Inspire Me! blog

How can we love a world that’s in such turmoil?

Pestilence, fires, plagues of locusts and political chaos – one might be forgiven for thinking that the Four Horsemen are loose!

But none of that has changed the fact that our world is a beautiful, fascinating place.

We are a global family. Maybe we’re as dysfunctional as regular families often are, but we are nonetheless all linked together in a world-wide ecosystem. We need to stay connected to each other on a deep personal level, to understand, to help, to educate.

We need to preserve our global home, which as humans we have resoundingly trashed, there’s no doubt about that. People are afraid for our future, and so some extreme solutions are being proposed.

There has been a lot of travel shaming recently, with suggestions ranging from don’t fly to don’t travel at all. While the coronavirus situation will certainly have an effect on our travel decisions until it’s over, I think the environmentally-prompted messages to stop travelling completely are completely wrong.

Travel is one of the greatest educators we have available to us. I don’t say ‘tourism’, I say authentic, respectful and responsible travel. There is simply no substitute for visiting another place and experiencing it first-hand –  talking to the people who live there, sharing their food, seeing the wildlife in its own natural habitat, getting a feel for what another culture is truly like.

The slipyard where RMS Titanic first took shape

My husband and I were fortunate to be able to travel to Ireland and Northern Ireland last fall. I’m a huge Titanic buff, so the opportunity to stand on the slipway where the epic ship was built in Belfast was an amazing experience, but so was the Black Cab tour that we took to gain an in-depth understanding of the Troubles. Belfast is a lovely city with lovely citizens who were so warm and welcoming, but we could feel how fragile the peace is, and how worried everyone was about the repercussions of Brexit.

Going on an adventure teaches you resilience, and often a lot about yourself at the same time. Visitors to Africa often find it a transforming experience on many levels, and TripSavvy lists a safari as one of their 10 Most Romantic Adventure Trips You Can Take.

Samburu Reserve

On a trip to Kenya we spent some time in remote Samburu reserve, where tall giraffe and red-tinted elephants wander among the thorn trees nearby and purple hills roll away into the hazy blue air for as far as the eyes can see. We stood on the rust-coloured ground, and I had the most profound feeling of having stepped back in time through eons to when the world was new, and we might have been the only creatures upon it. It was an extraordinary experience, and I wasn’t alone in having it.

Some of our best and most memorable experiences have been the unscripted interactions with local life.

One night in Bali, after suffering from a migraine all day, I asked my hubby if we could just go up to the restaurant on the roof our our beach resort. It had a Mexican theme, which was oddly the rage in the main city of Denpasar at the time, and our eating there was more a matter of convenience than expecting great food. It was a hot, humid night, but the cooler air on the rooftop was soothing. We were the only patrons, and the entire restaurant staff trickled slowly out to chat with us as we enjoyed the truly excellent Mexican meal they made for us. They pulled up chairs around our table and asked us all kinds of questions about Canada, including “What do you do when it snows?”, to which we replied, “We go to work just like usual.” They were flabbergasted that we would drive in the snow. It became one of the most memorable nights of our trip through southeast Asia.

In the town of Chivay in the Andes, our tour stopped for lunch before lurching up to the top of Colca Canyon to watch the huge condors fly. The restaurant owners kept a pet alpaca in the courtyard, which my hubby and I were immediately drawn to. For some reason the friendly little camelid decided that my hubby’s hiking pants looked really appetizing, and we laughed as it tried determinedly to snag a bite out of one pant leg.

Staying at home teaches you nothing. Staying at home stunts our burgeoning sense of connectedness.

Staying home will only promote insularity, xenophobia and fear, and people do terrible things when they’re afraid. When we travel, we begin to understand how alike we are to other people on our planet. We share the same joys and the same pains, the same desire to share life with someone special, the same need to leave some small legacy behind. The differences in how we approach these are what makes each culture so rich and fascinating.

