Thursday, December 4, 2014

Experiments in Off Grid Living

I've shared with some already that I'm living in Maine in a lodge that is "off-grid". I like the Wiki definition:
"The term off-the-grid (OTG) can refer to living in a self-sufficient manner without reliance on one or more public utilities. Off-the-grid homes are autonomous; they do not rely on municipal water supply, sewer, natural gas, electrical power grid, or similar utility services."

And ... I love it! After a summer spent living at the Maine Primitive Skills School (MPSS) helping out with marketing and community outreach I felt ready to really live in the woods. Not just in someone's backyard woods with the nearby convenience's of electricity and running water. I met Grandfather Ray briefly last spring and was aware that a few acquaintances had built or rented lodges on his land thanks to +Candi Huber casually mentioning it during one of our MPSS meetings. I clearly remember thinking how intense it all sounded at that moment, but after taking a class with Ray at the end of the summer and touring the property I realized how completely awesome it would be!

@Home in Caanan, Maine
Fast forward three weeks and I'm moving into an Earth Lodge. Since I'd never even heard of these structures just a year ago feel free to navigate herehere, and here and come back to the post once you've read all about what an Earth Lodge is. Fast forward again to present day and I've just returned from a comfortable two week visit to my hometown in the suburbs of Boston for Thanksgiving. Aside from the chaos the squirrels caused while I was away, I was peacefully welcomed home by a bright full moon illuminating the snow on the ground. I noticed that the temperature was significantly lower than it had been in MA, and was steadily dropping (It's gone from 19 to 12 since I've been here) but the lodge was surprisingly comfortable. Now, let's pause briefly to acknowledge that comfort varies widely amount individuals. For example, the summer I came home from Taiwan (where a cool day is 76) during the middle of a heat wave in August I insisted on wearing nylons to a friend's wedding because it was just too cold to go without. I never did feel warm enough in the US that year to wear shorts or a tank top for the rest of the summer. Friends and family thought I was delusional. Now, even in the dead of winter I sleep with the windows open when I visit my parents because 72 seems suffocating compared to the fresh, cool, brisk air outside.

Back to the story at hand. It was definitely cool enough outside to not want to go without gloves for too long, but once inside I really had no desire to start the woodstove. And then I started wondering, would it be possible to go without any heat? Was that safe? Could I freeze to death in my sleep? A quick Google search led me to an entertaining blog written by a fellow Masshole turned Mainer* titled Cold House Journal. In fact, this was an experiment many had attempted previously! It was tempting to discover, is my cozy sleeping bag really rated to 30 degrees? If I was ever stranded in the cold, could I survive in a shelter without fire? Tune in later for the full report! ツ

*Yes, everyone in Maine does refer to those from Massachusetts as "Massholes" in fact it's so common it's  often not even considered offensive.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Visit to the MFA

The holidays are here and I opted to return to the Boston area a week early to finish up some lingering tasks, teach yoga to my summer students, and spend some extra time with family. Last Thursday I visited the Museum of Fine Arts with my parents and wandered into some great exhibits. Shinique Smith's mixed media "Bright Matter" is on display until March 1st and it was a fresh breath of bright colors and creativity.

Pictured (right) is the piece titled When Shadows Fall (Home) which included acrylic, ink, and layers of tulle and fabric on paper, stickers, and other mixed media. Another is Splendid, inspiried by a palette of popular product colors of the 1980's - Smith's teen years. The painting I enjoyed most was Majesty, which unlike many of Smith's other works was comprised solely of ink and acrylic. Inspired by the artist's memories of glacier walks in Iceland and views of the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis).

Splendid, 2014 

Majesty 2012

The second exhibit we viewed was National Pride (and Prejudice) a small collection of pieces by artists who tackle issues of national identity. 
"What instills pride in one citizen may be a call to protest for another, or may represent a complex combination of thoughts and feelings. The seven works in this installation take a critical look at such images to spark dialogue around provocative issues of national identity. They challenge long-held assumptions about these symbols with a combination of humor, beauty and biting commentary, highlighting the close link between politics and contemporary art."
Bullet Flag IV, 2009
My favorite of this group was Bullet Flag IV created in 2009 by American artist, David Cole. Cole states "The power in the piece for me is in the contradictions". The dark bullets in this piece were used in the United States and the bright copper ones in warfare fought abroad.

