eating fichi

The Light of the World Book Review

The Light of the World book cover

I love a good story. I want the writing to be good, but I don’t choose a book or recommend one for the writing or for the characters. I’m all about the story. I love The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander. It expanded my heart, and made me both happy and sad.

Elizabeth Alexander wrote this book after the sudden death of her husband, Ficre Ghebreyesus. Although their time together was prematurely cut short, they lived a rich life, which Elizabeth shares with the reader.

This book is about grief, but is so full of life.  Love and the feeling of love permeates the story. The book made me smile and cry. It makes me want to be poetic in my review although I am not a poet. Perhaps this is due to the fact that Elizabeth Alexander is a  poet, and writes this book in short chapters, a style that I enjoyed.

The most significant grief that I’ve experience is the loss of my grandmother, so I can’t relate to the depth of feeling that Elizabeth conveys in her book. Yet, my own experience of grief lets me empathize in such a way that I find the experience of the reading of the book to be heart wrenching.

The chapter on grieving without a religious tradition spoke to me. I do have a religious tradition and a different current religious practice, and yet find that figuring what to do and how to grieve is difficult, and all the advice in the world doesn’t make it easier. I imagine that the rituals and customs of grieving provide some solace by giving purpose and direction to grieving, but it doesn’t stop you from imaging that your loved one is still alive, and it doesn’t fill the hole that lodges in your life and in your heart.

Most beautiful moment: Simon takes his mother to visit his father in heaven. I smiled through my tears.

eating fichiConnection: I had never heard of the prickly cactus pear (fichi) before, and may have seen them in the store, but never bought one. The day after finishing this book, I was at a supermarket and there were prickly cactus pears on sale. I bought one and enjoyed eating it. It tasted like papaya and persimmon, but sweeter, although the abundance of seeds were annoying to me. I’m sure that the experience was nothing like picking and eating the fresh fruit in Italy, but I love the fact that reading the book inspired me to try the fruit.

Working Out after 5 Weeks Off

The last 5 weeks have derailed my fitness plan. Here’s what the last 5 weeks looked like for me:

Injury

Feb. 10 – hurt back doing sumo deadlifts
Feb. 13 to 18 – rest with 2 days of physiotherapy Feb. 14 and Feb. 17

Fun in the Sun
Feb. 19 – Take a long flight to Cuba (back still hurts)
Feb. 20 to 24 – Sunshine and relaxation in Cuba (back still hurts but feeling better)
Feb. 25 – Arrive back in Prague after a long flight

Surgery

Feb. 27 – Check into the hospital for surgery (not back related, and back feels mostly okay)
Feb. 28 – Surgery
Mar. 2 – Release from hospital

Recovery

Mar. 6 – Back to work (still recovering from surgery)
Mar. 13 – All clear from doctor to resume exercise

Normalcy

Mar. 14 – Start the Baha’i fast (Feels really hard this year. Maybe body still recovering.)
Mar. 19 – End the Baha’i fast (I only did 6 of the 19 days, but happy I was able to at least do some days.)
Mar. 20 – First day back at the gym for power cleans in strength and WOD of 20 minutes AMRAP with 5 power cleans, 10 TTB and 15 wall balls (Lots of breaks, heart rate too high, really winded and tired at end of workout)
Mar. 21 – Second day back, today (WOD: 25 min AMRAP of 20 renegade rows, 20 box jumps to 50 cm, 20 DB walking lunges, 600 m row split between partners. I never caught my breath once the working started, and I felt like I was breathing hard for ages afterwards.)

Well, ReFin(d)ing Normalcy

At 14:12 I was walking through the halls like a person in pain. Well, I am, IN PAIN. My back hurts, and my shoulders, my arms, my hamstrings and quads, and other parts whose names I don’t know. Walking is hard; climbing stairs is excruciating. I’m also exhausted, but maybe I just had too many carbs today. I’m looking forward to a day off tomorrow, although I hope to sleep in until 05:45 (30 minutes more than gym days!), I will go for a 30 minutes slow jog using the 180 formula. I suspect I will be doing as much brisk walking as jogging (yay, I love walking). I’m looking forward to the aerobic workout tomorrow, because it will loosen some of my tight spots and help me recover (I think/hope). The good news is I was here before when I first started Crossfit about a year ago, and I know that by showing up regularly, I’ll get stronger and more resilient.

