Inspire Me! blog

Getting your vintage creeps on

It’s Halloween season — my favourite time of year, and clearly for many, many other people as well, judging by the spooky-theme TV ads that are already making their appearance.

There’s something about the fall weather, with frosty mornings and sweater temperatures, leaves drifting to the ground, and the earthy smell of Nature getting ready to hibernate, that signals the approach of the day when the Celts thought that the veil between this world and the next was at its thinnest.

I have several annual fall rituals for this time: prowling Home Sense and Pier One for things to add to my rather large collection of Halloween decor, watching the new season of the Food Network’s Halloween Baking Challenge and watching the contestants have inordinate amounts of fun making stylish but warped baked goods, and checking out TCM’s lineup of vintage horror and sci-fi movies.

In the days before CGI, movie producers had to get really creative with special effects — sometimes brilliant for their limited resources (Forbidden Planet), sometimes incredibly cheesy (Plan 9 from Outer Space). Whatever the end result was, they are always entertaining, whether you’re laughing yourself silly over things like not-so-terrifying Mole People…

poster for The Mole People, 1956, By [1], https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3327404

or getting genuinely creeped out, as with the amazingly effective 1931 Dracula.

By Universal Studios – https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/DRACULA-1931-Bela-Lugosi-Edward-Van-Sloan-10×8-LOBBY-CARD/122917865865?hash=item1c9e79c989:g:x9wAAOSwogpaXksB, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=67003766

While they may not seem remarkable by today’s standards, imagine what audiences at the time must have felt seeing these stories play out on a large screen in a darkened movie theatre, with effects they’d never seen before.

https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8913138

One of my personal favourites, a movie that scared me so much when I first saw it as a teenager that it took me years to watch it again, is a relatively obscure little piece called Curse of the Demon, also known as Night of the Demon, about a curse that gets passed to its unknowing victims through a seemingly innocent piece of paper. That’s all I’ll say about it. If you’ve never seen it, turn out the lights, light a couple of candles and watch it on TCM on October 10th.

Sci-fi movies allowed both movie makers and all of us to let our imaginations run wild about what life might be like on other planets, and what might happen if alien life came to us. Our ongoing fascination with UFOs was just featured in a great article in the Scientific American blog.

Forbidden Planet took a marvelous look at the remnants of an ancient civilization as far advanced above ours as its home planet was from ours, mixed in with a horror theme borrowed from Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=871061

When construction workers in 1950s London uncover a mysterious artifact, Professor Quatermass and a couple of fellow researchers unearth the startling truth behind hauntings in the abandoned surrounding neighbourhood, where people decades before believed they saw the Devil. Things get increasingly more unnerving as the researchers and excavators try to figure out what’s going on, until they become in danger of losing their very minds. Five Million Years to Earth (called Quatermass and the Pit in England), is unfortunately not showing on TCM this season, but do keep an eye out for it some other time.

If you’ve never checked out some of the many creative vintage scary movies made in the earlier days of Hollywood, I think you’ll be in for a treat this Halloween. They were made with style and imagination.

We are sorry…

Waiting for a flight, Heathrow

You’ve probably seen the many headlines. With those words, 144-year old travel company Thomas Cook announced abruptly on Sunday that it was closed for business, leaving about 600,000 travellers around the world in the lurch and a lot of employees suddenly looking for work, including airline pilots.

How could such a thing happen to the most veteran travel company in the business? Rumours of sky-high executive salaries are rife, and a gigantic reality show will play out over the next while as investigations get underway and some dirty secrets likely see the light of day.

Along with the vast personal and economic repercussions, it’s a sad time in the travel industry as we watch this once-great company die. Thomas Cook, the founder, led his first escorted tour in 1841 — about 500 temperance campaigners, if you can believe it, to a rally. He continued organizing a variety of tours around the British Isles, and within four years was taking people to Europe.

1922 Thos Cook poster, By 90 years old advert, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32011543

He officially opened shop on Fleet Street in London in 1865 and began making connections abroad that allowed him to, with his son as a partner, form the first commercial touring company. He made tours to exotic lands, like Egypt, accessible to the masses.

In our early days of travel, it was one of our pre-trip rituals to buy some Thomas Cook travellers’ cheques, until better forms of travel money came along.

It’s my feeling that in a situation like this, the travellers already abroad should be taken care of before any other legalities, but until/if that ever happens, here are two things you should always do to prepare for overseas emergencies:

  1. Buy travel insurance, both for trip cancellation and possible medical needs. We were all set to go to Mexico with friends in November a number of years ago, when a hurricane swept through the Gulf in September and took a number of resorts with it, including the one we were booked at. Afterward the clean-up and repairs, the resort was supposed to reopen the day we were due to arrive, but we had our suspicions about how good the facilities were going to be (having seen first-hand how quickly things often got done in the Caribbean back at the time), so we cancelled and in short order got our money back with no difficulties.
  2. Make sure there’s room on your credit card for emergency expenses. Many of the travellers in the current crisis have suddenly found themselves being charged by their hotels just to avoid getting kicked out — although, frankly, if a hotel I was staying at didn’t handle the situation with due tact and consideration, I’d be giving it a very bad review.

