Inspire Me! blog

Put your hand up if you too loathe summer

I’m sure plenty of people will disagree with me, but this is the kind of summer I hate — excessively hot and humid. I live in the Niagara Region, an area where the humidity can really climb in July and August; Lake Erie to the south of us, the Welland Canal to the east, and Lake Ontario to the north. For the past couple of years we’ve had cooler summers that I’ve actually enjoyed, but this summer is the kind that makes me grumpy for 8-10 weeks. This week the temperatures have soared to 45 deg C with the humidex, and the humidity is routinely over 60%, often over 90%. Thoughtless people keep taking their dogs with them to the grocery store in these conditions, and the local humane society is rescuing the poor animals every single day — heartbreakingly, not all of them have survived. Golfing is impossible — I had heat exhaustion three years ago when we golfed in Zimbabwe, and I really don’t want to do that again.

So that’s my partial litany of summertime gripes. I do have a home-grown therapy for it though: I watch the British Open Golf Championship! It’s never hot over there during the tournament, so I spend a week living vicariously through the golfers in sweaters under cool gray skies. I’m spending this week at home, venturing out as little as possible, with the chill from the central A/C simulating the temperatures my hubby and I are watching on the telly. I even cook British food all week to really capture the mood.

Today I gathered together a list of all my errands and braved the stifling heat to get everything done in one giant trip. Exhausted but successful, I returned home, threw anything perishable in the fridge, and treated myself to a Ploughman’s Lunch: ham, a nice mature cheddar, pickles, whole-grain bread with creamery butter, and a stiff cup of Irish Breakfast tea — absolutely heavenly after the earlier ordeal! Finished it all off with a lovely slice of Apple & Spice Tea Loaf, a recipe from the BBC Good Food website, which seems to have erased the link, so I’m including the actual recipe here, in case you’d like to join me in a virtual escape to a cooler place:

photo courtesy of the BBC Good Food website
photo courtesy of the BBC Good Food website

 

Apple & spice tea loaf

By Jane Hornby                           

Perfect with a fresh pot of tea, this looks and tastes just as good as a farmers’ market buy

Cooking time Prep: 10 mins  Cook: 1 hr, 30 mins      Skill level Easy     Servings Serves 10

Ingredients

  • 175g butter, plus extra for greasing
  • 175g light muscovado sugar, plus 1 tsp
  • 3 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 eating apple
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 200g dried mixed vine fruits (I used golden raisins)
  • 85g ground almonds
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 175g plain flour (I used gluten-free flour, gave a less-fluffy texture, but still tasted wonderfulP)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground nutmeg (I used ginger)
  • splash lemon or orange juice
  • 1 tbsp  marmalade or apricot jam

Method

  1. Heat oven to 180C/fan 160C/gas 4. Butter a 900g/2lb loaf tin and line with a strip of baking paper, or use a loaf tin liner (see tip, below). Beat together the butter and sugar until pale and creamy, then beat in the eggs one by one. Grate half the apple and mix it into the batter with the vanilla, dried fruit and ground almonds. Mix the baking powder, flour and spices together with a pinch of salt, then fold into the mix until even. Spoon into the tin and level the top.
  2. Thinly  slice the remaining apple half, toss with the lemon or orange juice, poke the slices a little way into the batter, then sprinkle with 1 tsp more sugar. Bake for 45 mins, then turn the oven down to 140C/fan 120C/gas 1. Cover the cake with foil, then bake for another 45 mins until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Cool in the tin.
  3. To finish the cake, melt the marmalade or jam in a small pan, sieve to remove any lumps, then brush it over the cake to glaze the top. Serve cut into thick slices, and spread with a little butter, if you like. Will freeze for up to 1 month.

Recipe from Good Food magazine, May 2009

Dream Trip No. 1

Rice farmers in Bali - 35mm slide by E. Jurus
Rice farmers in Bali – 35mm slide by E. Jurus

I’ve been very fortunate in my life so far to have been able to travel to many places in the world. Once in a while, though, a trip is advertised that I can’t swing but that I dream about being able to take.

A new offering by Oceania Cruises that’s making its debut in 2015 is one such that’s making me drool. Called “Around the World in 180 Days”, the company describes it as “something more than a cruise, truly a voyage, and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to really enjoy all the best your world has to offer”. The cruise departs from Miami on January 10, 2015, and takes you around the world to places like Guadeloupe and Tobago, Devil’s Island in French Guiana, Cape Town in S. Africa, cruising around the Cape of Good Hope, Mozambique, Madagascar, the Seychelles and Maldives, cruising the Andaman Sea, Rangoon, Bangkok, Singapore, Borneo, Bali, New Zealand, Tonga and Tahiti, and much more, finally docking back in Miami on July 8th.