There’s no substitute for sitting in a restaurant overlooking the lights of Hong Kong harbour at night, trying to look elegant while attempting to spear your slippery scallop with a jade chopstick. In a small town about half an hour away from Vienna, my mother’s best friend embraced her as they reunited for the first time since  nursing together during WW2 50 years before, then served us rich coffee and a delectable Austrian torte in her flower-filled house. In Cairo we ate mezze in a dim restaurant filled with the aromatic smoke from huge pans of sizzling falafel. We had afternoon tea in New Zealand while watching, and feeling, Tongariro volcano rumble in irritation on the near horizon.

The wonder of standing in the Temple of Heads at Tiwanaku, one of the most enigmatic archeological sites in the world, where an ancient civilization flourished so high in the Bolivian Andes that they were above the tree line and had to invent new techniques to grow food, is something you have to experience in person. As is having breakfast in the morning sunlight as the mighty Zambezi river flows swiftly by just a few feet away..

What we need is for travel suppliers to find more sustainable ways to provide their services, and as travelers it’s equally our responsibility to be good guests. That means:

Many suppliers are indeed looking at improving their environmental footprint. Expo 2020, taking place in Dubai from October 20 2020 to April 10 2021, will include a climate-focused event that “looks to further advance the conversation, and encourage action on climate and sustainability issues that are leading to an increase in natural catastrophes.” As citizens of the world, let’s do our part and be responsible travellers.

Is the sky falling??

If you were paying attention to those two satellites that came close to colliding somewhere over Pittsburgh yesterday, you might have thought the sky was going to fall indeed.

Looking back at just the past two weeks since my last post, to quote Henry Jones Sr. in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, “Our situation has not improved.”

The World Health Organization has finally declared the Novel Coronavirus as a global health emergency, something that seemed pretty obvious to me, and probably a lot of other people, at least a few days ago. The rapid spread throughout China despite all the containment measures, the fact that the virus may not manifest symptomatically in some people until they’ve already passed from one country to another…these things seemed fairly indicative of a significant problem.

If anything, this situation clearly shows why all travellers should have insurance and access to some back-up cash in case of emergency or a delayed return to your home country. If you have to take medication, always make sure you take extra with you.

For those of us watching the news and waiting to see what the next days will bring, it’s important to maintain our own health and sanity. The world has survived other pandemics, so your job is to keep safe and sound in your corner of the planet. Here are some suggestions:

  • Be kind to yourself and other people — everyone’s under stress, so a generous spirit can help ease tensions
  • Watch happy, fun shows. I guess some people might find grim, dystopian fare cathartic, but in my experience the cumulative effect is depressing
  • Practice some cozy nesting. Cook comfort food, enjoy relaxing downtime, turn your home into a haven against the craziness outside its walls.
  • Eat good quality food. One of your best defenses is to be properly nourished, so: avoid processed food, which is full of empty calories and a lot of not-so-benevolent chemicals (I studied organic chemistry in university, and the lecture on food additives was an eye-opener about the crap that companies put into processed foods!), and eat a well-balanced selection of natural foods.
  • Be proactive in prudent ways. If you have essential medications or supplements, make sure you’re well-stocked. For example, I have chronic acute nerve pain in one thigh, and the only thing that keeps it at bay is regular doses of a Vitamin B complex — I bought an extra bottle this week, because if I were to run out I’d be in deep trouble. Maybe even stock up on some nonperishable food supplies that you’d use anyway should we never end up in a lock down situation ourselves. I keep reading stories of the food shortages for people in locked-down Wuhan. They were caught unawares, but we have the advantage of some advance knowledge. Hopefully, like SARS, the virus is stopped before it gets too much farther, but I always feel that it’s better to be prepared.

In the meantime, like my favourite maxim, keep calm and drink tea with a nice cake to raise your spirits.

What lies ahead?

Twenty years ago my husband and I celebrated New Year’s Eve with family on the cusp of the new millennium. It was a momentous turn of time’s great wheel. We brought out the china and crystal; I made a special dinner with beef tenderloin; our aunt suddenly manifested signs of a winter virus just after dinner when she vomited in the bathroom, and she had to go home before we cracked open the expensive champagne at midnight. So, a fairly standard wacky holiday meal.

We all wondered what the approaching century and millennium would bring as half the world seemed convinced that our own technology would doom us as soon as the computer clocks ticked over to a year with a new configuration. We even had acquaintances who sold a profitable business to live completely off the grid.