Another thought provoking pice was Guernica to Wounded Knee, a mixed media piece created in 2012 by Stan Natchez of the Shoshoni and Paiute. Natchez references the Massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890 when many Lakota fought against the U.S. army in the last battle between Native Americans and the United States.

"I paint to understand the world around me" Natchez comments.

I discovered these cuties while browsing in the gift shop...

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Spring Arrives, New Beginnings ⚘

Another three months fly by... I often come across travel blogs that I read for a short while as a convenient distraction from work, and then bookmark them in hopes of returning later. I probably revisit less than 1% of sites I bookmark, but I digress... Today I came across another "Bucket List Travel Blog" full of inspiring quotes and realized that if there was one disappointment of the past few years it's that I have not blogged more often!! So, here goes another try at resolving to update more frequently. Dear Readers, please feel free to hold me responsible to this ;)

Now, to announce some very exciting news! I've been doing some consulting for the +Maine Primitive Skills School in Augusta and am thrilled to be moving to the Augusta area in May to be able to work part time at the school. I've also just recently decided to take MOFGA's Permaculture Design Course this summer as well! As some of my readers know, I've been interested permaculture for a few years and completed a large garden project at Navdanya in 2012. Last summer I attended the Common Ground Fair with my aunts which is put on by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardener's Association (MOFGA) and it totally blew me away. So many workshops, demonstrations, vendors, and interesting people to talk to. I came home with just over 1000 seeds (they've been waiting patiently in the freezer) and now I'll be returning to Maine to plant them. ツ

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Daily Wisdom: Anger

A Hindu saint, who was visiting river Ganges to take bath, found a group of family members on the banks, shouting in anger at each other. He turned to his disciples smiled and asked.

"Why do people shout in anger shout at each other?"

Disciples thought for a while, one of them said, "Because we lose our calm, we shout."

"But, why should you shout when the other person is just next to you? You can as well tell him what you have to say in a soft manner," asked the saint.

Disciples gave some other answers but none satisfied the other disciples. Finally the saint explained...

"When two people are angry at each other, their hearts distance a lot. To cover that distance they must shout to be able to hear each other. The angrier they are, the stronger they will have to shout to hear each other to cover that great distance.

What happens when two people fall in love? They don’t shout at each other but talk softly, Because their hearts are very close. The distance between them is either nonexistent or very small…"

The saint continued, "When they love each other even more, what happens? They do not speak, only whisper and they get even closer to each other in their love. Finally they even need not whisper, they only look at each other and that’s all. That is how close two people are when they love each other."

He looked at his disciples and said. "So when you argue do not let your hearts get distant, Do not say words that distance each other more, Or else there will come a day when the distance is so great that you will not find the path to return."

Sunday, December 22, 2013

What If Money Was No Object?

After receiving so many comments in response to sharing this Alan Watts video, I've decided it should have a permanent home on the blog... some inspiration for 2014 :)

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Guest Post: Avoiding Unnecessary Weight Gain During the Holidays

Holiday parties, coworkers in a baking frenzy, family feasts, and fancy holiday cocktails. Sounds like a recipe for weight gain, fatigue, and hangovers.

The number one new year's resolution is weight related, and only 39% actually achieve this goal!

The holidays do not have to be a time to undo the hard work you’ve built up throughout year. Depending on your usual habits, here are some relatively simple ways to keep yourself in check without feeling deprived during the holiday season.

Throughout the Season

You know that you’re likely to have a few more treats than usual late in the year so planning is key. Be meticulous with your daily meal plans by shopping from a list to avoid impulse buys. Invest in portable containers and keep the day’s meals in them so you will always be prepared, which will reduce the temptation to eat out or grab just one more sugar cookie.

Avoid highly processed foods or anything with added sodium. This will help to reduce inflammation and bloating and therefore make you feel better. When you know you’ve been eating well, the temptations are easier to resist.

Exercise daily. Even if it’s a 30 minute walk, get out and move. Your body will feel healthier and any extra calories burned will make up for the occasional Christmas cocktail.

Drink a lot of water. Water flushes toxins from your body, helps with cell regrowth, and reduces inflammation. A basic rule of thumb is to divide your weight in half and drink at least that many ounces every day.