In all cases, don’t panic. Contact your travel agent for assistance — they will likely already be aware of your situation and be putting plans into place. You can also check in with your country’s local embassy (find information for Canadians here).

Livingstone airport, Zimbabwe

Beyond that, keep yourself comfortable and safe while you wait to return home. I was leading a trip to Botswana and Zimbabwe when the volcano in Iceland erupted in 2010. We were able to complete our safari as planned (and had a fabulous time), but as we were getting ready to leave Livingstone in Zimbabwe for our flight to Johannesburg on the first leg to return home, we heard that the damn volcano had gone off again and we might not be able to get past South Africa for a few days. My travellers were getting nervous, but I told them, “Look, if we’re stuck in Jo’burg for a night or two, I know a really nice hotel attached to a mall with great shops and restaurants — we’ll just remain comfortable there until we can fly again.”

As it turned out, the volcanic plume drifted eastward out of our flight path and we were able to make it home with little trouble.

So how can you avoid a travel problem like this Thomas Cook fiasco? You can’t, sadly — one of the most established names in the business tanked unexpectedly, at least to the rest of the world. Where there warning signs before that? Apparently not where most of us could see them. The best you can do is, like the old Boy Scout motto, Be Prepared. Don’t let something like this put you off travel — it should always be a great adventure!

Peace at heart, peace with our global home

In three days, on September 21, the world will be observing the International Day of Peace. This year’s theme, Climate Action for Peace, is multi-layered, calling for us to recognize that human conflict and environmental negligence will impact our lives and those of future generations, and that they are tightly interwoven.

Imagine if there were no pollinators. Bees around the world are in dire straits.

How would we grow enough food for our exploding human population without bees, and how would plant-eating animals survive? In a global food shortage scenario, who would have access to the limited supplies of food? Would it be the average person, working to make ends meet, just like you and me? Likely not.

What would happen to the flowers that fill our gardens with beauty, the balm of nature that can ease our stress and bring joy to our lives? What if there were no roses to stop and smell?

Outdoor sports as we know them might disappear, like your favourite golf courses.

While things like golf courses may seem trivial in the grand scheme of things, they are just one of the many, many pleasurable things in our world that we take for granted. Imagine a world where there was no green space to play in.

Each year, since 2001, the United Nations asks all nations and all of us for one day “to put down … weapons and reaffirm their commitment to living in harmony with one another.” There are many days when that seems like a really tall order, but amazing things have happened when enough people get behind a movement. Governments don’t change until the people of those countries start to speak up.

For each of us personally, let’s get back to a social climate of kindness and respect, for each other and for all the other creatures and plants that share the only home we all have.

Here are some of my favourite photos from around the world, both near and far — I hope they inspire you to realize how badly we need to protect the climate that allows these beautiful places to exist. It’s an unnervingly fragile balance.

Samburu Reserve, Kenya
Lake Naivasha, Kenya
Andes Mountains
Floating reed islands, Lake Titicaca
Royal Botanical Gardens, Ontario
Lake Muskoka, Ontario
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
Lake Pukaki, New Zealand
Okavango Delta, Botswana
Sugar cane, Mauritius
Linden tree in bloom, my back yard

The search for peace

I remember exactly what I was doing on September 11, 2001. I imagine that most people do. Some events are so impactful on a global scale that they are forever etched in our collective memories.

I was sitting at my desk in a common area at our local college, working away, when someone came out of an office and said, “There’s something going on in New York.”

The internet was still in its early days as a news source, but several of us crowded around our colleague’s live stream to watch, stunned, as events unfolded. I can recall watching the second plane fly into a tower; it was so surreal that it was hard to absorb.

Word spread quickly and I think most work ground to a halt as the Library set up a big TV screen in the lobby. No one knew what to do. This horrific event was unfolding before our very eyes, and all we could do was watch.

The 9/11 tragedy had ripples for a long time afterward.

The skies were eerily quiet for days while a no-fly rule was in effect. Friends with relatives in New York City were glued to their television sets. Everyone wondered how the aftermath would play out.

I live in a community close to the Canadian-US border, with hydroelectric plants and a number of big factories, so most people that I knew experienced some anxiety over the possibility of our own attack – although I suspect that scenario was on most people’s minds in North America.

In the height of irony, astronauts on the International Space Station, a cooperative venture bringing nations together far above us, could see the smoke plumes and struggled with their own sense of helplessness – you can read their poignant point of view in an article on Space.com.