Hubby and I weren’t as convinced of impending disaster, although we did prudently stash a small stock of supplies in case the electricity system failed for a few days – all things that we could use anyway if nothing happened, which is exactly what happened. Arguably the greatest non-event in history.

It didn’t take long for the 2000s to become tumultuous, and we’re now in a time of great uncertainty about the planet’s future.

Having grown up on Star Trek, I prefer to keep that positive vision of the future, but here are trends I’ve noticed that aren’t helping anything:

  • Overpopulation – our planetary ecosystem can’t support our current level of population growth
  • Rampant profiteering – we can’t continue stripping our planet of critical natural resources, so (among other things) someone has to put a stop to big corporations who don’t seem to care that that they’re destroying the future of their own families along with all of the rest of us
  • Divisiveness – we all need to become truly global citizens, tolerant and accepting of everyone, every life form on this planet, and the planet itself as our magnificent and precious home
  • The “it’s all about me” attitude that seems to prevail now – we need to return to values of kindness and consideration for others, and to understanding that all of our actions have consequences and that we’re responsible for those consequences
  • Unbridled materialism, which I believe is a symptom of deep cracks in our society that no one’s addressing, along with things like increasing rates of depression, anxiety, irritability and stress-related illnesses

I think people around the world are frightened, but letting our fears govern our actions isn’t the answer.

If more and more people resolve to put the welfare of each other and the entire planet on a par with themselves, to become the light-filled beings we have the capacity to be, I think we can turn the tide. If you feel the same way, let’s start something!

A year of light

A new year, and a new decade. Let’s hope that the world becomes a better place — lately it’s been feeling like we take two steps back for every step forward.

New beginnings are always hopeful things. I prefer to be optimistic, and so, while everyone worries about climate change, I’d like to share this charming article with you about sheep in Scotland who have been consuming more seaweed and are belching less methane as a result. It’s a start 🙂

With the growing trend of ‘flight shaming’, here’s a cogent look at approaching reducing carbon emissions in a less confrontational way. I believe travel is a powerful force for understanding and peace, and would argue that there are millions of people around the world who depend on the travel industry to make ends meet. While a lot of criticism has been levelled at travellers, there are industries that have been degrading our environment for decades and need to be examined. Clear-cutting, mining and monoculture farms in the Amazon and other jungle regions have caused an enormous amount of damage, for example.

However, I do love train travel and road trips. We were in Tennessee for the holidays, visiting a cousin, and if you’re looking for a place to spend your holidays in 2020, you might want to consider the Nashville area. We attended two light displays:

  • GLOW Nashville at First Horizon Park, a magical light display with skating rink, tubing slides, shops, and more, and
  • Holiday LIGHTS at Cheekwood Estate, where the magnificent Cheekwood Mansion is decorated to the hilt, and after dark the grounds turn into a holiday wonderland.
GLOW
GLOW
GLOW
GLOW
GLOW
Holiday LIGHTS at Cheekwood
Holiday LIGHTS at Cheekwood
Holiday LIGHTS at Cheekwood
Holiday LIGHTS at Cheekwood

I can also recommend a great Mexican restaurant in Nashville, Uncle Julio’s, where we could have made a meal just of the scrumptious queso appetizer, and we all enjoyed our entrees — I had a fantastic salad with smoky grilled shrimp.

We also ordered a chocolate pinata for my hubby’s birthday. It comes out on a big tray with a wooden baton for cracking it. Our excellent waitress recommended hitting it from the top so that all the goodies inside — fresh strawberries, churros and chocolate empanadas — land gracefully on the tray (instead of spraying sideways onto the hitter’s lap). It was great fun and very delicious. Stop in if you’re in the area!

Personally I don’t like making formal resolutions, but for 2020 let’s all incorporate dreams, imagination, serenity and kindness into our lives. That’s a good start too.

Make the holidays your own

Do you look forward to or dread the holidays? I’ve been in both frames of mind — depends on what you have to look ‘forward’ to, doesn’t it?

This time of year, with longer darkness and — at least in my part of the world — an ever-present chill in the air, bears considerable emotional impact.

