Wildlife near Sonora Island, BC

Tuesday, 11 October 2016
Canada really is a wonderful destination. I find it easy to get there, communicate with locals, and it is relatively safe. My favorite cities include Montreal and Toronto but we recently visited Vancouver and took a trip north to the wilderness of BC. We stayed at the Sonora Resort on Sonora Island and spent time on the water watching for wildlife.
On our first day, we took a group boat tour and spotted the majestic Bald Eagle. This one had caught a large fish and was chowing down on the rocks. Unfortunately, our boat spooked it and he/she flew off. It was quite a site to see so close up. 
How often do you see "Caution Bear In Area" signs? Not often unless you routinely spend time in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The bears in this case are Grizzlies, however, and we were able to see them. They live on an island inhabited by First Nations people and we took a fascinating tour with a Homalco Wildlife Tours guide who was extremely knowledgeable about the animals. 
The bears are in their "hyper-feeding" stage and are attempting to pack in 1 million calories before it is time to den for the winter hibernation. We learned that they don't hibernate because of the cold but instead because they lose their food supply completely. 
It looks like we were able to get fairly close to these large creatures but we used zoom lenses. It was certainly close enough when I considered just how quickly they can move and how powerful they are. 
Another large mammal that lives near Sonora Island is the Stellar Sea Lion. They are enormous and can be a bit clunky in the water. Their smaller cousin, the Harbor Seal, moves more quickly in the water but really can't do much when lounging on the land. I was enamored by their beautiful coloring. 

Solmorejo from the south of Spain

Monday, 3 October 2016
Chef Llamas taught me how to make another cold tomato soup. It is perfect for using up those end-of-the-year garden tomatoes. Unlike gazpacho, solmorejo doesn't use cilantro and it takes a bit more bread than gazpacho. 

I didn't peel the tomatoes but I did seed them. That's pretty easy to do - just core them and gently squeeze the seeds into your compost bowl. I also gently brush out any leftover seeds away from the inside flesh. 

SOLMOREJO – a cold tomato soup from the south of Spain
2 cloves of garlic
2 tomatoes, peeled
¾ c extra virgin olive oil
day old bread
1 red pepper

Soak bread in water, sherry vinegar. Process soaked bread with liquid if needed with all other ingredients. Add ¾ c olive oil slowly to the mixture while processing.

Garnish with red peppers, fresh herbs, ham (bacon?), and goat’s cheese. I didn't have cheese or bacon on hand so I toasted cubes of bread with salt, pepper, and garlic powder with a little olive oil to make croutons. 

Cooking with Chef Gabriela Llamas (part 1)

Monday, 12 September 2016
As I was checking in for my flight in Madrid to head back to Atlanta, the Delta representative asked me a few questions. She wanted to know about my favorite part of being in Spain. I enthusiastically told her about my cooking class with Chef Gabriela Llamas. It was arranged through Heritage Tours and if I had the chance to do it again, I certainly would. 
On the day of the cooking class, Chef Llamas met me at the hotel and we walked to Mercado de San Anton. The market is modern and very clean. Even though there is a seafood counter in the market, I didn’t notice a fishy smell. We purchased some beautiful dried tuna in slices for appetizers, as well as cured Serrano ham.
The dried tuna was delicious and I'm going to try to find it in the U.S. After the market experience we walked through the streets of Madrid and found our way to Chef Llama's studio. It is sort of like a loft apartment with a large, stainless steel kitchen. She has an assistant and many of the ingredients were already laid out. 
We first worked on a watermelon gazpacho. I thought it turned out so tasty! If you have leftover tomatoes this season, give the recipe a try. I've included it below.
GAZPACHO DE SANDIA (Watermelon Gazpacho)
Serves 4

4-5 large to medium peeled and seeded ripe tomatoes
1/2 of a medium to large watermelon, seeded
1 large cucumber peeled and seeded
½ red bell pepper for color
2 garlic cloves
½ c extra virgin olive oil
Day old bread (a few slices optional)
4 T sherry vinegar

Process all ingredients except olive oil. Use sieve to remove any additional seeds. Add olive oil at the end and season with salt. Serve very cold. Avocado or diced vegetables for garnish.