No Expectations?!

No Expectations?!

How do you evaluate outcomes with no goal and no expectation? In a world filled with smart goals, standards, and evaluations, from the earliest school years to industry, are we conditioned and conditioning for unhappiness and displeasure instead of excitement and curiosity? Those were the first questions that I had as I read the recent blog post, Living without expectations. I don’t know the answer to these questions, but as a teacher who keeps reading that schools kill creativity (and I don’t think that school’s are solely to blame), I wonder if the very structure of our society and schooling is antithetical to a life of inquiry, a life open to experiences.

Connecting Ideas

I read another post some time back (I don’t remember where), of a parent taking his son out of a prestigious kindergarten because he felt that the child was being taught too much compliance and structure. He argued that school should place the greatest value  on individuality and critical thinking. This connected for me to conversations with a close friend with a 5 year old about the importance of choice even for young children. I reminded her that the attributes of her child that she finds frustrating right now are the same ones that will (hopefully) let her child be independent, resilient and confident in the future. How does one parent without expectations?

Building new Understanding

I think that it is extremely rare to meet anyone living without expectations. Upon first reading the post, I thought it impossible to live without goals (!!) and expectations! As I reflect, I realize that expectations are the opposite of true curiosity. I have no idea what to do right now with this information, except to ponder it, and to consider how to live without expectations. I think it’s too dramatic for me to expect to remove all expectation from my life right now, but I intend to have more experiences without expectation.

I’m thinking, based on the comments, that living without expectation is advised by the stoics. I’m adding it to my (long list) of interests to find out what they say about living with intention.

3 Nights in Havana, Feb. 2017

vedado1I looked at other places we could visit in Cuba, but in the end, we spent 3 days in Havana. We stayed in  Casa Idalma y Ivan, booked through Casa Amador. The casa particular is located in Vedado. The first day, we walked around the neighborhood and ate at El Cimarron. My friends liked their food but I found it salty and too ketchup-y. I had a chickpea dish. The first one had hot dog in it, so my friends had it and I ordered a second one, without meat. I also had a vegetarian tamale, which was good but salty. One friend enjoyed the chicken soup, while the other ate some boiled vegetables. The fried ripe plantain was delicious. None of us took any pictures of the food. After walking around the neighborhood to get a feel for the place, we went back to the casa particular. Since we had a late lunch, we skipped dinner. We sat on the beautiful terrace and enjoyed the weather.

The next day, we awoke to rain. After a delicious breakfast of fruit, egg omelette, juice, bread and coffee, made by Idalma and Ivan, we took a taxi to old Havana. First stop, Museum of the Revolution. I found the museum quite enlightening. I had never heard about the Bay of Pigs until a few months ago when I read A Brief History of Seven Killings. I always think it important and interesting to hear the same story from different perspectives.

From there, we did some shopping for souvenirs, and found a great restaurant for lunch. The seafood soup and sweet potato fries were delicious. My friends also enjoyed the gazpacho, the yuca fries, the taro croquettes (note that they have meat in the center), and the tamale with meat. A memorable part of the meal was the band that played in the little alley where we sat in front of the restaurant. There were some guests, skilled, enthusiastic dancers who added to the atmosphere.

We wandered through the streets, observing the environment. We stopped at a mercado to see what was available for sale. The offerings seemed quite sparse. Lastly, we walked to see El Capitolio, Hotel Inglaterra, and the Grand Theatre. Just as the rain started, we took a taxi back to the casa particular. I enjoyed reading my book while the rain fell, and then enjoyed sitting up on the terrace. Finally, we went to dinner at Karma, where I had black rice, vegetables, and grilled lobster, shrimp and fish. It was delicious.