With all of the season’s challenges, it’s really important to take care of ourselves and our loved ones. Have some quiet times, soften the lighting, play a board game or watch a gentle movie.

One of the nicest Christmas breaks my hubby & I ever had was the year he got a bad cold. He wasn’t dreadfully ill, but tired and bedraggled enough that we had to bow out of all invitations.

We spent our days snuggled up inside by our Christmas tree, with a fire crackling, mugs of hot tea and our favourite movies on the television. I made chicken soup and other comfort foods that didn’t tax my hubby’s tummy. When my hubby snoozed in his favourite chair, I read or indulged in some retro paint-by-number artistry (which is not as low-demand as you might think, and remarkably engrossing).

It was probably the most relaxing Christmas we’ve ever had.

One Christmas a few years ago, we, with our nieces and nephews, decided to take over Christmas dinner at my hubby’s sister’s place and have soup and grilled cheese. She was slightly appalled at not putting on a big meal, but she was outnumbered. Several of us brought tabletop grill pans, and everyone contributed something interesting — my hubby and I brought the perfect grilling bread (golden and crispy on the surface, but soft and chewy underneath), our niece made two pots of soup, people brought their favourite kinds of cheese and some delicious add-ins. We banished my sister-in-law from the kitchen and created easy, delicious melted masterpieces in very short order. Then we all sat casually around the dining table and shared the goodies.

My family’s holiday celebrations centred on Christmas Eve. One year, after several busy weeks at work, I decided to keep things simple. I made a huge pot of chicken, sausage and shrimp gumbo a couple of days ahead. All I had to do to serve it was reheat, put out a basket of fresh crusty bread and a big salad. My parents were no longer alive, but my brother came with his kids, partner and her kids, and my mother-in-law wasn’t going anywhere else so we invited her as well. The recipe turned out to be delicious, granted, but I think the cozy and simple meal struck a chord, because that enormous cast-iron pot of soup got cleaned out, even with a big bowl of delicious English trifle waiting on the sideboard.

There was a Christmas when we had both families over and expanded our meal to invite our neighbours from across the street, who had lost both their son and daughter-in-law that year and were now raising their grandsons. We weren’t sure they’d feel comfortable enough to join us, but they did, and our families welcomed them, and it made for a really special Christmas.

The point of holidays, whichever you celebrate, isn’t to drive yourself crazy tracking down gifts, or make everything look like a Hallmark moment, or grit your teeth while relatives behave badly.

Warmth and fellowship are the point. Spend quality time with people who matter to you, and include people who or hurting or would otherwise be alone. Have easy, good food and easy laughter. Put aside differences, because lost time can never be recaptured. Be kind to each other.

I wish for you whatever brings you peace and contentment this holiday season.

A holiday break for tea

I’m sitting here by our Christmas tree, with a fire log burning in the fireplace and a lap blanket keeping my legs warm. There’s a holiday mug with gentle Keemun tea beside me to sip on, and some shortbread cookies to go with the tea.

I love these quiet times — they’re my antidote to all the holiday craziness going on outside our little subdivision. We’re having friends over for dinner this weekend, so I braved the already growing hordes at the grocery store for cooking supplies this afternoon. This evening I made the lentil and herb soup to put in the fridge, and the spice cake that will be the base for a fig and persimmon trifle for dessert, then put my feet up to watch a retrospective of vintage holiday shows on PBS.

The holidays can be challenging, pressure-filled and emotional. Here’s some hard-earned wisdom I can offer:

  • be gentle with yourself and everyone around you
  • don’t try to make everything perfect — that’s usually when things go wrong
  • keep your sense of humour when things do go wrong — believe me, everyone around you has been in the same boat at some point in their lives
  • being a great host means making your guests feel truly welcome in your home, and making sure that you’ve taken into account any food issues so that everyone has something they can eat
  • step away from the craziness periodically and enjoy some quiet time — it will replenish your flagging energy and holiday spirit, much better than running yourself into the ground

As you may have noticed, I’m switching my posts to a biweekly schedule, i.e. every other week, but I will do a special holiday post next week. Take care of yourself in the meantime and have a nice cup of tea from time to time 🙂