Welcome the wisdom of another year

Wednesday, 6 July 2016
Another year… another birthday party that I threw for myself! It has sort of become a tradition and I kept it going even though I’m now living in Columbus and all of my Knoxville friends are far away. I have made some friends through James’ friends and we had a group of about 25 people. Most of our friends have children so they are always welcome as well.
This year we partied at the pool at our country club and hosted a little BBQ on the lawn. It was so fun with tiki torches, red and white tablecloths and modest flower arrangements that I made myself.
The chef grilled brats and burgers and we served them alongside homemade, fresh potato salad, grilled corn on the cob, and a delicious green salad. We then had Graeter’s ice cream for dessert (chocolate chip cookie dough, raspberry chip, vanilla, and double chocolate chip).
It rained earlier on Friday, July 1st so I was pretty worried that the clouds would hang around but by the time the party started at 5:00 p.m., the sun was shining, there was a lovely breeze through the tall pines, and it was a perfect 75F.

A quick reflection on the last year made me realize that overall I have no fear of aging and in fact, welcome the wisdom that another trip around the sun brings. Even though “37” is “late 30s” and no longer “mid 30s,” it doesn’t bother me. Never in a million years would I have thought that I would be a Fulbright Scholar at the age of 36. Here’s to the surprises that my 37 year old self will experience this year!

The veggies are growing

Saturday, 2 July 2016
James' father John is a wonderful gardener. He hasn't put one in over the last few years so we decided to plant one together this year. We have a major problem with deer so he put in a 9 foot fence and wire along the ground so critters can't get in. 
The peppers are coming in nicely and we tried one the other night. These (above) are hot peppers and the more they change color (to red) the hotter they will be. Pretty tasty.
Our first harvest of garlic was successful and we managed about 15 heads of garlic of two types. 
We have already tried a few of the bulbs and they have a nice, fresh flavor. The others are being dried and cured and I will watch a few YouTube videos about how to braid garlic!
The sunflowers are beautiful. They grow quickly and strong and have thick stems. I am looking forward to seeing them bloom. 

Stretching into the Present

Saturday, 25 June 2016
This week on Bald Head Island I was fortunate to take a private yoga lesson with Betsy of Bald Head Island Yoga. She was amazing and challenged me to try new poses and gave me tips on upping my vinyasa and warrior poses. Then I attended a group lesson at the Shoal's Club that is hosted on the observation deck overlooking the ocean. It was a magical, cleansing experience. I feel like we've all had to face bad vibes recently (politics, shootings, division) and I'm trying to look up.
Do you ever feel like there is just too much negativity in your life? I can certainly look at the bad things (and yes there are bad things in everyone's life) and get pretty down. What am I doing with my career? Are we going to have a family? If so when? How am I going to lose 20 pounds? Will we ever find a house that is perfect for us? How can I be in two places at once? How can I make this person happy? When can I find time to do what I want to do? Add your own questions here...

Yoga has helped me deal with negativity by realizing - I can only control myself and how I react to negativity. I'm learning that yoga practice has a lot to do with balance. It is easier to balance in poses by engaging your core (squeezing your abs) and breathing in and out, steadily. You also have to set a solid foundation by pressing your heel into the mat and spreading your toes. 

One of the meditations that I heard last week had to do with the fight or flight phenomenon. On the mat you can either fight the pose and be miserable, fly out of the pose and give up, or stay and BREATHE. Instead of being reactionary, I'm trying to get to the space that says, "I don't know what's next, but right now I'm fine and I'm going to breathe." In life, I'm going to spread my toes and feel the foundation of age, some wisdom, and compassion that I already have. I can't force others to be kind or make plans for the future, or give me a job, etc., but I CAN control how I face it all. With grace? That's what I'm striving for on the mat and off. It isn't easy, but yoga helps - even for an hour - I quiet my mind, breathe, and stretch into the present moment. 