For this inaugural voyage, Oceania is offering 2 for 1 cruise fares, which changes a Concierge Level Veranda room from $176,784 to $ 58,999! You also get an Exclusive Prestige Package that includes free pre-paid gratuities, transfers, luggage delivery, unlimited laundry services, etc.

I’m not sure I could talk my husband into spending 6 months on a cruise, but if I had the $59K to spend I’d love to give it a try. I can envision myself enjoying some of the special shore events, like a private cocktail party at the Jim Thompson House in Bangkok, or having a classic English-style afternoon tea after a day at sea. The tour includes a large number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, so there’s lots of world culture included.

Sigh. This would be a fantastic bucket list item. If you can swing this trip, you have to tell me all about it afterwards, photos included! You’ll find more information on the Oceania website.

Machu Picchu a little differently

The setting of Machu Picchu is spectacular
The setting of Machu Picchu is spectacular

If you’re not up for the strenuous hike to Machu Picchu on the Inca Trail, you’ll likely end up taking one of the trains along the Urubamba River to the town of Aguas Calientes, where you can catch a bus up to the top of the mountain to see one of the world’s most famous ancient citadels.

If you do it as a day trip, you’ll arrive at Machu Picchu amidst hordes of other tourists, spend a few hours at the citadel in the peak of the midday heat, and zip back to Cusco on the train without having had a chance to absorb the cloud forest in which Machu Picchu is set. There’s a better way.

There are a variety of hotels in and around Aguas Calientes where you can spend a couple of days enjoying the ambience and exploring not only Machu Picchu itself, but also the cloud forest that cloaks the mountains in which this amazing ancient wonder is located — the same cloud forest through which Hiram Bingham and his guide hacked their way in 1911 to find what has become the most famous ancient ruin in South America.

Peru is a patchwork of widely differing habitats: vast stretches of desert along the coast, the craggy Andes mountains down the spine, the cold and desolate Altiplano high up in the Andes, the lush rainforests of the Amazon basin on the eastern side of the Andes, and the marvelous cloud forest surrounding Machu Picchu, which many people don’t take the trouble to visit.

The hotel we stayed at, the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel, just across a short bridge from the main part of Aguas Calientes, has won numerous awards and this year was named one of the top 5 resorts and lodges in Central and South America by Travel & Leisure magazine.  It’s more affordable than you might think, though, and makes a wonderful base for a few nights.

Bungalows at the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel
Bungalows at the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel

You’ll stay in your own bungalow set amid the gardens, where thick woolen blankets ward off the night-time chill, toiletries are made from botanicals right on the property, and you’ll eat some of the finest food in Peru.

The ambience is very relaxing, so you can choose to just chill out a bit after the challenges of the altitude in Cuzco (about 4,300′ higher than Aguas Calientes), although you’ll still get a bit breathless walking up and down the stone paths at the hotel, but there’s plenty to do if you feel like exploring.

The first thing you’ll probably want to do is visit Machu Picchu, which you can arrange through the hotel, who’ll provide a private guide and the entry passes – the site is now restricted to only 500 people a day. You’ll get up for an early breakfast and take the bus up the mountain (a hair-raising ride in itself) at dawn to be among the earliest to arrive, and you’ll spend several hours exploring the massive site, stopping to rest for a light snack as well.

Some things to know beforehand: the morning air heats up very quickly to an intense blaze, so wear a good sunblock, a wide-brimmed hat and an overshirt with sleeves that you can roll down when you start to broil. There are no washrooms inside the citadel, so make sure you visit the ones outside the entrance gate. The site is very steep, and the ancient staircases are worn and slippery, with little in the way of handholds or barriers, so be very careful and take walking poles if you’re not steady on your feet. On the way out, don’t forget to have your passport stamped — Machu Picchu has its own stamp that you can add to your collection.

Aguas Calientes is easily explored on your own, and is just steps away from the Inkaterra hotel
Aguas Calientes is easily explored on your own, and is just steps away from the Inkaterra hotel

After your visit to Machu Picchu, you can have lunch in the charming and picturesque town of Aguas Calientes, which has plenty of decent restaurants to try authentic Andean food and a thriving craft market, or you can return to the hotel. Make sure you try the passion fruit cheesecake at least once either in town or at the hotel.