Holiday Parties

Company parties, your best friend’s annual shindig, whatever it is, holiday events come with the season and generally include lots of sugars, fats, and calories. You don’t necessarily have to deprive yourself. It’s a great idea to bring along some of your own homemade goodies to a party, either something healthy, like a veggie plate, or a reduced calorie version of one of your favorite treats. Then, if you find your self tempted to overeat, snack on those items during the party.

Another surefire way to avoid overindulging is to have a filling snack or small meal beforehand. My preference is a quick Shakeology smoothie because the protein fills me up and the ingredients help to reduce cravings. Other great options are a piece of fruit and a small handful of nuts or veggies and hummus.

Consuming Alcohol

It seems like we get extra creative with our holiday drinks which usually means consuming more calories. Think eggnog, heavy cream, and Baileys. When you imbibe, stick to clear alcohol and low-sugar mixers like tonic water.

We all know how easy it is to fall into the trap of overeating during the holidays. After all, the season of cutting back spending, eating, and drinking immediately follows when January 1st rolls around, promising a year of change. By following these basic steps, you’re more likely to maintain your weight and feel better throughout the holiday season and enter the new year feeling motivated and healthy!

Christa McMahon is a health & fitness coach working independently with people who want to live healthier lives, lose weight, and get ripped, through practical goal setting and accountability. She is a Colorado native married to her high school sweetheart, living in Durango, CO. They enjoy spending time with their families, and taking advantage of the outdoor adventures in such a beautiful state. You can follow her on Facebook.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

It's inevitable ... autumn has arrived

Where did the summer go? The speed at which my summer flew by was most likely directly related to having 3+ jobs and moving twice. Actually, I'm glad it's over! The hectic craziness that has been life for the past 6 months since I returned to Boston is finally winding down. Hence the long overdue update. Returning to the states was a tough adjustment. My time spent in Canada made the transition easier, but returning to Boston is always more of an adjustment that I expect. I'm not sure when the city I used to call home started feeling more like where I'm from instead. Nonetheless there have been lots of exciting developments in the past few months. I'm most excited about Yoga Teacher Training at The Yoga Loft in Wilmington. This awesome studio was on my list of places to check out and when I saw a LivingSocial deal I bought it. Two weeks later I was starting their ten month teacher training program. As some readers may know already, I debated doing my teacher training in India when I was traveling in Asia. Although a bit more pricy in the US, it's totally worth it. I don't know how I could have absorbed all of the information in the one month intensive course style most shalas in India opt for. Currently, I'm assisting occasional morning classes at the Yoga Loft, and loving it!

Vendors at the Boston Local Food Festival
Recently I attended the Boston Local Food Festival and the Boston Vegetarian Food Festival. I was a vendor coordinator at the Local Food Fest and had a great time at both events!

Next week I start up glassblowing again at the NOCA Glass School. It's been years since I've done any hotshop work but I'm psyched to start again. In Taiwan, I focused on drawing and painting because instruction and materials were so affordable there, and I was never able to make a connection with or even locate any local glassblowers. I'm hoping that once the crazy hectic schedule that took over my summer slows down I'll have more time to work on some of my unfinished pieces from Taiwan. Also on the list is a visit to Paint Bar! Has anyone been there?

Oh, and I can't forget to mention that I just started listening to my first audio book! This was the obvious solution to being bored an average of two hours a day sitting in traffic and having no time to read. I'm listening to Born To Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall. Although I'll probably always prefer the old fashioned method of reading books with actual pages you can turn I will take listening to an audio book any day over the radio. Born to Run is totally inspiring, it was recommended multiple times after I'd mentioned to both avid runners and readers that I liked Murakami's memior What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.  I started listening 3 days ago, I'm already about 3/4 of the way through. Which do you prefer, ebooks, audio books, or good old paperbacks?