Gators and other wildlife on Bald Head Island

Monday, 20 June 2016
This is a big boy that we found on the golf course. He was chilling on the lagoon bank and didn't like it when we walked up (not too close mind you). He started moving to the water and slid in. The red that you see on the grass is a line for golfers. (I'm worried that someone will think it is blood - LOL.) 
Alligators are pretty cool creatures. Like crocodiles, they will sit outside the water and open their mouths to warm up. Gators were almost once extinct but they've made a great recovery. They've received bad press lately but they are interesting to watch (from afar).
The Bald Head Island Conservancy arranges some interesting tours and educational programs regarding nature on the island. We went on a birding tour that takes patrons to the Ibis Sanctuary to see White Ibis and their "chicks." The Ibis are on the right in the above photo and the bird on the left is a Great Egret. 
This was a fun experience because even after going to the island for 15 years, I've never been to the Ibis Sanctuary. It is located in Middle Island and the residents of that part of the island have exclusive access to the protected area. We were able to visit with the conservancy intern after paying a small fee for the tour.
Aren't Great Egrets majestic? I just love their beautiful plumage. The educational intern with us (Elizabeth) explained that Great Egrets were hunted for their amazing feathers and almost became extinct in the 1900s. This sparked some of the first movements to protect birds.
The highlight of the tour was seeing the colorful Painted Bunting (above). I'm including a photo from Audobon.org so that you can see the bird more closely. Can you believe the vivid red, blue, and green feathers? We now know their distinctive call so we have been watching for them around our house.

Still yoga-ing around

Wednesday, 15 June 2016
In any situation in which you've taken yourself to a new place with passion and purpose, you are living as a yogi.    - Baron Baptiste

I've continued practicing yoga in my back yard with my mentor, Leah. We rolled out our mats yesterday morning and my neighbor Sally joined us. She is going to start private lessons at her house on the weekends so we might try to combine our efforts.

The poses are getting easier and my "flow" is becoming better in Sun Salutation A and B. I am not able to "jump" to my hands after downward dog yet - but that's okay. The great thing about yoga is that you can always improve and challenge yourself. I have discovered that I'm still flexible from my days of dancing and in yoga "flexible" is called "having space."

With each pose in the Baptiste practice, you are to consider Strength and Ease. For instance, if you are in chair pose, allow your shoulders to melt down your back and soften your arms. That's the Ease of the pose. The Strength comes from the grounded position you have in your feet, pressing your heels into the mat and sitting back farther with each breath.

I've also become more aware of my breathing, even when I am not on the yoga mat. Deep breathing in and out of the nose helps the blood flow, oxygen get to our brain, and our body relax. Anyone can try this part of yoga, even at your desk in your office. Just breathe in and out through your nose slowly and concentrate on relaxing your shoulders. This exercise helps us be "present" and notice the tension that we carry around. I am fairly tense and yoga is helping me realize that and begin to let go of negative energy. 

Searching for joy

Monday, 13 June 2016
When life is horribly depressing and you cannot understand the hate and ignorance that leads to mass murder in your own country, sometimes you have to search for joy in the small things. I sat for just a minute yesterday morning and watched the birds having breakfast in our back yard. The American Goldfinches come often and I snapped this shot of the male and his mate dining together.
I wasn't able to get a great picture of the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds that visit because the morning light was just coming over the house. They were there, however, and I admired their feisty spirit and beautiful colors.
The male and female Cardinals that have been around for a while have youngsters and they are also learning how to eat at the feeder.
This is a sad week. James and I talked last night about feeling powerless to do anything to change hate, murder, and ignorance in this world. We'd love to get away from political rhetoric - on both sides and understand what a true solution would be to stop these mass shootings. Banning a "religion" from getting in the country? What if terrorists just pose as another "religion?" That won't stop a murderer. Banning assault rifles? Increasing background checks? These sound like reasonable measures but will they work?
Perhaps the spirits of those who were killed in Orlando live on in other ways. A friend posted on social media recently that there was an abundance of fireflies in her backyard. I'll continue to search for the joy in this world and if I can't find it, I'll watch the birds, wishing peace for those who have suffered great loss. 

Yoga in the yard

Tuesday, 7 June 2016
When I moved to Sri Lanka, one of my goals was to get serious about yoga. Unfortunately, and surprisingly, it isn't easy to find a private yoga instructor in Colombo or a yoga practice that is open to foreigners. (I'm not saying they aren't out there but I couldn't find one.)

While I was still there, sort of out of frustration, I reached out to my friend Leah who owns Balanced Yoga in Columbus, Ohio. She is certified through the Baptiste Institute (I had no idea what that meant when we started lessons) and she agreed to work with me! We are meeting twice a week for private lessons and then I'll likely move into classes at the studio. I've always enjoyed yoga but I lack confidence in the poses and knowledge about the practice.