For our last full day in Havana, we took the hop on, hop off bus around Havana. We stayed on except for a stop at the San Jose artisan market. We also stopped to visit the Hotel Nacional. Our plan was to get back on the bus, but in the end, we went for lunch instead. We both had delicious seafood dishes. The quality was a bit better than Karma, but much more expensive, so I think I would pick Karma if I had to choose.

rainbow from WIFI parkOn the way back to the hop on, hop off bus stop, we noticed a spot with WIFI access. WIFI spots can be found around the city. From my observation, some of them are in parks, and some in hotels. The WIFI seemed a bit more reliable than at the park two blocks from the casa particular, so we sat on the side of a building to check our email and check in to our flights the next day. At that point, we decided to forget about continuing our tour, and walked 40 minutes back to our casa.

We walked past many embassies and residences on our way. The contrast between fancy, renovated apartments and houses, and dilapidated ones is startling. Some sidewalks are well maintained, while others are torn up and in disrepair. My friends asked if Cuba reminded me of St. Lucia. It didn’t. Some of the foliage is the same, but the scale is just so much larger in Cuba. We drove down an 8 lane highway on the way to Varadero, and it was a 2.5 hours trip from the airport. The architecture is different, with flat roofs instead of pitched roofs. Also, there are many old cars being driven in Cuba, for private use and as taxis. Many of the older cars look in beautiful shape. We saw a variety of transportation options: bicycle taxis, horse drawn carriages, yellow taxis (many of which seem to be Kia), modern cars such as Toyota, and buses being used by locals and tourists.

For our final night, we went to Fabrica de Arte Cubano. It is about 10 blocks from the casa. There was a 2 CUC cover charge. There is art and music spread over 3 floors, with both indoor and outdoor spaces. Drinks cost about 2 CUC each. We had dinner here consisting of snacks: hummus on toast, salads, savory plantain fritters, sandwiches, baguettes, and tapas. My friend thought that the Cubano sandwich was delicious. The hummus and plantain fritters were fine, but not particularly flavorful. I had a virgin pina colada, which was full of eyes from the pineapple. There were people of all ages there, in all sorts of dress. It’s definitely worth a visit.

2 nights in Varadero, Feb 2017

After a few years of yearning, I finally made it to Cuba. I visited Cuba with two friends, a colleague and her husband. It’s a long way from Prague, but we decided that it was worth it to travel that far for some heat and sun, especially heat. I often find that I am tired of winter by February.

We spent the first two nights in Varadero, at the beach. We stayed at the Melia Marina Varadero Apartments. We had a one bedroom apartment with a pull out couch in the living room. The bedroom had an ensuite bathroom, in addition to a second full bath off the living room. There were televisions in the living room and in the bedroom. There was a kichenette with pans, crockery and cutlery, a coffee maker, a microwave, electric stove and oven, dishwasher, and washing machine and dryer combo. We also had a balcony with a table and a lounge, accessible through sliding doors from both the living room and bedroom.

At the hotel, there is a bar, where we had breakfast on our final morning there. For the first evening, we had (unmemorable) Mexican food at the plaza which is part of the Melia Marina grounds. For the second day, we paid 42 CUC for an inclusive day pass to the Melia Marina Varadero. This gave us access to the buffets, beachside drinks, and additional pools. The beachside drinks were quite good. I enjoyed the buffet breakfast as there was an omelette station. I had some calamari at lunch but found it chewy, and there were no spices added. The seafood that I had at dinner was better; there was some shrimp and a nice cooked vegetables dish. The buffet had a good variety, but none of us was impressed with the quality of the food, particularly with respect to flavours. The breakfast the next morning for 6.50 CUC included a nice variety of food, that was better than the breakfast that I had from the buffet.

There is internet access at the hotel. I found that it worked better at the apartments than at the all inclusive hotel. To access the internet, you have to buy a WIFI access card, which gives you an access login and password. The cards cost 2 CUC for 1 hour of WIFI access. The WIFI is quite slow, and reminded me of the days of dialup access. Perhaps one is meant to do yoga while waiting for pages to load :D.

