open lake view from the patio of this coffee shop at Harbourfront location will make you linger longer than you think.

Boxcar Social

2. Cafe Balzac’s for its European feel, and their Market Street location is right by the iconic St Lawrence Market district, great for people watching, strolling, and shopping.

3. Dineen Coffee Company for its floor to ceiling windows in a Toronto Heritage building, facing famous Yonge Street, right in the heart of the city.

4. Second Cup, a Canadian coffee franchise, for its nice interior decor, and several downtown locations like this one in the Entertainment district:

5. Tim Hortons, a Canadian coffee franchise started by the famous Canadian hockey player in 1964, for its casual settings, availability almost everywhere, donuts and timbits.

Your turn...What unique coffee or tea place in your home town would you take your visiting family or friend?

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Exploring Central Europe

I’m so excited to go to Central Europe with my sister. We’re flying to Budapest on Saturday. A new adventure awaits!

We’ve booked an eight-day tour package and most of the logistics and meals are included in it. I know this trip is just a quick introduction to four of the great cities in Europe. Both my sister and I have full lives so to find a suitable time to travel together is a big score. An escorted tour will allow us to focus on enjoying the sights and conversations at meal time with each other.

Our itinerary as shown on the above route map includes:
  • Outbound flight Toronto-Budapest
  • 2 nights in Budapest, Hungary (Point A)
  • 2 nights in Vienna, Austria (Point B)
  • 1 day tour in Bratislava, Slovakia (Point C)
  • 2 nights in Prague, the Czech Republic (Point D)
  • Return flight Prague-Toronto

All four cities are new to my sister, and three of them are new to me, with the exception of Vienna. I have very fond memories of Vienna and a re-visit will be lovely. I look forward to seeing historic sights, smelling new scents from local spices, hearing foreign languages, tasting traditional food dishes, and touching local arts and crafts. Oh we're also packing our swimsuits for the thermal baths in Budapest!

I’m loving life for having this opportunity to travel with my sister, and creating new memories in our lives.

What fun activities did you enjoy this week? Have you been to Central Europe before? I’d love to hear about your experience while there.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Day of the Dead festival

I was at the 14th edition of Day of the Dead/ Dia de los Muertos festival at Harbourfront Centre this weekend. Day of the Dead is a celebration of the life of the deceased people, their memories, their achievements, and their impact on the coming generations. This year’s festival edition is dedicated in honor of the victims of the earthquakes in September 2017 in Mexico.

The festival showcased a number of contemporary and traditional ofrendas. By talking to the ofrenda organizers, I learned that in 2003 the Mexican Day of the Dead is recognized by UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage. I also learned about the various elements of La ofrenda and their meanings:
  1. Candles: ascension of the spirit, symbol of love that guides the soul to the altar.
  2. Bread of the Dead: represents the generosity of the recipient and the gift of the land itself.
  3. Toys or personal objects: the dead person’s preferred toys or personal objects.
  4. Incense and copal: to move away the evil spirits.
  5. Photo of the deceased: a framed photo of the dead person to whom the altar is dedicated, usually positioned in a prime spot on the altar.
  6. Papel picado: these decorative pieces of cut paper are draped around the altar’s edge or hung from above.
  7. Banquet: to celebrate the arrival of the souls the favourite dishes of the deceased are offered to them.
  8. Glass of water: to quench the thirst of the soul and to strengthen him or her for the return.
  9. Sugar skulls: they represent the deceased relatives of the family.
  10. Flowers: yellow-orange flowers, also called cempasuchitl.
  11. Images of saints: or other role models who were important in the dead person’s life.
Below are pictures of some of the ofrendas on display at the festival.

1. Homage to the celebration of Day of the Dead in Lake Patzcuaro by Edgar Alejandre Perez:

"Janitzio Island, in the middle of Lake Patzcuaro, is the site of one of Mexico’s most celebrated Night of the Dead observances. Legend has it that the “veil between darkness and light” is the thinnest around this island. Each year on November 1st, the islanders and their neighbours take to their boats to enact the candlelight ritual enhanced by the flames reflected in the water, the boats laden with flowers, and the boaters chanting."

2. This ofrenda represents the lake region in Michoacan where the tradition of waiting for spirits of the departed include flowers, corn, fire (candles), food, water, incense (Copal) and are key elements that will feed the soul of those who have passed away for a whole year.

3. Large ofrendas are made in houses of the departed where the community visits with offerings of bread, fruits and candles. Visitors are also fed with foods made from corn.

4. The ofrenda below by Ilyana Martinez, is made up of many niches or nichos, to create a whole. With paint, paper, and cardboard the artist alludes to some of the artisanal traditions of handmade objects in Mexico: papel picado (colourful tissue paper banners which have been cut out and punched with shapes, figures, or letters), and cartoneria (objects made with cardboard or paper mache).