During Nicole's birthday celebration we saw Mighty Mystic, local reggae artist :) 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Amor Fati: Love of Fate

This post has been sitting in my "drafts" folder for over a year. I remember writing it after a friend's grandmother passed away, and wasn't quite ready to put it out there at the time. Whenever we hear that someone we know has lost someone it affects us, and lately I've had this on my mind.  In college I lost a very close friend, and it was one of the most difficult situations I had been faced with.  I had been very fortunate, and had really only experienced death as a child when my grandmother and great aunt passed away.  I thought I was completely unprepared to deal with this unexpected tragedy.  But I wasn't.  I can't pinpoint the exact moment I started thinking that there could be something positive found in every situation we encounter, but it was at this time in my life that I started believing it without any doubt.  And, if I hadn't I don't know how I would have navigated the year that followed my friend's death.  More than a few people find it strange that such a terrible event could result in solidifying such a belief, but it is during the most painful times in life that our beliefs and faith are really tested, and if they do not hold up what are we left with?  Finding something, anything, regardless of how small it might be, that positively influenced my life when my friend died was what allowed me to keep moving forward, not give up, and eventually accept what had happened.  I still feel sad whenever this person comes to mind, but it is a sadness I can live with.  The overwhelming unforgivingness that I've seen so many people carry around for years or even their entire life was something I was eventually able to let go of.  The idea that we can allow ourselves to look for something positive, something learned, some growth that came as a result of loss is not welcomed by all.

I also realized how terribly our society deals with death sometimes.  From the moment someone dies until the day of the funeral anything is acceptable, but after that we are often expected to have gotten control of ourselves and moved on.  But really, the process hasn't even started.  Many people don't like to think about death, and aren't capable of supporting someone who's lost a loved one simply because they are unable to just listen.  In the month's following my friend's death, I realized that most of the offers of support from people in my life had expired.  They couldn't talk about it because they were moving on (or so they believed) and even those who didn't know him personally wanted to forget the entire situation had ever happened.  What is moving on anyways?  We don't need to move on.  Years later you can still carry around memories of that person, as long as you can find a way to live with the emotions they will inevitably bring up.

"As human beings we all want to be happy and free from misery. The key to happiness is inner peace. The greatest obstacles to inner peace are disturbing emotions such as anger and attachment, fear and suspicion. While love and compassion, a sense of universal responsibility are the sources of peace and happiness."  -Dalai Lama

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Community Supported Agriculture

This spring, one of the items on my to-do list for preparing to move to Boston was to find a CSA. I knew it might be too late once I was back and wanted to make sure it got done. In PEI we joined a veggie box program with a local organic farm and it was great. Crystal Green Farms has a flexible system, where they email you the contents of your box the day before and a list of possible substitutions if you don't want or need everything that's offered. We really liked that eggs were included too. I think the rural community of PEI allows programs like this to be more flexible and less structured, because I was completely overwhelmed the first few times I started looking into signing up for a CSA in Massachusetts. One big issue was that the pickup windows were often short and during weekday hours which would be impossible with my work schedule. There were very few that offered weekend pickups. We used to get our veggie box on Saturday mornings at the farmer's market, which could not have been more convenient because we were there doing shopping for the week already.

I finally decided on Red Fire Farm in Granby, MA. I found them through the Clover Food Lab site. It got off to a rough start, due to delayed opening of the Clover site in Burlington and shortly after the restaurant being shut down as a result of Salmonella! Luckily, I was able to switch to another site which turned out to be much more convenient anyways. One advantage of picking up directly from a RRF site (vs. at Clover Food Lab), is that you have more flexibility with produce. For example, maybe you don't want 8 ears of corn, so you only take 6 and there is extra eggplant to make up for it. At Clover, the boxes were always pre-made. I have photographed quite a bit of the recipes I've made, but these will have to wait for another post. A friend who writes Hugging Trees and Shelling Peas has been much better at updating weekly recipes.

Having a CSA is great, you can save money, save time on grocery shopping, and have fun experimenting with new foods. It's a major motivator to eat healthy as well. Some things to ask yourself when singing up:

How far am I willing to drive to pick up my share each week? I recommend choosing a site within 30 minutes of your home or work.

What day/time will consistently be convenient for me? Some farms are very flexible, and will allow you to change your pickup site if something comes up.

Am I willing to experiment with new produce? Picky eaters beware! You will probably not receive tomatoes every week. There will be a lot of greens in the beginning. RFF has a great resource of recipes to help you figure out what to do with your produce. Like Kale Chips!

Each of these sites allows you to search by zip code to find places in your area. Many farms in the western part of the state offer metro pickups in and around the Boston area. Some farms even offer winter and deep winter shares on a bi weekly basis.