Front of WIFI access card

Back of WIFI access card

 

Consumption versus Creation

I recently resurrected this blog after leaving it mostly dormant over several years. This recent post by Rohan reminded me of why I decided to start posting here again. 

I still use an RSS reader, although they seem to less popular since Google killed Google Reader. I also listen to many podcasts. With all the content available, it’s easy to read more, listen to more. My hope is that writing regularly here will give me a chance to draw relationships between the different content that I consume, and to derive lessons from them. My intention is to share what I learn, and use the new information and perspectives to improve my thoughts and habits.

I subscribe to much more content than I’ve listed here. I have gotten better at marking (unread) articles as read, and deleting podcasts without listening to them. I have come to (most/usually) accept that I don’t have to listen to everything or read everything that is delivered to me.

The blogs on my must read lists include:

The podcasts that I subscribe to and listen to (almost) every episode of are:

The next step is to unsubscribe to blogs and podcasts that have content that I find myself skipping over more often than I stop to read them.

The Privilege of Luck

I’m not lucky! Have you ever found yourself uttering that sentence? I’ve certainly been guilty of uttering that statement. In fact, I’ve felt a bit insulted when people tell me how lucky I am. I worked for what I am and what I have after all!

Today, my thinking about luck was challenged, and I now see things differently. First, I read Don’t Tell Your Friends They’re Lucky which states that 99% of our accomplishments are due to hard work, and 1% to luck. I found the numbers to be arbitrary but the argument to be compelling. The article happens to intersect with themes in my with recent conversations about privilege, clubs, networks, and nepotism. I recently listened to a Freakonomics episode about how it’s more difficult to attain the American dream nowadays because of the widening gap between poor and rich people. Today, I listened to Krista Tippett talking to Eula Biss about Whiteness and how privilege can be renamed opportunity hoarding. All this content has convince me that luck and privilege intersect.

What Does it Mean to be Lucky 

I’ve often heard the phrase “luck is preparation meeting opportunity”, which is credited to Oprah. This definition nicely coincides with the argument in the Nautilus article. A definition in Merriam-Webster is “producing or resulting in good by chance”. I’ve always thought that luck accounted for the magical/unexplainable reason why one person is afforded an opportunity out of all the other equally qualified people. Sometimes that magic happens because of alumni networks, where you went to school, your parents and other family ties, your location, and other “chances” that affect your opportunity if not your preparation.

Perhaps we revolt against the idea of luck because we see it as implying we don’t deserve what we got, or that we didn’t work hard for what we achieved. I’m now inclined to think that luck can coexist with a growth mindset, but means you got a chance that many other people were qualified to get. Perhaps that still may sting for those of you who like to think that our achievements are due to the fact that we are the best! It may well be true that not everyone given the same opportunity as you would have been successful, but there may be others who would have been.

The challenge is to recognize that being lucky doesn’t diminish you in any way.

Acknowledging my luck 

I was lucky to move to Canada from St. Lucia at 12 years of age. This gave me access to opportunities that would have been more difficult if not impossible to attain otherwise. I was lucky to get a job teaching overseas even when I had no teaching experience besides my practice. I’m lucky that I have always had a job. I’ve been lucky to leave in very diverse countries. For each of those situations, except the first, I prepared for it and found opportunities to make it feasible. But I don’t think that it diminishes my capabilities in any way to consider that there were other qualified candidates, maybe even better qualified ones, in each case. I expect to continue being lucky because I’m going to keep learning and growing, and putting myself in situations where I will have interesting opportunities.

The Challenge of Luck

So what about those people who truly are not lucky? What about the people who have many roadblocks in their way to achieving preparation, far less opportunity? Those people tend to be people who are poor and of minority’s groups. Extending Biss’ argument, I offer that it’s the responsibility of each of us to share our wealth of privilege, of luck with others. This does not need to be a grand gesture. Can you identify one “unlucky” person in your community? I’ll define that as someone with a growth mindset, who is having trouble achieving success. I’m leaving this deliberately vague because I’d like you to own it. Can you provide a little bit of magic for that person, and sprinkle a bit of luck or chance? I’m inspired to look out for opportunities to spread luck every day.