Ofrenda by Ilyana Martinez

5. The ofrenda below by EXATEC Ontario is dedicated to the earthquake victims of Mexico:

Ofrenda by EXATEC Ontario

The market at the festival featured Mexican vendors offering unique jewelry, home décor, crafts, clothing, Day of the Dead items and treats such as the edible skulls made from sugar, known as calaveras, and Bread of the Dead (Pan de Muertos) which I was told is orange-flavoured.

Day of the Dead decorative skulls
Day of the Dead items
Pan de Muertos and Calaveras
Images of Catrinas
There were Mexican cooking sessions held by some of the most exemplary cooks in Mexico, as well as Mexico's traditional music played by Mariachi Azteca, one of Toronto’s pioneer mariachi bands.

By attending the festival, I've learned a lot about the Day of the Dead celebration.

I’m dedicating this blog post to my dear friend, Thekla, who died too young. I miss you and our friendship very much. On this day, I celebrate your life, your achievements, and your legacy.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

October in a sentence a day

Greetings! Today I’m writing my month of October in a sentence a day, and linking up with several fabulous bloggers who also share their October in sentences. I had an outstanding October with many fit and fun activities, two blog-related milestones, and a trip to Ireland. I'm loving life and would like to share the following highlights with you.

October in a sentence a day:

1. Happy Sunday with a 5K morning run and family time the rest of the day.

2. Exercised in the gym and had a fun lunch with a friend.

3. Enjoyed yoga time and a visit to the Magic of Latin America art exhibits where I learned about the Olmec civilization.

4. Exercised in the gym and started packing for my trip to Ireland.

5. Practiced yoga and stretched during the day before flying overnight to Dublin.

6. Happy Friday with a smooth arrival in Dublin, some rest, and walking around to explore the city.

Trinity College, Dublin

7. A lovely day starting with a fun 2.5-hour Dublin waking tour, followed by lunch at Books Upstairs with a new friend, a leisure visit to the National Gallery of Ireland, and ending with a yummy dinner.

Dublin Castle

8. Took a relaxing morning train ride from Dublin to Cork, had lunch break, and walked around to explore Cork city centre in the afternoon.

St. Patrick's Bridge, Cork

9. A full sightseeing day, starting with a reflective view of St Patrick’s bridge in Cork, green scenery along the way, dense fog at the Cliffs of Moher, delicious seafood lunch in Doolin, and ending with a visit at the Bunratty Castle.

Bunratty Castle, Ireland

10. Happy 1st blog year! Took another relaxing and scenic train ride from Cork to Killarney in the morning and spent the rest of the day exploring the lovely Killarney National Park with a 5K hike, a tour of Ross Castle, Killarney House and Gardens, and seeing red deer up close.

Killarney National Park

A lovely baby deer

11. Experienced a full day of amazing scenery at the Dingle peninsula and various towns that are part of the Ring of Kerry.

12. Traveled by train from Killarney to Dublin in the morning, had lunch break, spent the afternoon strolling in St Stephen’s Green, shopping for gifts on Grafton Street, and a fun evening Irish pub crawl with live music and drinks.

St. Stephen's Green, Dublin
13. Happy Friday with a smooth flight home.

14. Unpacked, laundry, and general post-trip catch up.

15. Ran 5K in the morning and relaxed with my family for the rest of the day.

16. Exercised in the gym, organized my trip pictures, and shared a pumpkin pie treat.

17. Enjoyed yoga and writing a post about my exploring Ireland.

18. Exercised in the gym and contacted my friends to schedule our meet-ups.

19. Practiced yoga and re-organized our second bedroom.

20. Exercised in the gym and stayed outdoors to soak in this gorgeous sunny Friday.

21. Swam 45 minutes in the morning, and chatted with my sister about our upcoming trip.

22. Cheered on my family members who ran the half-marathon and 5K at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon in the morning, ran 5K myself (not in the race), and enjoyed happy family time the rest of the day.

23. A fun Monday exercising in the gym with a friend in the morning, and having a coffee date with another friend in the afternoon.

24. Practiced yoga, and went out to see the World Press Photo Exhibition 2017.

25. Spiced up my time in the gym with some new exercises.

26. An amazing day starting with yoga, then meeting Mr. Robert Bateman, the extraordinary Canadian painter, at his Travel exhibit, and ending with a delicious Thai dinner with my family at Pai.

A close-up of Robert Bateman's painting

27. Exercised in the gym before attending a piano and cello recital by two talented musicians Benjamin Smith (piano), and Dongso Julia Kim (cello).

28. Felt good this Saturday after swimming laps for 45 minutes, stocking up our fridge with fresh groceries, laundry, and home cleaning.

29. Ran 5K in the morning and enjoyed interacting with readers of my first guest post on Donna's blog the rest of the day.

30. Exercised in the gym and read about multiple new travel destinations.

31. Wrapped up an outstanding October with yoga and writing e-letters to my friends who live overseas.

I look forward to taking a trip to Central Europe with my sister, and making more progress on my Fall fun list of 20 activities in November.

What fun activities did you enjoy in October? Please share below.