Local Harvest Map

Farm Fresh Map

Friday, January 11, 2013

Conflicting Choices

Recently, while browsing in a jewelry store I began making small talk with a diamond salesperson. It turns out she is one of the few people who has ever been allowed to visit the Canadian diamond mines in the northern most part of the country. As you can imagine, they don't want just anyone wandering around there! These diamonds are very successful in the Canadian market, to some extent because consumers want to buy nationally produced products. But there is a darker force influencing diamond shoppers today.

It’s become well-known among consumers that many diamonds have histories tied to violence and human suffering. But most people looking for a diamond never receive any more information than these basic words of advice: avoid buying a “blood” or “conflict” diamond. That advice is surely well-intentioned, but it’s hardly enough information to make an educated and ethical choice. The truth is, many so-called “conflict free” diamonds are not actually free from bloodshed and other serious injustices including child labor, worker exploitation, and sexual violence. How is it that reputable jewelers could be misleading customers about such serious issues? Why isn’t the diamond industry being held accountable to a higher standard? The simple answer is that the industry has done a masterful job of setting the terms of the debate – and of encouraging any discussion about blood diamonds to end before it even starts. But if you want a more complete answer, it’s helpful to take a deeper look at what happens in jewelry stores, at the history of the blood diamond issue, and at how the diamond industry developed a marketing strategy that misleads consumers and makes real change a serious challenge. The following information is an excerpt from the Brilliant Earth Consumer Education page.

Ethical Origins

Where do ethically-sourced diamonds come from?

Look for diamonds originating from Canada.
Canadian diamonds are among the most ethically-mined diamonds in the world. In Canada, diamonds are mined in the Northwest Territories in accordance with Canada's strict labor and environmental laws. Canadian diamond mines work cooperatively with local indigenous communities and take great care to protect the Arctic environment. 

Look for diamonds originating from Namibia or Botswana.
Of the countries in Africa that produce diamonds, Botswana and Namibia have done an especially good job of managing their diamond resources. In both these countries, diamonds are helping to pay for investments in education and infrastructure and raise standards of living for all citizens. Mining operations in Namibia and Botswana are violence-free and meet strict labor and environmental standards.

Potential Pitfall: Avoid diamonds from countries including Zimbabwe, Angola, and Côte d’Ivoire.
Diamonds from Zimbabwe and Angola are tainted by killings, torture, beatings, sexual violence, corruption, and the use of forced labor. In Côte d’Ivoire, diamonds are also fueling a lengthy civil conflict. Any retailer who admits to providing diamonds from these countries should be strictly avoided.

Potential Pitfall: Avoid retailers who cannot identify a mine or country of origin.
Retailers should know exactly where each of their diamonds was mined. They should also have detailed information about the labor and environmental conditions in place at those mines. Retailers with incomplete information on the source of their diamonds are not providing a reliably ethical product.

Defining "Beyond Conflict Free"

What does it mean for a diamond to be ethical or go "beyond conflict free"?
Look for diamonds free from all violence, not just civil wars. For a diamond to be ethically sourced, at the very least, it should not have financed a civil war. But diamond-fueled violence often happens in countries that are not officially at war. An ethically-sourced diamond should be mined in conditions wholly free from bloodshed, genocide, and any human rights conflicts, regardless of the cause.

Look for diamonds mined in accordance with strict labor and environmental standards.
To be ethically sourced, a diamond must be mined in keeping with strict labor regulations and environmental standards. Child labor should not be used. Workers should earn fair wages and enjoy safe, decent working conditions. Miners or mining companies must take care to avoid serious environmental harm and treat local ecosystems with respect.

Quality & Affordability

Are ethical diamonds the same quality?

Buying an ethically-sourced diamond does not mean compromising on quality.
Diamonds from Canada, Namibia, and Botswana meet the highest labor and environmental standards. They are also known for their exceptional quality. But it should be emphasized that the quality of an individual diamond depends on objective characteristics such as cutclaritycolor, and carat weight. When considering diamonds greater than 0.30 carats, make sure the diamond has an independent lab grading report from a leading gem lab. 
Are ethically-sourced diamonds easy to find?