#OneWord365 – Perspective

Since I graduated university, and got my first job, I’ve never been without a job. Being a teacher, I get a number of scheduled holidays throughout the school year, but I’ve never been jobless.  I had the good fortune to find an international teaching job even when there were no full time teaching jobs in Ottawa, and have always found a new job before giving my notice about leaving a job. Perhaps my driving words have been safety, independence, security. Whatever else I may have told myself for the decisions that I made about why I was making them, I now realize that independence and security have been my driving forces.

This year, I’ve deliberately chosen perspective as my word for the year. I could have chosen the words space, or curiosity, or change as my words, because they were the words that drove my decision to not renew my contact for the next school year, and to not actively search for another job in my field right now. However, I choose perspective because I believe that it is an important word to guide me throughout the year. I’m sold on the idea that perspective affects every experience of our life. When I feel the pressure to settle for a job just because it’s available while I am, I will rely on my perspective to help me turn it down. For me, this is a year of risk-taking, growth, exploration, choice, and space. Perspective has a heavy job to help me remember that, while choosing to maintain joy in my life.

 

I was inspired to write this post by the #OneWord365 movement. Want to join the movement? Choose a word to guide your year and register it on their site.

36 hours in Stockhom

I flew direct from Prague to Stockholm on SAS on a Sunday morning, arriving in the early afternoon. By the time I checked into my hotel and got oriented, it was late afternoon. I didn’t actually count the hours, but 36 seems like a good number.

Several people had recommended that I visit the Vasa Museum, so that was my first stop. It was easy to get there by ferry from Mariantorget, where I was staying. I’ve taken ferries a few times while travelling, but their haven’t lost their novelty and excitement for me. They are also very convenient for travelling around Stockholm, and the same travel card can be used for the metro, trams, buses, ferries.

The Vasa is a few minutes walk from the Djurgårdsvägen ferry stop. It’s interesting how much of the ship was salvaged, and that it was so well preserved, but I’m amazed that it was not better tested. Maybe I misunderstood, and there are lots of (possible) explanations in the museum, but I find it incredible.

From Vasa, I took a ferry to the Modern Art Museum. I only had 45 minutes until the museum closed, so I focused on visiting the permanent collection. I tend to be a bit disconcerted by cubist paintings but still find it interesting to watch them and consider their meaning/message. I’m not very knowledgeable about art, but I had downloaded the app of the museum at the WIFI point and was able to listen to information about the artists and paintings, which provided a bit more context in which to consider the paintings. I enjoyed the visit to the museum, which has lots of what I call Math art.

By the time I left Vasa, it was 6 p.m. I took a while before I managed to catch a ferry back to Slussen. I walked around a bit and decided to have dinner at Tehran Grill which was in the vicinity of the hotel, with good reviews. There were lots of spaces and my impatience was about to get the better of me since it was taking the hostess a while to sit me after she had stopped and said hello. Just as I was about to leave, she sat me. I ordered a shrimp dish with saffron rice, and passion fruit juice. I seldom drink juice and had planned to have tea but I love passion fruit and could not refuse. It was worth it. The food was good, with the jumbo shrimp being perfectly cooked. The saffron rice was nothing special. There was no special flavor that I could discern, just a slight yellow tinge. The restaurant was busy but not full, and the two servers were working non stop. It took a while to get my food, but it was hot when it arrived.

Since the next day was Monday, many museums were closed. Had I planned more carefully, I would have gone to the Vikings museum (not its actual name) on Sunday and left Vasa for Monday. Not having done that, however, I went on a revised version of Frommers’ walking tour of Gamla Stan in reverse (because I got lost and decided to go with it). I stopped and bought some Happy Socks as gifts (which I hope are making whoever found them very happy). The German church was closed so I couldn’t visit. The Storkyrkan cathedral is impressive, and I took the opportunity to light a candle for my grandmother, and seat in a pew to say some prayers for the departed. I visited the church three times. The second time, I went back to see the statue of St. George slaying the dragon that I’d missed the first time. The third time, I went to see if I could find the happy socks, since that was the only place that I’d sat on my tour. The Royal Palace was closed but I was in time to see the changing of the guards. (The one in Prague is more impressive I think.) From the Royal Palace, I quickly walked over to Riddarholmskyrkan. It’ grand to look at from the outside, but was closed so I couldn’t see the inside. From there, it was time to hurry over to the City Hall, so I caught Bus 3.

