Sunday, 10 December 2017

Holiday Fair in the Square

After attending the Swedish Christmas Fair about two weeks ago, I visited the Holiday Fair in the Square on Friday evening. Now in its 2nd year, Holiday Fair is held from December 1st to 23rd at Nathan Phillips Square in the heart of Toronto. I'm happy to share some of my pictures with you.

1. Lots of festive holiday lights lit up the City’s Christmas tree in the north-east corner, the arches above the skating rink, and the Toronto sign in the centre of the square. I had fun browsing about fifty vendor booths filled with unique gifts and special treats.


2. There were food trucks offering from light snacks, to hearty foods like poutine, to more gourmet meals:


3. Jackson-Triggs Polar Point outdoor bar served mulled wine and other alcoholic beverages:


4. Two fireside seating areas with red Muskoka chairs were available for a break and warm-up:


5. The brightly lit classic carousel brought back happy memories:


6. Visitors can bring their own skates or rent them on site and join in on the skating fun:


Holiday Fair runs until 10 p.m. so plenty of time to shop, skate, eat, drink, play, and enjoy the season.

P.S. Santa will be stopping by Holiday Fair on weekends for photos. Guests can take their own photos with the Jolly Old Elf and are invited to make a small donation to Epilepsy Toronto. All for a good cause!

What makes you loving life this week? Please share your thoughts.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

November in a sentence a day


Greetings! I chose my picture of a red maple tree as the header picture for this post as it looked like a beautiful, vibrant, and giant bouquet that mother nature handed to me during one of my morning walks. This alone made me love life.

November, for me, is usually a quieter month sandwiched between our Thanksgiving in October and the Christmas holidays in December. This year it became a memorable month thanks to a fantastic trip to Central Europe with my sister. I plan to write more detailed posts on my visits to Budapest, Vienna, Bratislava, and Prague because they are really four great cities.

Today I'm sharing my November in a sentence a day, and linking up with several fabulous bloggers. Please be sure to visit the linked up blogs and find out what they've been up to as well.

For those who are new to my blog, I've been capturing my months in a sentence a day since April 2017. You can search using the key words "sentence a day" to see them all. When I re-read my previous monthly reviews, my posts and pictures reflect how much fun I've been having throughout this year. I'm thankful for what I have.

November in a sentence a day:

1. Welcomed November with an hour in the gym, and completed house chores that made me feel good by the time I went to bed.

2. Yoga and blogging at home kept me dry and warm while it rained outside.

3. Felt happy this Friday after one hour in the gym, fun coffee time with a friend, and an amazing one-hour recital by Jordan Klapman (piano) and John McMurchy (reeds).

J. Klapman and J. McMurchy

4. It's a feel-good Saturday when I got in some fitness (45-minute swim in the morning), some family activities (stocking up our fridge with fresh groceries, finishing laundry), and remembering my dear friend at the Day of the Dead festival which I wrote about here.

5. Relaxed at home with my family after my morning 5K run, and adjusted our clocks as our daylight saving ended today.

6. Monday is great after one hour in the gym and a lunch date with two of my girlfriends to share our "what's good".

7. Buying Hungarian forint and Czech koruna means I'm getting close to my departure date.

Hungarian forint (HUF)
Czech koruna (CZK)

8. One hour in the gym and coffee time with another friend made a wonderful Wednesday.

9. Stayed warm with indoor yoga and felt excited to pack for my trip while we got a winter blast of cold temperatures outside.

10. Felt happy this Friday with one hour in the gym, and an uplifting piano recital by Agnes Wan who expertly played music composed by Domenico Scarlatti, Joseph Haydn, Frederic Chopin, Robert Schumann and Sergei Prokofiev.

Agnes Wan

11. Enjoyed every minute of my morning swim as I knew the pool will be closed for maintenance for two weeks and I'll be flying with my sister to Budapest tonight (i.e. sitting upright in small space for several hours)!

12. Arrived safely in Budapest, settled in our hotel room, took a nap, and kicked off our new adventure in Central Europe with champagne and a delicious three-course Hungarian dinner.

13. Had a great breakfast to start our day, visited the beautiful landmarks in Budapest in the morning, lunched and shopped at the Great Market in the afternoon, and soaked in the thermal baths at Gellert in the evening before savouring Hungarian wine, goulash soup, and an entree.

Hungarian Parliament

14. A wonderful day with breakfast in Budapest, a comfortable coach ride to Vienna, a walking break, a guided visit to Schonbrunn Summer Palace, and a delicious Viennese dinner with wine.

Schonbrunn Summer Palace in Vienna

15. A perfect sunny day exploring the historic sites in Bratislava and Vienna, tasting local snacks, taking a break at a traditional coffee house, and savouring another delicious Viennese dinner with wine.
Bratislava Castle, Slovakia

16. An amazing day with breakfast in Vienna, arriving in beautiful Prague to explore the Old Town on foot, using the tram, enjoying dinner, and sleeping well in our comfortable beds in the hotel.

Prague Castle Hill, Czechia

17. Explored the historic sites in Prague, loved so many discoveries throughout the day, and wrapped up our tour with a farewell Czech dinner, live music, and wine.

18. Left Prague for our flights back to Toronto, watched 3 or 4 in-flight movies, and arrived home safely tonight with treats for my family.


19. Happy Sunday with my usual 5K run, post-trip unpacking, laundry, and catching up.

20. Worked out in the gym for an hour in the morning and admired unique, hand made items at a local art exhibition in the afternoon.



21. Reached two simple goals today: Yoga and making dinner that was devoured in minutes.

22. Enjoyed Wednesday with one hour in the gym, seeing the first snow flurries of the season during my walk, and a Mexican lunch with a friend (her treat!).

23. Reached three simple goals of the day: Yoga, making soup from our vegetable odds and ends, and sending in my second guest post.

24. Felt fantastic after spending one hour at the gym, and attending an amazing piano and violin recital by Mai Tategami (violin) and Jean-Luc Therrien (piano), so young yet so accomplished musicians.

M. Tategami and J-L. Therrien

25. Ran 5K this morning as the pool is still closed, did grocery shopping, and got a nice haircut before my hairdresser goes on vacation.

26. It's a great Sunday when I got in some fitness (one hour in the gym in the morning), some family activities (finishing laundry, preparing dinner), and some fun at the Swedish Christmas Fair which I wrote about here.

Handicraft at Swedish Christmas Fair

27. Made it a relaxing day with walking, yoga, and leisure reading.

28. Gym time was quite fun with my fitness friend.

29. Rinse and repeat day #27 because I loved it.

30. Wrapped up November with gratitude and looking forward to December.


Sunday, 3 December 2017

5 huge benefits of living car-free


What are the Top 5 huge benefits that I’ve gained from living car-free for the past twenty five years?

You’ll find my answer in my second guest post appearing on Donna Connolly’s fabulous blog Retirement Reflections as part of her Sunday Guest Post Series. Please hop on over, check it out, and leave a comment.

While you’re visiting her site, treat yourself to Donna’s articles about her trek on the Camino Trail. It looks like we both enjoy walking.

I hope to see you there!

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

Crispbread
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.

Prague

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?