YES! Ethical choices are available from select retailers.
A broad selection of ethically-sourced diamonds are available today through verified suppliers, such as Brilliant Earth. Canadian diamonds remained undiscovered well into the last century. When they were eventually discovered, special priority was placed on negotiating mutually beneficial agreements with local indigenous populations and respecting the Arctic environment. A broad inventory of high quality Canadian diamonds is currently available in popular shapes and sizes. Additional sources of ethically-sourced diamonds are available from Namibia and Botswana, where diamonds are fully verified to be mined, cut, and polished using responsible and labor and environmental practices.

You don't have to compromise on price.
Choosing an ethically-sourced diamond does not mean higher prices. Many companies offer excellent value by providing socially conscious jewelry at the lowest possible price, generally lower than many traditional jewelry retailers offer for standard jewelry.

Retailer checklist

Use this handy checklist when checking out diamond jewelry retailers.
right Look forcross Avoid
Do you acknowledge that there are serious ethical problems in the diamond industry?
Retailers acknowledges ethical problems.
Retailer says not to worry about ethical issues.
Where can I find your diamond sourcing policies?
Available on website
or in printed form.
No official statement in written form.
Do you incorporate ethical considerations when deciding on diamond suppliers?
Retailer selects suppliers based on ethical considerations.
Buys whatever diamonds are available, without regard to ethical origin.
What are your standards for ethical sourcing?
Retailer avoids all diamonds tied to violence, child labor, and environmental harm.
Retailer avoids only conflict diamonds. Relies solely on compliance with Kimberley Process.
Where are your diamonds mined?
Mines or countries of origin are directly named. Diamonds come from Canada, Namibia, and/or Botswana.
No information available on mines of origin. Diamonds come from countries such as Zimbabwe, Angola, or Côte d’Ivoire.
Can you provide specific information on the labor and environmental standards in place at the mines you source from? 
Information is aviailable on labor and environmental conditions at mines.
No information available on labor and enviornmental standards.
Are your diamonds tracked from the mine, to cutting and polishing, to your store? 
Retailer has investigated supply chain and knows exact path diamonds take from mine to market.No knowledge of supply chain and no tracking ability.
Do you stand by your diamonds by providing a written guarantee of their ethical status?
Yes.No guarantee or just an oral "take our word."
Want to learn more about this important ethical issue?
Check out this months Foreign Policy article: Rough Cut

This post was originally written as a guest post for Farrah Furtado Couture

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year!

Hoping everyone had a great New Year's Celebration!

New year, new look for the blog! I will be back dating some posts in the next few weeks to finish up a summary of my travels this past summer.  Also, exciting news to come about a new job and a great contest! Eventually, pictures will be posted from 2012 ツ

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Weddings, Reunions, & Birthdays!

Arriving in North America marked the end of summer and the beginning of a hectic travel schedule that lasts until the holidays.  The first stop was home, but only for 2 days to quickly get my stuff together and drive to Maine with my parents.  Next stop Canada!  I decided that a change of scenery in North America wouldn't be too bad and will be living in Summerside, Prince Edward Island until May. (See my last post if this is news.) I had about two weeks to find an apartment and get things set up in PEI and then I was off to Kathryn's wedding in Atlanta for a mini Italia reunion!  The wedding was beautiful, it was at Serenbe, an intentional, sustainable, community outside the city.  All of the weekend events took place within Serenbe, and I can't think of a single thing that could have been improved.  The food was local, organic, and delicious!  Kathryn's ceremony was outside in a small clearing among tall trees and the reception close by under a huge tent.  Luckily, most of the girls were able to make it to the rehearsal dinner too and we even had a day in downtown Atlanta to explore. While in the city we ate at The Terrace, also a farm to table establishment in the Ellis hotel.  The food there was fantastic as well, not to mention the breezy view of the neighborhood.  It's located not far from the Centennial Olympic Park.

The weekend in Atlanta ended quickly.  I'm looking forward to seeing the girls again in February, this time in Boston for Meg's wedding!  I'll be celebrating my birthday that weekend as well so it's likely to be just as hectic.  My Dad's 75th birthday is coming up soon, and I'll have a few weeks at home for the festivities.  Then I'm back in Canada for two weeks, followed by a visit to Kaohsiung for three weeks and then back to Lexington again for Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Canada, eh?

