Let’s think of snow and cold as stress relievers

In a bid to take a break from the anguish of the world according to Trump, I’m switching my focus to reflecting on the simple joys of winter. We’re lucky this year; there’s lots of it to make us feel joyful! 😉 It can be challenging, for sure, but it’s SOooo beautiful and SOooo invigorating. How can you be outside clearing yet another dump of the white stuff off your car and not feel just … so alive?! Surrounded by masses of fluffy white snow, with the amazing quiet that snow brings … so peaceful. And the bonus of getting productive exercise by shoveling, snow-blowing, brushing and scraping. Way more satisfying than the summer analog of lawn-mowing, where you end up all sweaty and covered in mosquito bites. How often do you stop mowing just to look around and take in the beauty of nature?  And how often do you use your time mowing to let your mind wander and explore serendipitous thoughts?  Need I say more?

Seriously. I happen to be one of those people who loves winter. I don’t know why there aren’t more of us, but it does seem that I am in the minority. I love winter so much that I actually moved to a place where they had “real” winters, winters that are winters all winter long. I always loved it when winter arrived when I was a kid, but it never stayed. Slide down the hill for a few days – beyond magical – and then it all melted. Skate on the pond for a few days – more magic – and then the pond turned back into a pond. I loved the sound of snow crunching under your feet, but it has to be pretty cold for that to happen, and we were more likely to have the sound of our cold wet boots squishing through slush. Even worse is looking out on snowless, grey, hibernating winter grass, ugly and boring. Granted, warmer snow that’s bound to melt after a few days is great for building snowmen, but Frosty won’t last unless it turns colder. And who wants to make snow angels in warm, wet, slushy snow? So I came further north and overcame those inadequacies. Continue reading

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Checks and balances, the world needs you

trumpladylibertykamenskyNearly three weeks into the new world order of America under its new president, Donald Trump. What a surreal and unsettling three weeks. It is difficult to concentrate on other interests; they seem so mundane compared to witnessing the unravelling of the world order of the past 70 years since the end of World War II and the ensuing efforts to work together for world peace. If I had died last year, I would have died still believing that we as the human race had that goal in mind; regardless of short-term setbacks, greed, corruption, power struggles, and self-serving interests, that goal of world peace was still alive. But I didn’t die last year and today I find myself have trouble believing that this is in fact a goal of enough of our world leaders at this time. Self-interest, power grabs, and greed appear to reign supreme.  Kindness, concern and consideration for others have left the building. Continue reading

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We’re not wired to embrace facts or make rational decisions, it’s all in The Undoing Project

I’ve just finished reading a book I got for Christmas (thanks, Phil) by Michael Lewis called The Undoing Project. If you’ve read any of Michael Lewis’s other books, such as Moneyball. Liar’s Poker, or The Big Short, you’ll know he’s a terrific writer. In his new one, his writing is every bit as good and his research is every bit as thorough. It’s a subject that some readers may find a little bit “out there” compared to baseball or the world of finance, but it’s right up my alley. This story chronicles the extraordinary research collaboration between two psychologists who went on to win the Nobel Prize in Economics, Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman. The work they were recognized for is in fact applicable in many, many domains, but it up-ended the long held assumption of economists that human beings are rational in their decision making, hence the Nobel Prize in that subject.

The Undoing Project is fascinating on three levels: it gives a captivating look into the intense and remarkably productive collaboration of these two researchers over decades; it gives some insight into how research works, which is a complete mystery to many people; and, it provides compelling explanations of the theories developed by these two men in studying how people make decisions based on their knowledge and their intuition. It seems that we aren’t so rational after all, and we definitely don’t always make decisions that are in our own best interests. Continue reading

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“Planned obsolescence” for appliances is bad enough, but mattresses too?!

Contractor examining part of the ice slab that came off our roof

Contractor examining part of the ice slab that came off our roof

We first learned about the changes in life expectancies for household appliances a few years ago, when we had catastrophic ice damage to our house. Near the end of the very long winter of 2013-14, it finally warmed up enough for a 10-12” thick build-up of ice to slide off our metal roof. In its wake it took out a skylight, but worst of all it took out our electrical mast. And so, as per the wisdom of the provincial electrical inspector (and his word ensured that it happened and that the insurance company paid), everything electrical in our house had to be changed. Accordingly, along with everything electrical in walls and ceilings, everything that was plugged in had to be rewired or disposed of (and recorded as having been disposed of). This included buying all new appliances.