Six years later, when my hubby and I went on our first African safari, airlines still had considerable restrictions on what travelers could bring on board, and we became very creative at packing economically.

9/11 changed our modern landscape, and there has been endless speculation about why it happened. Like most historical events, we may never know all of the truth, but I think we can agree that global peace continues to be a series of forward steps alternating with backward steps.

I believe that the root of conflict is a lack of respect for someone else’s right to hold a different point of view, and I believe that one of the ways we can work toward global peace is to travel.

It’s really difficult to hold another place or culture at arm’s length, to put a psychological wall up, when you’ve been there in person and met the ordinary people who live there, work there, try to provide for their families, laugh, feel pain, feel sorrow. It’s hard to turn away from animals and environments in need when you’ve walked among them.

We have met so many wonderful people on our travels. We have seen the magnificence of places like Africa and the Amazon Jungle, and know how critical they are to life as we know it.

Life thrives in the quiet places of our planet. Beauty and harmony are there. Find those places and their inhabitants, and understand why all the parts matter.

As a counterpoint to the sadness of 9/11, and the many ongoing conflicts in the world, one movement we can embrace is Forest Bathing. The name may sound silly, but bear with me on this.

Forest Bathing is a Japanese practice that promotes wellness by spending mindful time in a forested area. Nature is healing. Buildings, as beautiful as some of our constructions can be, are artificial environments, surrounded by cities that often don’t include much green space. Our increasing urbanization is separating us from the planet that has nurtured us for eons.

September 7th, this past weekend, was International Forest Bathing Day. The practice is really catching on world-wide, and there is likely at least one certified guide within fifty miles of you. Of course, anyone can do forest bathing for themselves, but you need to be able to do it slowly, taking the time to notice all the beauty and enjoy the serenity.

Find your centre, your inner core of peace and connectedness. I’d love to hear about it.

…and speaking of storms

Ah, the memories — rain lashing at our windows, wind howling, four of us huddled in our bedroom nervously riding out the category five hurricane on our honeymoon.

My hubby and I knew very little about hurricanes when we booked our honeymoon in late August in the U.S. Virgin Islands. No one really talked about them at the time, before the advent of satellites, the internet and instantaneous news.

Our travel agent sold us on the island of St. Thomas, and we chose a nice-looking resort on the north side called Point Pleasant. We liked the way it was tucked into the hillside; it had recently won an award for best preservation of the environment, and since the burgeoning field of ecology and environmental science was my major in university, it seemed like the perfect fit.

We arrived on a Monday morning after a series of connecting flights culminating in a hair-raising 30 minutes on a little island hopper airline called Prinair — the door to the cockpit was coffin-shaped, the bolts on the metal housing on the wings were loose and rattling as we flew along (I tried to pretend nothing was wrong, but my hubby could tell something was bothering me).

The resort was perfect — condo-style rooms built into the lush, steep hillside, with 25 feet of sliding glass doors opening onto a wide balcony draped with fronds from a tall palm tree, overlooking the most beautiful blue-green water.

That evening, after dinner, we were chilling out sipping rum punch on one of the terraces when someone mentioned that there was a storm coming in. Okay, we could handle a bit of rain, we thought.

On Tuesday as we explored the small island, the word “hurricane” came up. We asked in town, and found out that there was indeed a hurricane headed in our direction, forecasted to arrive the next day. I remember thinking, you’ve got to be kidding me, then, well, there’s nothing we can do but shelter in place.

Wednesday started out as a gorgeous, sunny day, so we went into town again to do some shopping. Building owners were taping up their windows, and in the harbour small boats were being tied down while the cruise ships fled out to sea. Hmm.

Back at the resort, the owners gave out instructions: the storm was expected to hit around midnight. We were to crack open the sliding glass doors a bit so that the hurricane’s weird air pressure could equalize and avoid blowing them out. Then we were to stay in our bedrooms and close the louvered doors — the bedroom and bathroom were at the back of our unit, almost completely set into the hill. If things got bad, we were to hide in our tub.

We had a nice dinner with another honeymoon couple from Michigan, but the wind began to pick up as darkness fell, and we were worried about them walking all the way down the hill to their unit, which was at the bottom past quite a bit of construction materials where new units were being added. There were no phones in any of the rooms, you see, so we would have no way of knowing if they made it safely.

As our building was the second closest to the main building and restaurant, we convinced them to do spend the night with us. So on the third night of our honeymoon, the other couple and I were in our king sized bed (fully-clothed, of course, in case we lost a wall!), while Mike was on the floor next to the bed, leaning against the nightstand.

Waiting and not knowing what was going to happen was the worst part. We had some drinks and chatted nervously for a while, then tried to doze off a bit. At one point the window air conditioner kicked in suddenly over our heads and startled the crap out of us.