I made it to the City Hall just after 13:00 and was able to join the tour that had just started (which was my goal). The tour starts in the Blue Room which is a reception room used after the Nobel Prize is awarded. The room is not actually blue, but is elegant. The ceiling is flat and can be used for projections during banquets. The guide mentioned that the stairs were carefully designed to allow women to be able to walk down them elegantly. The architect has his wife test prototypes of the stairs wearing a ball gown and heels, so he could get it right. We swept up the stairs from the blue room and continued our tour through hallways and other rooms. The ceilings vary greatly from room to room. In the council room (I may have made up this name), the ceiling has a feeling of openness, almost like a staircase, and the guide mentioned that’s because everything said in the room should be able to rise and float out to the general public. In fact, there is seating for the general public to be able to attend sessions. At the time of my visit, the room was set up for a session happening later that day. It seats 101 council members, who are seated from left to right, by affiliation. There were originally 100 members, but one was added to avoid ties during voting. I don’t remember the uses for all the rooms that we walked through, but the most visually vibrant room is the Golden Room. Ten kilograms of gold was used to create the mosaic effect on the walls. The central image is a caricature of a queen, emphasizing her abilities and strength rather than physical beauty. The golden room opens out to the balcony above the blue room, and the guide mentioned that the two rooms are used together for the reception of the Nobel Prize award.

After all the walking, I was famished. I’d saved Hermans n my offline map and noticed that I could walk there in about 20 minutes. Hermans is a vegetarian restaurant. A buffet lunch costs 125 SEK and includes tea, water and/or coffee. There were a large variety of both cold and hot food, and I definitely ate too much. The protein sources were tofu, TVP, and beans as far as I could tell. I highly recommend Hermans!

I saw Fotografiska while walking to Hermans so I knew it was nearby. I hadn’t realized that Stockholm was so hilly, and my fear of heights had reared its ugly head again. I think it happens whenever I’m afraid of falling on a bridge in the winter, and it didn’t help that I’d slipped and fallen on the ice the night before while walking over a (thankfully pedestrians only) bridge. I looked at the long path to the museum by road and watched the steep stairs down the street. I really wanted to walk down the stairs (my Withings Pop had already recorded 15000 steps) but was afraid that the stairs would be slippery. I stood at the top of the stairs trying to psych myself up. Thankfully, at that moment, a woman started walking down the stairs and I figured that if she could do it, I could too and followed her, albeit at a slower speed.

It was a quick visit to Fotographiska sine only one floor was open, with a new exhibition being prepared on the second floor.

I walked around a bit after this, and did some shopping. I was looking for snow boots but didn’t find any where I was. I asked a salesperson who directed me to a mall, but I was tired and decided to call it done and head back to the hotel.

 

Revisiting Rothenburg

It was about a year ago that I visited Rothenburg. And this weekend, I’m back  with a few friends. We drove down on Friday (well one friend drove) and will head back to Prague on Sunday.

Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a beautiful old city with a wall and many buildings from the 15th and 16th century.

   
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
   
We stayed in a lovely guesthouse. The breakfast was varied with a spread of cereal, cold cuts, eggs, sausage, hash browns, fruit and vegetables. A veritable feast!

Food was challenging on this trip. I’ve been avoiding milk and minimizing wheat. The first night, I tried to order baked potatoes without sour cream or potato pizza without cheese and was told neither were possible. This response was delivered with a look of disdain. I settled for French fries and ketchup. My shrimp salad for lunch on the second day was delicious. However, the waitress delivered 3 forks and 4 knives so I had to ask for one more to eat my meal. She looked around the table quizzically and insisted that she had brought 4 forks. Is it really so much more believable that I did away with the fork instead of thinking that she possibly made a mistake? Oh German hospitality!