Once we accepted the unexpected hand we had been dealt – and that took some doing – one of our tasks was to go to an appliance store to replace every single appliance we had. Since we have a small granny flat in our house this included: Continue reading

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Our 15 favourite trips, time for an update

Four years ago I wrote a post that captured our 15 favourite trips of all times – at that time. It took us quite a while to come up with only 15, but we did it. As it turns out, we’ve had some pretty amazing trips since then, so a bit of an update seems in order. We have been travelling together since we were first married nearly 50 years ago.  My husband and I love to see new places and learn about different cultures and their history.  We love to experience firsthand the remarkable variation in natural settings, the marvelous diversity of birds and animals, and the extreme contrasts in climate.  In To travel or not to travel, I identified our top 5 trips of all time.  We found those top 5 easy to agree on.  The next 3 we also agreed on, all three of which were from our early days, as reported in 3 favourite trips: remembering the travelling, reflecting on change.  We still agree that those are our top 8, and Italy remains in 9th place. There are just so many amazing places to experience and learn about. If only we could be “beamed up” to the places, like on Star Trek, we’d have seen even more by now. Some places still on our list take a lot of effort to get to, like Borneo and Madagascar! Continue reading

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Resetting the Optimism Button for 2017

Time for the Year in Review. This is the week in which every columnist reviews the past year from their perspective, be it sports, TV shows, movies, celebrity lives and deaths, or … dare I say it, politics. There are lots of articles talking about how bad 2016 was and whether it will get better or worse in 2017. I admit to falling into the category that considers 2016 to have been a bad year, perhaps the worst since I was born nearly 71 years ago. Why, because the political direction of the countries making decisions that affect the entire world appear to have lost even a glimmer of kindness, even a veneer of compassion, even a shred of civility. Bullying seems to have won the day. If the most influential world leaders are to make decisions based solely on self-interest and not at all on values and not at all on inclusion, then what hope can there be for making things better … together … for everyone? All these years I thought that’s where we were headed, even if it takes a very long time and there are some stumbles and steps backwards from time to time. Now I’m not so sure. Not sure at all.

OK, I’ve got that off my chest. Now to consider how those of us who feel this way – and I appreciate that not everyone does – can find a way to put a positive spin on 2017. First of all, we can all think of positive things to remember from this strange, strange year, and hang on to them tightly. Keep reminding yourself of them. My own top items are:

  1. Brand new grandson born on Christmas Eve (!!)
  2. Fabulous week in Cancun with grandchildren and their parents
  3. Fascinating trip to Vietnam and Cambodia
  4. Retired – again – at the end of June. This time for good!

Secondly, we can all do what several people I know are already working on, some with more success than others:nonews

  1. Stop compulsively reading the news online; at least aim for moderation
  2. Stop compulsively watching the news on TV
  3. Stop incessantly talking about the bad news with friends.

I’m not saying that any of these extreme actions are easy, but they are important to practice. Eventually it will (at least may) get easier. 🙂 Continue reading

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Cambodia: Life along the Tonlé Sap and Mekong Rivers

The travel companies that have been so successful in building a thriving river cruising industry in Europe are now expanding their offerings to new destinations, including the Mekong River in Cambodia (and Vietnam). This is 1st world travel in a 3rd world country, and for us it proved to be fascinating, educational, gratifying, and humbling. I’ll attempt to share a few observations.

Geography. Cambodia is the smallest of the SE Asian countries by landmass and especially by population, with 15 million people, 90% of whom are Khmers (indigenous ethnic group) and almost all of whom are Buddhist. A large lake, Tonlé Sap Lake, sits more or less in the middle of Cambodia, with the extraordinary Angkor Wat temple sites and Siem Reap at its northern end. The Tonlé Sap Lake varies enormously in size depending on the season, and the Tonlé Sap River, which connects the lake to the Mekong River, actually reverses its direction depending on the time of year because of the monsoon cycle and the topology of the basin. Six months of the year the river flows from the Mekong north to the lake and the other six months it flows from the lake south to the Mekong. Not surprisingly, the depth and width of the lake and river change throughout this cycle as well. As a result, when we boarded our boat, we drove south for a few hours from Siem Reap to board at a spot that was accessible and then cruised north to get to our desired starting point before heading back south towards the Mekong! Got it?! Continue reading

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