As it turned out, we got lucky. Fifty miles south of us, Hurricane David suddenly turned due west and took out the Dominican Republic. We ended up with only the fringes of the storm, which was bad enough — a couple of other units in our resort did lose their sliding windows, and in the morning we no longer had a palm tree draped over our balcony.

The night had been stormy but not overly dangerous, although for months afterward I would tense up at home whenever the wind picked up. The skies remained grey and the waters continued to churn down on the beach, tossing boats around vigorously. We could see beheaded cacti all up and down the hillside.

There was a lot of debris on the roads, which were all closed, so most of the resort guests ended up in the restaurant and bar at some point. We met two couples from the southern U.S. and had dinner with them.

No one could call into the island, but we were able to call out and reassure our families that we were safe and sound. My dad had been frantic because news reports had said the island had been evacuated. My hubby’s larger family was still post-wedding partying around their pool when we got through to them.

We were playing cards in the glass-walled restaurant into the evening, fairly relaxed, when I noticed the big window next to me bowing in at least 12 inches, then popped back into place. I was just wondering if anyone else had seen that, when all of a sudden the wind picked up and began to howl strangely. We could see small trees flying past the window, the wind shrieked, and the lights went out. As a group, we dove under the table, not sure what the hell was happening.

After a few tense minutes, the staff said we could come back out. Everyone was shaken, and they told us to head for our rooms. The electricity was out throughout the resort, so we were given lanterns to use — and here’s a tip: in utter darkness, don’t hold the lantern in front of you, because it will effectively blind you to anything else. My hubby slipped on the wet wooden stairs and bruised a rib. The six of us headed back to our room, again because we were the closest; my hubby and I joked afterward that to the resort staff we must have looked like one kinky honeymoon couple!

The remainder of the night was quiet. We found out the next day that a tornado had torn through the other side of the hill that our resort was on. Lucky again (all in all)!

When we could get out and about again, we found out how bad our hurricane turned out to be, and how truly fortunate we’d been, ideally positioned in a resort on an island made of one big hill, tucked securely into the hillside on the north while the hurricane raged south of us.

What also saved us at the time was the speed at which the hurricane moved, unlike Dorian, which has hovered over the Bahamas this week to do extensive damage, and hurricane Harvey which dumped so much water onto Texas two years ago. There’s been a great deal of speculation lately regarding how much effect climate change has had on these storms to make them so slow and so much more damaging. Hurricane David resulted in over 2,000 lives lost, I think in large part because there weren’t fast and effective warning systems in place back then; now we have warnings that people often ignore, and storms that lurk in place like monsters.

Mother Nature always wins. Should you ever find yourself in the path of a hurricane, don’t risk your life.

Lion Tail Magic supports IFAW, which is collecting donations to help the animal victims of Hurricane Dorian.

How to take a much-needed break

It’s so easy to be grumpy. I’m not sure why that should be the case, but in our ever-shrinking world, it can be hard to find time and space to decompress. We feel the press of responsibilities, of aches and pains, of unsettling news from around the world.

Add some home renovations into the mix and things start to ramp up. You know that the end result will justify the weeks of toil, but that thought doesn’t really help when you’re twisted into a corner trying to get the last bit of flooring laid and paint applied.

My hubby and I just finished renovating our main bathroom, and it looks great. It was a long haul, though, and we have to turn around almost immediately and empty out plus repaint our bedroom before we take delivery of our new split-king adjustable bed (which we are very excited about).

So, we snuck in a long-weekend getaway to the Muskoka region of Ontario, and it was the best thing we could have done.

Despite battling our way through some heavy highway traffic, the moment we arrived at the pine-scented resort at the edge of sparkling Lake Muskoka, we could feel ourselves starting to relax.

The skies had clouded over and the air held just a hint of fall as we played a round of golf on the resort’s gorgeous golf course. What we love about this course is that it emerges naturally from its forested, granite-strewn landscape, embracing nature at its best rather than a manicured garden.

Evenings were spent peacefully watching the sun set over the lake and the stars come out overhead.

Saturday dawned with a clear blue sky and a fresh breeze. The motorboats beckoned, so we rented one and spent an hour exploring the lake.

There were quite a few people out on the lake, from fellow boaters to kayakers to Sea-doos to SUPers, with a few lake steamers in the mix, and even with the variety of traffic, everyone seemed to be gently enjoying a blissful summer day on the water.

After lunch we decided to explore some of the hiking trails on the resort property.

Studies continue to show how restorative nature is. Staying at a resort so in tune with it, where the outdoors irresistibly beckons in myriad ways, induces a slowing-down of pace that can be hard to manage during our regular lives. Even though this was just a long-weekend getaway, it was amazingly effective.

Even if you can’t manage a longer escape, spending a few days in nature can work magic when you least expect it. Now, we might actually feel ready to do some more painting 🙂