After spending almost three years in Asia teaching English and traveling it was time to move on to the next adventure, which happens to be Canada.  My experiences of this country before embarking on my asian journeys were few.  There was that New Year's Eve we were able to get a car from rent-a-wreck the morning of and drove to Montreal. Actually only one of us could drive as the rest were under 21 at the time, thanks Melanie!  What I remember about Canada from this trip was there was a lot more snow, and to be careful whose driveway you pulled into in the middle of the night (in the middle of nowhere).  We had a small mishap on an icy sloped driveway that resulted in the driving through the owner's farmland to reach the road again.

Later, I found myself in Taiwan among many Canadians including my roommate, Adriana. She quickly realized the myth that Americans know nothing of their northern neighbor was true and took it upon herself to educate me as quickly as possible about the basic geography and politics of her country. Now I know where Toronto is! My future home in Canada is not quite so populated.  I'll be living on Prince Edward Island until late May, and not in the capital city Charlottetown, (population 64,000 - approximately half of the island) but in Summerside which is considered the second largest "city" on the island (population 14,000). It's hard not to laugh when people talk about urban vs. rural living here, because to a Bostonian everything on PEI is more rural than western mass. Even so, I am looking forward to having a few months of adjusting to life back in North America before returning to Boston.  It will also give me the much needed time to apply for a job!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Appreciating Silence

I've just finished a week long visit to Nilambe, a meditation center in the mountains of southern Sri Lanka.  I could not have discovered this place at a more opportunistic time!  My Ashtanga yoga instructor in Bali heard great things about it, but hadn't had the chance to visit yet.  I took her word for it and contacted them.  As some of you may know, Sri Lanka was not originally in my travel plans, but due to complications (and serious overpricing) getting my visa for India while in Indonesia was unrealistic. I needed to make an additional stop somewhere for at least one week to apply.  I was lucky, because it just so happened that there are tons of Hindi holidays and of course, the embassy is closed for all of them.  There were four official holidays in the seven business days following the date I applied, so in reality it almost took two weeks to finally get my visa, but it was well worth it because I saved $250 by avoiding Bali bureaucracy!

My experience at Nilambe could not have been better.  This summer was a major transition, from living and traveling in Asia for more than two years to readjusting to life in North America.  I had plenty of time to relax, rejuvenate, and focus on what my next moves in life would be.  Additionally, it was very convenient to go there immediately following my intensive yoga program as it gave me the much needed time to continue my daily practice.  Developing a daily yoga practice is a challenge, and becomes even more difficult to maintain when you're always on the move.  The schedule at Nilambe included "Mindfulness in Motion" which was time set aside every day for a physical meditation practice.

There are many meditation centers in North America that offer similar retreats.  Although I have not participated in the well known 10 day silent Vipassana retreats, it is something I'm open minded to now after having such a positive experience at Nilambe.  Shambala is another worldwide organization that has many resources for anyone interested in developing a meditation practice.  My advice is just try it, on your own, with a group, or at a retreat. Your only loss might be a few minutes or hours of the day that you might have spent watching TV.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

On the move again

After a few days in the Gili Islands and a coastal road trip we're not quite ready to say goodbye to Bali.  The Gili Islands were absolutely beautiful, relaxing, and quiet.  There are three of them and we spent our time on Gili Meno at Meno Dream where the roof of our bungalow opened up so you could see all the stars at night!  It's known as the quieter island and is often referred to as deserted, which it is most defiantly not.  There were plenty of restaurants on the beach to eat at and overall the food was pretty good. It is easy to walk the full circumference of the island and especially a good idea if you stay on the side with the pier which was considerably more expensive than the side facing Gili Tra. I do not however recommend staying on Gili T where we had a short visit while waiting for our ferry back to the mainland.  Gili Tra was noisy, crowded, and reminded me of the party islands in Thailand except they have lots of horses instead of motorbikes.

There are only two dive shops on Gili Meno and we chose to dive with Divine Divers.  I would definitely recommend this shop, we did five dives with them and saw quite a few octopus and turtles! There are a lot of people getting their divemaster certification of the islands, who wouldn't want to spend a month in paradise diving everyday?