The hotel is set in its own private 12 acres of cloud forest, so if you feel like exploring after lunch, you can do so on your own or in the company of a naturalist, just viewing the forest ecosystem or doing some bird-watching.

Our orchid guide, Joseph, explains the physiology of these beautiful plants
Our orchid guide, Joseph, explains the physiology of these beautiful plants

The cloud forest is also home to over 300 species of wild orchids, and if you visit in the November orchid season as we did, you’ll be treated to an amazing variety of the flowers in all shapes and sizes. I’d recommend booking the orchid tour with one of the naturalists, though — many of the plants are quite tough to spot without an expert eye.

Spectacle bears are sweet and gentle herbivores; they love avocados
Spectacle bears are sweet and gentle herbivores; they love avocados

The Inkaterra has also partnered with the Peruvian government to rescue and rehabilitate the native Spectacled Bear, the only bear in South America. The bears are gentle arboreal creatures who are often captured illegally to either sold as pets or killed for their body parts, for which there is an appalling trade in Asia. There were 3 bears on hand when we visited, and they were delightful to watch.

The Inkaterra also grows its own herbs for the kitchen, and has its own small tea plantation, where you can learn all about tea production and make your own bag of tea to try out.

Most of these activities are included at no extra cost in your stay at the Inkaterra, but if you like there are a nice selection of activities with a range of prices as well: you can book a spa treatment — I had a fantastic massage with fragrant botanical oils — or have a native Andean purification ceremony, see a musical performance, etc.

Breakfasts and dinners are included, and the food is terrific. The breakfast buffet alone is worth getting up early for!
Breakfasts and dinners are included, and the food is terrific. The breakfast buffet alone is worth getting up early for!

At the end of the day, you can snuggle up in your comfortable bungalow and listen to some of the night sounds of the forest all around you. It’s a great way to see a bit more of Machu Picchu than most people bother to experience. The people at the Inkaterra were great to deal with, and very enthusiastic about their hotel and Machu Picchu. If you’d like to do Machu Picchu a little off the beaten path, you can’t go wrong with this choice!

The extremely comfortable bedrooms at the Inkaterra
The extremely comfortable bedrooms at the Inkaterra

How to quit worrying about whether you’re a good vs bad person

Elephant chasing water buffalo, Kenya - photo by E. Jurus

I’ve been preparing a workshop on living your bucket list for an upcoming group, and during my research I’ve run across a surprising amount of angst about being happy with yourself. Here are my thoughts based on personal experience:

1. Always take the high road – behave with grace under pressure, don’t sink to someone else’s level no matter what the provocation, do the right thing even though it might be difficult.

2. Accept responsibility for your own actions – you made the choices, regardless of whether your parents loved you or not as a child, whether you had a tough life…

3.Think about what you’re doing. If something upsets you, don’t have a knee-jerk reaction – walk away and simmer down first. If you react immediately, invariably you’ll regret your actions later.

4. Give everything your best shot. Putting your highest effort out is the way to avoid having regrets or doubts later.

5. Be considerate – whether you’re at work, driving, in a grocery store, even just living in your neighbourhood. More issues could be solved with simple consideration than just about anything else.

6. Allow people the benefit of the doubt. Everyone struggles with something in their lives, so Jack who’s miserable today may have an ill child, may have had an argument with his spouse, may be having financial difficulties, may be worrying about a mistake he made at work…

7. Live the Golden Rule: treat people as you would like to be treated yourself, i.e. with respect.

8. Smile – a genuine smile can overcome some of the toughest circumstances.

9. Treat people as if they are the best versions of themselves, and they will almost always live up to that.

10. Treat animals and nature as if they’re wonderful gifts, which is what they are.

11. Allow yourself to be human, i.e. to have the personality traits and quirks that we all have, but avoid both extremes: wallowing or arrogance.

12. Finally, understand that you won’t succeed all the time with the above tasks, and go back to number 11: realize that we’re all humans trying our best in an increasingly stressful world.

Filling your dreams to the brim with fright…

Entrance to Disneyland on Halloween night - photo by E. Jurus
Entrance to Disneyland on Halloween night – photo by E. Jurus
Entrance to Disneyland Hotel - photo by E Jurus
Entrance to Disneyland Hotel – photo by E Jurus

If you’re thinking of spending a Halloween with Disney, now’s the time to start planning! Tickets will go on sale next month, and they go quickly.
My husband and I went to Disneyland for October 30 & 31 two years ago, and we had a blast. We stayed at the Disneyland Hotel, which overlooks Downtown Disney. In California everything’s accessible by foot – we walked out from our hotel into the thick of the shops, restaurants and entertainment ‘downtown’, and a further 10 minute walk brought us to the gates of both Disneyland and California Adventure.