The beginning of yoga for me was watching YouTube videos for beginners and attempting poses without interaction. It was difficult to stay motivated with no feedback. Then, I practiced yoga as an add-on after or before cardio at a large, generic gym located at an outdoor shopping center. The classes were fun but huge and the teachers were talented but I felt no attachment to the process and a lack of community. There wasn't a way to connect with others. The teachers were usually different so as a beginner I found it difficult to build a proper foundation for the practice.

We are changing that!

Leah has suggested that I try the Baptiste style of yoga. I am learning about the concepts and thought process that goes into finding "power" through practicing. Part of the learning process is journaling about the experience. I thought I'd share on my blog.

So far, I've learned that my body is stronger than I thought! I love doing yoga outside on my back deck with the trees swaying and the birds sining. I am also more mindful - but I'm only a week in.

My favorite pose is: Tree pose. The hardest pose for me is: Chaturanga into Upward Dog but Leah taught me to try "knees, chest, chin" out of the plank and then go into a Low Cobra. I'm sure that doesn't mean anything to a lot of people but the point is that I'm still "flowing" in Sun Salutation A but adapting the poses until I am stronger. I feel stronger everyday!

Doha airport = Are you kidding me?

Monday, 6 June 2016
I wish I would have taken more photos of the inside of the Doha airport. The jewelry stores are amazing. Every top designer that you can imagine has a store there. We also noticed people taking photos in front of a bright blue McLaren sports car. Wow! 

Once we made it to the Qatar Airways business lounge (Al Moujan Business Lounge) I broke out my camera and got some shots. Absolutely amazing! Below is just one of the "restaurants" in the lounge. You can see the chef in the background and if you choose to dine at one of the marble tables, you can take in the fresh scents of real herbs. 
You order from a set menu in the "Bistro" on the first floor and pay NOTHING for your food. The experience is all part of the lounge experience. I ordered a smoked salmon sandwich.
If you happen to have children with you, there are several game rooms that are enclosed and they can run and play. 
There are even green spaces inside the lounge. I liked this area but couldn't believe that have a real grove of bushes growing. 
Some of the seating is also made of natural fibers which gives the huge space a warm feeling.
 This beautiful sculpture is at the entrance of the business lounge. I was shocked at the height.
 Yes there's a water feature in the lounge. This one shot small fountains throughout and the small splashes sent ripples that glittered on the ceiling. I imagine this is what heaven looks like. Haha!

White sands, great snorkeling in the Maldives

Tuesday, 31 May 2016
We stayed at the Park Hyatt in the Maldives. When you land in Male, you have to transfer to the domestic flight area and fly to Koodoo Island. From there, you take a 35 minute speed boat ride to the island where the Park Hyatt is located. It is the only establishment on the island so it is truly an island resort. We are on the fence as to whether we would recommend this resort to others. The villas are not properly air conditioned and a bit tired. We did, however, thoroughly enjoy the food and the gorgeous surroundings. The service was also very nice.
The most enjoyable part for me while being in the Maldives was the genuine opportunity to simply relax. I wrote everyday, blogged often, and reviewed the transcripts from the interviews I conducted for research but for the most part, I enjoyed the island breeze and the gorgeous aqua-colored water.
James and I walked on the beach every morning and admired how our toes just sunk into the soft, white sand. It is hot in May (you are very close to the Equator in the Maldives) but there is a nice breeze close to the water. The below photo shows the jetty where passengers disembark when they arrive on the island.
We also very much enjoyed the snorkeling just off the beach. James selected the Park Hyatt because it has a wonderful house reef fairly close to the shore. We brought our own snorkels and fins and enjoyed studying the wildlife underwater such as the beautiful Parrotfish.
Our pool villa was the second villa we stayed in at the Park Hyatt. The water villa that we tried was situated over the ocean and incredibly hot. The air conditioning system is not built to keep up with the 12 hours of direct sun and lack of insulation. The villas that are in the jungle enjoy the shade from large palms so we could get it down to 25C during the day. We thought the pool villas were the best anyway because they have awesome private plunge pools!
My favorite feature of the pool villa was the private and direct beach access. I even went for a moon-lit swim one night and just floated in the warm water while enjoying a FULL moon. Plus, if you go for a swim in the ocean, you can sort of rinse off in the pool before relaxing on the outdoor sofa.
The experience was relaxing and invigorating. I enjoyed swimming every day and the walk to the restaurants and main pool of the resort was probably a 1/4 or a mile or so. We walked about 2 miles everyday and that was wonderful.