Next, we are headed to Malaysia for a few more days of relaxation before I head to Sri Lanka and Orlando to LA and Vegas!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Ubud, Bali: Health Mecca

I arrived in Bali at the end of June.  I was on a late flight coming in and didn't arrive in Ubud until about 1am.  I was lucky to find On's Bed & Breakfast at that hour and I ended up staying there for the duration of my time in Ubud. The owners were sweet, and super helpful with everything.  One of them even brought me to the local banjar to ask for my mysteriously missing package in the mail, but I digress... I can easily say this is one of the most unique places I have visited.  I was a bit skeptical at first when I saw the Ashtanga Center was in a inland city (I was expecting the beach) and wondered if there was going to be anything going on there at all.  I had no idea! Ubud has everything and anything you could imagine and the food is amazing!  Organic, vegetarian, vegan, raw, and gluten free dishes are standard in many restaurants - it is so easy to be healthy here.  There are endless options for every type of yoga and massage you can think of, and various other alternative healing therapies readily available from singing circles to writing groups.

I started yoga the next day despite my late arrival.  Little did I know I was in for another surprise.  I've been practicing standard Vinyassa flow yoga since college and though I was well prepared for my one month intensive practice.  Well, it could have been worse (if I had never done any yoga at all!)  It turned out to be exactly what I was looking for, which was to learn the skills neccesary to develop an everyday self practice.  Funny thing was I did not realize that Mysore style Ashtanga was a self led class. Probably should have done a bit more reading on this before I showed up but luckily I landed in the right place :)

As you can see, (we didn't) they are
already trying to eat the seat!
I had quite the scooter experience in Ubud.  First, let me explain about riding a scooter in Asia, whatever you do don't think about what you are doing!  This is the #1 reason foreigners get into accidents.  Because everyone else on the road is thinking about everything and anything but driving.  Especially in Bali, where you frequently see someone eating, talking on their cell phone, and carrying a baby all while operating a two wheeled vehicle. And if you are lucky there will be 2-3 passengers.  Did I mention they drive on the wrong side of the road as well?  If you are going to overcome the challenge of riding a scooter in Bali, keep this advice in mind: drive slow, trust your instinct (unless it's telling you to stay to the right!) and never forget that the larger (more dangerous) vehicle and/or driver always have the right of way!  Anyways, my scooter story has nothing to do with driving because I wasn't even on it when this incident occurred.  I was staying near the Sacred Monkey Forest, a popular tourist spot in Ubud and had to drive through the foot path on my way in and out of town.  On the way, I saw my yogi friend Sue and stopped to say hello.  

Now, I know you that if you dont want trouble with monkeys you dont feed them but in this instance I chose to ignore my better instincts and decided that we had strength in numbers. (Yea right there were two of us and dozens of them!) As soon as I reached for the bag containing the rest of my fruit salad lunch they were all over the place.  Our reaction was scream, laugh, and take pictures, in that order.  Until we wanted to get going and realized the monkeys were really interested in my scooter, in fact they started baring their teeth at us when we tried to even get close to it.  Then one ran off with the helmet.  And then we realized they were eating the seat cushion. Now I know why people put bricks on their seats when they park in here. And WHY didn't the scooter rental guy tell me this! After a lot more screaming, running away, and enlisting the help of some foreign males (the Balinese were too busy laughing to help) we did regain possession of the scooter and helmet, minus the half eaten seat cushion. The scooter company was not happy with us.

Monday, June 18, 2012

One Hundred Days of Travel

Max Brenner Chocolate Shop
Everyone should travel alone once. I think experiencing freedom from our daily responsibilities to others, to time, and to our own schedules is rejuvenating. Today, that meant aimlessly wandering around Singapore and not worrying that I forgot my watch because I had no where to be. Sometimes I get bored of travelling alone, but there's always new people to meet in every place you go. I have one hundred days of travel left before returning home. I often use a day calculator to estimate my per-day spending budget when traveling. Better to save now and spend later than be eating crackers for a month at the end of my trip.

Singapore is fairly easy to get around. I found a green hostel on the internet, so of course I had to check it out. It's called Tree In Lodge and has a great central location.

The Fantastic Popsicle Chocolate Fondue
The city is very aesthetic although I get the feeling that I might get fined for walking on the grass or crossing the street before the walk light turns green! For readers unfamiliar with politics here there are very strict laws about everything from chewing gum and smoking in public to mandatory death sentencing for drug traffickers. The result is an efficient city with virtually no unemployment or poverty. (And I haven't seen any stray cats or dogs either!)

I could not resist the temptation of dessert at the Max Brenner Chocolate Shop.

Where are you in the world?