Shop window on Main Street USA - photo by E Jurus
Shop window on Main Street USA – photo by E Jurus

Signs of Halloween were everywhere – hay bales, pumpkins both real and faux (including a giant pumpkin-head Mickey at the entrance to Main Street USA, Halloween treats for sale in shops and restaurants, and lots of creepy/cute merchandise in the shops.

On Halloween, Disneyland closes to the general public around 3pm, and re-opens at 6pm for people with tickets to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. These tickets must be reserved in advance and are an additional cost over and above your park-hopper passes, but they’re well worth the extra cost! During the late afternoon on October 31st there’s an air of excitement – people dressed up in costume ( both children and adults) begin heading for the park, street entertainers come out, and the lights at the entrance to Disneyland start to glow. The atmosphere is like a big street party.

Food is available in the parks in the evening, but we chose to fortify ourselves at one of the restaurants in Downtown Disney first, then went back to the hotel to change. If you’re going, please note that the temperature can drop considerably at night even in the sunny states, and our night was no exception. I had on a long-sleeved costume and was still chilled by the end of the party.

Once inside the park, there are loads of things to do. All the day’s rides are open, but there are also dance

Main St USA on Halloween Night - photo by E Jurus
Main St USA on Halloween Night – photo by E Jurus

parties in different locations, the opportunity to have your  photo taken in front of the giant pumpkin Mickey (the professional photographer will use either his own camera or yours, or both – you pick) trick-or-treat stations that were patronized just as much by adults as kids when we were there, the opportunity to meet and pose with your favourite Disney villain (very popular and they rotate shifts, so if this is a must-do for you line up early before your character leaves for a break), shops galore, fireworks and a Halloween parade as the finale.

Adults lined up at the trick-or-treat station along the lagoon - photo by E Jurus
Adults lined up at the trick-or-treat station along the lagoon – photo by E Jurus

Glowing ghostly Mickey heads light your way around the park, an eerie blue fog billows across the lagoon and haunting music makes your feet itch to dance. It’s a night to celebrate all that’s dark and creepy, Disney style. Lest you think this party is just for children, let me tell you that at least half the people there that night were adults, and most of them were in costume. Although I’m not a fan of the commercialism that has crept into the Disney parks, nobody does parties like they do! This was an item on my bucket list, and it didn’t disappoint.

I haven’t been to Disney World for Halloween, so I can’t compare between the two, but there is

The gates to the Haunted Mansion, Jack Skellington-style - photo by E Jurus
The gates to the Haunted Mansion, Jack Skellington-style – photo by E Jurus

one significant difference: in Disneyland, for the Halloween season the Haunted Mansion is converted into The Nightmare Before Christmas both indoors and out – the plantation-style mansion drips with Spanish moss, special black & white-ribboned Halloween flower arrangements, pumpkins and Jack Skellington’s Christmas list, and of course Jack himself presides over the entire thing.

Inside, the ride has been transformed as well, into a spectacular multi-coloured journey tweaked with Jack’s special style – it’s so cool, even my hubby was impressed. Disneyland also sells a lot of Jack Skellington merchandise, so if you’re a fan, that might be an added incentive. My hubby bought a ‘Tall, Dark & Gruesome’ t-shirt that he wore under his lab coat as a mad scientist; I was his freaky-looking re-stitched and partially-revived creation.

photo by E Jurus
photo by E Jurus

Planning tips:

  • When I booked, tickets went on sale at the beginning of July for Disney club members, and later in the month for non-members. The online order system had gone down, so I spent a dedicated 45 minutes on the phone calling back repeatedly until I got a live person.
  • There are rules for dressing in costume at Disney: 1) you can dress as a Disney character but you’re not allowed to pose for photos with people you don’t know; 2) costumes can’t drag on the ground (tripping/ride machinery hazard); 3) your eyes must be visible (coloured contacts are allowed – mine were dead white); 4) your costume can’t scare small children. Most people do dress as Disney characters, but you don’t have to, although doing that will likely increase your chance of being selected to ride in the parade.
  • Daytime temps are quite nice but, as I mentioned previously, the temperature can drop quite a bit after dark, so be prepared – I saw quite a few women shivering in sleeveless outfits.
  • Buying an ‘all-inclusive’ package can save you some money. You get vouchers for meals that are supposed to be specific to certain restaurants and meals, but when we were there the serving staff encouraged us to use them for just about any meal.
  • Wear comfy shoes; even in Disneyland, which is more compact, you’ll still do lots of walking.
  • If you’re interested in doing the Disneyland version, there’s transportation between the airport (LAX) and Disneyland. In Los Angeles, there are tons of things to see, including the original Universal Studios park, Grauman’s Chinese Theater, Hollywood, other movie studios, the fabulous Getty Museum…the list is practically endless. If you rent a car, you can drive up the coast to Malibu, visit beautiful Santa Barbara, and generally enjoy the wonderful California weather, scented with the ocean and eucalyptus trees.
  • Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party runs on selected nights throughout the Halloween season, so if you can’t make it for Halloween night itself, there are still plenty of other dates to enjoy it. The one on Halloween itself wasn’t nearly as crowded as I was afraid it might be, just a nice amount of people wandering around and enjoying the ambience. Please check this year’s dates and times on the Disney websites (Disneyland and Disney Worldfor the most up-to-date information.

A little pampering is good for everyone

Spa at the Legends resort in Mauritius - photo by E. Jurus
Spa at the Legends resort in Mauritius – photo by E. Jurus

If you’re not familiar with the term ‘self-care’, you can expect to start hearing a lot more about it. Self-care is a concept that’s crucial in our fast-paced, stressful modern environment, and it’s long overdue to enter the public conscious. Basically the name says it all: to take care of yourself. While that might seem self-evident, how many people do you know who take good care of themselves? Do you?

Do you get enough sleep every night or are you always trying to shoehorn something else into an already busy and long day? Do you take any ‘me-time’ to decompress? When was the last time you had a massage, or have you ever had one at all?

Many of the chronic illnesses in today’s society are either a direct result of stress or are exacerbated by it. I’m currently taking a short course in mental illness first aid — i.e. how to help someone experiencing a mental crisis — and the statistics are enlightening. For example, 1 in 3 Canadians has experienced or will experience a mental illness in their lifetime. Twenty-three percent of all workers have had time off work from stress-related conditions. There are a growing number of resources to help people in crisis, but just as important are the initiatives to prevent as many crises and illnesses as possible with some self-care.

Nutrition is a great place to start. I’m always appalled to see so many people in supermarket check-out lines bringing home such unbelievably unhealthy food. In university I had a chemistry course that devoted an entire lecture to food additives, so I’ve made a point of eating healthy food ever since. The adage that if you can’t pronounce an ingredient listed on a label then it’s likely not good for you is true. I encourage everyone to read food labels — it will be an eye-opener!

Once you start eating better, if you do consume a processed food you’ll immediately notice the chemical taste; I stopped eating anything by Sara Lee decades ago for that very reason.

You’ll also notice that eating something full of additives will keep you awake. Years ago we visited some friends who made a fruit tart with a pre-made sponge base, strawberries on top covered with a packaged glaze, and Cool Whip topping. We were up half the night afterwards, too wired and fidgety to be able to get to sleep, and neither of us generally has a problem with insomnia.

When it comes to de-stressing, I have a few favourite techniques that I’ll be discussing in subsequent blogs, but one of my favourites is to spend some time at a spa, both at home and abroad — every country has its own spin on spa treatments. Massages are fantastic for unknotting tense muscles, and I also love facials. If you’ve never had a facial, run right out and have one done — they feel that good!

Confident Image Chez France at Pamperfest - from L to R, Jennifer Petherick of SharpLight Technology, certified aesthetician Katie Martin, owner France DiPaola - photo by E. Jurus
Confident Image Chez France at Pamperfest – from L to R, Jennifer Petherick of SharpLight Technology, certified aesthetician Katie Martin, owner France DiPaola – photo by E. Jurus

Recently I was sent an invitation by a friend to attend a local event called Pamperfest, “showcasing high-end exclusive merchandise & products from its receptive community of successful women entrepreneurs”. I’m compiling a resource list of local wellness purveyors, so I thought I’d drop in and see what was available. I had a great time — had a lovely hand and neck massage by the Alouette rep, for example — and was very pleased to visit the display by my friend, France DiPaola, the owner of Confident Image Chez France rejuvenating clinic. For any budding female entrepreneurs, it would be hard to find a better role model; France turned a passion for helping women take better care of themselves into a terrific small business.

You can find out more about Pamperfest on its Facebook page — there’s another one coming up in Hamilton shortly.

Watch for more self-care information in future posts.